What to Knit for a Baby: a Hat, a Sweater and a Blanket

My mother taught me to knit when I was ten. She worked full-time and I remember pacing the house waiting for her to get home to pick up my dropped stitches. The first thing I knit was a gray skirt for a Barbie doll. I remember it turning out like an hourglass-shaped pencil skirt. It was fraught with common beginners’ mistakes: added on and dropped stitches. Eventually, I got the hang of it and loved nothing more than to sit by Mom and knit.

By the time I found out I was going to be a grandmother, I’d been a lapsed knitter for many years. Not so any longer. I’m right back in it and probably for good this time. I love knitting for the baby.

Here are three things I love that I have knitted for my grandson.

The first item is my favorite blanket pattern, the “Mitered Square Blanket” from Mason Dixon KnittingI started the pattern when my daughter-in-law first told us she was pregnant. Because we didn’t initially know the sex of the baby, I made the first squares in shades of pink and blue.

Almost like my grandmother did in 1957 when she crocheted this baby blanket for me. I’m just now noticing that Grandma and I both liked two-toned geometric designs!

Next, I made quite a few of these quick and easy rolled edge hats.

After that, I made my favorite baby sweater pattern called Home-Team Player. It has three buttons on the shoulder which is helpful when slipping a sweater on and off a baby’s big head. I enjoy knitting to the rhythm of this pattern very much. It is also quite forgiving size-wise, meaning there is room for the baby to grow into the sweater, but still look okay while it is a little too big. I made at least a half-dozen of these for my children and friends.

This is a picture of my darling grandson wearing the sweater I knit for him. He has his favorite blankie, too.

A few weeks after finishing his sweater, I stumbled upon this picture.

It’s of my mother holding my son, Jesse, circa 1987. Jesse is wearing the sweater made from the same pattern I used for his son! Same color, even!

So which pattern should you try first? If you are a beginner, I’d suggest starting with the baby hat, then moving to the sweater, and then the mitered square blanket for an exciting and fun challenge.

The Baby Hat

We took a trip to New Zealand a few months before the baby was born and while traveling to Queenstown came across a fantastic handicraft store called The Stitching Post in the charming town of Arrowtown. They had so many adorable samples of baby items to knit and quilt that I had to tell my husband to go off and explore the village without me. I needed to soak all the gorgeousness in. For this hat, the Stitching Post recommended a soft superwash merino wool called Knitcol by Adriafil. I love it and left the store with quite a few skeins … and a set of size 6 needles … and their free pattern. No time like the present to get started.

The yarns I used for these hats.

The blue/gray yarn is Knitcol. On the Stitching Post’s website, they show how the Knitcol colorways look when knit up. Take a look.

The variegated pink yarn on the hat on the right is by the Sheep Shop Yarn Company. It is an old yarn made with a blend of silk and wool. It is no longer available.

The green/pink yarn is called Lichen and Lace and is a superwash merino wool sold through Mason Dixon Knitting. Because the yarn was a little thicker than the Knitcol, I cast on 64 stitches instead of 73 and bumped up the needle size from a US 6 to size a US 8.

A word about yarn choices for baby hats.

I like to use a non-itchy yarn for baby hats because their heads get hot and sweaty and sometimes itchy while wearing a woolen hat. Look for soft yarn with the words “superwash merino” on the label. Cotton doesn’t always work for this pattern because it doesn’t have “give” or enough stitch recovery to make the edges roll. Cotton hats need a pattern with a few rows of ribbing to grip a baby’s head.

For a good explanation of what “superwash” means check out this article from Lion Brands Yarns’s website.

The Baby Sweater

The Home Team Player sweater pattern came from the now-defunct Conshohocken Cotton Company and has been my favorite baby sweater pattern since the 1980s. The pattern is nowhere to be found for purchase on the Internet or in stores, so I’ve included it in this post. My pattern looks like an old family recipe. It is as well-loved as Mom’s Apple Pie! 

 

This sweater is knit on 6 and 9 needles with worsted weight yarn. I find that many baby patterns make the arm length too long so for this pattern, I shortened the arms by at least two inches. One tip I use when determining arm length is to measure the length of the arm from a baby sweater I already like. **I’ve added a bigger photo of the pattern at the end of this post.

The Mitered Square Blanket

Stardate April 17, 2006. This was the moment I fell in love with the Mitered Square Blanket made famous by my good friend, and neighbor, Ann Shayne and New Yorker, Kay Gardiner in their first knitting book, Mason-Dixon Knitting: The Curious Knitter’s Guide. This photo was taken at their Nashville book signing. I’ve been smitten by this blanket ever since. I’ve made five of them! The one pictured above is for a queen-size bed. It’s huge! The pattern is now available online. Here’s a link.

The morning after the book-signing, I beelined it over to Ann’s house so Kay could give me a private tutorial on how to knit the squares. Mitered squares start out as a straight row of stitches, and then through a series of decreases up the middle, the sides are drawn inward to create a square. You will feel so excited the first time you see the square emerge from the horizontal row of stitches. It’s magical.

The next thing that will excite you is the thrill of choosing colors and seeing how beautifully the squares come together when seamed. After a while, I started to think of the hanks of Tahki Cotton Classic yarn as tubes of paint. I honestly felt like an artist after making just three squares! Knitting the squares becomes addictive, I promise!

You might even find yourself carrying a little baggie with a mitered square in progress for when you have downtime. I used a short round needle for portability.

Finally, a sweet ending to a long yarn: a picture of my great-grandmother, MamaNika, knitting on the patio of my grandparents’ home. You can read all about her and the other beautiful, female role models in my life, all domestic goddesses, here.

Blog Favorites: Recipes from My Family
Grandma’s Italian Fried Cauliflower
Baked Ziti with Eggplant
Italian Ricotta and Lemon Cookies
Mom’s Apple Pie (with a cheddar streusel topping)
Judy’s Mom’s Meatloaf
Mom’s Pumpkin Pie
@judyschickens Everyday Salad Dressing
Mom’s Monkey Bread, circa 1970
Aunt Bridget’s Chicken Soup with Little Meatballs
Rachelle’s Italian Sausage, Onions, and Peppers

© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

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Applesauce or Apple Pie?

It’s apple season! There are so many beauties out there right now that every time I go near a farm stand, I pick a few more to add to my stash.

Have I mentioned how much I adore color and texture? It doesn’t matter if it’s in food, as in a bowl of apples

or tomatoes.

Or yarn, as in this painting of my yarn stash created by my friend Kim Barrick. It makes no difference to me. I love it all. They each bring me joy.

Unlike yarn, which can last beyond a lifetime as in the case of my adorable mother’s yarn stash,

when I get too many apples I’ve got to act. Pie or applesauce? If the skins have started to wrinkle and the bruises have started to show, I make applesauce. Otherwise, it’s Mom’s Apple Pie with Cheddar Streusel Topping. No contest.

Even the ingredients are photogenic!

Apple Sex

The core of an apple is actually the apple’s ovary. It is usually divided into five chambers containing two ovules (where the female DNA is stored) each. If the ovules are pollinated with male DNA in the form of pollen grains, the apple will mature into a well-developed fruit. A fully pollinated apple will contain ten seeds. The number of seeds is directly related to how many grains of pollen have traveled from the stigma, down the style to the ovum in the ovary on the apple’s blossom. The apple needs a minimum of 6-7 seeds to set fruit, or it will not grow to maturity. The pollen is carried by pollinators from other nearby varieties of apples in the orchard.

Mother Nature ensures the survival of the apple tree species by making the flesh sweet and tasty so squirrels and deer will want to eat the fruit and disperse the seeds widely.

While in Hasting’s New Zealand, we had the pleasure of visiting our friends Annette and Rufus Carey’s Longland’s Fruit and Vegetable and Christmas Tree Farm.

I loved seeing their neat system for growing rows of apple trees.

Having an apple orchard is on my bucket list.

How to make Apple Sauce

The following kitchen tools might be helpful:

To make applesauce, peel three pounds of apples and remove brown spots. Three pounds of apples equal about 9 medium apples or 7-8 cups sliced.

Use an apple corer (ovary remover – ewww) to prep the slices.

Or, if you have a spiralizer, use it.

Add the apple slices to a saucepan with about 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove lid and simmer 10 more minutes. Use a potato masher to pulverize the chunks, if desired.

   

You could leave the peel on, but know that it will separate from the apple as it cooks and has a tendency to stick to the roof of your mouth. That’s one of the reasons I always peel apples for my grandson, the skin can be a choking hazard for babies.

You can add cinnamon and sugar if you’d like, but applesauce is plenty sweet and flavorful unadorned.

Consider putting aside ½ cup of applesauce to use in Marion’s Crazy Good Pumpkin and Chocolate Chip Bread.

One More Seque!

How about a great book to read this Fall about an American pioneering family in the 1800s who struggle to plant an apple orchard in Ohio? At The Edge Of The Orchard, by Tracy Chevalier, is such a book.  I love how John Chapman (aka Johnny Appleseed) plays into the story as well as the science of bark-grafting apple limbs. I’m grateful to my dear friend, Gayl Squire, a teacher in Napier, NZ, for buying me a copy of this book to read while we were visiting them.

Always check the website for the most current version of a recipe.

© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Baked Ziti with Eggplant

Last night, my son and grandson joined my husband and me for dinner. I made baked ziti with eggplant.

The nicest compliment was when my son said the ziti was one of the top five meals I’d ever made. He said he wished it was served in a restaurant so he could get more whenever he wanted. (No need for that, honey; just say when:-)) It was all music to my ears. I’d been working on making a good batch of baked ziti and eggplant for years.

I love roasted eggplant. I was taught by my mother to sweat (salt and drain) eggplant before cooking to rid it of its bitterness. Indeed, for most of my adult life, I have equated the brown liquid that dripped from the colander during sweating as the color of bitterness. The more brown liquid in the sink, the more successful I thought I would be in producing a delicious eggplant dish. But recently I learned the true reason for sweating had nothing to do with bitterness and everything to do with the anatomy of eggplant. Eggplant is porous. It is full of small air pockets that can absorb oil like a sponge when fried. Sweating draws out the water from the cells. The water that is released floods the tiny air pockets essentially eliminating the open spaces that frying oil would otherwise occupy. Since I don’t fry eggplant, this summer I eliminated this extra time-consuming step and went straight to brushing each raw slice of eggplant with olive oil before roasting.

The results have been delightful. At a recent dinner party, guests started gobbling down these unadorned slices of roasted eggplant before I even got to the step of smothering them with marinara sauce and mozzarella. This is why I roast vegetables, you get to taste their essence.

Recently, I went to the Richland Farmers Market in Nashville and bought these gorgeous, violet, svelte, Italian varieties of eggplant (melanzana, in Italian) from the Corner Spring Farm. They had delightful names like Violeta di Toscano, Rosa Blanca, Clara, and Beatrice.

When I got home, I added them to the hefty stash of Black Beauty and Japanese eggplants I had harvested from my garden. I decided to make a day of it and cook all the eggplants at once. When I trimmed and peeled the skin, I was surprised to see the contrast in color of my stash and the Italian varieties. Their flesh was so much whiter. Once roasted, I noticed the Italian varieties were denser and maintained their shape better, too, plus they had the mouth-feel of artichoke hearts. Yum. Now I know why my mother would always pick up an Italian eggplant whenever she saw one in a market; there is a difference. Next summer, I’m planning on growing the Italian varieties.

Yield: serves 8 as main course

Ingredients 

The ingredients list is segmented by the cooking steps for the eggplant, marinara sauce, pasta, and basil and cheese layers.

4 or 5 medium-sized eggplants (I didn’t weigh them before cooking, but after cooking I had one pound of eggplant equaling 3 cups)
3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
2 28-ounce cans whole Italian plum tomatoes
1 tablespoon fine sea salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped

6 quarts water
1 tablespoon fine salt
1 pound penne ziti rigate pasta, cooked to al dente

1 pound sliced and then chopped, mozzarella
1 cup finely grated parmesan ( about 3 ounces)
1 cup basil leaves, about ¾ ounce

Mise en Place

Instructions

Preheat oven to 425º

Remove the stem, and peel and slice the eggplant. Slice them about one-half inch thick; better to err on the side of thicker than thinner slices.
 

Pour olive oil in a bowl and brush each side of each slice very lightly with oil. I only used 3 tablespoons of oil for all the eggplants pictured above.
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Arrange the eggplant slices on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Roast for 30-40 minutes. If you want them browned on each side, turn them over after about 20 minutes. I do not bother with this extra step. They should only be lightly browned when done. If you can’t decide if they are cooked enough, try tasting one. That’s what I do. You want them to be firm enough to hold their shape.

At this point, you could store the slices for one or two days in the refrigerator, or freeze. To prep for this recipe, measure out one pound (about 3 cups) and chop into 1.5 to 2 inch segments. Set aside.

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While eggplant is roasting, start the marinara sauce. Heat olive oil in a 6-quart frying pan over low heat. Add garlic and sauté for about 2 minutes. Do not allow garlic to brown. Pour the tomatoes into the pan breaking them up with your fingertips as you do. Add salt, cayenne, and sugar. Bring to a boil over high heat stirring frequently. Turn heat down to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the fresh basil and turn the heat off. Set aside.
 

While the sauce simmers and the eggplant roasts, start a large pot of salted water over high heat for the ziti. When water comes to a full boil, add the ziti, bring it back to a full boil, stirring frequently, and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta. The pasta will cook more as it bakes.

Now you are ready to layer all the ingredients into a 9 by 13-inch casserole.

Preheat oven to 400º.

Pour two cupfuls of sauce into the bottom of casserole pan.
Add half of pasta, half of eggplant, half of basil, half of mozzarella and one-third of parmesan,

Repeat layering starting with half of the remaining sauce, the rest of the pasta, basil, and mozzarella, and a third of the parmesan. End with the remaining sauce followed by the last of the grated parmesan.

Bake for 20 minutes on the middle rack of the oven.

Related Italian Dishes
Grandma’s Italian Fried Cauliflower
Fresh Marinara Sauce with Pasta
Spiralized Zucchini (aka Zoodles) with Marinara Sauce
Roasted Ratatouille
Italian Pasta and Bean Soup, aka Pasta e Fagioli

Always check the website for the most current version of a recipe.

© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Roasted Patty Pan Squash

Patty Pan, Scalloped, and Flying Saucer are all perfect names for this whimsical variety of summer squash known for its ornately scalloped edges and shades of color ranging from pale yellow, to variegated yellow and green, to dark green. The color of this particular variety, called “Flying Saucer,” is temperature dependent — it will turn green when temps become very hot in the summer.

Patty Pans are kin to other varieties of summer squash such as zucchini, yellow crooknecks, and “Cubes of Butter” all of which ripen between June and September.

Summer squashes are thin-skinned with tender interiors. They can be eaten raw with their peel intact. Compare that to mature winter squashes such as butternutacorn, spaghetti, and pumpkin, with their hard outer skins, firm interior flesh, and fibrous seeds. They need a little more attention when cooked, but man, are they good, too!!

   

How to Grow Patty Pans

I grew these patty pans with my other summer squashes in a 4 x 13 foot raised bed. I planted the seeds on April 3rd and started harvesting around June 10th. Here is how the bed looked on April 8th, (the day they germinated), May 10th, and on June 10th when I started harvesting. One plant will bear two to three successive harvests before dying off.

It is best to pick patty pans when they are less than 4 inches in diameter.

How to Cook Roasted Patty Pan Squash (and other varieties of summer squash)

For roasting most vegetables, I think Mary Kane’s (aka Mom’s) trinity of McCormick’s Garlic Pepper, fine sea salt, and extra-virgin olive oil is a surefire way to a successful dish.

My mother was a fantastic cook whose nightly dinners were legendary. A big tip was to keep dinner simple. Basically, she prepared a protein, a starch and a vegetable or two every night. There were no fancy sauces or ingredients for which she had to spend hours searching. Her daily ten-mile drive to Walkers Roadside Stand, along the bucolic Sakonnet River in Little Compton, R.I. was more of a peaceful escape than a trip to hunt down ingredients.

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She learned early on that roasting vegetables enhanced their natural goodness, and that includes sweetness. I, in turn, learned by cooking by her side most of my life.

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Ingredients

2 pounds Patty Pan squash
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¾ teaspoon fine sea salt (or, to taste)
¾ teaspoon garlic pepper

Mise en Place

Instructions

Preheat oven to 400º.

Wash and dry veggies and cut off stems. Slice each squash into three segments.

Place slices in a bowl and toss with Mary Kane’s Trinity.

Arrange slices in a single layer in a large parchment-lined roasting pan.

Roast for 40-45 minutes. Flip over halfway if you want both sides browned. I don’t bother with this extra step.

I love the unique squashy taste and denseness of these Patty Pan slices.

Serve squash with:
Cooking Dinner in an Unfocused Way, or Ode to the Rice Cooker
Easy Roasted Salmon with Olive Oil and Garlic Pepperor
Lemony Grilled Chicken Breast
Very Berry Clafoutis or Ellen’s Most Moist Zucchini Bread for dessert

Always check the website for the most current version of a recipe.

© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.