Monthly Archives: October 2012

Three Things

  • First, Ellie’s Halloween costume is finished! (except for the hook on the jacket – I’ll do it when Lady Bird gets out of my lap)
    I cheated and ordered the wings

    Not pictured: Crown and wand.

  • Second, I haven’t had a Butterfinger in three years but I don’t miss them anymore because oh my oh my oh these are SO GOOD. You’ll need a candy thermometer, and don’t tweet that you are making candy while the sugar is on the heat.

    Butter Finger Candy
    I love you, CLARYN.

    1 c. creamy peanut butter (not the natural kind)
    1 tsp. vanilla extract
    ¼ tsp. salt
    1 c. sugar
    ⅓ c. light corn syrup
    ½ c. water
    ¾ c. chocolate chips (Ghiredelli semi-sweet are dairy free)
    1 T. shortening

    Grease an 8-inch square pan.

    In a small saucepan, stir together peanut butter, vanilla, and salt. Warm all that over low heat until it’s melty and then keep it warm.

    In a medium saucepan, stir together sugar, corn syrup and water.

    Cook sugar goo over medium-high heat just until it reaches 290 degrees, under hard crack. Don’t tweet. Don’t get bored. Don’t look away it will surprise you!

    Quickly stir in peanut butter until well mixed.

    Dump in prepared pan, QUICK IT’S ALREADY COOLING!

    Let cool on a wire rack (or cold stove eye) for about 8 minutes. Don’t try to eat it yet (HOT).

    Melt the chocolate chips and shortening in the microwave. Heat for 30 seconds at a time, stirring in between until molten chocolate is achieved.

    Pour the chocolate over the top of the peanut butter candy part and spread it out to coat. Put it in the ‘fridge so it will set more quickly. Cut it into bars and eat every last crumb before you think about taking a picture. Wonder how soon is too soon to make more…

  • Third thing: I’m sure you noticed that New York City had a LOT of water in it yesterday. New Jersey isn’t much better and there is a lot of surrounding area with storm trouble. I’m sure you’ve already donated to the Red Cross and the Humane Society or other disaster relief organizations if you feel so inclined. But you know, there are a lot of fiber farms up that way who are going to need a little help getting trees off of their fences and patching roofs and the like. So, maybe take a minute to consider doing what knitters do best: find those farms and buy some yarn. Tell them no rush shipping, you can wait. But they’ll know you’re thinking about them.
  • October’s Mindful Fiber: North Star Alpacas


    Alpacas are amazing! I didn’t realize just how much I didn’t know about them until I started doing research for this month’s Mindful Fiber! I was going to compare alpaca husbandry in the Americas, but let’s have a lesson about the animals instead.

    Things I knew about alpacas before I started doing the research for this article:

    • They look like fluffy llamas.
    • hi, y'all

      Mira and Oppie (North Star Alpacas)

    • Alpaca fiber is warmer than wool, longer than wool and often as soft as cashmere.
    • Alpaca are sheared like sheep.
    • A baby alpaca is called a ‘cria’.
    • They ‘pronk’ when they are happy. I’m not kidding, here’s a baby:
    • (Pronking is a little bouncy happy dance.)

    Things I know about alpacas now:

    • There are two types of alpacas: Suri (long, silky locks of hair) and Huacaya (crinkly, dense fuzz). About 90% of the world’s population are Huacaya. Both have coarse hairs (‘guard’ hairs) that have to be removed before spinning the soft wooly fiber. There’s a machine for that, although my source (see below) says in many cases the guard hairs can be separated by hand.
    • Alpacas have been domesticated since 4,000BC, so there is no such thing as a ‘wild’ alpaca. Their closest wild cousins are vicuñas.
    • Alpacas are social animals. They prefer to live in family groups consisting of an alpha male, females and their young. Alpacas make a ton of sounds to communicate: humms, grunts, clicks and a Fearsome squeaky, gaspy, donkey-like noise when threatened.
    • Gold star if you can tell me Suri or Huacaya!

    • They are tidy critters who specify a latrine area that the entire group uses.
    • They have paddy feet and toes with toenails – not hooves (neither do camels and llamas so that’s something I should have known). And can spit (that is, vomit grass in projectile fashion) like all camelids. AND only have teeth on the bottom! Food chewing is done by grinding the bottom teeth on an upper plate (hence the sort of figure-8 mouth movement).
    • Alpacas do not make lanolin! So even if you’ve got a wool sensitivity, alpaca fiber is still worth a try. There is plenty to try: there are 22 naturally occurring colors of alpaca fleece.

    The vast majority of commercially available alpaca fiber is still grown in South America – nearly all (like 99%) of the world’s alpaca population is found in the highlands of Peru, Chile and Bolivia. The species was domesticated in the Andes mountains thousands of years ago, and export to other countries has been tightly controlled. It wasn’t until the mid-1980s that the alpaca moved to the U.S. as an industry. And when I say industry, it’s not the fiber that U.S. investors are interested in – it’s the animals themselves! Since the import of alpacas is still limited, an average breeding female can sell for anywhere between $1000 and $30,000. In the U.S., the alpaca industry remains relatively small with few reports of the abuses often seen in the wool industry. But (as with anything) as it grows there will be more potential for neglect and misconduct.

    Which is why I gravitate towards small farms for my fiber wants. Small farms with respect for their animals. Small farms like North Star Alpacas.

    grazing away

    Maple’s goal is to never have to mow the grass. There’s been a lot of clever fence building with that in mind.

    Maple is the self-declared #1 pooper scooper in the North Star barn. She also washes, dyes, picks, cards, and spins the fleece her alpacas grow. The farm is strictly a fiber-farm these days and hosts a herd of 22 alpaca, 2 horses, 2 dogs, 2 barn cats, and 1 house cat. There are four new boys arriving this weekend to bring the herd size up to 26! The North Star Alpacas blog is closed, but I had a wonderful time exploring the archives and learning about life among the hairy. In her own words, “I’m lucky to be doing something that I love that actually pays for itself.”

    For the month of October, I have a $50 gift certificate to North Star Alpacas’ Etsy shop. You can use it to buy all of this:

    OR this:

    OR some of Mr. Jones’ fleece if you spin:

    If you don’t knit (or if you are feeling lazy), Maple has hats and scarves already made! Shop for Christmas presents for friends (or presents for yourself).


    Since we’re almost out of October, this is a short short giveaway and will close on Wednesday, October 31, 2012. Don’t waste time – leave a comment on this post to be entered in the drawing. The random number generator will take care of the rest. Since it is a short short short giveaway, I’ll offer extra entries if you promote this on your social media outlet of choice (Ravelry, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)! Please leave a second comment with a link to the post/tweet/whathaveyou for accounting purposes.

    You can find North Star Alpacas on Facebook, in PhatFiber boxes, and (of course) on Etsy.

    Unless otherwise noted, Maple Smith holds the copyright to all the still pictures used in this article. They are used with permission


    Runaway Mine Train

    You know how sometimes you have one of those days where everything just sort of gets away from you and you can’t seem to get anything done because you’re distracted or there always seems to be something not on your To Do list that needs doing?

    I’ve had a couple weeks like that.

    Our yarn for October’s Mindful fiber won’t arrive in time for pictures (it’s custom). I’m trying to decide if I’m going ahead with that one or scrambling to find something else. I’ll let you know next week!

    Unrelated to why I can’t get anything done: Anybody been waiting to play Glitch? I’ve got some invitations.