Spirit of Friendship

This project took a long time in the planning. I took the yarn to Barcelona in 2015 planning to knit it there while I was doing research. Other knitting projects distracted me and I never got around to it. I finally got around to it this summer and the project was not without its challenges. I had about 540 yards of yarn. Most people used more than 600 yards but some managed 9 repeats of the pattern with fewer than 540 yards of yarn. I weighed the yarn as I knitted but by the time I got the final 3-4 rows, I realized I would not have enough yarn. My LYS no longer had the same colour of yarn in stock. Considering I bought the yarn over two years ago, I was also not hopeful I would get the same dye lot. So I decided to go for a contrasting colour for the bind off. I am very pleased with the results! Beads are Miyuki triangle beads c-lined cranberry.

Knit with Louet Euroflax

Knit with Louet Euroflax

Knit with Louet Euroflax

Knit with Louet Euroflax

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Ten years: how time flies!

Barcelona_stationOn April 3rd, 2006, Alan and I arrived at the Estació de França in Barcelona on an overnight train from Paris. Carrying one 60-litre backpack and two sets of carry-on luggage we were there to spend 13 months while I did research for my PhD dissertation. We rented an apartment online, through a real estate agency, in an amazing location in the Eixample, just steps from Gracia.

 

That year proved to be a turning point for me – Barcelona inspired me to a degree I didn’t imagine possible. I grew up moving to and adapting to new places, cultures, friends. For the most part, I have always managed to enjoy each and every place I lived in. But what I felt on that first week in Barcelona is difficult to put into words. As I wandered the streets of the Eixample, I understood the meaning of the term “surreal” as never before. Both the medieval and modern parts of the city were at the same time familiar in its recognizable architecture and unique in Catalan craziness. I understood seny and rauxa. 

My food obsession reached its full potential when I was exposed to the amazing produce available in Catalonia. I felt at home in a land inhabited by similarly food-obsessed people. Some of my favourite foods today are foods I did not like before I lived in Barcelona. I learned to shop in markets, to eat seasonally, to savour food in all its glory and simplicity. Some of my ancestors were farmers in the Po Valley of Northern Italy. No doubt some of that genetic memory was awakened. 

Vic Market
In Barcelona we made so many friends that changed our lives for the better. People we connected at a deep level, immediately, and who completely opened their lives to us. People we could spend 10-12 hours around a table with and never run out of conversation. We continue to see them whenever we have a chance and it always feel like we just saw them yesterday.

Much has changed in the last 10 years. Some of our favourite places did not survive the economic crisis of 2008. Some of those beautiful friends are no longer with us. But the year spent researching, mastering a new language, having my senses blown on a weekly basis, the weekends spent hiking in the mountains, going to the beach out of town, the endless blue sky that woke us every summer morning, the amazing children I spent the year photographing will forever be the best year of my life. I often feel a bit embarrassed to admit I did not travel much throughout Spain when I lived in Barcelona but the truth is that I could never get enough of all those Catalan towns, festivals, food. Tarragona, Valls, Vic, Besalú, Olot, Sant Pol de Mar, Arenys de Mar, Girona, Vilafranca del Penedès, Sant Carles de la Rapita. There was always a new market, a new Casteller competition to go to. The Alhambra had to wait. 
getting ready!! #castellers #cvg #festesdegracia

When I came back to Toronto, I knew that no matter what happened to me in terms of jobs or academic career, I would never be able to see my PhD as a waste of time. It turned out to have opened doors to an amazing job with a fabulous group of people but even if that had not happened I would have done it all over again for that year alone.

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Coffee scene in San Diego

One of my favourite things to do when I travel is to look for local third-wave cafés. Last week I went to San Diego for a conference and knew I would find good coffee. The third-wave coffee scene in North American started on the West Coast so there’s much more of a history there. Of course, San Diego is not San Francisco or Los Angeles but I knew it would not be a problem. The only issue is that I was only there for three days, would not have a car, and would not have that much free time, which meant that the cafés had to be relatively close to where I was staying. Well, I was not disappointed. There were two superb coffeeshops at walking distance from my hotel: Bird Rock Coffee Roasters and The WestBean Coffee Roasters.

Cortado at Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, San Diego.

Cortado at Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, San Diego.

Bird Rock had a corner space at the edge of San Diego’s Little Italy; a space that was bright and cheerful, with a nice vibe. I ordered my cortado and the barista and I immediately bonded on our agreement that a cortado should never be ordered to go. My cortado was expertly done, with the foam silky smooth and the espresso smooth but holding itself nicely against the milk. It was better than most of the cortados one can get here in Toronto, I have to admit. I went there twice on the first day and two more times on the second day.

 

On the second day, I needed to do some shopping and found out there was another local roaster near the shopping centre to the south of my hotel. WestBean was a smaller location but the barista there surely knew what he was doing. Another superb cortado and I would definitely had gone back had I had more time.

Cortado at WestBean Coffee Roasters, San Diego.

Cortado at WestBean Coffee Roasters, San Diego.

At the end, I brought home some coffee from Bird Rock. It is not the blend they use for their espresso but rather one they recommended for use in my French press.

Coffee from Bird Rock

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Iceland Day Tour – Golden Circle and Fontana Wellness Spa

What a day. We sure did not want to get up in the middle of the night (7 AM) after having a bit too much wine the night before at our six-course dinner extravaganza at Sushisamba. But we forced ourselves and after a quick breakfast at home, we set out to our pick up spot at Reykjavik Centrum Hotel where we got into our Reykjavik Excursions bus. On the schedule for today was a day trip to the Golden Circle, a popular route that includes three of Iceland’s most popular sights: Geysir geothermal field, where, according to our brochure “hot springs are in abundance, geysirs explode, and pools of mud bubble”, Gullfoss, the most impressive waterfall in Iceland, and Thingvellir National Park, which is a UNESCO world heritage site.

Just driving out of the city feels like an adventure. It was raining, with some snow flakes mixed in for good measure, and there was ice everywhere when we left Reykjavík. In Iceland, the saying goes that if you don’t like the weather you just have to wait five minutes, and sure enough, after a few minutes, the rain stopped and the sky cleared somewhat. It was still fairly dark but the landscape of snow-covered lava fields was mesmerizing.

We soon made it to Thingvellir National Park where we got to see where two teutonic plates meet and new land is created. The landscape was truly breath-taking.

We then proceeded to Geysir geothermal field, where we got to walk by pools of boiling hot water bubbling away. Up the hill there was a particular geyser that erupts every few minutes. Alan and I stood there, camera at the ready waiting for it to erupt. Despite expecting it, when it erupted I was barely able to take a picture since I jumped back at the sudden violence of the eruption. It was my first experience seeing a geyser! We then walked down to the restaurant attached to the local souvenir shop. I had a traditional Icelandic lamb soup that was incredibly tasty and meaty for a touristy restaurant. It definitely seemed like it was cooked on premises with fresh ingredients.

From there we went on to see Gullfoss, the Icelandic Niagara Falls, which in fact was way more impressive than Niagara Falls. Perhaps because a great deal of care was put into keeping manmade structures to a minimum around the falls. It was impressive, especially covered in ice and snow. After watching with incredulity tourists take unnecessary risks by following an icy path that was closed off because of the weather to get closer to the falls, we made our way to the bus. As soon as we got to the parking lot, a wicked wind storm began, with winds that must had been in excess of 80Km/hour. Since the parking lot was covered in ice, most people could not brace themselves against the wind and ended up sliding across the parking lot. One couple from our bus were blown past the bus and had to go around the back. We watched one guy across the parking lot unable to reach his car end up on his hand and knees and crawl across.

After everyone made it back to the bus, we continued to the last spot of the day trip: a visit to the thermal baths at a local spa. We arrived right when the local baker was ready to dig up some rugbrød, rye bread baked in the boiling mud by the hot springs. The bread was dense, with the consistency of cake. It was sweet from the long, slow baking, and simply delicious with some butter. The moistness reminded me of Brazilian couscous – a steamed cornmeal loaf popular in the north and notheastern region of Brazil. After we ate some of the bread we made our way to the hot pools – series of naturally hot pools that varied from 32 C to 40 C. We also sat for a bit in the steam rooms – wooden shacks built on top of the boiling hot springs. It wasa perfect day.

We were so tired by the time we got home that we finished the day by grabbing a quick dinner at the local middle eastern shack at the corner of our street. I chose a fish plate and what a surprise! The fish was very fresh and melted in the mouth and was served with a very tasty Syrian rice and a simple salad. I’ll definitely be back to Mandi.

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Knitting lace

I’ve been knitting for about three years now. To my great surprise, it turns out that  I have a thing for knitting shawls, especially lace shawls. I am constantly surprised by this since I never wore shawls before  and never, in a million years, thought I’d enjoy knitting lace. I credit three people for fostering my love for lace knitting: Nicoletta, with whom I took my first lace shawl class, in which I totally failed. I chose a yarn that was way too thin and I never got into the pattern. But she encouraged me to keep going. My friend Kat, whose enthusiasm for all things fiber related is very contagious and who is a master lace knitter herself. But also Bev from Boo Knits​ who designs the loveliest lace that is easy to knit and comes with very clear charts and whose forum on Ravelry is one the friendliest I’ve ever been. This morning I came across a podcast in which she gives a lengthy interview on how she got into knitting, her creative process, and what it all means to her that is just a lovely thing to listen to even if you don’t knit.

I have to agree with Bev in the main advice she gives in her interview: life is too short to knit with yarn you don’t love. When I first started knitting, at my very first lesson, I was encouraged to just get some cheap yarn just to learn the stitches. That was fine but I just could not bring myself to knit a whole scarf out of that yarn that I didn’t particularly love. I fell in love with this nice, soft, variegated yarn by Malabrigo and bought that for my first scarf. That made the whole thing so much better and despite being my very first project and making many mistakes, the scarf still turned out lovely precisely because the yarn was so nice.

And here are some of my favourite Boo shawls I have knit:

Temptress

This was the project I took to Spain last summer. Very proud of it because at the very end, my hand slipped and several stitches fell off the needle and unravelled a few rows. I was able to fix it without having to re-knit!

Mustardseed

This was a present for my mother for her 65th birthday. I loved knitting it so much that I need to make one for myself.

Be with you

This shawl is called Be with you and it allowed me to do some yarn stash busting. It was also my first MKAL (Mystery Knit Along) in which you don’t know what the final product will look like and you are given parts of the pattern at a time.

New Beginnings

This pattern is called New Beginnings and I knit it with the loveliest yarn from Shilasdair made of a blend of camel, cashmere, wool, and angora. Very warm and very cheerful for those bleak winter days. It was also my first attempt at beading.

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A breath of fresh air in Ottawa

Today was a historical day in Canada. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau was sworn in as the 23rd prime minister of Canada after his party won a majority of seats at our last federal elections. What made the day momentous and historical was the announcement of his new cabinet. He stripped the cabinet to thirty positions and kept his word to promote gender equality by appointing fifteen men and fifteen women.

Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press

Predictably, as soon as he announced he was going to promote parity, suddenly many wondered about the role of merit on cabinet appointments. The Beaverton, Canada’s satire news outlet, made much of that, of course.  Cabinet appointments are seldom about merit and much more about political considerations. Stephen Harper was known for choosing people to cabinet based on how willing they were to promote his agenda unquestionably. So making appointments based on promoting gender equality seems as good a reason as any. I have to confess I was looking forward to find out if Justin Trudeau was going to keep that promise and which women would be appointed.

Trudeau did not disappoint. The new cabinet is not only marked by gender parity but also feature a number of indigenous, Southeast Asian, and Muslim MPs. Former Crown prosecutor and First Nations chief Jody Wilson-Raybould was appointed minister of justice and combat veteran Harjit Singh Sajjan became minister of defense. Hunter Tootoo, an Inuit MP, became minister of fisheries, Carla Qualtrough, legally blind from birth and an Paralympic medallist is the new minister of sports, the list goes on. I’m particularly happy to see Stéphane Dion, a former Liberal leader, as foreign affairs minister.

The ceremony itself set a new tone. He invited Canadians to Rideau Hall. Screens were set up outside so the public could watch what is normally a private ceremony. The new government also signalled a new recognition of indigenous people: cabinet was led into Rideau Hall by 12 year-old  Cree drummer Theland Kicknosway and the ceremony was closed by three métis jiggers. After Trudeau was sworn in,  two young Inuit throatsingers stole the show.

Afterward, the new PM walked among the crowd, gave an interview in which he answered a question about why gender parity was important to him with “because it is 2015” (BAM!), and in the early afternoon he met high school students via Google hangout.

Needless to say, after years of a government that shunned public participation and adopted a generally more negative and less inclusive tone, it is certainly a breath of fresh air to see such cabinet. I noticed a feeling of giddiness among friends, even among those who did not vote Liberal, akin to the excitement that followed Obama’s first election in 2008. Of course, Trudeau will not be able to keep all his promises and we are all bound to get disappointed sooner or later. For now, however, I intend to ride that wave of hopefulness. Even if Trudeau does nothing else other than change the tone of politics in this country, that in itself is enough.

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What type of knitting do you enjoy?

When I first started knitting, I just looked at all types of knitting as just knitting. I assumed I would do all of it. Socks, hats, scarves (probably lots of scarves since they seemed easy), sweaters. I didn’t really think about shawls since I never wore shawls before. Hanging out at yarn shops, I started admiring the shawls worn by other knitters. I started asking questions about it. I tried a lace shawl class. I failed miserably. I was still new at knitting, couldn’t really undo my knitting yet or spot mistakes and tried to knit a shawl using lace weight yarn. It was terrible! I couldn’t really see the stitches possible. My gauge was too tight. I put it aside for a while and knit a couple fingerless gloves, a baby hat, and a baby dress. The baby dress had a bit of lace in it.

Sproutlette Baby DressI decided to try a shawl again. I chose a basic pattern that was considered a good beginner practice. My friend Kat insisted I used a pattern that required me to read a chart. I was surprised how much I enjoyed following a chart and knitting a lace pattern. I am still very proud of that first lace shawl. The pattern was for just one colour but I had two skeins of a linen yarn that I really wanted to use so I had to work out how to transition from one colour to another and adapt the pattern. I am very pleased with the results Linen Holden Shawl

 

I also learned that I got easily bored with too much straight knitting. I find scarves soooooo difficult to knit. You know when you hear that knitting is very calming? Well, knitting straight for too long makes me want to poke my eyes with the needles!

Before I knew, the lace knitting took over.

new shawl made of merino wool, angora, camel, and cashmere #knitting #shawl #lace #shilasdair#knitting #shawl #beads #booknits #ravelry

Mustardseed pattern by Boo Knits #knittingso happy with the new shawl #knitting #shawl #lace

There are still many lace shawls I want to knit but I have been forcing myself to branch out a bit and overcome my reservations about straight knitting. I do want to have some nice cardigans and socks. I started knitting my first cardigan this month. Wish me luck!

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Knitting

Every once in a while a friend on Facebook shares with me a link to some new study that describes the benefits of knitting for mental health, warding off dementia, and even arthritis. As a knitter, I am happy to see my hobby justified by scientific research but I can’t say any of of those arguments occurred to me when I started knitting. I have noticed that knitting keeps me less anxious and happier. A happy side effect, no doubt 🙂

I get even happier when I see the results:
the beads dont show in the picture; need to take a better picture #knitting #lace #booknits #temptress

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Knitting challenges for 2015/16

This winter, in addition to a few more shawls and a couple of cowls, I want to try my hand at knitting cardigans/sweaters. I’ve searched high and low on Ravelry for the pattern I want to try. I love the work of Nora Gaughan but I think I want something slightly simpler for my first cardigan. I keep coming back, time and again, to the Levenwick cardigan by Gudrun Johnston. I think it will be perfect in Rowan Felted Tweed. Now to choose between avocado or red. Decisions, decisions.

© Eweknit.ca

© Eweknit.ca

©Eweknit.ca

©Eweknit.ca

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Animal Coffee Bar

I learned about Animal Coffee Bar from François at Slow Mov. Having been opened for only six weeks (since June 27), Sergio managed to give the place a nice atmosphere. I visited on a Monday afternoon, around 2:30 pm. Having not been able to grab lunch before, I settled for a sandwich and a local craft beer at the cafe.

very tasty beer #bcnbeer #beer #craftbeer #barcelonaso far, my favourite new café in Barcelona @animalcoffeebar #coffee #thirdwave #cafe #barcelona #nomadcoffee
Sergio told me of his plans of offering salads at lunch time to draw the lunch crowd and we chatted for a while about the complexities of running a successful café. The beer was by Barcelona Beer Company and it was a nice refreshing IPA-style beer.

After lunch, the ultimate test: I ordered a cortado. The espresso that day was a Brazilian coffee from Fazenda Londrina from the Cerrado Mineiro. I was not disappointed. At first sip it was strong but well balanced, with no bitter finish. Just the way I like it.
a perfect cortado made by Sergio @animalcoffeebar #coffee #cafe #thirdwave #barcelona #tallat #cortado

The atmosphere at the cafe was also inviting – nicely air conditioned, with good background music and wifi. A perfect place to spend an afternoon working.  

look at that crema! #coffee #cafe #cortado #espresso @animalcoffeebarBrazilian coffee roasted in Barcelona by #nomadcoffee #coffee #cafe #barcelona @animalcoffeebar

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