Sweet Baby Crochet Blanket

873 yellow stripe blanket

There’s a sweet baby in the pipeline so here is an 80 cm square blanket I have just finished crocheting. Too early yet to know whether this sweet baby will require pink or blue accessories, and mummy-to-be likes yellow, so I have made it white with pale yellow stripes and a pale yellow edging, worked in a simple V stitch which gives a firm but pretty texture on both sides and a cosy warm depth.

After a few minutes of purposeful pushing and pulling a crochet hook  through soft yarn, in an easy sequence of moves, the brain slows down and produces a physical calm which lends itself to contemplative processes such as meditative reflection, or thinking through a problem, or preparing a new post. This straightforward repetitive pattern, with no counting involved, is also ideal for working at while watching my crime dramas (except for the Nordic ones where I need to read the sub-titles).

I used baby double knitting yarn and a size 3.50mm crochet hook. Tension and gauge do not matter as long as they are consistent all the way through. Sometimes on this kind of project I will use a smaller hook for the edging in order to neaten and firm up any slackness that may have eased into the tension (perhaps during a particularly complex episode of CSI, for example).

1. I started with a foundation chain, and then

2. a first row of treble crochet (known as double crochet in the US), then

3. starting the second row with 3 turning chains and a treble into the top of the first treble, then missing one stitch then continuing in this V stitch pattern (of two trebles in the top of every second treble and missing the stitch in between), then

4. the third row continuing the V stitch, with the two trebles inserted into the top of the second treble of each pair in the second row, then

5. repeating the third row (as long as you want, changing colour if and when you want to),

6. finishing with a row of trebles to match the first row, and

7. a row of trebles down each side, and

8. finally one row of single crochet in yellow round the whole blanket.

(teddy bear George likes it a lot)

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Sarabande for an Autumn Walk

984 Batsford Arboretum

Listening to the Holberg Suite, written by the romantic Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg in 1884, I felt that the lovely second movement, Sarabande, would be the most perfect soundtrack to an autumn stroll in the woods, peaceful, uplifting and gently paced to give every opportunity to absorb the changing colours and shapes of the trees and to step through the soft deep carpet of damp fallen leaves, as in this photo which I took at Batsford Arboretum.

Then I noticed that the tempo for this movement is marked as “andante” which is derived from the Latin word for “walk”, which I took as a further inducement to add it to my walking music store. In the various performances on YouTube, my preference is slightly more for the orchestral arrangement rather than the piano – for me stringed instruments, especially the cello, express so precisely the fading beauty of a sunlit autumn day.

The Temporary Gentleman

858 The Temporary Gentleman

In search of a fiction fix at the public library, and having had a mental bookmark for Sebastian Barry for some time, I noticed the quotation from John Banville on the cover of this new novel and it was irresistible. John Banville, in my humble opinion one of our finest novelists, labelling Sebastian Barry as “one of our finest novelists” is an encomium with which I now have great pleasure in agreeing. A strong story, recounted in melodious Irish idiom and accent, of the utmost clarity, exploring degrees of familial connections and reflecting upon a lifetime’s emotional needs, cutting between the grey damp Irish past and the blue dry present day Accra, delineating scene and mood with exact and penetrating description, using long, long, sentences (just as I am affecting to emulate here) to build up perfectly controlled drama, the best example being an extraordinary sentence of more than two pages in length, describing a catastrophic event, which seems to have the resolution of a slow motion film. It is unusual in modern fiction to come across a flawed woman and the occasion this provides for male insightfulness. Like Henning Mankell’s narrator in The Depths, Sebastian Barry’s narrator is an engineer despperate to make some sense out of the chaos of emotion. A great read.

Crab Apple and Rosemary Jelly

851 Crab Apple Jelly

My kind friend saved these wind-fallen crab apples from her husband’s lawnmower. I cut them into quarters and put 4lbs into a pan, including the stalks and pips – the whole shebang. I like to work with 4lbs of fruit for this kind of jelly* so that I can know approximately how long it will take to set and how many jars I am likely to need , although it varies according to the type of fruit and its ripeness. I shook the raindrops from half a dozen stalks of rosemary from my garden to add to the pan, aiming for a subtle rosemary infusion rather than a strong flavour that could interfere with the rich sweet tartness of these wild apples. I barely covered the fruit with water and cooked it gently for about an hour, and then I strained it overnight through a jelly bag.

I poured the beautiful clear amber juice into the preserving pan with one pound of preserving sugar per pint of juice, pro rata, managing to extract three and a half pints for this batch. Any type of sugar works but “preserving” sugar dissolves easily. I dissolved the sugar in the juice and brought the mixture to a rolling boil. It took about a quarter of an hour to reach setting point, which I tested by putting a half teaspoonful on a saucer chilled in the freezer and pushing it with a finger. When the surface of the blob wrinkled it meant it was setting.

I ladled the jelly into sterilised jars and pushed a small sprig of rosemary into each one. This was tricky because the sprig wants to rise to the top but there is an optimum moment when the jelly is cooling and becoming firmer, and won’t let go of a pushed-down sprig, but hasn’t solidified to a point where the sprig will spoil the smooth texture. The covers are circles cut from a lovely, fabric-like, hand-made, Indian wrapping paper from the Fair Trade shop.

There were sufficient crab apples to make a second batch of jelly. This time I scrubbed and sliced 2 unwaxed lemons and added them to the pan of quartered apples to make a gorgeous Lemony Crab Apple Jelly. The yield from this batch was lower due to operator error during the straining process – the wrong knot tying the jelly bag to the kitchen cupboard door handle resulted in the bag of fruit collapsing into the juice receptacle and spilling a good half pint of juice. In my mind I heard faint hoots of derision from my brothers, knot-certificated Sea Scouts long ago when scouting was not for girls.

*a note for US readers: here in the UK “jelly” is used to describe only clear preserves made from strained fruit and “jam” is a preserve where you can see the fruit.

PS I took a pot of the Crab Apple and Rosemary Jelly into the White Stuff shop in Leamington Spa and it has won the local heat of their “Top of the Pots” preserves competition!  http://www.whitestuff.com/