Friday, April 18, 2014

FO Friday: It's a great Friday

As I teased on Wednesday, I have two projects to share with you today.  Good Friday?  Pshaw, it's a great Friday!

First, let's take a look at my Affection-ite.  With as many stitches as there were in those last few rows, it's not surprising that it ended up so long.  It took four large squares to block it, and taking pictures of it that capture the entire length is a little tough.  I draped it around the Wildflower Center:




I'm not sure why Color Affection seemed so daunting to me before I started knitting it.  I had already tried every technique in it at least once: knit lots of shawls, done stripes, and short rows.  Maybe it was the sheer popularity of it, like each knitter that had completed it before me would somehow make it take longer.  But it was actually a pretty easy knit.  My mom may hate garter stitch, but I love it.  This is definitely not going to be my last Color Affection.

Now, my cardigan, that project definitely took as long as I thought it would!  But I think it was worth it, because I sure do like wearing it:



Especially in the wildflowers, because the buttons are so appropriate:


The buttons are a little fiddly, so I haven't been undoing them when I take the cardigan off, I've been taking it off more like a sweater  But other than that, it's been very easy to wear, so far with three different outfits, so the color was definitely a good, versatile choice.  And the beading adds a little something extra to the ruffles.

So there they are!  A quicker-than-I-thought shawl and a not-so-quick cardigan.  One for a swap and one for me.  How about you?  Are you doing anything fun for Easter?  I know I don't usually respond to comments, because I generally assume that people won't realize whether I've replied or not, but I promise I read all of the comments and I love hearing what you think!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

WIP Wednesday: Empty your mind and think pink

I went to yoga again this week before meeting my dad for the usual Indian dinner.  I'm liking it as a compromise between working out and worrying about everyone that I'm working out with.  In most strength training classes, there's always the fear of being the one that completes the reps last and holds everyone back.  But with yoga everyone is very inwardly focused and encouraged to do whatever their body allows.  And it ends with a few minutes of just lying on the ground and breathing.  It's as close to nap time as I think I'm going to get post-Kindergarten.  I know I'm supposed to be clearing my mind during it, but I find it difficult to not think about whether I want Channa Saag or Aloo Ghobi.  Or planning my blog post.  Speaking of which...

This Friday's FO post will be chock-full of finished objects because I finished Affection-ite last week.  I also finished my Lexe-Me cardigan before last Friday, but waited until my trip to the wildflower center on Saturday to take photos.  So stay tuned for floral FOs.

Until then, I have a WIP to share with you.  In fact, I think I only really have one WIP going on.  The only in-progress knits I can think of are in deep hibernation.  It's a strange feeling.  It made me very anxious to cast something on.  So I turned to my trusty queue in Ravelry and picked something relatively quick.  You know, so I can be anxious again in a very short time.  My logic there wasn't the best.  But maybe after I finish this I'll have decided on something else to knit for my long-term swap. Either that or I might start another cardigan.  I have the yarn stashed and pattern selected for at least two others.

This project started with the buttons.  I found them half-off in Gauge and had to have them, especially when I found the perfect yarn to go with them at the same time:


The yarn is bamboo, so it's got a nice shine as well as being a bright pink.  To show it and the buttons off, I found this pattern on Ravelry for a cabled cowl.  Although it doesn't originally have buttons, I saw that some people had used the holes behind the cables as buttonholes.  All I needed to do was add a third braid so that I could use all three of my buttons.  Like lace, cables always take a few rounds to really show their true colors, but I'm starting to see how this is going to turn out, and I like it:


I'm calling it Pretty Pink Plaits, because when I can't think of anything witty to name my projects, I go with alliteration.

How do you name your projects?  For more WIP Wednesday posts, go to Tami's Amis.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Cubicle kitchen: Citrus Mint Slice and Bake Cookies

How did orange juice become the go-to breakfast beverage, despite the pretty much universal agreement that nothing tastes worse than that first sip right after you've brushed your teeth?  That toothpaste mint and super-sweet citrus is just...not a good start to the day.  And yet, it's become a cliche part of 'this complete breakfast.'

Now, that being said, the combination of fresh mint and fresh citrus zest in this cookie is a totally different story.  The mint was care of one of my mom's coworkers who had some growing in her garden, and the zest came from the extra large grapefruits that have been my go-to dessert fruit since pomegranates have gone out of season.  Rather than clashing, they complement each other to create a totally light and refreshing cookie.  The citrus comes first, thanks to the lemon extract backing up the zest, but the mint leaves your mouth feeling clean and ready for another cookie.

Most of my treats are eaten with coffee, but I think these were made for an elegant tea.  Pinky out!


Citrus Mint Slice and Bake Cookies
Adapted from smitten kitchen: a slice-and-bake cookie palette
Made about 5 dozen

Ingredients
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 Tablespoons grapefruit zest
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2-1 cup granulated sugar, for rolling
Directions
  1. Cream together butter and sugar until smooth.  
  2. Add egg yolks one at a time and combine.
  3. Add salt, extracts, zest, and mint and combine.
  4. Mix in flour 1/2 cup at a time, just until combined.
  5. Gather dough into a ball, divide in half, place in plastic bags or wrap in plastic wrap and leave in the fridge for half an hour.
  6. On a smooth surface, roll each half of dough into logs about 1" in diameter.  Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for at least two hours, or up to a few days (can also be frozen for longer).
  7. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350°.
  8. Roll the logs in sugar, and slice cookies about 1/3" thick.  Coat both sides of cookies in sugar before placing on parchment-lined cookie sheets.
  9. Bake for about 12 minutes.  The cookies should be set, but not necessarily golden.  Allow to cool on a wire rack.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Inspiration Saturday: Wildflowers

I hope that those of you living in more Northerly climes are starting to experience the thawing powers of spring, because otherwise this post might be a bit provoking.  Here in Texas, spring has announced itself not just in the sunny warmth of the afternoons, but in the glorious color that speckles all of the highways and byways.

Every year around this time, some of the most gorgeous scenery can be found by driving along the interstate, where thick patches of bluebonnets, Indian paintbrushes, Indian blankets, pink evening primroses, and other native wildflowers cover swaths of land.  Driving out to Yarnorama the other week for their anniversary party, we saw some amazing color combinations, but even just between leaving my house and exiting the neighborhood there are little bursts of blooms.  You'll see people stopped by the side of the road with their kids (or their dogs) taking annual portraits in the bigger areas, the same way my mom took me out every year to sit and smile in the bluebonnets.

Visually, the wildflowers are stunning.  But there's something else that I love about them as well.  For one thing, they reappear every year all by themselves.  Yes, the seeds had to be spread initially using a tiny percentage of roadway budget thanks in large part to Lady Bird Johnson, and the success of their blooming depends on the weather each year.  But otherwise, nothing really has to be done to cultivate this garden show.  And it's not some manicured exhibit that you walk through once and then leave, or a beautiful bouquet you put on your dining room table for a week before it wilts.  You pass it every day on the way to work, along with everyone else.  It's something you all share each day in the midst of your mundane commute for a few weeks.  It makes me smile not just because it makes me smile, but because I know it makes other people smile, that it makes us smile year after year.  It's a communal experience even as you're alone in your car.

Of course, it's also great to go visit places like the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, which we went to today, to take a leisurely stroll through the flowers and get information about them.  It also gives you a chance to take lots of photos without cars speeding past.  Here's a little montage:


I have a few other shots I'm saving for next week's FO Friday post, because aside from being an inspirational starting point for knitting, wildflowers also make a great backdrop for photos of finished knitting.

Do wildflowers blanket the sides of the road where you live this time of year?  For more inspiration, go to Woolen Diversions.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Cubicle kitchen: PB&J Hand Pies

Yesterday I would normally have run a few miles on the treadmill and then gone to dinner at Tarka with my dad.  But he's out of town this week at a work conference, so despite still dreaming of the food in 'The Lunchbox', no Tarka for me, just a couple of miles on the treadmill and a yoga class.  Hopefully that will just make the aloo gobi taste that much better next week.

I still envy those hot, delicious lunches being delivered to the office workers in the film.  My lunches are most certainly not anything a coworker would trade me an apple and a banana for a share of.  But maybe Saajan would offer me a spoonful in exchange for a baked good?

While the complex dabbawala system is norm in India, on this side of the world, I feel like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are one of the staples of the American lunch, at least for kids.  I'm not sure I actually ever had one for lunch, I'm more of a savory lunch person.  But I have had my fair share as afternoon snacks or dessert.  So when I was putting these tiny little hand pies together, I decided to go with this traditional flavor combination.  They look so cute, and are just the right size for dunking in a mug, whether it's a mug of coffee at the klatch or a mug of cold milk.


PB&J Hand Pies
Makes about a dozen

Ingredients

  • Jiffy Pie Crust Mix, plus water*
  • About 1/8 cup jam (I mixed grape and blackberry)
  • About 1/8 cup creamy peanut butter
  • Egg wash or water (for sealing edges)
  • Optional: sugar for sprinkling on top

You can, of course, use your favorite recipe for crust from scratch, or buy a refrigerated crust that's already rolled out.  This recipe uses the same amount of crust meant to make a double-crusted pie (top and bottom).

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Prepare pie crust dough as directed.  Divide in half and roll out on a floured surface to about 1/8-1/4" inch thickness, a little thinner than a normal pie crust.  Using a 2 1/2" cookie cutter, cut out as many circles (or another shape) as possible.  Repeat on the other ball of dough.  Gently re-roll the scraps and repeat.  Remember: you need to have an even number of circles.
  3. On half of the circles, place 1/2 a teaspoon of peanut butter and 1/2 a teaspoon of jam in the center.  Resist the urge to add too much, or it will make a mess when baking.
  4. For each hand pie, brush an egg wash around the edges and place an un-filled circle on top, pressing to seal.  Use a fork to crimp the edges further.  Make a small slit on top for hot air to escape while baking.
  5. Place the hand pies on a parchment-lined cookie sheet.  If desired, brush the tops with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.
  6. Bake for about 20 minutes, when the crust starts to turn golden at the edges.
  7. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

WIP Wednesday: Stripe suspense

What's more suspenseful than the final wickets in a cricket match, or a budding romance between strangers exchanging lunchtime letters via Tupperware?  Starting a row that you aren't sure you have enough yarn to finish.  Between watching cricket and seeing a movie on Sunday, I finally answered a question that has been plaguing me since I ordered the yarn for my Affection-ite: would I have enough gray?

I made the order from KnitPicks while they were having a sale.  Sales are good because saving money is always good, but they are also dangerous because yarn can sell out from under you.  I originally had wanted to get two skeins, or 100 grams, of all three colors just to be on the safe side.  The system would only let me order one skein of the dark gray Hawk colorway, though.  After much anxious project stalking, I determined that I might/probably/hopefully have enough for the first contrast color in just 50 grams.  But it was going to be close.

And oh boy, was it.  I considered just not doing the final trio of stripes in the short row section.  But looking at the hollow remains of my yarn cake, I thought that maybe, just maybe, there was another row in there.  I tried to quantify those chances by weighing the yarn, but once you get to such a small amount, my digital scale, which is about twenty years old, ceases to be entirely accurate and there was little difference between the weight of the yarn and the margin of error.  I did the right side row of the gray stripe on Friday night and looked anxiously at the little pile of yarn.  It's so hard to look at that and judge how far it will go, isn't it?

Thankfully, my dreams were not plagued by visions of running out of yarn halfway through the row.  And the next morning, neither was my waking self.  I completed the wrong side row with let's just say a few feet to spare.  Now I'm just a few more rows away from being finished with the final section.  I would show you a picture, but the stitches are so scrunched up on the needles that you won't really get the full effect until I cast off.  So the suspense continues!

For more WIP Wednesdays, go to Tami's Amis.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Craving love and aloo gobi in 'The Lunchbox'

Monday Movie Madness may have fallen by the wayside, but I still find myself wanting to share some cinema time with all of you.  Especially because yesterday I went to the movies, and I want to let you all know that if 'The Lunchbox' is in a theater near you, it's worth seeing.  But I'm going to start from the beginning.

All in all, it was a very Indian Sunday.  As I was doing a little late-morning channel surfing I discovered something rather unusual for American television: a cricket match!  I have caught highlights of cricket matches every once in a while as part of SportsCenter's Top 10, and I knew that ESPN had been including matches as part of their online coverage.  But this wasn't a highlight, it was a live match on ESPN2.  My mom was as pleased as I was surprised.  She may not like tea, but in her love of cricket at least she shows her Britishness.  We watched Sri Lanka beat India in the T20 by six wickets with 13 balls remaining.  Yeah, I only sort of know what that means.

After that we went up North towards the lone theater presenting our desired feature.  That meant, of course, that first we would have a lunch of frozen yogurt at Yogurtland.  While they didn't have anything particularly Indian, they are doing another round of flavor passports that did include Spanish flan, Geneva chocolate, French black currant tart, and Florida orange sorbet.  We could have had some Indian food at Tarka just around the corner, but Mom isn't a big curry person, so we stuck with froyo.  We also stopped by Sea of Beads, and I was tempted to pick up some seed beads to add to the final blue edge of my Affection-ite.  But in the end I decided that just finishing those final rows is going to take long enough, and I think the striping will be interesting enough without the additional sparkle.

My mom had been wanting to see 'The Lunchbox' since she had heard something about it on the radio.  These days, I end up putting more movies on my to-watch list from listening to NPR, and then from seeing the trailers when I go to see those movies, than from commercials on TV or Oscar buzz or things like that.  Anyway, we had to wait a few weeks for the film to come to Austin, in the meantime I had found the trailer and concurred with Mom's assessment that this looked like something worth seeking out:


This is one of those movies where it is truly cruel to only have overpriced buttered popcorn available to eat.  Even with a stomach full of froyo, I could practically smell the paneer and the aloo gobi.  It was so unfair.  This movie would be perfectly paired with a dinner party of Indian food, whether attempted at home or brought in from a take-out place.

Just like the layering of flavors in Ila's lunches, the film's story is a perfect blend of emotions.  It shows rather than tells, and adds depth to characters in daily details.  It's not too schmaltzy, but it's not depressingly cynical, even though Saajan begins the movie that way.  I simply cannot spoil the ending, but it similarly balances realism and the kind of optimism that I like to leave a theater with.

If I've whetted your appetite, I hope 'The Lunchbox' might be playing nearby you!