Saturday, December 22, 2012

Why(and How) Did I Start to Write Patterns?

I have asked myself this question over and over and over. It's not a quick nor easily answered question, but here's a stab at answering it.
Anouk Schlüttli
   In the early summer of 2010 I was in the middle of a heavily complicated pregnancy for my third miracle and scanning Ravelry and the greater internet for patterns to knit while on bed rest. I had purchased the fantastic Twisty Trousers pattern by Lynne Sanderson the previous winter and was browsing the FOs(knitter speak for "finished object") for inspiration for my next project when I came across a gorgeous deep violet pair by a knitter named DariasTulip. The cabled longies were gorgeous, but what really caught my eye was the side-buttoned cardigan on the sweet babe in the photo. I began searching high and low using all the techniques and terms in searches trying to find the pattern for such a garment. I came up empty, so after about a month I summoned the courage and emailed Daria herself asking for a reference. She was SO sweet and willing to help. She explained that the garment is an old-old-old traditional Swiss sweater style called a Schlüttli, linked me to THIS PATTERN she used as a guide, and offered to help translate if my German wasn't up to snuff. It was a PDF of a scanned, hand-written document containing just one size. I took a stab at it and ended up with this cute cardigan my oldest loves and STILL tries to squeeze herself into 2.5 years later. I was not 100% pleased with the outcome, but knew I'd made a couple errors because not all German dictionaries contain the knitting terms I was seeking the meaning for that I couldn't figure out in the pattern. I continued to search for other patterns for "Schlüttli," side-button cardigans, etc. I found a couple of German retailers for the garments themselves, but no patterns.
The first Schlüttli from my own notes
   After thoroughly exhausting resources I became confident that there were no other English written knitting patterns of this old-school traditional style garment and that this PDF was the only I could find online in another language as well. I had also taken many notes during the knitting process and found many areas where I would make changes for my own personal preferences. So I knit another, one meant for my tiny one in-utero. I made said changes, like eliminating the panel of knit beneath the front so the front of the sweater would only be one layer instead of two, changed the neckline, the proportions, and the increases, just to name a few. In the end, the only thing resembling the original PDF was the fact that it buttoned on the side along the raglan line, which was truly nothing more than that traditional Swiss style of sweater. I was not thrilled with the proportions with the gauge nor the thickness with the worsted yarn used, so I decided to immediately try again, but with DK weight yarn, a slightly different gauge, and more changes to the design. It was perfect. I started knitting more of these little sweaters as fast as my swollen, pregnant fingers could go. I knit for my tiny one and for every friend and family member who wanted one, taking notes along the way for changes, each size, proportions, etc.
More changes, another try
   I had been selling my knitted wares since 2007, so after I was confident that it was a solid design and my changes and notes were consistently producing proportional and solid goods, I knit one for sale on my shop. The response was ENORMOUS! I was astounded. I knew it was a style I'D never seen before stumbling across Daria's Ravelry projects, but it became obvious that it was not just me. The cardigan and matching hat I'd knit for my shop sold within seconds of stocking. Then my inbox became flooded with requests for customs and the pattern itself. I explained that I had never published a pattern before, linked people to the German PDF Daria had linked me to and explained I'd made a plethora of changes, but that it was a solid start that any experienced knitter could modify to their liking. The word continued to spread and people kept coming back with the same request: I love YOUR pattern. PLEASE publish it!
   So I tried. Clearly I was naive. It took me months of writing, editing, knitting through each and every size to ensure it was exactly what I wanted. Finally, after four months I decided that was as good as I could do. I dispersed my final draft to experienced knitting friends and WAHMs for testing. They loved it. I announced I would be publishing it on my store front on January 1, 2011. Three days before the set publishing date, a high profile knitting WAHM emailed me and begged for a pre-release copy. I gladly obliged, honored that she had even noticed little old me. On publishing day, all 100 copies I sold on my HyenaCart store front sold out immediately. Within days the feedback response was enormously positive. It thrilled me. I put it on Ravelry and the pattern continued to sell. It was amateur, not without typos, but it was a new design that 99% of the knitting community had never seen and they loved it.
The first Gemütlich prototype
   As the next week wore on I took notes on changes people wanted to see. It was clear a new edition would need to be published soon, because my first-timer mistakes were obvious. I also knew I wanted to do something else with the shape, so I did a trial run of a pull-over option of the same style, but with a partial button band. I made my desired changes, wrote up the pattern keeping in mind the suggestions for improvements on my Schlüttli pattern. The testing phase was more thorough this time, done by strangers who would pick out the errors and not spare my feelings.
   In April 2011 I posted a photo of my oldest in one of my many prototypes on my HyenaCart storefront and announced the scheduled publishing date in the summer. Again, the response was huge. People loved it and were looking forward to the pattern.
   As I worked on writing, editing, and test knitting I decided I wanted one other element in the pattern to the pattern using the signature button band to go along with my growing obsession with the hand-crafted buttons by the talented artist Tessa Ann Watte. Thus came the Liebkosung- a sleep sack unlike any I'd seen patterns or products of to compliment the cloth diapering scene I'd been a part of since my first was born.
The first Liebkosung
   After thorough testing, editing, re-testing, and literal thousands of dollars in my own resources (yarn, buttons, work hours, etc) to work out every kink, my Kumfy™ Schlüttli pattern had grown from one page into the 16-page, three pattern(with innumerous directions for customization, different cuff, and embellishment options, etc) Kumfy™ Schlüttli Collection it is now. Each part of my collection has now also been copied by numerous writers, experienced and not, and I have repeatedly come under attack as a copycat, my very character questioned because writers they knew about before me have now written identical patterns and because I am the lesser-known designer it simply MUST be me who is the one copying others. That couldn't be further from the truth. I never claimed to be the original maker of the side-buttoned cardigan- in fact I have ALWAYS credited it as a traditional Swiss design I merely wrote the first(that anyone has been able to find online) English pattern for- and anyone on the cloth diapering community called DiaperSwappers can follow the entire evolution of this process in my posts on the crafting forums as I knit and discussed every bit of it with my fellow knitters there, never intending to write a pattern for it from the very start.
   So that is HOW I wrote my very first pattern, from start to finish, and it is WHY the pattern was even contemplated in the first place. Since then I have followed a similar process of developing something for my very own children, unable to find a pattern for it therefore writing one myself by trial and error for four more original, unique designs. It is stressful, detail-oriented work, and the negatives of being copied, receiving hateful messages from those unaware of a design's origins,receiving emails from others containing links to places on the internet where my name is being lied about and slandered because of the drama embroiled in the knitting community, etc, have often seemed to out-weigh the positives, but in the end I seem to be a glutton for punishment because I keep writing them, enjoying the thrill of seeing others enjoy the patterns, and crying when I am attacked again for nothing I actually did. What can I say? I am a crazy knitter.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Funny...

I've received plenty of hate mail because of my last post- most of them full of lies, name-calling, and remarkably trying to defend a particular writer who in no way, shape, or form was pointed to in the post(NO ONE was called out in particular in ANY way). But for every anonymous nastygram(ALL the nasties were anonymous. Seems they don't have the courage to be firm in what they believe and put their name on it?) I received at least five emails thanking me for telling it like it is, and encouraging me to continue standing up even if I'm standing alone. A good friend recently gave me this analogy and it's PERFECT here: There is an enormous elephant in the room, and not only are people ignoring it, but now the elephant is crapping all over the place, destroying the goodness around it, and nobody has the fortitude to stand up and say, 'HELLO! THERE IS AN ELEPHANT IN HERE AND HE STINKS! LETS GET HIM OUT!'

Case in point: Just last night a WAHM sent me an email saying a customer had asked her to do a garment with a clearly trademarked symbol on it. She politely declined siting legal issues. The customer came back insistent, exclaiming how there are SO many Etsy and similar WAHM shops that do exactly what she's asking, so how can it be illegal?

On another good note, I reposted this on a WAHM chat group and we have had a really great conversation about the topic, discussing ethics, helping each other figure out where the lines are, not only legally but ethically. We've not always agreed, but we've been truthful and discussed the topic and treated each other with respect. That is so encouraging and makes all the nastiness and lies I've been deleting here daily worth it. :-)

Monday, July 16, 2012

Why NOT Take the High Road?

This blog has been more than a year in the making. The initial title was "No Good Idea Goes Uncopied." While copying is the main topic, it's the true root of the issue that is the problem.
I work in a very competitive field. That may seem silly to say, but it is absolutely true. Small, boutique-style online shops abound by the millions. That is not an exaggeration. Everyone with a basic sewing machine and pair of needles sees the successful shops and seems to say, "Oh, I can totally do that!" So they try. And that's not to say they shouldn't. A very talented, internationally-known WAHM who happens to be a dear friend recently said to me, "There's room for everyone in this pond." She's right! Creating for many is therapeutic, as well as a source of income for millions. Some of the huge corporations we see today started in some one's living room, garage, or kitchen.
The problem comes when people stop relying on their own ideas and creative juices and start copying other successful designers/makers/creators in an attempt to snatch a piece of their pie. Or perhaps they want to cash-in on a world-wide popularity of licensed characters, names, or fads. Or maybe a small business STARTS by seeing some one else's product/design/idea and attempting to do the same. If she can do it, why can't I? It's called the free market in capitalism. According to Merriam Webster, free market is, "an economic market operating by free competition."

Then comes the old adage: Just because you can doesn't mean you should. And for many reasons!

Why shouldn't a WAHM create and sell goods using the likenesses of Hello Kitty, Superman, Twilight, etc? Well for starters- IT'S ILLEGAL. Companies like Sanyo, DC Comics and Disney did the legal footwork to have these things copyrighted an trademarked. To use them is infringement and illegal. It opens the maker up to lawsuits of up the three times the profit on said items. Believe it or not, yes, there ARE legal aides and interns who spend their hours searching for infringers and sending out the classic "cease and desist" notices. Haven't received one yet? You will. Even if you don't, does that make your actions any less theft or any less illegal? Nope. Is it okay to rob some one's house if the owners aren't home and there's no security system? Is it okay to run red lights if there is no intersection camera or police office standing by? For the record: Even if some one is not standing by forcing you to obey the law, you should still obey the law.


Why shouldn't a WAHM create and sell goods purposefully identical to the original work of another? For starters- respect. Where ever that WAHM got that idea she worked HARD to design it and make it her own original work, regardless of what it is.
Secondly- human decency. Her sales support her family in some way, shape, or form. When you steal from a WAHM, you steal from her children. Really now. You want to go there?
Thirdly- pride. Have you no pride in what you make? Does it bring you joy knowing you copied the work of another instead of creating your own masterpiece? If you are in this business then you MUST be creative. Do you not trust yourself to develop your own incredible works of art? YOU'RE BETTER THAN YOU THINK YOU ARE! TRUST YOURSELF!


Why shouldn't a WAHM create and sell goods from a WAHM-created pattern with terms strictly forbidding it? Once again we're coming across this concept of respect. I know it seems a long lost art in today's society, but it is vital to human kind. Patterns are another one of those areas where legally you CAN, but SHOULD you?
 I realize there is much controversy surrounding the licensing of knit patterns- and any pattern that is for sale. The battle of legal necessity versus ethics will probably never be over, but my opinion on the matter is this:
Being licensed to sell something from another WAHM's pattern is an issue of respect. I spent months- if not years working hard, took meticulous notes, spent hours editing, thousands of dollars in resources, and repeatedly tested to make my patterns ready for use. Do me the honor of becoming officially licensed to sell the knits made from my unique patterns and I'll list you on my store as some one who respects my work enough to do so. I'm truly honored when ANY knitter respects me enough to go that extra mile. 

WAHMS need to RESPECT one another's work, not steal from each other. We are already fighting the battle against cheap, imported goods in the corporate world and trying to prove ourselves as worthy of the dollars spent. When you cheapen your goods, steal because you can get away with it, and disrespect each other proves you have no pride in your work or yourself. Again- YOU ARE BETTER THAN THIS! The high road is not the easy road, but it is the road that leads to a better end. You may feel like the loan moral sheep in a pack of hungry wolves sometimes, but what is the point of being a WAHM in the first place? To stay home, raise your children yourself, and make a living while you're at it. We teach our kids that lying, stealing, and plagiarism are wrong. Wake-up call: This is not one of those 'Do what I say not what I do,' things. Your children are watching and learning all the time. Show them the high road. Show them it's okay to stand up for what's right even if you're standing alone. You will ALL be better off for it in the end. 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

DIY Roasted Red Peppers

As a professional knitter I spend a lot of time sitting, knitting, and if my three children are asleep that means the television is on. Because I am a work-at-home-mom running a business by myself, raising three small children, homeschooling a kindergartner and special-needs preschooler(while simultaneously entertaining a toddler), doing my best to grow my own produce and make every bit of our food from scratch, on a tight budget, and preservative-free, I don't have time or brain power at the end of the day to make an effort to keep up with a series with any type of a story line. That leaves me with three choices: Food Network, Cooking Channel, or National Geographic. Let's be honest- at the end of the day the last thing I want to do is wrack my brain with further tension and becoming upset over Whale Wars or Animal Cops, or frightened by a new, mutating species of bug, or the massive snakes being set loose in the Florida Everglades by irresponsible pet-owners when the vermin are too large for cages and how they're now migrating North. So there it is: food wins.
During my hours of foody-tv I have actually learned A LOT! New techniques, ingredients, ways to do gourmet at home, and just all around shown me things to try in the kitchen that I'd never thought I could. So while I can't climb on board the Sea Shepherd and scourge the Asian whale market or wrestle an albino boa in the Florida Keys, I have been introduced to the world of things like quinoa, jicama, and poaching meats. 
Oh, and roasted red peppers. I am not a pepper-lover, per se, but I don't mind them either cooked or raw. It had never occurred to me, though, that roasting the pepper would bring out any other flavor or texture than I'd ever had from a pepper. Then one day I went to Panera. The panini I had was delicious, and there was this one ingredient in it that I just couldn't pin-point the flavor of, but it was the key to deliciousness in that sandwich. I grabbed a to-go menu and read the description while making sure cream-cheesey finger-smears on the table and booth were kept to a minimum, and cinnamon crunch bagels were eaten in bites, not stuffed whole into little mouths(mmmm, crunchy, crystaline sweetness on top of fluffy, chewy, bagel goodness!). That's when roasted red peppers jumped out at me. That had to be it. I hadn't even realized I was eating peppers, but that was the only mystery in my sandwich. Every shopping trim after that, a jar of roasted red peppers was added to my cart and I put them in everything imaginable- pasta, quesadillas, omelettes, pizza, panini- you name it. YUM! 
One evening I sat on the couch knitting a tiny Schlüttli with a silk-blend yarn, the bliss of sleeping children floating down the stairs, and watched to my amazement as Alex Guarnaschelli made a pasta dish with roasted red pepper sauce. And she roasted her own peppers. What? You mean I can do this MYSELF?! I make my own bread, yogurt, tortillas, salsa, sauces, roux, grow my produce, sew and knit my kids' clothes- AND NOW YOU'RE TELLING ME I CAN ROAST MY OWN PEPPERS?! This may seem ridiculous to some, but I. Was. Thrilled. THRILLED. This was new to me. I didn't know if they'd taste as delicious as the accouterments I'd come to crave in nearly every meal, but I was going to do it myself
The next shopping trip I left the 12-ounce jar of store-brand roasted red peppers that cost $3.49 on the shelf and instead spent $1.99 on six beautiful, fresh red bell peppers. As soon as the groceries were put away, I did exactly as Alex Guarnaschelli. And now I'm going to show you. 

First, rinse the peppers and put them on a clean, dry  baking sheet and turned the top broiler on the oven.



Then move the top rack down one. You don't want the peppers touching the broiler itself and the skin can bubble as it heats, so make sure it's low enough that this doesn't happen.







Close the oven and let the peppers roast for 3-4 minutes, or until the skin  is turning orange and has blackened in spots. Don't worry! This is just the skin burning. The flesh underneath is roasting, not burning. Using tongs, turn each pepper and allow them to roast until every side is orange and blackened. 




Pull the peppers out of the oven(don't forget to turn off the broiler! If your house is a constant dull roar of tiffs, fits, and sword fights like mine, you need this reminder) and immediately put them in a large glass (plastic works in a pinch, too) bowl and cover it with plastic wrap, pulling tight and ensuring it's sealed, then put the bowl in the refrigerator. This needs to be done quickly because the super-hot peppers will immediately begin to heat and melt the plastic wrap if you're not quick. 

Let the peppers rest for AT LEAST 30 minutes, but a full hour is better when the peppers have completely cooled. Once cooled, take the plastic wrap off, pour the extra liquid out of the bowl,  and one by one peal and seed the peppers. The peals will slip right off with less effort than a hard-boiled egged, and if you slice the pepper open the seeds pretty much slide right out with t pepper's inner membrane. 
That's it! You can leave them whole, halved, slice them into strips, or dice them- whatever is easiest for you in future meal prep(I prefer strips). You can do one pepper for the actual meal you're making, or you can do a huge batch of 6-8 at a time like I do, and keep them in 1-quart storage container in the fridge. They keep nicely for 2 or so weeks, and now YOU can have people wondering what that delicious mystery ingredient in your cooking is. 

The verdict: They taste EXACTLY like the store-bought canned roasted red peppers, and they cost half the price for twice as much- not to mention they're preservative-free! 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Red Velvet, If You Please

When I was pregnant with my son, I experienced a fierce form of what the obstetrical community calls Irritable Uterus. Yes, I'm serious. From 26 weeks on I had violent bouts of time-able Braxton-Hicks contractions for hours at a time that had me grabbing the nearest wall or furniture and breathing deeply to get through them. The difference between IU and pre-term labor: while there is potential for it to trigger PTL, IU does not cause a change in the cervix that productive contractions do. After two weeks (and a trip to the ER meeting my midwife there thinking he was coming fast at 27 weeks) of fighting through, my midwife took me off work. I was raised on a dairy farm and in all of my years of life(that I could remember, anyway) I had never not had a job, yet here I was with nothing to do but relax, put my feet up, drink plenty of water, and play with my then-1.5-year-old. So what did I do? I baked. A lot. That may explain how I gained 30 pounds that trimester when I hadn't gained ANY weight in the previous 30 weeks, but I digress...
One day my husband asked why I never made red velvet cake. Why? Because I'd never had it before so it wasn't even on my radar. I did a lot of research, read through various recipes and reviews, and finally decided on a basic one, with butter cream frosting(we'll discuss the frosting later). It was DELICIOUS. How had I gone 24.5 years without it?
Since then I've done plenty of tweaking and have decided on MY official red velvet cake recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1-1/2 cups white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 Tbs DARK cocoa powder
  • 2 Tbs red food coloring
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp REAL vanilla extract
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2-1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 Tbs distilled white vinegar
Directions:
   Grease two 9-inch round cake pans. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. 
   Cream butter and sugar VERY well, until fluffy. Add eggs and beat well until fluffy once more. 
   Make a paste of cocoa and red coloring. Add to creamed mixture. Mix salt, vanilla, and buttermilk together in a small bowl on the side. Add alternately the flour and the milk mixture to the creamed mixture Once they are all completely combined, mix the baking soda and vinegar together, then immediately fold into the batter VERY gently. 
   Pour delicately into the cake pans without any extra stirring, and bake for 27 minutes. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN! If your temperature is spot-on, then just trust your oven. Resist the urge to do the toothpick test! They will be just a touch underdone in the center. Remove the cakes and allow them to cool in the pans for five minutes, then move them onto cake cooling racks. 

Butter cream frosting
It is hotly debated whether cream cheese frosting or butter cream belongs on the red velvet cake. My stance: HANDS OFF THE CREAM CHEESE! I have heard SO many times red velvet cake is bland, dry, etc, and NEEDS the cream cheese frosting to carry it. NOT SO! If this is the case with your cake then you're doing it wrong. I realize I probably just insulted A LOT of grandma's and bakers out there. I'm okay with it.
The thing is, when it's cooked properly and is nice and moist red velvet is a rich, delicate chocolate flavor with melt-in-your-mouth moistness. Even a minute too long, though, and it crumbles and all its flavor is lost in a mouthful of bland red crumbs. When you add cream cheese frosting to a nice moist red velvet cake you drown-out the beautiful flavor because of the intensity of the cream cheese flavor. A fluffy, delicate butter cream is JUST what a properly done red velvet cake needs to compliment the richness without over-powering the chocolate flavor. 

Ingredients:
  • 5 Tbs all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 tsp REAL vanilla extract
Directions:
   Mix flour and milk in a saucepan and heat over low heat until it thickens to the consistency of a heavy gravy, stirring frequently to avoid flour lumps. Once thickened, pour into a heat-safe bowl and place it in the freezer until cooled completely(30-40 minutes). While flour mixture is cooling, cream sugar, butter, and vanilla on high until fluffy and whipped. Add the flour mixture and whip again until uniformly fluffy. DO NOT FROST THE CAKE UNTIL IT IS COMPLETELY COOL!

Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

I Heart Coffee

I like coffee. I mean I reeeeeeeeally like coffee. Good coffee. Without it, I could not function daily. My absolute favorite coffee roasters are in my place of birth, Ithaca, New York, but since that is a fair hike from our current location I don't often get my hands on those delicious beans. Truly tragic.
My deprivation, however, led me on a journey to find goods beans here, farrrrrrrrrrrrrr north. It seems, though, that coffee beaneries are seriously lacking up here so that left me with three options: Crappy chain coffee(namely Dunkin or Starbucks), grocery store beans(Wegmans ONLY! There's a difference!), or mass-produced pre-ground coffees. The later appalled me, the first I was against for taste reasons(Starbucks can be hit or miss, but Dunkin leaves a rancid taste in the back of my mouth regardless of the roast), so Wegmans beans it was! Their City Roast was available in whole beans, shiny and black in all their glory, with an excellent bold flavor.
What was once do-able, though, at $9.99/lb suddenly became cringe-worthy when the price of coffee beans drastically jumped $1.00/lb in a mere week. We cut back to two cups a day each instead of three or four and kept drinking. Six months later it was up another full dollar. $11.99/lb I could not swallow, especially knowing my tiny hometown roasters were still at $10.35/lb for their fair-trade beans of goodness. So delicious, so seemingly affordable at this point, yet still out of reach, so I swallowed my coffee bean snobbery and began pulling from the shelves the coffees getting good reviews. We would try a bag and rate it. Most were fails. The only two we considered winners were New England Coffee whole beans, and Newman's Own Organics. Decent. Not too bad, if it was freshly ground and brewed right.
Then one day my husband came home from a toilet paper run to WalMart with a bright yellow bag. Something new called Gevalia Kaffe in an espresso roast. From Sweden. And only $9.98/lb. Hmmmmm. So we tried it. Oh. My. Goodness. Yum. Rich, dark, flavorful, no sour after taste, so smooth across the tongue. Good coffee, right off the shelf at WalMart.
I still pine for a bag of black glistening beans from Gimme! or Cayuga Coffee Roaster and we always snag a couple pounds when we visit the area, but we can totally make-do with Gevalia in the mean time. Since then we've tried all of the medium to dark roasts and all have been decent to good with one exception: The Columbian. Eew. Don't touch the Columbian beans. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Crock Pot Yogurt

Upon its creation, this blog was meant to be for my crafting, cooking, and pure novice photo-fun. Because  my knitting and sewing are my business, it didn't take long for this to turn into a business blog. As a business blog it became sparsely updated because I'm busy DOING not WRITING about what I was doing. Lately, however, I've been asked a lot about my cooking and baking, how I do what I do, penny-pinching while eating naturally and healthily, and more. What better way to share it with those asking than to get back to the roots of this blog so I can share links in the future for when the questions are asked again(as they always are)?
Today I jump back in with my crock pot yogurt. With three small kids we go through a lot of those quick-fix snacks and meals, and I think most parents can attest to the fact that those can be hard to come by when you're looking for healthy, preservative-free, and on a budget. Yogurt is one in our house that is a great source of protein that many things(fruits, nuts, cereal grains, a side of peanut butter toast) can be added to and turn it into a meal. This means we go through A LOT of yogurt. We buy everything as economically as possible, but even those big tubs of plain and vanilla yogurt can add up in a hurry. One day I was breezing through cooking blogs and saw the concept of yogurt made in the crock pot. 'Hey,' I thought, 'I have TWO crock pots. I need to try this!' I did some research, studied and compared multiple recipes, and asked around in my circle of healthy-eating, crunchified mamas for opinions. Most reviews were dubious, but I knew I just HAD to try this. Not only would it save us money, it would be so much healthier than even the most natural yogurts- No sugars, no flavorings, no preserved fruits or pre-made granolas on top. I put my type-a mind to work with researching recipes, the science behind how yogurt is made, reviewed the conversations I'd had on blogs and Facebooks, and chose my course. I would make yogurt in my crock pot, and darnit- I'd be successful!

Ingredients:

  • 1 gallon organic milk
  • 1 container(1 cup +) plain organic yogurt(with all five live active cultures- This is essential!)
Equipment: 
  • 6-quart (or larger) crock pot
  • Good quality digital food thermometer
  • Sterilized ladle or measuring cup
  • Two thick bath towels
Put the cold milk in a crock pot and turn the crock pot on High. Cook for 3-4 hours(it will vary by crock pot), checking the temperature every hour by stirring with the thermometer until the temperature reaches 180 degrees Fahrenheit. This kills the bacteria in the milk itself.
Turn off the crock pot and allow it to cool to 115 degrees Fahrenheit. 
Dip out 2 cups of the warm milk and add it to the organic yogurt. Stir gently until smooth, then pour it into the crock pot full of milk, stirring gently again until smooth. 
Cover and turn the crock pot back on for ten minutes, or as long as it takes for the mixture to come up to 109 degrees(No higher than 110 or you will kill the GOOD bacteria).
Unplug the crock pot and wrap in two heavy towels. Let sit at room temperature overnight (8-12 hours). 
The next morning, remove the now-cool pot from the heating implement and dip out 1 cup of the yogurt and put it in an air-tight sterilized container to use for your starter in the next batch of yogurt, because there WILL be another. Place the crock pot(minus heating implement) in the refrigerator for 3-4 hours, then tip the pot slowly over the sink just enough to pour out any standing liquid that forms on the sides and top of the chilled yogurt. This allows things to cool and firm-up. If you want a tighter yogurt, you can strain in a cheesecloth-lined colander for a thick Greek style texture. 

The scoop of next batch's starter
Before the chilling and excess liquid removal
Now it's ready to eat! Many reviews were iffy about texture, but ours turns out fine every time. Sure, it's missing the pudding-like, gelatinous texture of many store-bought yogurts because there are no preservatives added to achieve said texture, but even my sensory kid who struggles heavily with textures never skips a beat on this, and when a food is G-approved, you know it is a-okay!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Knitting Queue

Most recent FO(finished object):
A 4T Artisan Hooded Vest
There is rarely a time when I don't have SOME project in the works on my knitting needles. Much of my creative time is spent knitting, with a couple hours a day or even one whole day every week set aside for sewing. My extensive yarn stash and collection of knitting patterns, as well as the abundance of forever MORE available on Ravelry give me endless ideas. Because of the plethora of options, I often like to plan ahead and and make a schedule of sorts for my knitted projects to come to keep my knitting most productive and slightly more organized. Since I have projects a-plenty jumbling in my head at the moment, I am taking the time to sit down and organize said ideas to ensure nothing gets missed. 

Just finished last night:
-4T Artisan Hooded Vest on Mountain Meadow Wool dyed by Eco-Wrapz in her boyish "Silver Rain" colorway
-Toddler size seed stitch and stockinette-striped Jackson's Hat beanie on Wool-Ease in white and eggplant
-17-inch Rosebud Headband(my own pattern not yet published) on Cascade 220 Superwash Paints in "Jelly Bean" colorway, and embellished with a 1-inch button by Tessa Ann Designs

Currently on the needles:
Cestari Super Fine Merino
"Zinnia"
-Large celtic cabled Kumfy™ Pants on Cestari Super Fine Merino wool in "Zinnia"

Next up:
-Charcoal Graham on Wool-Ease (Hubby's request)
-2T Charlotte tunic on Licorice Twist Merino dyed by Retro Baby in "Honey Apple" (will match the cabled longies currently in-progress)
-2T Cali Cargo Dress on Licorive Twist Merino dyed by Mosaic Moon in "Birthday Girl"

That's all for now. I'm sure I'll be derailed from the current plan, especially considering I have custom and YYMN knitted spots stocked(with more to come), but this is the tentative plan. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Happy New Year!

I took the month of December off from business to catch up, enjoy family, take a deep breath and recuperate from our move. We're into the new year now, so I'm back at it. Recovering from the move and unpacking took much longer than expected, though. Mamas tend to push themselves to the limits both physically and emotionally, and for me coffee usually gives me a breath of air for the last push to get it all done. Not this time! This time my body screamed during our move that carrying a 25-pound baby on my back in the Ergo while loading a 25-foot moving truck with furniture and boxes and shampooing carpets as we cleared each room was not okay. I developed a lovely stress fracture in my ankle. After 7 weeks of "taking it easy" and Extra Strength Tylenol, I am nearly 100% and getting back into the swing of things.
My desk and machines
My sewing corner of the office is nearly unpacked, though it'll likely stay in the current state of 'almost' indefinitely. Our space is a bit tighter now because rather than having an entire open finished basement for my studio, I have a small office/work room/school room shared with my husband and kids. I also found myself needing to order some new supplies after my last-minute dash to finish Christmas presents that extended into the wee hours of Christmas morning while the kids slept. The last of my necessary CPSIA-required tags arrived in the mail, so now I am buckling down to make a plan for the rest of the month's stockings and surprises.
That's right, I said surprises. I've been working on new patterns, among other things, and I'm excited to spill the beans in the coming weeks and months. Lots of knits, new sewn goods, brand new patterns and fabulous new options for old ones, as well as new venues and listings. Spring is going to have SO much newness for me. I'm excited!
At the moment, however, I'm finishing up a pair of custom jeans ordered from On the Other Side, and testing a WAHM's first pattern. It's a fantastic pattern and I'm thrilled to get the project finished both so my son can wear it and so the WAHM can finish her testing phase  to publish. The gorgeous yarn I'm using is the boyish version of Eco-Wrapz's "Silver Rain" on Mountain Meadow Wool. It's gorgeous stuff. The colors are so much more vibrant than I can even capture on film. I'm finishing the hood of the garment and will certainly post photos of the finished object once the pattern-writer approves.