let's party

It's nice when you plan a party, do all that work, and next day you consider it a success.  Both my husband and I love to throw (and attend!) parties and I feel that over the years we've developed a very casual, easy-does-it style.  My decorations are always simple and my food is always easy and, for the most part, do ahead.  Just this weekend we had a dinner for 14, including some of the women from my knitting group and their spouses. 

When planning a party, big or small, I like a theme to get me started on my decor and menu.  This could be a color, or a country's traditional cuisine, something growing in my garden, or even a disaster!  Once I was planning a party that happened to fall on the same night as the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. I recreated as best I could the last meal served in first class the night before the disaster.  We must take our inspirations where they come!

On the Thursday before the Saturday night party I sat outside with a stack of cookbooks hoping for inspiration.  One of the first cookbooks I thumbed through was Ojai's Table, my current favorite.  I found this quote below the recipe for an olive oil cake I'd been wanting to make: "Sun, stone, drought, silence and solitude: these are the five ingredients that according to Italian folk traditions, create the ideal habitat for the olive tree."  I looked up at one of our own olive trees and I had to agree--she was looking magnificent even with our year's long drought. She's thriving; no, she's flourishing.

The olive tree quote got me to thinking; I would celebrate the olive:  olive branches to decorate the house and olives in as many menu items as possible.  And add to that: corn, summer squash, tomatoes, oranges, lemons; all things fresh and local from my own backyard.


Honey Marinated Pork with Orange Gremolata from Ojai's Table
Ina's Corn Salad
Sliced Tomatoes

Pecan Orange Olive Oil Cake from Ojai's Table
with Lemon Curd

Can you guess what flower this is?  Nope, not Queen Anne's Lace.  It's carrot!  I let a small patch of carrots go to seed, and was rewarded with these beautiful flowers that smell like CARROT!

We've enjoyed our homemade pear vodka and eau de vie de poire all summer.  We have a few more pears growing in bottles again this year.
eau de vie de poire

My husband and his buddies like simgle malts so we always set out a few.  However, it turned out that martinis were really popular at this gathering.  One of our friends mixed a batch of them, and they were so popular, he had to mix a few more batches!
I received this from my mother for my birthday.  The Napa wine country is Giants country!

My blue and white platters are enormous and work so well for a buffet.   With all these platters and the food that goes on them, you can imagine it's quite a lot of work.  I do all the set-up and cooking on my own, but when it comes to the serving and clean-up, I surrender!  I have a rule: more than 10 guests and I hire help.  I have a young woman who lives a few blocks away who will come over for the evening and help.   I've developed a relationship with her over the years, she knows my style and knows her way around my kitchen.  That extra expense is worth it--I get to spend time with my guests and enjoy the party, and don't have to face a mess before bed!  That is the one gift I give myself as a hostess, and my husband appreciates it too.

I picked little sprigs of herbs to place around the house.  Very fragrant.

We serve the food buffet style and everyone will come to the table with their plate and wine glass.  We put salt and pepper on the tables, a few bottles of wine and a jug of water, then it's serve-yourself style.

The harvest on party day.

Ina's corn salad was a bit hit!  This is going into my party recipe rotation!
The pork loins were marinated in orange juice and honey and served with gremolata, also a huge hit.  The gremolata was made with Italian parsley, mint, garlic, olive oil, plus the zests of a few lemons and oranges.  I felt it was a bit too strong so I added some Parmesan cheese to mellow it out.  It was a winner that is going into the party recipe rotation too.  In fact, all these recipes are.  This recipe, the corn salad and the dessert were all new to me.  It may sound risky to do that, but I've had pretty good success.  More often, like this dinner, I'll find recipes I'll want to make again and again. I really do recommend Ojai's Table.

Wedge salads are back!  They look beautiful on the buffet table and everyone loves them.

A selection of hand knitted shawls to pass out when the sun goes down and the weather gets cool.
"Sun, stone, drought, silence and solitude: these are the five ingredients that create the ideal habitat for the olive tree."


the perfect fit: sleeves

Knitting top-down, set-in sleeves is a technique I learned years ago, and from that first time it became my go-to sleeve construction.  It is the best way to get a perfectly fitted sleeve.   It occurred to me that many experienced knitters aren't familiar with this simple and fool-proof construction.  This sleeve technique can replace any standard sleeve that has a bell shape at the top.  I've only used it for stockinette, and in fact  think it would only have success with stockinette, but I'll show you the how-to, then you can decide for yourself.  

So here I go with fit again.  It's my thing, and I want to help you to make it your thing too.  Getting a good fit is one of the bonuses of hand knits and each fit technique we master, the nicer our sweaters are, right?  For many of us, realizing we can change the length of our sweaters was a genuine eureka moment.  What?  Such freedom! I could actually add length to accommodate my long waist, genius! My next eureka moment came with adjusting the width of my sweater depending if I wanted negative ease (tighter fit) or positive ease (roomy fit) or no ease at all (body skimming).  But we don't have to stop there: adding more or less waist shaping and adjusting the neckline are two more ways you can make a better fit.  But today, it's all about the sleeves, so let's get started. 

When I start a new pattern, I like to pull out a similar style sweater that I already own; one whose fit I love.  The sweater's measurements are what I'll want to recreate in the sweater I'm knitting. Compare these measurements to those in your pattern, making use of the schematics that are usually at the end of every pattern. Make your adjustments and get knitting, measuring as you go along.  

The same is for the sleeve.  The sleeve scythe, or the opening where the sleeve goes,  is totally customizable.  Measure that opening and adjust from there.  It this is a sweater you will be wearing right next to your skin, you might like the look of a more fitted sleeve.  If this is a sweater you will most likely be wearing over a shirt,  such as a cardigan, you'll likely want the opening a little larger to accommodate for that. Top-down set-in sleeves give you even more freedom.  You'll never have too much sleeve and not enough sweater or vice versa,  avoiding any potential puckers once and for all.  And, this sleeve will fit your arm.  First things first; knit the sleeve scythe to the size of a sweater that fits you.  The pattern may say 8", but your perfect-fit sweater may say 8 1/2".  Remember, the pattern is giving you a basic size, and it's the rare person that fits that model exactly.

To knit the top-down set-in sleeves:  Knit the front(s) and back, then seam the shoulders. Seam up the sides from bottom up, leaving the last 2-3 inches under the arm un-seamed for now.  Using a circular needle with right side facing and starting at the underarm, pick up stitches all around the back arm scythe to the shoulder seam (the ratio is 1 stitch per 2 rows).  Place a marker at the shoulder seam and pick up the same amount of stitches down the front arm.  If you have 30 stitches up the back, you will need 30 stitches down the front.  

Now you will begin using "wrap and turns" to knit short rows to shape the bell.

Directions for Wrap and Turn:
On knit side: Knit to the stitch you want to wrap, bring yarn between needles from back to front. Slip stitch from left needle to right needle purl-wise.  Bring yarn between needles again, from front to back. Slip stitch back to left needle, purl-wise.  Turn work to begin next row.
On purl side:  Purl to the stitch you want to wrap, bring yarn between needles from front to back. Slip stitch from left needle to right needle purl-wise.  Bring yarn between needles again, from back to front.  Slip stitch back onto left needle purl-wise. Turn work to begin next row.

If you are familiar with wrap and turn short rows, you're probably used to "picking up the wraps".  In this sleeve technique, you DO NOT pick up wraps.

Row 1:  knit stitches up the front to 5 stitches past marker, wrap and turn,
Row 2:  purl to 5 stitches past marker, wrap and turn.  
Row 3:  knit to your last wrap and turn, wrap and turn next stitch.
Row 4:  purl to your last wrap and turn, wrap and turn next stitch.
Repeat rows 3 and 4 until all stitches have been incorporated into the bell.

If you knit your sleeves in the round, join for working in the round.

If you knit your sleeves flat, cast on one stitch each side for seaming and continue working to end.

For either way, you can add any sleeve shaping desired.  Generally the decreases are made every 2 inches, but try it on frequently to get it perfect. Knit until desired length, adding what ever finish the pattern calls for, ribbing, lace, or whatever, at this point it's like any other top-down pattern. 

So you won't have to keep looking at this post when you're knitting, I've just uploaded printable instructions on one page, get it here!

Well, that's it!  Look at the pictures below for more help, but I do think you'll be able to make this work for you, it's quite easy and it looks fantastic.

As I was writing this post I happened upon this book from Quince and Co., Top-Down by Elizabeth Doherty.  I haven't seen the book, but it looks very promising and I'm sure would give you lots of detailed information. 

One more thing, a little birdie told me there will be a Knit FIT KAL soon.  That's all I know, I don't know the gauge, the yarn, the style or the when.  I just know it's in the works and I also know I will definitely jump on board that knit-along.  As soon as I know more I will let you know.  

This color does not represent the color at all, it's a very bright and cheery navy blue.  In this picture I've finished the short row shaping for the bell and now knitting down the arm and just starting my decreases.

A close up.  This sweater may not be the best one to show off the technique as the body has ridge panels on the side, but I think you can still get a good idea.  See, no puckers, and no seaming!

This picture shows the very beginning; I've just picked up the stitches and getting ready to knit the short rows.  The yarn is Rowan Fine Art in the most gorgeous shade of blue, just hate that it's looking so washed out and gray.  I'm pairing it with a strand of Rowan Kidsilk Haze in navy.  The fabric is incredible--it just about glows.  V. happy.

This shows just a few of the short rows at the beginning.  Again, maybe not the best sweater to show this technique because the stitch pattern on the body hides it a bit.  

I'm making Langestt from the Winterscapes book by Sarah Hatton.  I had the FA and KSH in my stash and knew it would be perfect. 


big parties and little


Last night we had a dinner party for six that was meant to be a much bigger party.  Last week we sent out emails to the 12 guys that my husband plays golf with on a regular basis.  We were punished for our very short notice as half of the people were either hosting out of town guests or were out of town themselves.  Three were attending a bridge party (bridge is very big around here) and another was at a wedding.  Our four friends who could come were long-time and very dear friends, and one just happened to be celebrating a birthday.  She likes champagne, I like champagne, we thought it was a good idea to pop open a bottle of expensive champagne.  I never think that's a bad idea!

There were highlights and lowlights during the evening.  The highlights were: the weather was lovely and we sat outside for before-dinner drinks and after-dinner coffee; the vegetable tian is now officially my all-time favorite party dish for it's ease, beauty and taste (see it below); my house looked beautiful dressed in green; and lastly, Nigella cracks me up.  As sophisticated as she is, she never minds some low-browish shortcuts.  For an appetizer, I made her potato pancakes made with processed potato flakes, which I didn't even know they sold anymore, I remember them being a gluey mess. But they do sell them, and the recipe was  good!  You make them in advance then top with smoked salmon before serving.  My addition was to add a dollop of sour cream spiked with horseradish.  I'll be making them again.  

The lowlight was the main course!  I made a new-to-me chicken dish that looked better on paper then it actually was.  Something with almonds, rosemary and lemon zest.  Meh, it won't ever appear in my recipe rotation again.  To start we served an old fashioned wedge salad with homemade Roquefort dressing and bacon and finished with a fresh ollalieberry sorbet and Bob's GF brownies from this mix.  I love that gluten free baking mixes, pastas and breads are so much higher quality these days, and so easy to find!

For the pretty side dish, I use Ina Garten's Vegetable Tian recipe for the most part.  I make this often in the summer, and each time it's similar, but changes with what's growing or what's on hand.  Everything was from the garden except the potatoes and cilantro, which I didn't end up using anyway.  After slicing the vegetables, sprinkle with salt, then start layering in a dish.  It calls for a sliced onion that I didn't have so I sprinkled on some chopped green scallions that I did have.  I think Ina has you layer the veggies a different way, but I think the arrangment below is prettiest.  Douse with a few tablespoons of olive oil, sprinkle with fresh thyme, salt and pepper and cover with foil and bake in a hot oven for about an hour.  When tender, sprinkle with grated gruy√®re cheese, perhaps a cup, and bake uncovered until melted and browned, another 15 minutes or so.  It's really popular and perfect for this time of year. 

I'm having another party next week, this time for my knitting group.  We will have more people as I actually gave them two weeks notice, not just one!  I'll be serving the vegetable tian again, but don't know what else.  Maybe I can get my husband to bar-be-que as I'm planning to eat outdoors.

I hope you are having a great summer.  
Go Giants!