Well, it happened. Again. My partner and I watched enough Great British Baking show that I had to try a new cookie recipe (just like when I made my own fig bars). This time, I was inspired by all the meringue being used on the show and Mary Berry tapping the top of the structures to see how solid they were.
To be completely honest, I’ve had the recipe that I used since high school when a friend of mine was taking baking and I sampled one of her cookies. Though they look fancy, they don’t actually require a ton of crazy ingredients and, once you’ve figured out what’s supposed to happen, are easy to make.
2 egg whites
3/4 cups of sugar
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar (I used about 1/2 a teaspoon of white vinegar as a substitiute
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 bag chocolate chips
What you do:
Preheat oven to 300F.
In a bowl, combine egg whites, cream of tartar (or vinegar in my case) and vanilla. Whip aggressively or use a mixture on medium. You should see your mixture form a lot of bubbles and begin to form “soft peaks” (that’s what the recipe says and I can’t really think of a different way to describe it).
Add sugar in slowly while you whip it into the batter.
Whip. It. Good. No seriously, if you don’t have a mixer you’re going to be mixing it for a while. The batter is going to become stiff but light and you should be able to pull the whisk out and have the batter stand stiff. If your mixture is too runny, add a tiny bit more cream of tartar (vinegar) to help stiffen it up. According to the Great British Baking Show, it’s very difficult to over whip the batter.
Fold in chocolate chips. All of them, the first time I made these cookies I thought there wasn’t enough dough only to find out that when they were done there wasn’t enough chocolate.
Line a cookie tray with parchment paper and drop cookies onto it. I’ve gotten about 12 both times, but you could probably get more if you make yours smaller.
Bake for 20-25 minutes.
Note: You have to let them cool completely before removing them from the baking tray, otherwise they’ll collapse in on themselves.
All in all, I’m happy to have learned a new skill and am definitely planning on gifting tins of cookies around the holidays this year.
Just in case I didn’t do enough baking this month, I also made banana muffins for the first time tripling a recipe promising to be the easiest banana muffins. They were fun to make, but I don’t think I’ll be putting as much sugar in them next time – the bananas made the batter sweet enough.
The copy I have of this book is a gift from one of my best friends, who purchased a used copy because he knows that I have a soft spot for books that have lived a life before coming into my possession.
It’s worth noting, before even diving into this review (see what I did there?), that the language used in this book is poetically descriptive and sets a beautiful landscape for our story. I love that each part of the book was separated by an update of the whales and what they were up to. It was a nice parallel between what was happening on shore.
The Whale Rider is a beautiful story that looks at the intersection of tradition and change. More specifically Ihimaera focuses on this idea that change does not mean the dying of tradition, but rather the strengthening of it for future generations. Kahu spends her days wanting to learn more about her culture, despite the idea that only men can carry on the tradition. When it comes time for the day to be saved, Men are called into action but are unable to make a difference on their own. Kahu, in her white dress and ribbons, finds herself knowing what to do and dives into the water to become a whale rider.
Kahu’s potential sacrifice marked a turning point for the “elders” of her tribe and the whales. As her Paka came to the realization that she was the leader he was looking for and the whale came to the realization that his original rider had moved on, Kahu risked her life to save both. Each, in turn, realizing how special the child is and how they had been living in the past.
I found myself becoming lost in this story and could hear the waves crash upon the shore. Though this was a quick read, I didn’t find myself longing for more story or more detail. The pacing of the tale and Ihimaera’s ability to put me into the story as if I was sitting in the room with the narrator, Kahu’s Uncle, listening to him tell me a story about his niece and why she is special.
It is unclear, at this time, if I will sacrifice the images I’ve created of the people I have experienced by watching the movie. A part of me fears that adaptation will miss some of the nuances that I have come to love.
For January’s book club, we’ll be stepping back into historical fiction with the Australian novel Picnic at Hanging Rock. While I don’t typically read a lot of historical fiction, I stumbled upon this title while looking for something to watch on Amazon Prime and was taken aback by the trailer. This book, I believe, will be the gothic horror that I was hoping to find in November’s book club.
It was a cloudless summer day in the year nineteen hundred.
Everyone at Appleyard College for Young Ladies agreed it was just right for a picnic at Hanging Rock. After lunch, a group of three of the girls climbed into the blaze of the afternoon sun, pressing on through the scrub into the shadows of Hanging Rock. Further, higher, till at last they disappeared.
They never returned.
Whether Picnic at Hanging Rock is fact or fiction the reader must decide for themselves.
The “On habitats” series is designed to help me (us) take a moment and reflect on where the fiber in our yarn comes from. Part One of this series looked at Natural Plant Fibers, Part two: Synthetic Plant Fibers took a look at tencel, bamboo and corn. We’ll finish off synthetic plant fibers this week with soy, rayon, and modal.
Soy: According to Interweave, the first time soy was used as a textile was in the 1930s, when Henry Ford produced car-seat upholstery by blending soybean and sheep’s wool. Soybeans have a high protein content and are currently being produced in large quantities by the United States and China.
There are five main steps to creating soybean fiber, the first being the extraction of oil. Soybeans are cleaned, cracked, decorticated and dehulled before being conditioned and steeped in hexane. The hexane solution collects the oil, which can be extracted and reused. The soybean is then passed through a steam pipe to be rinsed of the solvent.
Next, the soybean is soaked in a 1% sodium sulfite solution for around an hour then filtered. This results in a creamy-white powder that is then dissolved into an alkaline solution. This solution is then allowed to age until it develops the proper consistency for spinning. The fiber is then formed by wet spinning or forcing the spinning solution through a spinneret.
Finally, the fibers are treated to baths that help it develop stretching and hardening properties. From here, the fiber can be blended and dyed.
This process doesn’t appear too bad, until you begin to look into the beans themselves. According to the World Wildlife Foundation, the soybean industry is causing widespread deforestation and displacement. Many are calling for transparent land use and an increase in proper safeguards, but until those come to pass this may not be the best yarn for an environmentally focused individual.
Rayon: Rayon has an interesting history as an alternative to silk starting in the 1860s when the French silk industry was threatened by a disease affecting the silkworm. In 1885, Count Hilaire de Chardonnet patented the first successful process of creating a silk-like fiber from cellulose and is considered the father of rayon (despite more cost-effective ways of being created nowadays).
The major sources of the cellulose used for creating rayon include pine, spruce, hemlock, and cotton linters (residue fibers which clung to cotton seeds after the ginning process). Regardless of whether wood pulp or cotton linters are used, the materials must be processed to extract/purify the cellulose. This results in sheets that are steeped in sodium hydroxide, dried, shredded into crumbs and aged in metal containers for 2-3 days.
Next, the crumbs are combined and churned with liquid carbon disulfide and then bathed in sodium hydroxide again. The honey-like solution (look and feel) then has any dyes or delusterants added before being filtered and stored to age (4-5 days).
After aging, the solution is forced through a spinneret and into an acid bath. Once bathed in acid, the fiber can be spun into yarn.
Unfortunately, the chemical by-products of rayon have received a lot of attention as they generate a lot of water and air emissions (the worst being zinc and hydrogen sulfide). Producers are currently trying different techniques to reduce pollution, and as the demand for rayon grows so does the demand for new technologies that make rayon better and cheaper.
Modal: Modal comes from pure beech tree chips and is more or less a variety of rayon. The main difference between modal and rayon is that rayon can be made of variety or materials, while modal is only made from beech trees.
In other words, modal is made using the same process as rayon and has the same concerns. That being said, like rayon steps are being taken to make the process better and cleaner.
Main Takeaways: I think the main thing I’ve taken away from my readings on synthetic fibers is that there is no way to make them perfect. Even if the process to make the fiber is sustainable, the farming technique often isn’t (although the same can be said about cotton, which is not synthetic). All in all, I’m not sure there are many changes that I will make to my knitting — as I work mostly with animal fibers — but the curiosity around using bamboo yarn is no longer there. As this project continues, it will be interesting to learn about how chemicals are sneaking their way into my knitting. I may end up breaking my spinning wheel back out and going straight to the sheep! Or at least upping my yarn snobbery to organic yarns, depending on what I learn about man-made synthetics and animal fibers.
It finally happened, I caught the natural dye bug. As I hike through the woods, I find myself wondering what color different things would bring to my yarn. Spending hours thumbing through beautifully illustrated natural dying books (Wild Color, The Modern Natural Dyer, and Harvesting Color, to name a few) piqued my interest, but it was not until my coworker started showing off her hand-dyed yarn that I started to become invested.
Fast forward almost a year, my coworker created a bath of Smooth Rock Tripe that she picked up while in Rhode Island and soaked for three months. The resulting dye bath looked very similar to grape juice, a dark rich purple, a color that our yarn sucked up happily and willingly.
This time around, I dyed three skeins: two of 100% wool (worsted weight) and one that began as a golden yellow. The color of the yarn post-bath and rinse is different from the dye color and the color of the yarn while in the bath. The smooth rock tripe created a cooper color when mixed with the golden yellow and a matte purple when allowed to sit on the 100% wool skeins — a very different color from the initial bath and my expectations. In other words, not exactly the look I was going for on the worsted yarn, but I’m still happy with the results.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of the cooper yarn. It will have to be used as an accent color or in a very small project. 440 yards of worsted weight is a good amount, however, I foresee at matching hat/mitten set in my future (or perhaps a wide woven scarf).
My coworker left behind some cooper water, which should create a green dye bath, and some dahlia water, which should create a yellow-orange color. I’m leaning towards dying over the worsted yarn to see if I can create a warmer color, or perhaps something with a bit of variegation. (If I end up dyeing over the worsted weight yarn, I’ll make sure to document what it looks like.)
All in all, I still feel the same way about dyeing (and spinning, when I think about it); I don’t have enough control of what I’m doing to provide me with the results I thought I was going to get. While this isn’t a bad thing and experimentation is fun, it would be nice to be in a place where I do have control and can plan out my projects.
Last week I started the “On habitats” series to take a moment and reflect on where the fiber in our yarn comes from. Part One of this series looked at Natural Plant Fibers, which brings us to part two: Synthetic Plant Fibers. These include tencel, bamboo, corn, soy, rayon, and modal. In the interest of keeping these posts readable, I’m going to focus on tencel, bamboo, and corn this week.
Tencel (Lyocell): Tencel is derived from the cellulose of hardwood trees. The trees are logged and trucked to a mill where they are cut, debarked and fed to a chipper. The hardwood chips are then turned into a pulp through the assistance of chemical digesters, which is then washed (and sometimes bleached). After the pulp is washed, it’s layed out in a large sheet and left to dry. Once dry, the sheets are rolled onto a large spool.
Next, spools are unrolled and broken into one-inch squares so that they can be loaded into a heated pressurized vessel filled with amine oxide. After a short time in this solvent, the cellulose dissolves into a clear solution and is pumped through a filter to ensure that all of the chips have been dissolved. From here, fibers are pumped through a spinneret, which leads to the creation of long strands of fiber. These strands of fiber are then immersed in a diluted solution of amine oxide (this sets the strands) and washed in demineralized water. Fibers are then lubricated (detangled), allowed to dry, run through a crimper and then carded. Once carded, they are ready to be spun.
The amine oxide solvent is non-toxic and is almost completely recycled during manufacturing, so it is not released into the environment. Additionally, the principal ingredient in this yarn is obtained by managed tree farms (no deforestation), the process uses less water and energy when compared to other manmade fibers and tencel (lyocell) is naturally biodegradable.
Bamboo: There are two methods that can be used to get bamboo fiber: mechanical and chemical. The mechanical method involves crushing the plants into a mush and using natural enzymes to break it down before spinning it into yarn. This method is labor-intensive (expensive) and the fiber produced is not very soft.
The chemical method, a “chemical cocktail”, contains primarily sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide — both are known to be bad for human health and are harmful to aquatic life when released into the water supply — which produces a very soft fiber (ie the fiber used to make bamboo underwear). While companies claim this a minute part of the process, a factory producing a lot of bamboo fiber/fabric will expose their workers and the environment.
Although Bamboo itself is a sustainable resource, there is a lack of transparency and true sustainability — the soil association has not certified bamboo at this time. In addition to the process of turning bamboo into a fiber, there are concerns around it becoming a mono-crop grown only in China. This is leading to a decrease in biodiversity and an increase in pests (more pesticide needs to be used).
Corn: Corn is grown worldwide and used for food and fuel, leaving behind the husks as farm waste. These husks contain a fiber called lignocellulose which is soft and strong. Lignocellulose is separated from the husk via a patented biochemical process. This biochemical process contains common non-toxic chemicals (acetic acid, sodium chloride, sodium hydroxide, surfactants, and softeners) and is combined with water in a rotator for about a half-hour. The clumps of coarse fibers are then washed (with water) and dried before another biochemical treatment is applied to reduce the diameter of the fiber strands. Finally, the fibers are bleached, dyed and spun into yarn.
The downside? A lot of corn is genetically modified, which unfortunately means that something in the pollen is interfering with the monarch butterfly’s breeding cycle. Interesting. Essentially, while the corn fiber itself is not terrible for the environment, there are a lot of aspects (mono crop, etc) of the farming process that is.
Main Takeaways: I poked around and there isn’t a lot of corn yarn on the market yet, it looks like this could be a growing trend if the demand for the fiber increases. In terms of tencel; I don’t mind it in blends, but have not worked with a pure tencel fiber before. That being said, it’s nice to know that even though the fiber is manmade from a tree (which is a little mind-blowing) the process is both sustainable and eco-friendly. As for bamboo… I think I’m going to have to pay attention to what happens in the industry and abstain from using bamboo yarns for a little while. While I enjoy the way bamboo takes dye, I find it hard to support an industry that doesn’t have a problem exposing their employees to harsh conditions.
Stay tuned for synthetic plant fibers part two (soy, rayon, modal, and ramie), coming next week!