Monday, April 29, 2013

Cubicle kitchen: Cherry-O Bars

Now that blog week is all wrapped up, I need to catch up on my recipes.  This one is from a few weeks ago, but don't worry, the post itself is still fresh!

I love cereal.  It masquerades as just 'part of this complete breakfast', but I eat it most these days dry as a snack/dessert.  I like that it has lots of pieces so I can snack slowly, plus I get to indulge my inner child by returning to the sugary favorites like Corn Pops and Cap'n Crunch without derailing my diet.

But as much as I love eating cereal, there was no way I was going to eat an entire Sam's Club-sized box of original Cheerios before they lost their crunch.  Now, a giant bag of the Chocolate, Multigrain Peanut Butter, Cinnamon Burst, or even Honey Nut, I might stand a chance.  Especially the Peanut Butter, those are delicious.  Anyway, the point is that this week's pantry item that I wanted to work into my baking was plain Cheerios.  There were a few options I toyed with, from making cereal treats to oatmeal cookies (I might still try that one - there are still plenty of Os to go).

But then, I had an epiphany.  Cheerios and graham crackers, they aren't really any different.  And graham crackers, as we all know, were made for two things: s'mores and graham cracker crusts.  SO using a little connecting logic, I should be able to use ground up Cheerios in baking.  From there, it was a simple matter of finding the perfect play on words to seal the deal.  And what could be better than cherry-os?  Especially when I have a jar of cherry jam just waiting to be sprinkled with delicious crumbs.  Now, technically, this recipe never used graham crackers, originally it was just all-purpose flour, so my finely-tuned logic wasn't truly applicable, but the thought process was there.  And people always say it's the thought that counts, right?

I was really worried about this one when I brought it in.  I made two batches, because the first I thought was a little burnt, but I was actually complimented on the caramelization of one of those, so go figure.

Cherry-O Bars
(Adapted from Mother Thyme)

  • 1-1/14 cup ground Cheerios, plus about 1/4 cup left whole, set aside
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped almonds
  • 6-8 Tablespoons butter, softened
  • 6-7 ounces cherry jam
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Fit an 8x8" pan with parchment paper, or grease.
  2. In a bowl, mix together the ground Cheerios, sugar, and almonds.  Add in the butter until combined. (This is where the ranges come in for the Cheerios and the butter, use your own judgement.)
  3. Reserve a cup of this mixture, and press the rest into the bottom of your pan.
  4. Spread jam evenly on top of your crust.
  5. Add the additional whole Cheerios to the reserved mixture, then sprinkle on top of the jam.
  6. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until golden brown.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

4KCBWDAY7: Thanks for the manatees...

Well, here we are, the end of a fabulous week of blogging, and just as importantly, reading other blogs. I've really had so much fun participating in the 4th Annual Knitting and Crochet Blog Week, it's given me a lot of momentum that I hope I can use to go forward through the next 51 weeks until the 5th annual week rolls around.  I have some bowls of frozen yogurt to share with you, a very inspiring pair of shoes for next Saturday's post, a few weeks' worth of baking recipes with my co-workers' stamp of approval, and another swap package that's going off in the mail tomorrow, so I'll be able to reveal those projects finally as well.

So that's my hope for the near future: just to keep going, not get bogged down in the day to day stresses that can keep me from taking the time to post and knit, for that matter.  But Eskimi wants to know what our hopes and dreams our for the whole year in crafting between now and then.  Here are a few boxes I'm hoping to check off:

  • Finishing my first cardigan.  It's been hibernating for much of the Texas winter, but with my swap box squared away I've actually already added a few more rows to the left front section.  That will officially make me a garment knitter, which will be exciting.
  • Racing through another Tour de Fleece, though I'm hoping that before that rolls around I'll have at least completed another cop of my mom's yarn.  This time next year I want to have not only finished that long ago, but have completed something a little more adventurous in my spinning, like plying some lovely spring green Yarnorama fiber I have with a flower pink thread.  And secretly, I'm hoping I might have a wheel by this time next year...
  • More experiments in dyeing.  Maybe knitting a blank to dye a particular gradient, or just trying some new 'ingredients', but I always have fun playing with colors.
  • Trying my hand at sewing.  I did a little hand sewing when I was in middle school, but I would love to whip up a project bag or two using the machine.  There are so many great fabrics around that I want to work with, and some things just need to be sewn rather than knitted.
  • Owning my stash.  I'd really love to bust it, but I've made that resolution enough times to know that it's always going to be a work in progress.  So instead, I want to just take a little more control over it with organization strategies as well as some actual knitting.  I'd like to take advantage of Ravelry by having all of my skeins entered in there, and be able to walk into the next Hill Country Weavers warehouse sale with a list of things I'm looking for rather than just allowing myself to be distracted by the prettiest little skein that ever was.  I have a few of those.
Whew, that sounds like plenty to me!  I'm going to stop before I start getting flashbacks to my performance management planning at work and trying to align these all to strategic corporate goals.  For more posts, use the tag '4KCBWDAY7' in the search engine of your choice.  Don't forget to check out Eskimi's final post of the week.  

And the countdown starts now...

Saturday, April 27, 2013

4KCBWDAY6: Thank Bob

Saturday may be the weekend, but it's still serious business.  I cast off, washed, and blocked the final handmade for my Joss Whedon swap.  In between the washing and the blocking, my mom and I went out and found ourselves some comfortable but stylish shoes at a great price, then indulged in some delicious frozen yogurt and scoured Half Price Books.

All the while, I was trying to think of what tool of my crafting trade I should extol the virtues of for this sixth post of the week.  I have a gorgeous Turkish drop spindle from Jeri Brock that constantly inspires me to improve my spinning to match the worthiness of the tool.  I'm also proud of my DIY noddy noddy, but I'll have to save that mini-tutorial for its own post.  Then again, I also love my polymer clay cupcake stitch markers, which never fail to put a smile on my face every time, even in the most boring/frustrating/never-ending row.  And knitting life really is so different after you get a swift and ball winder and stop having to coordinate winding time with Mom.

But when it comes right down to it, I think that Ravelry is far and away the most important tool in my crafting.  I don't doubt that if it wasn't for that site, I would probably not be knitting today.  And not just because of the ease with which it allows me to look up a yarn and figure out what to knit with it (as I stand in front of the shelves of the LYS, pecking at my iPhone).  Though that is certainly a factor.

I may have started with my college's Stitch 'n Bitch group, but having graduated and returned home many states away, that would have left my mom as the only other knitter I knew.  With Ravelry, there are literally millions.  Several of whom I feel as though I know very well.  And when something goes hideously, hideously wrong with a lace pattern, or even if something in 'real' life goes awry, I have them to turn to to keep me going.  And if it wasn't for swaps, I probably wouldn't have had the motivation to try so many new patterns and projects, and to make sure to get them done in time for shipping.  Manatees aren't really known for their speed, you know.

Unfortunately, you all know about Ravelry already, so I'm not giving you any new insights.  I can recommend trying a swap if you haven't already.  You'll just want to make sure it's well-run, that moderators will make sure that everyone gets a package in case of a flaker who doesn't hold up their end of the swap.  Other than that, there are swaps for all kinds of crafters, in a variety of themes and spanning a range of budgets.

I'm hoping to utilize more of Ravelry's features myself to make it an even more helpful tool, by getting my stash fully logged.  And one day Casey will figure out how to connect my library with my mom's, because right now we share our shelves, but she's the only one entering the books as they come into the house.  Like the stack we got at Half Price today...

Now that I've fulfilled my post for the day, I'm ready to start browsing other posts for great tool advice. For more posts, use the tag '4KCBWDAY6' in the search engine of your choice.  As always, our host Eskimi is a great place to start.

Friday, April 26, 2013

4KCBWDAY5: Just the facts, ma'am

Eskimi asked for something different today.  Well, since I'm a liberal arts student at heart that works in a company full of engineers, I thought I'd pay a little homage to their more technical tendencies and stick to today's vital statistics:

$3.19: price per gallon of gas this morning
10,266: pounds of food our group sorted in three hours at the food bank this morning
$126.12: total cost of renewing my passport
5%: additional discount for paying in cash at Hill Country Weavers warehouse sale
100: calories per serving in Taro frozen yogurt
2: more trips to frozen yogurt planned for this weekend
2209: messages in my work inbox
60: hours until I have to be back at my desk to deal with them
136: stitches left in this row
3: rows left after this row before bind off
4: days until this swap box must be shipped
4KCBWDAY5: the tag to in the search engine of your choice for more posts!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

4KCBWDAY4: Breaking house rules

Here's the problem with me trying to describe which colors I like best: if allowed to continue on, I will eventually list all possible colors.  Because I feel like every color has a time and a place, whether it's an earthy taupe or a bright and sparkly pink.  I'm currently building a collection of fingerless mitts in my cabinets at work in every color, to match whatever outfit I might be wearing that day.  Because it's important to coordinate while I'm typing at my desk or taking notes in a meeting.

But between earthy taupe and bright and sparkly pink, I tend to be drawn towards the later.  I can't help it.  I might be a manatee, but I have peacock tendencies when it comes to color.  This becomes obvious when I go to things like the Yellow Rose Fiber Fiesta (I still need to show you my spoils from that!).  I'm always drawn to the most vibrant colors, with bonus points when it's a mix of multiple, hand-painted hues.  Sometimes this is to my detriment, as I end up with beautiful skeins and no idea how to turn them into knitwear.  Particularly when I have so many favorited patterns which have a lovely lace detail, which gets lost in a rainbow of colors.

Looking at my projects page can often be misleading, because many of those were made for someone else in a swap, but I do have a few examples of my taking crazy colors and knitting them into something crazy awesome.  Like my Fabulous Street Urchin Hat:

This yarn called to me during a yarn crawl stop at Gauge in Austin.  It's Dizzy Lettuce Cash Worsted, and I distinctly recall my fellow crawlers telling me, as I agonized over the pile of skeins I was considering, that this was the one they would leave behind if it was up to them.  But I couldn't leave behind the pink and purple.  It's a very simple knit, so the color and the scrunch detail really make it.

And this is a hibernating WIP, but I'm really loving the way a simple stitch is adding texture to the paintball-splattered colorway of this Schmutzerella creation:
The colorway is called 'Are you up for it?' and it was based on the movie '10 Things I Hate About You'.  I try to make my project names referential or witty in some way whenever possible, so this is my Up for Anything Cami.  Or it will be, once I finish it.  Not that I'm a bee, flitting from project to project or anything...

For more posts, use the tag '4KCBWDAY4' in the search engine of your choice.  And don't forget to visit Eskimi's colorful world.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

4KCBWDAY3: Delicious information delivery

It's infographic day this blog week.  This was a very broad starting point, and evoked a lot of wild brainstorming on my part.  I had a lot of fun ideas, but most of them were slashed by the practical limitations of this being the middle of a week that feels like a particularly chaotic swirl of stress, deadlines, meetings, and plans made and then broken.  Nothing serious, just enough accumulation of little things to make a nit-picky person like me nervous.

Thankfully, I have implemented a very powerful means of combating this moment in the week: baked goods. Almost all of my 'Cubicle kitchen' recipe posts come from the treats I bring each Wednesday to a coffee klatch with co-workers.  The hit of caffeine, sugar, camaraderie, and opportunity to get at least one row of knitting done at the same time is just what I need to power me through to the remaining days until the weekend.

It's been nearly two years since I started this job, and bringing in baked goods has been a part of my repertoire from almost the very beginning.  It didn't start out as something I did every week, and I didn't regularly blog about them until last year, but I have a pretty good record of my recipes thanks to this blog.  So I thought I would collate some of that into today's infographic.  Here's a breakdown of the baked goods, by type, which I have brought into work:

As you can see, the battle is not between cake and pie, as is so often touted, but between cake and cookie.  Cookies are obviously easily transportable, and cake, whether cupcakes, snack cakes, or cake balls, are only slightly more trouble.  Brownies, blondies, bars, and fudge, on the other hand, are great for the ease of baking.  No scooping, rolling, or cutting out.  Just pour and spread most of the time.  And then, some things, like homemade marshmallows, I just had no idea how to categorize any other way.  Pie only barely made it onto the radar in the past few weeks.  But I hope to even the score a little in the future.

Speaking of the future, I also hope to try my hand at more infographics and other fun blogging tricks like widgets.  But like the manatee that I am, I'll float my way over to them slowly.

For more posts, use the tag '4KCBWDAY3' in the search engine of your choice.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

4KCBWDAY2: Mana-squee

Today, Eskimi has challenged us to post about a mascot project for our chosen house.  This might be cheating a bit, but the first thing that came to my mind was not a project I made myself, but one I received in a swap.

In my early days of Odd Ducks swapping, I participated in a Bento-themed swap.  This was after my first trip to Tokyo, and just before I started my current job, so a swap theme that mixed food, Japan, and bringing lunches was perfect.  And just like the theme, my package was perfect.  Amongst other awesomeness was this little guy, swimming in a sea of Malabrigo:

Isn't he cute?  He just about fits in the palm of my hand.  He's crocheted rather than knit, so I don't currently have the skill to make him myself, but one day I do aspire to wield a hook beyond a lacy edge for a shawl.  That's one of the things I love about swaps: it's a chance to get some handmades that aren't in your own wheelhouse.  And there's nothing like the feeling of unwrapping a swap box and finding something that shows that your spoiler read your posts and thought about making something just for you.  Because not everyone in that swap would have squeed in delight over getting a sea cow.  But I sure did.

Go team Manatee!

For more posts, use the tag '4KCBWDAY2' in the search engine of your choice.  Why not start with our wonderful host, Eskimi?

Monday, April 22, 2013

4KCBWDAY1: H-2-Moo

Here we go, I'm taking another step towards blog socializing and taking part in Eskimi Makes' 4th Annual Knitting & Crochet Blog Week.  We'll see if I'm able to post each day, but I'm going to start strong with a one out of one.

For this first day, our assigned topic is 'The House Cup', and Eskimi wants to know, if there was a magical sorting hat for crafters, what would it discover in our noggins about how and why we craft?  Essentially, what's our style?  She came up with four pre-defined houses, but we're free to construct one of our own.  If you want to read all of the descriptions, she's got them all in this post on the daily topics.

I think I could spend a little time in each house, summering in the House of Bee as I buzz through the daily spinning of the Tour de Fleece, while dabbling in the opulence of the House of Peacock when I'm feeling particularly sparkly.  But I think, in crafting and in life, I relate most to:
The House of Manatee: Manatees are gentle, calm and cuddly. Relaxed and unflashy they represent the comfort and soft side of knitting and crochet.
I gasped when I saw this, because manatees have been a favorite animal of mine ever since we learned about them in elementary school.  There's just something about these sea cows that has always intrigued me.  They are so sweet, friendly, and slightly curious without being particularly extroverted.  I like to think I relate to that, as opposed to resembling an actual sea cow.

Manatees have also been described as "gentle and slow-moving animals" by the Save the Manatees group.  This could also describe my knitting style.  While my mom can whip up a project in a few evenings on the sofa, I'm much more likely to plug away a few rows at a time for several weeks.  Here's another oddly accurate description of manatees and me: "they are semi-social, somewhat solitary animals. They sometimes gather in small, informal groups, but they have no leader or real herd structure."  I don't have a regular knitting group, but I take advantage of joining my mom's when I can, and I love my Ravelry friends dearly though we rarely meet in person.

And while it seems a majority of my knitting is done for others in swaps, what I love in my own knitwear, along with the look of it, is the coziness.  Fingerless mitts, cowls, and shawls keep me warm every day in my overly air conditioned office. When it comes to fibers, I have a particular love of the softest and squishiest, like alpaca and merino a la Malabrigo.

I also aspire to another description from Save the Manatees: "Most of their time is spent eating, resting, and traveling."  Just add in some knitting!

Stay tuned for further discussion of my manatee knitting ways and other fun topics in the coming week.  And for more posts, use the tag '4KCBWDAY1' in the search engine of your choice.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Inspiration Saturday: Gone Fiesta-ing

Today is sure to be an inspirational day for me because I'm going down to Seguin for the Yellow Rose Fiber Producers Fiesta.  It's the third year of this annual festival, and each year it's gotten bigger and better.  I'm looking forward to discovering new fiber artists, and checking in on a few that have become like old friends after several years of festival-going between this and Kid 'n Ewe.

I'll be sure to share the stashing results from today, because I know there's going to be at least a skein or two that I can't leave behind.  In the meantime, you can always check out two Examiner articles (the first here and the second here) I posted this week with slideshows of pics from a few of the vendors.  You'll see what I mean about likely making a purchase or two.

Mom is going to be taking a class on tatting in the afternoon, so I'll have plenty of time to browse and agonize over those decisions.  And hopefully get a few more rows of my swap project done.  Shipping is closing in fast, so I need to get to the wrapping and packing soon.

I'm also looking forward to a stop at Crazy Good in San Marcos for some frozen yogurt to top things off.  All in all, I'm hoping it's going to be a good Saturday.  And I hope it's a good one for you as well!

For more inspiration, check out Woolen Diversions.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

WIP Wednesday: Pretty cunning, don't you think?

There's a lot of cunning involved in swapping.  Taking inspiration from a theme, considering the preferences of your spoilee, and coming up with a collection of items, crafted and purchased, that will make them squee with glee.  'Squee' is a technical term, of course.

I have emerged from a phase of self-doubt and am now feeling particularly cunning in my Joss Whedon crafting.  I brought in the first knitted item I completed a few weeks ago into my coffee time with co-workers, because someone complained that us crafters were always working on something and never brought in the finished pieces.  So I wanted to break that trend.  I still can't show it to you, but I can offer this hilarious hint: it was modeled by a wooden decorative duck figurine.  It is not the intended purpose of this item to keep the duck warm, but it seemed like a fun way to display it for now.

Under the watchful eye of my duck, I reached another milestone in the pattern I'm currently working on.  Let's just say, there are three ______s total, and I've done two.  Just one more, then cast off and block.  The duck might supervise these activities as well.

I was also able to do a few other side projects this week, finding sparks of inspiration in certain episodes of Joss' shows.  One comes from 'Dollhouse', and a particular phrase which begins, 'There are three flowers in a vase...'  The second, as you might already have guessed from the title of this post, is related to Jayne's 'cunning' hat in 'Firefly'.  I haven't knitted an actual Jayne hat, but I have referenced it.  It was an idea that popped into my head as I was reading about what my spoilee liked.  My mom helped me realize it as an actual creation.  As usual, it isn't quite what I imagined, but the more I look at it, the more I think it's worked.  You'll be able to decide for yourself soon, because this box will ship out in about two weeks.

Until then, you can always look at more WIPs at Tami's Amis.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

One foot in front of the other

I feel a little ambivalent while writing this post.  On the one hand, I know that what I'm feeling is genuine, but on the other hand, I can't help that one of those feelings is a sense that they are so insignificant in comparison to the experience of others that they aren't worth typing.  But I just want to go ahead and get it out there.

Since I began losing weight, and even in previous attempts, counting my steps has always been a simple way to establish a baseline of activity that had no real limitations as far as when and where I could do it.  I have paced the length of my living room countless times, sometimes while knitting, to reach the magic number of steps at the end of a given day.

As fitness became a pursuit in and of itself outside of the means to weight loss, I took my steps to more interesting ground, from nature walks like the one I recently took at Enchanted Rock, to road race 5Ks like last year's Moonlight Margarita Run which I celebrated completion of with a cupcake.  I've run in nearly half a dozen 5Ks, and I've always enjoyed them.  There's a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie even when you participate alone, running alongside others and passing cheering spectators.  Both push me to run a little farther, a little faster.

I had been thinking about the Boston Marathon since Monday morning, when I found out that my boss' boss was running in it (he's fine, by the way).  I was thinking about how cool it would be to run in a marathon, much less one like Boston, London, or New York.  Running down Congress, passing the Paramount Theater and with the Capitol building in the background is pretty cool, but those cities would be amazing.  I was also thinking about what kind of training I might need to do to be able to get to a half marathon first.

The news broke for me when the hashtag bubbled up on Twitter, prompting me to click on some news links and turn the radio on.  My reactions included the same concern, horror, and inability to understand what motivates someone to do something like that which I expect most people felt.  But I also felt a particular twinge of empathy for these people who I admired for this particular effort, with whom I felt a bond, tenuous but existing.  A moment of accomplishment and pride was taken from them and replaced with fear, danger, and sadness.  It's not fair.  But then, it never is.

My connection to the world of runners is one mostly of admiration and aspiration.  And this may be the least important takeaway from yesterday possible, but it motivated me to make myself more of a runner.  It makes me want to join another 5K sooner rather than later.  And the next time I lace up my shoes, it's going to be one more thing that keeps me putting one foot in front of the other.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Inspiration Saturday: 'Veronica Mars' Kickstarter Countdown Party

I'm still in a haze of awesomeness today, so my inspiration is going to come from my activities from last night.  As I mentioned several times this week, I backed the 'Veronica Mars' movie campaign on Kickstarter, and last night writer and creator Rob Thomas had a countdown party at the Dog and Duck Pub to celebrate.  Contrary to my natural homebody tendencies, I ventured out.  On a Friday night!  To quote the show:
Wallace: Another big Friday night. You got plans?
Veronica: I don't know. I might take Backup for a run or rent a movie, maybe.
Wallace: Hey, congratulations. You are officially Neptune High's most boring person.
Veronica: Did I mention the movie might be PG-13?
Wallace: Oh, jump back, wild child!
Veronica: What about you, Wallace? Your life still a non-stop Nelly video?
Wallace: Hey, at least I want my life to be a non-stop Nelly video.
My Friday night's usually get exciting in the produce section of HEB if they have pomegranates, or on the off-chance that I get frozen yogurt.  This week, though, it was exciting because I hung out with other VM fans and watched Rob Thomas raise $5.7 million from 91,000+ of us.

Yay!  And I got to meet him:

And then, brace yourselves, blog fans, I got to meet Jason Dohring!  As in Logan.  As in awesome:

It was just too, too cool.  I utterly failed in coming up with anything intelligent to say to either of them, but they were both incredibly nice.  Jason clearly has a lot of experience with adoring throngs of people and handled it really well.  He wasn't even supposed to be there, that was a surprise that brought a lot of happy screams from the crowd.

Sure, basically I spent over two hours standing in a vaguely-formed line that wound through the back porch of the Dog and Duck in order to get to Rob and then Jason.  But it was totally worth it.  Not just for the completely surreal experience of coming into close contact with people whose work I love to watch, but for some of what happened while waiting in that line:

  • I managed to knit one row of my current project.  Or, more accurately, I purled a row, and then decided that it would require a third hand and a little more guaranteed personal space to be able to knit the next row, so I put it away.
  • I got to pet a really cute Corgi that someone brought with them.  That was one well-behaved pooch to be carried around that party and still be willing to take pictures.  I'm almost certain that I'll end up in some kind of documentary footage simply because I'll be in the background of the Corgi's cuteness.
  • And I made a few new Austin friends.  Hopefully we'll meet up again well before the movie gets made.  I like my PJs and sofa time, but being social is fun sometimes too.
You may have noticed my cardigan in the photos above.  For this special occasion, I thought it was worth donning the Blackberry Cabled Cardigan which my mother made for me.  To make up for the lack of knitting in this post otherwise, and to show off how amazing my mom is (aside from the fact that she also drove me to and from last night's festivities), here are some more pictures:

Gorgeous, right?  For more cardigan-related inspiration, this week Alicia at Woolen Diversions has posted about some new spring cardis, so check those out.

Friday, April 12, 2013

FO Friday: A noteworthy notebook

In lieu of an FO that is knit, I can offer one that was written and drawn, one of my notebooks in the notebook swap.

The owner of this notebook has a particular fondness for genealogy as a subject and trees as iconography.  She also expressed a preference for a pot roast recipe over my usual sweet baked goods.  So after filling in my first single page with a little about me essay, I used my two double-page spreads to give her something I hope she'll like.

First, I offered up two recipes that make me think of family.  To save on space, I printed the recipes themselves out to about the size of index cards and inserted them in an envelope.  Then on the right-hand side, I drew sketches of the dishes and wrote a little spiel about what they meant to me:

The two dishes are:

  • Svickova na smetane, which is a beef dish covered in a creamy root vegetable sauce.  The sauce is sopped up with deliciously squishy bread dumplings.  There is usually a garnish of whipped cream, some cranberry sauce, and a slice of lemon.  To me, this is like Czech Thanksgiving, comfort food at its best.
  • Toad in the Hole, which is impressive but so simple.  Sausages are browned and then baked into a Yorkshire pudding.  Another comfort food, I actually made this with my mom this past holiday season, but my memories are of eating this for a sunny Sunday lunch with family.

Next was a forest of three of the trees I grew up with.

What you can just about see above is:

  • Van Gogh's 'Starry Night' cypress tree has been with me since elementary school.  I've seen the painting in person twice, once in high school on a touring exhibit in Houston, where I promised it I would see it again in New York as a student of Sarah Lawrence College, my then-dream school.  And then, obviously, the second time was indeed as an SLC student.
  • 'Ferngully' was one of the few non-Disney animated movies that I loved as a kid.  Along with flying and breathing underwater, the ability to 'help it grow' is totally up there on my list of desired superpowers.
  • The other week, while I was working on this notebook, I found a book of Czech...proverbs?  Sayings?  I'm not sure, but it had black and white drawings in it, and one included a forest.  So I included it, even though I didn't grow up with it, it's been on my bookshelf, or a bookshelf near me, for years.
The notebook has now moved on to another link in the chain of swappers, and I'm working on more pages in another notebook.  I can't wait to get my own notebook back, full of pure imagination!

For more crafty FOs, check out Tami's Amis.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Cubicle kitchen: Pudding Pies

If there's anything you know about me by now, it's that I love baking with ice cream.  And no matter how much I do, there always seems to be more in the freezer.  And next to that, there happen to be a few frozen pie shells.  So I decided to combine the two and make some cream pies.  Because I hadn't really 'done' pies yet.

I mentioned in my WIP Wednesday post last week that easy as pie is a lie.  Because pie has to be sliced and served on a plate, with some kind of utensil.  The plate part wasn't too difficult, I had a stack on hand for serving as trays when I bring in cookies, etc.  The utensil part was more complicated, requiring a few trips to the office cafeteria to borrow a dozen forks and two knives, then collecting them up again to return at the end of the day.  Thankfully I had already circumvented one possible complication of having two cream pies by using two different toppings sprinkled on top in order to identify them, so the first slice wasn't a mystery.  And that was after the balancing act of carrying two pies, a gym bag, purse, and backpack to my desk.

But considering how easy making the pie is, it all kind of evens out.  This is perfect for pot lucks or any other surprise event the requires dessert.  Especially if that event already involves plates and utensils.  And it holds true to one of the things I like most about baking: the ability to adapt it to any number of flavor combinations.  If I expand beyond the sugar-free variety of pudding, there's even the seasonal options like Gingerbread and Peppermint to look forward to for the next holidays.  If they keep makin' 'em, I'll keep bakin' 'em.

Pudding Pie
(adapted from CakeSpy)

  • 1 9" pie crust, baked and cooled
  • 1 4-serving box of Jello Instant pudding (I used sugar-free), any flavor
  • 2 cups melted ice cream in a complementary flavor
  • half a tub of Cool Whip
These two particular pies were:
    • Banana pudding with Blue Bell Banana Nut Bread ice cream, plus some mashed banana, topped with banana chips
    • Pistachio pudding with Blue Bell Pistachio Almond and Ben & Jerry's Cannoli, topped with some chopped almonds
  1. In a medium-sized bowl, beat together the melted ice cream and pudding mix until incorporated.  Add in anything else you'd like to the filling (mashed banana, chocolate chips, etc.)
  2. Pour into the cooled crust and use a spatula to spread it evenly.  Place in the fridge and allow to chill for at least several hours.
  3. Cover with whipped topping and any other toppings you would like (chopped nuts, etc.).  Return to the fridge until ready to serve.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

WIP Wednesday: A contributing member of society

Yesterday I wrote about the Kickstarter campaign for a 'Veronica Mars' movie, but that is just one of the ways that I think contribution has been the theme of this week.

My local NPR station, KUT, reached the end of their spring drive tonight.  My dad tends to tune out during these drives, but I must admit I take a certain guilty glee in listening to general manager Hawk Mendenhall's snappy dressing down of 'The Situation Room' for spending ten minutes on Jay-Z and Beyonce's Cuba trip while they spanned the globe with two or three more serious news stories in the same time frame.  I like the moments where that foundation of professional journalism gives way to a rainbow sprinkling of personality and quirk.  Tomorrow it's back to the grindstone of day-to-day radio production, 92% funded by listener contribution.

My ongoing notebook swap is also all about the contributions of a group coming together to create something special.  I'm still waiting on the next book in the series to come into my mail box, but I've already been working on what's going in it, planning some of the text and drawing some of the images:

I'll cut them out and collage them into a little cookbook, which I've personalized based on her fandoms. So hopefully it will be a tasty treat.  Speaking of which, it's getting to be about the time for me to start considering final options for what edible goodies to include in my Joss Whedon swap box.  I think I have everything else pretty much nailed down, with my second knit project progressing quite nicely.  I am tempted to try making some stitch markers as well, but we'll see.

I don't think I ever posted the finished pics from my last notebook, did I?  Well then, something for FO Friday!  For more WIP Wednesdays until then, go to Tami's Amis.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Veronica Mars finally gets a pony...or at least a movie

If I had a TV channel all of my own, I could fill the programming schedule with shows I still wish were on.  We'd be on the tenth season of 'Firefly', and Rory all of the presidential aides would be making googly eyes at Rory in the press corp on 'Gilmore Girls'.  And 'Veronica Mars' would be snooping for secrets and crackin' wise.

Until one of my brilliant schemes becomes the next Post-It, however, I can't right the wrongs of network executives with my own funds alone.  Which is why Kickstarter is such a wonderful thing.  If you haven't already heard of Kickstarter, it essentially enables anyone and everyone to pitch in their own level of investment into any variety of projects to get them off the ground, from wacky inventions to debut albums from bands playing in their garage.  It's a kind of grassroots entrepreneurship.

In the past, fans have tried (and sometimes succeeded) in saving their favorite shows for at least one more season through campaigns that involved flooding networks with e-mails, voicemails, sending them bottles of hot sauce, crates of peanuts, anything that might impress upon them the support for a show that extends beyond the Nielson ratings.  But when you combine the enablement of Kickstarter with the fervor of fans, it's...well, it's pretty amazing.

Last month, the creator of 'Veronica Mars', Rob Thomas (not from Matchbox 20) launched a Kickstarter project for a movie to continue the adventures of my favorite persnickety PI.  They were hoping to get $2 million at a bare minimum to get production going over the course of 30 days.

Oh, Rob...don't you trust your marshmallows?

It took 11 hours to get that money.  Now, with just a few days left in the pledging period, they are closing in on $5 million.  With that budget, maybe Neptune High will actually be on Neptune.  Veronica Mars, investigating intergalactic infidelities?  Who knows.  Rob has completed the initial draft, but he's only revealed the final line of direction so far.  Spaceships were not mentioned.

The reason I'm writing about this is because on top of all of the coolness that this whole thing embodies is the chillest cherry on top: Rob is an Austinite.  And he's having an event to countdown to the end of the fundraising, all backers welcome.  Even though he's been very modest in explaining that it's just going to be him, his laptop, and the documentary crew hanging out, people are falling all over themselves to be there.  Even my epic levels of social hermit-dom can't justify not emerging from my shell and venturing out to celebrate.

If you want to be a part of the awesomeness, you've got until the end of Friday to become a backer, with as little as $1.  And if you're in Austin and planning to attend, I suppose I'll see you there.  Otherwise, I promise to come back with fun stories.  Or at least, I'll try and make some up.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Cubicle kitchen: Trader Joe's Brownie Bites

I am counting down the days until Trader Joe's comes to Austin, although I know that even when they open, I will probably need to give it a wide berth in order to avoid getting trampled by other ravenous TJ fans.  In the meantime, I have some Trader's booty from the Houston and San Antonio locations I have visited in the recent months.

I always hear about how great the store brand is in particular, for quality and value.  That's why I wanted to try out this brownie mix just as it was, but I couldn't ignore my primal instinct to mix things together and try something new.  So I went for brownie bites rather than a pan cut into squares, which allowed me to break my batter into a few categories.  There were countless possibilities, but I restricted myself to just four:

  • Original: I had to leave some as just plain old truffle brownies.  Which sounds like an oxymoron to me, but there ya go.
  • Chocolate chip: A few 'spare' milk chocolate chips sprinkled on top, because more chocolate is rarely wrong.
  • Caramel center: Again, 'spare' soft caramel candies, submerged in brownie goodness.  And again, because adding caramel can't really be wrong either.
  • Cookie butter: Also of the TJ brand, I thought it only appropriate to swirl some of this on top of a few.
Aside from getting to mix things up, I feel like I was able to do a little informal anthropologizing based on which flavor brownie bite disappeared faster.  Turns out, cookie butter is too intriguing to pass up, so that came in first place.  Caramel was a close second, though, and extra chocolate chips perhaps an expected third.  Coming in last were the demure originals, but they still made a good showing.  Or rather, tasting.  it all served to only heighten my cravings for the Austin location...this fall in Rollingwood!

Trader Joe's Brownie Bites
makes 36 brownie bites

  • box of Trader Joe's Brownie Truffle Baking Mix (or other brownie mix)
  • eggs and butter/oil as directed by the mix
  • additional mix-ins: chocolate chips, Speculoos cookie butter, soft caramel candies, nuts, M&Ms, etc.
  1. Take a clean mini-muffin pan and spray generously with non-stick spray.  Then spray some more.
  2. Follow the directions for the mix to create the batter, including preheating the oven to the correct temperature.
  3. Scoop the batter into the tins, until they are only about half to two-thirds full.  Add in whatever mix-ins you'd like.  
    • For soft caramels: cut in half first, then press into the batter until mostly submerged.
    • For cookie butter: Take a small dollop of cookie butter and swirl it onto the top of the batter with a knife.
    • For chocolate chips, nuts, or other candies: you can either sprinkle them on top (if you want them in the batter itself, you'll need to combine before scooping into the tins).
  4. Bake until toothpick inserted comes out clean, about 15 minutes.
  5. Allow to cool in the pan a few minutes before popping out of the pan and cooling on wire rack.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Inspiration Saturday: Rain, rain, don't go away

Rain tends to have a lot of negative associations, and I can understand why.  A gray, wet day just doesn't have the same appeal as a bright, sunny one.  But it does have a few things to recommend it, not the least of which is the actual water coming from the sky.

Here in Texas, we seem to be in a neverending drought.  The past year or two have been particularly bad, though.  It has gotten to the point where unless we start needing to gather up pairs and draw up ark plans, we're probably not going to make up for lost inches.  So the stormy weather this week still illicits an initial response from me of, 'Oh, good!' rather than, 'Aww, puddles!'

Today was actually a lovely, sunny day.  We went for a walk near Bastrop at the McKinney Roughs and enjoyed some of the blooming wildflowers, another reason to be grateful for rain.  Bluebonnets, Evening Primrose, Indian Paintbrushes, Prickle Poppies, and a few others I can't identify.  And I know I'm a hopeless knitter because I kept thinking about how beautifully those colors would be in yarn.

While days like today are great for walks, there is also a certain satisfaction in the rainy days.  Staying in, cuddling up with some cocoa perhaps, and watching a few movies.  Like, perhaps 'Singin' in the Rain'  starring Gene Kelly, obviously a classic in the wet weather media:
More musical melodies, I can't not mention 'My Fair Lady' and how the rain in Spain stays mainly in the plains:

No movies for me tonight, I'm still a few episodes behind on the latest 'Downton Abbey' season, so it's time to settle in for the night's recorded viewing.  Until then, I leave you with the song that this blog post has gotten stuck in my head, 'Only Happy When it Rains' by Garbage:

For more inspiration, go to Woolen Diversions.

Friday, April 5, 2013

FO Friday: Swap secrets revealed

I'm as excited as Lorelai hopped up on Pop Tarts and coffee, because I finally get to show you all what I was working on for all of those WIP Wednesday posts!  The swap package has been delivered, received, opened, and enjoyed.  So now all that remains is for me to share the goodies with you.

I'll start with the knitted item.  There are a few examples of cuddly knitwear on the show, but my spoilee is in Florida, so it was unlikely that she would be able to recreate this scene:
So rather than knit the scarf itself, I took the reverse-engineered pattern from Ravelry, Lorelai's Scarf in Blue Heaven, and mixed it up with the Lemon Squeeze Yoga Socks to create: Yoga in the Snow Socks!
Yoga socks are basically socks with no heel and no toe.  Skim, non-fat socks.  Maybe one day I'll knit the full-fat version.  For now, though, these were plenty.

I have the details of the pattern on my project page, but most of the work involved was looking at the number of stitches in the yoga socks, looking at the number of stitches in the textured repeat, and making sure it would all work out.  Particularly because the socks are knit in the round and the scarf, of course, is not.  I ended up sketching out a kind of chart, just to make sure the purls and knits were lining up.  That's the kind of thing that makes me feel like a 'real' knitter.  Even better when I finally cast off and it all looks the way it should, and fits feet the way it should.

These are yet another swap project that made me want to make another for myself.  Then I could go to the yoga classes in the gym without freezing my feet off!

In the non-knitting category, we have something completely different.  Fans of the show will recognize a simple box of corn starch as an important reference to Rory's first kiss.  Accidentally shoplifted in the romantic shock of her first kiss, Rory keeps it on her dresser.  I thought my spoilee would probably prefer something more useful than this particular thickening agent, so I did this:

I turned it into a pin cushion!  I emptied out the actual corn starch and put some gravel and stuffing in there instead, then my mom used a super glue to adhere the fabric in a pin cushion poof.  I also added a collage of images from that particular episode, but leaving the front traditionally corn starch.  Almost Warhol-ian in it's consumer imagery, isn't it?

There's one more FO I want to show you, but I have to finish writing the Examiner article on it first.  It was an old hard cover book I turned into a secret hiding place, so I figure that's Literature-related and a great excuse to write up a step-by-step tutorial.  I'll be sure to post it when it's ready.  And I still have some Joss Whedon swap stuff under wraps, so stay tuned!

For more FOs, stop by Tami's Amis.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

WIP Wednesday: The (easy as) pie is a lie

You know that saying, 'Easy as pie'?  It clearly is not meant to refer to the tactical genius required to transport two whipped topping pies from home to the office for co-worker consumption.  I'll save the details for the post about the recipe, but suffice to say, it was a lot easier to make this pie than it was to serve it.

Something else which lulled me into a false sense of ease was this second handknit for the Joss Whedon swap.  I made it through the long slog of plain stockinette to the 'interesting' part, and after a few rows of feeling proud of myself, promptly discovered a mistake.  Thankfully, I discovered it with my mom on the sofa next to me, so she rescued me, tinking back a few rows and deciphering the stitch madness.  So now I'm back on my merry way, slightly humbled but still feeling confident.  After all, there were days in the past when I wouldn't have even known anything was wrong.

I still like safety nets, though, so I have plenty of stitch markers to guide me along.  This particular item is based on a Joss Whedon show other than 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer', but it makes me think of Faith as I'm knitting simply because I'm using 25 stitch markers.  Get it?  Because she had that saying, 'Five by five'?  I'm a nerd.  A nerd that latches on to the most tenuous of connections and smiles to herself.  Whatever gets me through the rows, works for me.  And they are starting to get long.

Again, no pictures of my WIPs because of the super-secret swapitude.  But, there is good news!  My 'Gilmore Girls' swap package has been received and opened.  So that means that later this week I can finally show off a little, I'm thinking in an FO Friday post.  I can't include anything tonight because finding time on a Wednesday night is also not the easiest task.

For more WIPs, check out Tami's Amis.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Cubicle kitchen: Sugar and Spice Nuts

The following is a real exchange which took place as a result of this recipe:

"Are you responsible for the nuts?"

"I am responsible for the nuts."

"You are evil."

"Yes, I am!"

I love this recipe because it's super-simple, and offers the possibility for a lot of customization.  All you need is a lot of nuts, some sugar, spices, and egg whites.  If you aren't like me and don't keep a carton of egg whites for omelets, may I suggest making some lemon curd?  But that's for another week.

Honestly, the most difficult part of these nuts was figuring out the best way to serve them.  I usually just put out a plate of cookies, cupcakes, etc. onto the table next to the coffee-making accoutrements and communal fridge.  That way people can take one or two as they wish.  With nuts, I wasn't sure if people would be concerned about grabbing handfuls out of one big bowl, but I also was not about to divvy up individual bags.  What I ultimately did was put out my big bag of nuts with a tower of little paper cups, so people could scoop out what they wanted.

I may be evil, but I'm hygienic.

Sugar and Spice Nuts

Recipe from Smitten Kitchen

My notes:

  • I increased the recipe by about 50%, using a pound of walnuts, and a quarter pound each of pecans and almonds
  • I used regular brown sugar because I didn't have any dark in the pantry
  • My cayenne was on the older side so it had lost a fair amount of potency.  Which was fine with me, I didn't want them too spicy.  I added less than the recipe asked for and instead added some more cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice and ginger.  The cayenne still added a little richness, I think.
  • I used one large pan and one smaller, because of limitations with my oven size.  Two sheet pans would have been best in order to allow for the nuts to be in a single layer.
  • Other ideas I have for flavors to add (not all at once!): cocoa, citrus zest, gingerbread spices, dried fruits, etc.