Thursday, September 16, 2010

Join Us In Spain!

We're on the quest for the perfect Ham. Jamon Iberico. Produced in Andalucia, Southern Spain.
When: March 21st - 25th 2011.

Why have we put this trip together? Well, last year Mark and I wrote this book -
Ham: An Obsession With The Hindquarter.

See what's gracing the cover? A gorgeous Iberico Ham. Donated by A Taste of Spain. The same Spanish agency that's put together our amazing itinerary.

Our trip will start in Sevilla on Monday, March 21, 2011, and quickly move out to the beautiful Dehesa, the eco-system that has nurtured these "black" pigs whose acorn-eating habits (combined with artisanal craft) produce the prize delicacy of jamón ibérico. We'll be deep in the country at Aracena Natural Park, staying at an Andalucian-style posada, a perfect place to explore the region and its ham producers. Plus, it will be spring in Spain!

The next two days will feature trips to meet jamón ibérico producers, to see the pigs themselves in their gloriously protected eco-system, to explore Almonaster La Real with its castle-mosque, and even to have a cooking class with one of the up-and-coming chefs in Spain's burgeoning restaurant scene. From walking in the meadows to visiting food sites few tourists ever see, from exploring a beautiful landscape to getting our hands dirty in the kitchen, these days promise to be a highlight of any trip.

Except it doesn't stop there! Before we head back to Sevilla, we'll visit a local foie gras producer who raises his geese with no forced feeding--and then be ready for a day or two of sight-seeing in Sevilla that includes a visit to the local food markets and a private cooking class to learn the real secrets of Andalucian tapas, offered by one of the city's premier chefs and taking place in his lovely, penthouse apartment.

After a walking tour of the sights of old Sevilla and farewell dinner that evening, you can either take the transfer back to the airport, or you can arrange further trips to the countryside with A Taste of Spain (sherry or olive oil, anyone?), or you can pick up a car and head down to the Spanish coast for a few days of relaxation in the gorgeous Spanish sun.

This details for this culinary tour are being handled by Kora Dalager at Bonsai Travel in California. Her email is You can contact her directly or you can leave a comment here on this website and I'll send you the full brochure, including the exact hotels and the meals covered--every meat except one (and you know we'll all sneak away and make a great evening of it together). The land travel cost is $2490 per person, double occupancy. Space is limited to 10 people--and already several spots are gone.

Truly, this is the culinary trip of a lifetime to see what few tourists ever see. We hope you'll consider joining us in Spain. Just imagine how much fun we'll have--how many laughs, how much good food, and how very much jamón ibérico!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Gauge is everything - and how it works in Knits Men Want

I hear it all the time from students.
"But I hate knitting a gauge swatch!"
And they hear this back...
"If you want to be surprised at the fit, if you want to have wasted 30 or 40 hours knitting a sweater that the recipient can never wear, then don't knit a gauge swatch.
Sure, we see this little icon on every ball and skein of yarn we buy.

It means that the manufacturer only suggests using a certain needle size to achieve a certain number of stitches per inch knitting in Stockinette Stitch. In this case size US 8 (5mm) needles might give you 5 stitches per inch.

Might? Well, sure. I knit loosely and would probably test out size US 6 (4m) needles first. Then I'd go up to 7s (4.5mm), 8s (5mm), or maybe even down to 5s (3.75mm) all the while looking to achieve the number of stitches per inch called for in my pattern. And if you don't think there's a big difference between 3.75 stitches per inch and 4 stitches per inch, just do the math. One quarter of a stitch per inch adds up to 10 stitches in a 40" sweater. And that can turn your 40" sweater into a 42.5" sweater, yikes!

But is there really that much difference in the way different people knit the same yarn? I mean, if the manufacturer says 5 stitches per inch on US 8s (5mm), didn't they test that? Isn't that what most of us would get?

This is from Jacqueline Fee's The Sweater Workshop. The image on the right shows three different gauge swatches knitted by three different knitters. All knitted with the exact same yarn and needle sizes. It this doesn't show you that you need to test your gauge I don't know what will.

But what's the gauge swatch on the left? Jacqueline tested her yarn with 11 different size needles to get a gauge she liked. Wait a second cowboy, a gauge she liked? I though we were talking about looking for a specific gauge that a pattern might require? Well most of the time that is what we're looking for in knitting our gauge swatch. But sometimes we are just looking to be creative. To find a knitted fabric that we love and create something from that.

This is from my book Knits Men Want. Every pattern starts like this, with size across the top and gauge along the side. Sure, you can use the yarn I picked for the project and go with the gauge I liked and knitted the sample with (not always what the manufacturer had in mind). Or, you can choose any yarn, knit samples on all sorts of different needles, choose the knitted fabric you like best and measure your gauge (that is, stitches per inch). Go across the top for your size, down list to find your gauge of choice, and voila, you get what you need - be it yarn requirements or the number of stitches

And remember, you've made the commitment and bought the yarn and you're going to commit weeks to the project. So, even if you spend the entire first evening on a new project knitting gauge swatches, know that it is time well spent.