Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Avocado-Tomato Salad


Summer Avocado Salad 
This salad is a frequent meal at our house.  We have it several times a week, because it's just so darned healthy for us.  And it's real easy to make.  Luckily, since we live in South Texas we can get avocados and tomatoes year-round.   We like  to have this for dinner with a fruit crumble for dessert.

AVOCADO-TOMATO SALAD
serves 2 as a main dish

1 avocado, cut in cubes
1 large tomato, diced
salt
3 cups baby spinach leaves
hemp oil* or olive oil
pumpkin seeds

Wash the spinach and divide between 2 large salad bowls.  Small mixing bowls are a nice size, also.

Salt the diced tomato and place half on top of the spinach in each bowl.

Salt the cubed avocado and place half on top of tomatoes in each bowl.

Drizzle with hemp or olive oil and sprinkle about 2 teaspoons pumpkin seeds on top of each serving.


* If you haven't tried hemp oil, you are missing something wonderful.  It has a nutty taste and lots of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Don't overdo it though, because the flavor can overpower your salad.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Crochet Tutorial: Tunisian Purl Stitch


How to Crochet the Tunisian Purl Stitch

Tunisian purl is a variation on the basic Tunisian stitch, or afghan stitch.  It produces a right-side surface that looks a bit like knitted garter stitch, and it's a great way to prevent curled edges.  As an added bonus, the other side has a very nice ridged look.

This is by far, my preferred stitch in Tunisian crochet, and I recommend using it instead of the basic Tunisian stitch.

Tunisian Purl Stitch: How to Do It
U.S. crochet terminology


Base Chain
Chain loosely or use one size larger hook and chain tightly.  Make as many chains as you want stitches to be in each row.

Base Row 1
Start in 2nd chain from hook, [insert hook into chain, pull yarn through, and leave loop on hook], repeat to end. You'll have the same number of loops on the hook as the number of chains you made for the base chain.

Base Row 2
Ch 1, [pull yarn through both the new loop and next loop on hook], repeat to end, ch 1.  Only 1 loop is left on hook.

Main Row 1 - Tunisian Purl Stitches
Skip over first vertical bar at the end,  [wrap yarn over front of hook counterclockwise, insert hook into next vertical bar, pull yarn to the front - straightening out the yarn-over you just made, wrap yarn clockwise around back of hook, draw yarn through the bar and onto hook], repeat to end.  Be sure to work the final vertical bar at the end of the row, next to the end chain.

Main Row 2 (same as Base Row 2)
Ch 1, [pull yarn through both the new loop and next loop on hook], repeat to end, ch 1.  Only 1 loop left on hook.

Repeat Main Rows 1 & 2 to desired length.

Tunisian Purl Stitch: Photo Tutorial
U.S. crochet terminology


Base Chain
Tunisian Purl Stitch Foundation Chain
Chain loosely or use one size larger hook and chain tightly.  Make as many chains as you want stitches to be in each row.

Base Row 1

Tunisian Purl Stitch Base Row 1 Start

Start in the second chain from the hook, [insert your hook into the chain, draw the yarn through the chain and onto the hook], repeat to end.

Tunisian Purl Stitch Base Row 1 Cast-Ons

You'll have as many loops on the hook as the number of chains you made for the base chain.

Base Row 2

Tunisian Purl Stitch Base Row 2 Start Casting Off

Chain 1, [pull a loop of the working yarn through both the new loop and the next loop on the hook], repeat to end, chain 1.  There should be only 1 loop left on the hook.

Looking at your work, you'll see a series of vertical bars going down the row.  It may help to give the row a stretch end-to-end, to straighten up the bars.

Main Row 1 - Tunisian Purl Stitches

Tunisian Purl Stitch Main Row 1 Start of Purl Stitch

Skip over the first vertical bar at the end by the hook,  [wrap the working yarn over the front of the hook counterclockwise,

Tunisian Purl Stitch Main Row 1 Continued Purl Stitch
insert the hook into the next vertical bar, pull working yarn to the front - straightening out the yarn-over you just made,

Tunisian Purl Stitch Main Row 1 Continued Purl Stitch
wrap the yarn clockwise around the back of the hook, draw the yarn through the bar and onto the hook], repeat to end.

Tunisian Purl Stitch Main Row 1 Last Stitch in Row

Be sure to work the final vertical bar at the very end of the row, next to the end chain.

Main Row 2   (same as Base Row 2)

Tunisian Purl Stitch Main Row 2 First Cast-Off

Chain 1, [pull a loop of the working yarn through both the new loop and the next loop on the hook], repeat to end, chain 1.  There should be only 1 loop left on the hook.

Repeat Main Rows 1 - 2 to desired length.


Upper Edge
Tunisian Purl Stitch Last Row: Top Edge

For a neat, uniform edge on your final row, make a Tunisian purl stitch in each vertical bar - including the first bar on the end, pulling through both loops on hook, and leaving only the newly made loop on the hook - no extra loops this time.

You Might Have a Few Surprise Problems


Most standard Tunisian stitches have some problems: curling, slanting, and stiffness.  Here are a few things to try:
  • Use a larger-than-usual hook, 3-5 sizes larger than recommended on the yarn label.
  • Try thinner yarn.
  • Use relaxed, less springy yarn, like cotton instead of wool.
  • Do not work tightly.
  • Be sure to skip over the first vertical bar in each casting-on row (main row 1).
  • Don't miss the last vertical bar for your last stitch in a casting-on row.  It can be hidden with the end-chain.
  • Crochet a border around your work.

You can find additional information on Tunisian crochet here:

Get Started with Tunisian Crochet
    includes a tutorial on the basic Tunisian stitch
How to Stop Crying Over Tunisian Crochet
    troubleshooting Tunisian crochet

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

My Sourdough Routine


Sourdough Bread Partly Made in Bread Machine
Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread

When I decided to bake the bread for our household, which meant a loaf every other day, I had been dabbling in sourdough a bit.  But my mind was boggled by the prospect of scheduling the feedings and bakings around the rest of my life.  I searched the Internet to see what other folks did, and found very little that would work for me.

So over time, and with the help of some really good websites, I worked out a routine for managing the starter, the discard, and the bread.  Here's what I came up with.

General Schedule

  • Feed the starter every 12 hours.  For me, late morning and before bed are best.  That way, the starter is nice and bubbly for early afternoon breadmaking.

  • Bake bread every other day.

  • Save starter discard in a jar in the fridge and make pancakes in the morning, or just compost it.

Revive Your Starter

The first thing you need to do is get your starter into good, bubbly condition.  You've probably received it from somebody and kept it in the fridge for weeks or months.  Or maybe you took a break from sourdough, and your old starter has been in the back of the fridge for a year.  No worries.
  1. Let the starter come to about room temperature.

  2. Stir well.  It's better not to pour off the liquid because you don't want to lose any of that good bacteria.  I use a table knife to stir, because it aerates the starter well.

  3. Put 1/2 cup of starter in a large, clean jar.  A 1-quart canning jar is good.  If it has ounce measurements on the side, pour 4 oz. of starter in the bottom.

  4. Add 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup water.  Stir well. Use the same kind of flour that you'll be using to bake the bread.  I use 100% whole wheat flour.

  5. Cover the jar with a breathable square of fabric that won't let insects in.  A lightweight shirt-weight material works well.  You can also cut a paper towel into a 5-inch square. Cheesecloth is too open--fruit flies will get through.  Secure it with a rubber band or by screwing on the jar's canning lid band.

  6. Store the starter in a warm place for about 12 hours.  Then repeat the process.

  7. You'll have leftover starter every time you feed it.  You can use this discard to make pancakes, muffins, etc.  But the first few discards will be very sour.  Best to compost them, because your pancakes will taste like pickle juice.

  8. Repeat these super-feedings until your starter gets a lot of bubbles in it as it sits between feedings.  When it's happy and bubbling, you can shift to normal feedings with less flour.

Whole Wheat Sourdough Starter

Feed Your Starter

If you bake bread frequently, you'll want to keep your starter fed all the time.  If not, you can store it in the fridge for a few days, and plan a day or two of feedings to revive it before you bake with it.
  1. Stir the starter to distribute the bacteria well and to aerate it.

  2. Pour 1/2 cup starter into a clean jar.

  3. Stir in 1/2 cup flour and 1/3 cup water.  Use the same flour you'll be baking with.

  4. Cover the jar with fabric or paper towel (not cheesecloth).  Secure with rubber band or jar band.

  5. Let sit in a warm place for about 12 hours.  On top of the fridge works well, unless you live in a hot climate.  Then you'll want to find the coolest part of the house for your starter, but not the fridge.

  6. Repeat this process every 12 hours.

Make Your Bread

I have found a way to bake good quality bread without heating up the house and without having to knead by hand.  I enlisted some help from my bread machine, and now I have the best of both worlds: homemade, good quality bread and a cool house.

Kneading is fun, but to produce the best quality bread, your dough has to be pretty wet.  If you have a way to knead with a machine, like a stand mixer or a bread machine, you'll get a nice loaf of bread.  If you knead wet dough by hand you'll be dealing with very sticky dough.

My way is to use a bread machine for some of the steps, but not all.
  1. Put your bread ingredients into the bread machine pan. (See recipe below.)

  2. Place the pan into the bread machine, set it for the type of bread you're making, like whole wheat large loaf, and start it.

  3. Set your kitchen timer for however long your machine takes to get to the rise part of the cycle.  Mine takes 1 hour for a large whole wheat loaf.

  4. After the machine has kneaded the bread and your timer goes off, unplug the machine and remove the pan.

  5. Put 1 cup water in a 2-cup glass microwaveable measuring cup and microwave on High for 2 minutes. 

  6. Turn the bread dough onto a floured surface.  Cover with waxed paper and let rest for 5 minutes.

  7. Form the dough into a ball and put it  into a medium mixing bowl with a little olive oil in the bottom.  Gently roll the dough around and over in the oil to coat it completely.

  8. Cover the bowl with a square of waxed paper and then a barely damp cup towel.

  9. Place the covered bowl in your microwave, with the hot water moved to the corner.  DO NOT MICROWAVE THE DOUGH.

  10. Set your kitchen timer for an hour and a half.  This will be the first rise.

  11. When the timer goes off, remove the bowl from the microwave.  Give the water inside 1.5 minutes on High.

  12. Gently punch the dough down to get any big bubbles out, reform into a ball, and let rise again in the turned-off microwave.  This second rise will be 1 hour.

  13. After the second rise, remove the bowl from the microwave and give the water 1 minute on High.

  14. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, remove the paddle, and form it into a loaf.  There are good instructions here, online.

  15. Place the dough into the bread machine pan, cover with the waxed paper / cup towel setup and let rise in the turned-off microwave for 45 minutes. 

  16. Remove from microwave, and with a sharp knife, gently slash down the length of the bread dough.  A sharp serrated knife works best.

  17. Set the pan with dough in the machine. Don't pop it in, because it will deflate the risen dough somewhat.  The stirring mechanism won't be needed.  Plug the machine in, set it on the bake-only cycle, and enter the number of  minutes you want to bake the bread.  I use 45 minutes, but you will want to experiment with this.  Start the bake cycle.

  18. Set your kitchen timer for the time you entered.

  19. When the baking is finished, remove the pan from the machine, release the loaf of bread onto a cooling rack, and let it cool for at least 30 minutes before eating.  If you're going to slice the whole loaf, let it cool completely.

Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread
(Helped by Bread Machine)

3/4 cup water
1-1/4 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. plus 1.5 tsp. maple syrup
3/4 cup sourdough starter
2 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. olive oil
2-2/3 cups whole wheat flour

In a mixing bowl, stir together the first 5 ingredients.  Pour into bread machine pan.

With a wire whisk, fluff up the flour in the bag. Gently scoop flour into measuring cups and level-off with a knife held flat.  Add to baking pan on top of the starter mixture.

Insert pan into bread machine and run it on the "whole wheat" and "large loaf" settings until it finishes kneading.  Stop the machine and remove the pan.

Transfer the dough to a floured board.  Remove the bread machine paddle.  Cover dough with a piece of waxed paper and let rest for 5 minutes.

Form dough into a ball and place in a medium-sized mixing bowl with 1/2 tsp. olive oil in the bottom.  Roll the ball around to coat.  Cover with waxed paper and a damp cup towel.  Let rise in a warm place for 1.5 hours.

Gently punch dough down, re-form ball, cover, and let rise for 1 hour.

Transfer dough to floured board.  With a floured wooden rolling pin, gently roll into an oval shape about 1.5 inches thick.  Then roll up like a jelly roll, pinching seams as you roll (2-3 times).  When rolled up, pinch the top edge onto the roll.  Place the roll seam-down, and turn the ends under so the loaf is the length of the pan.  Pinch ends underneath to secure.  Place loaf in pan, cover, and let rise 45 minutes.

Gently set pan with loaf in bread machine and set it for "bake only."  Bake for 45 minutes.

When done, turn out the bread and let cool on rack for at least 30 minutes before cutting.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Get Started with Tunisian Crochet


Introduction to Tunisian Crochet

Tunisian or afghan crochet may seem like a mysterious technique that's not for the faint-of-heart.  But really, it's pretty easy.

This type of crochet consists of using a hook that looks a lot like a knitting needle, and working back and forth across the front of the work.  You never turn it.

Tunisian crochet is done in 2-row sets.  The first row puts loops on the long shaft of the hook, working right to left (if you're right-handed).  The second row works the loops off, left to right.  Then you do it again.

The standard Tunisian stitch, also known as the afghan stitch, creates vertical bars in the work.  New rows are made by working in those bars.

The Hook

Afghan-Crochet-Hooks


You'll need a Tunisian crochet hook, which looks like a cross between a crochet hook and a knitting needle.  There's a hook on one end, and the other end has a blocker on it to stop the loops from sliding off.  Some Tunisian hooks have a cable attached to the end, so you can accommodate very long rows.

Choose a hook size that corresponds to the yarn manufacturer's recommendation, or a size or two larger.  Traditional Tunisian crochet works up tightly, so you don't want to go smaller.

For this tutorial, you won't need a double-ended Tunisian hook.  They're made for circular Tunisian crochet.  If double-ended is all you've got, there's a way to rig the hook so it will work for flat crochet.  Keep reading.

You can adapt a regular crochet hook by winding a rubber band tightly around the shaft near the flat end, to act as a blocker.  Just be sure your rubber band is put on tightly enough to not fall off while you work. This doesn't leave much room for your loops, but it'll work in a pinch--especially for gauge swatches.  This trick also works for double-ended hooks.

The Yarn

Start with yarn that matches up with your crochet hook size.  Later, you can experiment with thinner yarns or non-stretchy fibers like cotton.


Afghan-Crochet-Cast-On-Hook


Tunisian Stitch: How to Do It       U.S. crochet terminology

Base Chain
Chain desired number of stitches.

Base Row 1
Start in 2nd chain from hook, [insert hook into chain, pull yarn through, and leave loop on hook], repeat to end. You'll have the same number of loops on the hook as the number of chains you made for the base chain.

Base Row 2
Ch 1, [pull yarn through both the new loop and next loop on hook], repeat to end, ch 1.  Only 1 loop is left on hook.

Main Row 1
Skip over first vertical bar at the end,[insert hook into next vertical bar, pull yarn through the bar and onto hook], repeat to end.  Be sure to work the final vertical bar at the end of the row, next to the end chain.

Main Row 2 (same as Base Row 2)
Ch 1, [pull yarn through both the new loop and the next loop on hook], repeat to end, ch 1.  Only 1 loop left on hook.

Repeat Main Rows 1 & 2 to desired length.

Tunisian Stitch: Photo Tutorial       U.S. crochet terminology

Base Chain
Afghan Stitch - Base Chain
Make as many chains as you want stitches to be in each row.

Base Row 1
Afghan Stitch - Starting Base Row 1
 Starting in the second chain from the hook, [insert the hook into the top of the chain, pull a loop of the working yarn through, and leave the loop on the hook], repeat to end. You'll have the same number of loops on the hook as the number of chains you made for the base chain.

Afghan Stitch - Cast On, End of Base Row 1
This is sometimes called "casting-on."

Base Row 2
Afghan Stitch - Starting Base Row 2

Chain 1, [pull a loop of the working yarn through both the new loop and the next loop on the hook], repeat to end, chain 1.  There should be only 1 loop left on the hook.

This is sometimes called "casting-off."

Afghan Stitch - Cast Off, End of Base Row 2
Looking at your work, you can see a series of vertical bars going down the row.  It may help to give the row a stretch end-to-end, to straighten up the bars.

Main Row 1
Afghan Stitch - Starting Main Row 1
 Skip over the first vertical bar at the end by the hook, [insert the hook into the next vertical bar, pull a loop of the working yarn through the bar and onto the hook], repeat to end.  The final vertical bar is at the very end of the row, with the end chain.

Main Row 2
(same as Base Row 2)
Afghan Stitch - End of Main Row 2
Chain 1, [pull a loop of the working yarn through both the new loop and the next loop on the hook], repeat to end, chain 1.  There should be only 1 loop left on the hook.

Repeat Main Rows 1 - 2 to desired length.

Upper Edge

For a neat, uniform edge on your final row, skip over the first vertical bar and make a full single crochet stitch in each remaining bar, leaving only the newly made loop on the hook - no extra loops this time.

You Might Have a Few Surprise Problems


Most standard Tunisian stitches have some problems: the edges curl, the work sometimes slants, and the resulting fabric can be very stiff.

Here are a few things to try.
  • Use a larger-than-usual hook, 3-5 sizes larger than recommended on the yarn label.
  • Try thinner yarn.
  • Use relaxed, less springy yarn, like cotton instead of wool.
  • Do not work tightly.
  • Be sure to skip over the first vertical bar in each cast-on row (main row 1).
  • Don't miss the last vertical bar for your last stitch in a casting-on row.  It can be hidden with the end-chain.
  • Crochet a border around your work.

You can find additional information on Tunisian crochet here:

Tunisian Purl Stitch Tutorial
   how to crochet the Tunisian purl stitch
How to Stop Crying Over Tunisian Crochet
    troubleshooting Tunisian crochet


Friday, April 7, 2017

How to Stop Crying Over Tunisian Crochet


Solutions to Your Tunisian Crochet Problems

I freely admit it.  I have a love/hate relationship with Tunisian or afghan crochet.  On the one hand, it's a fascinating, fun way to broaden your crochet horizons.  On the other hand, it produces stiff, slanted, rolled-up work.  Argh.

Have you found yourself asking questions like these?
  • How do I keep Tunisian crochet from curling?
  • How can I make Tunisian crochet that's straight?
  • How do I make flexible Tunisian crochet?
For the last few months, I've been working with Tunisian crochet and I ran right into those questions head-on.  With a little experimentation I came to several realizations, which I will share with you here.

The Downside

  • Most standard Tunisian stitches have the same problems: the dreaded curling and slanting, which practically defy blocking.

  • Tunisian crochet originally became popular for making thick, sturdy blankets, so it's not a very friendly fabric for clothing or snuggly blankets.

  • There's gotta be a better way.

This Might Help


My first inclination was to try the obvious fixes.  They are helpful, but they don't completely and reliably work.
  • Use a larger-than-usual hook, 3-5 sizes larger than recommended on the yarn label.
  • Try thinner yarn.
  • Use relaxed, less springy yarn, like cotton instead of wool.
  • Be sure to skip over the first vertical bar in each cast-on row.
  • Don't miss the last vertical bar for your last stitch in a cast-on row.  It can be hidden with the end-chain.
  • Crochet a border around your work.

Dry Your Tears


With even more experimentation, I found several better ways to do Tunisian crochet.
  • Forget about the traditional Tunisian or afghan stitch.
  • Use the Tunisian purl stitch (my favorite).
  • Use the Tunisian stockinette stitch.

Tunisian / Afghan Purl Stitch Detail to Avoid Curling
Tunisian Purl Stitch
Tunisian / Afghan Stockinette Stitch Detail to Avoid Curling
Tunisian Stockinette Stitch

And Now for Something Completely Different


The end result of my foray into this form of crochet was actually the development of a new type of Tunisian stitch, which doesn't curl or slant.  It's a technique that I call "stacking," in which you make your new stitches above the previous row instead of in front of or behind the row.  I came up with three brand-new (is anything really new?) stacked stitches.
  • Stacked Tunisian stitch
  • Tunisian ladders stitch
  • Stacked Tunisian lace stitch

New Stitch: Stacked Tunisian Stitch to Prevent Curling
Stacked Tunisian Stitch

New Stitch: Tunisian Ladders for Flexibility
Tunisian Ladders Stitch
New Stitch: Stacked Tunisian Lace for Flexibility
Stacked Tunisian Lace Stitch


Stay tuned.  I'll be posting tutorials on how to do these new stitches over the next few days. 

Get Started with Tunisian Crochet 
Tunisian Purl Stitch
(more to come !)

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Loopy Leprechaun Hat

 
Elfitude Variation

This is a St. Patrick's Day variation on my free Elfitude pattern--a crocheted Dr. Seuss-style elf hat. I think it makes a great leprechaun hat in green.

This hat is made according to the pattern instructions, except the top point is tied onto the body of the hat a bit lower than the original Elfitude hat in red.

Have a blast on St. Pat's!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Homespun Holiday Garland



I love this little gingerbread-man garland!  It was made of calico by a very talented crafter in San Antonio.  I think it would also make a nice bunch separately--arranged in a basket, perched on Christmas tree branches, or handed to a child to play with in anticpation of the big day.

Each figure is about 6 inches high.  All you have to do is use a large gingerbread man cookie cutter as a pattern, trace around it on some calico prints, stitch together, stuff, and join hands.