From Japan With Love

Mariko of super eggplant recently posted that she is going on a trip to Japan soon, and that reminded me that I have some goodies to show that my mother brought back from her recent 3-week trip to Japan.

One thing that made the things she brought back particularly special was the way many of them were packaged, and it was hard to open some of them, since I think the packaging is a gift in itself.

Inside was the most delightful array of candies, but don’t let them fool you, they weren’t hard candies, all but one were jellies, some of which had a firm outer layer even though they were just about 3 mm thick. I’ve only eaten one a week so far. They were so lovingly packaged that inside the basket was a layer of bubble-wrap to protect the candies, carefully cut to the shape of the basket, so as not to be too obvious.

Next, another exquisitely wrapped package:

This box contained three different types of jellies, one was white bean jelly (as opposed to a paste) with a few delicate shreds of yuzu (a citrus) skin in it, another had a plum encased in jelly, and finally, the third had a kumquat encased in jelly. They were so very special, and although my mother brought them two weeks ago, I ate the last one just yesterday. Sigh.

These are lacquered chopstick rests from Kyoto, which will be a treat to use.

She also brought a bag of an assortment of regular candy, you know the kind you find in the druggist or grocery store: blueberry gum, ume (plum) gum, liquid-filled grape-flavored jelly beans, blood orange gummies, and strawberry gummies made with real strawberries (including the seeds).

Little Helper

My son and I are home today working-off our third of three back-to-back colds over a two-week period. Brutal, I tell you! Every time I think we’re out of the woods, another one comes along. I guess we were due for it, since we’d been skating clear of the onslaught of fall colds for a bit, but three in a row? Of course, he’s had the worst of it, poor guy, but on the other hand he doesn’t have to cook meals, etc., for anyone, so it evens out, I guess. Luckily, he doesn’t get fussy or cranky when he’s sick, although he was a bit last night and this morning, more out of frustration than sickness. Hopefully, he’ll be well enough to go to preschool tomorrow, because he really enjoys the opportunity to be with other kids and I really need some down time on my own.

An extra set of hands can be helpful, though, and today he helped me unravel an experimental sweater I’d started in about 2000, finished 4 years later, and never wore because I didn’t like it. I’m thinking it could make a super soft cotton blanket for him, since I will probably never need to knit him a sweater (recalling my first entry in this blog in January of this year), because he has a strong preference for short-sleeve shirts, shorts, sandals and no jacket, even in cold weather, not to mention how I can rarely get him to wear hats, boots or even sneakers.

This is yarn that I bought maybe 15-20 years ago, but couldn’t decide what to do with, so I made this weird experimental sweater, and then I realized that it just wasn’t me. But I’ve always liked this yarn and it’s hard to say why, since I love wool. I mean cotton is nice and all, but sometimes it just bugs me the way it doesn’t retain its shape the way wool does. So the yarn is two different brands, four different colors, and not quite the same stitch gauge between the two brands.  I have a bunch of blue/pink/green/white pastel variegated Plymouth Fantasy Naturale (4-ply), an even larger bunch of Unger Plantation (2-ply) in blue, pink and mauve, and none of them enough to make a sweater with; of course, the colors really aren’t for me anyway. When I knitted the sweater which, thankfully, was only partly sewn together, I tried to incorporate as many of the colors as possible, so I worked 5 rows in Fantasy, followed by one row in pink Plantation, followed by one row of mauve Plantation, all in stockinette stitch, carrying the Plantation strands by weaving or wrapping them along the edges as I went so I wouldn’t have lots of ends to deal with. As odd as it sounds, it actually worked, but it looked kind of weird. I guess the purchase of these skeins just falls into that category of, “What was I thinking?”

Enter my son, the Little Helper (who really wants to learn how to knit, but isn’t quite there yet). I employed my ever-so-eager helper to help me unravel the sweater and he actually helped for almost two hours by holding the growing balls of yarn for me. Of course, working with frequently territorial toddlers is tricky. He would hold two of the three balls I wasn’t wrapping at the time, but when it came time to give one of them to me in exchange for the one I didn’t need at the moment, he’d get all stubborn about it. I had to keep reminding him that if he wants me to make him a blanket before he goes to college, he’d better help me by giving me the ball. What a good sport!

Bringing home the bakin’.

I went to the Seattle Knitters Guild meeting last week, to hear visiting Norwegian textile designer Annemor Sundbø talk about her new book, Invisible Threads in Knitting. One of the things she discussed was how some of the motifs typically found in traditional Scandinavian knitting once formed a subtle method of communication, particularly with regard to romance and religion. Sundbø also found similar methods of religious communication in other cultures, such as Armenia, in which she described a sort of religious code language using Armenian numbers in rug motifs. The research Sundbø has conducted for this book is amazing, and it would be interesting to read it sometime (no, I didn’t buy one…yet).

Also, I confess, I did buy a skein of Handmaiden Fine Yarn Great Big Sea Silk when Handmaiden visited Hilltop Yarns in Seattle recently. It was really hard leaving with just the one skein for a scarf, but I had to. That’s okay, because I’d been fascinated with yarn from seaweed (actually smelling faintly of seaweed) every since I first heard of it.

On the home front: I live in a place where finding fresh croissants is not easy, so darn it, the other day armed with the book French Women Don’t Get Fat (apparently soon to be out in paperback, by the way), I actually tried my hand at making some. And, you know, they turned-out not so bad. Hey, it beats the stuff in the supermarket.

I don’t know if French women do or don’t get fat, but boy, they certainly have some good food to eat!

But what really makes my croissants even better is this stuff:

A jar of “Brunette” Belgian Praline Spread and a jar of “Noir” Belgian Dark Chocolate Spread Le Pain Quotidien that, when mixed together make something far more yummy than Nutella. Don’t get me wrong, I like Nutella, but since my husband came home with these two jars, they’ve been my special friends. I can’t describe how good they are, both alone and together.

Stripey footlets

They’re finally done! My stripey footlets are done. I thought I would get them done so long ago, but then we moved and became busy with unpacking and summer activities. It was touch-and-go there a few weeks ago when I finished the first one, and realized that the notes I took for the first one were inaccurate and I had to sort of re-invent the pattern for the second one. Too distracted, I guess. I don’t like the toe shaping, or lack thereof, because it’s very flat, but then, I’ve never made socks without a pattern and from the toe-up. But overall, I’m pleased.

It was my son’s third birthday this past Saturday, and I did a first: actually put-together a party. You see, I’m not much of a planner, and I’m not much into parties, but I wanted to do this for him, and he and his little friends had fun.

I tried not to get totally Martha about the whole party, but I made Chocolate Fudge Cake from New England Cookbook by Eleanor Early (out of print), the fudge frosting failed, since fudge and I rarely see eye-to-eye when it comes to making fudge (i.e., I often mess-up somehow). So I logged onto Martha Stewart’s website and found a super-rich, super chocolaty, super-easy, very nice frosting that worked.

Then, I made this thing that looked better in the pictures in Good Things For Kids magazine (a Martha mag.), and didn’t really deliver on taste or texture:

It’s a bowl of gelatin made to look like a fish bowl, complete with gummy fish swimming in it. The recipe calls for too much gelatin, so it was like eating rubber. It was very easy to make. But then I had to make the strawberry marshmallows (you’d be surprised how easy they are), also in Good Things For Kids, and they were yummy!

I’ll definitely make those again!