Wednesday, July 20, 2016

What's Cooking: Chocolate-Dipped Apricots and Tomato-Cheddar Pie

One of the best things I have ever made, for real for real.
I actually wrote this whole post before tasting the tomato-cheddar pie, and it turned out to be so good that I didn't think my writing really captured how delicious it is. Seriously, it is so good that you should click this link RIGHT NOW, go to the grocery store, and then finish reading this post while the pie is in the oven. I don't have the words to do it justice. Just make it. You will thank me when you taste it.

These are pretty good, too.

While you're waiting for your pie to cool, you can make the chocolate-dipped apricots to distract you from the tantalizing pie smells. They don't take long to come together, and they feel like a decadent treat without being completely terrible for you. To get started, soften 1/3 cup of semisweet chocolate chips and about a half teaspoon of oil in the microwave. This should take about a minute or a minute and a half. Stir until all chips are melted. You may find that you need to heat the chocolate a bit longer to get it all to melt, but you want to err on the side of having to make return trips to the microwave rather than overcooking. Dip the dried apricots in the melted chocolate, and then lay them on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. There's enough chocolate for about 18-24 apricots, depending on the size of the apricots and how exuberant of dipper you are. If you like, you can dust the dipped apricots with cinnamon, ginger, or sea salt for a little added depth of flavor. I personally love to pair garam masala with dark chocolate. Pop the cookie sheet in the fridge, and let the chocolate solidify for about 12 hours before you dive in.

Definitely a cloth-napkin-worthy dinner. I sliced a plum and a Saturn peach as a side/dessert.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Butter Yellow and Cornflower Blue - Fall Accessories Set

Before Dolly Llama came home after her bladder surgery, I took a trip to Fibre Space in Alexandria to check it out. I had never been there before, but I had a feeling from their online presence that I would totally love it. (I did.) Based on store samples, I selected the patterns for this hat and scarf, and then selected the pattern-appropriate yarns that spoke loudest to me. I also spied the Noro Silk Garden that features (more or less) both the yellow and the blue I had selected for a hat and scarf, knew that it would have to become some mittens, but bought it on a return trip after selecting a mitten pattern on Ravelry.

Ravel it!

A good indication of my stress level and/or exhaustion level is my ability to follow pattern directions. When I'm bringing my 'A' game, I interpret the directions correctly, and I catch mistakes logically. When I'm toeing the line of burnout, I don't do either of those things, and end up ripping out stitches. Sometimes repeatedly. This hat was the first project I worked on after DL came home, and I crocheted it 75% to completion twice before actually following the directions correctly. Anecdotal evidence that lack of sleep makes you dumb.

Ravel it!

I had better luck with this scarf. (I had caught up on some sleep before starting it.) I like that this pattern features lots of lacy, scalloped motifs, but they're all flat, so you don't feel like you're being strangled by ruffles when you wear it. It's the perfect weight for a crisp fall day or for wearing indoors.

Ravel it!

The color variations in these mittens make it possible to refer to these three pieces as a set. Granted, I may have more crochet stamina than most, but I finished both mittens less than 24 hours after purchasing the yarn. I estimate that each mitten took about 2 hours start to finish. These mittens are just the thing for when it's a bit chilly for bare hands, but not so cold that you need some serious gloves.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Favorite Things: The Pioneer Woman

Image via Google Play

Monitoring a post-op kitty who loves to snuggle means watching a lot of TV. Over the past two weeks, I've worked my through the "Good Eats" and "Ace of Cakes" collections on Netflix. When I finished "Ace of Cakes," I didn't know what to watch next. I thought, "Well, maybe I don't need to be watching so much TV anyway." And then I was doing a little research for a round of meal prepping with my mom. I wanted to make a dump cake, but I couldn't remember who long they go in the oven. I Googled, "dump cake recipe," and up popped Ree Drummond's recipe on her Pioneer Woman blog. I read the post, and I loved how her writing conveyed being perhaps a bit embarrassed about baking something definitively unhealthy and processed, but not so embarrassed that she wasn't willing to share it with readers. (And really talk up how tasty it was.) I thought, "I think I can get on board with any woman who knows the value of a good dump cake," so I started watching episodes of "The Pioneer Woman" on the Food Network website.

Image via The Pioneer Woman

Watching Ree prepare meals for her family and friends reminded me of something that I couldn't quite identify for several episodes. She puts a lot of care and thought into her cooking, and the finished project is typically served in a pretty and purposeful way. It took me awhile, but eventually I realized that the feel of "The Pioneer Woman" is a lot like the feel of a luncheon I went to years ago at a Texan relative's house. The lunch was women only, and she served what she referred to as "lady food": chicken salad, cheese straws, that sort of thing. The table was set in a lovely way (tablecloth, cloth napkins, etc.), but it wasn't so precious or fussy that it was intimidating. I felt special and welcome while I was there.

It was clear that Susan had put a lot of thought into the occasion. Well, not the occasion perhaps so much as the guests. She wanted us to have good food presented nicely, but, more important, she wanted us to be comfortable. This is what I see Ree doing for meals big and small. Her cooking is not solely an expression of what an amazing cook she is; it is primarily an expression of love.

A modest collection of cloth napkins

On the infrequent occasions that I entertain, I hope to hit the same note. I, too, want to put together a nice event, but I also care more about the comfort of my guests. But why define that level of grace as "for guests only"? I also want to have the feeling of being comfortable, cared for, and just a touch fancy in my home on a random Thursday. I typically eat dinner sitting on the couch with my laptop. It would not be hard at all for me to set my little pub table and just eat there instead, sans electronic devices. There's no reason why I can't use a cloth napkin while I'm at it. (This was an epiphany that prompted the purchase of some Pioneer Woman napkins.) I can care for myself as much as I care for my guests.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Etsy Shop Preview

I have been saying that I'm going to open an Etsy shop for months, so one of my goals for the summer is to actually do it. Well, banning more cat-related emergencies, I think I'm at the point where it's safe to say that I can open on Friday! The "first wave" of stock will be what I think of as "yarnware"--crocheted beakers (seen above) and Erlenmeyer flasks (seen below).

Eventually I plan to add green beakers and Erlenmeyers, but those aren't likely to be in stock for a week or two.

Current state of green yarnware
I also want to add digital prints, digital patterns for yarnware, and beaded jewelry to the mix, plus whatever else I dream up over the coming months. Ideally, I want to update the shop weekly for the rest of the summer (or until I run out of stock!).

Monday, July 11, 2016

A Tale of Four Scarves

You may recognize these scarves from my post about lazy blocking. They're all projects that I finished this spring and didn't feel motivated to wear in the climbing temperatures, so they had languished, unblocked, in my knitting bags.

Traveling Cable Scarf
Ravel it!
At some point, I decided that I wanted a purple scarf, so I picked up a ball of sock yarn and got to work. Specifically, I picked up a ball of Wisdom Yarns Naked Sock in Lilac Road. I have a feeling I based this project from a pattern I saw online, but I can't seem to retrace my steps and recover the original source pattern. Anyway, it's a pretty standard traveling cable pattern, so it wouldn't be hard to do a little Googling and improvise your own. 

Knotty Scarf
Ravel it!
I saw the Knotty Scarf in the summer issues of "Love of Knitting" and thought, "Ooohhhhh... I have to make that!" I used Red Heart Boutique Unforgettable in Tidal. The pattern is written for sport weight yarn, but I used worsted. As I recall, I cast on the same number of stitches so that I would be able to do the cabled loop as written, but I didn't do as many decreases and increases on the plain end to keep the scarf a reasonable length.

Loch Cowl
Ravel it!
My Loch cowl was inspired by a pattern for mittens in "Handmade in the UK" from Emily Wessel of Tin Can Knits. I had to do a little improvising beyond just following the lace chart, but it wasn't too hard to take a chart written for something that gets smaller at one end into something that stays (more or less) the same width throughout. The yarn is some pretty fancy stuff: String Theory Hand Dyed Yarn Merino DK in Twilight.

Laurel Leaf Cowl
Ravel it!
Both the pattern and yarn for this cowl came from a yarn store in Salem, Massachusetts. I love to pick up a skein of sock yarn when I'm traveling. Knitting with the yarn and wearing the finished project reminds me of my trip. This project gets extra-special bonus points, because the yarn is local and is from a yarn company that's really leaning into the association of Salem with witches--they're called Toil and Trouble.  

Believe it or not, I have even more finished objects coming in the next couple of weeks! My cat had emergency surgery a couple weeks ago, so I have spent a lot of time waiting for results, waiting for phone calls, and monitoring a sleepy, doped-up kitty. You just can't beat knitting and crochet for helping to ease stress and pass time. I have had plenty of anxiety to work out, so I have gotten a lot done!

Friday, July 8, 2016

This Weekend

The Queen Anne's Lace crochet scarf from Fibre Space

"The Secret Lives of Bats" by Merlin Tuttle

Tex-Mex and a strawberry basil dump cake! Tamale pie, King Ranch chicken, and black bean quinoa salad (not pictured).

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Lazy-Person, Big-Batch Blocking

Blocking is the knitting equivalent of ironing. It gives a nice, flat, clean look, but it's not very fun to do and a bit tedious. Blocking is best accomplished by pinning a wet finished object to a blocking board, having slightly stretched the material into the desired dimensions. You then allow the item to air dry, "locking in" the shape and size.

However... With the speed at which I knit, the available real estate in my apartment for blocking, and a cat who really enjoys licking wool and wool blends, the best method is not my preferred method. I instead do what I think of as a lazy person's blocking procedure, and I often block more than one thing at once. (I realize that serious knitters will probably give me some side-eye over this.) It works for me in part because I don't really care about crisp, precise edges. I don't mind if things look a little softer. Also, while I do a good bit of lace knitting, I'm not knitting the kind of shawls that demand really serious stretching and blocking to look nice.

If you want to give my method a go, here's what you need to do:

  • Lay out your knits on a table that can readily withstand some moisture, like a folding table.
  • Liberally spray everything down with water. You don't want your items to be dripping wet, but you do want them to be quite damp so that you don't have to do too much manhandling in the next step.
  • Lightly stretch and smush your items so that any lace patterns are nicely defined and edges are flat.

An eclectic mix, I know.
  • Place a towel over the top.
  • Place your heaviest books on top of the towel. I like to place the very heaviest books on the ends and the less-heavy books in the middle.
  • Wait about 24 hours (or however long it takes) for everything to dry.
  • Remove books and towel, then admire your work!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The $17 Pantry Redo

While I was out and about picking up things for my kitchen facelift, I grabbed a few items to organize my pantry, too. I love the look of dry goods like flour, rice, and beans in large glass jars, preferably with beautiful, handwritten labels. However, I didn't really want to plunk down a good chunk of cash on said glass jars when I unearthed some plastic containers while organizing the kitchen. I didn't have quite enough of the plastic containers for my needs, so I picked up another set at Ikea.

I did not want to compromise on my labels--I definitely wanted chalkboard labels. Luckily, since chalkboards have been popular for ages, JoAnn Fabrics had a plethora of options. Almost too many options. I went with Jar Jewelry Chalkboard Stickers intended for Mason jars. They come with chalk, but, after one attempt at pretty chalk writing, I realized that there was no way it was going to work for me. I scrapped the chalk and picked up a white marker on a trip to Michaels to check out the decorative letter selection.

While the labeled canisters pack some visual punch, there wasn't much to them: write the label, slap it on, fill the canister. Most of the time I spent on the pantry went into taking everything out, wiping down the shelves, organizing everything kinda sorta by grocery store aisle, and then putting it all back in. For me, this wasn't more than about 20 minutes of work. I try not to buy a bunch of prepared foods, because I inevitably feel heavy and lethargic when I eat them. I also don't often make food impulse buys, because I always shop with a list. If I don't have a list, I get very overwhelmed and frustrated very quickly, and probably leave the store with a frozen pizza and beer. Consequently, I just don't have that much food to wrangle.

The piece de resistance in the pantry is the small clipboard and notepad hanging on the inside wall. Most of my shopping lists are constructed while perusing recipes on the computer, and I tend to assume that I always have things like olive oil or salt on hand, so they don't make the list. Inevitably it's those staples that cause me to make a second trip to the store! Having paper and pencil at the ready makes it that much easier to write things down as soon as I run out, and all I have to do is check the clipboard before heading out to the store.

Friday, July 1, 2016

100th Post! Salmon Pasta Salad with Dill

I had thought I might write about my cat's emergency surgery and the blessings that came out of that for my 100th post today, but... I just have the words for that right now. She's doing well, but, now that things seem like they're going to be fine, I am starting to process the emotion of it all. Not really something I need to splash all over the internet.

As I was trying to recreate a pasta salad I had eaten at Whole Foods for lunch today, it dawned on me that a recipe would make a much better 100th post. It's more lighthearted than veterinary surgery, and it allows me to give you something to show my appreciation other than just something to read--a recipe card! You can easily modify this recipe to suit your tastes. Any kind of pasta will do, you can vary the type and amount of mustard to suit your tastes, and/or you could use fresh dill instead of dried.

Click on the recipe card for a larger, printer-friendlier version.

A note about canned salmon: If you haven't used it before, you should know going in that sometimes it's packaged in a very bare-bones (um, almost literally) way with skin on and bones in place. I had not encountered this before, and it really kind of freaked me out. One word: vertebrae. After a little research, I confirmed that it is cooked and ready to eat, and you can eat the bones if you were so inclined. (I wasn't.) This type of packaging is referred to as "traditional pack."