"No matter how terrified you may be, own your fear and take that leap anyway because whether you land on your feet or on your butt, the journey is well worth it."
-- Laurie Laliberte
"If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough."
-- Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage."
-- Anais Nin

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Farmer in the Queen City (recipe)

Babcie's Summer Salad
(scroll down for recipe)

Manchester, NH had a population of about 90,000 when I was growing up there. It's not a huge city, but I'm sure it was a bit of a culture shock for my grandfather who moved there from a farm in Poland shortly after the end of World War II.

If I were to walk onto my grandfather's property now, dressed the way I remember it from my youth, I'm sure I'd be the one in shock. You see, I currently live in a suburb of Boston, MA whose metropolitan area has a population about three times that of the entire state of New Hampshire and I'm horrified that my neighbors have a pair of chickens in their yard. When I was a kid however, Dziadzio's (pronounced Juh-joo, Polish for Grandpa) mini farm in the city didn't even phase me. It was a great place to visit and I was there almost every day. At one time or another, Dziadzio had three chickens, two ducks, a dog, countless rabbits (they really do multiply quickly), and a flock of pigeons.

But his menagerie was not my grandfather's claim to fame; THAT was his garden. My grandparents' home sat on a double lot which afforded the space for the animals and a huge vegetable garden along with (concord) grape vines, and fruit trees that bore peaches, plums, pears and crab apples. Needless to say, with all those pigeons, Dziadzio never needed to buy fertilizer. Our family was eating organic WAY before it was cool. I know this had at least some influence on his son-in-law (my dad) whose own yard boasted a good sized garden and a peach tree. I was raised to love raw vegetables and taught to use them in ways that emphasized, rather than masked, their natural flavors.

Babcie (Polish for Grandma and pronounced Bahb-chee) was an amazing cook and she had the best resources at her fingertips. Most plentiful were the tomatoes and cucumbers used in the recipe I share with you today. This is one of those family recipes that never really had a name. It's been handed down, one generation at a time, with instructions like, "Throw in a dollop of sour cream. I don't know how much; until it looks good." That's how my family cooks. I assume that's how most families cook. My Aunt always called it "Polish Salad" or "Babcie's Salad." Call it whatever you want, but try it. I love this stuff.

Babcie's Summer Salad

1/4 cup sour cream
2 tbsp. distilled white vinegar
two good sized cucumbers or one English cucumber, sliced a little thinner than 1/4"
two medium tomatoes, sliced in chunks or one pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
one half of a medium onion, sliced paper thin (optional)

In a non-metal bowl combine vegetables.
Add sour cream and toss to coat veggies.
Add vinegar and stir lightly. (Do not give into temptation to add more vinegar.)
Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour, but 4 hours or more is ideal.
Stir again and serve cold.

(Quite) A Few Notes about Ingredients:
I rarely peel an English cuke, but I always peel the traditional cucumbers (if they're from the grocery store) as they are usually heavily waxed to keep them fresh in transit.
Yes, you must halve your cherry or grape tomatoes. The juice of the tomato is necessary for the dressing.
I leave out the onions when I make this for the kids, but it's so much better with them in it.
Keep it simple. You may assume cider or champagne vinegar would improve this dish, but the whole point is to use simple, easy to find ingredients that really play up the natural flavors of the vegetables. The vinegar draws some of the moisture out of the veggies and makes a simple dressing that's wonderful.
Yes, you may use reduced fat or fat free sour cream and it will taste exactly the same.

And Here's Another Use:
After your veggies have set in the fridge for a few hours, toss them with about 8 oz. (dry weight) cooked, chilled pasta. (Yes, I love pasta salad.)

Or you could do what I did last week and drop a scoop on a bed of lettuce and have a terrific salad for lunch.

Kocham cie Babcie i Dziadzio.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Merry Christmas! (free crochet pattern)

Now really is the time that we should all be planning and starting any handmade holiday gifts. Most years I begin making mine in January because I have this procrastination problem. (The problem is that I have no difficulty procrastinating.) However, just like last year, I'm sure I'll still be crocheting like a mad woman on December 23rd rushing to finish that one last piece. Anyhow, now is a great time to start gathering yarns and patterns and planning your projects so you don't end up in a last minute crunch. This is why so many designers and crafters offer "Christmas in July" specials and why I'm posting a Christmas in July present for all of you. Enjoy!

Free Big Girl Scarf (#1) Crochet Pattern:

All instructions use American terminology and standard abbreviations

Supplies needed:
about 6-8 oz. or 3-4 balls of worsted weight cotton yarn
size I-9 (5.5 mm) crochet hook
stitch markers or lengths of scrap yarn (optional)
smaller hook or yarn needle for weaving in ends

A note about supplies:
Any worsted weight yarn will work for this project and gauge is not important. Some acrylics (such as Red Heart Super Saver) are a bit loftier than my favorite cotton so you may wish to go up a hook size to accommodate your yarn. Keep in mind that this will affect the finished size, but it's a scarf, so gauge really isn't crucial. You may also wish to pick up a few extra balls of yarn when you shop for this project since I hope (time permitting) to post matching mittens and a matching hat before Christmas.


Each row will have 219 stitches.

Row 1:  sc in 2nd ch from hook and in each ch across, turn

Row 2: ch1, sc in 1st ch, [ch1, sk next ch, sc in next ch] across ending w/sc, turn

Row 3: ch1, sc in 1st sc, [sc in ch1 sp, ch1, sk next sc] across ending w/sc in each of last 2 sc, turn

Row 4: ch1, sc in 1st sc, [ch1, sk next sc, sc in ch1 sp] across, sc in last sc, turn

Row 5: ch1, sc in each sc and ch1 sp across, turn

Row 6: ch1, working in back loops only sc in each st across, turn

Row 7: ch1, working in front loops only sc in each st across, turn

Row 8:  repeat Row 6

Row 9: ch1, working in front loops only sc in 1st st, [dc in next st, sc in next st] repeat to end, turn

Row 10: ch1, working in back loops only dc in 1st st, [sc in next st, dc in next st] repeat to end, turn

Rows 11-13:  repeat Rows 9-10 ending w/a Row 9

Row 14: ch1, working in back loops only sc in each st across, turn

Row 15: ch1, working in front loops only sc in each st across, turn

Rows 16-17: repeat Rows 14-15

Row 18: ch1, sc in 1st st, [ch1, sk next st, sc in next st] repeat to end, turn

Rows 19-21:  repeat Rows 3-5

finish off, weave in ends

Design Notes:
The finished project, as written, measures about 6 1/2" x 65". Increasing the length is easy; simply add 4 chains for each inch you want to increase.  Always increase by an even number of stitches.

I have made this pattern exactly once, directly from these instructions, and I love how it turned out. It has not yet been tested, so I would love your feedback. Please let me know if it requires any corrections.

Your input is more than welcome. Feel free to email me with photos or any questions regarding this pattern at BigGirlJewelry@yahoo.com or post a comment below.

Happy Crocheting!

By the way. . .Any pattern I design and post here is my property. Please do not duplicate my patterns for any reason especially to sell. Instead, please link to my blog or to the pattern page when referencing one of my patterns.
You are more than welcome to offer finished items made from my patterns for sale. I see no reason why you should not profit from your hard work. However, I'd really appreciate it if you gave me credit for the design; please reference my blog or the pattern page.
If you do make any of my patterns, I'd love to see your finished items; please feel free to email pictures to me.
If you are not interested in making your own pieces, I occasionally offer finished items in my shops. I also welcome special orders, so email me and let's work together.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Finding My Zen and Playing Catch Up

Dominoes 3-Piece Set by Laurie Laliberte

I haven't done a "here's what's going on" post in a while and I figure you're all due for a big update, so here goes. . .

using scrap yarns
to work out new patterns
I think I've gone a bit knit crazy. If you've seen my Ravelry projects lately you may have noticed that there are quite a few knitted scarves just completed or in progress and not a whole lot of crocheting going on. Well kids, there are only so many hours in a day, and much of my day is spent working on new crochet creations that are turned into the beautiful (if I do say so myself) patterns you'll find in my Etsy and Ravelry shops. The most recent of those is the Dominoes collection which is probably my most complex design to date. Just about an hour ago I finished the basics of a collection based on three different motif squares which I'm hoping to turn into an ebook that will be available on Amazon. I suppose all this crochet work makes me feel a bit guilty when I try to crochet for pleasure. Whenever I pick up a crochet hook I feel as though I should be using it for something profitable rather than something a little more frivolous. Even the summer hat I recently finished for my niece was made for function more than fashion (but it IS adorable). Yeah I know, I'm hopelessly Type A.

Claire by Lynn Anne Banks
Anyhow, since I'm still a newbie knitter, there's nothing profitable about a pair of needles in my hands and I'm loving it! I'm getting better at it and finding I'm almost fearless about taking on projects. My most recent undertaking is the most gorgeous lace scarf. In fact, I'm currently working on three different lace scarves with varying degrees of difficulty. I find my Zen when I knit. It keeps me calm and makes me happy just as crocheting has always done. However, I wouldn't count on seeing any knit designs from me any time soon. I'm a much better crocheter than I am a knitter.

What sort of projects are you all working on this summer? Leave a comment and share a link or two. Maybe we'll all find our next project.

Oh, by the way, one of those great patterns I'm working on will be your Christmas in July present, so stay tuned! I'll post it on July 25th.
Adorable Ruffles by Sharon Maher

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Tweet Me a Yarn

100 grammi pattern by Cristiana

It's your project. Ultimately, it's up to you to decide how you want it to look. You choose the project. You choose the yarn. You choose needle or hook size. And together, the combination produces a finished product unique to you. But sometimes we need a bit of guidance to nudge us in one direction or another.

This is where I find Twitter so useful. "Huh?" I hear you thinking, "How is Twitter going to help you choose a project?" I doesn't HAVE to be Twitter. That just happens to be my social networking medium of choice. You see, I've got some great pals (tweeps) who help me make these decisions. Even if I don't take their advice about yarn choices for certain patterns, their opinions help me to refine my own idea of how I want a finished object to look.

Here's what happened: Not so long ago I stocked up on yarn including a few styles just for me. Most of what I buy is just worsted weight cotton that I use for pattern writing/samples, but I splurged just a little this time. One of the yarns I bought is Dazzling Diamonds by Elmore Pisgah, the original makers of Peaches & Creme. It is absolutely beautiful, but I had no idea what I'd use it for. I knew it wouldn't be crochet since these hands can't handle crocheting with such fine yarns, but exactly what did I want to knit? That's where Twitter came in. Last night I finished my latest knitting project (check it out) and I've been really wanting to find something for the Dazzling Diamonds. About the same time, my pal Melissa was playing online and tweeting and emailing her discoveries to me. Now Melissa doesn't knit, but she knows I do and she sent me a gorgeous shawl pattern which got my wheels turning. I sent her a tweet asking her to keep her eyes open for anything that might do the Dazzling Diamonds justice. She suggested I hit Ravelry and search the projects made with the yarn. (Now why didn't I think of that?) Although the search didn't turn up anything useful, it did begin a conversation. Melissa and I went back and forth for a bit and I tweeted a couple of links to her. While she didn't actually make the choice for me, having her eyes helped me to further refine my own idea for what I wanted for the two projects I ultimately chose.
Here they are: Claire by Lynn Anne Banks in Dazzling Diamonds pale pink and Flit 'n Float by Birdy Evans in Honeysuckle cotton (fingering) baby blue
I realised through all of this how reliant I've become on social media because of my craft. You see, I have exactly ZERO local friends who are needlecrafters, so when it comes to bouncing ideas off of other knitters or crocheters, I automatically take to Twitter where I can contact a bunch at once. We share projects, ideas, yarn sites. We offer opinions, encouragement, instruction. But most of all, we're friends. I'd love to have them all right here in Boston with me, but that would mean I'd have to get out of my pajamas to see them. I guess I'll stick with Twitter until the next best thing comes along.

Talk to me. . . When you need input, where do you turn?

Friday, July 1, 2011

It's That Time of Year Again!

Yep, you guessed it. It's Christmas in July! Big deal you say? Yes, it is a big deal! Why? Well, because I'm actually having a sale! Yep, a sale.

X-Factor 3 Piece Kitchen Set
Here's the deal: I want you all to be able to get a jump start on your holiday projects. The best way to do that is to begin planning them in January. The second best way is to start planning them now. As most of you know, I bundle patterns together so that coordinating items may be purchased in sets at a discount. You're already making out in the deal. So the kicker is that with the purchase of almost any set you may choose a single pattern valued at $1.99 at no additional charge. On Etsy, simply add your choice in the "notes to seller" section when you check out and I'll send it along with your purchased set. On Ravelry, the promotion is programmed into the checkout process so you'll be able to enter the promotional item right into your cart. How cool is that? The promotion will run the entire month of July, so get to shopping. THEN get to stitching.

X-Factor Dish Cloth
Here's an example: Purchase the X-Factor 3 Piece Kitchen Set for $5.49 and choose the X-Factor Dishcloth (normally $1.99) for no additional charge. Easy Peasy!

Of course, you don't HAVE to choose the matching item. If you wanted to buy the Basket Case 3 Piece Kitchen Set for $5.49 and receive the Chubby Nubby Scrubby (normally $1.99), it's all yours.

Merry Christmas!