Knitting Heartache or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Gauge

Eldred

After a Thanksgiving full of food, family and friends, Mark and I retreated up to our little blue cottage on Friday afternoon to digest.  Saturday morning we woke up to a gray sky and snowflakes half-heartedly swirling about the yard.  We ventured out into the cold to pick up our mail at our little post office and get some groceries and then headed home where we settled in for the day. After some careful consideration of our Netflix options, I made a cup of mint tea, picked up my knitting and we pressed play on “The Return of the Pink Panther”.

For the past four weeks I’ve been knitting happily away on a new cardigan for myself,  “Yellow Wall Cardigan”. I replaced the recommended yarn with a very nice tweedy yarn, Rustic Tweed by Queensland Collection, and I was loving the result, although I occasionally wondered if the stitches were tight enough. Now, it’s drummed into all knitters from the second they pick up their first size 10 needles and ball of acrylic yarn that before they start a project, CHECK YOUR GAUGE! Because every knitter has her/his own specific tension on how they hold their yarn, the number of stitches per inch that each knitter achieves with the same size needle and the same yarn can vary greatly. And, if you use a different yarn from the one recommended in the pattern, it’s doubly important to do a proper swatch.  For example, if you are knitting a sweater with a, let’s just say, 37″ width at the chest and the pattern requires, let’s just say, 24 stitches per inch, and you are knitting 22 stitches per inch, it would change the width of the sweater to 40″. That’s right, three inches, a full size larger – you see where I’m going with this?

For some reason, many knitters are notoriously bad gauge swatchers, most of us are so excited to start a project that we either do a half-assed swatch or just plunge in with the courage of our convictions, however misguided they are. So, four weeks ago I decided to go with a half-assed swatch  – which I haven’t steamed or blocked, also recommended – and I plunged in. Along the way, a little voice in my head suggested that I should double check my gauge, which I decide to completely ignore because, I think to myself, “I did a swatch, it’s totally fine!”. It’s not until this gray, cold Saturday with Inspector Clouseau wrestling with an industrial vacuum in the background , that I decide to double check the gauge on my knitting.

I’ll save you the strain on your eyes and tell you: the gauge on my sweater is 22  stitches per inch.

I think it would be physically painful for me to tell you exactly how far along on the sweater I was when I made this discovery.

All I can say is that I had started my third skein of yarn.

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Citron – not a small french car

Manhattan

…and plum pudding is not a pudding. Ever since I bought the 2006 Cook’s Illustrated Holiday Baking issue, I’ve had my eye on the recipe for “Old Fashioned Plum Pudding”. I’m a sucker for traditional European recipes, I’ve been making a Buche de Noel for the past 8 or so Christmas’ and the idea of making a grand entrance at dinner with a dessert ablaze is too tempting. Unfortunately, you have to be a little more organized to make a traditional plum pudding, it’s ideal to make it at least a month ahead, and I’ve never gotten myself pulled together enough to plan that far in advance. But, 2012 is finally the year of the blazing plum pudding. First hurdle:  candied citron.

As it turns out, citron is not just any citrus fruit peel that you have hanging around. After I put oranges on my shopping list, I thought I should actually look up citron and see if it is something specific. It is. It’s a citrus fruit found in more exotic climes than my neighborhood Fine Fare Supermarket. So, on a day when my mom was visiting from Connecticut,  I picked her up at Grand Central and we both made our way down to Curry Hill to the famous Kalustyan’s. Mom was looking for candied fruit for a Russian dessert recipe that my father’s mother gave her and I was on a candied citron mission. We didn’t have to look far, right inside the door were two bins of candied citron – diced and in rather intimidating large halves.  As it turns out, the citron fruit is mostly a very thick white rind with very little actual juice. I opted for the diced citron, and scooped a small amount of the very sticky stuff into a baggie.

Note the pale green color, nothing like the unnatural green citron bits found in your standard doorstop fruitcakes.

Mom found her candied fruit, and then we poked around the amazing selection of spices, jams, beans, etc that Kalustyan’s offers. I left Kalustyan’s feeling victorious and contemplating my next plum pudding hurdle: the large steamer pot.

Fortunately, my neighborhood Fine Fare Supermarket is just the place to find a steamer pot large enough to steam tamales and plum puddings.

From Upstate Manhattan to Upstate New York

Three years ago my husband – then boyfriend – and I bought a small blue cottage in Sullivan County, New York. This had been a dream of mine for years, and when Mark and I met, it became a joint dream. Our Manhattan home is a one bedroom fifth floor walk-up in the northern reaches of Manhattan. It overlooks Fort Tryon Park and the Cloisters. Our neighborhood and the view is rather bucolic for Manhattan, if you ignore the periodic car alarms, blaring music from passing cars, and the occasional late night drunken fight on our corner.

View from my apartment window of the local wildlife

But it’s city life and we are a quick zip down to midtown and downtown on the A train. I love living in New York, but I also longed for a country getaway where I could grow a garden, read on a hammock and have dinner in a screened-in porch to the hum of cicadas and crickets. When we found our little blue cottage we found our perfect country retreat, with a screened-in porch, space for a garden and surrounded by trees.

The view from my hammock sans wildlife – they are in their hideout plotting the next raid on the garden.

In August of 2010, Mark and I got married in the backyard of our little blue cottage. Now we divide our time between the whirl of our city life and the slow pace of our country home. Whether I’m looking out my window at pigeons nesting in my downstairs neighbor’s window boxes or at an owl resting in on the branches of a tree, I’ve always got projects that I’m working on inspired by both of my homes and surroundings.