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.)