Sunday, November 8, 2009

Hot Pad

It's been some time since I've been able to knit, but the book is winding down and I now have a few hours for small projects. Last evening's was a hot pad for the kitchen. I used a dark blue acrylic worsted mixed with the white/gold crochet cotton to add a bit of stiffness and sparkle. The pattern is very simple and results in a thick knit. It took less then a skein and about 6 hours to complete.

Cast on an even number of stitches (I used 50 which resulted in 7.5" across).

Row 1: knit 1, slip as if to purl, knit 1, slip as if to purl (repeat across)

Simply repeat row 1 until the pad is square and cast off. Add a single crochet edging in a contrasting colour (I used some leftover yellow from a needlepoint project). If desired, finish the edging with a 2" single crochet loop to act as the hanger.

If you don't think the pad is thick enough or you want to use it as a pot holder, knit 2 squares and use the crochet edging to sew them together.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Old-Fashioned Shell Tidy

I have no idea what a "tidy" is, but I like this knit shell pattern. My version is using Coats and Clark Knit-Cro-Sheen Metallic crochet thread (gold) and Bernat Baby yarn (antique white) on size 5.5 mm needles. Because of the large needle size, I'm using 50 stitches (23*2 + 4).

We'll see what it turns into (probably a table runner). It is starting to look rather doily-ish.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Scarf #2

With the first scarf finished, I began to experiment with knitting with beads. I liked the pattern it evolved into so much, I turned it into a woman's fancy scarf.

The materials used are one skein of Bernat Satin colour 04010 (called camel but more of a light gold to me) and a big bag of 6 mm clear faceted beads (which look like little diamonds). Each row uses 9 beads.

The pattern is super simple as it only uses the knit stitch and does not require any fancy counting, but the result looks stunning. The pattern goes like:

Cast on 21 stitches.

Knit 2 rows.

Knit 2, slide a bead up, knit 2, slide a bead, and so on to end of row.

Knit next row (which is front side of work as you can see the beads).

Knit 3, slide a bead up, knit 2, slide a bead, knit 2, and so on to end of row.

Knit next row (front).

Continue, with the alternating back rows starting with knit 2 or knit 3, til desired length. Alternating the back row gives a nice diamond pattern on the front. The scarf may seem a bit heavy at first, but the weight distributes as the scarf gets longer. I will probably do a fancy beaded fringe on the ends--more on that when I get there.

Now, what do I mean by slide the bead? Before casting on, string a lot of beads onto the yarn. How much is a lot? As many as you can stand scooting back as the yarn gets used as you knit. The more the better as you'll have to cut and splice your yarn when you run out of beads so you can string some more. As you knit, when it is time to slide the bead, slide it right up to the end of the used yarn (right up to the last knitted stitch). That way it will be placed between the last knitted stitch and the next knitted stitch. Since you are knitting (i.e. not purling), make sure the slid bead lies behind the needles.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Last day of spring, heat is getting ready to roll into Ontario, and I have the urge to knit. A scarf. One elegant and masculine enough to wear to a Manhattan office without looking too much like "my girlfriend got bored and made me wear this".

Picked up 2 skeins of Bernat Cashmere in colour "coal" and a pair of size 9 (5.5 mm) bamboo needles. Finding a pattern I liked took longer. I finally settled for a modified basketweave from "60 Easy-To-Knit Pattern Stitches Combine to Create Sampler Afghans". It goes like this:

- cast on desired number of stitches divisible by 8 (I'm using 32)

1: knit
2: K5, P3
3. K3, P5
4. K5, P3
5: knit
6: P5, K3
7: P3, K5
8: P5, K3

The pattern is easy enough to track while watching PBS, patterny enough to not be boring, and subtle enough (especially in a dark colour) to wear with a suit.

Monday, June 8, 2009


The prettiest village on the road from Vienna to Bratislava is Hainburg. When taking the bus to the Vienna airport, one does wonder if the bus is going to make it through the Weinertor.

On the way back to Bratislava we stopped to walk through the village. Most of the shops and restaurants were closed for Sunday, but we found an old courtyard that was serving pop and snacks. We ordered what we thought was buttered bread for 1 euro and bread with ham for 3 euro. The buttered bread came with about half a pound of cheese and the bread with ham had an equal amount of ham. I was reminded that Austrians like to eat and that price is not an indication of size. Heavily fortified, we checked out the Weinertor, then walked to the other end of town to see its gate. We followed a street that ran parallel to the wall to get a better look at the castle. This view of the castle gate is behind the local high school. Down the street is the town pranger, a reminder of penal days gone by.


On the road half-way between Vienna and Bratislava is an old looking arch. It is the remains of the Heidentor (heathen gate), erected between 354 and 361 AD as a triumphal monument for Emperor Constantius II. The gate is part of the Carnuntum, a significant Roman fortification founded in 6 AD by Tiberius.

And, as luck would have it, the day we had planned to tour the Austrian countryside and figure out what the heck that arch was happened to fall during The Big Carnuntum Roman Festival. So, we headed out on the B9 to Petronell-Carnuntum, following the well-marked signs on the highway. After parking in a field, we paid 9 euro to get in.

The size of the archaeological site is impressive and well worth visiting anytime. There are plans to excavate and restore portions of the site to its former glory through 2011. There are plaques in English and German to explain the site plan, the Roman sewage, plumbing, and heating systems, and the types of buildings. Some of the houses have been restored and provide a glimpse into the high standard of living available in Roman times.

For the festival, the grounds were strewn with souvenir stalls and demonstrations of weaving, forgery, tinsmithing, pottery, cooking, etc. There were places for children to make their own sword and shield or clay seal. Quite a few people were dressed in togas or legion costumes.

There were different military demonstrations every hour. We watched an entertaining demonstration of a legion training 2 new recruits in the art of using their shield and spear. The fair was very busy but well organized. The lineups for the water closets were short and the tables and garbage were kept quickly cleared to give everyone a chance to eat.

We then went in search of the arch. We quickly discovered that while you can clearly see the arch from the highway, you can't get to it from there. After driving around Petronell-Carnuntum a few times we remembered that the magic word was "Heidentor" and quickly found that nearly every side street in town had a brown sign pointing towards it. Ah yes, all roads lead to Rome...

Driny Cave

The road to Driny Cave is also well marked with signs starting just before the town of Smolenice. Parking costs 2 euro. You then walk uphill, at a fairly steep grade, for about 20 minutes to access the entrance to the cave. AFAIK, the tour is only in Slovakian (ours was)--you purchase your ticket at the little store at the cave entrance for 5 euro.

The cave itself is spectacular. The path through the cave is paved, a surprising convenience seeing that the entire tour is walking, even the descent into the deeper parts of the cave. Spot lighting has been designed to show off the nicest features and the colours range through various shades of pale pink to orange. While the guide only spoke Slovakian, he gave ample time for viewing the various stops. Some sections were surprisingly narrow and a few spots will require a tall person to watch their head and shoulders.

Most of the formations are stalagmite with Majko's Hall making quite a valley of the phallus. The elephant's ears were an interesting formation. There were also drip formations that resembled tangled roots made from melted wax.

Červený Kameň

The road to Červený Kameň is well marked. You'll see the castle itself a few minutes before the sign. The road takes you up a mountain and through thickly wooded forest before opening up into a free parking lot next to free (and clean) water closets.

The entire estate is very well maintained: well manicured lawns and gardens with roaming peacocks, clean outbuildings, non-crumbling walls and gates, and a very large castle. There are several places to purchase a snack and a former watch tower houses a small souvenir shop.

Our first stop was the Astur falconry which offers a live show for 4 euro. The falconry has a large variety of owls, hawks, falcons, eagles, and a raven in its collection. The live show was fun with the handlers guiding (and sometimes trying to guide) a great horned owl, raven, peregrine falcon, bald eagle, and a hawk over the heads of audience members. The most impressive flyby was the Steppe eagle which flew down from the castle tower. Its wing span was easily 5 feet.

We then made our way up to the castle. The view from the tower gave an impressive paranoma of the Little Carpathians and some flatlands to the northeast. We could have paid a few euro for a 75 minute tour of the castle museum but had other sights we wanted to see that day. The museum is supposed to be quite nice, though.

There was one wedding party at the castle, one of three weddings we saw that day. Another was at Devin castle, and the most entertaining was in one of the villages we passed through--this one had a band which was leading the wedding party througout the main street of the village.

After leaving the castle, we stopped at the pizzeria in the nearby village of Casta. The garlic soup was good--nice creamy soup with lots of garlic and a bargain at 1.50 euro. When ordering pizza in Slovakia, don't let the price fool you. 2-3 people can easily eat from one 3 euro pizza as they are easily the size of a North American large pizza. Mind you, someone expecting a thick chewy crust will be disappointed as the pizza brings new meaning to the word thin crust. If you like freshly made, crispy thin crust that tastes of garlic topped with a thin amount of ingredients, you'll like Slovakian pizza.

Slovakian Road Trip

We spent Saturday driving through the Slovakian countryside along the Little Carpathians. Route 502 took us along the Eastern slopes northwards from Bratislava to Trstn where we turned left on 51 to Jablonica where we turned south on the 501 to catch the Western slopes on the return trip to Bratislava.

Once you get used to the total absence of ditches, the roads in Western Slovakia are well maintained and, for the most part, newly paved. Once out of Bratislava, the road is 2 lanes and very busy for the first 40 km. The eastern slopes are low rolling hills and an endless stream of vineyards, punctuated by a drive through a village every 2 minutes or so. We spent some time at Červený Kameň (red rock castle) and drove up to Smolenice castle (which is only open to the public in July and August).

The narrow section between Trstn and Jablonica was deeply forested with the trees overhanging the roadway in many sections. Before turning southwards, we passed a mountain lake dotted with rental cottages and fisherman.

The western slopes were higher and more defined. The ruins of Plavecký hrad (castle) are quite impressive. Before heading into Bratislava, we took a side trip to Devin castle, making it the fourth castle we had visited within the space of an afternoon.

Some notes if you're planning a road trip:

  • book your car online about a week ahead of time

  • the most reliable rent-a-cars are at the Bratislava or Vienna airports

  • double-check that the car has a first aid kit and emergency triangle as these are mandatory in Slovakia

  • Slovakia has a 0% blood alcohol policy so forego drinks on the days you're driving

  • don't expect roads or streets to be marked--you may drive for some time before you're sure you're on the right road. Take a map, use instinct, and stick to what looks like the main road as it's probably the one you want

Gas is easy to find and every village has a pizzeria and a place to buy pop or ice cream. Outside of the city, few speak English but Slovakians are friendly and can usually figure out what you want. Tourist areas are well marked, but expect any tour guides to be given in Slovakian only.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Little Havana in Bratislava

Casa del Havana is the place to be on Tuesday nights in Bratislava. Live music with no cover with each week presenting a different style. Earlier this year I was treated to Argentinian Tango which sounds much better than one might think. Last night was a nice mix of Salsa and old faves such as The Girl from Ipanema and the theme from the Godfather. The lead singer and the piano player are especially good, people actually dance, and the mojitos and Cuba Libres (rum and coke) flow freely. If you're new to Slovakia, be forewarned that the smoke gets pretty thick in the bars as everyone smokes and there aren't any smoking bans in effect. It's a bit better in the warmer weather as the windows and doors are open.

Meanwhile, the search for a package of lightbulbs continues. The major grocers, Billa and Tesco, either don't carry them or hide them very well. Ditto for the pharmacies, which up to this point have been the place to look for the supplies not found at the grocers. Other items which I have not found that fortunately fall into the "strange they don't exist but I can live without them" category are relish and sliced pickles.

Monday, May 25, 2009


On the drive from Vienna to Bratislava, I was pleasantly surprised at the difference between gloomy and bleak March and the blue sunny skies of May. Like Poland, the ditches and fields along the roadway are strewn with corn poppies--a sea of red barely hidden by waves of green. We even passed a field of cultivated poppies which made a very thick red carpet.

In the winter you don't really notice how cool the hills are. Now that everything else is green, the hills look white and crumbly, like long-abandoned castles. Apparently they are composed of flysch and I should see much more of this on the drive to Smolenice.

The day began with poppy flowers and ended with a very good dinner at the Flowers Restaurant. Situated in Old Town, the restaurant bakes its own rolls (try the brown ones, they contain garlic bits) and has an extensive wine cellar. Try the mezza: the hummus is very good, the babaganoush is unlike any I've had before and something I'll be trying to replicate, the stuffed grape leaves definitely contained lamb, and the tabouleh tasted like tabouleh. The garlic soup was nice and creamy--just as good as the Viennese one minus the garlic bits on the bottom of the bowl. If you like mushrooms, you'll like the mushroom ravioli--all of the pasta is homemade. For dessert the quark balls were interesting. I was expecting more cheese and less dumpling dough (but hey, this is eastern Europe) but they were still tasty and the ginger/strawberry sauce was divine.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Experiments in Hummus

I usually make my own hummus as: a) I don't like the taste/texture/calories of tahini and b) hummus without cumin seed is not hummus in my book. Restaurant hummus usually fails on both counts. Besides, hummus is one of those ideal foods that doesn't require one to cook (if you can push the button on a food processor you can make hummus) and it takes all of 2 minutes to go from thought to finished product.

I like to experiment with different types of beans and liquids to get the desired consistency. There's no law that says hummus has to be made with chickpeas (garbanzo beans). Today's batch went like this:

  • One can of cannellini beans--yes, it's better to think ahead and soak your own beans, but sometimes laziness wins. Be sure to rinse well to reduce the sodium content of canned beans.

  • A small clove of garlic--too much garlic tastes good the first day but becomes overpowering if the hummus lasts longer than that.

  • Good spoonful of cumin seeds.

  • Dash of paprika to add a bit of colour and heat. Hot sauce works well too if you have it.

  • A good squirt of lime juice as I felt like lime today. Was probably 2-3 tablespoons worth.

And today's experimental ingredient: 2 big dollops (about 1/2 cup) of low-fat ricotta cheese in place of additional liquid. I figured a good source of calcium and protein couldn't hurt. Everything went into the processor and I pushed the button until it looked smooth and hummus-y.

Note: when you make your own hummus, start with a few tablespoons of some liquid so the beans can process. Don't add too much and let it process for a minute or so. If it really is too dry, the beans won't whirl and you can add about a tablespoon of some liquid to get things moving. If you add too much at first, you'll just end up with watery hummus.

And I was delighted with the results. The ricotta produced a lovely velvet texture and added a creamy taste that went well with the lime. Surprisingly, nothing curdled, which was good. Will definitely be using ricotta again.

Bon appetit!

Needlepoint Panel

In my spare time (cough, cough) I have a few projects on the go. One involves needlepoint as I find slowly filling in a zillion little squares with colour to be strangely relaxing. My latest project is using mini squares (5"x5") as this size does not require a frame to keep the work from stretching/skewing before it is finished.

I started with 1 square, then moved up to 4 thinking I would frame the 4 as a set in either a large square or a long rectangle. I couldn't find a pre-matted frame that I liked (and I hate cutting mats) so I thought some more until I decided on stitching the squares together into a panel. I found 9 kits that I liked that fit a floral/bug theme:

I'm using Patons silk bamboo in black to create the connecting borders as a skein of yarn was infinitely cheaper than the equivalent amount of floss. Each picture ends in a row of 729 DMC (gold), followed by 7 rows of Patons, 2 rows of DMC 321 (red), and 7 more rows of Patons to connect to the 729 DMC row of the next square.

If I'm pleased with the finished size, I'll probably back the piece in red cotton. Or I may just decide that the panel needs to be bigger and add more squares.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Creamy Garlic Soup

While in Vienna earlier this month, I had an excellent Knoblauchcremesuppe (creamy garlic soup) at Pizzeria Salieri and have been meaning to try to recreate a similar soup at home. Doing research, I wasn't surprised to see that the recipes for the Austrian version call for eggs--the Austrians really like their eggs and even put them on pizza. The pizza, by the way, was very good, even with the egg on top staring back at you. It did make that portion of the thin crust soggy, though.

Having an idea of a general gist from the recipes, I headed to the kitchen to make my own low-fat, low-sodium, high-garlic version. Many recipes call for the soup to be pureed which I (and the restaurant) did not do as I like the texture of the garlic bits that sink to the bottom of the bowl.

A note on how much garlic to use: recipes range anywhere from a few cloves to as much as 6-10 heads of garlic. You'll note that the recipes that call for the most garlic have you use the cloves whole (not chopped up) and to puree the finished result. This is because whole garlic has a mellower flavour. When you chop garlic, you release the oils and chemicals that give garlic its pungent taste. If you like garlic, chop away, cook immediately (before the taste gets bitter) and use far less. Also, make sure your garlic is firm and fresh. You'll be disappointed if you cheat and use pre-chopped garlic as the taste won't be there.

Being the non-measurer, taste as you go sorta cook, this is roughly how my version went:

Since I was cooking for one, I used a medium sized saucepan with a dollop of olive oil in the bottom. I started chopping away at a head of garlic and stopped about 2/3 of the way through when the amount looked good in the pan. It was probably about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of fresh chopped garlic. I sauteed on low heat to soften the garlic but not brown it.

I had some leftover stock from a St. Patrick's day boiled dinner and threw in 2 ladlefuls, tasted, figured it was stocky/salty enough and added a cup of water. It was still a bit stocky, so I added another cup which tasted better. If you like a bit thicker soup and don't mind the carbs, throw in a potato. I had one leftover from the boiled dinner so in that went. Simmer for 15 or so minutes until the garlic and potato are softened and mash the potato down.

I like the taste of canned milk, so I poured some in til the soup looked the right colour, it was probably about 1/4 cup. I tasted to see if it needed anything else (I had visions of throwing in some parmesan or perhaps some ricotta I had in the fridge), but it tasted really good as-is. Most recipes call for croutons or toasted baguette on top. I went for toasted rye with hummus on the side instead of in the soup bowl.

Bon appetit!