Sunday, June 26, 2011

Little to report, and this is my sign-off for a while. The Mileses must be in a departure lounge at Beijing airport right this moment, if not actually airborne. If all goes according to plan, someone will be bedding down here by my computer tomorrow morning – and later, we’ll all go to Kirkmicha*l and I will start rescuing my poor vegetables from the all-enveloping weeds.

And casting-on the Japanese shirt!

Our niece came to lunch yesterday, looking younger and prettier than when we last saw her, freed from the stress of her mother’s dying. She is moving forward with the sad business of getting things valued for probate.

I didn’t get much knitting done, but the herringbone-ing of the first sleeve is finished, and the self-knitting sock has turned its heel.

Annie, thanks for the tip about Pavi Yarns and Cascade 220. I’ll bookmark.


There are two non-knit topics which have been forming themselves into possible blog-paragraphs in my head while I have been cooking and washing-up lately. One of them concerns the shouting of “Come on, Tim” at Andy Murray when he is playing tennis – which annoys him, understandably, and has an undercurrent of racism to it. Murray is undoubtedly the best British tennis player for a long, long time – better than Tim Henman, certainly – but if there’s one thing he’s rather emphatically not, it’s an Englishman.

These days he looks not entirely unlike Peter Capaldi in “In the Thick of It” – tall, Scottish and furious.

The other concerns Esther Rantzen, who had an article in the Telegraph recently about moving from a four-storey town house in London somewhere to a two-bedroom’d apartment, now that she is a widow and her children have flown the coop. The article was about how she misses her clutter.

But she didn’t even mention the aspect of house-clearing which would stop us in our tracks if we ever tried to downsize. Brown furniture can go to the sale room, stash to Alyth: but what about books?

Maybe Esther Rantzen has a Kindle.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Good progress, again. The second sleeve is set in – the work as slow as the first, but a tad less agonizing; the straps attached; and the internal neatening well begun.

EZ, who got me into this mess, is less than helpful there. “Herringbone stitch”, she says, with no hint as to how to do it or what yarn to use. I am employing something from the bulging sock yarn oddball bag, much easier to manipulate than Aran yarn, and improvising the stitch with help from the Internet. The best that can be said for the result is that it looks tidier than the un-herringboned part. And feels secure.

So it is within the bounds of possibility that I might finish that, and the other tidying, and get the collar stitches back on the needles today. They are all still live – shall I just continue the patterns for an inch or so? The yarn is very robust; I think the result would be a stand-up collar which would indeed stand up. Might be fun.

Jared’s “Brownstone”

Thanks for help on this one.

Jenny, I followed the Ravelry link. It’s extraordinary how many people have knit the pattern already, and how many others are queueing it, given that it’s not all that old and really fairly basic. I think I don’t like the toggles. I notice that several people have left them out.

Thanks for the thumbs up on Cascade 220 – I’d never even heard of it; so much for me. I think Thomas-the-Elder can be trusted not to machine-wash, if told. He can Return to Sender for hand washing.

I’m very tempted just to order some Christmas Red right now from Loop, the recent suppliers of my madeleinetosh yarn. Thinking about all this, I have remembered how cheering it is to knit something red during the dark months of the year. However I deploy projects in the immediate future, I think I’ll work on the Brownstone here in Edinburgh from Nov. 1 – Feb 1. Which may be all the time it needs.


We have decided not to go in July. A disappointment on the knitting front, but the immediate feeling of relief suggests that it was the right decision. We’re going to aim for early September, not long after the Games. I am still not at all sure that my husband is up to it, but at least this way I will be fully there to help, and Rachel too, when not required by her job. The decider, for my husband, was when he fully grasped that we wouldn’t see Rachel at all, if we went in July.

There’ll be other Knit Nations, and Franklin will probably come back. He clearly loves London.

Friday, June 24, 2011

One sleeve attached, fairly successfully. It’s agonizingly slow work. The stitching for the other side is done, although I haven’t made the cut yet. I should hope to get that sleeve stuck on today. The rest should be downhill. There will have to be tidying done on the inside, herringbone-stitch, as well as attaching the straps and general tidying. I won’t get it all done before the Beijing Mileses arrive on Sunday.

Then there will be the collar to knit, a final treat. My sister has a phrase – I always remember it wrong, so it’s probably not “King Olaf’s soup” – for the final, left-behind half glass of wine you get to drink after the pudding, after the meal is finished. That’s how I feel about that last little bit of actual knitting, after the ordeal of making-up.

Meanwhile, as I’ve discovered before, if all you want is a relatively small ladies’ sock, just cast on with a KF self-striping yarn and it’ll knit itself.

I am beginning to wonder seriously if we will get to London next month. The days are rolling forward – we’ve got to face up to it, one way or the other.

My husband is even slower than he was. Getting to things in Edinburgh involves more and more careful forward planning and calculating of distances-to-be-walked. How on earth will he manage London? There’s lots to see there, as always, but I don’t think there are any mustn’t-miss exhibitions just now. We’ll be tired before we even set out, after the Mileses’ visit. Rachel won’t be there – she is most uncharacteristically weekending in Toulouse while KnitNation is on. Is it worth the trouble and expense of going to London without seeing Rachel?

We must talk about this, he and I, today or tomorrow.


Kristie, I did some Googling on “Cascade 220”. It looks promising, and easy to get. They offer a shade called “Christmas red” which could probably be trusted for electricity, sight-unseen. I am always slightly alarmed when a yarn boasts that it’s ideal for felting – does that mean that the rest of us don’t dare allow it anywhere near water? I’ll get the Brownstone pattern out today and see what sort of gauge Jared expects.

Thanks for the comments about magazines, with special reference to Knitter’s. Shandy, I think, at least for the moment, that VK is in a class by itself, and shouldn’t be abandoned if one wants to see Where Knitting is Going. You’re probably right that the rest don't matter. But you can’t read a computer in the bath.

Rebecca, I’m delighted to “meet” someone who, like me, tried to knit all the Socka yarns. I wish now that I had kept track of my Kaffe socks in those terms – made a note of the shade numbers. I suspect I’ve knit most of them, but not quite all.

I’m glad to meet a fellow-enthusiast for commonplace books, too. (Follow the link) I’ve got one, rarely augmented, but what is there is mostly rather choice. “Mostly” – a few things that seem brilliant at the time, pale with the years.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Pagoldh says to begin by basting the sleeve to the body. That sounded as if it were likely to be more accurate than measuring, so I did it. Then unbasted. Then sewed by hand the lines of stitching to restrain the first side. It was surprisingly difficult to keep them straight, through the moss stitch. I kept straying towards the centre and having to unpick. What would have happened if I had tried to do it by machine?

The second pass, on top of the first, went faster.

At that point I thought it was all right to stop for the day. So I started a pair of KF socks, probably for Rachel, from my diminished stash. I forget every time how delicious those yarns are to knit. I have finished the ribbing already -- Rachel has small feet, and likes small ankle socks. We have a diabetic dietary appt this morning which should see me sweeping down towards the heel.

The next big question facing the Aran is whether to sew the straps in first, or the sleeves? If the straps, one could start at the neck edge and go all the way around. But I think it would be better to do the sleeves first and then, with the sleeve firmly anchored, see whether or not the strap is exactly the right length. Why did I think straps would be a good idea? I can’t remember now.

I’d welcome any advice on this point.


Guess what turned up yesterday? My last Knitter’s! I picked it up with some trepidation – was this going to be the astonishing issue which made me reconsider my decision not to renew? The answer is an emphatic no. This may be the worst one of all. Apart from patterns one has no wish to knit, there is nothing to read. What is the use of a magazine with nothing to read?

And this is the magazine that Nancy Thomas used to edit. It passes belief.

I think I want to have a look at the British magazine called The Knitter. But I’ll leave it until fall, to make it a fair test.

It’s good to have the Curmudgeon back. She mentions a book called “Knit, Swirl” by Sharon McIver which sounds interesting on hasn’t heard of it yet.


Mary Lou, thanks for the tip on Kaffe’s self-striping Kid Silk Haze, but no. I knit that stole on the cover of a relatively recent Rowan’s – that was Kaffe’s pattern, wasn’t it? and if so, the inspiration for the new yarn. The stole was a success, I gave it to Hellie. But I resolved in the knitting of it never to touch Kid Silk Haze again for the rest of my life. I gave what remained in the stash away.

Kristie, thanks for the tip about Cascade 220 for electric red. I’ve made a note in the HALDPINT list

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A darker and drearier Midsummer’s Day than yesterday can scarcely be imagined or remembered. Today is no better. I think a novena to St Swithin (July 15) is in order.

Here’s the Aran sweater, photographed indoors because it’s raining out there. Now comes the fun part.

I finished all but the strap last night, and polished that off during my osteoporosis-pill-half-hour this morning. I’d have got it done during the half-hour, too, but for a wrong-way cross which involved some frogging.

Thanks to Tamar, I was able to go straight to my account of setting in the sleeves of the Grandson, February 22, 2010. Most interesting, including your comments. The first thing I wanted to know was whether I had sewn the reinforcements by hand, or had struggled with the machine.

The answer is, by hand, and moreover I expressed gratitude to one of you for suggesting that I do it that way. So that settles that one. My own remarks remind me of the wisdom of stopping and switching to sock-knitting whenever I find myself getting tense and anxious.

Watch this space. The fact that the Grandson has held up well is encouraging.


Mrs Hussain was in the shop yesterday – she isn’t there very often – and interested in talking about cookery, so I raised the Good King Henry problem. A certain amount of confusion as to what I meant by – how I was pronouncing – “bathua”, but she got it and we had an interesting conversation on the subject.

She has a friend who plucks it from the weeds in her garden – that’ll be Fat Hen. Mrs Hussain wouldn’t trust herself to recognise the leaves. (My husband thinks it’s Fat Hen that I’m growing. He isn’t often wrong on such matters, but he is this time. Fat Hen, as I’ve said here before, is chenopodium album; Good King Henry is ch. bonus-henricus.)

She suggested that I bring some leaves of it back, and we’ll see what her husband thinks. Unlike her, he grew up in Pakistan (and is interested in food). He is more likely to be able to say whether the taste is the same, or similar enough. Cultivated sorrel and wild sorrel taste pretty well the same. Why not Good King Henry and Fat Hen?

I feel we’re making progress.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Today’s need for haste is an early appt at the hairdresser’s. We're very grand, around here. He has the best coffee in the Second New Town, and is good at hair, too.

I got to grips with the sock yarn yesterday. This much is going to the charity knitters in Alyth:

And don’t worry about me. I have retained more than I can knit in what remains of my lifetime, but only somewhat more, not grotesquely more.

I hope they still do charity knitting in Alyth. I could bundle it up and send it somewhere, but that involves the tedium of making a package and trundling up or down hill to a post office with it. But
If seven maids (with seven mops)
Should knit for half a year,
Do you suppose, the Walrus said,
That they could get it clear?
I doubt it, said the Carpenter,
And shed a bitter tear.

It all started (as far as sock yarn is concerned) with my discovery of the Internet and Patternworks in the mid-90’s. I have always loved multi-coloured yarns, since learning to do French knitting in childhood. I was enchanted with Socka Colors, and determined at one point to work my way through their list.

Then somehow Socka ceased, or merged with someone, and everything was different. I looked around and snapped up what I could find – that accounts for a lot of bulk. A lot was picked up hither and yon, visiting LYS’s and feeling, as one does in a second-hand bookstore, that one ought to leave with something, to support the business.

And then of course sock yarn got even more wonderful when Kaffe got involved, and there was no need to stockpile anything.

I felt so guilty – apart from any other consideration, the waste of money involved in that pile doesn’t bear thinking about – that I didn’t order anything yesterday. The new rule is that I can buy whatever I like whenever I want, but only if I have a fairly immediate prospect of knitting it. I think Kaffe’s relatively new Hand-Dyed Effect, in a dark colour, would be acceptable to my husband, who is next in line.

But a Zauberball? We shall see.

And speaking of purchases…

Thomas-the-Elder said at his great-aunt’s funeral in March that he’d like an electric red sweater. I emailed him the other day with a link to Jared’s “Brownstone” (which I’ve already bought), and he approves. I hope to buy that yarn at the market attached to Knit Nation next month – I really need to see it. I don’t know what “electric” means, but I do know I want a bright, clear red with no blue in it.

The Aran sleeve got on well yesterday – two more days will finish it, I think. Tamar, thank you for seeking out my account of setting in the sleeves of the Grandson: I'll get to that today, I hope.

Monday, June 20, 2011

I am gripped by wordlessness this morning. I'll touch a few bases here, and move on to breakfast.

The second Aran sleeve advances – much pleasanter now that I know exactly how many (64) pattern rows there will be. I should certainly reach the frightening finishing stage by the weekend, when the Beijing Mileses are expected and summer will begin.


Not as much fun for me as it used to be, decades ago now, when my husband was gainfully employed and so not around in the afternoon. He’s not remotely interested. Still, I’ll get glimpses.

My opinion is – although it seems pretentious to pontificate – that Andy Murray is not quite in the Greatness Category occupied by Federer and Nadal and the unspellable Mr. Djokovic.

However, stuff happens. I am sure, in the absurdly unlikely event of our former Edgbaston neighbour Ann Jones reading this blog, that she won’t be offended when I say that Billie Jean King was a greater tennis player than she was. Came the day, came the hour, Jones won the Wimbledon singles title by beating King in the final.

But Murray has got three Billie Jean’s to get past. (Only two, in fact, because of the way the draw works – Nadal is close to inevitable, but Federer and Djokovic will sort things out between themselves.)

Not much else. I didn’t get to grips with the sock yarn stash, but still hope to. Kaffe’s “hand-dye effect” might be fun to try, if I can make room for it. And I want a Zauberball.

Shandy, it's delicious to know that asafoetida was used to make bland mixtures taste like "real medicine".

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Not much progress yesterday, but what there was, feels significant. I finished – or at least stopped knitting – the strap for the first sleeve, cast on the second, did the wrist ribbing and the increases, and set the patterns. If this one whizzes along like its fellow, I might finish it this week.

Then comes trouble. But it occurred to me yesterday that, although I have no memory of setting in the sleeves for the Grandson sweater pictured yesterday, I must have blogged about it. It, too, was knit as a tube to the shoulder, without steeks. The electronic date attached to that photograph will provide a terminus ad quem – a pompous but convenient historian’s term for a firm date before which something specific must have happened.

Inspired by the need to cast on a new pair of socks, and a lack of enthusiasm for anything much in stash, I have plans to have a hard look at the sock stash, send some of it off to Alyth for charity knitting – very good and durable stuff, sock yarn – and order some more for myself. Maybe today.


Annie, the yarn for the Japanese sweater is to be a madeleinetosh sock yarn, from Loop in London. Would I trust it for socks, being pure wool? However, that’s not the issue here. My plan for that project is to start it as soon as we get back to Strathardle, and keep it on the bubble there until I finish first the Aran sweater; then that endless pink Araucania which was previously in Strathardle -- it needs only a few more rows and the setting in of the sleeves; and finally the Mourning Shawl for our niece. That mustn’t be too long delayed.

But when all that is done, the Japanese shirt will come back here and something else – probably an electric red sweater for Joe’s brother Thomas-the-Elder – will take its place in Strathardle.

That’s the plan.

Angel, yours was an eloquent comment, about the anxieties facing young people who graduate with no jobs.

We have one more Big Moment this year, now that Joe’s degree is in the bag. His sister Lizzie is in the throes of her A-Levels, and will get results – including a university place, or not – in August. She had two or three offers. I don’t know whether she chose the preferred university with the higher offer, or the less-favoured, safer one, when it came to sending in the UCCA form. She is second from the right in the Grandchildren picture in the sidebar.

It’s a tough year, because everybody wants in before fees go up in a year’s time. Universities are not likely, this time, to take people whose A-Level results slip even one grade below the offer, as they used sometimes to do in the past.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

When we got home from yesterday’s afternoon outing – a trip to Boots to pick up a prescription; a frequent treat – we found ourselves in quite a remarkable half-hour of good news.

1) The pattern for the Japanese shirt arrived. My friend has done a brilliant and utterly professional job. She has done it twice – I have the choice of knitting it in pieces, or all-in-one without side seams. I’ve printed out both versions, but will go for the latter.

I wonder whether it would be possible to offer the pattern on Ravelry, without trespassing on Setsuko Torii’s copyright. First I’d better knit it, but after that, it might be worth asking Habu with whom Torii works.

2) The briefest of e-mails from Rachel to say that her son Joe got a 2.1 – that means, an upper second class degree. Wonderful news. That’s a solidly good degree to have in his pocket when he starts to look for a job. He didn’t have a gap year before university, and his immediate plan is to have one now, and go teach English in Thailand or somewhere thereabouts.

(A lower second, a 2.2, is known familiarly as a “Desmond”. I’ll leave you to work out why.)

That's Joe in the Grandson sweater, trying -- rather successfully -- to smoulder like the model in the book.

3) A phone call from our niece, C.’s daughter, to say that she has been offered a full-time permanent job at Loretto, one of Edinburgh’s best schools.

She is an infant teacher, and I suspect rather a good one. She previously worked at another notable Edinburgh school (where she taught J.K. Rowling’s youngest – they remain friends). She left a year or so ago, with glowing references, and for the past year has been teaching part-time in an Edinburgh city school and dealing with her mother’s death.

Social services and doctors and (especially) hospice nursing were all wonderful, but it needed our niece to make it possible for C. to be at home, in her own house with her own cat and her own garden –there it was beyond the window, even when she was too weak to walk out – until 10 days before the end.

Teaching jobs are astonishingly scarce just now. Our niece had the interview at Loretto a whole week ago, and had pretty well given up hope.

So that was a good afternoon’s work.

As for knitting, I’ve got a couple of inches to go on the first shoulder strap, and hope to polish it off and make a good start on the second sleeve today. I’ve leaving all stitches live – plenty of scope for pentimenti.

The amchur and the hing turned up – even fuller marks to the Asian Cookshop. The asafoetida is sealed up in a little drum, so I haven’t experienced the smell yet. It is a powder, also containing rice flour, turmeric (why?) and wheat flour. AnnaLivia, I note what you say about adding hing to hot fat at the beginning of the cooking process – I notice that both of the recipes I have immediately in mind, do that and I won’t forget (I hope) that the sequence is important.

Good King Henry doesn't have the faintest idea what is about to hit him.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Another good day on the Aran sweater front. I like the way the whole thing is looking. I should get the second sleeve started this weekend, if all goes well.


Mary Lou, it’s not me – it’s my wonderful commentators.

Billi-Jean, please start blogging again.

I’ve got a Kilner jar ready to incarcerate the asafoetida when it arrives. Perhaps it is not coincidence that the word “foetid” is contained therein. I am now thoroughly intrigued.

Roobeedoo, I like the sound of those potato wedges, and will remember. Any particular sort of potato?

I found what sounds like a Moro-esque Good King Henry recipe at – GKH, dandelions, sorrel, mustard greens sweated together for a while before spinach is added, then balsamic vinegar. But I think we want young dandelions; it may be too late to try that one in 2011.

I made my little contribution to all this yesterday by buying fresh packets of the other, ordinary spices I’m going to need (besides hing and amchur). I’ve almost certainly got them in the kitchen in Strathardle, and if so they are very certainly elderly. This is the moment to start fresh.

Contemporary affairs

Greek Helen and her family used to have a wonderful house on Mt. Pelion. They got to the point in life when they felt they had taken on too much debt, and so sold it. Their distress was so great, and the locals so sorry to see them go, that they were directed to a ruin, not far away, the Blue House.

They bought it. This time, the idea was to evict the rats and repair the roof and then camp there until more could be afforded. That’s what has happened, and it’s coming along nicely. They were there last weekend.

I hope the Aran sweater will be big enough for Fergus, here standing on the half-landing above the rest of his family.

In the Before picture, I thought I detected graffiti with the repeated Greek word for Citizens! And the date, 1940. And there seems to be a pink stain in the modern picture, as if the graffiti have been retained. I vaguely feel that the Bad Guys, during the war -- the Italians first, then the Germans -- didn't have firm control of the mountain tops.

Alas for romance! I am told that the words mean, essentially, For Sale, and that the number is a telephone number. And the builders didn't bother to remove it.

Helen said, in an email yesterday, without further comment: “It feels very odd being in Greece at the moment. The sky is falling in.”

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Good progress. This new sleeve is an improvement in several respects – simple purl sts are better than sand- or moss-stitch for the underarm increases, for one thing. The shaping seems to be working.

Side view. I did add the simple cable from EZ’s Aran as soon as there was room for it. It looks a bit odd, but I think will look less so as it and the sleeve get longer.

Front view. The mistake at the beginning of the plaited cable is pretty obvious, but doesn’t bother me. It will continue as the shoulder strap, eventually. So far, I’ve been getting EZ’s folded ribbons right. It’s perfectly simple – that little triangle of purl stitches is first on one side, then on the other, as the ribbon folds. That’s what I get wrong.

Counting is rather demanding, but only enough so to be fun: I am increasing every third round; there is movement in the plaited cables every other round; in the folded ribbons, every round; and in the new pattern at the edges, every 6th round.

Good King Henry

I’ve now got the bit between my teeth, on this one.

To try the recipes I have chosen, I need heeng and amchur. I am sure there are places I could buy them over the counter in Edinburgh, but it is not easy, these days, for me to wander about ad lib. My husband needs exercise, and won’t go out without me. He scarcely has the puff to get to an art exhibition – certainly no breath (or inclination) to spare for oriental grocers. We went to the degree show at the College of Art yesterday. It was an effort.

But of course, there’s good old Google. It wasn’t absolutely straightforward. The first place I tried didn’t seem to have heeng. The spelling is a bit fluid; that may have been the trouble. What it is, is asafoetida. I am sure someone advised me once – Mrs. Hussain? Alexander? – that asafoetida tastes so dreadful that the best thing to do with any recipe in which it appears, is leave it out. But that may be the very ingredient which will counteract the awfulness of Good King Henry, so I had to have it.

The second place had it all right, but wouldn’t let me check out until I had spent £15.

All went well at the Asian Cookshop. I think I’ll be back. Amchur is mango powder. I am looking forward to that.

Totally irrelevant

I'm sure you all saw this one when you found it the other day in Helen C.K.S.'s blog. You'll enjoy watching it again.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

It turned out to be the dentist, rather than the hygienist, due to a mix-up which for once wasn’t at all my fault. He removed a broken and useless tooth in the back which has been scheduled for the chop for more than a year, and was beginning to give trouble.

He wouldn’t let me leave until the bleeding had completely stopped – and I had no knitting. Let that be a lesson to me.

I hadn’t cast on a new pair of socks since I finished Joe’s 21st birthday pair, although the yarn for the next ones was in the knitting bag which of course I took with me. But there turned out not to be any needles in there, for some unimaginable reason. I was condemned to an hour of Hello magazine (always nice to catch up) and Scottish Field.

Angel, I’m afraid what you need, dentist-wise, is Mr. van Schaik of Dublin St. He would never have put you through such an ordeal.

He lives in the country, near Perth, and commutes to Edinburgh – I have spoken of him before. He grows vegetables, and I am sure grows them with the meticulous attention to detail which be brings to dentistry. I was comforted to learn that his vegetables, too – although not assailed by rabbits or frost – are standing around doing nothing, for lack of warmth, just like mine.


I re-assessed the Aran sleeve, despite feeling yesterday rather as if I had been kicked by a mule, and found an elementary mistake in arithmetic which emboldened me to rip it out and start again with a more gentle incline. I have already made a mistake in the plaited cables – an over where it should go under. I won’t know until later whether I’ve done the arithmetic right this time, and the sleeve will be wide enough when it’s long enough.

There should be enough for a photograph soon. I am doing the underarms EZ’s way this time – a four-stitch st st “seam” in the middle with purl stitches on either side. Instead of sand stitch which was rather heavy going. I have just reached the place where I have enough new stitches that I must decide whether or not to add (unconventionally) a new pattern. I did that on the first draft, and it looked rather odd.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Even less time this morning – I have an early appt with a dental hygienist. We got the MOT all right, not without cost, and then I came home and applied for our tax disc from their wonderful website which is able to check for itself that the car is insured and MOT’d, all in an instant.

I am getting on fine with the first Aran sleeve, except that I wonder if I have calculated the increases correctly. I am increasing very fast, and don’t like the resulting shape (as I was afraid I wouldn’t). The sleeve is already about half its final length – the speed with which one whips around is delicious, after knitting the body. And I think, even wanting a fairly short sleeve, that there’s room to start again and slope it more gently. Also I’ve found a mistake.

Exotic cookery

The weed “Fat Hen” seems to be cooked all over the subcontinent, not just in Bangladesh. The word appears to be “bathua” in Hindi. There seems to be no doubt that that is indeed the weed – which appears to be an annual, unlike my Good King Henry. But the taste must be related, or so I hope.

I mean to try raita, which is at least a side dish so that people don’t have to eat it if it is disgusting, and if that is a success, move on to a potato dish. Both on this website. I will need to get in some heeng and some amchur. Mrs Hussein in my corner shop should be able to advise. (She is Edinburgh born and bred, but cooks Eastern. Her sons beg for macaroni cheese like the lunches they get at school.) And if not, I can order from somewhere in cyberspace. My hope is that spices will somehow combine with the bitterness of the leaves and lift them into another dimension.

I’d better go brush my teeth.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Yesterday’s reader was an old woman. Her pronunciations were immaculate. It’s the teenagers who can’t manage Phrygia and Pamphylia.

We’ll have to be quick, this morning. The car is about to go in for its MOT – its annual Certificate of Fitness without which I think it will be illegal to keep it on the road after the coming weekend.

Knitting-wise, the news is that I finished the body of the Aran sweater last night, put it on hold, and started the first sleeve. Knitting on four needles is troublesome, but it will become less so as it rapidly expands.

Now, vegetables.

Angel, thank you for the Mennonite sorrel recipe. It sounds delicious.

I will now move on to another vegetable. I grow something called Good King Henry (chenopodium bonus-henricus, would you believe it) – I’ve mentioned it before. It is related to a well-known weed called Fat Hen (chenopodium album) – not well-known to me, but I gather there is lots of it further south. Good King Henry used to be common in cottage gardens, the books tell me. It rivals Jerusalem artichokes for the title of Ideal Vegetable: perennial, utterly hardy, deer- and rabbit-proof, non-aggressive (=it doesn’t seed itself about, or spread underground). Its only fault – one it does not share with Jerusalem artichokes, which must therefore retain the title – is that it tastes terrible.

In the current issue of Kitchen Garden magazine – I read it devotedly – is an article about Bangldeshi allotment-holders in London. The article says, in a throwaway sentence, that they cultivate Fat Hen and eat the leaves like spinach.

Right! So what I need is a Bangladeshi recipe. Approaching Google in that spirit, I’ve found a couple of possibles, “potato and Fat Hen frittata” and “Mixed spring greens with Good King Henry.” The latter includes dandelion and sorrel, with spinach to take away the taste; it’s already too late this season. I’ll try the frittata.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


My favourite moment in the liturgical year occurs today, with the list of people in Jerusalem who heard the apostles preaching each in their own native language: Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia and in Judea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya around Cyrene…

The reader almost never gets it right (one syllable for “Medes”, three for “Cyrene”, and so forth), and often sounds as if he or she has never even seen the list until the moment it comes up on the lectern. I sit there and glower.

Here we are back.

The first sight of the garden is always a disappointment, this time of year. We arrived in the rain on Wednesday, and the experience was worse than usual. A frost – the night of May 30, I suspect – had touched the potatoes and runner beans (they’ll recover)

and carried off this year’s apple crop completely.

No lettuce at all (except the bought-in ones). Feeble germination from the courgettes. Rabbits (presumably) have wiped out a row of perpetual spinach – some years, they’ll leave that.

The man who is paid rather a lot these days to cut the grass had turned up, belatedly, in our absence and made a poor job of it, wide edges undone, lumps of rotting grass left hither and thither.

I felt much as I often feel in the face of the stash cupboard: this is too much. We can’t manage any more.

However, it’s wonderful what even the geriatric ward can accomplish in 48 hours. On Thursday afternoon, and gloriously all day Friday, the sun shone – and that does lift the spirits. I cut more long grass for my Stout-style mulching, concentrating on the places – where to begin? – where it most offended the eye. I sowed more lettuce – sometimes the slugs give up and sit back, around now.

And some things are doing fine: Jerusalem artichokes and potatoes and broad beans and two sorts of pea, my beloved bunching onions – I sowed some more this year, a red-bulbed sort, and they’re coming along nicely too. My baby artichokes are still there.

My poisioning of the verges of the driveway was a brilliant success:

Yesterday as we were leaving the grass-cutting man turned up again – there’s been lots of rain; it needed cutting again – so we were able to give specific instructions and we parted friends.

Alas, now we must stay here in Edinburgh for a whole fortnight and a bit, because of a series of ineluctable appointments spaced three days apart, a dentist here, an MOT test there, a session with a diabetic dietician.

I didn’t get much knitting done, but even so, the Araucania sweater is within a few rows of completion, so I brought it back. Assembly won’t take all that long – the neck and collar are complete. It’s just a matter of setting in the sleeves. That’ll have to wait until the Aran sweater is finished.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

All set, more or less. The forecast predicts rain for the next fortnight. Doesn’t matter – in fact, rain saves me having to water my vegetables more effectively even than the Stout system does. I am again taking along a doggy-bag of two or three days’ kitchen stuff to add to the compost bin, in honour of Stout. I spend all day cooking – my husband never learned to graze – and it adds up fast.

Cat, I think it will be easier to see what beans want to do earlier in the season. They sort of get tangled up in themselves towards the end. I am most encouraged to hear that your father is still growing beans (and mending furniture) at 88.

My personal pattern-writer has now got the swatch for the Japanese shirt, and likes it. I feel as if I had been given a gold star for my homework. I’m taking the madeleintosh yarn along to Perthshire, ready for action next time. I could always bring it back to be the Edinburgh project, once the Mourning Shawl is finished. Thomas-the-Elder’s electric red sweater could take over in Strathardle.

The Aran sweater is now within two inches of the stopping-point.

Are we worried about the security breach over at Ravelry? I was sorry to have to change my password – I don’t use it on any site that involves money, and was rather fond of it.

I spent some valuable time yesterday clearing up a bench/stool in the sitting room, out of sight behind a sofa, where I tend to drop swatches and UFO’s. It wasn’t exactly infested with moth, but I think it was something of a rallying-point for them, the more so as the stool itself is covered in old needlepoint.

The rectangular thing is an embroidered Radio Times cover. You don't see many of them about.

I have never had trouble with moths in the stash cupboard, but this threatens to be a bad season.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Dear cat, I didn’t think you’d find any beans to look at in the dark midwinter. Beans for which the evidence points in both directions, twining-wise, are far beyond expectation. I’d love to hear more.

Mary Lou, pretty well as soon as I had framed the question, I realised that you must knit Aran sleeves top-down and thus saddle-first. That’s the great thing about framing questions. Thank you.

I’m getting on with my own Aran, despite grumbles. A couple more sessions will get me to the shoulder, especially now that it has been lowered a bit in expectation, to make room for the saddle. I took half-an-hour off yesterday morning, when the mind was clear and the television set off, to plan the sleeves.

I’m going to do them in the round, for the sake of keeping the folding ribbons which can’t be knit any other way. The meandering cables are far too big for a sleeve, I think, so I’ll have a fairly simple panel of plaited cables in the middle which can continue as the shoulder strap. I looked for something more Celtic, even looking in Lavold, but everything I found was too wide.

I worry a bit about how steep the angle of the increases is going to be. I am a great believer in erring on the side of shortness for children’s sleeves. That’s going to mean a lot of increases to be packed in, in a short distance.

I won’t have quite enough stitches above the cuff to add EZ’s Ribbon Cable at the outer edges, but there will be room for them soon and I plan to introduce them, although all advisers seem to think that all the added stitches should be plain. EZ just purls them – I’m still talking about an early Woolgathering, reproduced in “The Opinionated Knitter” – whereas Starmore wants seed stitch, which I think I’ll go for.

I have curiously not enjoyed doing moss stitch at the sides of the body, although the movements of the hands are almost the same as for the panels of ribbing, which I have enjoyed.

Meanwhile I have dispatched my swatch for the Japanese shirt to my designer-friend. I think we’ll go to Strathardle tomorrow for a couple of nights – maybe I can finish off the knitting of that Araucania sweater and clear the decks for the shirt.


Kristieinbc remarks in her latest blog post that she has “never been able to figure out how being gone for just four days can result in almost the same amount of chaos and neglect that being away for a couple of weeks does.” How true those words! A pall of dust covers everything (as always, of course, but one notices it more when one has been away), the mail is ankle-deep on the mat, there is nothing in the house for supper. The problem weighs heavily on me this time of year, when I need to be in Strathardle a lot for my vegetables.

When we were there last, I got the dread poisoning-of-the-driveway-verges done. Like many dreads, it wasn’t so bad when I got down to it. But from the nature of glysophate, the weeds still looked entirely unaffected when we left and I long for another sight of them.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Aran sweater

Mary Lou, how can you use the saddle as a swatch for an Aran sweater? Isn’t it the last thing to be knit, an extension of the already-finished sleeve?

Annie, I got “Knitting the Old Way” down from the shelf on your recommendation. I hadn’t looked at it for years – goodness, it’s good. It’s sort of worrying in my present situation, though, as she assumes a steek or at least some “platform stitches” when you are going to cut a sleeve opening, and I haven’t got one. What I’m about to do is called “stitch and slash” on page 45, and Gibson-Roberts is not entirely enthusiastic.

But I got away with it on the Grandson, and it’s what EZ recommends in her generic Aran instructions in the Opinionated Knitter, which I am vaguely following.

Shelly, I too love knitting a sweater with an EZ yoke as you describe – but I don’t think it would work here, because of the difficulty of maintaining complicated Aran patterns while decreasing. Might be fun to try. And anyway, although I grumble about lack of progress, I suspect I’m past the underarm.

I remember with a curious vividness a pattern in (I feel sure) VK sometime in the late 40’s, when I was in high school. It was perfectly plain except for a deep cabled yoke. The spaces between the cables were reduced as one got towards the neckline. I thought it was wonderful, but never attempted it. Now, I could re-create it without difficulty. Sometimes I wonder if it was an EZ pattern, flattened and made two-dimensional by the editorial requirements of the day.

I didn’t advance much yesterday – the tennis was too interesting, and since I finished Joe’s socks, I didn’t even have a sock handy to pick up.


I hope we’ll get back to Strathardle this week. Maybe Wednesday.

Catdownunder, I’m going to need you. There was a letter in the Telegraph on Saturday claiming that beans in the southern hemisphere wind themselves around the pole in the opposite direction to northern beans. Could that be true?

British beans are said to go counter-clockwise. I can’t even remember, and the last time I saw mine, although looking for the most part very cheerful, they hadn’t started twining. “Counter-clockwise” would mean that, as the bean faces the pole, it would go to the right, behind the pole, and re-appear on the left? I hope mine will have started climbing when I see them this week, and that much, at least, can be established.

New Zealand beans, according to the letter-writer, go clockwise.

I broke off just now to Google the matter. The top item was a discussion of this very point, with someone asserting that southern hemisphere beans went the other way, and someone else disbelieving it. So, cat, I hope you will be able to find a bean to observe and we will be able to settle the matter definitively. Beans have very strong opinions as to which way they are to go – it’s not random, and the gardener can't persuade them to do it the other way this year.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

I have been worrying about the Aran sleeves.

Cutting the body and setting them in, for one thing. I must have done it for the Grandson Sweater fairly recently. I was worried about security then, I remember. Joe clearly wears the sweater, and the sleeves haven’t fallen out, so I must have done it successfully. I don’t understand the instructions, either EZ’s or Pagoldh’s in “Nordic Knitting”.

Would the setting-in be easier if I knit the sleeves back-and-forth, as Starmore does? Or not?

In the Aran Knitting book which has provided the pattern for the meandering cables, Starmore does every single sweater, I think, with a saddle shoulder – that is, a strip in the centre of the sleeve continues over the shoulder to the neck. I like saddles. Should I do that? Would it perhaps produce a pleasanter neckline? Or am I biting off more than I can chew?

Meanwhile, I knit on a bit, without – see yesterday – affecting the overall measurement. I joined in another ball of yarn the other day, and found one more ball in the box than I expected. Did I order one more? Or have I used one less than I thought? In either case, I now feel pretty confident about having enough.


In lieu of another picture of incomplete knitting, here is one from Alexander.

He lost both trees and branches in that windstorm in May, in the course of which a nest of baby owls came down. His first thought was to leave it for Mr and Mrs Owl to figure out what to do, but as he watched, a crow came and took one of the nestlings.

So Alexander brought the survivors in and put them by the Aga and phoned a friend – somehow, in the country, there is always someone who can do something about almost anything. This particular friend knows about orphaned birds, and has an incubator for them. He drove for half an hour or so through the storm, and took the owls.

I haven’t had a further report.

Cookery (and vegetable-growing)

We all know that courgette flowers are delicious to eat, but until yesterday I thought you had to sit up half the night making a stuffing for them, and then fry them in deep fat with fatal results for your cholesterol. But now Greek Helen says that you can just fry them in a little oil as if they were onions, and they are still delicious. So we’ll try that, if we get any courgette flowers. She should be here at the right time.


Wednesday, I half-heard a programme on the radio recently about a study being carried out in, I think, California, on people whose memories work like your husband’s, who can recall what happened on almost every day of their lives. Maybe he should volunteer to be studied.

I love your code name.

Saturday, June 04, 2011


The Aran sweater has reached the stage everything gets to at some point – I knit and knit and it doesn't change size. I comfort myself with the thought that the dropped-shoulder arrangement means that the sleeves will involve relatively little knitting, by comparison.

Disregard colour, as usual. It's much greener than that. Design-wise, it would have been better to have ribbing on both sides of the folded ribbon, but otherwise I like it. I must begin to give some thought to the patterns for the sleeves.

Thanks for the thumbs-up on Zauberball. I am even more tempted. Annie, try socks. I knit them in youth, and then there was a long hiatus, and then in the mid-90’s I got on the Internet and discovered Patternworks and Socka Colors and took some sock-knitting along when we flew to the US in ’96 for my mother’s 90th birthday. I used to sweat with terror at having to fly – sock-knitting changed that.

Ever since then, I have had a pair of socks on the go for travel and waiting-rooms. No patterns, much fancy yarn. Now that I don’t travel much, production is down to three or four pairs a year. People seem to like wearing them. And the process is infinitely calming – something about going round and round.


Thanks for comments. Jeanfromcornwall, you hit the nail on the head: I earnestly dislike the compulsion to celebrate. Mother's Day revolts me. My husband likes it, I think, on the whole (as you suggest, Shandy), although when you get to the point, Christmas and his sister’s birthday are the only two dates in the year he can be counted on to remember. He was there, after all, on June 2, 1931, and remembers being introduced to her.

We have never celebrated wedding anniversaries. Never, at all, not even acknowledging them. I felt a bit sore about this as Fifty approached. He said, with some reason, that it would be a pity to change our ways after so long. Then I realised that the Games were almost on the anniversary, and everybody would be there, and what more did I need?

God did His bit – that was the year I won the Glenisla Shield for Sam the Ram, and Rachel Miles of Beijing got the Mandy Duncan Cup for the best entry in the children’s sections. And our children did theirs: they gave us a pinus sylvestris aurea, a golden Scots pine. The perfect gift. It’s a peculiar tree, droopier than the books say it should be and currently struggling a bit, but still with us.

He’d miss me, all right. But not particularly on my birthday.

Friday, June 03, 2011

We had a very good lunch at the Botanic Gardens yesterday. Although we live within what (used to be, for my husband) walking distance of the Gardens, we hadn’t been around to the West Gate since they built the new structure. It’s rather impressive. The restaurant is good – tables far apart, ceiling high, a party of six, as we were, can converse without having to shout. The food is good, and well presented, and not outrageously expensive for what you’re getting.

The conversation was pleasant throughout, and mostly light, but strong emotion, even under the surface like that, is very tiring. I’m still feeling it.

My husband has scarcely spoken of his sister since her funeral. Yesterday, as not infrequently, I sat beside him on the bed as he tested his blood sugar in the morning, prepared to advise on the insulin dose if necessary. He writes the result down in a little ruled notebook, and said, as he did so, “It’s sort of sad, writing ‘June 2nd’.” I am sure, if things had fallen out differently, my birthday would cause him little or no distress – but he had known C. much longer.


I got back to the Aran sweater, as hoped, with only minor difficulty in figuring out where I was in the pattern. I’ve finished the third repeat of the meandering Celtic cables.

I also got the email about the Japanese shirt written and dispatched. I’m going to send the actual swatch to my cyber-friend today. Betty, the pattern is in Setsuko Torii’s book “Hand Knit Works”. You’ll find if you Google that a translation was in the pipeline a few years ago, but it never emerged. The book itself is utterly wonderful, but rather expensive.

Some shop sent me an email a few days ago about a German sock yarn. Why is it always the Germans for sock yarn? I had a sudden hankering after it this morning – but it isn’t at IKnit, in London; nor at Knit Purl out there in Oregon. I gave up and Googled “crazy German sock yarn” and good old Google got it in one. After finishing a pair of Gents’ Gray, and being restrained in yarn-buying for really quite a while, I’m rather tempted.

Sorrel again

Annie, thank you for the recipe in yesterday’s comment, now printed and in The Box. It sounds delicious. But I’ll wait until I can do it with my own new potatoes as well as my own sorrel – not too long, now.

Hugh, as we must now learn to call him, has a very simple recipe (in “The River Cottage Year”) along perhaps similar lines: boil new potatoes, being careful not to over-boil. Put in bowl with butter, a trickle of olive oil, and some shredded sorrel. Toss about. A minute or so later, when the heat of the potatoes has wilted the sorrel, toss again. Season. Serve.

I was surprised yesterday to see how dry the Royal Botanic Gardens were looking. Everything is green – if not very advanced – in Strathardle.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Today is my late sister-in-law’s 80th birthday. We are all going out to lunch, her three daughters, the husband of one of them, my husband and I. It will be good to see them again, two months and a bit. And good to talk about C. again – my husband doesn’t, understandably.

I never realised until this morning that the Coronation happened on her birthday. She was 22, that year.


Before we leave the subject of vegetable-growing.

Catdownunder, sorrel tastes tangy, with a distinct hint of lemon. It must have been useful during the war, when there were no lemons. It’s remarkably easy to grow – I was surprised when it came up, assuming as I did that the seeds of perennial plants would be even more reluctant to perform for me than the other ones. But there it is, and back it comes every spring.

It is modest in its territorial ambitions. Alexander refuses to plant it because he is plagued with sorrel the weed, and says it would be like introducing Japanese knotweed. I did find a stand of my-kind-of-sorrel this spring six feet away from base camp, out in the part of the garden completely exposed to rabbits. I was delighted, and left it, and so far the rabbits have left it, too. They prefer things not-tangy, on the whole, and will leave spicy salad leaves.

And by the way, I found Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall referred to simply as “Hugh” in a food magazine yesterday, so I was wrong. But the paragraph did include a picture of him.


I finished Joe’s 21st birthday socks – the 4th FO of ’11. So that’s something done.

And I’ve got all the information I need about the Japanese shirt, although I haven’t written it up yet. So it’s back to the Aran sweater this evening, with the multiple-WIP panic subsiding..

I’m sure you’re right, Shandy, that understated chic (the Japanese shirt) is going to be hard to achieve. To begin with, my stitch gauge is, as expected, much coarser than the Japanese one. We shall see. It’ll be fun to try.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

We’ll get on to knitting today, but first a bit more about vegetables.

I made sorrel pesto, and it was fine, but I felt that the deliciousness of the sorrel was sort of lost in the taste of cheese and garlic and pine nuts. I often feel that about basil, in more conventional pesto. So I won’t do that again.

Anna D., thank you for the NY Times recipe for poached eggs in sorrel sauce. I’ve printed it out and put it in The Box to take along next time. That sauce is good with fish, too – melt sorrel in butter, add cream. I use half-fat crème fraiche instead of double cream.

Annie, if your mother-in-law wanted to reveal the recipe for her egg and potato dish with sorrel, I’d be interested to hear it. I should maybe have a look at a Polish cookery book.

Three big-name British cooks have written recipe books based on their own vegetable gardens, namely Delia, Jamie and Nigel – and I think I’m right to say that none of them even mentions sorrel. It seems odd, when it’s so very easy to grow and so very delicious. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (you can’t quite call him “Hugh”, but he beats all the rest for surname), on the other hand, who also grows his own, is properly enthusiastic. So is Robin Lane Fox.


I’m now shaping the top of the second sleeve of the pink Araucania sweater which has been my Strathardle knitting since Late Forty-Eight, or so it seems.

The most recent new skein to be joined in is markedly less striated than its predecessors. I didn’t turn back. I’m not planning to wear the sweater to Buckingham Palace. But it’s fairly conspicuous.

This means that a replacement Strathardle Project will be needed really rather soon. So when we got back here, I started swatching madeleinetosh. I love it, both the fabric it produces and the way it feels on my hands. Today I’ll block the swatch and, I hope, address the serious question of how wide I want the shirt to be across the shoulders. Other measurements can more or less take care of themselves.

Daisy, I know Sally Melville’s “classic shirt”, and admire it. But it lacks the feature of the Japanese shirt which makes my knees tremble (I exaggerate) – namely that big turned-back collar and the way the button- and buttonhole-bands go right up along the edges of it, so you could theoretically button yourself in up to the hairline if, for instance, you said something embarrassing. See picture, May 26, although you can't really appreciate that feature.

Finishing is going to be a bit fiddly.

And the other thing about knitting is that, as of today, Joe Ogden’s 21st birthday is NEXT MONTH. So the next thing to do is to finish off his socks – it won’t take long.

Thus is one plunged into multiple-WIPpery.