Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie: Tall & Creamy Cheesecake

I didn't actually get to eat any of this cheesecake. I made it as a gift for my co-worker (the one who says she can't cook) for Christmas Eve. I've made cheesecake before but it's always an intensive process. There are a lot of steps involved that aren't hard but that take a lot of time, mostly waiting. I made this cheesecake last Tuesday night so I could take it to her on Wednesday. Well I didn't even start it until I got home from my Tuesday night knitting group, so it was almost 10:00PM before I even got it in the oven. Then it had to cook for 1.5 hours and then cool and it took forever. And I was exhausted by the time it was done. My Springform pan wasn't as tall as the recipe called for but I went with it anyway. Again, actually putting the ingredients together isn't difficult it's just the waiting that's hard (especially when it's late and all you want to do is go to sleep).
The cheesecake turned out well, although the top did crack and it wasn't a picture perfect looking cheesecake. Even though it wouldn't have won any beauty contests the recipient said it was delicious and she and her family enjoyed it. My husband has already requested I make another one for us but this time I'll be making it before 9:00PM at night.
The cheesecake recipe was chosen by Anne of AnneStrawberry, go read her blog, it's full of great recipes! Thanks again Anne!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Pancakes, marshmallows & knitting

I was successful in my bid not to leave the house this weekend. Once I got home Friday afternoon I didn't leave again until this morning when I headed for work. After all the holiday traveling I wanted to veg this weekend, mission accomplished.

I got a lot of knitting done, I FINALLY finished the Rusted Root sweater, the bane of my knitting existence. I don't have a picture of me actually wearing it yet. I used Brown Sheep Cotton Fleece, which I've used for my other sweaters, but it pilled up a little in the dryer. This concerns me, maybe I'll have to dry it flat from now on. There are a few mistakes in my stitches but for the most part I'm happy with it.Of course I had to cast something else on immediately. So I cast on for the Back-to-School U-Neck Vest from Fitted Knits. I've had this in my Ravelry que for a long time and I bought the yarn to make it in Seattle. I'm using Cascade 220 in Burgundy. The construction of this is going to be a little different than the other sweaters I've made so I'm hoping I can manage.

I also cast on the Branching Out scarf from Knitty. It's for my former boss, who I see throughout the year. It's a late Christmas gift and I hope it won't take me forever. It's a pretty simple lace pattern. I'm using Filatura Di Crosa Zara, a merino wool, which is leftover from a scarf I made my mom a couple of years ago.
Despite bringing home a crapload of yarn from Seattle I still felt the need to order more yarn. I used some of my Christmchanukah bonus. It's Sunshine Yarns Classic Sock in the Forks colorway (yeah, yeah I know). This is the second skein I've ordered from Sunshine Yarns and she really does a beautiful job with the colors. It is soft and a little squishy and one day I will knit fabulous socks with it. Until then I will put it in one of my stash baskets and gaze at it lovingly.
Besides the knitting I cooked a lot this weekend. Every once in awhile I'll wake up craving pancakes. I made them for dinner Friday night and put apple pieces and cinnamon in the batter. Sunday I made more pancakes, leaving them plain this time and subbing some of the white flour with whole wheat flour. No matter how hard I try my pancakes never come out perfectly. Either the first batch is underdone or overdone or the last batch get burned or whatever. I have learned over time to not have the skillet very hot because the pancakes (at least mine) burn easily. Pancakes were my favorite thing to have my grandmother make for me. My brother and I spent an immeasurable amount of time at my grandparents house growing up and I couldn't even begin to count the times my grandmother made us pancakes. Pancakes are one of the first things I learned to cook on my own. This week's (tomorrow's) TWD selection is cheesecake, which I made and gave away last week. So despite the fact that our house is overflowing with cookies, crackers, candy, etc. I still had to make a 'treat'. I joined the TWD group last May and missed some recipes since I joined late. One of the recipes I missed was marshmallows. Last Valentine's Day I made marshmallows using the recipe posted on Martha Stewart's website. They turned out fine but needed a little more vanilla because they tasted too 'gelatin-y' to me. This time I used the recipe in Dorie's Baking from My Home to Yours. I used a vanilla bean and added an extra teaspoon of vanilla extract to make sure that had a definite vanilla flavor. Making marshmallows is really easy and though the recipe calls for a candy thermometer I winged it instead. After they sit for at least 3 hours you pull them out and cut them. I use kitchen shears because its just easier to manage them that way. After they're cut up into squares they're tossed in a mixture of cornstarch and powdered sugar so they don't stick to everything. These are good, they don't really taste like store bought ones, better I believe. Dorie's recipe is available online via this link (you have to scroll down to see the recipe). Plus it's such a basic recipe that there's the opportunity to make lots of variations, chocolate, mocha, pumpkin spice, peppermint, etc.
Finally, this is a little late since Christmas has come and gone, but I heard this story on NPR last year and it stuck with me and I listened to it again this year. It reminds me of the stories I heard growing up from my grandparents and great-grandparents. I was extremely lucky to grow up knowing most of my great-grandparents, several of whom lived well into their 80's. One great-grandfather in particular always made sure to give his grandchildren and great-grandchildren oranges, nuts and hard candy at Christmas time. Anyway, this story reminds me of him.

Friday, December 26, 2008

What Santa brought

My trip to Seattle was my Christmas gift but Doug still wanted to buy me something to put under the tree. I asked for books and a new knitting tape measure. Ask and ye shall receive. He replaced my long-lost sheep measuring tape with a new one and got me some Flannery O'Connor and Kurt Vonnegut. I'm hoping they will redeem me from my recent literary indiscretions.
In my stocking I got candy, gum, a tiny bottle of Absolut vodka and some scratch off lottery tickets. I think he was going for a vice theme. There were no cigarettes though.
He was very happy with his gifts, especially the fly box I bought him on Etsy, it even has his initials on it.
We had to leave supa early yesterday morning after we exchanged gifts and grabbed coffee. My mother-in-law and her 'gentleman friend' invited us to his house in Grenada, Mississippi for lunch. It's a two hour drive and Doug drove (Merry Christmas to me) so I finished the ribbing on the hem of my Rusted Root and started on the sleeve ribbing. I also cast on the La-La-Love-You Cowl from PopKnits. I'm using Berroco Ultra Alpaca in Irwyn Green.
Grenada was, well, Grenada. This is my expression upon our exit.
To paraphrase something my mother once said "Our relatives left Mississippi for a reason." While my MIL's friend was nice, I've never seen someone so excited to show you pictures of dead deer. Or the rack of a deer he just shot - with some deer skull still attached. Shudder. We managed to leave about 3:00, so we could get home and relax a little. Doug took an extended nap and I knit and played online. We ended the evening watching Family Guy re-runs and grazing on the various candy/baked goods people have been sending us for the past several days. Good times.

The plan for this weekend is to hibernate. We hope to not leave the house unless we have to. I am forcing myself to finish up the Rusted Root, all I have left is picking up the neckline and the ribbing on the second sleeve. I will not go into 2009 without that thing being off the needles. Also I have to moan and groan about the weather again, it's 72 today. In December. I would adore to be in Minnesota or Michigan or anyplace where's it's at least 35 and frozen. One day, one day...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

My halls are decked

Christmas Eve already? Insanity. I say this constantly but it's true, time races by the older I get. I don't know if it's because I'm not a kid anymore or I don't have kids or what but my ho-ho spirit is seriously deflated. I put up the decorations, I sent cards, I donated to the Salvation Army bell ringer, I bought gifts and I've listened to the Charlie Brown Christmas album but I've got nothing. It just feels 'eh'. It makes me a little sad because I feel like I'm missing out on something.

We have never really had a full size Christmas tree, or even a real one at that. We once tried to have a full size fake tree. It lasted about four hours before the cats descended upon it and murdered it. Doug and I came home to a sad looking tree laying across the living room floor with three bad cats sleeping on top of it. We have a tiny silver tinsel tree I bought on the cheap at Micheal's a few years ago. It's like a disco ball. Most of my ornaments are Dr. Seuss from Hallmark. I have collected a few more non-Seuss ornaments that friends have made and gifted to me recently. The needle felted ball from Christiana and the knitting matryoshka from Melissa (don't I have talented friends?)We also hang ornaments from the ceiling with clear fishing line. I love the way it looks, like they're just floating there. The 'Merry Christmas' sign came from a little gift shop in my hometown. Our stockings I bought a couple of years ago from Textile Fetish and then had our names added to them later.We're off to see some relatives tonight. I think in order to help get myself in the holiday mood I'm going to listen to David Sedaris' "Holidays on Ice", nothing is better than listening to him read aloud 6-8 Black Men.

I hope you have a great holiday and that your relatives don't drive you to drink too much. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie: Butterscotch Pudding

I am late, late, late posting - AGAIN. Sorry!
When choosing pudding for say, my lunchbox, butterscotch was not my first choice. I was more of a chocolate or a chocolate/vanilla swirl person. Butterscotch is something I preferred on my ice cream sundae. This week's selection of Butterscotch pudding was chosen by Donna of Spatulas, Corkscrews & Suitcases.
We made chocolate pudding a few months ago and I learned then that my food processor is painfully small. Not big enough to support a full recipe of pudding. This time when making pudding I wised up and halved the recipe. Not only because my wimpy food processor wouldn't hold all of that pudding goodness but also because being the week of Christmas we have sweets and rich holiday food coming out of our ears. I was trying to lessen our load of treats.
The pudding was not time-consuming at all. Really the only reason you had to keep an eye on it was to make sure the sugar didn't burn or that the pudding itself didn't burn. The constant stirring (only for a few minutes though) was the only thing that really required concentration.
I used Famous Grouse scotch (at the recommendation of the guy at the liquor store), I probably put a little more in there than the recipe called for but it was fine. My pictures are lackluster but I didn't actually eat said pudding until last night. It was good, it didn't knock my socks off but it was sweet and satisfying.
Next week, cheesecake!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

My ever-expanding 'To Do' List

1. Work on pre-Christmas dinner menu (which is this Saturday)
2. Mail secret santa gift to recipient
3. Work on actual Christmas dinner menu
4. Get stocking stuffers for Doug
5. Finish gift shopping
6. Make cheesecake for co-worker (to be delivered on Christmas Eve)
7. Laundry
8. Make this coming week's Tuesdays with Dorie selection (homemade Butterscotch Pudding)
9. Wrap gifts
10. Finish knitting hat for niece
11. Finish Rusted Root in time to wear on Christmas Eve
12. Make red beret to wear to party on Sunday (this may not happen however)
13. Look for brown boots online
14. Clean out my filthy car
15. Mail last few Christmas cards for people whose addresses I could not find
16. Clean bathroom
17. Go to liquor store to restock our booze supply

I'm sure there's more. Essentially I shouldn't even be blogging, I should be working on this massive list.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie: Buttery Jam Cookies

More cookies! Seems like we go a few weeks with no cookies and then we have a little run of them. It really fits the holiday season since so many people do cookies exchanges. I was invited to a cookie exchange but I was out of town so I missed out. Maybe next year! This week's selection is from Heather of Randomosity and the Girl. (Sorry I messed this up earlier, I didn't look closely enough at the list order, my apologies!)

Super easy cookie to put together. They really took almost no time, no chilling required either. I used my favorite apricot jam, Bonne Maman. The recipe calls for 1/4 c. of jam but I think I probably could have used a little more. The cookies do brown on the bottoms pretty quickly so I pulled them out after 10 minutes in the oven and let them cool a few minutes. Their weight and texture reminded me of a biscuit. My dough was pretty sticky and I had a hard time scooping it out on the sheet. You really couldn't taste the ginger or the jam in my cookies. Not my favorite cookie recipe of all time but possibly something I might make again with a few variations. They would be excellent with tea I think.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Knitting updates

Everyone always has grand plans of holiday gift knitting. And then before you know it it's mid-December and you haven't even started on your list. Now granted I pared down my list to almost nothing but I'm still in panic mode to finish a hat and a cowl by Saturday. The hat is for my niece and it's nearly finished. She wanted a hat that was pink and purple with stripes. I'm using Brown Sheep worsted in pink and purple (I bought it ages ago so I don't know the actual colorway names because who knows where I put the labels). The pattern is the Simple Baby Cap from Itty Bitty Hats. My niece is six but the 2 year + hat pattern fits my head (albeit a little snug) so I'm sure it'll be a perfect fit for her. I cast on last Thursday night and I've just been working on it off and on since then. Mostly in the car waiting in line at the coffee shop and at the movies yesterday. Since it's a rolled brim and all stockinette it's completely mindless. I'll probably start the decreases tonight. My stripe placement is wonky, but I doubt she'll care. Now I haven't even cast on for the cowl yet. Depending on much I get done on the hat I may try to cast on tonight. It's the Stacked Eyelet Cowl pattern from Sour Cherries.

I took my Rusted Root sweater with me on my trip thinking I'd have so much plane time to knit I'd finish it. Well I didn't. I did manage to get the sleeves off but that was it. I've been focusing on it since I got back. I am not letting myself cast on another 'me' project until that sweater is finished. It has taken me far longer that it should have to knit. Now I'm at the point where it's just knitting except for the lace section and that's pretty easy. I was going to try to put in bust darts but I'm too chicken. Next sweater I promise I'll try them. I'm knitting the medium and at first I thought I'd make 3/4 length sleeves I have since changed my mind and I'm just doing the normal sleeves, sans the poof. I have to brag on my husband, who always is very supportive of my knitting and crafting in general, even though he thinks I have too much yarn (blasphemy!). After my recent hefty yarn purchases, which I didn't get wound, I'm going to have to wind a lot of yarn soon. So I found these directions on how to build your own yarn swift from Crafty Diversions. I gave them to Doug and Saturday afternoon he put this thing together and by 6:30PM I had a swift. It works perfectly too. I was thinking about getting a ball winder like this one, but Doug thinks he can rig something up himself. But for now I'm super happy with the swift.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Mini-Fangirl Tour of DOOOM

I am particularly fond of this definition of a fangirl. I think no. 2 (no. 2 under the first definition that is) is what I apply to my own level of fangirldom.

When I was in Seattle I knew there would be no way I would fly across the country and not drive to Forks. I had to do it. My plan was to drive up on Monday, my last full day in Seattle. I assumed it would be relatively quiet there seeing as how it was a Monday in December, I was counting on the fact that most schools were still in finals mode.

After leaving Seattle I had to take a ferry from Edmonds to Kingston before I could get on the road headed to Port Angeles and Forks. The drive to up was very scenic, the Olympic National Forest surrounds the area and it really is beautiful to look at. It was misty and foggy and almost eerie in some places. There were just trees everywhere and you could see parts of mountains too. The road was very narrow and curvy in some spots and I saw several deer (which isn't too surprising to me, I see them at home a lot too). What did surprise me were the gigantic ferns and the tiny waterfalls I saw in places on the side of the road. Port Angeles was not quiet as quaint as I'd pictured it but it had a great book store - Port News & Books, where I found some fly fishing books for Doug and a few Christmas gifts for my niece. They were lots of Twilight posters and books in the front windows of shops. They have embraced the crazy.After I left Port Angeles I was on the road to Forks. The road really narrowed then, although it was mostly me on the road, save for the few log trucks. But I still had ride the brake almost the entire way.

Once I got to the 'welcome to Forks' sign I had to pull over and take the customary picture in front of it. There was a little plank you could walk up to be right in front of the sign but I skipped that and stayed closer to the ground. If Port Angeles has embraced the crazy Forks married the crazy and had its babies. There was a store on the main street called...

wait for it...

Dazzled by Twilight. Really.

I didn't visit the store but best I could tell it sold all things Twilight and I mean all things. There were signs and posters everywhere publicizing Twilight swag or Twilight themed food or whatever. I went to the Forks Chamber of Commerce to snag Forks t-shirt, a map of Twilight locations and a picture in front of 'Bella's truck' the Chamber purchased. The guy at the Chamber was super nice and gave me the entire spiel with the map and all but I wanted to stop him halfway through and just say "dude, it's okay I just want a t shirt and a picture." But I didn't, I let him give me the speech. I felt bad for him though, I wonder how many times he's given the speech in the last few months. As I was leaving a gaggle of tweens and their mom came in.

Honestly, I had almost no time to wander around because it took me so long to drive there and back and the airport shuttle was coming to pick me up at 3:55 the next morning. La Push and the beaches was the thing I really wanted to see so I left Forks after snapping a few more pictures and drove towards La Push, which is about 40 minutes from Forks.

First Beach was beautiful, everything was misty and slightly foggy and there was driftwood everywhere. I even caught a rainbow on film.I left First Beach and drove back towards Second and Third Beach. I missed the turn for Second Beach (way to pay attention) and instead of turning around I just turned off at Third Beach. This is where me being an idiot comes into focus. It's a Monday in December, rainy and cold and out here I have no cellphone reception. Besides my rental car there's one other vehicle parked in front of the trail. I'm wearing jeans, a long sleeved cotton t-shirt, sneakers and I have my camera and my non-working cell phone in hand. I briefly glance at the sign telling me the trail is 1.3 miles. I think I can totally walk 2.6 miles, no problem. So I start out walking, the trail starts out even and starts getting steeper and more narrow. Two guys pass me, they are hardcore hikers with huge backpacks and they are dressed for being in rain. I am sure as they pass me they think WTH does that girl think she's doing? Halfway down the trail I start freaking out a little. I am totally alone and I could get eaten by a cougar or there could be a serial killer hiding under a fallen log waiting to chop me up into tiny pieces. And then I thought about how ridiculous it would be to be know as the moron girl who drove to a place where a fiction book was set only to be killed in some terrible and/or most likely stupid way. I trudged on and started to hear the waves crashing on the beach and then the trail got incredibly steep and I had to almost crawl down a few places. At the end of the trail I came to a place where I could not go any further in the clothes/shoes I was wearing. There was a little rushing stream with logs across it I would have to cross in order to get to the actual beach. I tried one log and it started slipping and I realized there was no way I should even attempt this alone with no cell reception. I was still able to get some nice pictures though and as I tried not to dwell too long on how stupid it was of me to traipse all the way down this dark and winding trail alone.The walk back up was much worse than the way down. I realized exactly how out of shape I am as a wheezed and coughed my way back to my car. Can you hear me wheezing through your screen? Cause I am. I was wearing my Koigu cowl too and I got so hot I had to take it off.So I came home with a story and pictures. It was fun and I know it makes me even more of a dorky fangirl but I don't care. The trip was worth it just for the scenery, it really is "so green."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Seattle or bust

Last Friday I headed to Seattle for a four-day trip to visit friends, buy a lot of yarn and drink copious amounts of caffeine. Seattle is a great place to visit, I couldn't stop staring at the mountains and all the trees and the Puget Sound, it's a totally different landscape than Western Tennessee, where I've spent my entire life. I went back and forth a few times on where I was going to stay, because I didn't want to spend a ton on a hotel room I almost stayed outside of the city. After some input from my friends I made reservations at the Inn at Queen Anne, located in the Queen Anne area of Seattle. The hotel wasn't really fancy but it closely resembled a Midtown Memphis apartment (it had a radiator and everything!). There was restaurants and book stores and grocery stores and coffee shops all within walking distance. A downside was that the parking lot was extra and it was a couple of blocks from the hotel itself, no big deal though.There were so many things I wanted to do but I didn't get to some of them because it was really a whirlwind trip. Yarn stores and the Urban Craft Uprising were the main things I wanted to do and everything else was cake. I was lucky to have my friend know where things were because I wouldn't have made it to half of the yarn stores if she hadn't have been there to navigate.

In no particular order, these are the yarn stores I hit:

That may sound like a lot of yarn stores but there were lots more I didn't make it to. Everyone was super nice and helpful too. This is my pile-o-yarn from shopping, I got Madeline Tosh worsted, Fleece Artist Trailsock, Dream in Color Smooshy, Cascade 220, Louet Gems, Berroco Comfort, Knit One Crochet Two Recycled Cotton and Berroco Ultra Alpaca. I couldn't stop fondling all the yarny goodness. I also got a skein of this yarn from the Blonde Chicken at Urban Craft Uprising, it has the sheen of silk and it's made from banana fiber, how cool is that? My skein is more of a silver gray though.
Eating lots of things I shouldn't have was something I did quiet well too. There was mini-brioche filled with Nutella, huge cake donuts, latte's, mocha's, Indian food, cider roasted chicken and my personal favorite, the Caramelized Banana Brioche French Toast at the Volunteer Park Cafe. Drool. Everything on that breakfast menu was something I wanted to eat. There was much shopping at a few other non-yarn places too, I went to H&M, Urban Outfitters, Archie McPhee's (where I bought Doug a figurine of the 'Patron Saint of Bacon') and Monkey Love Rubber Stamps.
Riding the ferry was also a completely new experience, once I figured out the procedure I really enjoyed it. I took the ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island and from Edmonds to Kingston. Bainbridge Island was perfectly enchanting, lots of quaint little shops and the views are so pretty. Bainbridge is where Churchmouse Yarn was and it is the most beautiful yarn store I've even seen. Plus they had BMFA Socks that Rock, which I have never seen in person. (I didn't buy any though because they didn't have the colorway I wanted).
I also took what I'm calling a Fangirl Mini-Tour of DOOOM to Port Angeles/Forks/La Push, all of Twilight fame, which deserves it's own post, possibly tomorrow.

There were a few things I didn't know about Seattle:

1) There is NO place to park, ever. Every parking lot has huge signs for towing companies. So apparently if you own either a towing company or a parking lot in Seattle or anywhere near Seattle you can make a killing.

2) There are huge crows all over the city and they are not the least bit phased by humans. They look like they could peck your eyes out. And they might if you anger them.

3) I knew coffee was big in Seattle (well duh) but I didn't realize how big. There are these little espresso stands EVERYWHERE, even well out of the Seattle metro area. Those folks really dig their caffeine (which is cool because so do I).

4) Rosemary and lavender grow into massive shrubs everywhere there. I can't even count how many times I saw ginormous rosemary plants.

It was such a great trip and I'm absolutely smitten with the Pacific Northwest. Now I can't wait to visit Portland, which I will henceforth be referring to as "the Promised Land" (only because that's what the barista at High Point calls it).

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie (yeah it's Wednesday): Grandma's All-Occasion Sugar Cookies

I'm a day late posting, sorry! I was traveling yesterday and out of the three airports I was in only one had free WiFi and it was the last one on my stop. And I was too cheap to pay for an hour of access.
I made the sugar cookies two weekends ago at the same time I was making the Linzer Sables. The sugar cookies were super easy to make and smelled great. I undercooked mine by just a few minutes because I like them extra soft. They were good and we gobbled them up in a day. Sadly I didn't pay attention and ate them before I took a picture - oops. Thus the only two pictures I have are of the dough stage. But trust me, they looked like sugar cookies.

Thanks to Ulrike of Kuchenlatein for the this week's selection!