Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Needlework Tuesday - Still knitting, but probably not for long

Needlework Tuesday is an occasional post detailing my needlework and/or crafting projects.

We've been getting some nicer weather here in southern Manitoba, but I've still found some time to knit. It won't be long now before I'll be spending more time on yard work, though.

These past few weeks, I've been working on three projects.

This first one was one I had started a few months ago, the poncho made from alpaca yarn. Even though the pattern was really easy to follow, I wasn't happy that it was chunkier than I thought it would be and the patterning wasn't as apparent as it was in the project photo. Now that I've since finished it and have worn it a few times, it's really growing on me. Here's the finished item:

The next project I worked on was a knitted craft bag. It was the March project from the Mary Maxim's Knit Club of the Month. Here's the project photo and a few progress shots:

Bag size: 14" wide x 6" deep x 9" high.

End cables.

Side cables.  A mixture of ribbing and cables.  Two of my favourites! 

The knitting on this one was so satisfying. I adore cables and seeing them come together with this yarn was exciting. The bag is pretty much knitted as one unit.  Only 5 seams to sew: the handles, which join in the middle, and 4 side seams.  I eliminated (almost) the handle seam by doing a graft instead. It didn't turn out as smooth as it should, but it's better than a bulky seam.

Anyway, it was so much fun to do, I couldn't stop and managed to finish the project before the end of the month. The only problem I encountered was that there were four glaring errors in the pattern. Had I been less experienced with cables, I would have been totally lost and not at all pleased. Here's a shot of the finished piece:

There's an option to stiffen up the bottom so that it'll be more stable.  I just haven't found a piece of plastic/strong cardboard of suitable size yet, but that's definitely something I'm thinking of doing. I also have enough yarn leftover to put in a inner pocket for small items. Once I determine how I'm really going to use this bag, I'll have a clearer idea of what to do.

Since I was on a roll with finishing projects, I figured I'd start another one. This one was the February project from the Mary Maxim's Knit Club of the Month: Fair Isle Mittens. Here's my progress so far:

The photo shows palm pattern (stripes) on the right and the back-of-the-hand pattern (snowflake-ish) on the left.  I'll show this better in the coming weeks.  The pattern is a little confusing to follow, but I think I'm figuring it out.

That's it for this week. A new project should be coming in the mail shortly. In the meantime, I'll continue to work on my mittens.

Needlework Tuesday is hosted by Heather over at Books and Quilts.    If you'd done any crafting this week that you'd like to share with others, please head over to Heather's blog and use the Mr. Linky to link up your post, so others can enjoy your creations.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Killing Trail by Margaret Mizushima

In Killing Trail, a young girl is found dead near Timber Creek, Colorado. Officer Mattie Cobb and her K-9 partner, Robo, are assigned to the case. The more she investigates the more secrets she uncovers in this small Colorado town.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Even though it's a police procedural, it starts out feeling like a cozy mystery. As the book continues, though, it gets a bit more gritty, but stays pretty tame as far as mysteries and thrillers go. There are plenty of red herrings and twists that kept me guessing until the end.

I especially loved reading about the local veterinarian's work as well as the relationship between Officer Mattie Cobb and Robo. I found all the information about the team fascinating. There was information about their training, the commands they used, and the procedures they followed. I liked that the team was just out of training and new on the force. That way the author could introduce some additional tension as to whether or not the team could do its job. Also, she could explain their team dynamics without sounding like a lecture or training manual. Very cool stuff.

Highly recommended. I think most mystery lovers would enjoy it, but I especially think that cozy lovers, who aren't into gore and are looking for something a little more serious and beefier would probably enjoy this one, too. I'm really looking forward to the next book in the series.

For more information about this book, please visit the Crooked Lane Books website.

For more information about the author, please visit Margaret Mizushima's website.

Thanks to Sarah from Kaye Publicity for this review copy.

Killing Trail by Margaret Mizushima, Crooked Lane Books (The Quick Brown Fox & Company LLC), ©2015. ISBN 9781629533810(Hardcover), 311p.

Once Shadows Fall by Robert Daniels

In Once Shadows Fall, Detective Beth Sturgis is heading up her first major manhunt for a potential serial killer. Seeing similarities between this new killing and ones from years ago, Sturgis enlists the help of the retired FBI agent, Jack Kale, who headed up those long ago cases. Kale, now a university professor, is at first reluctant to get involved. Demons from the past still haunt him, but he is soon helping Sturgis on the new case.

I really enjoyed this police procedural, a debut novel from Daniels. There's tons of action, lots of entertaining twists, and some pretty good characters. Once I picked it up, I didn't want to put it down. It turned out to be quite the page turner. Some of the details are a little gruesome, so this one's definitely not for the faint of heart.

I liked both Sturgis and Kale. I think they make a pretty good team. I hope we learn more about them in subsequent books.

One thing that struck me as odd was the lack of urgency towards the end of the book. I don't want to give too much away but I would have thought that with a missing person you'd think there'd be a mad scramble to find them. No holds barred. I just didn't feel that build up in intensity. That's not to say it wasn't a good ending. It just wasn't as intense as it could have been.

This book and its main character, Kale, a retired FBI agent, reminded me a little of John Verdon's books and his character, Dave Gurney. This one isn't quite as good, but it's still a wonderful read.

Recommended. I'd definitely read another work by this author.

For more information about this book, please visit the Crooked Lane Books website.

For more information about the author and his next books, please visit Robert Daniels's website.

Thanks to Sarah from Kaye Publicity for this review copy.

Once Shadows Fall by Robert Daniels, Crooked Lane Books (The Quick Brown Fox & Company LLC), ©2013. ISBN 9781629533834(Hardcover), 343p.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Slow Cook Book by Heather Whinney

The Slow Cook Book features recipes for both slow cookers and more traditional slow cooking methods. There are recipes for soups, stews, casseroles, curries, chilis, pot roasts, and even a few desserts.

This is a really good cookbook. I don't use my slow cooker as much as I should, but this book has encouraged me to use it more often. I love that there are so many delicious sounding recipes to try. I made a number of them so far and each of them has turned out pretty good.

The book starts off with an introductory section that includes: types of cooking, pantry essentials, choosing ingredients, and some cooking techniques. I particularly like the photos in this section.

The next section is called "Recipe Choosers". It sort of neat, but I'm not sure how useful it's going to be. Along with the recipe titles, there are photographs, page numbers, and cooking times sorted by the main protein used. However, this section doesn't have include all of the recipes in the book. I'm confused as to why the author chose to highlight these, but not others. Also, some of this information is already presented in the index, albeit, not as beautifully. Oh, well. It's pretty to look at.

On to the recipes. Each of them features: the number of servings, the recommended maximum freeze time (if applicable), instructions, prep time, and cooking time for both slow cookers and traditional slow cooking methods. Some of the recipes have photographs of the finished dish, however, sadly, many of the recipes don't.

Speaking of photographs, the ones in this book are quite nice. Not ultra-contemporary mind you, but mouth-watering, nevertheless. It's odd, though, that there's only one photograph of a slow cooker. And there's no food in it. All of the other photos (for cooking techniques and for presenting the dishes) are either on plates, bowls, pots, or dutch ovens. I just find that a bit strange for a book about cooking in a slow cooker.

The instructions are laid out nicely and quite easy to follow. There are a number of recipes that have been labelled "healthy". However, I couldn't find anything to tell me the criteria for this designation. Are they low fat? High fibre? High protein? That would be nice to know.

The book also contains a table of contents and index.

Recommended. If you use your slow cooker all the time, you'll find some new interesting recipes to try. If you don't use your slow cooker a lot, this book will likely inspire you to dig it out and plug it in.

For more information about this book, please visit Amazon's website.

I'd like to thank Chris at DK Canada for this review copy.

The Slow Cook Book by Heather Whinney, Dorling Kindersley (DK), ©2013. ISBN 9781553632191(Soft cover), 352p.

Energy Bites by DK Publishing

Energy Bites features bite-sized high-protein snack recipes. Each of the recipes contain good-for-you ingredients for "increased vitality and wellness".

This is such a great book. It's small in size and only contains 15 recipes, but it's filled with nutritional information and suggestions for recipe variations. The possibilities seem almost endless. I love the contemporary layout.

The book starts off with an ingredients section. It's not just a list, however. It explains the nutritional importance of the ingredients used in the recipes. Next, there are general directions on how to make the no-bake and baked/pan-fried balls. In addition, there are directions on how to prep (soaking, boiling, roasting, etc.) some of the ingredients before the ball making can begin.

For each of the recipes, there's a list of ingredients, directions for making the balls, some nutritional information, as well as a gorgeous photograph of the finished product.

All of the recipes sound great and I've already made a list of ones I have to make for sure. There's really only one that doesn't appeal to me: Carrot & Red Beet Buckwheat Balls (page 24). I adore beets, but I don't like buckwheat...at all. I'm sure if I substitute another grain, though, they'll be yummy.

Because the recipes look so good, I immediately had to try a couple of them. Both the Peanut Butter & Banana Balls (page 44) and Sweet Potato Spicy Bites (page 34) turned out great. We ate the sweet ones for a snack, and the savoury ones with chicken and Brussels sprouts for supper. My husband thought the sweet potato bites needed a little something and since they are a bit spicy, I quickly made a dip out of Greek yogurt. Yum. My only complaint is that the recipe called for one sweet potato. No size or measurement mentioned. If you've ever bought sweet potatoes, you know they come in varying sizes...from those that fit neatly in the palm of your hand to others about half the size of a football (see Superstore for these ones).

Most of the recipes call for a food processor to chop up or incorporate the ingredients. However, if you don't have one, the book provides some alternatives so that the balls can be made by hand. I like this idea because cleaning out a food processor isn't my favourite job and sometimes mixing by hand is just easier.

There's one other thing I should mention about the book. It contains some ingredients that might be a little hard to find. Things like acai powder, bee pollen, moringa powder, and spirulina, probably won't be on your grocer's shelves. A health food store or online might be the a good place to find these. Don't worry, though, those ingredients don't make up the bulk of the balls. In fact, for one of the recipes I tried, I just omitted the ingredient.

As an added bonus, DK, the publisher, has a page on their website dedicated to one of these delicious sounding bites: Tropical Immune Boosters (page 42). Click here for a video and PDF download of the recipe. These look so delicious and are definitely on my list to try. The only reason I haven't made them yet is because I didn't have all of the ingredients on hand.

The book also contains a table of contents, glossary, and index. I really like the table of contents a lot. It starts with a list of general items, then uses pictures and page numbers for the recipes. Cool idea.

Highly recommended.

For more information about this book, please visit Amazon's website. To take a quick peek inside, click on the book cover!

I'd like to thank Chris at DK Canada for this review copy.

Energy Bites by DK Publishing, Dorling Kindersley (DK), ©2016. ISBN 9781465451538(Hardcover), 61p.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Needlework Tuesday - Achoo!

Needlework Tuesday is an occasional post detailing my needlework and/or crafting projects.

Before I get into the work I did this week, I have a few questions regarding a past project. Two years ago, I knit myself a sweater. At the time it was a little big, but still wearable. I've lost some weight since then and now it's huge on me. Way too big to wear. The sweater (seen here) took me a long time to make and turned out quite nice. It's such a waste to let it sit in my closet and I'd love to salvage it somehow. I've only worn it a couple of times and I don't think I washed it yet. No blocking either from what I could remember. So, do you think I could rip it out and knit it again in a smaller size? Have you done this? Did you encounter any problems? What do I need to be mindful of? Can I just rip out the stitches and re-knit? Or are there some steps to take before the ripping or knitting (or re-knitting) can take place? I guess I could Google this, but I never know if the advice I get on the internet is sound or not. I figured I'd ask here first. Thanks for any information you can provide.

So, this week I worked on two projects. After I complained last week that the thumbs on my fingerless mitts were short or better yet, non-existent, Kate from Arts and Socks suggested that I could add to them by using the white parts of the yarn. Great suggestion! That's exactly what I did.

They turned out a little wonky because I wasn't paying close enough attention when I was knitting and made some really stupid mistakes. Rather than rip back, I tried to perform some surgery on the fly. Some of it was successful, some of it not so much. Oh, well. They are just for me and no one else will likely get that close to them to notice. Thanks for the suggestion, Kate.

The other project I worked on was some dishcloths made out of Mary Maxim's Scrub It Yarn. I tried a pattern that I found online, but I wasn't happy with it. I don't like spending time doing lace work or cables when it's not really going to be seen that well. Because this yarn was recovered from another project that I didn't like, I had lots of short lengths of yarn to deal with. Something easier was in order. I figured the texture of the yarn could take centre stage and decided to do some straight knitting. Cast on 40 stitches. Knit 60 rows (or so). Cast off. Done.

Here's another thing I did this week.  When I'm knitting I've forever looking for my supplies, like stitch markers, darning needles, etc. I had most of them in my knitting bag, but they were always falling to the bottom or getting lost in a side pocket. I decided to make use of one of the plastic, zippered bags that come with many of the projects from the Mary Maxim's Knit Club of the Month and put many of them in one place.

Some of my stuff is still MIA. Anyone know where my measuring tape ended up? How do you organize your items?

As far as future projects go, my allergies were really acting up this past week, so I put away the alpaca poncho I was working on. I thought that the yarn might be the culprit. Turned out it wasn't. At least, I don't think it was. I'll pull it out again this week and see if my symptoms return.  Spring is just around the corner and I'd love to have it done in time to wear it.  

Needlework Tuesday is hosted by Heather over at Books and Quilts.    If you'd done any crafting this week that you'd like to share with others, please head over to Heather's blog and use the Mr. Linky to link up your post, so others can enjoy your creations.