Monthly Archives: December 2008

“Smoke” on the water…

… but, thankfully, no fire in the sky.


This is -10C air over salt water.


Merry merry!  Best wishes of the season.

 It’s certainly been merry here.

An important point about message fragmentation.  Here are 2 very
different messages, each starting with the same first chunk:

  1. We found the roasting pan we thought we’d given away.
  2. We found the roasting pan we thought we’d given away, but it’s
    not in fit condition to use for food preparation, you’d best bring
    yours again.

Guess which version of the communication I had, right up to the point
when I was hotting up the oven and ready to pop in the turkey I’d
volunteered to prepare  chez
les beaux parents
this year?  πŸ™‚ 

The roasting pan was lurking under the shelves in the basement
workshop, a WWII-generation looking thing that had been gathering dust
for more years than I’ve been cooking. And the worst-looking kind of
dust (and rust).   There weren’t great alternatives, so I
consented to see what DH could do to clean it up — convincing him to
use cooking oil to scrub it with, not inedible WD40…  And when
successive wipes with a paper towel were still coming away with bits of
rust, I wiped it down with canola oil and threw it into the already hot
oven to seal it.   Apart from having to position a standing
fan by the oven to direct the inevitable smoke towards the windows
(away from the alarm-company wired-in smoke detector), that did the
trick rather nicely.


I’ve decided it has the character of a cast iron pan — a little oil
and TLC, and it comes through like a champ.


Note the rounded bottom — no nasty corners to catch and hide cooking

I think I know the perfect home for this old champ.

A propos of nothing in
particular,   Christmas sunset over Waterloo Lake:



Perhaps — just perhaps — I
am learning.

I have previously
, on more
than one occasion
, that I really should swatch for colours and
pattern realities before I embark on a project.

I’m now playing with some ideas for a multicolour, textured sweater in
Rowan Cocoon (chunky merino/kid mohair).  I bought the yarn with
an eye to colours that played nicely together, but realized I should
get some sense of what the best combinations are (for hue as well as
value) before I
get too far along in the design process.

colour and texture


This was just playing around — I haven’t really thought about what
motifs I want to use (for colour or texture), but it’s quite clear that
the maroon and dark brown are pretty “subtle” together.  “Subtle”
would be a code word for “bad idea” πŸ™‚  But, the maroon would go
well with the base colour, and might even play off the teal
nicely.  We’ll see what happens…

When a Good Cookie Goes Bad…

Last week, I did my Christmas (cookie) marathon, constructing and
baking 4 different batches of cookies through the week, and another 4
on Saturday.  It’s not like there’s  a lack of other things
going on this month — I just broke them up into stages and wove the
different stages (dough, shaping, resting, baking, decorating) in and
around other things.

Usually, the star performer in my Christmas cookie plate is Alton
Brown’s Chocolate
Peppermint Pinwheel
.  I’ve been known to (have to) make more
than one batch of them in a season.

This year, it was a good cookie gone very, very bad…

gone bad

Note how the chocolate layer is broken/breaking off.

one bad cookie

I’m still not really sure what happened, though I have a
suspicion.  The cookies are made by making one batch of butter
cookie dough, splitting it in half, adding peppermint flavouring to
half of it and chocolate to the rest.  I.e., the base cookie dough
is the same in the whole cookie.

When I went to roll the doughs out, the chocolate dough was hard.  It actually clattered
when it hit the counter.  This was straight out of the fridge, so
I waited to see if it would behave any better when warmed.  My
suspicion is that I didn’t split the dough evenly enough, and that
threw off the ratio of melted chocolate to dough in the chocolate
segment.  So, it was hard chocolate hitting the counter.  I
wound up having to heat the dough in the microwave (for 30 seconds) to
be able to roll it out — but it never behaved like a cohesive whole,
as is witnessed by the broken bits above.

Oh, well.  Still tasty.  But I don’t think I can put them in
Christmas cookie gifts!

The beauty of doing 8 batches is that, for every failure such as the
above, there are successes… The raspberry
jam-filled, chocolate dipped
ones seem to have come out okay.

jam filled

And, the ginger bread condescended to let me roll it out and cut it
this year.

ginger cat


Now this is obscure:  the 1904 date system in Excel.

I was working with a spreadsheet in which I was trying to create a
projection of a larger spreadsheet.  I.e., I want to be able to
share just a portion of the larger spreadsheet — so I copied the
relevant cells from the larger workbook and pasted them into the
shareable workbook as links.  Which was fine — except the dates
were all wrong.  Right day/month, wrong year.

After a few judicious Google searches, I stumbled across the fact that
the Mac-created Excel spreadsheet was using the 1904 date system as
a default; unselecting that (in preferences) restored my copied dates
to the right year.  Victory!

But, here’s the larger picture:  I need to share the projected
worksheet with staff located at remote offices.  A communications
network that lets me send data point-to-point is all I need for
that.  However, point-to-point (connection-oriented) is not appropriate to develop the sort
of widespread information network that is the World Wide Web on the
Internet. I would not know who to turn to for resolution to this
annoying glitch. (The link above is to a Microsoft site; the one that I
actually hit at the time was some random user help group). 

To state the hopefully-obvious:  we’re all thoroughly invested in
this global information service supported by the Internet, and anything
that gets in the way of J. Random Helper posting solutions that S.
Frantic User can stumble across is a significant step backwards.

Cheese: an Explanation

Let me explain something. 


Cheese plate -- Paris

is a cheese plate.

And this:


is a wanna-brie .

Opening up the familiar wood box, I was astonished to find a sealed
plastic tub inside.  Think of the “hankie” scene from the opening
of “The Commitments”.

Look more closely at the labelling — from the country that has to
label when its cheese is food:

brie cheese food


It is, indeed, “CheezWhiz” with brie flavour undertones. 

And, lest there be any doubt about its “real”ness — check the
ingredients, the first of which is “natural cheese”.  Cheddar
cheese, no less.


It is a relief to know it contains dairy.


How to make 3 lbs of butter seem small

I have found one sure fire way to make 3 lbs of butter seem like not
much of a big deal — and it has to do with Christmas cookies.

For whatever reason, even as there is no time for (m)any of the usual
sorts of holiday things, such as decorating our home, I hang on to
making Christmas cookies.   Perhaps it’s because:  if I
make them, I get to decide if they’re good (and I don’t make any yucky
ones — again, by my
definition πŸ™‚ ).

So, in this brief period of actually being at home, I pulled out my various
recipes, selected which ones I’d like to make this year, and started
totting up various repetitive ingredients, to make sure I’d have enough
sugar, flour, nuts, chocolate (I said they’re good) and butter.  I came up
to 98 tbsp of butter required.  Ninety-eight.  And there are
4 tbsp per quarter cup.  My quick math suggested:   SIX

Fortunately, I was corrected (thanks, Mom!) — 4 tbsp per quarter CUP,
not per quarter pound.    So, it’s only 3 pounds (and 2
tbsp) of butter for all these cookies.  See?  Seems like
hardly anything, now πŸ˜‰

For my next trick — I’ll figure out how to make the amount of time
needed to make the cookies undergo a similar transformation… wish me

Yarn Surprise

The other day, DH approached me with a box of yarn in hand, prompting
me to retreat and utter some sailorly language.  The attentive
will note that this is not my expected reaction to yarn; certainly, it
was not what DH might have expected.

The problem was that it was a box that had been hiding in the basement
(no difficult feat, given the number of ignored boxes down
there).  It was a box full of remnants of yarns from projects gone
by — projects from 2 decades ago, and more.   Some of the
labels on these acrylic yarns were from department stores — back when
Zellers & Eaton’s had their own house brand of yarn!

I don’t feel I can throw it out — it is, after all Perfectly Good
Yarn.  It’s just not something I want to knit with
anymore.   And there isn’t really enough of any given
colour/weight to just give it away.  (I also have troubles with
the concept: “I’m done with this crap — I thought you might like 

Really, the issue is that my current stash is already seriously
bursting out of its generous storage space (some 14 stacking plastic
filer drawers).  I don’t want more space to store yarn:  I
want to knit down the beautiful yarns I’ve already got in hand! 
So, in some sense, the reaction to the box was that it was like having
a box of “time you don’t have” waved under my nose.  Sigh. 
Knew that already.

I did go through the box and mostly filed away the bits and ends —
including the letter that accompanied the return of the project in
progress as the Sweater
kicked in.  Now, that
was a while ago…


Okay, so here is the revised pattern, instantiated in the new sock:


The 2-knit-stitch welt is progressing properly; the stockinette panels
are oddly parallelogrammed, and the moss stitch is setting up in modest
diamond shapes… I think it mostly works.  I think the next time
I’ll keep the stockinette panels diamond-shaped, and let the moss
stitch run amok between the diamonds, to provide the textured
background.  Or, maybe there won’t be a next time.

Now that I’ve resolved this design difficulty, I’ve set these socks
aside until my next meeting/travel opportunity.  So, now I’m back
to my regular knitting projects, and I can’t say I’m feeling hugely
motivated.  I have 3 sweaters in progress, each of which will be
wonderful when finished, but it will take some slogging:

  • a black, mostly stockinette, cardigan.  Black. 
    Stockinette.  How else do you spell DULL?! (but it will be lovely
    when done)
  • the design colour-challenged sweater, that I mostly refuse to rip
  • a crochet cardigan-of-many-colours

This last is the most engaging — my most engaging knit project is
crochet.  Sigh.  I’d like
to set up something more engaging as a project, but don’t feel I can
leave 3 dangling.  I guess I have to press on and finish a couple
of them before I start something more compelling.

Remind me not to do anything less than “compelling” in future.

Just a Little Tweak…

After I’d done these
“diamond moss stitch” socks, I chided myself for not having adjusted
Lesley Stanfield’s stitch pattern (for the diamonds) to work in the
round.  You can see the “disconnect” between the segments of welt

diamond moss disconnect

I decided to make that adjustment and use the same motif in the current
sock project (which uses Tess
SuperSock yarn
— nice tight twist and excellent for stitch
definition).  As I was at the point of beginning to knit the ankle
patterning, I bravely threw down a revised diagram to work for, and set
to work as soon as the ferry pulled away from the wharf.  And
before the ferry docked, I knew I was in trouble.   
It’s just not so simple as all that…

If you look at the original stitch pattern sample in the book, the
stockinette diamonds are in isolation in a sea of moss stitch. 
I.e., there is no horizontal hookup.    As I spent the
next while trying to get the start of one (moss stitch) diamond to line
up with the end of the last, I began to understand why.  The 2
stitches of travelling welt throw a monkey wrench into the whole
pattern evolution.  Compared to the result in the picture above,
there need to be 4 rows to to accommodate the progression of the welt
smoothly from one vertical repeat to the next.  I fumbled around
and eventually made that work, WITH the moss stitch diamonds aligning
in successive vertical repeats.  But, the stockinette segments are
no longer diamonds — they’ve been pulled into generic

I think favouring the moss
stitch as the most visually apparent item is the right choice.  If
not, perhaps I’ll make another sock and let the moss stitch go wherever
and keep the stockinette diamonds intact.  Or, maybe I’ll just go
find another pattern to beat on πŸ™‚

I’m trying hard not to think about the fact that this is another case
where some judicious swatching at the outset would have saved some
heartache and ripping back.  It would have.  Swatching is
important.  It’s just that socks are supposed to be the easy “just
do it” projects, and there is rarely time for swatching as I’m headed
out the door and grabbing yarn to make sure I don’t run out of stuff to
knit while on the road.

Oh, you want to see the
current efforts?  Well, presently…