Ancient Projects

Years ago, and I do mean years, I started a sweater from Alice Starmore’s “Book of Fair Isle Knitting”.  The pattern was named the “Waterlily Jacket” and not only did I love the blue and white patterns, but it reminded me of one of my favorite painters, Monet, and his wonderful waterlily paintings.  At the time I bought  many colors of Reynold’s Mohair Classic yarn and started knitting.  Now, you must realize, that this was long ago and it was my first experience with pattern knitting.  I got about 2/3’s of the way up the body of the sweater (knitted in the round with a steek–first time for that for me, too), and the knitting was so tedious for me at that time that I quit and just put it away.  I went back to it several years later and finished the rest of the body, but using some of my own patterns.  But then I was at the point where I had to cut the steeks for the front and the arms; I’d never done that, and again I put the project aside with all the yarn

Completed body of the Jacket

Completed body of the Jacket

This year I picked the project up and decided that I now was ready to sew and cut those steeks, and finish the arms and the borders. I sewed with my machine and cut the front and the armhole openings.  I sewed the shoulder seams and picked up stitches for the arms.  I have one arm finished now (knitting from the shoulder down) and am about halfway finished with the second arm.  I have to decide how I will finish the borders and the neck; something plain, I think, maybe in the dark blue color.  I welcome suggestions at this point!  The original pattern had color patterns throughout the sweater, but I have made the sleeves mostly plain and I like the effect of the plain versus the complicated patterning of the body of the jacket.  It is very satisfying to go back and finally finish this long abandoned project.  I’m smiling as I write this!

Jacket Nearing Completion

Jacket Nearing Completion

“Science and Cooking” the Harvard edX course

This Fall I took the online edX course from Harvard called “Science and Cooking”; these courses are free and are quite intensive.  Through the use of class videos, lectures, homework assignment, labs, videos of famous chefs making their specialities, and a final lab project, this was very much a college level investigation into food and cooking.  I learned, among other things, about how heat affects proteins in cooking, how gluten protein is involved in forming baked goods and how acid and fermentation work to create some of our traditional foods.  I chose to study yogurt making for my final project, and I’ve just completed it. Since the making of yogurt is related to several units in the course and because I’m interested in making fermented foods at home, studying how using different cultures may result in slightly different yogurt products seemed like a useful and interesting project. I purchased two commercial dry yogurt cultures (NE Cheesemaking Supply and Yogourmet) and purchased two fresh plain yogurts advertised to have active cultures from the supermarket (Dannon and Stoneyfield Farms). I incubated milk with the four different cultures and followed the formation of solid yogurt as the bacteria grew, converted lactose to lactic acid and resulted in solid strands of casein protein (just as happened when we added acid to milk to form ricotta cheese in a lab early in the course). The Dannon culture formed yogurt the fastest and gelled with a syrupy consistency. Stoneyfield was second fastest and formed a rougher curd. NE Cheese culture was third fastest, but like Dannon solidified quickly after forming a syrupy texture. Yogourmet was the slowest to form. Dannon and Stoneyfield produced the tartest yogurt while the other two yogurts were milder in taste. Both supermarket yogurt and purchased cultures can be successfully used to make yogurt in the home.  I monitored the growth of the bacteria in the incubating yogurt by putting some of the culture under the microscope and observing every hour and by monitoring the dropping of the pH as the bacteria converted the lactose in the milk to lactic acid.  The acid helps to coagulate the casein proteins in the milk resulting in solid yogurt.

This was a fun and interesting project.  I think I may be back to culturing my own yogurt rather than just purchasing it at the store. Below are some photos of the equipment and the progress of the experiment.

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The fifth jar, labeled C, was the control containing just milk. It remained unchanged throughout the experiment.

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Samples of Incubating cultures: left to right NECheese, Yogourmet, Dannon, Stoneyfield

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Later in incubation

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Towards the end; all cultures solid and acidic (see narrow range pH paper)

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The final products ready for refrigeration and tasting!

Lichens and Lichen Dyeing

Nancy Wigley, well known on Cape Cod for her field walks and her interest in lichens, gave a talk last Sunday at the monthly meeting of  the Botany Club of Cape Cod and the Islands (BCCCI).   A booklet entitled “Looking at Lichens” by BCCCI member Nancy Wigley with photographs by Susan W. Carr has been published by the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History and is now available in the Museum’s gift shop. This is a fine introductory booklet on the biology, natural history and identification of many of the lichens commonly found on Cape Cod.  Nancy’s talk was an introduction to Cape Cod Lichens with illustrations to go along with her talk.   Here’s a photo of Nancy taken before the Botany Club field walk to Flume Pond last spring; She’s holding the just published book as well as her earlier book, “Trailside Treasures” which is about Cape Cod trailside plants.

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Nancy talked a bit about lichens used for various purposes, including dyeing.  One of the lichens she talked about, rock tripe or Umbilicaria, is a dye lichen that I have used to dye hand spun wool.  I collect small quantities of the lichen from the abundant colonies on huge granite boulders near our cottage in northern VT.  I digest the lichen in gallon jars with a solution of ammonia and water for several months.  At the end of that time the lichen is strained out and the remaining solution containing the dye can be heated with wool yarn for several hours, resulting in beautiful purple to pink shades (the latter as the dye bath is exhausted).  I’ve also used other lichens from northern VT and NH (Usea sp. and Evernia sp.) to dye wool; these lichens can be heated immediately in a pot of water with the yarn to be dyed.  They usually produce shades of light to darker yellow.  Here are photos of the rock tripe growing on granite boulders:

Rock Tripe 2

Rock Tripe

Finally, here are examples of hand spun yarn and knitted garments (again knitted from hand spun) that are dyed with lichens!

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Backyard Bird Count

This is a great program to participate in; it is associated with Cornell University and has been monitoring bird populations all over the country for a number of years.  The data is used to follow bird numbers from year to year.  Participants have access to their data and to data from their area as well as all over the country.  You can observe for just one day or for all four days.  If you like birds and nature, this is a great and satisfying program to participate in!  Click on the photo below to go to their web site.

Owl Birdcount image

Oreo Cookies

A friend gave me a recipe for homemade Oreo cookies; I couldn’t believe that they would really turn out, but I tried them today and they are great.  It’s a fairly simple recipe, both the dough which is baked first and the filling which is added to the cookies after baking.

What a great idea for a cookie recipe!

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Homemade Oreos Adapted (by Brittany Haskell) from Retro Desserts, Wayne Brachman

Makes 25 to 30 sandwich cookies

For the chocolate wafers: 1 1/4 cups (155 grams) all-purpose flour 1/2 cup (45 grams, but cocoa weights can vary greatly) unsweetened Dutch process cocoa 1 teaspoon baking soda 1/4 teaspoon baking powder 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 to 1 1/2 cups (200 to 300 grams) sugar [see recipe note] 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks or 140 grams) room-temperature, unsalted butter 1 large egg

For the filling: 1/4 cup (1/2 stick or 55 grams) room-temperature, unsalted butter 1/4 cup (50 grams) vegetable shortening 2 cups (240 grams) sifted confectioners’ sugar 2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla extract

Set two racks in the middle of the oven. Preheat to 375°F. In a food processor, or bowl of an electric mixer, thoroughly mix the flour, cocoa, baking soda and powder, salt, and sugar. (For a sweeter cookie, use 1 1/2 cups sugar, for a less sweet cookie, more like the original, use 1 cup) While pulsing, or on low speed, add the butter, and then the egg. Continue processing or mixing until dough comes together in a mass. Take rounded teaspoons of batter and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet approximately two inches apart. With moistened hands, slightly flatten the dough. Bake for 9 minutes, rotating once for even baking. Set baking sheets on a rack to cool. To make the cream, place butter and shortening in a mixing bowl, and at low speed, gradually beat in the sugar and vanilla. Turn the mixer on high and beat for 2 to 3 minutes until filling is light and fluffy. To assemble the cookies, in a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch, round tip, pipe teaspoon-size blobs of cream into the center of one cookie. Place another cookie, equal in size to the first, on top of the cream. Lightly press, to work the filling evenly to the outsides of the cookie. Continue this process until all the cookies have been sandwiched with cream. Dunk generously in a large glass of milk.