Tuesday, April 29, 2008

April - just a little lame

Well, as is becoming a pattern around here, my big project is not done for the end of the month (although there is still a chance I may finish Sock #1 by the end of tomorrow, as I only have a couple of inches left on the leg. Still, Matt has two feet, so even then, it can hardly be called April's FO). In the interest of having a finished object for April, I tackled Annie's Going Green Coffee Cup Cozy even though I am very late for Earth Day. I used up the Silk Garden I had left from the beret that was a last-minute end-of-month project a couple of months ago :) I decided to make it 16-ounce size, so I just carried on for 8 extra rows in pattern before doing the final knit row. I had barely a foot of yarn left, so no crochet edging, which is just as well, because I'm not super with that anyway. I liked how it turned out.

Pattern details:
Pattern: Going Green Cup Cozy
Yarn; Noro Silk Garden
Needles: Size 6 dpns
Notes: After Row 32, I repeated rows 9-16 (adding knit stitches to the end of each needle). I thought this was a really fun little pattern, very quick and cute. It did occur to me, however, that while the cozy eliminates the need for those cardboard sleeves, it would be much greener to buy a travel mug to reduce consumption of the paper cups, but that wouldn't require any knitting :) This was on the long side for a 16-ounce cup, as you can see, so I think it would cover a fair amount of a 20-ounce as well, but I don't usually get one that big!

I forgot to post a picture of one of my birthday presents. My brother-in-law and his girlfriend found me this little bowl, a one-of-a-kind piece made from yarn. I've been using it to hold my Tiger Sock knitting. It's the perfect size. Isn't it cute?

Lilah and I are actually remote blogging from California, where we're visiting my parents and brother. We're having a great time, and I can't believe I'm actually posting on vacation, as I never manage to.


Death at Wentwater Court by Carola Dunn: This is the first Daisy Dalrymple mystery, and I thought it was lots of fun. These are set in the 1920s England and Daisy is a Town & Country reporter, shocking her family (I think her father is a baronet or something). Anyway, Daisy is likeable and I think Dunn evokes 1920s England well, at least to someone who's seen Gosford Park. The plot is well done. Daisy is at a family's country house when an apparent accident takes place. Daisy's photography uncovers a suggestion that it might have been murder. I'll have to find the second in the series--I think there are 16 or something.

Duma Key by Stephen King: It's been hit or miss for me with recent Stephen King, but I had a hard time putting Duma Key down, even with 600+ pages. He's used his personal experience with recovering from a terrible accident and placed in on Edgar Freemantle, who loses an arm and scrambles his brain in an accident. His 25-year marriage ends, and when his doctor suggests "geographical therapy," Freemantle (randomly, he thinks) chooses Duma Key, an isolated island off the coast of Sarasota. He takes up painting with a vengeance, stunning gallery owners in Sarasota, and haunted by his phantom arm and the voices of the shells under his house, he begins to uncover the truth about Duma Key and its oldest inhabitant, Elizabeth Eastlake. His hired help, Jack, and Elizabeth's companion, Wireman (who has also suffered a head injury, as has Elizabeth), help him find the source of his talent. If any part of the novel dragged, it was pages 500-600 or thereabouts--the exciting conclusion was really kind of long. But I found Edgar's emerging talent engaging, and King did a great job of the terror gently creeping into the story.

Back on Blossom Street by Debbie Macomber: I read the first of these, The Shop on Blossom Street, ages ago. It took me a while to get into this one. The intro in which Macomber basically explains everything that happened in the series so far was very long and dragged, but once I got into it, it was pretty fun. These are the most wholesome romance novels you've ever read, seriously, but they're also about the personal struggles of the various characters. She writes from the point-of-view of several, which is totally cheating, but it works for the stories she's telling. The prose is...saccharine is a good word to use here, maybe a really long Hallmark card is another way to put it. But if you're in the mood for uplifting, obviously telegraphed happy endings, and women solving their problems in a knitting group, this book is for you. I don't mean that as negatively as it maybe reads. I enjoyed the book, I did, it's just not particularly challenging and it's not my usual fluffy reading (very little sense of humor here). Anyway, Lydia owns a knitting shop and decides to have a class on doing prayer shawls. Each of the women in the class has a different problem going on, and everyone's happy at the end. There are really no surprises in this one, but it's pleasant and comforting.

Writing: Plugging along on Chapter 1 rewrites while Lilah naps or my parents watch her. Very pleased with how much better it is. As I've mentioned, it's set at a theater company, and I was cramming in everything possible about community theater. Now that I've pulled quite a bit back out, it's much more interesting.

Cooking: Not a thing. We're on vacation!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Oops, late again!

I missed posting on Kitty Day! On April 17, we celebrated (with tuna!) our 5th anniversary of adopting our kitties from the Humane Society. This is last year's photo retrospective. I'm not going to try to top it, but here are the guys on the porch:

Check out our lovely clovered lawn. Once Spring hits, stuff grows like mad. Mostly weeds. I'm calling the clover endearing, however. Matt mowed the next day.

And we have irises! Not through any effort of our own, but this is our first spring here, so we were very happy to see these bloom.

Knitting: Still plugging along on the first tiger sock. I turned the heel and am knitting the leg. It's sort of weird to be going toe-up. And there's no gusset shaping to do, which makes me feel like I'm missing something. The short-row heel was pretty easy, though, and it looks pretty nice. Unfortunately, I'm going to be out of town when I finish sock #1, so I won't be able to have Matt try it on before I start #2. Hmmm. Hope they work. I thought the foot seemed a bit long, but holding it up to his foot, I don't think so. Anyway, I hope to finish these for April and then start my Henley Perfected. I also want to bust out one of these (or several to give out to friends) fantastic coffee cup cozies. I have some Simple Knitted Bodice photos, but I'm really not happy with them. I'm in shadow, the camisole underneath doesn't really go, I'm not sucking in my stomach, and you can't see the stitch pattern that well. So I'm going to block and then do photos. You know, someday.

Reading: I have been enjoying the Hannah Swenson mysteries from Joanne Fluke. The first is A Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder. These take place in tiny Lake Eden, Minnesota and feature Hannah, who owns The Cookie Jar, a bakery/cafe. Lake Eden is fun, Hannah is likeable, and the mysteries are well-done. Recipes are included, and I've made a couple with great success. A frequent complain in amazon reviews is that the love triangle (Hannah has two love interests) is unbelievable, and this is true to an extent. Hannah's mother always seats her between Norman and Mike at dinners, etc., and they don't seem to mind. There is some jealousy, but not as much as you might expect. But whatever, it's not the only part of the books, and it doesn't annoy me that much. I also zipped through How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author by Janet Evanovich. She co-wrote this with a creative writing professor, to make it more credible, I guess. Anyway, the poor professor's parts are fairly dry, but useful and well-organized. The book is mainly Q&A with Evanovich, based on questions asked by fans on her website. It's often interesting to read how a writer writes, and Evanovich is funny and entertaining. As a writing book, it doesn't hold a candle to Stephen King's On Writing, but it was interesting, and samples of query letters and manuscript pages, and advice on joining groups and attending conferences, is worthwhile. All in all, not an essential read for writers, but a fun one for Evanovich fans.

Writing: Still opening the file every day. Lilah slept 9 uninterrupted hours last night. If this keeps up, I can start getting up early to write! Knock on wood for me, would you?

Cooking: I made the Spring Tabbouleh from 101 Cookbooks, and we all loved it, even Lilah. Especially Lilah! So funny to see her scoop bulgar wheat into her mouth with her fingers and then give a huge smile! I also made Penne With Ricotta and Zucchini from Cooking Light (available in the 2001 cookbook), a quick favorite. I also did a crazy Indian feast. I made the samosa recipe (baked, not fried) from The New Moosewood Cookbook. I made Eggplant Rice, Saag (Spinach) Paneer, and Hot Chana (Spicy Chickpeas) from Indian Vegetarian Cooking At Your House. Instead of the ricotta, I made paneer from this recipe and it didn't work as well as it did the last time I made it. The curds just didn't develop that well, and I ended up with less than a cup of paneer. I probably should have added more lemon juice, but I had Lilah climbing up my leg, so I decided to just see how it turned out without extra effort. Everything was lovely. I really like this little cookbook, which makes Indian cooking very approachable and even gives nutritional info.

I made blue cheese dressing, based on a Cooking Light recipe:
3/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
2/3 cup light sour cream
1/2 cup light mayo
2 tsp red wine vinegar (more to taste)
salt and pepper to taste
1-2 TBL finely chopped chives (depending on how much you like them)
1/4 cup milk (add more to desired consistency)

Mix everything together and refrigerate. Yum! Good on salads or as a dip for almost anything.

We had low turnout to our Playground Committee yard sale/bake sale due to rain, so we reprised the following weekend. We had company coming into town, so I didn't bake as many things. I made the Blue Blueberry Muffins from Blueberry Muffin Murder by Joanne Fluke, and they were awesome! I need to work on lowering the butter content in future, but the taste was fantastic. I also was seized by the urge to make Black and White Cookies (you remember that Seinfeld episode? He says to "look to the cookie" for racial harmony) and set out to google a recipe. There was one from an actual New York bakery, but comments from people who'd made the recipe were iffy, so I ended up adapting a recipe from Gourmet. When restaurants and bakeries post recipes for beloved items, I'm always a little wary, for two reasons: 1. They cook in huge quantities, and even though it defies logic, reducing the yield can change the product, and 2. They have commercial mixers, ovens, etc., which makes a big difference. Anyway, here's what I came up with. I thought the icing (my own recipe) was delightful, and the cookies were almost sponge-cakey.

Black and White Cookies
Makes 30 BIG cookies


5 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 1/3 cup buttermilk
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/3 cup butter
2 cups sugar
4 eggs

White icing (make twice):
2 cups powdered sugar
1 TBL light corn syrup
1/2 tsp lemon extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 TBL milk

Black icing (make twice):
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 TBL light corn syrup
3 TBL cocoa
1/2 tsp vanilla
2-3 TBL milk

Make cookies:
1. Preheat oven to 350. Butter a cookie sheet.
2. Stir together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
3. In a stand mixer, beat together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and beat well. Alternate adding flour and buttermilk until all combined.
4. Scoop out batter with a 1/4 cup measure and place 2 inches apart on cookie sheet. Bake 13-15 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown. Repeat until all cookies are baked (I baked them 6 at a time).
5. Cool completely on wire racks upside down.

Make white icing:
1. Combine all ingredients, adding more milk or powdered sugar as needed. Brush onto half of flat bottom of each cookie. I made half the icing, then mixed again, to prevent icing from hardening before I could finish. Ingredients are for HALF the total white icing needed.

Make black icing:
1. Combine all ingredients, adding more milk or powdered sugar as needed. Brush onto other half of flat bottom of each cookie, slightly overlapping the white icing.. I made half the icing, then mixed again, to prevent icing from hardening before I could finish. Ingredients are for HALF the total black icing needed.

Let stand until icing has hardened,

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Eye of the Tiger

Buffy: I'm just worried this whole session's gonna turn into some training montage from an 80's movie.
Giles: Ah. Well, if we hear any inspirational power chords, we'll just lie down until they go away.

I've got to get back to my healthy eating. Possibly even counting my Weight Watchers points. Definitely measuring things instead of just dumping oil in the pan. It is my hope that Lilah will wean someday, preferably soon, and I am already giving her far fewer of my calories. I slipped into sloppy eating habits, and I really can't explain how or why, because I actually like whole grains, lean protein sources, fruits, and vegetables, and I feel better when that's mostly what I'm eating (along with a healthy dose of dark chocolate). But I've been tired due to lack of sleep (Lilah, for the love of Pete, you have got to start sleeping through the night consistently!) and feeling discouraged about not getting much done on the writing front, and I tend to seek comfort food. Plus, my days of daily exercise videos are over since I have to scramble to get things done during the precious Nap Time, though Lilah and I have been going on walks. Added to that that I've been able to add in dairy, which I'm eating way too much of, and I have to Do Something so my weight doesn't slide back up to where it was a year ago. I haven't done much damage (three pounds can be removed easily in a week), but it's time for an intervention. I know it's a smidge late for New Year's resolutions, but whatever. Expect to hear reports of healthier meals here, and I'll share any good light recipes I come across (or invent). Anyone want to join me?

Knitting: Continuing the Tiger theme...

Hee hee. I love the stripes. Too cute. This is going just fine. I got the short-row toe (finally!) and I'm knitting away. I'm doing a 5-stitch repeat pattern from Sensational Knitted Socks, but instead of a foofier pattern, I'm doing a 4/1 rib (they're for Matt, and even the Beaded Rib is a bit foofy for him). I noticed many rows in that I should have done a purl row before the pattern begins to make for a symmetrical pattern, but since I don't want to undo all that work, I'm pretending it was an artistic choice. Just go with it. Still no modeled pics of SKB. I haven't forgotten--it's just been tough with juggling the one car, Matt at work during most daylight hours, and Lilah unsupportive of any activity that doesn't focus all attention on her.

Writing: I've been at least opening my novel file every day, and I get a few words here and there. I've gone on to page 2, so that's good, I guess. At this rate, I'll be done in 2012. I've been thinking about it A LOT lately, though, so my hope is that my brain is working out the kinks and it'll be easy to write.

Reading: Lots of reviews!

Key Lime Pie Murder by Joanne Fluke: I thought it was an excellent entry in a cozy series. Besides the murder mystery, there were several fun subplots: What's behind Moishe's odd behavior? What is Hannah's mother's Secret Project? Will Hannah choose Norman or Mike or even Ross, who still sends her gifts? Will Hannah enter the 21st century world of cell phones and computers with internet access? Some amazon reviewers complain that Hannah's dithering over the men in her life is annoying, that it's unbelievable that she resists computers and cell phones, that the mystery doesn't happen until past 100 pages in. But to me, the fun of this series is small-town life in Lake Eden, Hannah's family, and Hannah's life, and those things don't bother me that much. This is a really fun cozy series. And oh yeah, there's a murder, and that part of the story was well-done, too. There are a few cookie recipes I think I'll be trying, though I'm not really a casserole (hot-dish) fan, so that's about it. Update: I made the Peach Bread recipe, but put the batter into 18 muffin cups. Yummmmmmmm! These are good, even with canned peaches. Peachy and almondy and light (tasting, that is--the fat content is scary).

Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter by Blaize Clement: This is the improbably named Blaize Clement's first Dixie Hemingway mystery. This was surprisingly dark and complex for a cozy mystery series. Dixie was a sheriff's deputy on Siesta Key (off the Sarasota coast) until the deaths of her husband and daughter sent her over the edge. She regrouped and started a pet-sitting business. When she finds a dead man in a client's home, she's sucked back into the world of investigation, both as a suspect and a person with some inside scoop. I thought Clement pulled off the edgier heroine in a cozy setting quite well. The lifestyle and characters are Siesta Key were an interesting setting, Dixie is sympathetic, and the mystery complex and satisfying. There was one Clue (that's a capital C, as in "Scooby Doo, you've found a Clue!"), let's call it a MacGuffin, that Dixie comes across without recognizing its significance. That's fine, but as it became increasingly clear that the MacGuffin was really important, it started driving me a little crazy that Dixie wasn't picking up on it. However, since she had quite a bit going on and I was paying more attention to details as a reader, I tried to let it go. At any rate, I thought this was a fun, really well-written mystery, and I'll be picking up #2 in the series! I'd recommend it to cozy mystery fans who are open to a little bit edgier book, and even to private detective-type novel fans who aren't usually into cozies.

What Looks Like Crazy by Charlotte Hughes was a fun diversion, and a great break from the intensity of the Lippman novel. Hughes is co-author with Janet Evanovich on the Full House series, which I've enjoyed (though not as much as the Stephanie Plum books). When I see a no-name sharing author credit with a bestseller, my jaded opinion is usually that the no-name did all the work and the big name is there to sell books. It doesn't really matter, because I like Charlotte Hughes' writing, and if it hadn't been for Evanovich, this book likely wouldn't exist. Comparisons between this new series and Stephanie Plum are inevitable, but I didn't think this was a knockoff. Kate is a funny, smart, neurotic psychologist with relationship issues. In her job, she encounters plenty of "nutcases," as her wealthy receptionist Mona calls them, and they bring lots of fun to the mix. Kate's mother and aunt own a junk shop (from which Kate's condo is decorated) and they bring another element of fun. Kate's two exes bring in the obligatory romantic element. Hughes is a little drier in her wit, less laugh-out-loud and farcical, but it's a different kind of funny, not a lack of funny, if that makes sense. I think this is a good beach read, and I look forward to the next one.

What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman: This was a gripping, well-paced mystery (I hesitate to call it a thriller since no one is really in danger) that begins when a woman is apprehended leaving a car accident. She alludes to the Bethany sisters (whose disappearance thirty years before was never solved) but clams up without sharing her identity. She eventually claims to be one of the sisters, and the book is extremely well-paced, using flashbacks to explore the parents and sisters at various points during the thirty year gap. The current characters, a social worker and two cops, one who retired after the Bethany case (and to a lesser extent, an attorney) are well-fleshed out and the impact of the disappearance on their lives is believable. It was hard to put this book down. I really wanted to know who this woman was and what happened to the girls. I recommend this to anyone who's a fan of suspense.

Cooking: I tackled Garlic Soba Noodles from 101 Cookbooks, a healthier take on the comfort food dish of Noodles With Garlic and Parmesan. I tend to make what I call Buttery Noodles (a big duh here if you can't figure out what's in that) when I'm stressed or under the weather, and this sounded great. I thought it was a good update, but probably not a dish I'll make again. Truth is, the parmesan-crusted tofu didn't really "crust" for me--some of the topping fell off on the cookie sheet, and I'm not sure I care for crusted tofu anyway. And it made too many dirty dishes and had too many steps for me for real comfort food. Oh, and they were out of chard at the store, so I got kale. I was excited, because I can't tell you how many times I've bought kale with the best intentions, only to let it rot in the crisper. Because frankly, kale scares me. And it turns out I really don't like it! And now I have half a bunch I still have to use. Ugh. Anyway, I may try my buttery noodles with soba in the future, as I love soba and had really only used them in Asian dishes.

I made Pasta Geronimo and Black Bean Enchiladas (recipes in index at left), and both were lovely. Lilah loved both, too. I'm really enjoying this time before she becomes a picky toddler who eats only chicken nuggets and PB&J. Someone tell me it's possible she won't get picky? Sigh. I know it's coming. I wanted to update Pasta Geronimo for spring by using asparagus instead of eggplant, and maybe some of those cute baby squash, but Matt looked so disappointed that I made it as written, except for adding half a pound of iffy mushrooms, quartered, that were going to be thrown out otherwise. Matt tends to request dishes that I've made and then expect me to make them the same way, since it was good the previous time. I tend to use recipes as springboards and am inspired to tweak almost constantly. But he was right, Pasta Geronimo was nice. I have a short attention span when it comes to cooking, I guess.

We have another bake sale for our Playground Committee, so I've made biscotti. Almond Chocolate Chip Biscotti from 101 Cookbooks and Cappuccino BIscotti from this cute little cookbook. Both are lovely. I was skeptical that the whole-grain Almond Chocolate Chip would taste too "healthy" but they were deliciously nutty and the chocolate sort of covers up the healthiness. I used millet flour instead of oat flour since that's what I had on hand, otherwise I made no changes. Very nice recipe. Her cookbook,. Super Natural Cooking has a variation on this recipe. The Cafe Nervosa recipe made nice, crisp biscotti and the combination of chocolate, coffee, and cinnamon smelled heavenly during baking.

I also made scones. A Maple-Nut Scone based on the Starbucks pastry (yum, my favorite!) and Cherry-Corn Scones from The Cheese Board Collective. I followed the cherry scone recipe almost exactly, except I got 20 scones instead of 14. The Maple Nut one I decided to follow the modifications mentioned in one of the comments, plus I doubled the recipe. I used 1 cup whole wheat flour and 2 cups white, added an extra 1/4 cup of cream and 2 cups pecans, and used maple syrup instead of water for the glaze. I didn't have maple extract, so didn't use it. The glaze was so sweet, it made my teeth hurt, but I thought these were pretty darn good, very similar to the Starbucks version. The Cherry Corn ones tasted, well, like sweet cornbread with cherries. I think I like traditional scones more, but these were nice in their own way.

I made the Peach Bread from Key Lime Pie Murder into 18 regular-sized muffins, and I was delighted with the result. I also made Cherry Muffins from the Cafe Nervosa Cookbook, but used dried cranberries (way cheaper) and orange juice and zest instead of lemon and doubled the recipe for 12 jumbo muffins. Mmmmm.