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.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Happy Dance

My car is back from the shop! It's back the way it was before the accident. Actually better, as the good folks at the dealership cleaned it inside and out. And put in New Car Smell. Yay, no more driving stick/juggling cars!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I Can Can!

It was a toss-up today with which bad joke to give the title: "I can can!" won with a narrow margin over "We're jammin'!" Spurred on by Stefaneener, a very kind jam guru, I finally joined the ranks of canners with two batches of Peach-Pecan-Amaretto Preserves. I fell in love with San Saba River Peach Pecan Amaretto Preserves after receiving them as a gift, but at $8 for a half-pint jar, they're a bit rich for everyday use. It seems I'm not the only one to feel this way, as googling for a peach pecan amaretto preserve recipe turned up this recipe developed by a fellow San Saba River fan. I followed the recipe exactly and then made a second batch using no-sugar-needed pectin with the low-sugar recipe on the box of pectin, then adding the pecans and amaretto after removing from heat. The sugary batch still hasn't set, though the low-sugar batch set almost immediately upon cooling. I know some preserves take longer to gel, but the fact that the second batch has done so already makes me think my first batch will be pancake/ice cream topping instead of a spread. That's fine with me, as it'll be gooooooood pancake/ice cream topping. The first batch produced 11 half-pint jars, and the low-sugar batch turned up 6 half-pint jars, plus a half jar, which I promptly put in the fridge for immediate use. It was really good on toast this morning. Lilah and Matt agreed. The low-sugar batch is much peachier than the first batch, which is crazy sweet, like jam usually is. I like the low-sugar quite a bit, but both are nice. I also used much bigger chunks of fruit in the low sugar batch, and I prefer it that way. I have plans for a mixed berry jam next.

Thank you for the anniversary wishes! It wasn't the best anniversary, with Matt in Scotland and Lilah not sleeping well, but they can't all be winners :)

Knitting; I'd hoped to show you a finished placket-neck pullover, as Matt was home yesterday (yay!), but I was felled by a migraine and did no knitting. I suspect the sleep deprivation during his trip was to blame, as I haven't had one in years. If you've never had an aura-producing migraine, it's surreal. I was reading at the time and became annoyed because the sparkly blurry shape on the page was getting bigger. Then it hit me. Fortunately, Matt was home to take over Lilah care, and I retreated to a dark bedroom.

Yarnthrower, thank you! Long-tail cast-on is exactly what I meant. That was really bugging me.

Reading: I finished Stephanie Barron's latest Jane Austen mystery, Jane and the Barque of Frailty, but I haven't posted a review yet. Since Barron has a non-Jane book out, I was afraid it would be the last, but it seems there's room for more. I really enjoy these! I'm now reading The Matchmaker of Perigord by Julia Stuart and loving it. I've laughed out loud a dozen or so times, and it's a delightful read. I just received my June ARC to review, Lookin' Back, Texas by Leanna Ellis, so that's next. I requested this book based on the description, which left out the (to me) pertinent fact that it's Christian fiction. I'm going to try to read it with an open mind, though, and hope to be able to give it a good review.

Writing: Yeah, right.

Cooking: Besides the jam, I busted out another batch of ice cream. Inspired by this David Lebovitz recipe, I set out. Naturally, I modified the heck out of it. Lebovitz's book, The Perfect Scoop, goes on and off of my wish list, mostly because I understand his recipes almost always include a custard base made with 5 egg yolks. Not really my thing, but it looks like a fun, gorgeous book, and I sometimes think, well, hey, I could modify the recipes to leave out the egg.

Coffee-Heath Bar Crunch Ice Cream

3 1/2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups whole coffee beans (I used decaf Ethiopian)
pinch salt
1/2 cup cream (or substitute another 1/2 cup of milk)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp finely ground coffee (I used espresso)
1 cup crushed/chopped Heath bar*

In a small saucepan, combine 2 cups milk with coffee beans, sugar, and salt. Heat over medium heat until hot and steamy, but not boiling. Remove from heat and let steep, covered for 1 hour. Strain. I lined a bowl with cheesecloth, poured over the coffee mixture, then lifted the cheesecloth, squeezing with clean hands to release as much liquid as possible. You could also use a strainer and press down on the beans. Stir in remaining milk, cream, vanilla, and ground coffee and chill mixture. Pour into the bowl of an ice cream maker and process until nearly firm. Add Heath bar bits and process until mixed and firm.

*I forgot to put Heath bar bits (sold in a bag near the chocolate chips) on the grocery list, but noticed the Heath bars in the "impulse buy" section in the checkout lane. Three Heath bars made about a cup. I finely chopped two of them and broke the third into larger chunks because I like chunks :)

This is delish! It would be nice with chocolate-covered espresso beans as the chunks, or by itself, or with melted chocolate (cooled, but still pourable) drizzled into the ice cream maker as it processes in the last five minutes. Or chopped chocolate. I thought the ice cream tasted just like an iced coffee. I might try a smidge less sugar next time, maybe a 1/2 cup, at least if I'm adding Heath bits or something else with sweetness. I had already modified the recipe to include more liquid, and I didn't increase the sugar, but I think it could use even less.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Knitting Meme (plus bonus ice cream recipe!)

I have a couple of things that are more interesting to post later this week, so I cast around for some content to post along with a fantastic ice cream recipe, and! This meme, which String Bean posted, reminds me of a less-intoxicated, G-rated version of a popular drinking game. So, here it is, Knitter's I-Never:

Bold the things you have ever knit
Italicize the ones you plan to do sometime
Leave the rest

Garter stitch
Knitting with metal wire
Stockinette stitch
Socks: top-down
Socks: toe-up
Knitting with camel yarn
Mittens: Cuff-up
Mittens: Tip-down
Knitting with silk
Moebius band knitting
Participating in a KAL
Knitting with recycled/secondhand yarn
Drop stitch patterns
Slip stitch patterns
Knitting with banana fibre yarn
Domino Knitting (modular knitting)
Twisted stitch patterns
Knitting with bamboo yarn
Two end knitting ***Do I even know what this is???
Charity knitting
Knitting with soy yarn
Toy/doll clothing
Knitting with circular needles
Baby items
Knitting with your own handspun yarn
Graffiti knitting ***I have to look this one up, too
Continental knitting
Designing knitted garments
Cable stitch patterns (incl. Aran)
Lace patterns
Publish a knitting book
Teaching a child to knit
American/English knitting (as opposed to continental)
Knitting to make money
Button holes
Knitting with alpaca
Fair Isle knitting
Norwegian knitting
Dyeing with plant colours
Knitting items for a wedding
Household items (dishcloths, washcloths, tea cosies…)
Knitting socks (or other small tubular items) *** Hahahaha! Other tubular items.***
Knitting with someone else’s handspun yarn
Knitting with dpns
Holiday related knitting
Teaching a male how to knit
Knitting for a living
Knitting with cottonc
Knitting smocking
Dyeing yarn
Knitting art
Knitting two socks on two circulars simultaneously
Knitting with wool
Textured knitting
Kitchener BO
Knitting with beads
Long Tail CO
Knitting and purling backwards
Machine knitting
Knitting with self patterning/self striping/variegating yarn
Stuffed Toys
Knitting with cashmere
Knitting with synthetic yarn
Writing a pattern
Knitting with linen
Knitting for preemies
Tubular CO
Freeform knitting
Short rows
Cuffs/fingerless mitts/armwarmers
Knitting a pattern from an online knitting magazine
Knitting on a loom
Thrummed knitting
Knitting a gift
Knitting for pets
Knitting with dog/cat hair
Hair accessories
Knitting in public

If you read this and feel like doing a meme, consider yourself tagged. For extra fun, do a shot for every line you bold!

Other knitting: Still going on good ol' placket-neck. My dad has been here, so we've been busy. I did want to announce that I have switched from using cable cast-on for practically everything to the double cast-on. Is that what it's called, the one with the fiddly hand movements that uses both ends of the yarn? So much stretchier, yet still neat-looking. When I first started knitting, I could NOT get the hang of it, so I switched to the (much easier) cable cast-on. But it's often too firm, so I tried the double cast-on and I couldn't be happier. Well, I could if I had a million dollars, probably.

Reading: Lots of Joan Hess's Claire Malloy mysteries. Now I'm reading the last Jane Austen mystery by Stephanie Barron, which I've been hoarding. I might go on to a big pile of juvenile fiction, or I might switch to Jane Austen related fiction.

Writing: Nothing at all.

Cooking: At the totally dysfunctional place I used to work, another employee and I were once asked to leave so the artistic director and executive director could continue their "discussion" (read: shouting match) in our one-room, multi-person office. We ran a couple of work-related errands, then came back. We could hear the yelling down the hall, so we headed to the newly opened Ben & Jerry's. A flavor I liked every once in a while (that I don't recall ever seeing in pre-packed pints at the store) was a coconut ice cream with almonds and chocolate. Yum.

Coconut Ice Cream (Light-ish)

1 can coconut milk plus enough whole milk to make 4 cups
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup chopped chocolate-covered almonds
1/2 cup finely shredded coconut*

Place first three ingredients in bowl of ice cream mixer (make sure they are chilled). Process until almost firm. Add remaining ingredients and process until well-mixed and desired consistency. This, like other light ice cream recipes, freezes rather solid. I just zap it for 30 seconds before serving, or set it out for a few minutes. I might try coconut-flavored rum in this next time, as that would make it a bit softer.

* I actually would leave this out last time. It's coconutty enough without it, and it's sort of chewy and dry. Maybe I could try letting it sit in hot coconut milk to absorb moisture, then chilling the whole thing, but that sounds excessive.

Notes: Use up to 1 cup whipping cream in place of the whole milk if your arteries are too healthy. I happened to have chocolate-covered almonds on hand, but chopped dark chocolate and roasted chopped almonds would be great, too.

And six years ago today:

Monday, August 04, 2008

Channeling "Bulldog" Briscoe

I always liked Frasier, and one of the supporting characters was sports announcer "Bulldog" Briscoe, a loud, uncouth, unforgettable sports fan. He was always a fun counterpoint to Frasier's stuffiness. Anyway, he used to have a knee-jerk reaction every time he was unable to find something he needed: "Who stole my [whatever]? This stinks! This is total BS! Oh, here it is." Now Matt and I use "This stinks! This is total BS!" when we can't find something. Anyway, long story short (too late!)...I sat down with my new Cooking Light, always a treat, and got to the last page. "Where's my Inspired Vegetarian section? This stinks! This is total BS!" It appears they've eliminated it, which really ticked me off. I flipped to the index page and counted...eight main dishes under "vegetarian." Hmmm. I went back and checked a couple recent months' issues...four and six. So, they eliminated my section, but have more recipes for me? That sounds okay. I used to think that Inspired Vegetarian sometimes gave them an excuse to ignore vegetarian possibilities in other sections, so maybe it'll work out. It's kind of weird, though, because usually when they have a format change, they go on and on about why they changed it and how it's better. Aren't you glad you read that whole story? Matt's not home so I can't share it with him, so I get to bore you instead :)

In other news, I have been coloring under duress. Lilah is very into coloring ("ee-book-ah" is what she calls it) and likes it to be a group activity. Everything is a group activity with Lilah. She is clearly an extrovert. My mom says that she used to sit and read while I played happily by myself, but my little brother used to grab our faces and say "Listen" and often hid her books so he'd have everyone's full attention. Lilah and I used to sit and color on opposite pages of a coloring book, and that was fine. But that's not good enough anymore, so I have to use the color she chooses for me (and she'll rip it out of my hands and shove a new one in my hand when she wants me to change colors) and she actually holds my hand and moves it on the paper where she wants me to color. I can tell I need to start my yoga classes after Matt's back, or start going to my alumni knitting group or book club for some "me" time because I find myself resentful of her tyranny and actually thinking, "I don't get to do anything I want! I want to color the duck yellow, not the barn brown!" Whew. Talk about temporary insanity.

Knitting: This is probably the longest it's ever taken me to do a placket-neck pullover! It's not that I don't enjoy it, but Matt is in Scotland for a conference, so I'm on double parenting duty, and I haven't had any knitting time. That being the case, I might try to set aside a few minutes to finish the sock for the Knitting Olympics (not officially participating), but I'll decide tomorrow. My day right now goes Lilah-Lilah-Lilah-Yay, nap!-Clean-Clean-Clean-Lilah-Lilah-Lilah-Yay, bed!-Clean-Clean-Clean-Crash. Not much room for anything like knitting. Fortunately, my dad is coming for a few days to help me out.

Since knitting content is limited in today's post, I decided to finally get out and take a sock yarn photo. We had a nice sunny day, so the colors are great. (Lilah and I weathered a doozy of a storm Sunday night, losing power for about 5 hours, right at bedtime.)

Clockwise, from left: Lorna's Laces in Vera, Hill Country Yarns Instant Gratification Sock Yarn in Sandalwood, Noro Kureyon Sock in whatever number that is, Instant Gratification Sock Yarn in Mountain Laurel, Instant Gratification Sock Yarn in Indian Summer (yes, two skeins, no idea why--must be Turtlegirl's fault), Sunshine Yarns in Strawberry Banana (it's been so long I don't remember if it's superwash or not), Brown Sheep Wildefoote in Sonatina (almost identical to the Sunshine Yarns, oops), Lorna's Laces in Happy Valley.

Look at all those pretty socks-in-waiting! Since I have two of the Indian Summer, maybe it'll turn into something else. I really love those colors. I also can see that there's no reason for further yarn shopping, as the sock yarn alone should keep me occupied for a while!

Reading: Finished a very disappointing mystery novel (May Day by Jess Lourey--the first in a series. My review is on On My Bookshelf. I retreated back to my Joan Hess mysteries for a bit before starting something new.

Writing: You know the story. No time, no energy.

Cooking: I haven't made anything that interesting, but I did make bread. Not the time-consuming, relaxing, old-fashioned way (partly because it's too hot to use the oven), but in my bread machine. In many ways, I am a big cooking snob (and I do enjoy the full bread experience with the kneading and rising), but I love my bread machine. Just chuck in all the ingredients and wait a while. Bing! Fresh-baked bread. This recipe is adapted from one I randomly found on the internet when I wanted to use some rosemary (we have two bushes growing outside our house) and had it in my head that cornmeal would be a nice touch. You can cut the recipe in half for a smaller machine; just use 1 tsp salt and keep the rosemary the same. Halve all other ingredients.

Rosemary-Cornmeal Bread

1 3/4 cups warm water
2 TBL olive oil
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups bread flour
1 cup cornmeal
2 TBL sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
5 tsp active dry yeast (2 packets; or use bread machine yeast)
1/4 cup chopped fresh rosemary

Add wet ingredients to bread machine. Add dry ingredients. Bake on white bread setting. Voila! (Note: I read somewhere that you shouldn't add fresh herbs until the beep because they can keep the bread from rising properly, but I've never had a problem with this with rosemary.) You may notice that I haven't "healthified" this recipe. I think it's because it's comfort food for me, and it's okay if comfort food isn't particularly healthy. I think about trying to sub white whole wheat flour for the all-purpose, but I've been afraid it'll be too dense. I have also thought about sauteeing rosemary in the olive oil to kind of infuse the flavor throughout the bread, but haven't taken the extra time. When I remember, I sprinkle the top with cornmeal after the final kneading and before it bakes for a pleasant outer crunch.