Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Post-Christmas Post

My mom was getting Lilah dressed this morning, and Lilah pulled the sweater I made her out of her drawer and asked to wear it! She told my mom, "Mama made sweater! Pretty pink sweater!" Awwww... That reminded me that I hadn't posted a photo of Lilah in her sweater! She's pretty cooperative with photos, but for some reason, she likes her photo taken sitting on her toy box. Good thing that worked out.

Here it is, the Lean Mean Green Toddler Blanket:

Pattern: Made up as I went along, but super basic. I cast on 180 stitches and did 16 rows of seed stitch, followed by alternating squares of stockinette and reverse stockinette (each square 32 stitches wide, about 48 rows high). Five squares by five squares. 16 more rows of seed stitch, then I bound off. It's about 40 inches square. I had five skeins of Cascade 220, and fortunately decided to hedge my bets and get a sixth. I could have fudged it by skipping the last two rows of seed stitch, but I'm glad I had the extra skein. If I'd had more time and yarn, I might have made it 8 squares high for a bigger, rectangular blanket. And it would have been nice to have done something interesting in at least some of the squares--initials, or animals in reverse stockinette.
Needles: Size 8 circular (40")
Yarn: Cascade 220 in Chartreuse (not an accurate name at all, it's more Grass) - 5 skeins plus enough of a 6th to do the last 2 rows

More knitting: I think I'll do a State of the Knitting in my next post, as this one is pretty long. Santa Claus brought me ten skeins of Elsebeth Lavold Silky Wool in a gorgeous blue, and I'm deciding between two patterns in an Interweave issue I just happen to have. Actually, I got it after seeing Rachel's Henley Perfected. I thought this Elann Peruvian Baby Silk in purple would work for it, but then I had second thoughts. And I was concerned about the fit, too, as far as the pattern part covering the, chest area without looking like it was being stretched in funny ways. I'm still concerned about it, but I do love the pattern. But also, fiddly! Maybe not as television-knitting as I need? The other pattern I'm looking at is much simpler, but I'm concerned it'll be too shapeless: The Gathered Pullover. The model doesn't look particularly shapely and it's hard to tell how it hangs by the way she's slouching. I've also only found project photos modeled by equally thin people, which concerns me. Anyone have thoughts? I also was thinking of another Somewhat Cowl but long-sleeved this time. I do like the green one I've made, but I rarely wear it because I don't wear short-sleeved sweaters. A fact I knew when I cast on, but...what can I say? I'm a process knitter. So what would you do with a bounty of Silky Wool?

Let's break for cute kitty pictures. I like how in the second photo, Geronimo is clearly thinking, "Come on, Mom. Lay off the camera already!"

Reading: I'm working on a State of the Reading for the year, and I almost fell over when I checked my LibraryThing for books I read in 2008. The number is 214 (and I might finish this one I'm reading before the new year). However, it was a light reading year, in one sense, because I only read 7-8 books I'd classify as Literature. That's really not a lot. I do rely on my kids' books (which I read really fast, thus inflating the total number) and mysteries for stress relief, but I'm not challenging myself enough. For 2009, I have a goal to read at least one serious book a month.

Writing: Do I even bother to set a 2009 goal? I think I need to, because otherwise, it's just sad. I have some improvements to my writing nook and I want to spend more (heck, any) time up there so I can finish up the mystery. I think I could do it in a month or two with serious effort. Lilah's sleeping has taken a turn for the better (knock on wood), which is helping with energy, so maybe I can stick to a schedule or at least take advantage of her naps.

Cooking: Not much during the holidays, really. I sold my stock of apple butter with no effort, leading me to think I need to invest in some equipment upgrades to improve efficiency (bigger stockpot, real canning pot, food mill). I really like the no sugar added apple butter. I'll have to look into finding citrus for marmalade this winter, then I'm excited to hit the pick-your-own in the spring. I got a copy of Mes Confitures for Christmas, which I'm really excited about. I already have ideas for spring berries.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Hey, I made something! And if you want a free book...

I finished a hat a few days ago for a last-minute Christmas present for my father-in-law, who takes walks almost every day (in Wisconsin!) and will certainly use it. I chose my Manly Hat pattern (available at left), as it's very simple but textured, and suited to the Debbie Bliss Merino Aran I had in a nice charcoal grey.

Shameless plug alert! Actually, this is relevant to a (mostly) knitting blog, and I think several of you will want to enter the contest I'm holding over on the book blog where I post my reviews. I read Death by Cashmere, the first in the Seaside Knitters mystery series, and really enjoyed it. I had the opportunity to "interview" the author, Sally Goldenbaum, by e-mail AND I received a brand-new, hardcover copy of the book to giveaway. Head on over to this post to enter the contest and read Sally's answers to my nosy questions.

Other knitting: Still going on the green blanket. Will I be done by Christmas? Will my Christmas cards be mailed by Christmas? (It's not a good sign that I'm using passive voice here, as in, will some elves sneak in during the night and address and stamp the envelopes for me?) The holidays are so busy, but I really want to get this blanket done so I can gift it in a timely fashion.

Reading: Lots of Christmas mysteries! It's been fun reading them. I'm taking a break to read my book club selection, Finding Nouf, and it's fascinating.

Writing: Not a thing.

Cooking: I made a nice mushroom-wine-tomato sauce for pasta, but it was a bit watery. I made some chocolate treats for a friend's holiday open house (makes me feel less lazy for not having my own party!), and everything went well in the end. I made Hedonistic Fudgies again (yummmmm), espresso-roasted almond truffles, chocolate mousse truffles that did not firm up and were turned into chocolate mousse (still good), and mini flourless chocolate cakes made from pistachio butter (from a Cooking Light recipe). I have also turned 33 pounds of apples into a lovely array of jars of apple butter taking up quite a lot of counter space. Must start mailing them and handing them out as gifts!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Catching Up

I've been plugging along on my Green Blanket, not that it's interesting enough for another photo right away. I had a vague thought of knitting washcloths as Christmas gifts and giving them along with fancy soap, so I looked up a few patterns. I was intrigued by this Octagonal Crest-of-the-Wave Washcloth and decided to try it with some Bernat Organic Cotton KnitPastis had sent me along with some fancy soap (see where I got my idea?). It was an easy enough pattern, and pleasant to knit. Mine curls and doesn't lie flat the way the picture with the pattern does. Blocking might fix that, but blocking a washcloth seems absurd to me. I also should have cut off the last wave pattern, since I used the thicker yarn and bigger needles, but I forgot as I was doing the pattern. It's soft and attractive and bumpy enough, I think, to be a good washcloth. I'm thinking of using it as a facecloth since it's so large (the diameter is bigger than the space between my pinky and thumb when my hand is splayed). All in all, a nice quick knit. I can see why people knit them, and I think I'll enjoy mine. I may pick something less elaborate for actual gifts, though, or at least something that doesn't look as funny lying flat.

Pattern: See above
Yarn: Bernat Organic Cotton in color 43244, a nice spring green, just about one skein (I have a bit left)
Needles: Size 6 dpns and 16" circular (at this size, it was pretty cramped at the end, but I couldn't find my 24")
Notes: See above.

Reading: Hmmm. Lots. It's been a while since I posted. Head to On My Bookshelf for my reviews. I'd been reading Christmas-themed mysteries, which are really fun!

Writing: Nothing but addressing Christmas card envelopes :-)

Cooking: I have been inspired, let me tell you. One night, I decided to make pasta (not that this is unusual for me). I wanted something that could come together quickly, and I had roasted vegetables in mind. I decided to do something different from my usual, toss-chopped-veggies-in-olive-oil-and-roast method. I had eggplant, zucchini, and red peppers on hand for this purpose, but I ended up deciding to do a puree, and the zucchini didn't fit my new plan. You can roast the eggplant and peppers together, and let the peppers steam while the eggplant finishes roasting. By then, the oven should be hot enough for the garlic. I made the veggies a couple of hours before I was ready to make dinner, so they were cool by the time I pureed. You could prepare the puree a day ahead and refrigerate until you're ready to make the sauce. I happened to have fresh mozzarella on hand, which was lovely, but goat cheese pairs nicely with roasted vegetables. The basil adds a nice touch, but I could eat this sauce plain with a spoon, so don't worry if you haven't any on hand.

A note to eggplant-haters: eggplant can be rubbery and/or bitter if prepared wrong. I think 95% of eggplant-haters have never had it well-prepared. Roasted eggplant is completely different, mellow and earthy and a bit sweet. I've converted many eggplant-haters to the joys of the purple vegetable by serving it roasted.

Roasted Vegetable Pasta

1 pound rigatoni
2 medium eggplants
2 red bell peppers
1 head garlic
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
2 tsp dried basil
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp salt (more to taste)
1/4 tsp black pepper
6 oz. goat cheese or fresh mozzarella, sliced
fresh basil, chopped

1. Roast the eggplants: Preheat the broiler. Place eggplants on a foil-lined baking sheet and broil about 15 minutes, or until skin is charred. Turn 180 degrees and broil 15 minutes more. Skin should be blackened. Let cool. Trim ends and remove skin (it should peel off easily). Set aside in colander to drain excess liquid.

2. Cut peppers in half, discarding stem, seeds, and membranes. Place on foil-lined baking sheet and broil until skin is blackened (don't jump the gun or skin will be hard to peel). Carefully transfer to a large baggie and let steam at least 15 minutes. Remove skin.

3. Preheat oven to 425. Remove outer papery skin from garlic, but do not peel or separate cloves. Wrap in foil and bake until soft, about 45 minutes. Let cool slightly, then squeeze out roasted cloves.

4. Heat tomatoes in a large saucepan. Add seasonings.

5. Place prepared eggplant, peppers, and garlic in a food processor or blender and puree until fairly smooth. Add to tomatoes and simmer 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings. Meanwhile, prepare pasta according to package directions and drain. Toss with sauce and serve with basil and cheese.

We had friends over for dinner, and I made Tuscan Chickpea Soup from the Cooking Light archives, Ciabatta from Cooking Light, a Fennel-Orange Salad with pomegranate seeds, and tartlets with goat cheese and Bosc pears. I knew what I was going for with the tartlets, but I didn't find an exact recipe I wanted to follow. I ended up using the crust recipe from here, but the filling wasn't exactly what I had in mind. And I wanted bigger tartlets, not the bite sized ones. I liked the approach here, but I wanted cardamon instead of cinnamon (I'm a bit obsessed with the cardamon-pear combo), and I wanted to use honey, mixed with the goat cheese to take off the tangy edge. Anyway, I was really pleased with what I ended up with. I think this would be a nice filling for filo squares pressed into mini-muffin tins, too. I was actually going for 6 tartlets, but found I had plenty of everything for 8.

Goat Cheese and Pear Tartlets With Honey and Pine Nuts

Note: I used 8 10-cm tartlet pans from Williams-Sonoma, and I found a Tupperware container that was slightly larger, and the perfect size for cutting out the circles.

2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 tablespoons (or more) ice water
2 tablespoons chilled whipping cream

Spray pans with nonstick spray, or grease liberally with butter. Mix flour and salt in processor with blade attachment. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 3 tablespoons ice water and cream. Process just until moist clumps form, adding more ice water by teaspoonfuls if dough is dry. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic; chill 30 minutes. Roll into a rectangle large enough for 8 tartlet crusts (I rolled mine out, cut out 6 crusts, then re-rolled the remaining dough for an additional 2 crusts). Cut out circles appropriate to your tartlet pans and press gently into pans.

10 oz. goat cheese, room temperature
1 TBL honey, plus more for drizzling
3 Bosc pears, cored and diced (do not peel)
1 tsp cardamon
2 TBL pine nuts

Mix goat cheese with 1 TBL honey. Place in pastry (you may have a bit left over). Toss pears with cardamon, mound on top of goat cheese. Sprinkle with pine nuts and drizzle with honey. Bake at 375 degrees for 30-40 minutes, or until crust is lightly browned on edges and pine nuts are toasted. Cool in pans on wire rack before serving.

Makes 8 10-cm tartlets. (You could also use muffin tins, mini-muffin tins, or a large tart pan.)

Saturday, November 08, 2008

A Tale of Two Kitties (and Caramels!) (and Truffles!)

Lots of duos in today's post!

It's getting cold, so Geronimo and Mirando frequently nap together. They're so cute.

Knitting: Thank you for all your kind comments on my placket-neck sweaters! I really enjoy knitting them, and I was pleased with the latest crop. Yes, the Kitchener stitch is only on the underarms. That's the only finishing, aside from weaving in ends, and since I hate finishing, it's perfect for me. Onto the next knitting project, it's the GREEN toddler blanket I'm winging. I think I'm going to need one more skein of yarn. I'm using Cascade 220, which in my experience, is tough, but softens up with washing. I decided to keep it super simple, with a seed stitch border surrounding a 5x5 array of alternating stockinette and reverse stockinette squares. It's simple, but I like it so far.

And what's that you see in the photo? Can it be that I've abandoned my plastic pastel stitch markers for something...pretty?

Yes, yes, I have. I snagged a lovely set of stitchmarkers at Dainty Loop, the store where KnitPastis sells her bags, stitch markers, and earrings. I love these! They bring a smile to my face every time I slip a marker. I innocently inquired whether she had any March colors, and as I'd hoped, she whipped up a batch for me!

Reading: I read the new Kate Atkinson novel, When Will There Be Good News? As expected, it was wonderful. She is one of my absolute favorite writers. She wrote three novels before beginning a series about former cop, sometime P.I. Jackson Brodie. The first in the series is Case Histories, and while these are mysteries in a sense, they're much, much more. My review is here. Anyway, I also read some children's books and the knitting mystery I mentioned last post. It was fantastic! It's called Death By Cashmere, by Sally Goldenbaum and my review of it is here. If a knitting mystery intrigues you, stay tuned, because I will be posting an author interview/book giveaway over at On My Bookshelf soon.

Writing: My Novel Writing Month never got off the ground :( We all got colds, and Lilah's molars are taking forever to come in, so I don't remember my last decent night of sleep.

Cooking: Here are the rest of the twos! I made two different caramels, Espresso Caramels from 101 Cookbooks and Lavender Honey Vanilla Fleur de Sel Caramels from Wallflour. I usually love 101 Cookbooks, so I was disappointed in this caramel recipe. I ignored my instincts and took the temperature up to the 260 degrees called for in the recipe. I made the version without nuts, and maybe the nut version is good at hard-crack stage, but to me, these tasted just a smidge burnt, and they were unpleasant to chew--a real jaw workout, not the softer caramel I'd envisioned. I liked the espresso flavor (but wished it were more than a one-note candy, maybe with some vanilla) and the honey (though, to be honest, the honey was a bit much and I wished I'd used some sugar to temper it), but this recipe just didn't do it for me. The Lavender, etc. Caramels, on the other! This is my new go-to recipe for caramels. I want to try this recipe with espresso powder to see how I like it. Not to be overly modest, but these were the best freaking caramels I've ever had. And I didn't even have fleur de sel, just plain old sea salt. They made the house smell amazing, too, with the vanilla and lavender. In the hopes that partially-chewed caramel isn't revolting, I actually did a photo. I love the way the caramels look wrapped in a rectangle of parchment paper.

I also made truffles, finally. I've been talking about it for ages, but I was hosting book club this month and decided to make caramels and truffles. I made my usual peach-amaretto truffles rolled in chopped pecans, then I played around a bit and made what I'm calling Chocolate Coyote truffles in honor of a now-defunct ice cream shop in Madison, Wisconsin whose signature flavor was chocolate with cayenne. I flavored them with cinnamon and cayenne, then rolled them in cocoa powder mixed with cinnamon, sugar, and another dash of cayenne. They were awesome, I must say. I have more playing around to do (I want to try more of an infusion approach, steeping the cream with jalapeno and cinnamon stick instead of powdered spices) but I'll eventually post the recipe. My peach-amaretto truffles tasted great, but the ganache didn't set properly. No idea what happened there, since this is my standard truffle recipe. But you really could have frosted cupcakes with this, it was so soft. The truffles firmed up in the fridge, enough to serve, but they looked kind of flattened. Yummy, though.

And I've been apple buttering all over the place. I didn't realize the sheer amount of apple required--it takes ONE POUND of apples to produce a single half-pint jar! I've made three batches, one of Rome apples with no sugar added, one of an heirloom apple called Black Arkansas with no sugar, and a sweetened Granny Smith batch. Each batch made 5-7 jars. I really like all of them. The no-sugar ones are more apple-y (technical term) but the Granny Smith has its own charm. I've gotten some more apples to make a couple more batches.

We've been making soup lately, with the cold. Baked Potato Soup and Cuban Black Bean Soup, both from the Cooking Light archives. I must not have been the only vegetarian to complain to Cooking Light, too, because December's issue turned up with the Inspired Vegetarian section restored...hmmmm.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Now we're cooking!

Lilah's friends, all dressed up with nowhere to go.

I keep trying to find a time when I can get a photo of this sweater on Lilah, but she's not been cooperative. The only sweater she likes is her Baby Gap zip-up sweater. Maybe I can bribe her with a cookie when she wakes up. Anyway, here it is:

Details: Placket-Neck Pullover from Last-Minute Knitted Gifts (Duh, do I knit anything else?), size 2-3 years
Yarn: Rowan Baby Alpaca DK in Blossom
Needles: Size 6
Notes: You hear about this pattern from me all the time: easy, fun, cute. I LOVE this squooshy soft yarn. I love Kitchener stitch (weird, I know). I love the easy finishing. Unless, of course, you foolishly do a striped version...

Just for fun, since I haven't gifted the other two Placket-Neck Pullovers, here they are ensemble:

I just started a toddler blanket in Cascade 220 in GREEN. And I do mean GREEN! It's about an inch of seed stitch at the moment, so I'll save posting a photo. Despite my laments that I never learn that winging it doesn't work for me in knitting...yes, I'm winging it. I think it'll be Big Bad Baby Blanket-ish, but with more squares. Or something. We'll see.

Reading: I re-read all the Bunnicula books (actually, the most recent three I'd never read before), and thought they were great fun. I just finished the Ulysses Moore series, a fantasy series about 11-year-old twins who move into a strange house with a mysterious door. Enjoyed it. I'll have the review up soon. I'm now reading Death by Cashmere, the first in a new knitting-related mystery series by Sally Goldenbaum--I was actually contacted and asked if I'd like a review copy, which makes me feel special.

Writing: Nothing. Tomorrow is November 1, the beginning of National Novel Writing Month. The official goal is to begin and finish a novel in November. MY goal is to write SOMETHING every day in November, even if it's just a sentence. I have to get back into my groove of finding time for this.

Cooking: Here's where the content is this time!

If you've been to a southern California restaurant in recent memory, you know that all restaurants are required to display the grade they got from their inspection. This is not without controversy, since some traditional ethnic cooking/food storage methods fall outside what detractors call paranoid American standards of food safety. I'm told that lots of fantastic spots get Bs for this reason. But I like seeing on the window that the place I'm about to eat has conformed reasonably to cleanliness/food safety standards. At any rate, LA County had a neat promotion to build awareness about kitchen safety in your own home, so they offered an online food safety quiz. If you passed, you got one of these in the mail to put on your fridge:

I got an A! I'm such a food nerd, I immediately filled out the test and put this up on my fridge as soon as it left the envelope. Fun stuff!

Crockpot Peanut Stew (adapted from Cooking Light)

I had a couple of requests for this recipe. I don't normally reprint recipes from magazines or cookbooks, but I made so many changes to this, it's hardly recognizable. The recipe called for reduced-fat peanut butter, which I don't think of as food, so I used my standard natural peanut butter (The ingredients should say peanuts and salt. Period.), which adds so much more flavor the little increase in fat is worth it. Add to that--reduced fat peanut butter makes up for the loss of flavor with plenty of sugar and/or high fructose corn syrup, so I think it's a wash, nutrition-wise, and when in doubt, I go for the less processed option. The taste here is a HUGE difference, as is the mouth feel. Trust me, get natural peanut butter (I use Smuckers). The amount of salt you need depends entirely on your stock. I make my own vegetable stock (see below), with no added salt, so I need a bit more salt. If you use a canned full-sodium broth, you will need very little. Taste after a couple of hours and see. I doubled the recipe to feed a crowd, but didn't double the liquid. You need less in Crockpot cooking, anyway, but I wanted more of a stew than a soup. This is really nice in the winter, very warming!


8 cups (1/2-inch) cubed peeled butternut squash (about 3 pounds)
1 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons minced garlic (about 6 cloves)
1 teaspoon salt (depending on your stock)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
4 cups vegetable stock
3/4 cup natural peanut butter
2 tablespoons tomato paste
mm1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Place all ingredients except for cilantro into Crockpot. Cook on high 4 hours, or on low 8 hours, or until squash is tender. Check seasonings and liquid level and adjust as needed. Yum! Serve over rice, sprinkled with cilantro, to feed a crowd.

I made my annual fall vegetable stock. I make as much as will fit in my stockpots and freeze it in those ziploc containers. I made 11 quarts, which is a whole shelf in my freezer! I love homemade broth for the fat-free, salt-free flavor it adds to the soups and stews I make all winter. If you look to the template on the left, you'll see "My Recipes" under "My Stuff." Vegetable stock is actually the very first recipe I ever posted here. I usually make stock about the same way. This time, I used only the (well-washed) dark green parts of the leeks, because the white and light green parts are so good in other preparations. I used a bit more vegetables overall, because I added a 4-quart pot to the mix.

We had friends over, and I made Curried Butternut Squash Soup and Pumpkin Walnut Focaccia With Gruyere, both from the Cooking Light archives, along with a pesto vinaigrette for salad. I also made Cranberry-Apple Cobbler, also a Cooking Light recipe, and made Cinnamon Stick Ice Cream to go with it. I winged the recipe since I couldn't find one I liked. Those who find my ice milk recipes unsatisfying will be delighted that I caved and used egg in this one--not the NINE egg yolks called for in one recipe I found, but some. I love my ice milk, but it usually doesn't firm up right away, and when it does, it's pretty hard. For company, I wanted something easy to scoop, and this worked beautifully. I thought this was a great accompaniment to fall apple-based desserts. Insane cinnamon addicts might want to add even more--the cinnamon flavor was not exactly subtle, but it paired nicely with the vanilla.

Cinnamon Stick Ice Cream

3 cups whole milk, divided
3/4 cup sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 eggs
1 cup cream

Beat eggs and set aside in a medium bowl in an ice bath. In a small saucepan, heat 1 cup milk, with sugar and all cinnamon and vanilla until steamy. Whisk into eggs (work quickly so as not to scramble the eggs), then return to saucepan. Cook, stirring frequently, until custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Return to ice bath, remove vanilla bean and cinnamon sticks, and add remaining milk and cream. Place mixture, ice bath and all, into the refrigerator to chill completely. Churn according to ice cream maker instructions.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Excessive coverage of rather dull FOs PLUS a pattern-type thingy

It must be the media influence; since I'm always seeing stories covered over and above their ability to interest, I'm doing the same with a newly finished set of FOs! Actually, it's more to do with the shiny new porch furniture that makes such a nice backdrop :) I made a simple scarf (embellished with garter stitch tapered ends and Zs at either end (for the recipient's name) and with a bit of yarn left over, I decided to do an impromptu bag. With no plan and not much yarn to work with, this took a couple of false starts. I ended up with a flat garter-stitch bottom for a little more stability than your usual drawstring bag, then joined for stockinette in the round. I did an eyelet row, then about an inch of stockinette, bound off, and hoped I'd have enough yarn left for a sufficient length of i-cord. I did, although I would have preferred two lengths. Ah, well. Anyway, the pictures. The bag is open:

The bag is closed (this is exciting, isn't it?!):

The bag is near the scarf:

The scarf is alone on the porch swing:

Details: Scarf and drawstring bag
Yarn: Plassard Ceruse Silver in hot pink, every bit of 2 balls (240 yards)
Needles: Size 9 for scarf; Size 6 dpns for bag
Notes: It's a nice quick gift. I really dislike this yarn. It's an acrylic-cotton blend, so it's squeaky. Even with a 4-stitch garter edging, it curls like mad. The silver stuff flaked all over my black shirt while I was knitting, so I can't imagine it'll hold up that well. And it was something ridiculous like $10 a ball. That said, it was perfect for my purposes--I needed a quick gift for a pre-teen, and I think the sparkles and hot-pink-ness will make her happy. I was bored by the time I'd done the garter end of the scarf, so I added the Z in purl stitches. I think it's okay, if a little more elongated than what I really intended. I should have put a Z on the bag, too.

The pattern-type thing:

The scarf: Cast on three stitches. On the next row, k1f&b, k1, k1f&b. Knit the next row even (5 stitches).
Row 1: k1, k1f&b, k1, k1f&b, k1
Row 2: k
Repeat these two rows, increasing the number of middle knit stitches, until you have 21 stitches or desired width.
Row 1: k
Row 2: k4, p13, k4
Repeat these two rows until desired length (I did 5' for the middle 21-stitch-wide section)
Row 1: k1, k2tog, k15, ssk, k1
Row 2: k
Repeat these two rows, decreasing the number of middle knit stitches, until you have 3 stitches. Bind off.

I started the bottom of my Z 12 rows into the stockinette portion of the scarf. I did a quick chart to determine the location of the purl bumps to form the letter. My Z was 7 stitches wide and 16 rows tall.

Drawstring bag: Cast on 20 stitches onto one dpn. Knit every row, slipping the first stitch on every row (for easy picking-up of stitches later) until there are 10 selvedge stitches. On the next row, using a second dpn, pick up and knit 10 stitches on the short side, on a third dpn, 20 stitches on the cast-on row, and on a fourth dpn, 10 stitches on the final side. Join for working in the round. Knit all rows until desired length (I did 3 1/2 inches).

Eyelet row: yo, sl1, k2tog, psso (repeat until all stitches are worked (30 stitches remain). Continue in stockinette for another inch. Bind off all stitches and weave in ends. I should have done a matching Z on the bag, but I didn't think of it.

Knit a 3-stitch i-cord to desired length (do two if you have enough yarn). Weave in ends. Thread through eyelets.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Finished Objects and Other Strange Tales

I finished (and almost finished) some stuff while on vacation! Lilah and I headed out to California for our pre-holidays trip to visit the family. We had a great time. When we got back, it was Highland Games time in our area, so we took Lilah. She LOVED the sheepdog trials and the falconry exhibition. Matt and I didn't get to do the kind of shopping we used to at these sorts of things--Lilah wanted to squat on a stump for about 15 minutes watching an ant, and she sees a field of grass and can't help running. It was really fun to watch her enjoying herself, though!

This is a long post, and I have finishing touches to put on Lilah's sweater and the bonus FO, so I will post this now and do FO pictures later in the week.

Reading: I just reviewed Shirley Damsgaard's Abby & Ophelia mysteries, a recent favorite series of mine. I also enjoyed Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer, though I didn't like their first collaboration, Don't Look Down. And I read a plethora of cozy mysteries as well. I have Dewey: The Library Cat... to review (from the publisher! Isn't that fun?) and the new Kate Atkinson that I can hardly wait to read. As soon as I finish Murder Most Maine, the third Gray Whale Inn mystery by Karen MacInerney, I'll read those two. I really should take a picture of my To-Be-Read book piles to shock and horrify you, since it is the Halloween season.

Writing: Still at 12,294 words, and with a subplot to go back and fix. Lilah and I were visiting my parents in California, so I didn't get anything done. Hopefully, the jet lag will wear off soon and I can get us back on a good schedule that allows for writing. November is National Novel Writing Month, and though you're technically supposed to start AND finish a novel during the month, if I can use that to get a jump-start on my current project, so much the better.

Cooking: I am not a particularly good photographer, so I haven't gotten into food photography. That and the lighting in our house is awful and makes food look weird. If I find a way to take appetizing photos, though, I will! I am making apple butter this weekend (until I get my website set up, leave a comment with your email address if you'd like to place an order), so maybe I will try then.

I forgot to post two recipes last time, which is good, as I have not been cooking (traveling). One is for the magical whole wheat scones, and the other is for Spicy Cheese Rolls, a French roll with sharp cheddar and a bit of cayenne, inspired by Stella's Bakery in Madison, WI. Meanwhile, I helped Matt through hosting his coworkers for a dinner thing while I was out of town. We picked an African peanut stew and a pear crumble (both based on Cooking Light recipes). I helped him modify the peanut stew for the Crockpot so he wouldn't be babysitting the stove. And the crumble is nice and simple. I had him substitute cardamon for the cinnamon, which makes it a touch exotic and goes wonderfully with pears. He rounded out the meal with baguette, Brie and goat cheese (rolled in thyme and black pepper), and olives, and a salad with sliced almonds and dried cranberries. He's not very used to cooking, so I was really proud of him for pulling it off!

Amy, I use regular old whole wheat flour, whole wheat pastry flour, and white whole wheat flour. Bread is tougher to substitute whole wheat flour in than pastries and such. You're generally not going to get the same light, airy results with whole wheat, no matter what kind. I've had great success in using white whole wheat flour in place of all or most of the white flour in cookies, but there's a slight "healthy" taste (as my husband would say). I usually use whole wheat pastry flour when I'm not trying to hide it as much--that's what I used in the scones, along with regular whole wheat flour (for the nuttier taste). With's been a while since I've done whole wheat bread. I personally like the taste of whole-wheat flour, so I would just use 100% whole wheat flour, though I used to make baguettes with half bread flour and half whole wheat (along with cracked wheat soaked in hot water and drained...yum). With bread, whole wheat pastry and white whole wheat flours are too low in gluten to make a good substitute in bread. But regular whole wheat flour (which is made from hard red wheat) is fine. But it's always going to be denser than regular old white bread. Oh, and my vegetable stock recipe is linked at the left (My Recipes), but you can throw whatever veggies you want (except very strong tasting ones like cabbage or broccoli) in a pot, cover with water and cook until you like the color :)

And I forgot to respond to you last time--I get a lot of recipes from Cooking Light. You can get a code for online use from one of their books or a newstand magazine (at least that's how you used to do it--it might be open now), or if you're a subscriber, you put in your number. I actually might not renew my subscription. Even though it's not a vegetarian magazine (and those are no fun, I've tried), it's always had vegetarian recipes well-represented. But they dropped their Inspired Vegetarian section this summer, and the last issue had 17 pork main dish recipes in the index and 3 vegetarian. I am a subscriber, and I buy the Annual Recipe collection every year (this is the previous year's recipes--every single one, but indexed, so it's easier to use than 11 magazines), and I'm a bit taken aback by the change. I actually wrote in to ask what was going on, but they're treating it as a letter to the editor submission, so no one's given me any answers. Getting my new Cooking Light used to be a highlight of the month, but the last two magazines, I haven't marked a single recipe as "must shop for ingredients now!" Anyway, enough of that...on to the recipes!

Whole Wheat Scones

4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
12 oz. unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 vanilla bean, scraped (for vanilla version) or 2 tsp cinnamon (for cinnamon version)
1 1/2 to 2 cups whole milk (start with 1 1/2 and then add a tablespoon at a time)
additional sugar and cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or spray with nonstick spray.

Combine dry ingredients. Cut in butter using a food processor, pastry cutter, or forks (I usually resort to my fingers, even though you're not supposed to). Add eggs, vanilla extract, and 1 1/2 cups milk). Stir to combine, adding more milk as needed. The dough should be a bit sticky. Divide into four balls. Sprinkle sugar on a flat surface. Place one of the dough balls on the sugar and turn to coat. Pat down into a round about 3/4 inch thick. Cut into 6 wedges. Repeat with the other three balls. For cinnamon version, sprinkle tops of scones with cinnamon. Bake at 400 for 10-15 minutes, until lightly browned.

Spicy Cheese Rolls

1 1/2 cups warm water
1 TBL active dry yeast
2 TBL sugar
2 TBL olive oil
1 tsp salt
4 cups bread flour
4 oz. extra sharp white cheddar, grated
cayenne pepper

I put everything except the cheese and pepper in the bread machine and put it on "dough." (I love the bread machine!) Divide into 16 equal pieces. Stretch each piece, top with cheese and a sprinkle of cayenne, then fold over. Cover and let rise an hour, until doubled. Bake at 400 until lightly browned, about 12-15 minutes.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Good stuff

Thank you, everyone, on your kind sweater-related comments (and other comments, of course). I get a little frustrated with myself when I don't think things through, which I certainly didn't on this one. I'm actually delighted with the sweater, which I think will be adorable on Lilah's toddler friend. Good catch on the lesson "Intarsia is yucky," Amy :) No action step there, since sometimes I think intarsia is just too cute to avoid. And I like the look of the sweater with the dark blue placket and cuffs. I managed to get all the ends woven in over the weekend, during slow times in my booth at the festival where I actually SOLD stuff I made! One woman indulged in my free samples and then bought ELEVEN jars to give as Christmas gifts in her office. I was delighted. And, though I was concerned a bit that I would hate customers*, I really enjoyed answering questions about my methods and talking about possible future recipes and such. I sold out of nearly everything, and had so much fun. Now I have to figure out if I just want to occasionally sell stuff to subsidize my jam-making and baking habits, or if I want to try to take it further.

*I know this sounds like I should be off in a cabin in the woods somewhere, but my past customer service experience has not been great. While working at a software/internet company, here is an excerpt from a 20-minute phone call:

Old Guy: My internet picture won't open!
Me: I'm sorry to hear you're having trouble. Um, which picture is that?
Old Guy: The internet! It won't open!
Me: The browser? Does it say Netscape or Internet Explorer?
Old Guy: The internet, you know, Netscape.
Me: Do you get an error message when you double click on the icon?
Old Guy: I don't know. Am I supposed to have an icon?
Me: Do you get an error message when you double click the picture?
Old Guy: What about the icon? Do I need one of those?
Me: Don't worry about the icon. Double click on the picture and tell me what it says.
Old Guy: It says Netscape.
Me: Right. Does anything happen when you click?
Old Guy: (click) No! It doesn't do anything! That's the problem!
Me: Sir, you need to double click. Just clicking once doesn't open the program.
Old Guy: I don't have a program. Is that in my Welcome Pack?
Me: Sir, you need to double click to open the internet.
Old Guy: (click, pause, click) Nothing's happening!
Me: Sir, you have to click faster. Click-click!
Old Guy: (click, pause, click)
Repeat the last two lines for about 10 minutes, until Old Guy exclaims, "Oh, I had to DOUBLE click! It's open now!" So you can see that the word "customer" strikes fear into my heart, a reaction that was NOT improved by working for a children's theater company:

Me: I'm so sorry, ma'am, but tonight's show is sold out.
Angry Stage Parent: But my daughter is the star! I NEED 30 tickets for tonight!
Me: I'm so sorry, ma'am, but tonight's show is sold out.
ASP: But I PROMISED everyone! They're coming from out of town!
Me: I'm so sorry, ma'am, but there are no more seats available.
ASP: But my daughter's the star!

Knitting: ANOTHER placket-neck pullover is on the needles, this one for Lilah in pink Rowan Baby Alpaca DK. After finishing the ones for our friends' two children, I decided Lilah needed one, too. No stripes on this one :) I am wondering if the yarn is too nice for the pattern, which is a nice basic pattern, but nothing fancy. But if I wait to find the perfect pattern, I'll never make her anything with it!

Reading: Lots, but nothing especially noteworthy. I have to pick up the new Kate Atkinson book, which I'm really excited about.

Writing: Still stalled at the same word count. Food prep took up a lot of my free time. I hope to get some writing done while I'm in California. Speaking of which, I'd better start packing...

I made a nice Crockpot meal that turned out very well. I also baked up a storm for LakeFest--vanilla scones, cinnamon scones, cherry cornmeal scones, and chocolate chip almond biscotti. For the bake sale, I made pumpkin muffins with pear slices stuck into the batter for ears and put little bear faces on them with chocolate chips. They were so cute! I also made 8 loaves of rosemary focaccia for the bake sale. I'm pretty pleased with the scone recipes--100% whole wheat, and when I doubled the recipe, I forgot to double the amount of butter...and they tasted great! Hmmm, wonder how much fat I can just leave out of other recipes.

Crockpot Red Beans With Vegetables

1 pound small red beans
bay leaf
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 pound okra, cleaned, trimmed, and sliced
1 14.5-ounce can fire roasted diced tomatoes, liquid and all
2 cups vegetable stock*
1 cup corn, fresh or frozen (no need to thaw)
2 TBL Tabasco garlic pepper sauce (this is milder than the regular Tabasco, and has lots of flavor)
3/4 tsp Liquid Smoke
2 bay leaves
1 tsp thyme
2 tsp salt

Soak the beans in cold water to cover 2 inches above the top of beans overnight or 8 hours. Drain and rinse. Cover with cold water to cover 2 inches above the beans, add bay leaf, and bring to a boil. Simmer until tender, but not mushy, about an hour and a half. Drain and place in Crockpot. Add remaining ingredients and cook on Low setting 8 hours. Check seasonings every once in a while. Serve over rice or as a stew with cornbread.

*I haven't made my vegetable stock yet (I make tons and freeze it to use all winter), so I used 2 cups boiling water and one cube of Rapunzel vegetable bouillon with sea salt.

Monday, September 29, 2008

How did I screw up? Let me count the ways...

I did my usual "deviate from the pattern without thinking it through completely" thing with the Placket-Neck Pullover, and unlike many of you who happily modify patterns at will, I NEVER seem to learn that I don't have the skills to do this with complete success. Either major headaches or a yucky FO result. This was a Learning Experience for me. We'll have to see if I actually apply the lessons to future projects or not :)

Pattern: Placket Neck Pullover from Last Minute Knitted Gifts, size 2-3 years
Needles: Size 6 16" (Couldn't find my 24", but it squished onto the 16" just fine) and dpns
Yarn: Rowan Wool-Cotton in white (EXACTLY one ball), Debbie Bliss Wool Cotton in light blue (less than one ball) and in navy (almost two balls)
Notes: I wish I could remember that knitting is not something for which I have natural talent. I am much better off following the pattern exactly (or doing modifications outlined by other knitters more skilled than I) and not substituting yarn unless I check that someone else has successfully used my chosen yarn. Deciding to stripe in this pattern was not the best idea I've had, but overall, I'm pleased with the sweater. Here are things that are completely obvious that I had to learn the hard way:

Lesson #1: Color changes make the jog on a seamless sweater extra wonky. Consider saving striping for seamed garments.

Lesson #2: Intarsia is yucky and tedious. But I really was pleased with how well I did. I think overall the placket looks nice.

Lesson #3: Chart out the striping sequence for the ENTIRE sweater, not just enough to make the body and sleeves match. This was a tough one. I mapped out the increases on the sleeves to make sure they would match the body, but I didn't even consider the yoke striping until I had joined both sleeves. Duh! So the first blue stripe below the neckband is dark blue, when it should have been light blue to match the pattern I'd set. Knitting even wasn't an option because it would have made the yoke over an inch too long, and skipping the last dark blue stripe would have caused the opposite problem. I lucked out at least that the last decrease row was on the white stripe so I didn't have to work even at all (although another two rows would have been okay). I also went on the short side of the measurements for the body and sleeves to make the striping work. I'll have to see if the toddler who receives this has too much wrist and tummy showing--I can rip out the seed stitch trim and knit down another stripe (since the top stripe in the yoke is dark blue).

Lesson #4: If you loathe weaving in ends, DO THEM AS YOU GO. Or skip striping all together. Oh, the humanity!

Lesson #5: Do some actual calculation about the amount of yarn you need for each color. That way, your "stash-busting sweater" won't leave you with one full ball of light blue yarn, and cause you to ADD a ball of white unnecessarily to your stash when you panic and think there's no way you can finish the sweater with the white you have left (and really, it was a squeaker). White yarn left, with sheet of paper for reference:

Lesson #6: Don't do seed stitch on the wrong side row when it's the first row in a new color. (At least I caught this one after a couple of stitches of weirdness, and did a stockinette row in the new color before beginning the seed stitch row.)

Reading: I read the first book in The 39 Clues series. Review at On My Bookshelf. I thought it was fun, if wildly improbable, and I'm really intrigued by the multimedia aspect.

Writing: Writing time has been very scarce lately. We had visitors, and I've been preparing for selling jam. Still at 12,294 words.

Cooking: Hmm. I made the Pasta with Lemon, Beans, and Greens from Cooking Light. The whole family just loves this recipe. So much flavor. I made Hedonistic Fudgies again. Man, those are good. After calculating the points, I was inspired to make them much, much smaller. I ended up with 66 teaspoon-sized drops of batter, making them about 1.5 points each. I have a stew in mind to make with an array of produce, but we're having a warm spell, so it's too hot for stew.

Weight Watchers update: 3 weeks, 6.5 pounds. Hmmm. I know there are slower weeks and faster weeks, but the half-pound loss is tough to see. I'm soldiering on, though!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Just when you need it...

Yesterday was a tough day. Attempts at getting Lilah down for a nap were thwarted, so she was really cranky all afternoon. But, just when I needed it, two things brought me a smile!

Kate, of Knit the Knits gave me an award:

I was absolutely tickled. There are rules attached:
1. post this award on your blog;
2. add a link to the person who sent you the award;
3. nominate at least 4 other bloggers, and add their links as well; and
4. leave a comment at the new recipients' blogs, so they know they got an award.

If you haven't visited Knit the Knits, you ought to. Go for the gorgeous lace knitting, stay for the dry humor and abundant technical terms. I do! It's not easy to pick four recipients. I love all the blogs to which I link, so I'll give the award to those who have specifically made me smile recently.

KnitPastis (you'll see why in a minute): Gorgeous socks, inspiring posts.

StringBean of Crash Test Dummies: She does the projects I lack the ambition to attempt myself and cracks me up.

Stefaneener of Reading While Knitting": I want to be Stefaneener when I grow up. Go see her blog, and you will, too.

Amy of Sassy Does It: A kindred blog-spirit.

I took Lilah to the post office as a bedtime-stalling measure, and had a lovely package from KnitPastis, with many, many treats! I promptly moved my Placket Neck Pullover into this one:

Isn't that the cutest project bag? It's so soft, and a million times nicer to look at than the gallon-sized baggie I was using (I know, so tacky--it was left over from my travel knitting).

Thank you for your comments on my last post! It's been really funny to me, desperate people noticing things in my cart and asking how I cook them. But I love talking about cooking, so it's fun.

Knitting: Finished sleeve #1 on Placket Neck. The number of ends to weave in is HUGE. Even though I always tell myself I'll weave them in as I go along, I never do. It's going to take forever. But I like the striping, and I think it'll be cute. I'm still not sure I have enough white yarn, but I can order a ball if needed.

Reading: I have several reviews to get up on On My Bookshelf. I read a few kids' books, a really, really funny mystery (Brigadoom! by Susan Goodwill), and Staggerford by Jon Hassler. I'm still pondering the ending of Staggerford. I'm not sure it was fair. But it's a good sign that I'm still thinking about it. I'm now reading another of my Joan Hess mysteries.

Writing: 12,294 words! Not as much progress, as we had company. But Chapter 2 is done, and Chapter 3 is clicking along. I think my chapters are far too long, though I do have section breaks. Not that it's a big concern, just something that's occurring to me. I'm focused on the forward progress, just keeping notes on changes I'll want to go back and make. Nothing huge, though one subplot needs some tweaking, as I really mishandled it. I know how to fix it, at least.

Cooking: Have I made anything interesting? Oh, with the last cheap blueberries of the season, I made blueberry ginger jam that is really nice. I made my granola (recipe linked at left), but left out the coconut, added the zest of one orange, and used all cranberries, no raisins for a Cranberry Orange version. It was nice. I made some whole wheat scones to go with my jam.

Weight Watchers update: 6 pounds, 2 weeks...yay!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Cooking Class

I haven't led with cooking lately, and it's not as though I've done anything spectacular, but I thought I'd bring up a few things that were on my mind in that regard. It's not that I think I'm some cooking guru, but I get a lot of questions on how I can come up with recipes and how I know what substitutions I can make in a recipe. I think anyone trying to eat healthier or more interesting food can benefit from a few ideas. I also have been giving impromptu cooking lectures while waiting at the deli counter or picking out off-the-beaten-path-of-typical-American-cuisine produce (not spontaneously! only when someone asks a question). Part of this, I think, is rising food prices. Three times I've been at the store with dried beans in my cart, and I've been stopped by people asking how to cook them. I even have my "lecture" down to under a minute :) They're so much cheaper than canned beans that people are getting curious about them, but it seems not many people know how to do that anymore. Likewise with seasonally cheap vegetables that are outside the usual comfort zone for people. And people who didn't used to cook *at all* are being forced to limit their eating out because of food and gas costs.

Cooking is natural and intuitive for me the way knitting is for other people. I can knit, yes, but it's not the effortless, creative process it seems to be for so many of the knitting bloggers I follow. I have knit myself sweaters that I don't wear because of ill-advised yarn substitutions (the Hourglass Sweater that fits great but isn't in the best color, not to mention the too-scratchy wool) or blind pattern-following (the Simple Knitted Bodice that is too short, and I knew it would be too short, but I was afraid to alter the pattern). I don't really remember learning how to cook. I started in high school when I first started the vegetarian thing and no one knew what to cook for me anymore. I started with a couple of cookbooks and some internet recipes and just went nuts. I'm happiest with Italian/Mediterranean cuisine, but I do a bit of Mexican and Asian cooking, too. When I see a recipe, I see possibilities, not a shopping list. But I think that those who are less cooking-inclined can learn how to do this and become more confident in their cooking.

Healthier eating: If a recipe isn't already billed as "low fat" or "light," you can almost always cut the fat by at least a third without ill effects. If it's a baked item, replace the missing amount of butter or oil with an equal measure of low fat yogurt, drained applesauce, canned pumpkin, light cream cheese, or another low fat ingredient that doesn't clash with the existing ingredients. How to know if it will clash? Partly common sense, like replacing butter in a brownie recipe with pumpkin, which has a strong flavor, is probably not a good idea. But in a spice muffin, pumpkin would be great. If you're not sure, you can e-mail me :) If the missing fat is in a cooking recipe, you may not need to make any change. Or you might want to spray the pan with cooking spray so that the missing fat doesn't lead to food sticking. If it's a sauce or another dish in which liquid amount is key, replace the missing fat with an equal measure of broth (I use veggie broth, obviously). If it's a dairy-oriented sauce, replace with low-fat milk (I'm not a big proponent of skim milk, which tends to make things taste funny or separate oddly). If you want more whole grains in your diet, replace half the unbleached flour in a recipe with whole wheat. White whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour are less obvious than regular whole wheat, but have the same benefits. Try doubling the vegetables in a dish, which lowers the overall calorie count per serving in addition to sneaking in more veggies. Or try adding an additional vegetable. Same with fruit--try increasing the amount. Cooking Light has a "recipe makeover" section where they take a reader's fat-laden favorite and remake it into a decently healthy dish. You can learn a lot about lightening recipes from those examples.

What flavors go together? How do I substitute one ingredient for another? This takes practice, but you don't have to reinvent the wheel. If you don't have (or like) kale, google "kale substitute." Or just ask yourself what it brings to the dish, and what other item might do that just as well. Kale is a leafy green...try using a different leafy green like spinach. Kale is pretty thick, though, so you'll want to cook the spinach for a lower time than the recipe calls for. Also think about menu items at restaurants you like. Do they use citrus and spinach together? Carrots and ginger? Eggplant and tomato sauce? If there's a combination you like, try to emulate it at home. If you know you want to make tomato sauce for pasta, search at a site with A LOT of recipes, especially one with reviews (All Recipes and Cooking Light are great for this). You can get a feel for what the possibilities are, and what combinations get good reviews. With practice, you'll get used to weeding through and finding the recipe you'll like best.

How do I cook that? I actually don't have a basic cookbook (I like the single-cuisine, specialty ones), so I don't know one to recommend. I've heard good things about How To Cook Everything, though. And googling is always your friend. Search "how to cook kale" and you'll find plenty of suggestions. And again, feel free to ask me :) I will tell you how to cook dried beans here, though, because it is SO much cheaper and lower in sodium than buying canned beans. Cover beans in a large pot with cold water two inches above the beans and let sit overnight. The next day, drain and return to the pot. Cover with cold water two inches above the beans again and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until tender. For chickpeas, cooking time might be 45 minutes, but I've had black beans take a full two hours. Unless you know the age of your beans (not likely, as they could have been on the shelf for years), you can't predict the actual cooking time, so just keep checking. I usually do a pound or two at a time. This is a lot, but they freeze really well. Just move into one-cup containers (or whatever size is convenient for you) and pop in the freezer. I defrost by moving a container to the fridge the day before I want to use them, but you can defrost in the microwave, too. If you're going to puree the beans, put in a teaspoon per pound of baking soda during both the soaking and cooking stages and it will help break down the starch. NEVER add acid (like citrus juice) or salt to the cooking beans (until they're partially cooked) as this will make them tough.

Wow, that was long. I hope it wasn't overly boring or pretentious. If you have cooking questions, feel free to put them in the comments. I can't really help you with meat, but I'm pretty comfortable with a wide range of other cooking/baking.

So, anyway...knitting! I'm almost to the armpits on Placket Pullover. I'm afraid I should have used one row of off-white between blue stripes instead of two, because my off-white yarn ball is getting frighteningly small. I may have to order another.

Reading: I've been reading mysteries, and I'll have a bunch of reviews up this week. It's Book Blogger Appreciation Week, so we have some giveaways we'll be doing this week over at On My Bookshelf.

Writing: Are you ready for this? Word count: 10, 640. Woo! Almost done with Chapter 2, and I hope to have that one done by tomorrow. I think my chapters are too long, though, so I might need to break it up a bit. I also have to make a map of my town, as I think I contradicted myself about where some of the places are.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Plugging along

Well, I've been making progress on a number of fronts lately. I actually was going to post a few days ago, but this is Post #250 and I felt like I should have something exciting and fun. But I don't! I'm going for selling stuff at our community thing--thank you to everyone for your encouragement! I will be selling jam and some other things to go with it. Truffles I think will wait for the holidays, though I may have samples out at the community thing with information on how people can order them. They're kind of a huge pain (though perversely enjoyable). So, Amy, it's probably going to be between $1 and $2 per piece. I have to price out my costs. But that sounds like a good future blog giveaway, doesn't it? :-) The tricky thing with a food-based business is the regulation. If I decide to make this a bigger thing than just selling jam at a community thing, I'll have to find a commercial kitchen, not to mention dealing with the bureaucracy of starting a real business. So I'll try this as a first step and see how it goes.

Knitting: Still going on Placket Neck Pullover. I really like it so far. I'm getting close to the end of the body-only part, and I'm enjoying the striping. The ends are a different matter. I've been slacking on tucking them in as I go, so when I finally do them, it'll take forever.

I promise not to give you inch-by-inch progress photos on this, but I felt this showed the striping pattern so much better than the last photo that it made sense. I'm still looking for a cardigan pattern for Lilah. I was thinking this one, but it's not quite what I was thinking. I think it would be easy to modify it to use buttonholes so I can use my cute buttons, but I had more of a collar in mind. Maybe a shawl collar. Anyway, still looking. I may decide to just do this one and see if I like it.

Reading: I had a great reading tragedy occur--I was reading along (Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett) and got to page 162, which describes the hero trapped in a basement. I went to the next page...something wasn't right. I realized that the book was mis-printed. Instead of pages 163-210, I had pages 115-162 again! Ack! Amazon is remedying the situation at no cost to me, but I still have to wait to find out how the boy gets out of the basement. I just finished a fantastic mystery, Death of a Cozy Writer by G.M. Malliet, but I don't have my review up yet. Next week is Book Bloggers Appreciation Week, by the way--we're going to have lots of giveaways at On My Bookshelf.

Writing: Finished Chapter One today! Word count - 5,238. I cannot believe it. I hope to get going on Chapter Two this weekend while Matt and Lilah have quality time.

Cooking: Have I done anything that interesting? I've been doing the Weight Watchers points (2.5 pounds in Week One! Woo!) so I've been doing simple, healthy stuff. Still no luck on my vanilla tea. I tried a random kind of tea that had vanilla in the title, but it turned out to smell much better than it tasted. It was some sort of vanilla chai thing (but teabags, not one of those mixes), and I suspect it would have been better with milk, which, since I'm using tea as a calorie-free treat, defeats the purpose. I did make a batch of Blue Blueberry Muffins (from Blueberry Muffin Murder by Joanne Fluke) and made 5 dozen mini-muffins instead of full-sized muffins. This makes them one point each, perfect for a little pick-me-up. I also made mini-cheesecakes for my book club tonight. Also one point each. I used my usual cheesecake recipe (which makes 8 dozen mini-cheesecakes made in mini-muffin tins) and cut it to 1/3 (this required a bit of tweaking in places, but it worked out well). I ended up with 3 dozen, slightly on the small side. I usually don't lighten cheesecake (seriously, why bother?) but I happened to have 1/3-less-fat cream cheese to use up, along with light sour cream. In the past, when I've made vast quantities of these, I make different kinds--add mini chocolate chips and use chocolate cookies in the crust, swirl in lemon curd, or swirl in blueberry or raspberry sauce. I just did plain this time.

Mini Cheesecakes (small batch version)

Prepare mini-muffin tins by spraying with cooking spray. Preheat oven to 325.

2/3 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 1/2 TBL butter, melted (more if needed)
1 TBL sugar

Mix all ingredients well. Use a teaspoon to evenly distribute crust among 36 muffin cups. Sort of press it down with the teaspoon to make it go up the sides a bit. (Really, it takes almost exactly a teaspoon per cup.)

1 egg
1 8-oz. package cream cheese
8 oz. sour cream
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

Beat egg white (reserving yolk) at high speed until stiff. Set aside. Beat egg yolk, cream cheese, sour cream, sugar, and vanilla until well-blended. Fold in egg white. Use a tablespoon measure to scoop filling in crust and smooth a bit. (This makes almost exactly enough for 1 TBL per 36 cups.)

Bake at 325 for 12-14 minutes, or until filling is set. Cheesecakes may crack a bit. Let cool in tins on wire rack. Carefully remove to an airtight container. If you're having trouble, run a sharp knife around the cheesecakes one at a time and scoop them out (if you spray the tins well with cooking spray, there won't be much of a problem). Refrigerate before serving.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Cross your fingers

I got going on my striped Placket-Neck Pullover, and I think I like it so far. Although I realized that the placket should be in dark blue, which means...intarsia, ick. But it's not that many rows, so probably I'll survive the experience. I also remember why I'm not a fan of striping--ends to weave in. I'm doing those as I go a bit. I noticed that, though I use them interchangeably, Debbie Bliss Wool Cotton and Rowan Wool Cotton are not quite the same. I'm not having gauge problems, but the DB is more of a...sturdy yarn, while the Rowan is softer. At any rate, I jotted down the stripe pattern on the sleeves so I know when to stop the main body. Cross your fingers that it all comes together.

Interesting note (or maybe not), I've thought for years about starting a business, not that I know what I'd do. I've thought idly about selling my truffles or baked goods, and now I've got a jam stockpile. I have an opportunity to sell stuff (whatever I want, really) at a community thing in a month, and I have to decide what to do. Now that I'm finally writing again, do I want to give up precious free time to prepare stuff to sell? (Although Lilah will let me cook while she's up, whereas writing is out of the question.) Will cooking not be fun if it feels like a job? I guess if it's my business, I can determine my capacity and how much I want to do.

Reading: I finally posted four Jane Austen-related reviews at On My Bookshelf. The Jane Austen craze is really funny to me, but I keep reading the books :) One of the books was Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, which is funny because I'm a bit of a Jane Austen addict. I'm doing a giveaway for an extra copy of that book, actually, so enter if it sounds like a good read. I also reviewed a Harry Potter-inspired novel, The Questory of Root Karbunkulus. I'm now reading The Mysterious Benedict Society, which is fantastic. Really, really fun. And where Questory sometimes seemed forced, it's clear that the author of TMBS is having a blast. Though the plotting is careful, the storytelling seems effortless.

It occurred to me that I'd maybe been reading a lot this year, so I sorted my LibraryThing by 2008, and discovered I've read 148 books this year. I almost fell over. Now, a lot of those are juvenile fiction or cozy mysteries, which don't take me that long, but that still seems like a big number.

Writing: A couple of hours yesterday! Word count - 2,598. (I expect Chapter One will take roughly 5000 words.) It's nice to be writing again, though it's frustratingly slow. I wish I were one of those people who only needs 5 hours of sleep a night. I could wake up early and write for hours. Unfortunately, I am just too tired.

Cooking: I grilled (on the George Foreman grill--I don't do real grilling) a zucchini, a yellow squash, a green pepper, and a small eggplant, chopped them up and tossed them with a simple vinaigrette, a bit of feta cheese, and some chopped kalamata olives. Seasoned with oregano, salt, and pepper, and served it over a bed of lettuce. It was really good for such a low-calorie salad. I made the Pasta With Beans, Greens, and Lemon from Cooking Light, which is a favorite, and grilled nectarines for dessert and served them with this lovely ice cream recipe. I made a couple of changes. I upped the liquid to 4 cups to match the capacity on my ice cream maker, used all whole milk to make the nutritional profile less terrifying, and used wildflower honey, since that's what I had. I thought it was lovely, but in my opinion, one vanilla bean would have been sufficient. And they're expensive, so I really wish I had considered that before using both.

I'm back to tracking my Weight Watchers points. I don't do the meeting thing, but just writing down what I eat is a huge help. It's Day 5 and going well. Once I can get some momentum going, it's not that bad. I discovered that flavored afternoon tea feels like a treat--yesterday was Republic of Tea Blackberry Sage, and that reminded me of Republic of Tea's Vanilla Almond. Yum! But I haven't found anywhere around here that sells it, so I think I'll be forced to order it and pay shipping. I have a strong aversion to paying for shipping (amazon,, and ALWAYS get me with their $25 limit since I'd rather order a couple more books than pay the price of a book for shipping), but I think it'll be worth it.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Looking up

So Lilah has been sleeping rather better, though she's had some (yuck) 10:00 pm bedtimes. And a friend and I are working out some alternating child care. She took Lilah for a couple of hours today, and I ran up to my writing nook and worked on the mystery novel. I've been futzing with the backstory so much in little notes to myself (I keep a Word file for the purpose, and a little notepad by my bed) that it's a page 1 rewrite. Gulp. I will be able to lift some sections from the 40,000 words I'd already written later on, but starting over is both exasperating and exciting, because it's a huge improvement.

I want to thank everyone for their comments! You guys are really sweet and encouraging :)

Knitting: Casting on for the Wool Cotton blue/white placket pullover.

Reading: I've been on a Jane Austen-related kick. I've read one very good, one not great but with some good points, and one hilariously fun. I'll post about them on On My Bookshelf soon.

Writing: Draft 3 word count...2017 (Note: We are aiming for about 60-80,000 here, so miles to go, and all that. Still, any progress is a good thing at this point.)

Cooking: I forgot to mention our Indian dinner. I made Samosas from The New Moosewood Cookbook to go with basmati rice and Hot Chana (chickpeas with hot spices, a milder version for Matt and Lilah!) from Vegetarian Cooking At Your House. I usually go all out when cooking Indian, with three or four dishes, rice, and a bread, but didn't have the time.

Monday, September 01, 2008


I had really meant to start posting more frequent, shorter entries, but my constant state these days is one of distraction. Lately it's been the world of book blogging. My friend Holly and I have been posting book reviews and we've both gotten into some early reviewing, and we've even got book giveaways in the works. So I've been reading more book blogs and brainstorming about how to get more than five people to frequent our site :) Add to that that I kept thinking I was just an hour away from finishing my Placket Neck Pullover, and I've gone too long without posting again. it is!

Pattern: Placket Neck Pullover from Last Minute Knitted Gifts (size 6-12 months)
Yarn: Sirdar Snuggly Baby Bamboo
Needles: Size 6 dpns and 16" circular
Notes: This is an easy-peasy pattern. The only thing I do is add buttonholes because I think the beads pushed between stitches looks tacky. I do a yo, k2tog on the last two stitches on rows 4, 12, and 20, and I think it works out well. This pattern overestimates the heck out of your yarn needs. I bought four skeins (436 yds) of yarn and used about two and a half. The buttons came from The Button Drawer, which has such cute buttons and fast shipping. I got a few more, little ducks for Lilah and even a penguin button, along with a few different flowers.

Other knitting: I'm looking for a cardigan pattern for Lilah that would use some Debbie Bliss Baby Alpaca DK in pink. I haven't found what I'm looking for. I definitely want buttons, and a gauge swatch shows I'm getting 6 stitches to the inch on size 6s. I'm happy with that fabric, but I still need a pattern. I'm trying for simple, but a little girly. I may attempt to design something, but that may be beyond my ability right now.

I also have these:

I want to make a placket neck pullover for a two year old boy, but I don't have any particular yarn for it. I noticed these hanging around the stash, and was thinking it might be just the ticket...if I can come up with a stripe pattern that looks okay. I may just cast on with the dark blue and get started. Or I may finally try to finish Tiger Sock #2 while I deliberate.

Reading: Tons and tons. I'm going to send you to On My Bookshelf for reviews again. I'm having trouble settling to a book at the moment. I just read two memoirs (Wife in the North and Queen of the Road, both about women relocating for their husbands--Wife in the North from London to the country; Queen of the Road from a house to a converted bus for a year), and I'm working on Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, but it's not really doing it for me. I have mysteries to read, a huge stack of kids' books, a pile of Jane Austen-related books, and so much more. I may carry on with this one for a bit to see if it grows on me.

Writing: A bit of futzing with the backstory, at least, if not full-scale writing.

Cooking: It's been so long since I posted, let's see. Ah, the baking for the playground build was great. I made three kinds of muffins: the Blue Blueberry Muffins from Blueberry Muffin Murder by Joanne Fluke (fun mystery, fantastic muffins), my Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffins (recipe in the link at the left), and Raspberry Cheesecake Muffins, only with blackberry jam. The muffin for the Raspberry Cheesecake was kind of blah, but the cheesecake/jam filling really kicked it up. Unfortunately, the blackberry jam also erupted from the muffins like lava, leaving my oven coated in charred jam. I'm not sure if I need to vent the muffins or make sure to more thoroughly cover them.

I made Gallo Pinto for brunch last Sunday to celebrate the build (recipe at left). This week, I made Baba Ghanosh (recipe from World of the East Vegetarian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey), Classic Hummus (recipe at left), and Ful Medames. The only change I make is to mash the fava beans coarsely with a potato masher. Then I make pita chips for a feast: Cut pita into wedges, spray and brush with olive oil, and stick under the broiler for about 2 minutes, WATCHING CAREFULLY. Turn, spray or brush with oil, then sprinkle with sea salt, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and dried thyme. Pop under the broiler a minute or two.

I also made Strawberry Vanilla Jam. Again, just following the recipe on the box of pectin, except scraping the seeds of one vanilla bean (split lengthwise) into the pot. I had a half-flat of strawberries, which ended up making 19 jars of jam between the two batches! It's yummy.

Housekeeping update: I finally switched over to Blogger's new Layout thing instead of my old template. I've been re-adding my old links (what a pain). I haven't gotten my web rings added back in, and since I can't seem to log into ring surf, that might take a while...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Pass the coffee, please

Lilah woke up at 4:00 this morning, apparently mistaking the PITCH DARK for broad daylight. After a few attempts to get her to settle down, I gave up and took her downstairs for breakfast. I had 8 dozen brownies made before 7:00 (see below for explanation of ridiculous number of brownies). Since I got up with her yesterday at 5:45, Matt was going to sit with her until 6 and then go back to sleep (I can't go back to sleep right after I've fully woken up--I'll have to nap later in the day if I can). She pitched a screaming "mamamamamama" fit, so I ended up feeding her breakfast at 5 something. Then she acts tired and cranky, and it's like, I'm not the one who picked this wake-up time! By 8:00 I had 8 dozen chocolate chip cookie bars done, too. At this rate, I'll have all the muffins I need finished by noon.

Knitting: I actually did knit a bit on Placket Pullover. I finished sleeve #2 and I'm at the yoke decreases. If I didn't need the sleep so badly, I'd finish it when Lilah naps. This one is in an orchid color for a baby, and I'm thinking of doing another one in blues for her 2-year-old brother. I usually add a button hole or two instead of the bead thing in the pattern. Then I can pick out cute buttons.

Reading: I finished The Empress of Weehawken by Irene Dische. What a fabulous book. I haven't written up my review yet, but I should have it up tomorrow on On My Bookshelf. It was very complex and moving, so I'm reading the gentle children's series Why Some Cats Are Rascals. Very sweet.

Writing: Nope.

Cooking: I made another batch of jam, this one Mixed Berry. I used 4 cups of strawberry and 1 cup each of blackberries and raspberries. I meant it to be more even, but some of my berries had succumbed to The Creeping Mold, so I had to work with what I had. I added a couple tablespoons of kirsch for a little punch. I used the recipe on the pectin box, pretty much exactly. Jam is fun, and so much less of a production than I'd expected.

We have our playground build this weekend, so I've been baking to feed volunteers. Boring bar cookies, mostly, to keep oven time to a minimum. Chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, and brownies. I'm also making scones (Cranberry--meant to be Cranberry Orange, but totally forgot to get oranges at the store, oops!), Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins (recipe at link on left), Blue Blueberry Muffins from Blueberry Muffin Murder by Joanne Fluke, and Raspberry Cheesecake Muffins.

For us, I made Pasta With Beans, Greens, and Lemon from Cooking Light (Sept 07), a favorite. I'll be making various Mediterranean dips at some point and Gallo Pinto. I have it in my head to make Strawberry Vanilla Jam, and maybe another peach jam. Matt thinks the jam-making is nuts, but he showed a flicker of interest when I told him it makes great holiday gifts for neighbors.