Monday, January 26, 2015

Loafing around

Another weekend has passed, and as I've been trying to do more lately, we spent it doing very little "going out and living it up".  I'm getting more sedentary - I don't know if it's old age, winter, wanting to be a bit cheap, or just because I really enjoy a lot of the things that require just staying at home - the knitting, the cooking, the making of things like jellies and marmalades...

When friends were over recently and the topic of cooking and bread making came up, Brett mentioned I hadn't made bread in forever and that I had been in such a bread-making kick for a long time.  That's all it took to plant the seed - sometime soon I would be making bread!  And then with all the jellies etc I'd made recently, I thought it could be nice to enjoy them on something a bit more hearty!  Something with a little chew, some oaty-ness, know...just some good homemade bread!

With a little searching around the always reliable King Arthur Flour site I settled on their Old Fashioned Oatmeal Bread - only the recipe as-is makes only one loaf.  One of the neighbors told me she'd be bringing us some beef and veggie soup soon, and I figured it'd be nice to turn it into a bit of a food swap, so that would call for a second loaf.  Unfortunately, I didn't have exactly the ingredients called for with the KAF recipe, plus I knew I'd be doing a bit of tweaking based on recipe comments - like molasses can be known for it's bitterness, so I planned on combining honey plus some maple syrup I got off a coworker (her husband and his buddy make their own!!).  And then there was the realization that my jar of active dry yeast in the freezer was about empty, but I found an expired packet of quick rise.  So here's my ingredients list that you can compare with KAF's:

  • 2 cups oats (I briefly toasted 1 cup's worth in the oven)
  • 2 3/4 c boiling water
  • 3 c All Purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 c Bread flour
  • 3 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp quick rise yeast
  • 2 t table salt + 1 t sea salt (just to try it out)
  • 1/2 c instant dry milk
  • 1/2 c vegetable oil
  • 1/4 c honey
  • 1/4 c maple syrup

I followed all the instructions per the KAF recipe...only the ingredients were tweaked.  As you can see, my worries about the yeast situation being a problem was a non-issue - the dough rose really well at the back of the stove top (I had briefly turned on the oven below to let some heat rise up).  After doing the pokey pokey (seen below), the dough was cut in half, shaped into loaves, and set into greased pans to rise again.

Mmmmm - check these out!  Still warm, and just buttered (as recommended per the recipe to encourage the tops stay soft).

I was a little worried there might be a huge air pocket just under the surface of the loaves - probably due to my being out of practice with proper loaf shaping.  While there WAS a thin air pocket in each, it wasn't as bad as I feared.  It sure didn't affect the flavor, or toastability, in any way.  This bread is AWESOME!  In fact, while I don't usually think of Brett as much of a bread eater, he kept walking by snatching small pieces.  This is definitely a keeper - and I'll need to make some soon.  After splitting one loaf between a couple neighbors, and slicing the rest for us, we had it with breakfast, and for light snacks, and then Monday's lunch is going to be a PBJ (with strawberry lemon marmalade - mmm!  Sounds weird, but it's amazing!).  There's not much left to the loaf - maybe two sandwiches worth?

I love you bread!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Super cute dress, mediocre baby

So when Jamie announced she was pregnant last year, I decided I wanted to try making something special for her and the baby.  Well, I guess it's more for the baby.  I knit my first stuff rabbit - this was way more complicated than the Voodoo You Love Me dolls I'd knitted before.  Definitely a lot of fun, and super cute...I have to admit I wanted to keep it for myself.  I gave Jamie this gift way early in her pregnancy because I couldn't resist.

Then I decided that wasn't quite enough.  I felt like I needed to knit something I could gift closer to when the baby was born...and maybe something nicer than just a stuffed animal.  I found a pattern on Ravelry for a "knit it all as one piece", simple looking dress.  People did lots of customizations - changing colors, etc.  I figured, heck, I could try this!  I had Brett pick the yarn colors from my stash, and I hit My Sister's Yarn Shop for the buttons.

Wow, for it being mostly just knit and purl stitches, it took way longer than I expected!  Let's just say I fizzled out, had a brief period where I stopped knitting, and then Jamie had the baby and oops, the dress wasn't done.  I felt really guilty and finally kicked back into gear on it.

I had a minor goof up here and there, which seems pretty typical, but nothing that wasn't repairable, or wouldn't be known by anyone other than the knitter.  The colors looked good together.  Blocking wasn't too bad, although on something so simple in the stitch, I learned it's surprisingly difficult to make it look like it's made of straight lines...

Anyhow, long story short, the baby was born, and while the dress was pretty big for her, about five months later she was able to wear it to her father's graduation commencement!  Woo hoo!  That's flattery!

Here's a pic of the super cute dress and the, meh, just mediocre baby...

Awwww....who'm I kidding - the dress is alright, but that baby is downright mega cute!  (And look - go from a minor insult to a complement, and she switches from stink-eye to cute smiles!)

Oh, and speaking of that rabbit - she's been getting her picture taken with it each birthday to show how much she's growing.  Yay!  Apparently it's started to taste pretty good too...

How cute is that kid?!?!

Friday, January 23, 2015

My tiny armpits

Making good progress on the Northshore cardigan.  In case you ever wondered, this is what something 19" tall looks like:

Once I got to that row, I took a measurement and found I'd overshot the 19" mark by exactly one row.  At 19" you're supposed to start doing the arm shaping...normally I would've just done it with the next row, but the instructions were to stop at 19" on a WS row, and I'd just finished a RS row.  Rather than wanting to add ANOTHER row before getting to start the arm shaping, I decided to undo the previously finished row (140 stitches wasted!), and then redo the row beginning the arm shaping.

One of the things about the instructions that had completely confused me was that you're supposed to "reduce 7 stitches beg next two rows" (or something like that).  Um, so is that like reduce 3 stitches on either side this row, and then reduce 4 each side on the next row?

That doesn't make sense when I could do it all at once - the diagram even showed straight lines cutting in from the sides to indicate it wasn't a step-shape reduction.  So what the heck, I started my row right the right side, binding off the first 7 stitches, continued on through the pattern as instructed, and started my bind-offs 7 stitches from the ooooooooh!  NOW I GET IT!

If you start binding off the LEFT side of the pattern, you're going to basically walk yourself off the edge of the Earth.  Bind off at the END of a row, and there's no knitting back once you turn the work - you have bound off those stitches!  Doh!

Here's the right side reduction for the first of the two rows...

I'd seen where one knitter had recommend leaving live stitches for all these points, rather than binding off - suggesting putting the live stitches on scrap yarn or something, and then when it's time to seam all the pieces together (back panel, front panels, arms), you can just tidily kitchener stitch the edges together rather than "sewing" all these bound off edges together.  I really like that idea and wanted to go with it, but since this is my first cardigan/sweater type thing, I was already having so much trouble with the concepts of binding off over multiple rows, so I just figured I should follow the instructions.

Now that things are starting to make sense, maybe I'll find a point further up in all these bind-offs where I'll do the live-stitch trick.  So far the bind offs have really been in the armpit area, so it's not like the rest of the world should see them anyhow, riiight?

And speaking of armpits - seven stitches bound off from either side of the back panel for under the arm?  Just how tiny do they think our armpits are!?  I'm sure this'll work out...there'll be more of this area coming from the front panels, and I'm guessing some of the diagonal bind-offs I'm working through now will also taper into the armpit area.  We shall see!

Another helpful tip that came from a friend on Facebook is one I really would like to factor in on this pattern, but I think I'm juggling too many new concepts at the same time to pull it off.  She suggested picking a part of the cable repeat, and plan on that being at the very top of the shoulder - I guess so it matches up gracefully with the front panels and hopefully looks seamless along the top edge.  Then you're supposed to backtrack the length of the cable repeat (multiplied however many times needed down the height of the arm indentation), and use that to plan where the arm shaping should've started.  Umm....ok, I understand the concept, buuut I'm not certain I could pull this off.  I reminded myself that this is my first wearable/fitted shirt-type knitted thing, and I accepted from the get-go that it wouldn't have to be 100% perfect (even though, yes, there's a LOT of knitting hours going into it!).  So I'll tackle Mary's suggestion with some future project....when I can refer back to my experience with this one.

Now that the arm shaping is reducing the overall width from 140 stitches to something like 121 stitches across, I should really start flying through this faster, right?  ;-)


Yup - it's that time of year again!

I'm pretty well stocked on most seeds from previous years, but each year I've got to try something new, or get something I'm pretty much guaranteed to use up all of by the end of each year (ie beans).  Last year we enjoyed edamame, and used the entire pack of seeds, so we're doing it again, with a different variety.

I guess I'll be trying okra again.  I've had great years, years I've skipped, and crap years.  Last year the potatoes and green beans were running the length of a 12' bed, the potatoes down one side, beans down the other.  I honestly thought I could grow okra up between them - only the okra got off to such a slow start they were completely smothered and forgotten.  I thought they were flat out dead, until I ripped out the beans at the end of the season, and there were TINY little wimpy okra plants holding on.  They were tossed into the compost - no way they could've made up for lost time.

This year I'll be trying something Andy & Kelli taught me - cut the end off a bag of (potting mix? peat? garden soil?), and slip it out as-is on top of the location where I want to plant beets.  So you basically have the fat, bag-shaped, ~1 1/2' x 4' x 3" bag of soil, minus the bag!  Instant fresh seeding layer.  It's thick enough to slow down or stop any weed seed sprouts in the original soil, and is a light, fresh soil for starting the beet seeds in.  They need zero competition, loose soil and lots of space - perfect!

I expect I'll need to be starting those onion seeds REAL soon down in the basement.  My dad taught me years ago that you get them a super early start, and then any time they look leggy, just trim them back (like you're mowing the grass).  That'll encourage more sturdy growth...

I got a pea seeds combo this time - so there's a sugar snap variety, a snow pea variety, and a shelling pea variety.  Here's hoping we have good luck and enjoy all three.

Trying some new varieties of tomatoes, bush beans, etc.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Inishmore Cap

I needed a break from knitting the "it's going to take forever" cardigan, so I decided to try knitting something that I've been tempted by ever since seeing the pattern on Ravelry - the Inishmore Cap.

Because, you know, a fitted, shaped cap won't be difficult at all, right!?

Surprisingly, it wasn't all that difficult.  Yes, it was fiddly with parts of the hat often being set aside on stitch holders/separate needles, and sometimes the thing looked a bit more like a blown up jellyfish with all the spare circular needles hanging from it, but it went really well, and surprisingly fast.  Took me from last Friday afternoon to Monday morning to knit it!

Lots of pics of me checking it out from different sides with different lighting, and that's how I found the few small issues with it.  Above my left temple there's a bit of a pucker where the top and bottom brim are connected to the body of the hat (probably pulled the yarn a little too snug), and the back of the hat sort of "mushrooms" as Brett puts it.  I'm blaming this on the fact that I'm a fairly loose purler, and since the top is knit flat, I think it gained a bit more width than intended.

I used Berroco's Blackstone Tweed in Wintry Mix for the yarn.  Super soft, very tweedy, and a bit fuzzy.  I knew the risks with this yarn going in - I used it years ago when I took a fair isle hat workshop.  This yarn likes to break.  It's very fragile.  Soft, but fragile - it sort of acts like something you pull out of the dryer lint trap.  And sure enough, it snapped twice while working on the project.

Check out the picture below - my reflection in the mirror shows why I'm making the panicked expression.  That is way too much pucker going on at the back of the hat.  Because of this, and because it could have been a LITTLE more snug around the rim, I decided to try hand-felting the hat.  That was last nite.  It's drying today, and whenever I decide it's dry enough to try on, I'll see if I felted it enough, or if I need to go back to rubbing the heck out of it while it's in a bowl of hot soapy water.  The intention is to shrink it up a bit, and maybe even control the direction of that shrinkage.  Finger's crossed!

In the meantime, I'm already considering knitting this cap again, in a different color, perhaps even in a different yarn.  We'll see...

Strawberry Meyer Lemon Marmalade


Yup, that's right, apparently I'm on a marmalade-making kick!  (Does "two times" count as "a kick"?)

After having made the darker, stronger, not-super-sweet tasting Cara Cara Orange and Meyer Lemon Marmalade, and having extra Meyer lemons, I was wondering what to do with some of those lemons - and then I remembered the strawberry meyer lemon marmalade I made years ago.  Loved that stuff - it's even great in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  Yes, lemon and peanut butter sounds weird, but this marmalade paired well with the PB.

Found this recipe online, which I THINK is what I used back then...

I remember the thin slicing and boiling, and draining of the zest....I just didn't remember there being quite so much pectin!

Wow, does all that Meyer lemon zest smell goooood!

Unlike the "two days and lots of boiling" Cara Cara orange marmalade recipe, this recipe comes together SUPER fast.  This was a quick afternoon project.  I admit I had to cheat and buy frozen strawberries.  I got frozen whole strawberries with no sugar added, and used two 16oz bags that, when thawed and crushed, gave me the 4 cups needed for the recipe.

I've still got another 16oz bag in the freezer - and don't see myself making a half batch recipe.  Since I also have more Meyer lemons (also store bought), I figure I'll find another recipe with a different method, less pectin, etc to try.

How good do those look!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Cara Cara Orange and Meyer Lemon Marmalade

So I got these Cara Cara oranges awhile back - I got suckered into the advertisting on the package, talking about how wonderful they were.  Plus I'd seen them on a citrus farm website not too long ago.  They sounded intriguing.  Didn't look too different on the outsides, but the picture implied a much more rosy hue inside...

First one I cut into had me doing a double take, and even heading back to the crisper drawer.  Did I accidentally grab a grapefruit?  Nope - it was a Cara Cara orange - and they are beautiful on the inside!

Unfortunately, I really wasn't all that into the taste.  The same thing happened for me with Blood Oranges.  I wanted soooo bad to love them, but they're just a deeper flavor than I want in my orange.  It feels like someone crossbred them with some sort of berry.  Only problem - now what was I going to do with them!?!?

A little looking around and I had my solution - marmalade!  Heck, if I went to all the work and hated it because of that slightly-berry taste, I'm sure I could unload the stuff on someone else.

This also seemed like a good time to get and use some Meyer lemons since they're in season, especially since I found a recipe using lemons in the Cara Cara Marmalade:

Lemme tell ya, slicing all of this smelled amazing.  And I whizzed through four large oranges and two plump lemons in no time with my mandolin.  I didn't recall using it on citrus before, so I wasn't sure how easy the tough skins would be.  I admit I'm a little intimidated by the blade on mandolins (ok, I'm terrified), but thankfully they come with a holder/protector.  Just skewer the fruit with the holder, and zip zip zip go the slices!

You can see in the pic above that I hand-sliced some of the skin - that was the end nubbins that weren't easily fed into the mandolin.

After all the slicing you boil the fruit, then take it off the heat, dump in the sugar, and let it sit til the next day.  Easy!

The next day you simmer for about two hours, then bring up to a boil and in a half hour it should hit 220F.  That's the temperature you need to aim for to get that jelly texture.  Stop before you hit 220 and this stuff is going to be syrup.

Only the recipe suggested a half hour, and after a half hour I still couldn't get much past 210.  Sometimes it would get up to 215, but I would stir it out of fear of burning, and then the temp dropped down to 210 again.  Grrrr.

When in doubt, you can also do the cold-plate test.  Keep some small saucers and spoons in the freezer, pull one out, and drizzle the stuff onto the plate:

Wait a few seconds (this stuff is molten lava hot!), then drag a finger through it.  If the pectin is starting to tell, you should see the path traced by your finger remain.  This next picture was taken as the goo was closing the gap....nope, not ready yet!

Let's just say it took over 45 minutes (closer to an hour?) of boiling.  I even took the heat diffuser (I have a gas stovetop) out from under the pot just in case that was making a difference.  Within maybe 5-10 min, the temp started to rise again, and then hit 220.  I stirred and...oh no!  It was starting to burn on the bottom of the pot!  I stopped scraping stuff off the bottom, and canned the goods.

You have to admit, that's some beautiful stuff!

I did taste it as I was canning, and was worried that, because of the long boil and the little flecks of "extra dark" citrus, it would taste burnt.  While it is a bitter marmalade, that's sort of what marmalade is all about.  Not something you just eat off a spoon.  But put it on an English muffin...?

Mmmmm - that's some good stuff!  It definitely wasn't too bitter.  It did set up MUCH firmer than I expected, but again, I think marmalade often sets up more firm than your typical jelly.

Also - I was worried that just using half-circle slices of the fruit would result in some really stringy marmalade.  Look around online - people have very different opinions on how marmalade should be - some like it stringy, some want a super fine chop, some want it chunky.  With this batch it went from really stringy to having the rinds falling apart some during the cooking.  Yes, it's still got texture, but not in a bad way.

The deeper, berry-ish flavor that I didn't care about in the original oranges wasn't at all overwhelming in the finished product.  Yes, it's a strong, darker orange flavor, but again - that's something you can get with marmalade.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Northshore Cardigan: Cable Flub

I'm getting really behind on blog postings, even though I've been uploading pics as drafts.  Let's see if I can't get a little caught up...  Doing this from the phone, so I think formatting will leave a little something to be desired.

I've been saying forever that I want to knit a sweater or, more likely, a cardigan.  Something that can easily be worn at work or home and is easy to wear over something else but also remove as the temperature requires during the day...  It was in the post-Christmas "I want to treat myself to something" haze that Craftsy was running a big sale.  I'd taken online classes from them but had never known just how much yarn etc you could get from them (I'm usually pretty good about keeping my blinders on to the "you should also buy this!" ads).  However, a friend was telling me Christmas Eve about all she's gotten there in the past, so I was more open minded to their big end of year clearance sale.  And then I saw it...

For about $26 I could get the pattern and 11 skeins of yarn for the Northshore cabled cardigan.  No, it's not fancy yarn, but it was still something like 50% off, and being mostly acrylic I figured I'd feel less bad if I botched it.  (Wool snob talking...sorry)

I've never knit something so big that's fitted.  I've never knit something so big that needs to be seamed.  I haven't seriously knit cables in quite awhile.

Turns out it's progressing really well!  I've been at it just over a week now (pics of further progress later), and the only mistakes happened the second day.  Both were in the cabling on the same row, and neither was discovered till about six rows later.  The first pic shows both mistakes near the top - the center cable is correct.  The left has the cables passing incorrectly for the pattern, but is still totally fine.  The right was a minor mess.  This was about 4" from the bottom while working on the back panel.

I figured I'd drilled down a number of rows to do repairs on lace work before - this should be similar, right?  Ugh.  With lace you're usually doing the details on one side of the work.  With this cable pattern it's different on both front and back.

The pics at the bottom show how i didn't do a good job with the repairs, and I decided not to mess with the right most cable mistake.

At the time I'm typing this I'm about 15" up from the bottom, and no more mistakes (that i know of).

I'll document more progress later.

Thursday, January 08, 2015


This is the first brittle I've made in forever, and while it's a little on the pale side, I can't stop eating it.  I texted a picture to Brett (still at work) to tell him he needs to get home ASAP if he wants any.

The thing is, it's super easy to make - just do a Google search for "microwave brittle" and you'll get great results.  The biggest factor is microwave wattage -just keep an eye on the microwave the whole time it's cooking because you don't want to overdo it.  A little underdone is just a matter of how richly flavored the batch is.  Overdone and you'll stink up your house and ruin some potentially pricey ingredients - especially if you get crazy and venture off the peanut path and try cashews, macadamias, pistachio, etc.

Which is just what I think I'll need to do real soon.  And maybe some dried cranberries too - then I can pretend it's healthy.  Hmm.  And there's the chocolate option - letting chocolate melt on top of the hot brittle...

I'm gonna need to get some more sugar and nuts real soon!