We did a fair amount of cleaning yesterday (fun!) and one of the things I did was to consolidate the shower gifts that were floating all over the apartment in gift bags and boxes. I now have piles of clothes to pre-wash (I hear no one does this except with their first baby, and I can see why, although washing and folding the little tiny things is strangely fun...at least for the first load of laundry), a stack of toys to put away, blankets to find a shelf for, and books already shelved in Butterbean's bookshelf. I set out a couple of boxes that need to be taken out to the recycling, and Mirando really enjoyed this one filled with tissue paper. He took quite a nap in it. He's always loved boxes (like Ralph Wiggum on The Simpsons, whose response to the news that their field trip will be to the box factory is the opposite of the other kids': "Yay, boxes!").
Geronimo is less into the boxes (though he enjoys them), but he really liked all the stuff I piled on the dining room table to await organization.
Knitting: Check it out--I made a sock.
Yup, that's a sock, all right. It's too big for me, which is good, because it's for Matt. The leg part, I'm a little worried about, though. It's not so big. I suppose I can rip back a few inches from the top and use bigger needles or something if they won't fit him. I hope you are entertained by pictures of that sock, because you can get ready for progress photos of another one EXACTLY LIKE IT for the next few days :) I like the striping a lot, and I'm eternally grateful to Rachel for suggesting the cutting out of yellow parts at the heel and toe. I think it looks much nicer that way. And another thank you because I will definitely wash these separately so we don't end up with even more pink stuff in this apartment! I wish I'd taken a "before photo"--that is, before weaving in ends and closing up the tiny holes I always get at each end of the instep stitches from picking up and knitting for the foot. Because I wonder what I'm doing wrong to leave the holes. Should I pick up one extra stitch at each side and decrease right away? Am I picking up stitches wrong? It's not hard to go back and close the holes; I just feel I shouldn't have to. I'll be sure to do photos of it on the next sock, and maybe one of you amazing knitters knows just how to fix it. Oh, and I think I'm pretty weird, because I just *love* doing Kitchener Stitch now that I've gotten the hang of it. It's so satisfying at the end.
Edited to add: I forgot to mention that even though I've been knitting this around Matt, it may still be a surprise when he opens his stocking at Christmas. He seems to think it's a baby sweater, which 1. would be way cute! and 2. actually makes sense, since the leg part is a tube with ribbing on one end, which he's seen before as sleeves for sweaters knit in the round. Aren't non-knitters funny?
I'm going to start my mom's Christmas scarf soon, maybe tonight, so I'll have more than just repetitive sock photos to show you. I'm using Rowan Cashsoft DK in cream, and this lovely free pattern called Column of Leaves Scarf. My mom was quite complimentary about the Branching Outs I made for my shower hostesses, and loved the cream-colored one I did. I'm ready to do a non-Branching Out scarf, but I'm sticking with the cream color, which my mom pointed out would go nicely with her red coat. Since my family, who live in southern California, are dreadful to knit for (from a purely climate-related perspective), I was thrilled that she gave me this idea. After that, I have one more gift scarf to do for Christmas, though I haven't settled on a color or pattern yet.
Reading: Still on the Diane Mott Davidsons. I think I missed a book review, though, before Thanksgiving. I read The Flaming Luau of Death by Jerrilyn Farmer, the latest in her Madeline Bean series (well, the latest paperback. Call me a snob, but I don't buy mysteries in hardback. Some books are hardbacks. Some are paperbacks. Mysteries and romance novels? Paperback!) that takes place in Hawaii. It was cute and fun, as usual. I'm not sure who would hire this woman to plan parties that are destined to end in police tape and chalk outlines, but Madeline and her two assistant-type people are entertaining, and the rich/famous people they plan parties for in LA are always entertaining. The first in the series is called Sympathy for the Devil.
Writing: Slowly working out what Chapter 9 is all about. It's been kind of a nesting couple of weeks, with lots of cleaning.
Cooking: Sunday night, I made Beer Cheese Soup from the November Cooking Light (I split the recipe so Matt could have cut up brats in his half) and a basic rye bread in my bread machine. This is as Wisconsin as cooking gets. Matt was happy with both components of the meal, though when pressed, he admitted that the soup did taste "kind of healthy" so maybe next time I do this sort of thing, I'll just say to heck with saturated fat and make a "real" version (well, as "real" as a vegetarian version gets). Despite all the simmering, the celery remained crunchy, which was weird, so I'd want to address that issue as well. It might have needed some, I don't know, butter or something to give it some oomph. The rye bread was nothing special, but we liked it a lot. I love my bread machine when I'm not up for the full-on bread-making experience, but I really want fresh bread. I wish there were some way to keep fresh bread fresh for longer, though. It's just so divine warm from the machine.
Thank you for the recipe link, Stefaneener! I love sweet potatoes, so I will have to try these.
We had a potluck kind of thing over the weekend, and though I felt like I *should* make a main dish, I *wanted* to make an elaborate, chocolatey dessert instead. Guess which one I did? I actually took a photo of my cake, since it turned out way less ugly than my usual decorating attempts. Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera at the party to take a picture of the slices with their pretty pink filling.
The trick was that I didn't actually have chocolate on hand, and I didn't want to go to the store (I can barely reach the pedals on the car with my seat back far enough for my belly), so I had to get a little inventive. I used a Chocolate Buttermilk Cake recipe from Caprial's Desserts as a starting point for the layers. (I love this book. You can find it here. It's based on a number of "master recipes" for which she includes a number of variations. I have made several things from this book, and have been impressed every time.) I have a chocolate buttercream frosting recipe that's evolved over the years. Caprial's frostings are fantastic, but I was either missing ingredients or disinclined to make frosting you have to cook (lazy, I know). Both frosting and cake use cocoa powder, so the lack of chocolate was not a problem. For the filling, I decided to get creative. My first dessert inclination for the potluck had been to make apple cheesecake. I was actually a little obsessed with apple cheesecake, but I would have needed to go to the store for ingredients, and my husband (who is my voice of reason in cooking matters) suggested I find something else. Still a bit obsessed with cheesecake, I decided to make the filling out of cream cheese. And what's this in the freezer? Half a bag of cherries! So I tossed some stuff in the food processor and it was GOOD. I had a bit left over after filling the cake, so we've been eating it on bagels and it is GOOD. If you don't have Cherry Marnier on hand, you could substitute another liqueur. Chambord would be nice with raspberries in the filling. Grand Marnier would be nice, as well--it enhances chocolate wonderfully. Or use nuts in the filling instead of fruit and use Frangelico or Amaretto. So here's what I did:
Chocolate Cherry Layer Cake
Buttermilk Chocolate Cake (makes two 9-inch cakes):
3 cups flour
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 TBL baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/3 cups vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 cup hot coffee
1/2 cup Cherry Marnier
Chocolate Buttercream Frosting:
1/2 cup butter, melted
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
2 TBL Cherry Marnier
Cherry-Cream Cheese Filling:
2 8-oz packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup frozen cherries, thawed (do not drain)
2 TBL Cherry Marnier
2 oz. white chocolate*
Make the cakes:
1. Preheat the oven to 350. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
2. Mix dry ingredients in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment ON LOW SPEED. Add oil and buttermilk and mix on medium speed until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, beating on low after each. Add coffee and Cherry Liqueur gradually and mix on lowest speed (or it will splash and coat your entire kitchen). 3. Divide evenly between cake pans. Bake at 350 until cake springs back when touched lightly in the center, 30-40 minutes (depending on your oven and pans). Let cool 10 minutes before removing from pan.
Make the filling:
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Add additional liqueur or sugar as needed for consistency.
Make the frosting:
Combine all ingredients in a bowl with a whisk. Add additional sugar or milk as needed for consistency.
Assemble the cake:
Invert one cake onto your serving plate. Starting in the center and working outward, spread cream cheese filling not quite to the edges of the cake (leave maybe a 1/2 inch border). The weight of the top layer will squish the filling outward a bit, so I make the filling a bit thicker in the center and thin it out as I move outward. Save some filling for bagels later :) Top carefully with the second layer. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the buttercream frosting. Melt the white chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl for 20 seconds at a time, stirring for 15 seconds after each interval, until melted. Transfer to a baggie and snip off the corner. Carefully drizzle over the cake in a design of your choice. To serve, cut into 12-16 pieces.
*Check the ingredients carefully. You want cocoa butter in your white chocolate, and no coconut or palm oils (white chocolate with the latter doesn't melt properly and you will end up with a gross, solid mass of slightly charred white chocolate. Ask me how I know). I use Ghirardelli or Droste.