Tuesday, 25 February 2014

The Year in Books: February

Before we run out of February here is my book for the month: An Omelette and a Glass of Wine, a compilation of the journalism of Elizabeth David.  I adore reading Elizabeth David's cookery writing, she wrote as well as she cooked, so that her pieces are pithy, inspiring and taste good to read, odd though that statement sounds.  She had a real skill in recalling a place and a time, so that as she travels you walk through markets, taste, smell and eat with her.  If she did not like something, a restaurant, or the sample tinned pies sent by publicity departments with an optimism born of lunacy, or the British practise of taking other countries' dishes and bastardising them, she could be devastating.  In the case of one restaurant she adds in an after-note that sometime after the publication of her piece the restaurant had lost its Michelin star!

The pieces are a whole mixture and show the sheer variation that can be achieved when writing about food, there are short biographies of key figures like Mrs Beeton and Marcel Boulestin, an account of the invention of tinned tomatoes, numerous wonderful travel pieces (she would have made a good travel writer), various aspects of the history of food are covered, as well as the more usual pieces containing recipes.  I cannot recommend this book enough, her writing is a joy and her passion for good food, properly made, is inspiring.

I would love a kitchen like this

Elizabeth David began writing on her return from Egypt in 1946, where she had been working during the war, because she missed the food of the Mediterranean and the sunshine.  When her first book, A Book of Mediterranean Food, was published in 1950 food was still rationed and many of the ingredients were largely unobtainable, except sometimes in small shops in Soho, but the book was wonderfully aspirational, a reminder that food could be something more than a problem to be solved.  She went on to write a number of books on European food, which were followed by a few more scholarly, in depth books on English food, including a superb book on bread.  Although she died two decades ago, many modern chefs still cite her as an inspiration and if you love food I would recommend you get hold of her books and start reading.  The books are still in print, although second hand copies are available more cheaply and two colour books compilations of her recipes have been published more recently, At Elizabeth David's Table and Elizabeth David on Vegetables This Guardian article has more about Elizabeth David, her extraordinary life and her legacy.

If you knit and have heard of Elizabeth Zimmermann then you may understand more when I say that what Elizabeth Zimmermann was to knitting in the second half of the twentieth century, Elizabeth David was to food.  I often associate the two of them in my mind, they were born at a similar time into a similar social class and both were determined, opinionated women who pursued their passion.

You can find the other blog posts in the Year of Books here

Monday, 17 February 2014

Ever wondered...

Ever wondered how they get the stripes in self-striping socks?  Let this video enlighten you.  It's in German but the pictures are fairly self explanatory.

Monday, 10 February 2014


Rudyard Kipling wrote in his oft quoted poem If,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same
This was to have been a post of triumph, that I had finished my Dad's Fair Isle sweater, that it fitted, that he loved it, a photo or two of the jumper, if not of him wearing it - he wants to get his hair cut first!  But... it is finished, it is photographed, it does not fit.  I have not blocked it properly (meaning that it is still a little tight all round) and the top of the arms is all wrong, big and puffy.

After four months of working more or less solidly on nothing else my first reaction was devastation.  That set back set off my tendency to catastrophize, triggering all of my worst, blackest thoughts of myself and my fear of failure and fear that I am a failure.  Inside my head has not been a pretty place this afternoon Everything felt overwhelming and hopeless and I simply could not see how I could ever sort it out or face trying to sort the jumper out.  I felt angry with the jumper and with myself, angry that I had wasted four months, that I had not been able to knit anything for me in that time (what a horrible selfish thought that one is), angry with the world.  At one point I even considered taking the scissors to the thing: not in a cutting a steek manner either.

It took most of the afternoon, good friends, some good Christian music, a nap and a particularly good edition of Just a Minute on radio 4 to help me to climb out of that particular sink-hole.  All of this came on a day that was not a particularly good day anyhow, I felt tired and headachy, the weather was vile again and life seemed dull again.  Now that I have calmed down I can see a way forward.  There is not actually that much that needs re-doing, just the two sleeve caps, which in the light of an entire jumper's worth of Fair Isle is fairly minor.  I think, upon reflection, that I am going to unpick the sleeve caps, having put life-lines into the arm stitches, knit down from the armholes in the traditional manner and then graft the sleeves back on again.  I have plenty of yarn left to do this with and hopefully it will not take too long.

And if that fails?  I'm going to dust myself off, pick myself up, take off the sleeves and knit ribbing around the armholes and he can have a tank top and lump it!

Meanwhile I will try to learn from my mistakes and try to be less afraid, sometimes this fear of failure leaves me completely frozen unable to try new things in case they go wrong.  Rational self knows that this is nonsense and that my first attempts to walk or talk or write did not always go right and needed lots of tries to get right, so why do I not see that this needs to be the case with learning new things as an adult?  Designing a Fair Isle jumper from scratch is a big undertaking, I could not expect to achieve it without making mistakes and wool is a fairly forgiving medium.  I have dealt with other things going wrong with it such as getting the v-neck in the wrong place, so why the melt-down today?  Mental health recovery seems to be a process of two steps forward, one step back, probably best to see today as a one step back and a learning experience.  One day I will be able to keep my head.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

A finished baby cardigan


Ta dah!  A finished Baby Sweater on Two Needles, often called the February Baby Sweater, as it appears in the February section of Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitter's Almanac, an excellent and original little book.  Although it is worth noting that Elizabeth Zimmermann's pattern writing style is concise and takes a little getting used to; she expects her knitter to be using her (or his) brain when knitting, one's hand is not held through every step.  However, her patterns are rewarding when one has done the spadework and this cardigan is one of my favourite cardigans to knit for baby girls.  I have used Sandnes Garn Smart, a Norwegian yarn available from Scandinavian Knitting Design.  Now all I have to do is reposition the bottom button, which for some reason I have sewn on in completely the wrong place (relief at finally nearly finishing sewing on the buttons going to my head?) and post it to the intended recipient before their daughter outgrows it.

Next time I will definitely do the sleeves in the round, make the body a little longer and work out a more widely spaced option for the buttons as there are ten of them, which seems excessive on a baby cardigan and takes ages to do up.  Ravelry page here.

There we are, some knitting content at last, doesn't that feel better?