Sunday, November 13, 2011

Digesting Words: The Art of Food Blogging

The other evening I had the pleasure of attending a lecture at George Brown College called Eating Words: The Art of Food Blogging, which was given by the very successful food blogger Clotilde Dusoulier of Chocolate and Zucchini. A friendly colleague had invited me, among others, to attend the lecture with the idea that I'd write about it on my blog. This same colleague and I had discussed food, exchanged food books, and generally shared the same enthusiasm for food when we worked for the same company back in 2006. She even encouraged me to write about food for suite101 and emailed me all the info I needed to get started. At the time I thought who me? write? nah, I couldn't do that. I still have that email in my inbox so obviously it was an idea I couldn't write off (pun intended). In fact, I've brainstormed many ideas for books and articles for as long as I can remember. Hey, I even started a blog, which brings me to some of the ideas I took away from the lecture.

Like me, Clotilde also questioned her former career since she felt it was missing a meaningful connection. Unlike me, she started her blog about her then relatively new found food obsession, managed to quit her day job two years later and is now a successful blogger, writer, and editor. While she talked about her "rules" (her quotes) for food blogging I recognized a few key areas that I needed to address on my own blog.

In the same way that I have psychological discomfort when having to make statements meant to define myself (I won't go into that today), I have not chosen a focus for my blog, which is breaking rule number one. I was initially going to write about food and wine as the blog name would suggest, but if you peruse the meagre archives you'll see that I have meandered quite a bit. I don't want to pin myself to just food, or just knitting - another obsession, and I don't want the blog to be a substitute for the stuff reserved for the pen and paper journal I keep as a life line (I admit I've veered in that direction a bit). But before I can choose a focus, or find a way for my focus to include diverse subject matter, I need to think about what the goal is for this blog. Clotilde stressed this point but did not include it in her rules. I suppose it must be obvious that one shouldn't blog without a goal that it is tacitly understood to be the proto-rule. But I tripped merrily ahead and must take corrective action after the fact.

Another of her rules is to keep at it. I've kept at it in the sense that I've had the blog for a few years but have not posted in a consistent manner. I've mostly written when the urge is strong enough and I happen to have something on my mind that I think might be fun to write about.
But this rule speaks to good old fashioned self-discipline, an area I struggle with - I think I may have mentioned this before. Her final rule was to have fun, which should ensure that you'll keep at it.

A few other ideas that came up during the lecture dealt with frequency of posting. I've always felt that I was not doing it enough though I never really bothered to set a target. Instead, I always had this vague feeling of being an inadequate blogger. Clotilde suggested to not post daily, and that going on hiatus is actually okay (if you do it properly) - I swear you could hear a collective sigh of relief in the room when she made these suggestions.

I think I'm doing okay with her fourth rule: be genuine. Though I don't yet know how to define myself or my blog, I can't blog, or do anything, without feeling authentic about it.
I believe I write in order to know myself better, which I suppose is a goal, albeit a deeply personal one. I hope that in knowing myself better I am better able to understand others.

I thank Clotilde Dusoulier for her generosity in sharing her knowledge with a bunch of strangers. She's following one of her own rules - connect - which is not surprising. It's characteristic of food (and knitting) blogs to put your passion, which is too much to contain in every day life, out there in the hopes of connecting with like minded people. The blogosphere seems to contain groups of generous, collegial, and supportive people who, there is no question, I'd love to connect with.




Sunday, September 25, 2011

Simple Pleasure: Crisp Sheets

There simply is nothing like slipping under the covers into a bed made with crisp and smooth sheets. I don't care whether you have a cotton-poly blend or 800 thread-count Egyptian cotton, there is only one way to improve your venue for slumber and that is with an iron. You heard me, I said iron your sheets.

I feel I must disclose that I don't always manage to do it myself (though I used to be pretty consistent about it) but oh, boy - there is nothing like it. If you don't believe me then at the very least you must iron your pillow cases. If you happen to have a bottle of lavender linen water kicking around then now is the time to put it to use. But this is not essential.

You can fold your sheets in half lengthwise to make the job of ironing go a bit quicker. Actually, the crease made when ironing in this fashion is a handy guide for centering your sheet on the bed so you don't have 5 inch drape on one side and negative drape on the opposite. A powerful steam setting makes it even lighter work. It's the little things.

And if you've gone to the trouble of ironing your sheets you may as well clear that pile of clothes next to the bed. Put it in the laundry basket or hang it back up. Now, leave the bedroom and make a cup of sleepy time tea. When you come back you will feel your shoulders drop and your breathing relax as you get into bed. You will want to stay awake and read to prolong the enjoyment of this mini heaven but your efforts will be futile because you will be off to dreamland in two shakes of a lamb's tail.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Perfect Plan

I will never achieve perfection. There, I’ve said it and I think that I actually know it too. So why do I often feel bad that I cannot reach it? I’m constantly feeling disappointed that I’m not doing it all. Martha’s (Stewart that is) name is often used as shorthand for someone who accepts nothing less than perfection. Similarly, I think I must aspire to a successful and lucrative career, spiritual enlightenment, expansive knowledge, a svelte physique, and domestic order and beauty at. all. times. But Martha isn’t perfect; it takes an army of people to create a Martha.

Not too long ago I was reflecting on what I am used to thinking of as my personal weaknesses. The stumbling blocks on the road to perfect that I’m supposed focus on in the name of self-improvement. The problem with this thinking is that it easily slips into a downward spiral of self-loathing. I have NEVER, EVER been good at self-motivation and equally measured expenditures of energy (I’m talking routine here). I’m a big-time procrastinator. This means that I almost always have a pile of clothing next to my bed, ten projects that I intend to do, another five on the go, aspirations of sticking to an exercise routine, writing regular blog posts, etcetera…If I’m honest I know that I’m probably never going to master self-motivation. So does this mean that I’m going to be perpetually disappointed in myself? Will I always be wondering what might have I become if only I had been perfect at all these failings? No thanks. I actually usually like myself. Usually.

In my reflections I was struck with a revolutionary idea: why not view my so-called weaknesses as strengths? Kind of Newton’s third - what is the flip side of weakness? If I’m not something, then what is the positive statement that can be made from the same starting point? If I’m bad at motivating myself to do work in a calm steady way how does that become a good attribute? Well, I’m pretty good at producing more than passable work at the last minute, under the wire. I always have been. I always have grand plans for this that and the other thing and don’t execute them. Well that means that I’m always coming up with creative ideas and solutions.

I’m not suggesting that I ditch the idea of personal growth. Rather, feeling bad about my so-called shortcomings is an area that needs some work. My self-confidence is such that I honestly would have trouble telling you, should you care to ask, what my strengths are, but I’m an expert in my shortcomings. I’m going to use that expert knowledge and subvert it – in the name of self-improvement. It’s an (im)perfect plan.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Rhubarbarella

I’ve always been a fan of raw rhubarb. It probably has something to do with the fact that my mom would give us rhubarb stalks and one of our play teacups filled with white sugar and we could dip with wild abandon. We also had rhubarb sauce made with the rhubarb from my nanny’s (mom’s mom) side garden when I was a young lass. That would usually end up on store-bought ice cream for dessert. But the classic combo of strawberry and rhubarb in a pie does nothing for me and I usually am enthusiastic about classic culinary combos. Port and Stilton - now that I can get behind, but cooked mushy strawberries and rhubarb? Forget it. Generally, I find cooked strawberries to be a waste of good berries, with the sole exception of homemade strawberry jam.

And now back to rhubarb. I was thinking recently of ways it could be used in savoury culinary applications. I tried roasting some to see if it would hold it’s shape better and could be used in salad or something. That test didn’t pan out because I had what is best described as deflated rhubarb sticks and caramelized ooze stuck to the pan. The areas on my baking sheet were exceptionally bright when I finally was able to remove the residual rhubarb. Rhubarb is famous for it’s tartness and perhaps it could be used with fish in place of lemon (I think I read that somewhere), but I have yet to try it. So luckily when I was on my way to Fiesta Farms and trying to think of non-nightshade veggies to use in an eggless tart with cashew cheese (à la chocolate and zucchini) that needed to be consumed I thought of giving rhubarb a go.

Let me take a moment to tell you about the tart shell. I was testing a blend of gluten free flours based on the formula that I came across on gluten free girl's blog. My particular blend included brown rice flour, sorghum, buckwheat, teff, almond, white rice, tapioca and arrowroot. I was also testing organic vegetable shortening. Then I took those ingredients and applied the 3-2-1 pie dough ratio since I currently am acquainting myself with Michael Ruhlman’s book. The crust was satisfactory, though a bit delicate due to crumbliness and had a tendency to fall apart. Typical of my process, I thought “I should blind bake this” after I slapped on a couple of spoonfuls of the cashew cheese, which probably added too much moisture to the uncooked dough. So I baked the tart shell with cashew paste for twenty minutes before putting the main topping on.

The first thing I did when I got home from the store was to slice up one red onion and get that in the cast iron pan to slowly cook and begin to caramelize. Well, prepping the onions was almost the first thing I did when I got home; the first thing I did was put the shortening in the freezer since it had warmed up on my walk back home. My thought was, if you add sweet strawberries to balance the tartness of the rhubarb, why not sweet onions? Anyway, a few minutes before I was ready to put them in the tart I added my diced rhubarb (okay, okay I didn’t dice, but I did split the stalks lengthwise and then slice and the pieces were sort of dice-like) and turned off the fire. To this mixture I added, oh I don’t know, it must have been about at least teaspoon of chopped fresh thyme, which was key to taking this to the savoury side of things. I also had soaked 1 tablespoon of ground chia seed in 3 tablespoons of water and added this. I thought it would act a bit like a binding agent and add a dose of fibre to boot. Oh, and of course I used a healthy pinch or two of salt along with its friend pepper.

All told, I think the tart was in the oven for about 50 minutes (I think – might have been more). I was looking for browning on the edge of the crust, but I realize that it probably wouldn’t happen to the same extent as if I had used butter and all-purpose flour. So when I saw some browning, and was overtaken by hunger, I took the tart out of the oven. Sprinkled a few leaves of chopped mint on top - from a height (I hear Jamie Oliver in my head whenever I say “from a height”), which did nothing flavour-wise but was nice visually. I served the whole thing with a simple green salad and that was dinner.

I took no photos. But let me share with you some links:

Friday, June 3, 2011

Off-Label Use

In this post I will not be encouraging you to take prescription drugs for uses that have not been clinically tested. I am, however, going to propose an alternate use for a kitchen tool duo.

If you are like me and have a basic refrigerator without any bells and whistles, like crushed ice, but still would like on occasion to enjoy a drink poured over a tall glass filled with the stuff, then I have a solution for you.

Yes, yes, I know that you can put ice in a bag and wrap in a towel and go at it with a mallet, but I have a simple solution for you in the cases where you don’t want to go to all that hassle for one or two drinks (or ruin your last zip lock bag which you re-use and are mystified as to where they go). Take your mortar and pestle and pound a couple of ice cubes at a time while you slightly cover the top of the mortar with your other hand so that errant ice chips don’t fly at you. Crushed ice for non-alcoholic mint lemonade. Done.

I can’t believe I never thought of using my mortar and pestle for this before, but it works like a charm. If you do not have a mortar and pestle then you really should consider taking remedial action, even if for all the other normal uses like grinding spices and making spice pastes. Don’t bother, as I did for several years, with those dinky little ceramic versions where you are afraid to put any elbow grease lest you crack the mortar. You know, the kind that looks like it belonged to a druggist, circa 1903. Rather, get a hefty, somewhat deep, granite or marble one. You absolutely would be doing yourself a favour for the mere fact that a basil pesto lovingly made by hand in a mortar is so much more charming and delicious than something whirled in a food processor.

I finally got the upgrade to my stone mortar and pestle when it was given to me by my dear husband for my last birthday. It works so much better – exponentially so – than the little ceramic one. I do, however, keep the ceramic set around because it makes short work of crushing one or two cloves of garlic when used in combination with the granite pestle. That, and I like things that look like they belong in an apothecary.

Sparkling mint lemonade, non-alcoholic

  • Juice of two smallish lemons
  • A healthy sized sprig of mint
  • 2-3 drops of liquid stevia extract (or a spoonful of sugar if you don’t have to avoid it)
  • Crushed ice – see above
  • Sparkling water

  1. In a tall glass (collins glass) muddle the lemon juice, mint and stevia. (If you don't have a muddler you can improvise with the handle end of a wooden spoon or other similar kitchen object...like a pestle)
  2. Fill the glass with the crushed ice leaving a bit of space at the top.
  3. Top it off with sparkling water and gently stir
  4. Enjoy the feeling of being revived!

Note: If you must, you could add some white rum or gin, but this really is a delightful drink on it’s own.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Asparagus: An Unrequited Love Story

Asparagus season is upon us! I love fresh asparagus so much that I don’t want any of the inferior stuff that is shipped from around the globe year round. No, I wait patiently for a year until the snappy green spears appear at the local farmers market or at the grocer, festooned with the Ontario label. I usually make a festival out of asparagus season. I say usually because this year I am not to partake. It is verboten.

Why? I’ll tell you why, though I risk boring you with the details. I have received the results of some blood work that tells you what foods you have antibodies to and should avoid. The results for asparagus are in the moderate range with the suggestion that said food should be avoided for three months before reintroducing (at least I think I get to reintroduce those foods…must confirm this). This means I’ll miss the whole damn season. My ardent love of asparagus shall not be rewarded this year it seems. And oh I had so many delicious plans for what I was going to do to…

First, I would have had made an entire meal of steamed asparagus with a generous pat of butter and sprinkled some grey sea salt and called it fit for any queen. I may have, on another day, done something similar with olive oil and a little lemon and a poached egg.

Let’s not forget that asparagus season coincides with grilling season. With my spears tossed in a little olive oil I would have laid them across the grill over some hot coals when the rest of the meal had had it’s turn. Those blistered and charred spears would have been just delightful with a few shavings of Parmesan.

I wanted to remake the yummy pizza with shaved asparagus inspired by one on Smitten Kitchen that I made last year (and possibly taken a better photo). Though shaving the vegetable with a peeler is a bit tedious, it is well worth the effort because the end result is a pile of bright and pale green ribbons that you put on your dough in a lovely tangle.

There definitely would have been a pasta dish that captured the essence of spring with some fava beans, ramps and perhaps some morels - if I was feeling like a wee splurge.

Boy was I was excited when I recently found a soup recipe in one of our cookbooks that calls for those woody ends that you snap off and normally discard. I was thrilled at the possibility of being so frugal and delicious. I love that intersection where frugality and flavour collide.

I must not go on like this – of what might have been – but I must urge you to make a feast while you can if you are one of the lucky ones. May I suggest a search on Tastespotting for inspiration? Do tell me of all your delicious creations…I can take it.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How to Cultivate Happiness

I've been thinking a lot about happiness lately. I have been trying to figure out how to have more joy in my life for many months; it's why I changed direction in terms of work, but I think I've been measuring happiness on too grand a scale. Big gestures like changing a job that drags your mood down doesn't ensure happiness. There is no one single thing you can do to make sure you are happy.

Recent events made me realize that I have to approach this question of happiness from a different angle and that it has something to do with the culmination of many, many small actions. When I went to my monthly Downtown Knit Collective meeting I was not expecting the lecture titled "Confessions of an Obsessive Knitter" to give me much insight into, well, anything. Thankfully, I was wrong. Robin Hunter, a local knitwear designer, who is also a self-proclaimed psychology geek, gave the lecture. The "confessions" were the reasons that we all knit and, various though they are, they all have the same root - knitting makes us happy. The topic of knitting was the platform from which to launch an examination of happiness.

Hunter had a few references that she shared with us, one of them being the book called "The Happiness Project" by Gretchen Rubin (the link is to the blog with the same name). I picked up the book and began reading. I haven’t finished the book yet, but one theme has emerged; things you wouldn't expect to contribute to happiness, mundane things, like putting your dish in the dishwasher immediately can put a spring in your step. Rubin has a rule that anything that can be done in 60 seconds or less should not be put off. You should try it. She asks what are the niggling little things that are praying on my conscience, perhaps causing guilty feelings, and then, get this, addresses them.

So in a similar vein, I asked; “what is something that I don’t like that could be getting in the way of my happiness?” I don’t like waking up to a messy kitchen. Then I asked; “how can I address this problem?” The solution is to clean the kitchen at night - even if I think I'm too tired to do it. How brilliant is that? I mean it’s so simple anyone could do it! So now I wake up and the kitchen is a clean slate and I feel good. It also means that I’m more likely to make proper food for breakfast and start the day right, which also contributes to a good mood.

Even though I am not really what you call a green thumb, it’s spring and I think that it is a useful metaphor to think of happiness in terms of gardening. Just as one needs to tend a garden, do all the little chores like tilling, weeding, planting, pruning, to enjoy the reward of beautiful plants and flowers, so to does one have to tend to one’s happiness. Just as there are many outside factors that we have no control over in gardening, like weather, that can affect the garden, so to in life. But the best thing to realize, the empowering thing, is that there are myriad little things that you can do to make your spirit soar. How will you cultivate your happiness?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Thoughtful Person

Our small business teacher reminded us that our last business class would involve all of us bringing something to eat so that we can have a "party" and discuss our business idea now that we are at the end of the course. I moaned about the fact that I'm doing this crazy diet and would likely have to abstain. Then I tried to explain that it wasn't that kind of diet and started to give details before realizing that these classmates, who hardly know me, might not care.

Well, I was totally taken aback last Thursday when the classmate I sit next to, let's call her Amanda, brought in this book by a nutritionist (Meals That Heal Inflammation) because she wanted to make something that I could eat at the so-called party. She had narrowed it down to two recipes and asked me to choose the one that fits the diet best. Wow.

This was such a lovely reminder that these kinds of gestures, which don't really cost us anything, have an exponential impact on both parties. The giver and the recipient both walk away feeling lighter and brighter. Let's call it emotional mathematics. It was also a reminder that I need to brush up on these formulae since I am often thinking of other people, but I forget to go that extra step to let them know I am thinking of them.

Well, now I can't sign off without including a little something for you. It is Spring (soon to be the 3rd day of it) even though it is still pretty brown and grey in Toronto. Feast your eyes on a picture of pretty flowers that I took in Morocco last spring. It's a reminder that we will see green again!

Yours truly,

Merlot


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Hound, Thy Name is Coffee

I had no idea that coffee had such a tight grip on my soul, that is until I embarked on this anti-candida diet where caffeine is a no-no. More than anything else, I CRAVE coffee at some point everyday. I would have bet dollars to doughnuts that booze would have been the most difficult to give up with a name like Merlot. Anyhow, I didn’t consider myself a coffee fiend; I think of myself as a tea drinker who also enjoys coffee quite a bit. I didn’t need to have a cuppa joe to get my day going, nor did I necessarily have a coffee every single day but, I guess if I’m honest I did fall into the habit of drinking coffee.


When I was still going to an office everyday I did get a coffee on the way in, though I think that was more about delaying the inevitable. Now that my home is my home base for work I did start making, almost daily, a pot of french press for myself. I was getting good a perfecting that art to my personal taste. I never used to do that. I haven’t owned a drip coffee machine since my university days when I had a 4 cup outfit that my roommate’s boyfriend abused (who makes the measurements on coffee machines? They need to conform to what the rest of the world calls a cup). Seriously, the grounds would be everywhere and to my knowledge, he never, ever cleaned up after himself. Whoa, sorry, I guess I’ve been harbouring some latent resentment.


Don’t get me wrong - I love coffee. I’m pretty particular about the way I like it, in that I like it done the proper way. In fact, I’m a bit of a “snob” as I am with practically anything food and drink related. I just don’t usually like to waste my time on things that suck, especially if they are contributing to either my nourishment or my demise. I feel like I had a pretty solid foundational education in the way coffee should be consumed when I lived in Florence for a few months. I managed my Euros so that I could have my daily fix at il bar. This is why if I am in a situation where I am ordering a coffee at Charbucks I go for the drip coffee, which I don’t like that much, because they have no clue how to make espresso drinks. On a sad side note, I have discovered, to my shock and horror, that it is now possible to get an espresso to go in that storied città. Photographic evidence can be found here.


Here are my all-time favourite ways to enjoy my jet fuel:

  • Caffè macchiato (or espresso macchiato). Macchiato means stained, as in this shot of espresso is stained with a tiny bit of milk. It should not resemble a cappuccino. Period. There is a small amount of foam floating on top to differentiate it from plain espresso. It is served in a “to stay” demitasse that has stayed warm on the the top of the espresso machine. I like sugar in my caffè macchiato, so you can see that I’m not a purist. FYI: A shot of espresso in a to go cup is absurd because a) it gets cold too fast and b) you don’t linger over your drink or else it gets cold. I guarantee you that you have enough time in your day to have an espresso the proper way. My favourite place to have one is standing at the marble counter in my erstwhile local café (il bar) in Florence, but that is not surprising, now is it?
  • Caffè (or short espresso). No milk in this one, just the delicious crema, or foam from the way the coffee is made. Also served in a demitasse that is kept warm. I add sugar to mine, but have been known to drink it without. My favourite place to have an espresso is that café that I found in Venice that isn’t charging €5 a shot where the local working class men are having theirs.
  • Caffè Corretto. This is an espresso with a bit of liquor in it. I like to take mine with Sambuca in Trastevere in Rome.
  • Cappuccino. A cappuccino, contrary to popular North American belief, does not come in a giant bowl. And you can’t do sizes with a cappuccino unless you are keeping the ratio correct. In a similar vein, no one needs a giant cappuccino, give me a break. While I do love a cappuccino on occasion, I rarely order it because so few places actually know how to do it justice. There are a few establishment that I treasure deeply for their cappuccino making abilities and I enjoy the cappuccinos there all the more for it.
  • Drip coffee, diner style. You know those places where you go for a greasy breakfast? I LOVE that kind of coffee! They are the kind of places that the coffee is always fresh since the waitress is going around filling your cup before you can get a third of the way in. I take mine with cream and sugar, thank you very much.
  • Lattes. Lattes are controversial for me. I don’t like lattes because it’s way too much warm milk and what am I, a baby? On the other hand, I will order an iced latte on a hot day in summer. You know the kind where the tall glass is filled with ice (therefore limiting the amount of milk that can be added) and it’s so hot that the glass just drips its sweat onto your thighs as you sit on a patio bench at your local café?

So there you have it folks, my favourite ways to enjoy my coffee. I realize now that I must have spent some time thinking about this as I am quite opinionated on the topic and I’m arbitrarily cutting myself off - because I could go on. As I write this paragraph I am finishing up my second mug of french press today, the first coffee I’ve had in two weeks! This transgression was totally worth it, but I guess I'll be a good girl and stick to herbal tea for another couple weeks .

Monday, February 28, 2011

On Health

I remember reading somewhere that health is not simply defined as the absence of disease, and I buy that. One can be ticking along, earning a living, doing the day to day thing seemingly well, but something can be just...off. We can forget that we are the first person to receive feedback on the status of our mind, body and spirit. Consequently, we ignore certain signs indicating that equilibrium has been lost.

I have, for months, had a lack of zest for life. I've been calling it a low-grade depression; I know severe depression, and this ain't it, though I'm sure they are cousins. So I was thinking I was fine, you know, sort of okay. But I don't want to be just sort of okay. I want vitality. I want to thrive and I want to enjoy life. I want energy! I want to get up in the morning as the blue bird of happiness, not just a blue bird.

While I do laugh at cynical smart-alecky humour and enjoy a good bout of melancholy, I am actually a hopeful and positive person. In the past year, however, I was angry for many months in a row followed by several months of meh. I find I'm battling the parts of my personality that rear their ugly head when I'm out of balance; negativity, doubt, laziness, low self-esteem, lack of confidence, staggering self-criticism, and unproductive perfectionism. This is not me on my best of days.

Also, I've just had no get-up-and-go. I'm asking not "what," but "where is my motivation?" I can't concentrate much, my brain feels foggy and I've been pretty forgetful. Clearly I must do something.

I've had a few false starts with trying to get back on track, but I've decided to try again. This time I'm starting with changing my diet and seeing if that has any positive effects. This involves cutting out alcohol, caffeine, sugar and yeasted breads (the list actually goes on a bit from there) for now. All are much more difficult to give up than I imagined, and I'm only on day 3 of the new regime. Sadly, no merlot, or sauvignon, or stout, or manhattans, or gimlets for me.

The next step towards health is getting out there and socializing, which is something I've been neglectful of because A) I didn't feel I had much to contribute to social situations (see above re negative personality traits) and B) I'm on a limited budget. This is clearly a cycle of doom which I must put the breaks on.

Oh, and did I mention I'm doing a colon cleanse? Fun times. TMI?


Yours truly,

Merlot




Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Up and running...or walking at an easy pace.

So I did it. I listed a couple of things on Etsy.com in my new shop merlottricot. It isn't three things like I announced in a previous post - yet - and it didn't happen by Friday. Hey, that's what happens when you don't manage your time perfectly (or at all) and then realize that there is more to a thing than meets the eye.

I have re-acquainted myself with gimp, the free image manipulation program (a poor man's, um, thrifty entrepreneur's version of photoshop). I had thought I could just use the program as I had in the past, but if you don't use it in three years you get a little rusty. I liked playing around with the program and hope to become a bit more sophisticated in the way that I use it. Here is why I needed to use it:

A bit utilitarian, yes - it's a banner for the shop and it tells you the shop name using colours and images associated with the words in the name. Sometimes it feels good to be blatantly obvious about things. The photo is from something that I knit for my sister a while ago. A surface of stitches, a bit like a landscape, at least I think so.

But I also created this while skimming the user's manual for the program:

In the spirit of full disclosure, I must tell you that I am a bit tipsy in that photo, which I took when playing around with Photo Booth after a dinner that took place in December. It was a festive time. I digress - I didn't get called "the queen of non sequitur" without reason back in university.

Also, figuring out how to deal with shipping took more time than I care to admit. Why is it so a) complicated b) expensive c) not 100% reliable? These are things that I worried (too much) about. I decided to use regular post and if anyone needs an expedited shipment with a tracking number they can contact me to request it.

Well, all this to say that it will all mean nothing if nobody actually buys anything. Excuse me, I must go research online marketing techniques now...

Yours truly,

Merlot

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Valentine to Past Loves

Our paths crossed once. We may have even been in love, even madly and deeply, but things changed and we moved on for various reasons - timing, growing up, or growing apart among them. But I still think of you on occasion. I mean, I did like you for a reason.

Sometimes I hear news of you. Most often I don't, but I wonder what you are up to. I just send out a wish that you are well and happy. If you are struggling for whatever reason I hope that you will see the other side of it and find success - however you define it.

Thank you for sharing the path with me for a little while.

With love,

M

Friday, February 4, 2011

You Gotta Start Somewhere

I'm in the idea stage of starting a business. One should spend a bit of time in this stage - this stage doesn't cost much money (it doesn't earn you any money either) and is very important. This is the time where you figure out what your goals are for your business. This is where you realistically assess whether you can open your knitting bar, or if perhaps you should start smaller and online to keep the costs low as you figure out your business as it develops. This is where you develop a plan to achieve what you want. I like the idea stage, but the danger is not moving out of it. It's very low risk, you see.

While I'm excited about thinking about my business, it would be a lie to say that I don't find it a bit daunting. Here are just some things that I need to develop at least a working knowledge of: marketing, sales, accounting, statistics, shipping, taxes, pricing strategies. The thought of conducting a direct response marketing survey makes me queasy. There are people out there who are experts in these things, genuine experts! I am no expert. And these are the things that are not the business idea itself - they are the tools to promote success in your business.

I humbly acknowledge that I'm not even an expert in what I want to base my business around, which would be knitting and yarn. I'm very enthusiastic and willing to learn, but I'm not what you call an expert. A book I currently have checked out of the library, for example, is filled cover to cover with techniques I currently do not know. There is a whole history of techniques out there, not to mention new developments in the craft yet to happen. This leads me to conclude that I will never be a fully formed, completed, expert. Ever. That this knitting thing, this business thing, heck, this life thing is a journey. And as with all journeys they must start somewhere.

I'm going to open an Etsy shop and list three items within the next week (I will share the link when I do). I don't want (or expect) to make my living by selling my original hand knitted designs, but I'm knitting anyway, and it's a low risk way to start while I learn a bit more about all those other things I listed above, not to mention building relationships with prospective fibre farmers whose yarns I want to sell. I was afraid at first that selling my original stuff online would be straying too far from the concept of selling small farmer produced local yarn. But lately I've heard more than a couple of stories of businesses that start out one way and end up being successful in a different way.

You can think and prepare till the cows (or sheep!) come home, but there is really only one way to find out if your business will be successful. Start. Just place one foot firmly in front of the other and propel yourself forward.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

So I Made a Couple of Beards


Back in November or December a friend of mine asked if I would be able to knit some beards for her. She sent me a link to one she had seen online and I could see that it was done in crochet. Since I have exactly one crochet related skill, the chain stitch, I said that I would be able to produce something similar in knitting. She particularly liked the flair of the curly mustache on the example that had inspired her to seek my help. Here is what I came up with:


The knitters among you may likely notice that I chose blackberry stitch as the main stitch for the beard; it lent a burly quality that I thought important if one is to wear a knitted beard. I found the stitch pattern in the stitch dictionary Super Stitches Knitting by Karen Hemingway. On the second beard that I knit (pictured) I used my crochet skill to chain stitch a button loop so that the beard can be buttoned to the inside of a tuque. Velcro strips work too.

The beards I knit are being worn by snowboarders with a sense of humour and a desire to protect their faces from the cold. Perhaps you yourself know a similar person? Of all the things I've knit in my life this project is the one that has generated the most buzz, which is to say not that much since I'm not among the knitterati, but I have had requests for both beard and pattern. At the very least, a few people have been intrigued. Since I've made use of many free patterns found online in the past I am going to provide you, lucky reader(s?), with the instructions for knitting a beard.


BEARDY FUN an original merlottricot design

Blackberry Stitch Pattern (it resembles the fruit, not the smartphone)
Multiples of 4 sts
Row 1: [RS] *[K1, yfwd, K1] into same st, P3, rep from * to end
Row 2: *P3tog, K3, rep from * to end
Row 3: *P3, [K1, yfwd, K1] into next st, rep from * to end.
Row 4: *K3, P3tog, rep from * to end.
These 4 rows form the blackberry stitch pattern.

Yarn: I used Red Heart Super Saver, don't ask. Or you can use a similar weight yarn.

Dear Red Heart, I'm sorry but you are way to splitty and fake for my liking and I will not be associating with you anymore. Sincerely, Merlot

Excuse the interruption.

I regrettably did not bother measuring gauge, so you'll have to wing it a bit if it's too big or too small. Or you can just pin it farther back or forward into the chosen hat.

Needles: US10 - 6mm straight needles, 6mm double pointed needles (just 2 needed)

CO 12 sts

Work the 4 rows of blackberry stitch pattern 2x

Increase Section: knit increase sts on subsequent rows until 4 increases are made and you can continue in blackberry stitch
R1, R2 inc at beg of row (13 sts), R3, R4 inc at beg of row (14 sts)
R1, R2 inc at beg of row (15 sts), R3, R4 inc at beg of row (16 sts)

Work the 4 rows of blackberry stitch pattern 2x
I had about 5" at this point.

Knit 6 sts of R1 and place on holder for making upper lip later.
continue in blackberry stitch pattern until you have done 3 pattern repeats.

Put beard sts on holder while you work the upper lip area.

Upper lip: knit blackberry stitch pattern 2x. Remember that you already knit R1 before you put the stitches on a holder, so start with R2!

Now you are ready to continue in pattern on all sts and can put everything on one needle again.

Work the 4 rows of blackberry stitch patter 2x

Decrease Section: once you decrease, knit the extra stitches that can't be worked in blackberry stitch.
R1 dec at end of row, R2, R3 dec at end of row, R4
R1 dec at end of row, R2, R3 dec at end of row, R4 (12 sts)

Work the 4 rows of blackberry stitch pattern 2x

Bind off.

Curly Mustache appliqué:

For the mustache I knit a few inches of 4 stitch i-cord on the DPNs. I sewed the i-cord into itself until it resembled a little snail and then I appliqued it onto the beard.

Here is an i-cord tutorial video for instructions on making i-cord.

Happy bearding!

Merlot