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Friday, December 12, 2014

Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting & Other Things..........

It's been a very busy week and also a very cold week. I never thought I would see the day when we had the christmas tree up and the fire lit, but we did.

I made Gingerbread Cupcakes with lemon cream cheese frosting this week, they make the house smell so christmassy while they are baking:

For the cupcakes:
4 oz soft butter
1/2 cup soft brown sugar (packed)
1 egg
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup black treacle
1 1/3 cups plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

For the frosting:
100g cream cheese (full fat)
30 g soft butter
150g icing sugar
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon lemon juice.

Oven 180 degC/350 deg F

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg then add the treacle and water. The mixture may look like it has split at this point but don't be concerned, it will work out right. Mix all the dry ingredients together and mix them into the butter mixture until combined, then beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Fill paper baking cups 2/3 full and bake for about 20 minutes. They will be risen and nicely brown, when you gently press them in the centre they should spring back. Let them cool in the tins for 10 minutes then transfer to a cooling rack.

For the frosting: Mix all ingredients together and mix with an electric whisk for 2 minutes until light and airy. Pipe swirls on top of the cupcakes and decorate as desired. I used snowflake sprinkles. This makes about 18 cupcakes depending on the size of your paper cups.

The postie has been busy at my house this week, delivering parcels and goodies:

My Christmas present to myself.

My holiday colour swap-mini-swap envelope from Annie in The Netherlands, crochet snowflakes for my tree, organic chocolate, mini skeins and a skein of Wollmeise in the most gorgeous shade of red. What a lucky girl I am.

My wonderful colour swap parcel from Aryn in Canada, stuffed full of yarn, fibre and goodies all packaged in the neatest handmade fabric basket.

I'm making slow progress on my cardigan, just not getting enough knitting time lately. Onto the third stripe and have joined in the round for the body part.

My tree has a bird theme this year.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

December Already..

December is here already, I can't believe it! Yesterday was the first day of Summer for us and what a day it was. Hail storms, rain all day and the fire lit last night. I have never known us to have the fire lit in December.

Christmas is fast approaching and I feel so unprepared. I have mailed gifts home to the U.K. and have done most of my gift buying for family here yet I still have to bake my Christmas cakes (I usually have them done and stored away by the end of October), I have the fruit soaking it's just difficult to find the time to actually bake them. Going to work seems to suck up most of my time these days.

So, with all the 'hundred-things-to-do' swimming around in my head I decided to start knitting a cardigan lol. I'm using some yarn that I haven't tried before:

Cleckheaton Perfect Day DK weight ~ a wool & alpaca blend. It's really nice yarn, soft and light, I think it'll make a perfect BlueSand Cardigan for when the cooler weather returns. The mid grey (12 balls) is for the main part of the cardigan and the darker and lighter shades for the stripes, the yarn was on clearance for $7 per ball, a real bargain.

The red roses from my garden are making me feel quite Christmassy, they are the most stunning shade of red, have the sweetest perfume and the blooms are really large. I would love to know what variety they are.

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:
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.                                              

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!