A warm scarf for open worlds

As I’ve mentioned, I play computer games. The last couple of years, I’ve been playing more RPGs. In previous posts I’ve written about how my strategy for staying focused during the idle time of extended chunks of dialogue and cinematics is to approach them with knitting in hand. This hasn’t changed, but sometimes it can be a bit of a challenge to find a knitting project that requires no concentration, can be unceremoniously dropped when I’m confronted with a quick-time event, and is time consuming enough to last me through the 70+ hour open-world marathons that seem to increasingly be the staple of the RPG genre*. If the project helps to use up stash yarn and the end result is ever-so-wearable, then all the better.

[author grins cheerfully] This scarf just went and ticked all the boxes, didn’t it?

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The pattern is Alla Moda by Gina Bonomo. I wanted the largest scarf I could make, but didn’t have enough yardage for the larger size, so I just cast on an amount of stitches somewhere between the two sizes and knitted for as long as the materials held out. The yarn is two balls of Knit Picks Palette in Abyss Heather and, ahem, an assortment of whatever black fingering weight yarn I could dredge up from the depths of my stash box. There’s definitely some Patonyle in there, and some sock yarn from my 2010 pilgrimage to WEBS. Beyond that is anyone’s guess.

Perhaps these photos aren’t the greatest, but here’s the thing: they were taken on a whim, on my way out of the door. Often when I’m taking a photo of a finished object, I don the knitted piece simply for the reason that it’s finished and I want to post a picture on Ravelry. I take the photos, and then I remove the item in question. Not this time. I took a picture, sure, but it was a matter of thinking “hmm, maybe I should take a picture” once the scarf was already around my neck because I wanted to wear it when I went out. As opposed to putting it on specifically for the purpose of a photo, and then taking it off again. So even though they’re perhaps not the greatest photos, I feel that if nothing else, they’re certainly honest!

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I’m not going to lie; this scarf took a long time. In a good way. It kept me company through the last 30 hours of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt** and then through nearly all of Mass Effect: Andromeda*** (which clocked in at around 80 hours). Though obviously I wasn’t knitting the entire time. Don’t panic; this is not an 110 hour scarf! Though it sometimes felt that way.

That said, if the process was long, the end result is worth it. It’s warm, light, cozy, and very wearable. It’s casual, but not too casual, and the one row stripes of dark colours keep things nice and subtle; it’s a very versatile piece. When I first cast on, some part of me rebelled at the idea of carelessly knitting a rectangle of stocking stitch with nary a care for curling edges. I’m glad that I trusted the pattern, because the curling honestly don’t bother me nearly as much as I thought. The unfinished look actually works just fine with the rest of the design.

A few posts ago I wrote about wanting to spend this year focusing on (among other things) knitted projects where the end result was, above all, wearable. This project definitely has me living up to these aspirations.

 

 

And because I am apparently incapable of sticking to a single topic, some game flavoured observations:

*Is anyone else a little over huge-open-world for the sake of it? I feel that ever since the Lord of the Rings movies in the early 2000s there’s been this pressure for movies/games/books – especially things produced within and for geek culture – to be “epic”. Sadly “epic” often seems to translate to “needlessly long” and/or “exhaustingly high stakes”. There have been plenty of open world games I’ve enjoyed a great deal, and perhaps this is the wrong context in which to be launching into a critique of the feature, since I actually enjoyed both of the above games and felt that the open world format worked well for them given the themes and content of the story. But I’m tired of the bigger-is-better mentality. Smaller and more focused in scope, hand-in-hand with some tight plotting and good writing, has produced some absolutely incredible results. I think it’s important that we don’t forget that.

 

** This was my first proper experience with the Witcher franchise; the first two games have been languishing in my Steam library because, as a card carrying grumpy feminist, I have mixed feelings about the whole “bang sexy ladies, get collectible cards of said sexy ladies” mechanic in the first game. Thankfully the series has improved a lot in terms of its depictions of women. It’s not perfect; I still die a little inside every time I see a female warrior character, written as a practical person who takes her craft seriously, wearing heels or apparel with zero chest coverage or support to a battle. But aside from this and a whole lot of male gaze, my quibbles are pretty mild. The female characters are excellently written, have a lot of agency, and form supportive relationships with each other during the course of the story. I also ended up liking Geralt a lot more than I expected; I felt a bit indifferent at first but he grew on me once I realised that he wasn’t so much bland as just incredibly dead-pan. And his relationship with Ciri is adorable.

Also, I love any game with a bestiary. And frankly, I could have just wandered around Skellige for hours without getting bored. In fact, I’m pretty sure I did.

 

*** And a few words about Mass Effect: Andromeda, since I know some people who are incredulous that I’m even playing it, given its lukewarm reception. I have plenty of thoughts on this (read: so many thoughts) but I’ll keep it to the bare essentials. Is it a perfect game? No. Do I think it’s okay for developers to release games riddled with glitches? Certainly not (though for what it’s worth, I played the game two weeks after release and encountered very few problems). Do I think that the outcry and negative reception was proportionate to the shortcomings of the game? No. Is it a good game? Yes. Did I enjoy it? Yes, I did.

It’s a big game, and in terms of pacing, it’s kind of a slow game. But given the setting and themes of the story, I didn’t actually have a problem with this. You’re exploring and settling a new galaxy; there’s going to be a lot of different concerns to address, a lot of things to juggle. It would have felt strange for a player character occupying a generalist role like Pathfinder to not have a lot of things competing for their attention. As with many open world games, there was a little too much busy work at times, and while the planetscapes are stunning, the character models really don’t look as good as I’d hoped. But the characters are likeable, the combat is fun and flexible,  the themes are interesting, and the cheesy jokes and callbacks come thick and fast. It’s not a perfect game, but I enjoyed it just fine, and am glad that I played it.

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Wit’s End Soup

Back in the proverbial days of yore, I spent several years of my life in a relationship with a man who had very strong feelings about the definition of a meal. More specifically, he felt that a meal was not deserving of the title unless it was served on a plate. Meals that required a bowl simply did not count. In hindsight, this was probably a not-so-subtle stab at my dietary preferences; I was/am a long-time vegetarian, and he was very much a meat -and-three-veg type of guy. Either way, I called bullshit then, and I certainly haven’t changed my opinion in the intervening years. I probably still use bowls more often than plates, and not only as a counter to my clumsiness. And when you are wont to indulge in some table-free eating, cradling a warm bowl of food in your lap is so much cosier than balancing a plate.

So many delicious meals call for a bowl. First and foremost: SOUP. I am pretty sure that soup was probably on the top of my ex’s “not-a-real-meal” hit list but, just throwing it out there: he was completely wrong. It’s a rare week when I don’t make multiple batches of soup. Even in summer. Even in our Australian summer. Soup makes me a happy camper. It’s healthy but comforting, and usually very low effort. And it’s probably my #1 favourite way of making sure that I eat enough vegetables. Salads are all well and good but offer me a choice of soup or salad and the soup is going to win, hands down, 90% of the time.

There are a quite a few soups in my repertoire, but any account of my eating habits would be lost without an account of three soups in particular. The Soups (tomato/bean/barley, sweet potato/pumpkin, broccoli/cauliflower). Seriously, probably not a single week has gone by over the last few years where I haven’t made one of these soups. And for good reason.

My MVP, the tomato, bean, and barley soup (aka, the soup of my 2016) , has been in rotation, in various different forms, for a long time now. It started life as a potato and barley soup cooked from a charmingly old school Australian Women’s Weekly cookbook – one of those early vegetarian cookbooks that confusingly called for carob instead of chocolate in all of the desserts, as if chocolate consisted mostly of beef dripping and hooves. It’s changed a fair bit over the years, however. Since the original cookbook and I have long since parted ways, there’s no way to tell how much my current version resembles its progenitor. Not much, I suspect, beyond the presence of a couple of key ingredients. Over the years I ditched the potato, pared the seasonings back a little, later started seasoning in a different direction entirely (chilli!), added some more vegetables, threw in some beans, and so on.

The finished product is nothing fancy, but it’s also healthy, filling, comforting, reheats well, and doesn’t really require very much from you. When I need to feel like I’m taking proper care of myself, in spite of everything, I fall back on this soup, and it is yet to let me down.

Finally, some notes on variations: this soup can easily be modified depending on what you have kicking about. And that’s why this is such a friendly soup. It’s easygoing, and really more of a template than anything else. I rarely make the exact same version of this soup twice in a row. I use plain old water, not stock, as a base for the soup for two reasons: A) I find that the tomatoes and the bay leaves make a tasty enough liquid on their own, and B) I live with someone who has to watch their salt intake very carefully, so I tend to steer clear of stock where possible, and add seasonings to taste when the soup reaches my bowl. That said, if you want to use stock you should go right ahead: I bet it will be even more delicious!

The chilli doesn’t result in a particularly spicy soup, but if you’re averse, just leave it out.

I would be a filthy liar if I claimed that I ever actually measured the barley (couple of small handfuls) or the olive oil (just pour in a slug of it).

If you are in a rush or too hungry to mess around with 30+ minutes of cooking time, ditch the barley and toss in some soup pasta instead. It provides similar substance but cook up in a much shorter time (10 minutes, give or take, depending on the size of the pasta), so you can insert it into your face quicker! You can also soak the barley beforehand to cut down on cooking time; I do this whenever I have the foresight, which is honestly not all that often. An hour or so beforehand, rinse the barley, place it in a bowl, and cover it with freshly boiled water, and set aside to soak. Unless there’s lots of excess water (i.e. more than a cup), I don’t even bother draining it; I just toss the whole lot into the soup with the tomatoes.

Sometimes I use a bottle of passata instead of tinned tomatoes. Torn up kale can happily substitute for the spinach, and of course you can use regular spinach instead of baby; just tear it up a bit first. If I don’t have celery in the fridge, I don’t tend to bother going out and getting a whole bunch just for this; I just make a celery-less version. Similarly, as long as you’ve got some greens, the absence of parsley is not the end of the world.

Long story short: don’t be a slave to the recipe. This soup just wants you to be happy!

 

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A Simple and Happy Vegetable, Bean, and Barley Stew:

You will need:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 brown onion, finely chopped

3 x cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 x medium sized carrot, finely chopped

1 x stick celery, finely chopped

2-3 x bay leaves

1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes/crushed red pepper

2 x 400g can of chopped tomatoes (seasoned or not, as you please)

2/3 cup pearl barley, rinsed

1 x 400g can of three bean mix (or five bean mix if you are feeling particularly beany), drained and rinsed.

couple of handfuls of baby spinach

a handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped

 

Instructions:

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and then add the onions. Add the bay leaves, carrot, celery, and garlic (I tend to add ingredients in this order, chopping as I go rather than prepping it beforehand). Cook until the vegetables are softened and the onion is just beginning to brown. Stir in the chilli flakes.

Add the contents of the tins of tomatoes, the drained beans, and the barley. Pour in some hot water (I use a recently boiled jug). You’ll want to add about 500ml of hot water, though I never measure. I usually refill my tomato cans about half full, give them a swirl to get every last bit of tomato, and add this to the soup. Cover and bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer.

Cook until the barley is plump and beginning to break down a little. I usually give it about 30 minutes. You can stir during this time if you want, but you don’t need to. Remove the soup from the heat and stir in the spinach and the chopped parsley. Pick out the bay leaf if you can be bothered. I almost inevitably cannot be bothered. Season to taste, ladle into bowls, and eat.

Seriously, I feel a whole lot less overwhelmed by the general state of things when I have a dinner than can be served with a ladle.

And please note that this soup can very profitably be served with toasted cheese or garlic toast. Yes indeed.

Some things that are unseasonal

Summer’s officially gone here, but in practice, not so much. It’s still been topping 30 degrees on many days over the last week, and even our rainy days are still pretty warm. I’m hoping we get some proper autumn weather soon. Melbourne’s shoulder seasons are utterly gorgeous… in the years that we actually have them. Some years you have weeks and weeks of lovely mild weather, but in others the weather changes from volcanic to chilly depressingly quickly. I’m still crossing my fingers for the former, but right now things are still pretty warm (which is still, admittedly, an improvement on searing).

As is always the case by the end of summer, I’ve got a ton of knitted projects to photograph but very little desire to layer up with wool and sweat my way through however many pictures. This wouldn’t be a problem if I picked seasonal projects like a normal person, but every year I make noises about knitting with summer-appropriate yarns through the hotter months, and pretty much every time I sit there in the 40 degree January heat stubbornly knitting away with wool. So a pile of scarves and jumpers it is. Oh well.

Given my backlog, it would probably make sense to just make a morning of it and photograph everything in one session, getting progressively pinker and sweatier in each picture. But I’m a wimp and while I have excellent intentions to blog more regularly, I do draw the line at courting heatstroke. So instead, I’m tackling a few projects at a time.

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This scarf is the Dragon Wing Cowl (knit version) pattern by Jessie Rayot. I have an unabashed love for a) voluminous scarves and b) things that are a bit angular, so I had to have it. Plus I had the perfect buttons lying around, and the pattern was free. Why fight it?

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I have to confess: I didn’t particularly enjoy knitting this all that much. It wasn’t difficult, but it was a little fiddly keeping track of the rows and increases. Or at least more fiddly than I usually prefer my garter stitch, at any rate. That said, the finishing was super fun and if you pay attention to the pattern you are rewarded with a scarf that looks pretty much exactly as promised (always a good thing). I’m pretty taken with the finished product, and can’t wait until it’s cool enough to wear it.

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This pullover – the aforementioned project that I was clutching even through the worst of the summer heat – was born of my need for something mindless to knit while I played Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (yes, yes, it’s a million years old, I know) because as per the last post, I go stir-crazy playing story-heavy RPGs unless I have something to do with my hands while the NPC tells me where the ogre/space ogre is hiding out.

The pattern is Driftwood by Isabell Kraemer. This is actually my second Driftwood, and I have to say that I like it a lot better than my first, mainly just because this time around I made better choices re: buttons and sizing. I’m really pleased with how this came out, and I’m really looking forward to wearing it once the weather starts to cool off a little.

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(stubbornly puffy mess of curls brought to you by humid weather… *sigh*)

The only modifications I made to the pattern were to opt 1) for slightly different waist shaping (decreasing under the bust, rather than going full A-line) and 2) working 1×1 ribbing and tubular bind offs at the edges of the sleeves/body. It’s not altogether obvious in the above photo – the effect is subtle even when you’re looking closely – but I also went for alternating blue and green buttons to match the dark green/blue/black of the yarn.

The only problem is, having finished the above pullover, I’m now wading about in a sea of sketches, rough ideas, swatches and false-start projects when what I really want is something simple and repetitive to knit while I finish playing Witcher 3. I could just cast on some sort of garter stitch scarf, of course, but that’s not really in keeping with my resolution to put a little more thought into my projects and focus on knitting things that I’ll actually wear; I already have plenty of garter stitch scarves.

Hopefully I’ll settle on a project soon; heaven knows I have a massive Ravelry queue, a handful of Pinterest boards, and several good old-fashioned to-knit lists to help me decide. And hey, if the ambitious projects I want to try are not suitable gaming knitting, then I’m sure my love of drapey scarves and tiny gauge will come through and save me somehow!

A 2016 grab-bag

While we’re on the topic of the passing of the last year, there’s some other things about which I would like to write.

I always find it useful to look back over the previous year, examine the things that I did, the things I didn’t do, and the things I enjoy. A habit I’ve picked up over the last several years is keeping a simple little list (nothing elaborate, or for public consumption) of the media I’ve consumed over the previous year. I have one for books read, movies watched, television series viewed, and one for computer games played. It may seem a neurotic habit, but it’s always nice to look back and remember when you did things, what you did, and how that informed the choices that came next.

For each month that goes by, I also write a brief list of words and and sentences, reminding myself of the things that characterised my time during that month. Nothing too poetic or elaborate: often it’s just a mismatch of the weather, the music to which I listened, the things that I was obsessively eating, what my mood was like, anything special that I saw or felt.

These things sound small, self-indulgent, a bit silly, possibly a bit obsessive, but it’s actually a habit I’m very glad to have acquired. It’s a bad cliché that as you get older, things speed up. Months and years blur together and sometimes you raise your head and look around only to discover that three months have passed in a blur of work and routine. You try and remember what you’ve been doing, but it’s all a bit hazy. You find yourself able to stutter out something about work, something about catching up with friends, a few comments about relaxing and hobbies, but the details get lost, it’s just the skeleton of your year. Keeping little notes, little lists and reminders, adds flesh to the bare bones. All the more so because the vast majority of the time when I read over my lists, I remember the little parts that I had forgotten, and it makes me smile. Because the little things – the week that it was unseasonably cold so I took up the habit of making blanket nests in that particular chair, the week I burnt my hand while bread baking and went stir-crazy from not being able to knit, the fortnight where I had a near permanent craving for lemon curd on toast – are the things that are me, that make my life different and mine.

I won’t bore everyone with the full list, and at any rate I prefer to keep it private, but in the spirit of the miscellaneous bits and pieces, here is a random grab bag of the little things that I enjoyed the most in 2016, the little things that took me by surprise with how much I enjoyed them.

Homemade bread and soup

Look, I did say “little things”. So, I like to cook. And I make a lot of things from scratch because of the dietary requirements of my household. But I also don’t tend to talk about it all that much, mainly because it feels too much like tooting my own horn (wow, that sounds like an analogy for masturbation, now I think of it) and it makes me feel like I’m crafting the image of an existence that is way more domestically idyllic and crunchy than it is. Things make me kind of uncomfortable. So usually all that makes it to Facebook is an annual blurry photo of bread accompanied by several lines of self-deprecation.

My dubious relationship with social media aside, in reality, I bake bread all the time. Especially over the last year, since due to illness I’ve had more down-time in which to pursue undertakings that are time consuming but low effort (i.e. bread). And it’s made me really happy, for a number of reasons. Fresh crusty bread is delicious. It’s nice to see my friends and family getting so much pleasure from something I’ve made. And bread (fresh or toasted) pairs very well with soup, something that I cook weekly without fail, regardless of the season, just because soup a) contains vegetables and b) can be reheated when I’m feeling too wretched to cook. If I have soup and bread in the kitchen, I know I’m safe from resorting to cereal for dinner (great as an occasional indulgence, but it becomes a little disheartening when eaten regularly by necessity because you’re too exhausted to cook).

Sitting down to a bowl of homemade bread and soup makes me feel like I’m taking care of myself. And when you’re sick, unhappy, or otherwise ill-at-ease, this is a nice feeling to have. The feeling that even if the advanced things are escaping you, you’ve got your basics covered. It’s not revolutionary, but it’s nice.

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Radical Face

Because the name doesn’t give much away, Radical Face is the name of a musical act comprising of an excellent fellow named Ben Cooper. I started listening to the first album of the artist’s Family Tree project when I was travelling alone in 2015, and I spent a lot of 2016 listening to the entire trilogy once the final album of the project was released.

I’m really bad at and super self-conscious about discussing music, lacking the technical knowledge and vocabulary to say anything intelligent. But any account of my 2016 would be incomplete without a reference to these albums. So I’ll just say: the Family Tree trilogy stole my heart clean out from under me, it’s excellent, and you should give it a listen (and if you do, check out the website as I loved following the cast of characters and stories behind the songs).

Mojitos

So, even though I’ve always been into citrus and mint, I never really thought myself a fan of white rum. I was wrong. Mojitos are amazing; hands down my new favourite cocktail for when it’s too hot and sticky to move. The version that we make is close but not identical to this recipe, though now I’ve read about it I can’t wait to try the grapefruit version here.

Mass Effect:

So, just throwing it out there because I don’t know if it’s come up on this blog before: I play computer games. And not just in a ‘Candy Crush Saga while I wait for the train’ kind of way. In an ‘I used to have a Diamond league Starcraft ranking’ kind of way (though full disclosure: we didn’t hold it long). I haven’t blogged much about it, but gaming is a major interest of mine, and certainly occupies as much of my time as the hobbies that do get blog coverage (knitting, travel, etc).

I don’t bring this up out of nerd elitism (which I loathe; the stigma against casual gaming is ridiculous) but just to warn people that I’m about to deviate from standard content, and with mouth-foaming levels of enthusiasm, no less.

I used to struggle to play story heavy RPGs. They often feature a lot of cut scenes and down-time generally, and my attention span had been completely trashed by the aforementioned Starcraft habit. My mindset was that with a few exceptions, if I was gaming, I wanted to be 110% engaged at all times. However, a few years ago I realised that I could very profitably knit through any extended cut-scenes. This turned things around completely, and kick-started my (ongoing) love-affair with Bioware games.

In 2015 I played the Dragon Age series (a fantasy RPG series full of amazing world building, complex characters, and simply terrible hats) and, minor quibbles aside, I loved it in a big way. When 2016 rolled around I thought that I’d try the Mass Effect trilogy; three sci-fi setting, third person shooter games released by the same studio. I’d never really been one for shooters, but figured that as my love of Dragon Age had been pretty, ahem, slavish, it might be worth trying a game where I couldn’t throw fireballs at the bad guys. Which is kind of funny in hindsight, considering how much I grew to love my sniper rifle.

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Just look at this cool alien and his cigar. Why wouldn’t you play this game?

I really enjoyed the Mass Effect games for a number of reasons; the writing is wonderful, the world-building is detailed, the game-play is fun, and so on. But what makes them actually important to me is harder to nail down. A lot of it is being able to play a female character; thankfully this is not as rare as it once was, but I’ve been gaming for decades now and tell you what, I’m still grateful as hell when the option is there, and even more grateful when it’s as impeccably executed as it is in these games. Having weathered many years of playing (otherwise excellent) games where the female characters were at worst just eye candy and at best sporting a confusing lack of weather/combat appropriate clothing compared to their male counterparts, getting to play as a female character where your gender is not an issue within the game universe, where having sex and being sexy and romance in general are completely optional, where your competence is respected from start to finish (and not just up until the point where you suddenly need to be rescued) was, well… Honestly, I didn’t realise how badly I needed it until I played these games.

Being a card carrying feminist who has been gaming for a long time, I had gotten super good at rolling my eyes at the chain mail bikinis. I wasn’t thrilled by them but I wanted to play the games so I just shrugged, continued playing, and rolled my eyes when other Diablo II players would insist on naming their trade games things like “Oiled Melons”. I got really good at rolling my eyes and ignoring it. Mass Effect reminded me of how good it feels when you don’t have to do that, when you don’t have to put up that little bit of extra mental distance between yourself and the game.

A lot has been written about women and video games in recent years and while it’s certainly a topic on which I like to weigh in, this post is long enough already. And I certainly don’t want to imply that this is the only video game series that’s done things well on the gender front. But suffice to say, it was one of the things that made the Mass Effect series great for me. Though definitely not the only thing. In addition to the above, the character writing is also amazing. I am one of those people that, with a few notable exceptions, does not normally get emotionally involved in the things they’re watching/playing. But these games got me good; by the end, there was barely a single character to whom I wasn’t fiercely attached. Anyway, so if you like the idea of playing a game where you get to befriend excellent aliens in between punching them with your space magic, I’d highly recommend this game. In the mean time, I’ll be over here counting the days until Mass Effect: Andromeda comes out… *drums fingers*

Battlebots:

One of the things that I’ve been trying to do this year is think critically about the reasons why I like the things that I like. Partly because overthinking everything is my jam, but also to help me make good choices in the future, and to inform my own creative efforts. While I won’t bore everyone with the details (often), I am usually pretty good at figuring out the things that appeal to me. Except in this one specific case, which continues to mystify me completely, much to my utter delight.

When I was a kid I adored watching the British television show Robot Wars, so when my household discovered BattleBots (an American robot fighting tournament series) I was keen to wallow in some delicious nostalgia. I was not expecting to get nearly as excited about it as I did. We don’t really go in for sport at our place (I am a very bad Melbournian who has a benign disinterest in AFL), but this is as close as we get. We certainly treat it like a sporting event, complete with heckling and constant homespun commentary.

Why do I like watching robots destroy each other? No idea. I’m not really into spectator sports. My engineering/robotics knowledge is nil. I am not a competitive person. Yet I have watched every episode multiple times now and I am still trying to get my (long-suffering) friends to ‘come and watch robots’ with me. I’m so confused, though also very gratified that some things can still take me completely and utterly by surprise.

Tahini:

Despite always liking hummus and loving halva, I never thought I liked tahini all that much. It was bitter and a little gritty and I always ended up scowling at it. But then I realised that I could bake with it to great effect (the blondies, seriously). And then, inspired by this, I also discovered that I could just mix a wee bit of tahini with honey to taste and eat it with a spoon. So, umm, that’s a thing that I do now. Calcium? Or something.

Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC)

So I was lucky enough to end up in Bangkok twice over the course of 2016. Which is pretty awesome, because Bangkok is amazing fun and probably my favourite food destination, period (it’s just so good). There are plenty of interesting things to see and do – it’s a big place – but one attraction that took me pleasantly by surprise was the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. It’s a contemporary art gallery near the National Stadium BTS station, right next to the infamous MBK Centre (go for the discount shopping and stay for the food court!). We went there on a tip from my brother, and I was blown away by how good it was.

The exhibitions change regularly, but don’t get too hung up on what’s on; just go. I’ve never seen a bad show there; there’s nothing but interesting, beautiful, and accessible contemporary Thai art. If that doesn’t convince you, well, it’s free and air-conditioned and there’s an amazing ice-cream shop inside. Convinced now?

Taking my tea for a walk

Okay, so it’s not always as scenic as the below picture (Goolawah Beach in NSW, for the record). But when you’re going for a brief walk, it’s very nice to drink your tea outside. I’ve even been known to just carry my mug with me when a suitable bottle is nowhere to be found; it’s not the end of the world to just toss it back in your bag when you’re done.

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Flan

So, at some point this year I noticed that La Tortilleria (an adorable tortilla factory/Mexican eatery in Kensington, my stomping ground for a few years) gave the recipe for their flan to Broadsheet. What a discovery. I have only made this 3-4 times this year, but that’s because nobody in my household can control themselves when it’s around. Even my brother, who doesn’t typically go in for desserts. Even me, and I don’t even typically like creamy custardy things. This flan is ridiculously easy, will make you extremely popular, and you should go and make it immediately.

SERIOUSLY, GO AND MAKE FLAN, LIKE, RIGHT NOW.

Spotify’s ‘A Sudden Rainstorm’ playlist

Hours of rain noises. Making it 30% more pleasant to collapse into bed. Am I weird for being into this? Those ASMR videos do nothing for me (they actually make me feel a little uneasy, no matter what my friends say) but who doesn’t love rain? Perhaps it’s novelty; making up for all the rainy nights I missed due to the country being in drought for so much of my adolescence/early adulthood. Either way, it’s a godsend for insomnia and just deliciously soothing in general.

And finally… the monstrosity blanket

What? I thought I made myself abundantly clear re: my love for this ridiculous rainbow behemoth. No? I love it. Rather a lot. I may still run away with it. I love you, silly blanket!

So that’s it: my 2016 in miscellany. For anyone who actually bothered to read to the end of this post, I’m impressed. Maybe it’s a bit much to hope that you learned something relevant, but thank you for indulging me! Next post will have actual knitting content, I promise!

Back home resolutions. Or something.

Note: I’d like to start by excusing the tardiness of this post. I know, I know, most people tend to have their new year posts out of the way in January but I am a trendsetter didn’t have an internet connection for the entirety of that month. So no real way around it!

I used to claim that I never made New Year’s resolutions, possibly because I thought that this made me cool. Or something. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I don’t tend to articulate them in those terms. It’s not like I resolve to do certain things from 01 January onward. It’s more that the end of the year almost always finds me away from home, and away from home (wherever that may be) always seems an appropriate distance from which to think about ways to improve being at home. You know, Regular Life and all. So perhaps I don’t make New Year’s resolutions so much as I have a good old think about the things that I would like to do better once I get home. But that’s a much less catchy title. For all that you’d never know it from reading my writing, I am actually a fan of being concise, so perhaps we should just call them New Year’s resolutions. Or Back Home Resolutions, perhaps?

That established, I am also never sure if I should make my New Year’s resolutions public. It gives me an excuse for another blog post at the end of the year; the “did I actually live up to my good intentions” post in which I congratulate and gently eviscerate myself by turns. My posting is erratic at best, so what’s not to like about a guaranteed post? There’s also the public shaming element, too, I suppose. But I can beat myself up with great efficiency free of assistance, so it’s hardly necessary.

Plus, you never know what life has in store that’ll throw your resolutions right out the window. A bleedingly obvious example is your health; I’ll probably write more about this later, but I’ve had my share of health related surprises over the last year or so; surprises that have definitely shaped my day-to-day life in a very major way.

But, considering one of the things that I decided I would like to do is actually post on your &$*#ing blog from time to time, Anna, I thought that I’d at least post my knitting, crafting, and baking related goals. The internet at large really doesn’t need to know about my intentions re: the tidiness of my desk, after all.

In terms of knitting, I would like to work on more original designs. The embarrassing truth is that I have a sketchbook partly full of ideas, but for the most part, I haven’t gotten around to ushering any of them into reality. This is partly because I’ve spent so much of the last year or so being sick and/or low on energy. When you’re groggy and lethargic and in pain, the last thing you want to do is swatch or crunch numbers; you just want comfort knitting where you don’t need to think (like massive garter stitch blankets). At all. But the fact of the matter is that the fatigue may not be going anywhere any time soon, and I don’t want to spend the rest of my knitting career making plain raglan pullovers and garter stitch scarves. So I’m going to try harder to make the best of the times when I am able to concentrate on designing.

I’d also like to learn some new techniques; specifically, I’d like to get more comfortable with steeking, as well as maybe dip a toe into some intarsia. I’d also like to try zipper insertion, and attempt adding a fabric lining to a knitting project. Generally speaking, I’m also interested in refining my techniques a little. I’d certainly class myself as an intermediate knitter nowadays – I’m perfectly comfortable with stranded colourwork, elaborate cabling, lace, chart reading, grafting – but I’d like to work on the small things that enhance fit, finishing, etc and just generally improve the craftsmanship of a knitted piece.

I also want to have a go at more elaborate cabling, because cabling is super fun! Full disclosure: I didn’t like cables at all before I tried knitting them. Now I can’t stop. Ever.

(pictured below is my cabled version of the pick, pick, pick it up! cardigan that I promise I will finish as soon as I decide how I’m going to make it work)

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I’d also like to continue focusing on items that I will actually wear, that work well with my existing wardrobe. Like many knitters, I’m often guilty of the “oooh, I want to knit that” response to a pattern that realistically I know I will never wear, or not often enough to justify the expense of the yarn or the space the unused item will occupy in my wardrobe. I’m not saying I want to completely quash that feeling, because that would be a joyless existence! But I am thinking that I’m instead going to channel it into knitting things for friends/family who might wear the item in the cases where I know I certainly won’t.

I’m trying to get to the point where my main focus is wearability (ideally with a side helping of aesthetic interest), where my approach is to figure out gaps in my wardrobe and knit to fill them, or at the very least to identify design elements that work for me and go from there. A recent project that I really enjoyed was an improvised project where I decided that I wanted a colourwork pullover (the stranding keeps my neck/chest nice and warm, and lets me use up scraps!) that also had pockets to keep my hands warm. I used the yoke design from one cardigan pattern (the Istex Icelandic Zip Cardigan) and the pocket style from another (Astor by Norah Gaughan) and sort of sandwiched them together in pullover form. I’m really happy with the result and more to the point, the project ticked all of the boxes (warm chest, warm hands) that I’d had in mind when I started. I’d like more of my projects do that; to knit with purpose as well as creativity.

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My non-knitting crafting goals are a little less focused, but I guess that’s to be expected given that my skill level is lower. I’d really love to do more sewing to consolidate my (meagre) abilities; specifically, I’d like to focus more on wearable garments, and small projects on which I can get much needed practice. I’d also like to try my hand at sewing more stuffed toys, as many of my friends have small children on whom I love to dote, but knitting at the tight gauge required for toys with stuffing is murder on my hands and just not enjoyable.

I’d also like to do more drawing; I’ve been dipping a toe back into this lately, and really loving it, or at least loving it on the occasions that I can let go of my expectations and insecurities and just draw without worrying about whether the result looks any good.

I’m also hoping to expand my sourdough repertoire. I’m very happy with the crusty white loaves I’ve been baking the last year, but I’d love to broaden my range into ryes, multi-grains, and more creative ingredients generally.

So there you have it. I made resolutions. Now there’s only one more incoming start-of-a-new-year post through which you all have to sit before I finally reconcile myself to the fact that it’s 2017. At least I’m posting, right?

On the home front / a blanket

This blog probably gives the impression that I travel a lot more than I do. And it’s probably going to continue giving that impression since I’m, oh, three or four separate holidays behind. *hangs head in shame* Apparently I need to update more. I’ll try, okay?

At any rate, I do actually spend a lot of time at home, in Melbourne. I am, in fact, a total homebody. When I’m not travelling near and far, anyway. What can I say? I’m chronically inconsistent. Perhaps this is why the Sorting Hat quiz can never decide on my Hogwarts house…

I’ve been working hard the last year at turning my home into a place in which I am happy and comfortable, that I feel reflects my personality. Admittedly given my home is shared with other people – people whose aesthetics and lifestyles don’t always coincide with mine – it’s never going to be completely my own brand of artsy-craftsy domestic serenity. But that’s okay. Compromise is a thing, and there are still a couple of small spaces that are completely my own. And some of the shared spaces are lovely too. Two thirds of the household (present company included) are disgusting hipsters who love their indoor plants, so we’ve been working away busily on this. Of course, the room that gets the best sun doubles as a dumping ground for tools, but the plants are happy, so I am too!

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Poor babies need me to get off of my behind and find them new pots!

I also knitted a blanket, in a (wholly triumphant) attempt to use up some of my yarn scraps. Given how admirably Devin (what, you don’t name your car?) performed during the road trip detailed over the last few posts, I thought a reward was in order, and I’ve always liked having a blanket in the back seat in case of unseasonable cold, impromptu picnics, etc.

There is something else, though. If we’re being completely honest, the blanket was originally relegated to the car because… I was fairly convinced that it was going to be horrifically ugly. 50% of the yarn used was a violently purple wool/angora blend that I picked up for $1 per ball some years ago, because I’m only flesh and blood and can’t resist on-sale natural fibres. The yarn, of course, languished unused, but I couldn’t bring myself to de-stash the it; even though it was certainly not a colour I’d voluntarily wear, it was deliciously warm and snuggly. A blanket that would be banished to the car (where I didn’t have to look at it very often) seemed an elegant solution, if indeed you could ever use the word “elegant” in a sentence relating to such a virulent shade of purple (debatable). The thing is, the monstrosity actually grew on me as I knitted away. It’s not what you’d call tasteful or subdued, but it’s somehow glorious in its own way. This blanket clearly doesn’t care what anyone thinks. It’s now finished, and you know what? I love it, albeit a little sheepishly.

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The pattern is Stephen West’s Garter Squish; it’s a seriously wonderful design for using up scraps, and I really love the i-cord edging. As per the pattern, I used two worsted(ish) yarns held together to get a roughly bulky weight fabric. In practice, this meant holding one strand of Cleckheaton Angora Supreme together with random scraps from my stash, and knitting until the thing was enormous. In an attempt to break up the purple a little, I also dyed some of the Cleckheaton yarn a royal blue colour using food dye.

While I didn’t record exact (or inexact) quantities, in terms of metreage, this blanket is certainly the biggest thing I’ve ever knitted, and probably heavier than anything bar my Sylvi coat INSERT LINK). I was expecting such an enormous project to be tedious, but this actually went surprisingly fast and at no point did I want to light it on fire. It took a long time, yes, but that’s mostly due to the fact that I was only picking it up as brain-free knitting in between other projects. It also made for a superb gaming project; kept my hands busy (and my lap and legs toasty) through many a merry hour of Mass Effect.

And, of course, it’s incredibly warm; the wool/angora blend is super snuggly and the finished product is very cosy without being particularly heavy. The only problem now is that I need to wait until autumn to snuggle under it again. I still find myself eyeing it after trying days, but given it’s summer and all, I’d probably expire if I sought shelter within its lurid depths.

Thankfully, it makes me happy just by existing on my study chair. Just look at this magnificent bastard! ❤

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Here and there and everywhere: the last leg

The older I get, the more reluctant I am to return home when I’m away. However, when it comes to this tendency, I’m never quite sure where Crescent Head falls. It’s not home, exactly – Melbourne takes that honour and I suspect it always will, as it’s a pretty excellent place to call home – but it’s surely the next best thing. I mean, I know where the light switches are without looking. If that’s not home, then…

But I suppose categories of home/not-home aren’t particularly important here. Long story short, I didn’t want to leave. I never do. Well, except for that one year with all of the flooding and the beach-turned-black-gurgling-maelstrom. But at any rate, home was calling so we savoured our last few days of New South Wales sun and made some plans for the trip home.

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After tearing ourselves away from the sea long enough to pack and clean up, we piled back into our long suffering chariot and began the long drive south. After a brief stop-off in Port Macquarie to pick up some coffee, the rest of the drive was uneventful, bar my inexplicably managing to get lost in the outskirts of the Sydney on a road that I’ve driven countless times before. What can I say? I’m gifted that way.

We stopped in a side-street to get our bearings and were ambushed by a toddler who sneakily dropped a decapitated lizard into my brother’s pocket. To add insult to injury, his babysitter then proceeded to give us blatantly incorrect directions. I suppose I should be grateful as she was trying to help, but having already proved that I was more than capable of getting lost on my own, further assistance wasn’t really necessary. At least the lizard was memorable.

Headless reptiles and poor directions notwithstanding, we made it into Wollongong with enough time to scoff some delicious Thai food before collapsing for the night. I’d never visited Wollongong before, and we didn’t really stay long enough to get a good feel for the town, but after that morning I can definitely vouch for their beaches.

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After a bracing beach walk, we went in search of breakfast and ended up in… ummm, the industrial area of Port Kembla. What can I say? I’m a nervous driver and I get lost easily. Serendipity was with us though; we actually found a lovely little cafe and I ate a delicious mushroom toastie that I have spent the last several months joyfully doing my best to replicate. Appetites subdued and adequately caffeinated, we continued on down the coast before stopping at Kiama.

Kiama is clearly fake. Surely it’s not possible for the grass to be so green (in the middle of summer – this poor little Victorian is astounded), the water to be so blue.

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The thing is, not only was it real, it was also populated by amazing wildlife. We found this excellent guy down by the boat ramp. I made exclamation marks at him, and also swore profusely with sheer excitement. You can’t take me anywhere.

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After I calmed down about ray and let the others coax me back into the car, we knuckled down and slogged a few hundred kilometres further down the coast until we arrived in Eden. By the time we arrived I had developed a wretched headache – a situation that wasn’t aided by the large number of (ordinarily charming) bell-birds flitting around our accommodation – but thankfully Eden was pretty enough that I was able to distract myself with scenery. And pictures of orcas. Everywhere. Eden used to be a major player in the whaling industry way back when that was a thing that was done in this country. Nowadays the whales now migrate up the coast relatively unaccosted, but Eden’s passion for orcas is apparently undiminished. I didn’t get any photos of killer whale chic, but the sunset wasn’t half bad.

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The next morning we piled into the car, bolstered ourselves with an amazing breakfast at Sprout, and drove on to Mallacoota and Croajingalong National Park. I hadn’t been to Croajingalong since I was young enough to be seriously unnerved by the number of lace monitors gadding about the place. Times have changed in some ways, but not others. The monitors are still there, but now I’m happy to see them. Hey there, scaly buddy!

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Unimpressed looking reptiles aside, the national park was as gorgeous as I remembered. As we had to press on to Melbourne, we only had a few hours set aside for hiking, but we put them to good use and had a lovely wander around the coast. The colours of the rocks at Bastion Point were just amazing!

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The less said about the remainder of the drive home, the better. I was feeling sick but the other driver wasn’t feeling any better, so I drove on. I have a vague recollection of eating grapes in a carpark in Lakes Entrance, inside the car as it was raining too hard to get out. The fact that this was the highlight of the second half of the day probably speaks for itself. At any rate, we eventually arrived home, safe and sound, and fell happily into the arms of the first decent internet that anyone had had for weeks. It was a great trip – I can never really get enough of this beautiful country – but you can’t knock renewed access to YouTube and computer games. Apparently I’m all about the up-side.