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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Mary Berry's Banana loaf

Yesterday I had the rare pleasure of having a whole day at home to myself. What to do?  Spinning and knitting were at the forefront of my mind I will admit, however, I quickly shelved those thoughts and decided to catch up on household chores, a spot of gardening was also quickly shelved because of the intense heat outside (it got to 27 degrees), so once I had caught up with the mundane stuff I decided to spend the afternoon baking. 6 bananas past their best in the fruit bowl, no way was I going to waste them.

Banana loaf ~ my favorite recipe is a Mary Berry one. It's quite adaptable and keeps and freezes very well. Not too sweet as I use a little less sugar than the original recipe calls for, moist, cakey, and not at all heavy as I find a lot of banana loaf recipes are. I made 3, 1 for now and 2 for the freezer. Here's the recipe:

115g soft butter
2 very ripe bananas (about 200g peeled weight) mashed very well.
125 g soft brown sugar (original recipe calls for 150g)
2 large eggs
225g self raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons milk (I sometimes use buttermilk)

1 loaf tin 900g/2lb capacity, lined with baking paper

Oven 180 deg/160 deg fan/350deg f/gas 4

Put everything except the banana into a large mixing bowl and whisk with an handheld mixer for 1 minute, or beat with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. Stir in the banana and add any add-ins you may like.

I added 100g of chopped walnuts, half of a pack of white chocolate chips and a few handfuls of dried cranberries to mine, but that was for 3 times the mixture.

Spoon into the lined tin and smooth the top. Bake for about an hour until a skewer poked into the centre comes out clean, if you press the cake lightly in the centre it will feel pretty firm and should be a nice golden brown colour.


Cool for 10 minutes in the tin then turn out onto a cooling rack.

The original recipe has honey icing but I don't make this as I think the cake is sweet enough as it is:
25g icing sugar
2 teaspoons clear honey
1/2 teaspoon cold water
Mix all the ingredients together and drizzle over the cold loaf.

Then I hung the new curtains I made for my bedroom last week:

The fabric I chose is a chocolate brown washed linen, these are lined with a thermal block out lining which will keep the heat in through the Winter. The heading is a 20cm pencil pleat. I'm really happy with them, I wouldn't normally choose such a dark colour for soft furnishings but they go so well with the pale gold colour of the wallpaper.






I'm currently working on a package for a Christmas mini swap, I've learnt myself some new skills but I can't say too much until the package has been received :-)

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Spring Green Handspun Merino, finally finished

Finally finished my experimental skein:
90g
950 metres
Commercially combed 20 micron merino top
Hand dyed by me
Randomly spun
Weight: Lace
Grist:10,555 mtrs per Kg
WPI: 36
Plies: 2
Singles: Z spun
Plied: S spun
Wheel: Ashford Traditional
Drive ratio: 40:1



This is the first yarn/skein I spun using my new Ashford Lace Flyer. I like it. Spinning seems effortless, because of the higher ratio I no longer treadle like a mad woman to get enough twist into the singles. Cross lacing the singles across the flyer does work, it slows the take up of the yarn onto the bobbin. I soon got a feel for it.

One error I made, when I came to ply the singles I used a lace bobbin, I should have just used a normal one. I will know next time!

Now I've just made a start on this beautiful stuff:
This is a braid of merino from Heavenly wools, a lovely surprise sent to me by a swap partner this week. It has a long colour change, so a gradient spin is in order.








I originally planned to spin onto 2 bobbins and 2 ply the singles, but I had a change of heart and decided to spin it all onto one bobbin and Navajo ply for a 3 ply gradient yarn. The blue is much more teal/peacock in reality. I'm halfway through the first colour of 4.

The peonies are all coming into bloom in my garden and I cut the first vase full today. The roses are just about ready to bloom but we are still getting cold frosty nights. I cover over the potatoes and other frost tender crops at night, it seems rather late in the year to be doing that.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Merino, ready to ply

I finished spinning the merino singles last night. 2 bobbins, now ready to ply. The colours are quite a bit more vivid in real life:
Greens into blues, random spun into singles as fine as I could, it was a braid of merino I dyed a very long time ago. I hope for 1000 mtrs of laceweight!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Alpaca Fibre Processing, Part 2..

I finally finished cleaning/washing/combing the mid fawn alpaca fibre. 490g of perfectly clean, soft, fluffy nests to spin. Before I started the fibre weighed 610g so the wastage has run at about 20% which isn't bad.
















The cria fleece I'm working on now, which came from Radar, is so very soft and fine and wastage seems very high. So I did two experiments:

1. I took a section of dirty fleece, in it's raw, unpicked state, washed and dried it, then weighed it. 210g. I combed it, giving it 5 passes through the combs to get rid of all the VM. Finished weight of the combed fibre was 44g. Too much work for too little product.

2. I took another section of the same fleece weighing 210g, then flicked out most of the VM with a dog slicker brush, washed and dried it as before then combed it, it needed only 2 passes through the combs. Finished weight 121g.


The red basket shows the fibre after flicking out the VM but before washing and combing. The colour is true to life. The dirt dulls everything about it, the colour, feel and the texture.










After washing and combing the fibre is totally transformed into clean, beautiful nests with a gorgeous rich colour and sheen.  
So, for me personally after weighing everything up, removing the VM with the dog slicker brush first is the best option. Although time consuming, I'm now rather adept at it and can whip through the fleece quite efficiently. I would rather do that and follow with 2 passes through the combs than do 5 passes through the combs, fighting the static and flyaway fibre is no fun. I just wanted to reassure myself that I was doing this the most efficient way, for me anyway.                                              
s

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Alpaca Fibre Processing....

I've been diligently washing 2 lingerie bags of alpaca fibre every evening this week, as soon as it's dry it's on my combs, being made into clean, soft nests of delicious fibre ready for spinning:
This is the fibre that was sitting in the red basket on my 'Three Bags Full' post last week, it was a fleece I bought from a breeder friend last year off her alpaca Chantallini.
I washed it in mild hair shampoo, 2 good rinses, then a final rinse with a spot of hair conditioner added (as this cuts down on the static when you come to comb it), then laid it out on a rack to dry and have combed 280g so far. There's another 200g dry today. I shall wash another batch after dinner, and so the washing/drying/combing cycle goes on and on.

I have an image in my mind that one day I will have a whole shelf of large lidded boxes, each box containing the processed fleece from one of my alpacas. When I get the urge I can just walk to the box and remove the required amount of ready to spin fibre that I need. We can all dream.

Sometimes I don't want to sit and knit, or to sit and spin for that matter, sometimes the only thing that will cut the mustard for me is some good old fibre prep!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Asparagus

Today I picked the first of the season's asparagus from the garden. It doesn't take long to grow once those first little spears poke their way through the soil. We will be eating it most days for the next 8 weeks, then I have to stop cutting it and let the crowns fatten up ready for next year. I have managed to keep this bed alive for the last 4 years so I must be doing something right!

I love the colours, green and purple are so nice together.

Poached eggs & asparagus for dinner tonight. Yummy.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

3 Bags Full.... of Alpaca Fibre

Well, 2 bags and a basket to be precise.

This is 2 days of work.
The white is 700g of cria fleece which will be blended with 18 micron merino, the bag in front is 1kg of tan/white alpaca and the basket contains the rest (about 600g) of the tan fleece which I want to wash and comb.
The 2 bags are going off to the wool carders tomorrow for processing. I still cleaned all of this fleece, lock by lock, with a flick carder to get all the VM out and believe me it was full of the stuff. But, if you send rubbish off to the carders you get rubbish back, and I want to have nice fibre that's a pleasure to spin, so time spent on it now will pay off in the long run.

The white alpaca is so soft, I'm going for a 70/30 blend with the merino. The tan fleece is also lovely and soft - I'm tempted to just have it washed and carded and kept as 100% alpaca. All the fleece have staples of about 7".
I've just made a start on Radar's, it's chocolate brown with black and so far I have skirted it, taken off the legs, neck and belly fibre yet I can't see any guard hair in his fleece at all. It's very crimpy and silky soft. I think I may send it to the wool carders next month if I have it prepped by then. That will be 3 down, 2 more fleece to go. The end is in sight...