Gifted Hostess Series, episode one

I'm fortunate to know many gifted hostesses who know how to throw terrific parties of all kinds--big and small, casual and formal.  But whatever their entertaining style, all great hostesses has one thing in common:  their guests have a good time.  Readers often tell me they are afraid to entertain--and it's not the work they are afraid of but the fear that their parties will be no fun!  So what makes a good party?  I think most of us would say good food, a well-stocked bar, interesting guests, with music and decorations being a big bonus.  But that's way too general.  This post begins a new entertaining series showcasing some fantastic hostesses, sharing their specific tips with menus, recipes and style hints that you can incorporate into your own party giving.

The hostess sets the tone for the evening.  If she is calm and genuinely happy that you've come, then the party has a 100% chance of being a success.  The only way I'm able to keep calm is if I'm organized and have not taken on more than I can handle. For the menu, I allow one difficult dish and everything else has to be fairly easy. And if I've learned anything from hosting 100-plus parties, it's to do as much as possible ahead of time.  I know I've got to do some kitchen duties while the guests are here, but EVERYTHING possible has been prepped before hand.  I didn't invite my guests over for them to wonder where I am, only to have me emerge from the kitchen pink-faced and frazzled from cooking!  Lately, I've been hiring a kitchen helper, and what a Godsend, but that's a recent gift I give myself.  Kitchen help doesn't mean my menu changes or that I still don't prep everything I can;  it simply gives me an extra hand while serving and someone to do the dreaded clean up.  Money well spent, and even my husband agrees with that.

I'm happy to kick off this series with one of my favorite hostesses, Rene.  You've met her on this blog many times.  She has a gorgeous apartment in the city with a view to die for.  (San Francisco is the city, the lovely city by the bay, of which she has a beautiful view).  But tonight's party is at her vineyard home in the foothills of the coastal mountain range, close to where I live.   I love to be entertained there!  The occasion was the January meeting for our "party group", a monthly gathering  of friends that meets the 2nd Friday of every month.  We've been doing this for close to a year now and it's been a great success, but more about that another time.  For now, enjoy some pictures, a fabulous (and fabulously easy) ice cream recipe and a few of Rene's entertaining tips.

Another table was set up in the living room.

Our Friday night parties are pot-luck, with the hostess making the main course and the rest of us with the sides. Just before dinner we get to work in the kitchen, and below, the buffet is set.

Come with me, let's snoop around the house!

Look what I found in the guest room--Kaffe's Afghan KAL!
Rene is an accomplished knitter and quilter who loves color!



Mini Gougere Puffs
Crab Spread

(This was my contribution.  I served 1/2 cup portions in tiny glass mugs.  A hit!)

Beef Bourguignon, from San Francisco a la Carte
Fresh Peas
Fresh Green Beans
Carrot Puree
Noodle Casserole

Fresh Berries
(The BEST lemon ice cream!)

Take away tips:
  • A bowl of lemons, or any seasonal fruit, makes a beautiful centerpiece.
  • Cluster candles in decorative votives on a platter for a glowing focal point.
  • You don't always need a full bar; Rene and Brian served a selection of wines, and spoiled us by serving several selections from their own vineyard.
Come back next week!
Episode two will be a Valentine's Party at my house.


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Here is Dulwich by Martin Storey from his Easy DK Knits book from the last fall/winter season.  First, I love that book as there are quite a few more designs I'd like to knit from it.   This pattern was meant to be knit in either Rowan Pure Wool Superwash DK or Rowan Super Fine Merino DK, both lovely yarns, but I wanted to try the new Alpaca Merino DK so made a switch.  The Alpaca Merino is fantastic; it's very easy to knit and creates a fabric that has a fine oatmeal texture and weightless loft, plus it's as soft as a puppy's tummy.  I think if anyone has wool issues, maybe this would be worth a try.  The colors all have little color variations, and in this purple I see a tiny bit of violet and blue--it's truly gorgeous.  Alpaca Merino DK has a chainette construction which gives it the lightweight loft, but while knitting, may cause you to get a snag, but this can be avoided.  When I knit a chainette yarn rather than a typical plied/twisted yarn, I find I have to alter, ever so slightly, the way I dig into the stitch.  It's a very minuscule change really, but I find I do exaggerate my motion ever so slightly and then I don't have any problem with snags.  Play around with your motion and play around with your needles too, and while I don't remember this as being needle fussy, I did use an Addi lace with the super smooth pointy tip.  Some yarns are worth a tiny bit of trial and error, and this is one that is worth it.  My Alpaca Merino sweater ended up being a very easy touch-knit project.  I've worn this perhaps a half dozen times and I'm just noticing some pilling under the sleeves.  Not bad!  I don't mind moderate pilling at all, and honestly, expect it in all sweaters, hand-knitted or store-bought because it's just the nature of the product.  I hate excessive pilling, but if I have to groom a sweater every several wears or so, I don't mind.  I use a Gleener.  It's the best de-piller on the market and you can imagine I've tried them all.

As for the pattern, it's quite easy and very well-written and it's from my buddy, Martin.  It's knit in two pieces then sewn together at the shoulders.  Next, stitches are picked up at the arms and ribbing is knit down to the wrist, or shorter, depending on long you want your sleeve.  I am loving the bat-wing look and now have 3 sweaters in that style, so perhaps that's enough for now. :)

If you wanted to make Dulwich I have a few suggestions about getting the bat-wing style right.  These sweaters can be long and loose, or long and slim, some with waists and some without.  I love them all.  But if you make one that has waist ribbing like this, the blouse should begin and the ribbing should end at the natural waist, or no more than an inch below.  If not, you take the risk of looking like a big blob.  So, if you want to add length to this sweater, lengthen the waist ribbing by a little or a lot, but make sure to have the ribbing stop at the waist and do not add the length to the blousy part.  This style can be flattering and sexy, but when it's not, it's probably because the blouse has gone down too far below the waist.

The second recommendation is yarn:  While any DK weight that gets proper gauge would work, I recommend a soft yarn with moderate drape.  There is too much fabric to have even the slightest amount of stiffness.  Besides the recommended yarn, this would be gorgeous in Rowan Baby Merino Silk DK (I've got some in my stash but do I need a 4th?)  Light bulb moment: this would be fantastic knit with Kidsilk Haze knit double!  Heaven!  For a summer Dulwich I would knit the sleeve ribbing a few inches shorter to make a 3/4 length sleeve and use one of the two new summer yarns I've been playing with, either Summerlite DK (100% Giza cotton) or Softyak DK (cotton/yak/nylon); both are exceptionally soft with the right amount of drape.  It's so important to pair a pattern with the right yarn, don't you agree?

Well, that's it for now.  I talked about a lot of products in this post and below I have all the links for ya!

To make a comment, click here.

Easy DK Knits by Martin Storey
Queue Dulwich here.

All of the above can be purchased at your local Rowan Stockist,
or online at:

For de-pilling, try the Gleener, it's the best.

Until next time, happy knitting!

winter decluttering and spring cleaning sprinkled with new knitting projects

My post title says it all--I've been on a ruthless winter de-cluttering and spring cleaning binge--not just in my own home and garden, but in my church's kitchen and my son's house.  After Christmas I got this de-cluttering urge that could not be ignored.  After putting away the Christmas, I sent boxes of unused/unloved/forgotten treasures found though out the house, not just the kitchen, to Goodwill.  Also, our church's professional kitchen was sadly in need of a de-clutter attack and deep-deep-cleaning and since my role as Fellowship Elder revolves around food and the kitchen,  I organized a small team to take it on.  Then lastly, my son is moving a few miles closer to his work and was overwhelmed with the packing and all that he had to do--mom and dad to the rescue!  And all of this was in January, but my cleaning madness actually started in December when I helped my mom reorganize her kitchen and bathroom with the advent of new cabinets and paint.  I don't need any help or inspiration to clean up and clear out--it comes naturally to me and I'm one of those kind of people who actually enjoys it.  I've heard that we spend the first 40 years of our lives accumulating stuff and the last 40 years trying to get ride of it.  I wish I had known that 40 years ago! So...if you've noticed that this blog has been neglected lately, that's why!

As for the last segment of my blog post title: new knitting projects--I have taken on a few.  We have a few spring trips planned and I look forward to packing my knitting projects even though it's tricky, this packing for travel: something smallish and light, but must last the length of the trip and hold my interest while not requiring a lot of concentration.  Here's my new projects from which to choose:

This is a feather and fan lace sweater, Simone from Kim Hargreaves knit in the new Summerlite DK, fantastic stuff and is the nicest cotton I've ever knit with:  tame and soft, but more about it later.  Probably not a good travel knit for me. 

This is going to be the Speckled Shrug from Lion Brand knit in some vintage Rowanspun Aran.  I'm really glad I hoarded this lovely tweed yard and found the perfect project for it.  This is a touch knit project and has become my movie knit and probably too bulky for a travel knit.

This is my version of Tochigi by Lisa Richardson.  I'm using the new Rowan Softyak DK, and man do I love it!  It's softer than silk, but more about this later.  This I hope to have finished before my trips so I can take it and wear it.

Hmmm, possibly a GREAT travel knit.  I adore Kidsilk Haze and all it's sweet sisters.  This is some sparkly Eclipse in an off white.  If you knit this doubled it becomes a DK weight and would be perfect as Martin Storey's Sapphire.  I've got the pattern copied and needles ready to cast on!

The lovely yarn in the cage above is for a variation of Marianne Isager's Tokyo using some lovely Isager yarn.  I purchased this kit last October in London at the huge yarn show at Alexandria Palace.  I saw the knitted shawl in person and bought the kit on the spot.  The colors are soft grays and taupes with a bit of white and pale blue and a smidgen of orange.  Great travel project.

This has possibilities of being a travel knit.  It's the beginning of the new Martin Storey KAL afghan knit in Rowan Pure Wool Superwash Worsted.  I'm making a baby blanket in these 4 gorgeous colors.  I'll add links at the end for this free pattern.
Martin's afghan Knit A Long has just begun and we are on the first week.  There are 8 free square patterns in total; one will be released every 2 weeks to give you plenty of knitting time.  First, login to the site before downloading.  If you are not registered, it's free and easy.  Martin has designed 4 colorways, blues, greens, neutrals and spice or you can choose your own.  All the information can be found on the Rowan site below.  The pattern makes a full sized afghan, but I'm making a baby blanket and chose my own colors.

Download the first pattern, Moss Stitch Hearts (free)
Watch this interview with adorable Martin Storey and check out Kate's coat! 
There are a few KAL forums on this Rowan Ravelry group and lots of lively chat!

If you like to leave a comment, click here.


Sam's Floyd Vest

Here's my Christmas gift to my son--the Floyd Vest by Martin Storey.  I think it's so cool!  I love it, but most important: he loves it--music to my ears!  I'd love to use the same colors and stripe sequence on a sweater for me; maybe Amy Herzog's V-neck pattern that she used for the Rowan KAL.  If I do decide to do that, let's just keep it our little secret, ok?  I don't think my son would be thrilled to know we had matching sweaters.

The pattern calls for Rowan Purelife Revive and Rowan Wool/Cotton DK, and while I love them both, these days I'm crushing on Pure Wool Superwash DK so I made a switch.  PWDK is very easy yarn to knit and makes a beautiful, simple, easy-care fabric with an even tension, plus it's machine wash and dry which my son really appreciates. (This is where I have to insert that the ball band says to dry flat but I tumble dry with excellent results; here's how:  Turn inside out and put in a mesh sweater bag and wash in cool water on a gentle cycle.  Take out of bag and put in dryer on the low setting until it's mostly dry.  Turn right-side out and lay flat to finish drying.)

I made the size large which has a 44" chest and used 10 skeins total: 4 of Anthracite, 2 of Gravel, and one each of Avocado, Chalk, Cypress, and Volcano.  The colors are similar to the original and the overall look is bright and youthful, but a bit more subdued than the original.  I think it's handsome and it looks fantastic on him, so overall, I'm very pleased.  As for the pattern, it's easy of course, and has the best directions to make an absolutely gorgeous V-neck rib.  I'll be using it again and will make exactly the same size for my husband, but most likely a solid, but that won't be in the queue until the end of the year.

I'm writing this on a rainy Saturday morning.  It rained off and on all night and rain is in the forecast for the next week.  I think it's a miracle each time I hear raindrops and have to check it out immediately.  We go outside and stick our hands out, "Wow, look at this--water--actual water--and it's just dropping down out of the sky all around us for free!  Isn't this crazy?"  Perhaps I'll get used to it, and maybe even sick of it (no, I don't think so), but none of that will happen for a long while, if at all.  In the meantime, it's just nice to have it, to smell it and feel it, and to know that the native oaks that dot our local hills must be so happy!

So on this rainy Saturday we have no plans.  I have a few things to do around here but I will definitely carve out a few hours to knit.  My mom will be here late afternoon and stay for dinner.  She requested salmon patties--remember them?  I haven't made them in ages, but we love them and I remember they were a favorite dinner of mine when I was a girl.  There are a million recipes but I don't follow a recipe really.  I've used both fresh and canned salmon and we prefer canned salmon for the patties, go figure. I always put in fresh lemon juice with chopped celery and capers and an egg and bread crumbs to bind it all together.  Today I'll add some chopped fresh dill that has popped into the garden; it grows wild this time of year and just a few raindrops will make masses appear.  For the next few months we'll be snipping dill onto potatoes and eggs, in soups and on toast, and just about everything we can think of until the heat of summer makes the dill give up. My girlfriend gave me some beautiful lemons so I'll probably make some kind of a lemon/dill sauce to go with them.  We are starting to get local asparagus, so maybe that too and some kind of rice.  I'm feeling lazy right now and I think I've just created a very easy dinner!  Yay!

Here's the links:

Floyd Vest by Martin Storey,
queue it here, purchase the individual pdf download here.

I'm a superfan of Rowan Pure Wool Superwash DK
  and you'll be seeing it a lot more often in my blog.
It can be purchased at your local Rowan stockist
or at many online shops including:

To make a comment, click here.

Next week on Knitionary:

My favorites of Rowan 59
Rene's Party

Have a super good weekend!

Rowan Pure Wool Superwash DK can be purchased at your local Rowan stockist or online at
- See more at:

Twelfth Night Party

My friend, Karen promised to give a Christmas party, but December came and went without an invitation.  I know how that is--holiday party wishes and dreams are complicated by the reality that the season is BUSY. Then, last Sunday an invitation arrived by email:  Please come to an open house on Tuesday evening for a bowl of soup and glass of wine to celebrate Twelfth Night. I called her and she wondered aloud how many people would show up on a rainy Tuesday night with such short notice, thinking that those who came would pop in late and leave early.  But her friends are my friends, and I know these people, and I was certain everyone who was in town would show up on time and stay way past bedtime.  I was right, and a fun party was had by all!

Karen's lovely home is a typical California ranch home, one level, with the private bedrooms on one end of the house and the public rooms--the kitchen, family, living, and dining rooms--flowing into each other at the other end. Entertaining in a house that flows from one room to the next is a piece of cake.  Karen had the self-serve wine bar set up in the family room, the appetizers on the kitchen island, a serve-yourself soup station on her stove and the table set up in the dining room.  Using all the different rooms encourages people to move about, and while they do, let's face it, guests love most hanging out in the kitchen!   

Even an informal, impromptu, mid-week party takes some smart planning and a good bit of work.  If you have the slightest hope of enjoying your own party, do-ahead is essential.  For this party, simple appetizers were  prepared the morning of and heated up just as the first guests started to walk down her path.  The soups were made the day before and gently reheated during the cocktail hour.  Karen prepared the cookie dough earlier that afternoon but spoiled us by baking the cookies just before serving them.  The table was set with the idea that the over-spill would perch on sofas in the family and living rooms.  The hour before arrival, Karen lit the fires in her family room and dining room fireplaces, lit the candles and relied on their light and the light from her gorgeous Christmas tree to set the mood for the night.  Beautiful!  With everything planned and organized ahead of time I saw our hostess enjoy her party as much as we did.  In fact we all loved it so much, Karen thinks she may well have to make this Twelfth Night Party a yearly tradition.

Karen had 30 guests and made three soups.  She doubled each recipe to serve around 16 people.  It's my experience that at soup parties, most people try to taste every one, but take very small portions.  She had enough leftover for her lunch and dinner today-- sustenance while she washes up dishes and then dismantles Christmas, because as tradition has it, Twelfth Night or Epiphany, is when the Christmas tree comes down.

12th Night MENU

Cheese Toasts 
Hot Crab Dip
Sausages with Mustard Dip
Split Pea Soup with Ham


Click here to leave a comment.

My church choir director sent this out today.  It's beautiful:

For Those Who Have Far to Travel
A Blessing for Epiphany

If you could see
the journey whole,
you might never
undertake it,
might never dare
the first step
that propels you
from the place
you have known
toward the place
you know not.
Call it
one of the mercies
of the road:
that we see it
only by stages
as it opens
before us,
as it comes into
our keeping,
step by
single step.
There is nothing
for it
but to go,
and by our going
take the vows
the pilgrim takes:
to be faithful to
the next step;
to rely on more
than the map;
to heed the signposts
of intuition and dream;
to follow the star
that only you
will recognize;
to keep an open eye
for the wonders that
attend the path;
to press on
beyond distractions,
beyond fatigue,
beyond what would
tempt you
from the way.
There are vows
that only you
will know:
the secret promises
for your particular path
and the new ones
you will need to make
when the road
is revealed
by turns
you could not
have foreseen.
Keep them, break them,
make them again;
each promise becomes
part of the path,
each choice creates
the road
that will take you
to the place
where at last
you will kneel
to offer the gift
most needed—
the gift that only you
can give—
before turning to go
home by
another way.
—Jan Richardson
from Circle of Grace