Friday, May 31, 2013

FO Friday: Cupcake notebook of deliciousness

I don't have a finished knitting project to show you today, but last week I sent off another of my notebooks. (Full disclosure: it was actually two weeks ago.  Last week I wrote this post, then didn't hit publish before going out to dinner.  And near-midnight didn't feel like it was really Friday anymore, so I saved it.)  This time I remembered to snap some pictures using my phone before I sealed up the envelope, thank goodness.  And speaking of goodness, I decided to fill this notebook with more baked goodness, themed around some of the notebook owner's likes.  I got to tap into my inner child and do some drawing and coloring, and then I found cupcake recipes to go with them.

First, I turned myself into a cupcake with a little introductory page:

It's hard to decide on what kind of cupcake I am.  I think I'm a magical Willy Wonka cupcake that changes flavors with my mood.  But for the sake of putting a cherry on top, I went with a Cherry Vanilla Cupcake from Gimme Some Oven.

Next was her first fandom, Harry Potter.  I've only ever read and seen the first installment, so this muggle had to resort to being inspired by a well-known scene rather than being able to pick up on details:

Even without being totally into the Potter-verse, I'm always drawn to the smart and sassy heroines like Hermione.  And with that hair, I felt like Malfoy was easily translatable into a sour lemon cupcake.  So here's my cartoon cupcake take:

For Hermoine, I included a Triple Chocolate Cupcake recipe from Annie's Eats.  Partly because Hermoine's wild hair could be represented with scrumptious chocolate frosting, partly because the notebook owner loves chocolate, so I had to include a chocolate cupcake.  And as I hinted earlier, Malfoy is a Perfect Lemon Cupcake from Mel's Kitchen Cafe.  I feel like a lemon slice pretty accurately mimics his hair, right?

Another page, another worldwide fantasy fiction sensation.  This time, it was Twilight.  Again, not one of my own obsessions, but I took inspiration from one of the iconic images of the series, the cover of the first novel:

Kind of cute, right?  I have to say, even when you don't see most of them, drawing hands always feels awkward.  The accompanying recipe is Apple Cinnamon Cupcakes with Cinnamon-Marshmallow Frosting.

And finally, she likes purple and butterflies:

I'm kind of proud of this one.  The 'wings' are dried slices of pineapple on top of Hummingbird Cupcakes.  The only theoretical difference between mine and Martha's being that the slices of pineapple are cut in half before being dried, so they look like wings rather than flowers.  I really want to try at least that part of the recipe for myself sometime.

For more FOs (maybe ones with knitting!), go to Tami's Amis.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

WIP Wednesday: The big move

Because e-mail, meetings, and oh yeah, actual work aren't enough, this week my office time is also being spent on getting ready to move.  Unplugging and wrapping up wires, stuffing and labeling boxes, and just generally removing any trace of my personality from this gray little cube so that I can put my temporary stamp on another space tomorrow.  It's giving me flashbacks to taking all of my pictures off of my wall in my dorm room for the last time.  What became your space suddenly returns to being an empty shell.

Where are we moving to?  Oh, a very exotic location.  All the way...across the hall.  Do you think they still speak English over there?  Should I take a vitamin D supplement to help with jet lag?  Ah, there's nothing like sarcasm to get you through a busy week.  Anyway, this dazzling new locale will have fresh new carpeting, but mostly I'm looking forward to staking out space the fridge and blazing a scenic trail to the coffee machine.

I can hope that the new cubicle won't be as cold as the one I'm leaving behind, but I doubt it, so I still need to make progress on my cardigan.  Thanks to the three day weekend, and car pooling with my dad into work, I've made it to the armhole shaping on the second front panel.  Then it will be onto the sleeves.  It's hard to imagine these pieces all coming together and creating a garment, but I have faith that each stitch brings me closer.  Hopefully I'll get it done before I have to move to another new cubicle.

Until then, however, it's not looking much more interesting than the last time you saw it, so I won't bother with a photo.  And I have Brussels sprouts roasting in the oven for dinner tonight instead of gingerbread pancakes, so I can't add culinary interest there.  The sprouts are going to be really tasty, though.

For more WIP Wednesday posts, go to Tami's Amis.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Cubicle kitchen: Dark Chocolate Chai Fudge

For my manager's birthday, I decided to make something tasty.  But not a cake with candles for blowing out.  Not as obviously celebratory, but just as delicious.

The first thing I knew was that it would have to be fudge, because those are always the treats that make her come by my cube and declare it the 'best thing ever'.  And based on one of her favorite beverages, I wanted to try a new technique with my tried and true fudge recipe that I've been thinking about for a while.

That twist is chai tea.  Getting chai flavor into fudge poses some challenges.  Generally, to get tea flavor into something, you could steep some strong brew and add that in place of some of the liquid, but the closest thing to liquid is sweetened condensed milk, and I don't even want to imagine the sticky mess that would result from putting a tea bag into that ooey gooey stuff.

And so, I took the simplest fudge recipe ever...and complicated it.  But it was totally worth it.  What I did was, I made my own sweetened condensed milk.  After all, it's just milk and sugar, reduced down.  And chai is sometimes steeped in milk rather than water.  So why not?  Sure, it takes an extra hour or so to put it together, but it's not actually that much more difficult.  And it's flexible enough to work with all kind of other flavors, so I'm excited to have expanded my fudge possibilities.

Dark Chocolate Chai Fudge
(Using an adaption of Foodie Fiasco's Homemade Sweetened Condensed Milk)
Makes a pan (depending on how thick you want the squares, the pan can be smaller or bigger)

  • 2 cups of milk*
  • 4 bags chai tea
  • 1 scoop (3 tablespoons) Trader Joe's Spicy Chai Latte mix
  • 3 Tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons white sugar
  • Pinches of chai spices: cinnamon, clove, ginger, etc.
  • 1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
* You can use whatever milk, dairy or non-dairy, you like.  I used half fat-free milk and half Unsweetened Almond Breeze Coconut Almond Milk
  1. Steep tea bags in milk over a medium-high heat in a pot.  Whisk in remaining ingredients as the milk comes to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally.
  2. Remove tea bags after about 30 minutes, or until steeped as strongly as you prefer.  Continue to simmer.
  3. When the mixture has reduced by half, turn off the heat.  For me this was an hour, I decided that it was ready when as I stirred the mixture it was thick enough to see the bottom for a moment before it flowed back. Cover the pot with a kitchen towel and let sit for ten minutes to thicken.  Store covered in the fridge, or use immediately.  You should have about a cup of condensed milk.
  4. Pour chocolate chips into microwavable bowl.  Stir in condensed milk.
  5. Microwave at half power for 30 seconds at a time until all of the chocolate has melted, stirring after each heating.
  6. Pour fudge into a prepared pan and place in fridge to set.  Cut into squares.

Additional:  I also sprinkled on brown sugar crumbs I saved when I made my Sugar and Spice Nuts.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Cubicle kitchen: Funfetti Biscotti

When conceiving of last week's baked good, I was in a celebratory mood, due to that work milestone I wrote about reaching.  If I could break through months of delays and finally reach this finish line, I could do anything.  Souffles!  Okay, maybe not.  'Real' bread!  Maybe, but I didn't really want to make bread.  Biscotti!  Yes!  Tasty, something I haven't tried before and with an added layer of complexity (being baked twice) while still being within the realm of the rational.

Any experienced/jaded member of the working population knows that crossing the finish line usually means that there are still a few hidden hurdles left to go.  So by the time I got to the actual baking of my first biscotti, I wanted to make it as easy on myself as possible and use a recipe I had found using a cake mix. And I don't know about you, but when I think of celebrating, I think of sprinkles.  So I grabbed a box of Funfetti cake mix instead of my usual favorite red velvet as the original recipe used.

I feel like I've reached a tipping point and learning a lot of lessons about working life at this two-year mark.  One important one was given to me by a co-worker as we discussed having a launch party with cake for this milestone: when something good happens in work, you should celebrate, because the moment will pass quickly and if you miss it, you will regret it later.  So if you have a victory in your little cubicle, hurry up and bake these biscotti before something else pops into your inbox!

Funfetti Biscotti

Recipe from Something Swanky

My Notes:
  • Funfetti Cake mix, with added sprinkles, instead of Red Velvet
  • For next time, I'll probably slice thinner biscotti, I was nervous about crumbling
  • I cut my biscotti in half again after slicing, just to create more servings

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Inspiration Saturday: Summer marked in threes

It may be soaking wet outside, but I still think it's summer time.

It's been four years since I had a 'real' summer.  It's not fair, really, after spending the first twenty-two years of life with three whole months off a year, to fling unsuspecting students into a real world where three weeks off at a time would be a minor miracle.  Now all that comes with the scary realization that May is nearly over is the relief of knowing that school traffic will disappear, shortening my morning commute by at least ten minutes, and, to complete the trilogy, the three-day weekend of Memorial Day.

I am so glad we've finally passed through the desert of corporate holidays that is January through May. There are no three-day weekends at my company, unless you take your own time off, before this one.  Now at least I can look forward to the 4th of July, and then Labor Day.  A summer slate of days off.

Another sign of summer: yesterday another batch of Sarah Lawrence College seniors turned into alumni.  I didn't see the commencement live, but I'm tempted to watch Vera Wang's speech.  I have no idea what I would say to a tentful of students, but I think I'm pretty safe from being asked to do such a thing until I do something a little more impressive.

Anyway, summer inspiration.  I'm still just knitting my cardigan, which isn't really seasonal unless you consider that I wear long sleeves every day to work, rain or shine.  But I am thinking about warmer weather knits, like my Up for Anything Cami I've already showed you.  Once that's done, I'd like to tackle a few more.  These are two I already have in my favorites:

Sunflowers Cami by Heather Dixon
Photo credit: Army of Knitters
This is a seamless knit from the cabled straps down, I just think it looks so pretty.

Isabella Camisole by Tara Miller
Photo credit: Tara Miller
I just find the construction of this fascinating, and I like the idea of knitting the 'cups', but replacing the body of the top with some pretty flowing fabric.  Plus, this is a free pattern, even better!

Going with my theme of being inspired by things I already have, I have a few yarns that are more summer-appropriate than merino and alpaca (much as I love those).  I bought this Dizzy Lettuce Sheen in the last Crawl:

It's 100% bamboo, which I like for its shine and drape.  I tend not to be as much of a fan of cotton, but maybe I just haven't tried the right one yet.  I'm not sure what this skein is going to be yet.  It makes me think of the Chrysler Building, though, so I'd like to reference that somehow.

How about you?  What does summer make you want to knit?  Does it even feel like summer with you yet, what makes you realize the season is here?

And for more inspiration, check out Alicia at Woolen Diversions:

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

WIP Wednesday: Short stacks and long rows

Maybe it's a contradiction to follow up a good workout with some delicious Kerbey Lane Cafe pancakes.  But I don't think so.  I think it's a lot easier to push out those final reps and burn out my muscles when I can envision the deliciousness soon to come.  Or am I entasting the deliciousness to come?

Anyway, I successfully worked out many muscles today, including my finger muscles as I knit a few more rows of my cardigan.  I'm knitting the body on the second front panel, having overcome my first hurdle in 'reverse shaping' confusion.  I wonder if I can explain it without compounding the confusion:

In the first panel, after the ribbing, I worked and slipped the first five stitches for the front band, switched to larger needles, then purled across the wrong side row, while evenly decreasing.  Whew.  On the right side row immediately following, I increased one stitch at the beginning, which I then did every 1.5".

In the second panel, I worked and slipped the first five stitches for the front band, switched to larger needles, but not so fast!  I'm on the right side this time (which is good, because it means my front bands will actually match up).  I'm still doing the even decreases, that's simple, just so the same as the previous panel, but knits instead of purls.  Here's where I had a moment of 'Huh?': the directions say that for this panel, I will be increasing one stitch at the end of right side rows.  So, should that happen after I've done the decreasing row, or at the end of it?  Because on my first panel, the increasing starts immediately after the decreasing, but it seems weird to spend the whole row decreasing evenly only to increase by one at the very end.  But it seemed even weirder to have the increasing not begin until two rows later.  So I went ahead and just did the increase at the end of the even decreases.

Logic is hard.  Pancakes are yummy.

For more WIP Wednesday posts, go to Tami's Amis.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Inspiration Saturday: Prima ballerina

There's something about a ballerina, isn't there?  It's such an iconic role that almost everyone thinks about when they're a kid but relatively no one actually becomes.  And even though I've long since past ever wanting to actually be one, I still find them interesting.  Certainly interesting enough to have just finished watching 'Ballerina' on Netflix Instant and now want to look at some ballerina-inspired knits.

Ballerina Wrap Jacket by Mari Lynn Patrick
Photo credit: Vogue Kniting, Fall 2009
I think this looks interesting, with the way that it's wrapped and the peplum skirt.  I love something that will spin around a little.

Margaret Dashwood Shawl by Joanna Johnson
Photo credit: Jane Austen Knits Summer 2012
This pattern wasn't written to be ballerina-inspired, but there's something about a wrap that seems meant to be worn over a tutu after a performance, with a full face of make-up.  And hey, why haven't any Jane Austen stories become ballets?  I wonder which heroine would be best on pointe?

Lacy Legwarmers by Vanessa Ewing
Photo credit: Vanessa Ewing
Another obvious piece of ballet knitwear would be legwarmers.  These are on the delicate, lacy side, very pretty.

Thigh High Leg Warmers by Tanis Gray
Photo credit: Vogue Knitting Knit.1 Fall 2006
These, on the other hand (calf?) are on the chunky, cozy side.  Which I also like.

Tutu by Monika Sirna
Photo credit: Monika Sirna
Am I too old to absolutely covet this skirt?  I want a pink tutu out of cloud-like lace yarn.

The closest I'm going to get to being a ballerina is singing along with my 'Center Stage' soundtrack.  Hmm, that's not a bad plan for this afternoon...

For more inspiration, go to Woolen Diversions.  She has pretty pictures of flowers this week!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Cubicle kitchen: Creamy Root Beer Float Bars

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.  Or maybe lemon curd.  And certainly don't waste any of that delicious zest.  Anyway, you get the idea.  One of my favorite things about baking is taking something that I just happen to have on hand and using it in a delicious way.  Especially if that something might otherwise go to waste.

I already wrote about my adventures in turning accidentally non-diet soda into root beer syrup.  I finally found a baked good that seemed to be the right fit for using this delicious nectar of the junk food gods.  I wanted something which would take advantage of the flavor, but I also wanted a certain amount of safety in the recipe.  For instance, I didn't want to substitute sugar for my syrup and worry about the additional moisture as well as the syrup itself.  So simple was undoubtedly going to be best, nothing to mask the flavor or add the possibility for failure.

I decided that my root beer syrup was basically the consistency of corn syrup, and that's pretty much what soda is after you remove the water and carbonation.  There are a few recipes written especially for corn syrup, but of course companies that sell corn syrup tended to be the largest resource.  I've flagged a few more for future use because I still have some syrup to spare (I reduced quite a few cans, after all), but this was a good starting point.  Anything with cream cheese is a good starting point.

In the end, the root beer flavor was very subtle.  I might want to invest in a little root beer extract to boost that in future baked goods.  But it did impart all the necessary sweetness and a little bit of additional flavor.  Almost spicy, but not, if you know what I mean.  I also considered drizzling some more syrup on top, but that would have made transporting them as precut squares an even stickier situation.  As it was, these were delicious, gooey cream cheese squares with a great story to go along with them about how they were made with soda.

Creamy Root Beer Float Bars

Followed the Karo Syrup recipe for Cream Cheese Chess Bars, substituting corn syrup with reduced root beer on a 1:1 ratio.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Cubicle kitchen: PB&J Cookies

There's apparently a popular belief that it takes 21 days to form a habit.  So presumably after three long weeks of forcing yourself to floss, on that 22nd day it's just as natural a part of your dental hygiene process as brushing your teeth.

I'm due for my cleaning at the dentist, so teeth are kind of on my mind.  I feel the need to state that I have habitually flossed for many many years now.

Anyway, 21 days to form a habit.  I think it took longer than that for me to solidify both the habit and reputation for weekly baking, but there is no doubt that it is now deeply entrenched.  Because a few weeks ago, despite the fact that I was in a workshop the entire day, I still made these cookies and delivered them to the coffee area near my cube as well as the weekly klatch that I didn't get to attend.  Somehow, it doesn't matter whether I'm actually there or not, I feel like if I'm as close as being in the office, I should do my best to feed the people delicious baked goods.  Not because I think anyone would actually hold it against me if I didn't, I just like being that reliable source of something sweet to look forward to.

This was my train of inspiration for these cookies: this all-day workshop was a training, and that reminded me of school.  And nothing says school days like peanut butter and jelly.

PB&J Cookies

I used Sally's Baking Addiction recipe for chocolate chip cookies as a base, with only two real adaptations:

  • I replaced half a stick of the butter with Brummel and Brown spread, peanut butter, and strawberry jelly, but I could have probably increased the ratio of peanut butter even more.
  • Instead of chocolate chips, I added some spare peanut butter chips, chopped nuts, and in place of jelly, I used dried strawberries.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

WIP Wednesday: It's only Wednesday?!

This week has really been a roller coaster at work, I cannot believe it's only been three days so far.  Finishing up a project two years in the making, followed by getting an immediate critique from one of the users.  Feeling total frustration at one attempt at collaboration, then being thanked profusely for coming with the solution that everyone could agree to.  Panic about the threads of a project completely coming apart at the end of one afternoon, then the next morning everything seems fine.

What three days like this shows me is that when work is frustrating, you have to just take a deep breath and realize that the moment will pass.  Probably sooner than you think.  And when something great happens at work, enjoy it.  Because that will pass even sooner.  Either way, keep your knitting and your running shoes around.  Both are great for channeling positive or negative energy.

So I've made progress on my cardigan.  Not much, though, because I decided that I wasn't happy with where my buttonholes were, so I frogged the right front and started again.  The Lustra yarn is not the nicest for ripping back, because it's a splitty single ply.  But it wasn't too much, and I'm nearly back to where I was before.  It looks fine, but not that exciting, so no photo this time.

After I finish the ribbing, it's going to be a fun challenge to reason my way through the directions, which only say, 'Complete to correspond to left front, reversing all shaping.'  Great.  I foresee a lot of squinting at the directions, thinking about it, looking at the knitting, squinting back at the directions, and trying to write them out myself.  I'm still not totally confident in my ability to 'just see' when the knitting is doing what it's supposed to, so I like complete instructions that just tell me so I don't have to figure it out myself.

Because figuring out how to get through the work week takes plenty of brain power all by itself.

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

Monday, May 13, 2013

A very long three minutes and a short two years

Sometimes I feel like I haven't written a complete story since college.  I 'won' one year of NaNoWriMo with a fictional journal that was more stream of consciousness than crafted prose.  Other than that, I've accumulated a lot of ideas.  But I haven't had the discipline to hash it out from start to finish.  When you don't have to turn it in by Friday, but you do have a whole other long list of things that are 'due', it's easy to let it go.

That was part of the appeal of NPR's Three-Minute Fiction.  For those who don't know, TMF is series of challenges issued to listeners to write a story which can be read over the radio in about three minutes, so clocking in at less than 600 words.  Each round has its own prompt, and you have about a week to submit your response.  Round 11 was dubbed 'Finders Keepers':
Write a piece of original fiction in which a character finds something he or she has no intention of returning.
Ask and ye shall receive, oh keepers of the public radiosphere!  I heard the contest announced while in the car, and by the time I got home I had a basic concept as far as why my character would not be returning what they found.  It took me almost the entire week to whittle that down to a complete short story that I could submit without too much panicky self-doubt.  Now it's in the hands of NPR staff and creative writing students.  I'll be listening closely to the radio to hear if they read an excerpt from my story...

Another deadline which did not hold as fast was one at work.  No boring office details, but the main project I work on, which is the main reason I was hired in the first place, had a major milestone that was been pushed back and back and back.  It's something worthy of 'Office Space' or 'Dilbert', the way things kept cropping up.  Last week was actually my two-year anniversary, and I'm proud to say that this afternoon, we reached that milestone.  I think what made this particular deadline stick was the fact that someone scheduled a party/meeting to celebrate and declared that there would be cake.

Because cake is the universal corporate harbinger of miracles.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Inspiration Saturday: Happy Joss-mas!

So yesterday I shared the knitted items that I sent as part of the Joss Whedon swap, so I thought today would be a good time to show off the neverending spoils I received.  They really did feel neverending, so it's hard to know where to start.  I think I'll just throw it all at you with this collage photo and then attempt to break it down:
What I have so artfully displayed here all came out of a single box!  And if you think packing a box full of stuff is hard, try taking a picture of it all in one frame.

I cannot believe how much knitting my spoiler did in two months of crafting time.  I barely squeaked by with the tea cosy, tape measure, and shawl, but he really went for it.  There were two Aestlight Shawls shawls, one for me and one for my mom.  It really is a lovely pattern, very interestingly constructed to create something lacy and delicate, but with no right or wrong side.

Shawls don't always come in pairs, but socks do, and I have another pair for my beloved collection.  He's called them Dead Man's Party because the Knit Picks yarn colorway reminded him of that particular 'Buffy' episode, and he aptly chose the Zombie Socks pattern.  Suitable for a gathering, shindig, or hootenanny.

Standing in the center there is my own little Joss!  And he even has a tiny Jayne hat, I love him so much.  I also really love my own Jayne hat, because he used a pattern that I have admired for so long and made it into an abstract 'Firefly' reference.  Cunning, indeed.  The original pattern is Nightshade, and again, it's fascinatingly constructed and very cute.

There were also adventures in clay, with a decorated notions tin that had 'Firefly' and 'Dollhouse' references, with 'three flowers in a vase', 'medicinal carrots', and a strawberry on top.  He also fashioned a spindle for me out of a chopstick and clay, which is going to be really fun to play with, along with the distaff he made from braided yarn and beads.  And, of course, I will have to play with my dinosaur clay stitch markers.

Just a classic scene.  He also knit me a Deep Sea Flower notion bag that will hold all of the notions perfectly.

But speaking of bags, let's talk about epic.  Let's talk about a felted tote bag with transparencies from one of my favorite 'Buffy' episodes ever.

It's appropriate that this episode is so silent, because there are no words to describe how amazing this bag is.  I highly recommend clicking the link to his project page and taking a closer look, especially if you're a Joss fan.  It's one of those items you just cannot believe that someone made.  And then that they made it for you.  And then they also knit a little anatomically correct heart to go with it.  Awesome.

Alright, I hope I haven't overwhelmed you too much, but I just felt that even after posting in the swap's Thank You thread, not enough people had been exposed to the wonderfulness of this box.  It truly is inspiring on so many levels.  And I didn't even mention the yarn he dyed.

If you can handle any more inspiration, go over to Woolen Diversions.

Friday, May 10, 2013

FO Friday: Joss Whedon said, 'Create,' so I did

Thank you, Canada Post, for not leaving me in suspense for too long before delivering my Joss Whedon swap package to my spoilee.  Now I can share some finished projects with everyone and prove that I really have been knitting for the past few months.

I'll start with my first main handmade.  It was inspired by Topher Brink from 'Dollhouse'.  That juice-box-loving genius was also a fan of sweater vests, and with my spoilee being a tea-drinker, I thought that her teapot could use a cosy.

I've called the project Sociopath in a Sweater Vest based on another character's description of Topher, not as a remark on the model you see in these pictures, a wooden duck figurine.  Remember, I mentioned this in a WIP post?  I didn't have a teapot readily available for photos, so I dressed up the duck.  I loved making this, it was like a small scale trial for garment knitting, color switching, and cables.  And it's just so cute!

Having finished the cosy, I decided to be ambitious and tackle a shawl as my second knit.  That had me knitting right up until a few days before the deadline, with just enough time after casting off to block and dry and pack.

I'm pleased with the way it turned out, though.  I was worried about the colors, using Knit Picks' Imagination in Pirate King, being too varied and hiding the lace work at the edge, but I think it works, and the color changes are so short you don't get any weird pooling in the stockinette body.  The pattern is Out of Gas (free!), so it was always meant to be 'Firefly'-related, but I have called this A Beating Heart Shawl just to connect it more to one of my spoiler's favorite characters, Jubal Early, who admired the engine as the beating heart of the ship.

Back to 'Dollhouse', everyone knows that when three flowers are in a vase, it's dangerous for that third one to be green.  But when it's yellow, that's okay.  So I also made a tape measure cover, just for good measure...pun intended.

This Third Flower in the Vase was a quick knit from one of Nicky Epstein's patterns of knitted flowers, with a little crocheted backing courtesy of my mom.  I also knit a small flower on the end.  This was really fun, I think I'm going to have to make more of these in the future.

So there you have it, two months' worth of crafting in one blog post.  And that's not including the Jayne hat project bag my mom sewed for me, or the cocoa candied pecans I baked based on the Sugar and Spice Nuts.

For even more FOs, go to Tami's Amis.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Froyo files: Fresh Cup

As if running a 5K wasn't exciting enough last Saturday, I also then helped my mom trim some tree branches that were scraping along the roof (by climbing onto the roof!), and finally we had a merry jaunt up the interstate to go shopping.

I've pretty much exhausted my immediate area for new frozen yogurt options, but there are places I still have yet to try just a little further away.  I won't venture up north just for frozen yogurt, but if I'm going up there anyway for a shopping expedition, I'll gladly take the opportunity to find a new favorite.  And I'll always snap up a Groupon when I see it if I think that we'll be passing by anyway before the deal expires.  I had just such a Groupon last weekend, so we took a detour on our way to the Round Rock outlet to reward myself for my 5 long Ks in the morning.

Fresh Cup: 13000 N. IH 35, Building 11, #116, Austin, TX 78753

When I visited: Saturday, May 4th, around noon

Cost per ounce: 41 cents (I think, I forgot to write this down; the Groupon states 39 but I'm fairly sure it was in the 40s)

Number of flavors: 12 (but 3 were out of order)

Sorbet options: 1

Experience: At this point, I can recognize the 'look' of a frozen yogurt place, and this one has all of the common attributes, the colorful chairs and sofas, mosaic tiles along the wall with the froyo machines.  And sample cups behind the register, just ask the cashier.  Because what matters is the yogurt.

I was sad that three of the machines weren't currently running, but still ready to try the remaining options.  Especially because I spotted a flavor that I've seen several times online in lists of all possible flavors a place might have, but have never gotten to try before: Green Apple Tart.  And that did not disappoint, it was really yummy.  I put that in my bowl, along with some Salted Caramel Popcorn.  Mostly because it made a caramel apple combination, because while this was a good flavor, I still prefer a straight Dulce de Leche to the salted popcorn twist.

The sole sorbet, Mango, was kind of disappointing, and the Strawberry yogurt was just okay.  But their regular Tart was very good, as was White Chocolate Mousse.  The other flavors were basic and fine: Chocolate, Vanilla, Cake Batter.  Not bad, just not exciting.

Blueberry popping boba was kind of exciting, though, so I added those to my bowl when I got to the toppings bar.  Mom also tried them, her first boba experience to go with the Green Apple Tart and plain Tart she chose.

Here's another small detail that I liked: the height of the toppings bar and the accompanying sneeze guard.  Unlike some other places, Mom and I were able to reach to the back-most fruit and scoop without straining or pressing against the glass.  When you've been to as many froyo places as we have, you start to notice these things.

Worth a revisit? Again, not being in the area too often, I haven't yet determined if this is 'the one' I want to stop by when I am around.  But this was certainly a solid entry in my book, with good topping selection, if not stellar flavors.  If you're in the neighborhood, it's worth trying.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

WIP Wednesday: You bind your left front off, you cast your right front on... fold your back panel up and you carry it all around!  You do the knitty gritty then you sew it all around, that's what this cardigan thing is all about.  This weekend I finished up the left front panel on my Lexeme cardigan.  The knitting itself is still pretty boring, basic stockinette with shaping for the most part.

But there was fun to spare when I did some of that knitting while at a birthday party for a local yarn dyer here in Austin.  Dizzy Lettuce yarns have been my weakness at Gauge for yarns now, and she also teaches dyeing classes at the store.  So when she posted about having a little celebration in the store, Mom and I decided to stop by, bring some food, eat some food, and just generally be a little social.

I was only able to get a few rows done, because there was other less common crafting to be done: balloon animals!  One of the guests brought all of the necessary accoutrements and gave us a crash course.  It was interesting, I think knitting gave us all some advantages in spatial manipulation, but I still wasn't really comfortable dealing with the balloons.  I can't tie those knots in the end to keep the air in them to save my life.

Thankfully, I have my mom.  She helped me make my first animal: a pink weenie dog with gray pearl collar and leash.  I named him Pierre and gave him a Sharpie mustache.  Then, because she loves hummingbirds, I tried my hand at twisting up one of those, complete with flower.  Here is my rubber menagerie, along with the two completed panels of my cardigan:

See, don't those random shapes of knitwear-to-be look more interesting when paired with a couple of balloon animals?

While I was there, I also found a skein of Dizzy Lettuce that had to come home with me:

This is Argenbright in Rose, a fingering weight merino and silk blend with silver.  I needed it.

And if you need more WIP posts, check out Tami's Amis.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Cubicle kitchen: Mini Stollen Bread Pudding

As the world becomes a smaller place and everywhere becomes a melting pot of everywhere else, it's harder and harder to know what regional specialties people will know about as part of their own experience, and which will elicit a questioning glance.  

Stollen, a sort of fruit cakey bread with dried fruit and marzipan covered in powdered sugar and usually associated with Christmas, is traditionally German.  Recently, Vietnamese and Chinese have surpassed German, but it used to be the third most spoken language in Texas, and there is still a dialect (hanging on by a thread) known as Texas German which emerged from the immigrant population of the mid-19th century.

All this is to say that something German has a better chance of being recognized around here than something that is, say, Swedish.  Unless it came from IKEA.  Similarly, stollen are sold in places like World Market and even Central Market in the holiday season.  A few people recognized these as part of their own Christmas smorgasbord, while others could only surmise that it didn't have anything to do with Stalin, right?

Thankfully, when I explained what it was, no one shied away from this treat's connection to fruit cake.  Poor old fruit cake, so mis-baked and maligned.  What is it that makes this baked good go so bad for so many?  I don't know, but I've never been unhappy to receive a stollen.  And I've certainly never been unhappy with anything in a cupcake wrapper, so I decided that the only way to make this wonderfully rich bread even better would be to turn it into mini bread pudding muffins.

I don't know if this will make anyone rethink their stance on fruit cake, but they certainly enjoyed this interpretation.  One small step towards rehabilitating a baked good's reputation, and widening the horizons of global cuisine for a few people too.  

Mini Stollen Bread Pudding
(adapted from Joy of Kosher)

  • 7 cups of stollen, cubed* 
  • 2 cups unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter (or butter substitute**), melted and cooled
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • a dash of ground cinnamon
  • several pinches of dried orange zest
*I used about one and a half loaves, you can mix and match based on what bread products you have available
**I used 4 Tablespoons of Brummel and Brown and 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Fill mini-muffin/cupcake pan(s) with paper liners.
  2. Put the cubed bread in a large bowl and pour in the almond milk.  Let stand for five minutes.
  3. Stir in eggs, sugar, extracts, and butter.  If desired, you can move directly to the next step, or you can let this sit and absorb.  I placed it in the fridge for a few hours.  I've read that some do this as long as overnight, it's up to you.
  4. Combine flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and zest in a separate bowl. Stir this mixture into the bread cube mixture.
  5. Spoon the mixture into the tins.  For the regular cupcake size, I used about two Tablespoons; for the minis, I used just one Tablespoon.  You can fill a little more if you like (and thus have fewer servings), just make sure you are filling evenly.
  6. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the pudding is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  7. Allow to cool on a wire rack.  Can be kept in a container in the fridge until ready to serve, particularly yummy when rewarmed in that case.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Inspiration Saturday: If the shoe fits, knit socks

Socks are one of the last bastions of projects I haven't tried to knit.  And I wasn't really planning on adding them to my personal portfolio of skills until the other week.  It was the Friday before going to Yellow Rose, and my regular trip to the grocery store was supplemented by a stop at DSW.  I wasn't looking for anything in particular, but I had a coupon.  Which is pretty much how every shoe shopping expedition begins.  I've even already had an Inspiration Saturday post about shoe shopping.  But this isn't just a story about finding another new pair of shoes.  This is a story about finding a pair of shoes that have convinced me that knitting socks is something I have to do.

I found these shoes in the same section I find all of my shoes: the clearance section.  I think at first I grabbed them as a joke, but once I had them in my hands I had to try them on, and once I had them on my feet I had to have them.  Because these shoes...are see-through.
Penny Loves Kenny Larisa - Green Patent

They are oxford flats with transparent synthetic uppers, accented with pastel pink on the toes, gold on the heel and tongue, and a sort of minty sea foam green at the laces.  I love the style, I love the colors, and I love the fact that they show off handknit socks.  In the past, that's been my dilemma with socks.  They are awesome and they keep my feet warm, but unless I'm wearing them around the house, they are stuffed into shoes, unseen.  In these shoes, though, they can be admired for all of their beauty.

And so I bought the shoes, and immediately raided my small inventory of socks which have been knit for me in swaps to find a pair in a color which would coordinate.  I went with some gorgeously fuchsia sparkle ones I got in the last winter sanity swap.

Of course, this became the focal point for deciding the rest of my outfit for going to the fiber festival.

I know I still need to show off my purchases from Yellow Rose, and I'll get to that, but I had just as much fun showing off my crazy shoes as I did looking at the wonderful yarn and fiber.  When people realized that the hot pink was in fact my socks, they were amazed.  This event was obviously a mecca of exactly the kind of people who would love these shoes, so my initial love was heavily reinforced with at least a dozen people asking me where I got them and immediately plotting a trip to DSW when I told them.

So now that I have the shoes, I need to knit the socks.  Because the desire to knit socks debuted at a fiber festival, I of course already have a skein assigned to the task, from one of my favorite local fiber artists, Heavenly Fiber:

This is Stardust Sock in Titania.  See how perfectly the yarn matches the shoes?  It was meant to be.

The actual pattern I'll use?  I have no idea.  Taking suggestions now from anyone who cares to share.  Keep in mind, these will be my first non-yoga socks ever.  I've done lots of fingerless mitts and things, but never turned a heel or worked a toe.  I did knit a Kindle cosy last Christmas using magic loop, so I was considering using that technique again, but again, I'm open to advice.

Because I wouldn't be me if I was only thinking of knitting one pair of socks, I also ended up buying these shoes in black from Amazon:

Penny Loves Kenny Larisa - Black Patent

Penny Loves Kenny Larisa - Black Patent

These will go with pretty much any color of yarn which strikes my fancy, right?

For more inspiration, visit Alicia at Woolen Diversions.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Froyo files: No time to say hello, goodbye

I can't make this an FO Friday post because my swap package hasn't been received, but to keep the alliteration flowing, let's go with froyo from last Friday.

There used to be three frozen yogurt places in Kyle, but by the time I made it to the one on the other side of the highway, Blizz was closed.  This time, I barely caught another frozen yogurt place before it stopped swirling.  But the good news this time is that Eat Ban Mi isn't closing completely, they just don't have frozen yogurt anymore.

Mom and I walked up South Congress from Hill Country Weavers' annual warehouse sale last Friday to try them out.  It was a little bit of a hike, considering the normal acceptable distance not requiring reparking in Texas is a few hundred yards, but in that area it's usually safer to just keep the car where it is if you can find a legal place to leave it.

Considering they were in their final days of frozen yogurt, it's not surprising that one of their machines was already out of service, and their fruit selection was almost non-existent.  They also had that pet peeve of mine, the hosted sampling.  I'm going to say it again: if the server/cashier has to pull the samples, why is it called self-serve, and why not just put the machines behind the counter to begin with and do what ice cream parlors do?  Then controlling sampling would be matter of fact.  Speaking of which, we're just a few steps from Amy's Ice Creams and Big Top Candy Shop, so that may be another reason why this frozen yogurt opportunity has been passed up by so many along SoCo.

I will say that what I did try was pretty good.  The Taro was not the best I've had, but the Blueberry was delicious, and the Lychee was very tasty.  I threw in a few lonely blackberries, like the last puppies in the shelter waiting to be adopted.  Because I had chatted with them on Twitter, I got a discount on my meager bowl, though the cashier had to ask about it.

As I said, there's no more froyo at Eat Ban Mi, but they do have sandwiches, spring rolls, vermicelli bowls, and pho.  None of which I tried, so I can't help anyone out there with a review.  Personally, there are too many other places between the yarn and there that I could eat instead, like the parking lot of food trailers just across the street.  But for those who live in the area it might be worth a try, especially since they have online ordering.

Farewell to another frozen yogurt option in Austin.  We hardly knew ye, but we'll comfort ourselves with those you've left behind.  And in this case, cold comfort is a good, creamy thing.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

WIP Wednesday: Looks like it's back to Norman!

I know I'm not the only 90s Nickelodeon baby out there who gets that 'Rugrats' reference.  When I'm feeling particularly nostalgic, I like to watch old episodes of that and any other show that Netflix Instant has streaming.  The other day I watched a few episodes of 'Daria' on Hulu and was reminded that she's still a total role model for my sarcastic and sometimes anti-social self.

Having sent off my last swap package for a little while on Monday, I've also been going back in time with my knitting, though not as far back as the 90s.  It's an international package, so I can't show off the FOs for a little while longer, but I can finally offer up my WIPs, though you've seen them both before.

I have returned to my first cardigan, and it was kind of a relief.  I know that when it comes to the final steps of getting all of the pieces put together it's going to be tough, but right now it's just ribbing and now stockinette.  I had already completed the back panel, but now the left front is well on its way:

After working on a lace pattern with a shipping deadline, it's nice to just do something mindless at my own rate of speed and that's going to be all mine.

I also added a few rows to the camisole I showed you in my color post last week, and made a terrible discovery: holes!  Thankfully, my mother is a rock star and was able to patch it up, so it wasn't a total disaster, just very annoying and a growing concern.  This isn't the first time something has eaten my knitwear, so I'm launching an assault on all yarn-eating things.  The plan involves plastic tubs, Ziploc bags, alternating stints in the freezer and the back of my car in the hundred-degree summer days, and sachets of potpourri with lavender, cedar, rosemary.  This is for knitted items as well as yarn and fiber stash.  If you have any advice for me, I'll gladly take it.

For more WIP Wednesday posts, check out Tami's Amis.