Wednesday, August 27, 2014

WIP Wednesday: Game, set, matching mitts

You think you've had a productive week.  You think you've accomplished a small something worth feeling good about.  And then you watch a player in her grand slam debut upset the #12 seed and you hear that she was born in 1999.  And suddenly you feel just a little bit lazy and unambitious.

That's what happens when you watch sports as you get older, I suppose.  But I'll leave the tennis prodigy-ing to CiCi Bellis and watch her as I make progress on my knitting and spinning.  And I have made progress.  I finally blocked my Mittacles, so now I just have the pesky task of weaving all of the ends in:

My Vlad Helsing is moving along as well.  I've gone through the chart nearly three of the prescribed four times:

Aside from the momentary confusion with the placement of the repeat on two of the rows, I've really enjoyed this.  My only worry is that it won't use up enough of my yarn to get to the color change in the skein that starts a little late.

So, do young upstart athletes, movie stars, or other random celebrities ever make you feel lazy?  Or are you confident in your awesomeness?  For more WIP Wednesdays, go to Tami's Amis.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Cubicle kitchen: Coffee Crunch Chocolate

Have you ever gone through the stages of weird food?  Like:

Stage One: Disgust.  You hear about some new thing, and you just think, 'Why would anyone ever want to eat that?  Gross.'
Stage Two: Curiosity.  You start to wonder just how bad it might taste.  And really, why would they make it if it really was so horrible?
Stage Three: Connecting.  You think about some other foods that you like that might have similar traits.
Stage Four: Craving.  You decide that you must try this thing.  Maybe it will be horrible, but by this point you start to believe that maybe, just maybe, it could be good.  And you wouldn't want to miss out on that, would you?
Stage Five: Tasting.  You actually get to taste it, and from there you might either fall in love with it, or perhaps you were right in the first place and it is the work of a flavor sadist.

I went through all five of these stages with the new Lays chips, specifically the Cappuccino flavor.  Coffee potato chips?  Huh?  But then, I made some intriguing connections.  After all, salty and sweet is an intriguing combination.  Kettle corn, for example, is delicious.  That thought, and stumbling upon the chips in an end cap at the grocery store, fulfilled the destiny of Stage Five.

The result?  I wouldn't say I'm obsessed, but they were good.  I found that while eating the chips themselves was intriguing, I preferred them with just a little bit of peanut butter.  I happened to have a jar of Vanilla Espresso Almond Butter, and it was the perfect 'dip', if you will.  It might also be yummy with one of those cream cheese fruit dips, maybe with some instant coffee flavor.  Something to round out the slight sweetness and bitterness of the chip.  And nut butter is great because it also has a complementary saltiness.

So there's a further Stage Six that I go through with these things, which is then to want to put them into a treat for klatch and share them with the world.  Combined with my almond butter, I thought that some kind of bark would be a simple way to keep the chips recognizable but turn them into something new.  Plus, I thought dark chocolate would play nicely with the other flavors.  And it did, this is just as good as all of those crazy chocolate bars I've seen all over the place, and everyone was very amused at my strange potato chip find.

This isn't a recipe that I expect a lot of people to recreate exactly.  But it's something you can certainly play around with.  Maybe just with plain potato chips and creamy peanut butter.  Or pretzels and cookie butter.  Whatever you find that intrigues you.  Push it all the way to Stage Six!
Coffee Crunch Chocolate

Ingredients

  • 36 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup nut butter (I used a Vanilla Espresso-flavored almond butter)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons strongly brewed coffee
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • About half a bag of Lays Cappuccino potato chips

Directions

  1. In a bowl, mix together nut butter, coffee, and powdered sugar.  Mixture will be crumbly, kind of like the inside of a Reese's cup.  Set aside.
  2. In a large glass bowl, melt a third of the chocolate chips by microwaving on medium power for about a minute at a time, stirring until totally smooth.
  3. Spread the melted chocolate onto a parchment paper lined cookie sheet.
  4. Sprinkle crumbles of half of the peanut butter mixture and crunch handfuls of chips onto the chocolate.
  5. Repeat the melting of chocolate, spreading, and topping sprinkling. (Note: You could also choose to do a single layer of 'toppings' if desired.)
  6. Melt the remaining chocolate and spread carefully.  Sprinkle additional potato chips as desired.
  7. Chill in fridge completely.  Break or cut into pieces.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Inspiration Saturday: The wheel keeps on spinning

Tomorrow morning I'll be going to the last of three sessions in my Intro to Wheel Spinning class.  It's been a lot of fun, and I've been pleasantly surprised by how quickly I picked it up.  It certainly was a great help that this wasn't my first experience spinning, just a new tool.  Though the mechanics are a bit different, the principles of drafting and twist are the same.  So here are some pictures of what I've been spinning up on Sundays and with a little practice every day in between.

The first week, after figuring out exactly what the parts of my wheel were and all that, we started out with some silk hankies and Corriedale.
I am now in love with silk hankies.  It feels like cheating, spinning with them because they work up so easily.  The Corriedale was nice as well, and the gray against the bright colors was fun.

Once I got home, I just grabbed some of the random fluffs of fiber that I had gathered over the years.  Roving samples and things like that, anything that wasn't a complete and labeled braid that could be a project in and of itself later.  And with those, I added to my bobbin's collection:
And then, last Sunday we ventured out into batts.  Sparkles!
This was a lot of fun to work with, and I tried spinning woolen, which was interesting.  I might do more of that for a particular project, but I think for the most part I'll be sticking with worsted.  I brought some of my fiber scraps and continues to just mix and match.
I filled up an entire bobbin very early into the class, and now my second is also basically full.
The crazier the colors the better, I think.  So now I have two bobbins ready for tomorrow's session of plying.  And then I have to decide what to knit with my newly handspun yarn.  At the moment I'm thinking perhaps a Danger monster?  I'm open to suggestions!

And check out Woolen Diversions for more spinning inspiration, she's done some great stuff!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

WIP Wednesday: I vant to slip your stitches...

I had a terrible shock on Friday afternoon when I was about to head out to my usual Friday froyo and knitting session with nothing on my needles.  Not that I had actually completed any FOs that I could blog about that day, but all of my WIPs were at a stage where progress could not be achieved while sitting in the froyo shop.

Because it would have been weird to try and block my fingerless mitts with thumbs there on the table.  Although despite having had the whole rest of the weekend to block, I still haven't quite gotten around to it.  Why is it that sometimes the easiest things take the longest to get done?  Then again, I kind of deserve a break after fiddling with the DPNs and few stitches for the thumbs, so I don't feel too bad about that.

I've also handed off responsibility for sewing the mini fox's head to my mom, so that remains in the same state as before.  But here's a picture of the first ear I knit up which ended up too big for my fox's head, so it's become an impromptu hat for a wooden duck:
So for Friday's crafting, I had to quickly grab something form my Ravelry queue, and I cast on my Vlad Helsing Shawlette:
The pattern comes from the What Would Madame Defarge Knit? collection, and this shawl is inspired by Wilhelmina from Dracula.  Since my yarn (a gradient from Heavenly Fiber that goes from red to black with sparkles!) is called Vlad, I decided to go with a Van Helsing reference from the same novel.  It feels like it's been a while since I've done a lacy shawl, but it was comforting to go back to what I think is probably my favorite type of project.

I did have a bit of an issue today while knitting because I thought I had an extra stitch somewhere.  Let's see if I can describe this...so, the 10-stitch repeat in the chart ended on 2 knit stitches and started back again with a slip 1, k2tog, psso (represented by a single icon at the start).  But when I reached the end of the 2 knit stitches, instead of meeting with my stitch marker, I found another stitch.  After much (and I do mean much) hemming and hawing, I believe I have determined that, in fact, that last stitch is meant to be the initial slipped stitch, but because it's something that happens over 3 stitches represented by a single icon, the chart has issues making that clear.  It took me so long to come to this conclusion and mentally knit the row that I haven't been able to actually knit it and be sure, but I think that's it.  It was, at least, a good exercise for me in reading lace and understanding what is going on beyond just blindly following the directions.

So, crisis averted, I have an active WIP to take along with me wherever I go, along with other WIPs I still need to make progress on.  For more WIP Wednesday posts, go to Tami's Amis.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Summer cinema: The Philadelphia Story

Unlike the rest of the movies so far this summer, I have seen The Philadelphia Story many, many times before.  The first time was over the holiday break during one of my college years.  I was so taken with it that when I returned to campus and discovered that the DVD was also in our library, I checked it out and proceeded to watch it at least three times in a row.  As in I watched it all the way through and then pressed play again immediately when it was over.

So it's fair to say I love this movie.  It's in my top 5 of favorites, and it's the only one on that list that I didn't grow up with.

But there's still something special about seeing it with an audience (other than my family) for the first time.  Sitting in my dorm room with a big grin on my face as Jimmy Stewart drunkenly calls out 'Oh, C.K. Dexter Haaaaaaaven!' is one thing, laughing along with a theater full of people is even more fun.  Plus, when you have seen a movie so many times that you've memorized the lines, you can tend to only be half-watching it (and half-knitting or surfing the web), so being 'forced' to focus on just the movie is refreshing.

Back to the movie itself.  For those who haven't seen it before, I cannot recommend it highly enough. The dialogue is snappy, the characters have depth, and their relationships shift throughout the course of events.  Some things don't age well, like the treatment of Seth Lord's 'investment' in the shapely legs of showgirl Tina Mara.  It's cringe-inducing to feel that the movie sort of agrees that it's a daughter's fault for not loving her father blindly enough if he cheats.  But I do my best to gloss over that intellectually and go with the emotional reconciliations of the end of the film.

Finally, how much do I love this movie?  I love it so much that one of my life's goals is to have a pet dachshund (blame that on growing up in Buda, where we have an annual weenie dog parade and race) and name him C.K. Dexter Haven, so that I can mimic Stewart's call in my backyard, as well as Dinah's ecstatic, 'Dexter, oh Dexter you've come back!' when I let him into the house.

Tracy Lord might judge me for my ridiculousness, but I think Dexter would understand.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Cubicle kitchen: Cranberry Peach Thumbprints

Have you ever seen Gosford Park?  Remember the scene where one of the guests is found indulging in preserves straight from the jar after his interrogation?  This is a minute or two into it, but you can see that he's still tasting away while Dorothy gives a great little treatise:
Yes.  Yes to believing in love.  And yes to jam.

Everyone thinks of cranberries for Thanksgiving, but they are so tart and bright, they go very well with the summery peaches from my day trip to Fredericksburg a few weekends ago.  I don't know that it would be deemed appropriate for the inhabitants either upstairs or downstairs in an English country home, but it's very tasty.

I also really like this particular recipe for the thumbprint cookies.  Thank you, Martha Stewart.  It's the texture that makes them, from the crunchy sugar coating to their overall lightness.  They make these really taste like fresh, summer cookies, not an autumn dessert that forgot what month it was.  Although you could still make them for Thanksgiving as a surprise for the dessert table.  I have diced peaches in the freezer, so this could actually happen.

Cranberry Peach Thumbprints

For the jam:

Ingredients
  • 1 lb diced peaches
  • 4 oz cranberries
  • 1/2 brown sugar Splenda
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 Tablespoon orange juice
Directions
  1. Mix together all ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl.
  2. Microwave in 8-minute intervals, stirring after each interval, for a total of 24 minutes cooking time.
  3. The mixture should be thick and jammy.  If necessary, microwave for a few more minutes.
  4. Allow to cool, then set aside.  Can be stored in a container in the fridge for about a week.

To make the thumbprint cookies:
Follow the recipe from Martha Stewart: Shira's Cranberry Thumbprint, substituting your jam for Martha's filling.  You should have some leftover jam.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Inspiration Saturday: Cotton Candy Grapes and other produce-breeding requests

I was all set to show you some daily progress shots of my wheel spinning from this week, but after an exciting sampling experience at the grocery store, I'm switching up my inspiration.  Don't worry, I'll be spamming you with handspun fiber soon.

I vaguely remember hearing about Cotton Candy Grapes when they first came onto the scene, probably on NPR.  I was intrigued, but not desperate to try them for myself.  Cotton candy is a fun, if messy, treat that reminds me of county fairs and field days, but it's not a flavor that I seek out in other forms, because to me the airy texture tends to be what I like about it.  But still, when I spotted them at Central Market this afternoon as a sample offering, I wanted to give them a try.

Wow!  They really do evoke that cotton candy flavor.  I resisted the temptation to actually buy any (they're a bit pricy and I opted instead to invest in some pomegranates), but they were yummy, and I imagine they would be really good frozen, which is how I like to eat my grapes in summer.

So, if they can use traditional plant breeding techniques to evoke a flavor as specific and man-made as cotton candy, I have a few requests for possible research and development:

Ginger Apple: I'd love to bite into a crunchy apple and have the spiciness of ginger cut into its juicy sweetness.  I know most people tend to favor the sweeter apples, but I love the tangier Granny Smiths, so something like this would be right up my alley.

Caramel Pumpkin: There's still time before autumn for them to try and come up with one of these.  Can you imagine how amazing these would be?  Pumpkins, with their delicious and vitamin-filled flesh, could only be made more enticing with the addition of creamy, burnt sugar notes.  If the Cotton Candy Grape can use particular grape genes to evoke vanilla, I don't see why pumpkins couldn't also be endowed with this particular kind of sweetness.

Garlic Potato: Everyone already loves garlic and potatoes, right?  They roast garlic and add it to mashed potatoes for deliciousness that absolutely steals all of the spotlight from the poor, neglected meatloaf.  So what if you could get a potato that was already herbaceous and wonderful without any clove-smashing required?  I would still need to have heads of garlic on hand for all of the other things I add it to (almost everything savory), but I think it would be amazingly convenient to just be able to scrub a potato, prick it a few times, stick it in the microwave, and voila!  An instant baked potato made even better because it's already imbued with garlicky goodness.  Just add your butter of choice.

Cordial Cherry: Maybe this is just crazy talk, but I feel like it shouldn't be impossible to develop some kind of essential cocoa flavor.  And I think we've already strongly established our ability to toy with the sweetness to the point where it tastes like candy.  This year's cherry crop was so good, we were eating a bag a week for about a month.  If these were around, it could be dangerous.

Peanut Butter Banana: Now we're just entering a realm where I start naming flavor combinations that I love.  But really, again, why not?  Peanuts are a plant.  Not the same kind of plant as a banana at all as far as I know, but a plant nonetheless, and thus I think I should be able to peel a banana and enjoy a potassium-filled, peanutty treat.

Lavender Lemon: I'm not crazy enough to imagine picking up a lilac-colored citrus, but it would be cool to have a lemon that, like a Meyer lemon, was just a bit less tart, perhaps a little sweeter, and had a touch of lavender.  The clean taste of lemon goes really well with a little herbaceousness, and lavender would be a great way to mellow out the zing.  It would make a really nice lemon bar...

Mandarin Grapefruit: We're well past the trendy days of the grapefruit diet when people were eating them every day for breakfast, but I've been known to polish one off as a fruity dessert.  So I think it would be good for grapefruit to make a comeback with a clementine-like hybrid that would result in easy to peel, snackable citrus.  Still with the tanginess of grapefruit, perhaps a little more mellow for the mass market.

I'm going to stop myself now because I'm only making myself hungry and sad that I can't eat any of these fruits and veggies.  What about you?  Have you tried the Cotton Candy Grapes?  If you could breed your own favorite fruit or vegetable, what would it be?

(And don't forget, more inspiration at Woolen Diversions.)