What is it with snacks in the UK?

I LOVE THEM.

One UK trend that hasn’t been widely imported to the US (and Japan for that matter) is highly flavored potato chips. Wait, CRISPS.

I make sure I have a smattering when I’m over there….just for science, of course.

On my way to Shetland, in Edinburgh airport while I was perfecting my “No Fog In Shetland So My Flight Takes Off” dance, I decided to have these:

IMG_0067On the left….my favorite flavor. On the right, a flavor I have been scared to try. (I always get 2 just in case the flavor I’m trying is completely gross).

The Roast Chicken tasted like Maggie bouillon, which wasn’t too bad, if you like that artificial chicken flavor.

And, my “no fog” dance worked because my flight was on time!

I was bored. I had a pretty long layover in Edinburgh, so after taking care of a bit of a “thing” with the folks at FlyBe, I took full advantage of the free WiFi. I posted this on Instagram of course.

And I got a CHALLENGE…”Have you tried the Haggis and Black Pepper one??”

Well? Of course I had to try it. Found in Lerwick:

IMG_5511Paired with what seems to be the perennial favorite, Prawn Cocktail.

Haggis was not reminiscent of the first time I had haggis, almost 30 years ago. When I didn’t quite now what it was and there was no Google on my smartphone to help me out! It tasted of spices. I didn’t taste anything offal like, and no oat. It was a bit strange, but I could see myself serving these with maybe gin and tonics.

I’m back in the UK later this year. What flavor should I try? And, should I be bringing over some BBQ flavored American Chips (a.k.a. Garlic In the Mouth for Days Flavor) to comparison taste with?

I’m told I’m a fast knitter.

I might be, but If you really want to see fast knitting, you should go watch some version of this video.

Hazel Tindall is not just the world’s fastest knitter but she is an amazing fair isle designer. As you can read here, she has been knitting fair isle all her life.

During our trip to Shetland, we got a chance to visit with her. She was kind enough to bring samples of her knitting. She also had her Jamieson & Smith colourbox challenge piece with her and she let us all cut a piece of the neck and arm hole steels!!

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I couldn’t help myself. I asked her how long it took her to knit this vest. Her answer?

“Well, I knit this at 6 min/row and there are 106 rows to the armhole” (actually it may have been 104 rows but that is just a rounding error).

Let’s do the arithmetic, shall we?

6 x 106 = 636 minutes =~10.5 hours

I’m sure my parents will be happy to hear that I can still flex my college education to do important math like this!

Hazel was so gracious. She gave us some knitting tips, answered many of my insane questions (like, “what do you do in the winter when it’s dark outside all the time? do you knit like 12 hours a day!?!? (that would be a vest a day, btw)”, etc.). So much fun.

You may recognize the knitting we are cutting in Jamieson & Smith’s blog post about the Cunningburgh Show! Despite our scissor-work, the vest was a trophy winner. Congratulations, Hazel!!

I cannot believe that I did not take photos of the knitting samples Hazel brought for us. I was way too busy looking at the samples and checking out the patterns and colors. My Shetland trip roommate to the rescue, though, with the shot below:

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The samples were amazing. Knitting was, of course, fantastic — evenly tensioned (all you have to do is look at the reverse side of the knitting), use of color was beautiful, and there was just one wonderful thing after another.

There was one sweater that really caught my attention though, mostly because it was a bit different than anything else in the suitcase, and I swore the yarn felt different than the other items (other than that it was knit out of DK). I loved how there were some cable panels at the waist for shaping, and the yarns were clearly natural colors. (You can pick it out in the photo above, right?)

It’s the Hamnafield Cardigan. (The moorit cardigan in the bottom left corner in the photo above, with the color work yoke.) It’s the cardigan that Hazel designed and knitted for Shetland Wool Week last year — and the pattern has just come out. It is knit out of wool from sheep on Foula.

IMG_0920This is how close I got to Foula. I know about Foula because I hiked as far as I could go to the ocean in Walls and I saw an island off the coast — and I looked at the map. I had put it on my  “next time in Shetland, I would like to” list because it sounds like birding on the island would be pretty interesting. I also liked the description that I found on the Web about Foula: It is “one of Great Britain’s most remote permanently inhabited islands,” according to the modern version of Encyclopedia Brittanica (Wikipedia, I mean).

Of course, after speaking with Ronnie Eunson about natural colored sheep (and now that I know there’s YARN on that island) I doubly want to go.

How could I have possibly not heard about this yarn? Clearly I am slacking in my yarn trolling duties.

Remember that I said meeting the incredibly fiber artists and having access to the Internet was “killing” me?

Well, this may have arrived in New York City last week thanks to that beautiful cardigan and the Internet:

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And it contained this:

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That’s right. It’s Yarn from Foula.

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This package is from my “new person I want to meet”, Magnus Holbourn. You can find him online too at http://www.foulawool.co.uk. I have enough yarn to knit the Hamnafield Cardigan.

I think I need a couple extra sets of arms — or try to catch Hazel in speed — with all the knitting I have planned for the fall.

Hazel is a huge inspiration. So was Elizabeth Johnston, and more about what happened when I met her in the next post!

With all the sheep walking about, was I tempted by their fleece or yarn?

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Not really.

But traveling with 12 other knitters, who were all wearing beautiful handknits? Killer. Being connected via Internet during the trip (as bad as connections were), pretty bad. Meeting with incredible artists on Shetland? Even worse.

I only brought one sweater to Shetland with me, which I finished on the trip and wore almost every single day.  This is the Northmavine Hoody by Kate Davies from her book, Colours of Shetland. I knit the sweater with the exact yarn and colors given in the pattern, something I rarely do,

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but after going to Northmavine (Eshaness), I was very glad that I did. I feel like I know exactly why Kate Davies chose these colors.

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Handknits from this collection was particularly popular. I also had the Northmavine Hap from this collection, knit out of all the natural colors of Shetland sheep represented by J&S Supreme Jumper Weight. I had made this slightly larger so I can wear it like a true hap shawl (wrapped around and tied in the back), and I wore this shawl quite a bit as well.

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(Photo of my shawl taken at Clove Cottages in High Falls, NY)

Another traveler in this group had a gorgeous Puffin Sweater. I do not think the photos do this sweater justice. It is an absolutely stunning design. And yes, I’m going to knit it,

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..along with perhaps almost everyone else on the trip. I’m not changing the colors on this sweater either…because well, puffins!

We were traveling with Gudrun Durham (nee Johnston), so her designs were of course very well represented. I had my absolute favorite shawl with me, her design, Flukra (now I know how to pronounce it — “fluck-ra”). I felt slightly weird that this shawl was knit out of merino/silk! I will have to make this again in Shetland wool. 

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(Flukra knit out of Hedgehog Fibres Silk/Merino Lace in Grit — a club color way so it is, unfortunately, OOAK!)

Several knitters had Gudrun’s Mystery Knit Along shawls, Havra (mine, still unfinished…)

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(Havra, in Wollmeise 100% in Safran, Sternschnuppe and Campari Piccolo)

I didn’t bring mine but someone also had a Laar:

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(my Laar, knit in Wollmeise Lacegarn, Magnolie Dark)

and there were several Audrey in Unsts (which, mine is now gone and I have the yarn to knit another).

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(my Audrey in A Verb For Keeping Warm Annapurna in Indigo Blue Sky — how I loved that sweater.)

Another popular purchase on this trip was yarn to knit Burrafirth out of her Shetland Trader 2 collection (I’m knitting mine out of GASP non-Shetland, non-wool yarn — this is French Market Fibers Uptown Sock in Gelato, 2 dye lots of Midnight on the Moonwalk and Olive Salad)

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…and yarn to make Nikka Vord, my version in the same yarn as the pattern (Jamieson’s DK) but a combination of different natural sheep colors.

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Of course, can’t forget what Mary Jane Mucklestone made me do (more yarn, more Jamieson & Smith 2-ply Jumper Weight but more about that when I talk about the fair isle knits we ran into on this trip.)

See what happened? It wasn’t the sheep. That is, until Uradale. I was “chatting” with Deb Robson via the Internet. She knew I was in Shetland, and she was telling me a bit about her encounters with the Shetland Organics movement (Her trip to Shetland last year can be found on her blog here), of which Uradale is a participating croft. Then she told me that the Shetland Organics yarns are (and I quote her here very loosely, sorry Deb) one of her favorite yarns, not just from Shetland but globally.

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Well? What am I to do!? The sheep there were gorgeous, the fleece was beautiful, and I had someone who would know about these things basically telling me that I should get my hands on this yarn. (Which you, too, can be convinced, link is here)

So I did.

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Then, of course, there was the dinner with Hazel Tindall. She brought along for us a suitcase full of her work. I am remiss in not having taken good photos of her beautiful sweaters, and pillows, and hats, but it’s because I was too busy listening to her talking about them. Well, of course, one sweater really caught my eye. So I asked about it.

And I did something about it. But more about that next time!

Sheep on Shetland.

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(Sheep watching us in Eshaness)

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(Pair of stunning black rams at Uradale)

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(Lambs at Uradale)

They are everywhere.

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(At Eshaness)

On the road,

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(In Walls. Many roads are single lane so there are these “Passing Place” signs all over the place….along with the sheep!)

By the windmill,

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(In Walls, by Burrastow House)

Posing….

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(Eshaness)

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(In Walls, right by Burrastow House)

According to Ronnie Eunson of Uradale Farm and Gary at Jamieson’s, there are about 150,000-200,000 heads of sheep on Shetland, of which only about 50,000 are Shetland breed.

It still outnumbers the human population of about 22,000!

We think that white is the dominant color in sheep, but in fact, it’s the color that has been bred for and, again according to Ronnie, in a remote place like Foula, the dominant color is moorit.

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(Natural colored Shetland rams at Uradale)

I have been asking everyone I can think about for the last 6 months about this (due to some breeding that is occurring at Shepherd’s Hey Farm) and Judith MacKenzie said that white is not the dominant color for sheep, as well.

(OK, so I went off track. I’m sure I will be writing more about why I care so much about this soon.)

It’s because of this below. But…again, that is CLEARLY not a Shetland sheep and clearly not on Shetland.

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(“BBP”, Corriedale ram at Shepherd’s Hey Farm in Maryland, and Lucy checking him out)

On Shetland, we visited a few sheep  and fleece “experts” on the trip, including Gary at Jamieson’s;

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(Hi, Gary)

Oliver at Jamieson & Smith, who is a wool classer and has been working at Jamieson & Smith for 49 years (he writes for the J&S blog and there is a great post here about Shetland sheep and here about sorting and classing the wool);

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See? He’s showing us what is not desirable in yarn for handknitting (guard hair/kemp!) but perfectly fine for other uses.

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And Ronnie Eunson of Uradale Farm.

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When we visited Uradale, Ronnie had rounded up some beautiful natural colored Shetland sheep (mostly rams but there was at least one girl in there!) from his flock.

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So he can hand shear a couple for us.

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I know what you are thinking. How could I be in presence of so many sheep and not even talk about yarn? Stay tuned!!

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(Photo: at Eshaness)

One of my friends said, “I didn’t know there are pilgrimages in World of Yarn (WoY)”.

I didn’t know, either.

But, I would have to say Shetland, with its strong tradition in fair isle sweaters, lace shawls and the sheep, has to rank as one of the top 10 “WoY” pilgrimage destinations.

I have wanted to go to the Shetland Islands for a very long time. And, I am lucky enough to say that I have just returned from a marvelous trip.

IMG_1227 (Photo: Mary Jane knitting her latest fair isle hat. Pattern to be released soon, right, MJ?)

Knitting designers/gurus Gudrun Johnston and Mary Jane Mucklestone started running these fiber-centric tours to Shetland last summer. The moment the notice for this year’s trip was mailed out, I had my deposit down and flights purchased.

They took me, and 12 other knitters on a week-long journey through the islands, enjoying the fantastic landscape,

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(Photo: Da Grind o’ da Navir in Eshaness)

the knitting tradition,

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(Photo: Beautiful handspun, handknit sweater by Elizabeth Johnston)

and the current craft industry as it stands today.

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(Photo: The beautiful studio of Morwenna Garrick, a textile designer)

We were based at the gorgeous Burrastow House, in Walls, where we were spoiled by Pierre’s fabulous cooking.

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We saw a lot, crafted a lot, and had a grand time. More about the sheep we met during out Shetland adventure next time.

I have just returned from Shetland, and I do mean to blog about the trip (after a big hiatus here…). Before I start posting some of my many photos (see sneak peek photo), I have to write about something else. IMG_5446 No…not food, not yarn, not dogs….Tea. It is a Shetland-adjacent topic, and I thought appropriate as I hunker down to pare down my photos to post here.

I have a new friend, “A”, from Britain. We met in Shetland. She drinks tea. A lot of tea.

I’m Japanese. I drink tea. A lot of tea. And I don’t care what color…black, green, I like them all.

“A” told me that she uses —- HORRORS — tea bags because, well, she drinks a lot of tea, cannot be bothered to wash out pots, and does not like her tea to be “stewed”.

I brew tea from leaves. Because….Mom does. And it tastes better. (Unless of course, I’m in a pinch.) I’m not sure if I know what stewed tea tastes like….but it could be I drink my tea faster than it can stew.

My family has a favorite tea. It is a tea that we fell in love with, when Mom and I went to London a long long time ago. It’s Fortnum & Mason’s Royal Blend tea. It brews an excellent, strong cup. I can still remember the first time we had this — in the tea room in the back of the store, with smoked salmon sandwiches and scones with clotted cream. Every time anyone in my family goes to London, we make a trip to the flagship store in Picadilly, and stock up. (Because you can only get the tins in the airports, not the bags of leaves.) There is also several orders online a year, and despite the shipping cost, it is cheaper to get it shipped from London than it is to get it through William Sonoma.

When “A” said that she had one of the best cup of tea of her LIFE upon reaching Shetland and it came out of a tea bag, my ears perked up. She did warn, though, that it could be because the Shetland water was so good. Despite the warning, I did drag “A” to the tea aisle at Tesco to pick up a few packets. I was not too worried about water quality in New York City, as I remembered reading that someone from Fortnum & Mason had declared NYC water to be “fine” for tea. (And I found the link, a NY Times article here).

This morning, I received word that this tea was still good with non-Shetland water, so I decided that I would drink the two teas side by side. (Well, one after the other.) image Of course, even I know that you need to warm up your cups and pots before brewing tea with BOILING water. (“A”, really, next time you are in the US, ask for your water to be boiled. Peet’s, I know, will do it.) The Royal Blend is, and was, a taste of home for me. It was an excellent pot of tea. image Now for the tea bag…Tea Pigs Morning Brew. (Now available in the US through their website and some retail locations, and it’s called “English Breakfast” here.) image I cracked open my last packet of Sainsbury’s Garibaldi cookies (why bake when you can buy these!?). image And the verdict is….Tea Pigs Morning Brew will be distributed to my family for further testing. It is a DELICIOUS cup of tea. And it comes in a bag! Thank you “A” for your recommendation 🙂

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Fifteen years ago today, somewhere in the world, a wee border collie puppy was born.

He spent his young days on a farm in Ohio, where details of his early childhood is a long ago memory. He still remembers his time, I’m sure, when he answered to “Hot Fudge Sundae”.

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Thank goodness he can’t hear me utter that name anymore….either he is deaf, or he has incredibly selective hearing.

When he was three and a half, this dog’s life changed drastically. He went into “rescue”, and moved to Maryland. Where, a kind person changed his unfortunate name to “Finn”, a much more fitting name.

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Finn had no idea what was going to happen to him next.

Neither did I.

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Finn has now spent more than two-thirds of his life living in Greenwich Village. No, not a village in the countryside named Greenwich, but Greenwich Village, on the island of Manhattan. New York City.

If Finn were able to talk, I wonder what kind of stories he would tell:

  • “I used to live in a kennel outside. Now I ride the elevator into an apartment and while there are multiple places I’m supposed to sleep, I prefer the hardwood that reminds me of the concrete kennel floor.”
  • “When I was more active, I could eat all the Milk Bones in the world…now I get carrots for snacks.”
  • “I ran 10 miles every day, no problem. Whatever the weather. Now when it’s cold I prefer to wear my water resistant, fancy imported European coat.”

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I can imagine all kinds of stories. I do truly hope of of them is:

“When I was four, I met this crazy lady and I knew I was home.”

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Happy birthday to my best buddy. Happy 15th birthday, Finn!