Saturday, September 29, 2012

Unscientific food coloring experiment

About a year ago, I bought a skein of now discontinued KnitPicks Bare Donegal yarn.  Most yarn sits in my stash for a while until I decide It Is Time and I sacrifice the yarn to a project, but I couldn't find the right project for this one.  And frankly, the longer I looked at it the more I didn't like it.  I didn't originally intend to dye this yarn but since I didn't like it naked, I decided to experiment and dye it.  But, what color?

Picking out a color was time consuming (I can't help myself) and I spent a couple weeks obsessing about the color choice.  After all, if I dyed it red, then the yellow and blue flecks would show and that didn't sound pretty.  Choose blue and the red and yellow flecks would be prominent.  Yellow and...well you know.  But then I thought, wait.  Green.  Green with red, yellow and blue...looks like a Christmas tree!  So there it was.  Phew, color obsessing out of the way.

Since I never dyed yarn, I did some research online about my dye options. Acid dyes are toxic and you have to wear gloves, a mask and can never cook with that pot again.  Food coloring is safe, it is something you eat. I am accident prone and lazy, I decided to go with food coloring.

Food dye used to dye yarn

I saw a picture online of someone's yarn soaking in a jar, so grabbed my yarn and stuffed it in a jar.  I didn't realize how big the skein really was!  It looked ridiculous but I decided it would still work, so I added some water, a shot of Dawn dish detergent and a glug of vinegar (to make the dye "stick") and let it soak overnight.  Then let it soak two more nights because remember I told you, I am lazy.

Yarn ready to soak in water/vinegar

I finally got my act together and pulled the yarn out of the yarn and into a strainer to drain excess water.  It seemed a little slimy but I wasn't sure if that was just my imagination.  I decided that since I didn't see anything growing, it was fine. (I later learned that a little mold never hurt anyone's dye job, I forgot to ask about slime though.)

Yarn draining excess water

I started some water simmering in a pot, dumped in another glug of vinegar because that seemed like a good idea and dripped in some green food coloring. I also added a few drops of red to neutralize the green a bit and then some black because the green looked frighteningly Shrekish.  I didn't know if that was the right decision, but when I dipped a bit of paper towel in the water, it looked good to me.

The yarn is mostly immersed, soaking up the dye.

It only took a couple minutes of simmering before the yarn had soaked up all the dye and the water ran clear.  I was shocked!  Unfortunately the yarn was still pretty light and I noticed a problem.  There were a lot of areas that were still white.  The next five minutes were spent with me alternating between adding more green and yellow and being shocked every time I realized the water was clear; consequently I ran out of green food color.  So I pulled the yarn aside with my whisk (hey, it was handy) and dripped in some blue and yellow.  (You can see this whole process was very unscientific.)  The yarn started to develop a lot of different tints of green, it was even better than I had hoped for!

I heard you can felt the yarn if you're not careful, so I gently moved the yarn around to check for light spots (most of them were around the ties that held the yarn in the hank, they were a bit tight) and dripped yellow right in those areas. Eventually everything had some color on it and it looked perfect.

Finally, every bit of yarn has at least some dye on it

I let it simmer a bit longer, turned off the heat and let it cool.  Then I carefully submerged it in a bowl and rinsed it out several times.  Once cool, I rolled it in a towel to squeeze out the water and then draped it over another towel to dry. I was a bit concerned it might be a mess of tangles (see above) but it only took me a few minutes to sort out a few obnoxious strands and it looked all organized once again.

I gave it a few days to make sure it was really dry before I twisted it up into a hank.  There's so many different color layers, I just love it!  And the areas where I dripped yellow showed as yellow/green, adding to the variety of green tints.

Christmas tree yarn!

Finally, this yarn has the perfect project waiting for it - Christmas tree socks for Mom!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

I love tomatoes

Tomatoes are one of my favorite snacks and ingredient for winter recipes so every year I try to grow and can as many as possible.  I'm not an advanced gardener and though some people may think I have a green thumb, I figure it's as easy as fertilized dirt and plenty of water every day.  With that in mind, I always grow a cherry tomato plant for me, Apollo usually picks out a Big Beef tomato plant (which always fails miserably but he hasn't given up yet) for himself and any other type that catches my fancy for canning.

As an experiment, this summer I decided to grow a heap of Roma's just for canning.  When I say heap, I mean ten plants.  I had grand ambitions!  I had no idea they were such late producers and unfortunately, our summer was short and long in getting here.  So that means few ripe tomatoes with tons of green tomatoes on the bush and our summer days are drawing to an end.

My poor Roma's

We didn't even get to pick any of them until last week but when we  did, we got a nice basket full. Oh, and I kind of let the weeds take over this year.  One of my good friends is all about organic gardening and I kind of went with it.  In my book, organic = awesome! if you would rather do something like knit a sock, read a book or pet a kitty after you do your part by stepping on a few snails first.

Apollo and our first batch of tomatoes

Apollo even helped pick tomatoes, even though football was on.  He's a good man!  He's especially helpful since most of them will be going into meatloaf and chili.

Tomatoes canned in their own juice

Half way through canning my first batch, I realized I was using lime juice, not lemon.  Hopefully that won't be a problem.  (Note to self, if you're reading this in September 2013, do not use the "packed in own juices" method.  The solids separate and I don't like that, right?  I was much more successful with the "packed in water" method last year.)  I didn't get a lot but this is from my first night of canning so hopefully I'll get more before my plants give up.

When I was a kid, I was disgusted by canned tomatoes.  I don't think it helped that my toothless grandpa ate them like candy.  I knew they were slimy and the idea that he was gumming them down somehow turned me off. I still remember him looking at me with bug eyes, gumming his slimy canned tomato while his chin almost touched his nose with each bite.

First batch of tomato sauce

I realized I'm not going to get a lot of tomatoes this year, so I this weekend I decided to just go for it and use what little we have at the moment to try canning tomato sauce.  There are several recipes in my canning book but after I got all the seeds separated from the flesh, I decided to wing it and throw in some herbs and garlic and call it good.

BTW, winging it is usually what gets people like me in trouble, so we'll see how this works out.  I figured you can't get in too much trouble with herbs and garlic though, right?  It's not like I decided to take a last minute diversion off Highway 101 to Highway 1 a couple hours before sunset so Aimee and I could watch the beautiful sunset, with less than half a tank, not realizing how foggy it would be in unknown territory and that six hours later I would have to drive 20 miles an hour all night due to lack of visibility and pee outside our car doors at 2AM because we were too afraid to go any further and would finally end up sleeping in the car outside a gas station somewhere north of San Francisco.  Nope, just herbs and garlic. Just herbs and garlic.

First batch of tomato sauce

After cooking down the rather thin sauce, this is what I got.  Four pints!  Ha!  That's so cute, four pints!  Well, I'm sure it will be delicious and it seems to be pretty thick, so I'm happy with it.  If I get more tomatoes, I'll definitely make more.

Next year I'm thinking of making tomato paste but I'm pretty sure I'll need earlier producing tomatoes.  Or 20 Roma plants. We'll see.