Saturday, June 30, 2012

Cubicle kitchen: Berry Lemonade Fudge

Isn't it funny how often the things which are easiest to make are what get the most ooohs and aaaaahs?  This fudge is the easiest thing I think I've brought in, with several different flavor varieties, and each one has been a hit.

The basic recipe for the fudge is almost shamefully easy:
  • 2 cups (or 1 bag) of chocolate chips
  • 1 can of non-fat sweetened condensed milk (you can use full-fat)
  • 1 tsp of vanilla extract
The chocolate and the milk go into a microwave-safe bowl and are melted together.  Carefully.  It only takes a minute or so, stirring at least every 30 seconds, because you don't want to burn the simple deliciousness.  When it's completely melted, stir in the vanilla, then pour into a parchment-lined pan (that you've already prepared because you read this all the way through before attempting, right?) and put in the fridge to firm up.

I originally found this on Sparkpeople through a Google search for easy fudge.  Even the first time I made it, I didn't just do straight milk chocolate and vanilla.  Instead, I did white chocolate with peppermint extract and added crushed candy canes.  Guess what time of year that was?
This time around, I made a berry lemonade version, since it's summertime and I try to keep things a little seasonal.  Weeks and even months fly by when you're spending them in a cubicle, you have to mark the time somehow, you know?  Here are the alterations and additions:
  • White chocolate chips, still 1 bag
  • Same can of non-fat sweetened condensed milk
  • about 1 1/2 tablespoons of lemon zest and juice (I probably could have added more)
  • 1/4 cup each of dried cranberries, dried cherries, dried blueberries, dried pomegranates, and candied lemon peel, chopped
The lemon juice and zest I 'did' myself with four lemons the other day.  There didn't seem much point in keeping the zest and juice separately since anything I planned on adding them to they would both be involved anyway.  So I have a magical citrus elixir for adding to my fudge.  I have to give credit to Dozen Flours for being my proof of concept that I could add the lemon juice and not destroy the chocolate/milk mixture when she posted a recipe for Key Lime Pie Fudge that is delicious.

The reason there are so many different types of dried fruit?  Because that's how many I had in the kitchen.  What can I say, I like to have variety in my fruit stock.

I was worried that I had chopped up more fruit than the fudge would take, but it turned out perfectly.

The instructions are the same: melt chocolate and milk together, then stir in the juice and then the additional goodies.  Pour into pan, spread evenly and count the minutes until you get to enjoy it.

But before you do that, you'll probably want to cut it into squares.
Or not, I won't judge.  But squares are easier for bringing into work and sharing.  My co-workers really loved it, I think the tartness of the lemon cuts the richness of the chocolate so that even people who aren't in the mood to indulge enjoy this.  And those who do like to indulge love it too.  I gave Mom a few pieces to take with her to her knitting group, so it's also crafter-approved.

Friday, June 29, 2012

I draw the line at spinning while actually on a bike

This Saturday marks the beginning of the 99th Le Tour de France, where cyclists from around the world pedal feverishly towards the yellow jersey.  While they do that, I and other crafters will be spinning fiber in solidarity with their efforts.  For the next three weeks, while they scale the Pyrenees, I will be facing my own challenge: to turn myself into a spinner.

In the latter half of last year, I decided that I needed to learn how to spin.  I blame Susan Fricks at Yarnorama for this, because she dyes such gorgeous roving.  You can only write about so many Colorways of the Month for Examiner before you simply have to have some for yourself.  And even though they make wonderful fluffy warm collars just as braids, they really should be made into yarn.

I did my best with a Knit Picks starter set and mass Google search for tutorials.  Unfortunately, I was having issues working the spindle and couldn't get my hands to 'click' with this new motion.  But I didn't want to get a nicer, more expensive spindle until I was good enough to 'deserve' it.  Local woodworker Jeri Brock makes the most beautiful spindles, and she told me that I shouldn't force myself to learn on a spindle I wasn't comfortable with.  Better tools make the task easier.  Thankfully, my mom bought me one  of her Turkish drop spindles for Christmas with squirrels carved into it.

As I've already mentioned, this year's crafting has been all about knitting for others, so I haven't had the time to really force myself into the habit of spinning.  Everyone has said that you just need to keep at it every day and eventually you'll get it.  So while others are going to spin enough yarn for a sweater, my goal is more humble: just spin every day.  For a few minutes, or for an hour, it doesn't matter.  Just keep repeating what feels awkward until it doesn't.

Here's what I'm starting with, my hand-made spindle and hand-dyed roving:
I've already created a leader and gotten a few inches into the spindle, so tomorrow I'll be all set to just start spinning.

And hopefully this tour won't have any horrific crashes.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Spaghetti squash and cheese

Does it count as a new recipe if I'm basically saying 'the same again, this time with cheese'?  Because that's what I'm saying.  This weekend was spaghetti squash-themed for Mom and I as far as dinners were concerned.  Saturday we did the same baked squash with tomato sauce that I've already blogged about.

And then on Sunday we kicked things up a notch.  Instead of adding tomato sauce to our scraped squash goodness, we took oven-safe bowls and mixed the squash with shredded parmesan cheese.  I also added a few other goodies, so here's the total list:
  • 1/4 cup of shredded parmesan
  • Garlic powder to taste
  • Minced garlic to taste
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 triangle of Garlic and Herb Laughing Cow Light
Put that back into the oven and let that melt up for 5-10 minutes (or as long as you can stand to wait to enjoy).  I should also note that Mom and I split a squash, so this is for half of what was a very large gourd.
Mmm, it was good.  I'm thinking it's going to be worth the time and effort to invest in trying to grow my own spaghetti squash next year.

Added to the queue: Twist Pullover in knit.wear

Lately I seem to be drawn in by magazines in particular as a source of knitting patterns.  Anytime there's a newsstand I'm flipping through whatever is available in knitting.  And the past month or so, I've been picking up periodicals and taking them to the register more than I've been setting them back down again.

The latest addition to my library has been the Spring 2012 edition of knit.wear:
Photo credit: Interweave Press
While there are several very pretty patterns, my absolute favorite is the one on the cover there, the Twist Pullover, designed by Cecily Glowik MacDonald.  At first glance it looks like a cardigan/shrug with an oversized front that just hangs loose.  But take a look inside the magazine to see the real beauty of it:
Photo credit: Joe Hancock/Interweave Press
See that? The front twists around over your head!  I love this.  It's simple but special.  The twist gives it texture and instant interest without involving complicated stitch work.  Plus, it would keep me warm in my overly-A/C-ed cubicle.  I also love that the suggested yarn for this pattern is from an Austin fiber artist, Alisha Goes Around.  She has some gorgeous stuff that is showing up in yarn stores all over Austin and beyond.  I'm not sure what I'll use, but I know that eventually I'm going to get around to knitting this.  And the queue just gets longer...

For those in Austin, Gauge and Hill Country Weavers have this in stores now.  Other yarn stores, and some bookstores with a good craft magazine selection, should also have it.  Or you can always order it online.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

It was a graveyard smash...

Thought I would point everyone to another Examiner article that I published at the end of last week.  It was about the release of 'Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter', and has a slideshow of a few other books that have come out in the past few years that are a part of this new genre of taking a classic story (in Lincoln's case, a true story) and adding in a monster or two.  So you end up with 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies' and 'Little Women and Werewolves'.

Honestly, I have mixed feelings about this new subgenre.  On the one hand, I can't really begrudge anything that gets people reading the fabulous words of Austen and Alcott, even if they are sprinkled amongst the words of another author.  Taking books from syllabus must-reads to bestseller want-to-reads is always worthwhile.

But on the other hand, my self-righteous side doesn't like how these iconic authors are so often used as a shortcut to recognition and boosted sales.  An entirely original novel mixing an 18th-century tale of courtship with the eating of brains might make a blip on the literary radar for sheer inventiveness.  But toss in a little Jane, and suddenly reviewers are clamoring to give their take on your newest release.

To defy biology and take a third hand, it isn't as though this isn't a tried and true methodology.  People have been writing 'sequels' to Austen novels for quite a while, and outside of books, TV and film producers have been putting their own stamp and reaping their own profits from the seeds of someone else's genius with adaptations of many varieties.  When they're done poorly, I sulk with a sense of superiority as is the right of everyone who 'read it first'.  But when they're done well, I love them.

So I suppose I'm still ambiguous about it all.  I have to admire the creativity of turning a President into a supernatural slayer, but for the most part monster horror just isn't my thing.  So I'll leave fans to enjoy it and try and keep my teacherly tutting to a minimum.

It's your civic crafting duty

If you haven't already, please go vote for The Knitting Nest in the Mission: Small Business program to qualify them for a $250,000 grant.  For more information, you can read my Examiner article.

And while you're there, you can also vote for some other Austin businesses, like Sugar Mama's Bakeshop, which has the honor of having baked the cupcake that is featured in my Facebook and Ravelry profile pic:
Doesn't that make you want to vote?  Fiber and frosting, people!  They must be funded!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

I really, really, really wanna zig-a-zig-ahh! No, really, I do!

This morning, Twitter had a present for me: the Spice Girls were trending!  Why, I wondered, fearing as always that someone had died.  I mean, that is the fastest way to trend.  Thankfully, however, Posh, Baby, Ginger, Scary, and Sporty are all alive and kicking.  They are making the news because there's a new musical based on their songs being launched at the end of this year in London.

I could say that the Spice Girls are a guilty pleasure, but that would imply that I feel guilty in taking pleasure in this pure pop display.  And I don't.  Because they are fabulous.  I have fond memories of belting out 'Wannabe' with my British cousins over the summer, and coming back to Texas obsessed with the Spice Girls before anyone else had even heard of them on American shores.  It may well be the only time I have every been ahead of the curve.

I went on to worship the girl group for several years.  I dressed up as Baby Spice for Halloween, though I think a few of the parents handing out candy probably mistook me for some kind of hooker.  Be that as it may, I never really turned away from the Girls.  I bought their last album together when there were only four, and I have a few of their solo albums.  I just barely missed the opportunity to see their reunion tour, something I will probably be a little bitter about for the rest of my life.

I probably won't make it to the Piccadilly to catch this show either, but if they ever make it into a major motion picture, I'm so there.  And hey, this time I won't make my dad take me.  Sorry, Dad.

All's fair in craft and war

I first started watching TLC when 'Trading Spaces' was having its moment in the sun.  Since then, the channel has wavered become more well-known for shows like 'Jon and Kate Plus 8' and 'Toddlers & Tiaras'.  So other than indulging in their Friday night line-up of bridal shows, the channel has dropped off of my regular surf list.

But while I was marveling at gorgeous Monique Lhuillier gowns, I caught some commercials for an upcoming show that piqued my interest.  Tonight at 9 pm (Central), they're premiering a new show, 'Craft Wars':
This reminds me a lot of 'Cupcake Wars' on Food Network, with the judges table right there watching the teams rush through a series of challenges.  And as much as I love cupcakes, I've always been a little disappointed in that show for not having more of the cupcakes and their flavors.  I'm not as interested in  the bakers' ability to tell a carpenter to make a big table or direct hapless interns to mass-produce the single-serving cakes.  I'd rather see them come up with a way to work smoked salmon into a cupcake.  Like 'Chopped', but cupcakes.

That being said, I'm going to give this a try.  I always have a hard time throwing random things away because I'm sure I can craft them into something useful.  And I like to play the mental game of 'what would I do' with the challenges.

For instance, I like the idea of lemon cake with a smoked salmon cream cheese frosting.  But don't worry, I won't be posting a recipe for that anytime soon.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Ladies and gentleman, get your whites on

The Championships at Wimbledon have begun once more, ushering in my favorite fortnight of the year.  There's nothing like watching tennis players in their clean whites running across the green court and wearing it down to the brown soil.

Before I was ever a tennis fan in general, and long before I actually watched ESPN year-round with pleasure, I was an annual Wimbledon watcher.  It tended to fall during the part of the summer that I would be in the UK visiting my grandparents, and I was just a train stop or two away from the hallowed grounds of the All England Lawn Tennis Club.  Lately I've been just a few extra thousand miles removed geographically, but in spirit I'm right there with the strawberries and cream.

And this year, once again, my heart belongs to Andy Roddick.  He was an upstart with a rocket serve just as I was transitioning from a summertime fan to a true tennis lover.  And like your first favorite pop star, you always hold a soft spot in your heart for the first player you root for.  Andy's made it to the finals three times, losing each time to Roger Federer.  The last time was the hardest, with five long sets and several moments when he was just inches away from the title.  I can barely think about that match without getting a little teary, I can't imagine how Andy feels.

Even so, Wimbledon has always been a favorite for him, as it is for many players.  Here's a video of him talking about the tournament for SAP:
I don't want to get my hopes up too much.  After all, Andy is nearing 30, that desperate age for players when even someone like Federer starts to hear about how they're past it.  But he did just win a warm-up tournament in Eastbourne, so he's going in on a higher note than he left Roland Garros with.

And never underestimate the magic of the Wimbledon grass...

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Cubicle kitchen: Big Red Treats

I bring in some sort of tempting treat to work pretty much every week.  This is partly because I'm a generous and loving person, but mostly because I want to make all these goodies without either eating them all and making myself ill or letting them go to waste.  While I can't share any of the calories with you, dear blog readers, I can share the recipes.

This week's treat was inspired by a grocery store find so wacky, I had to have it:
Those of you not in or around Texas might not know of Big Red soda.  How can I describe it?  It's basically a red cream soda.  I think there are some other flavors going on, but if asked what it tastes like, I would have to answer simply: 'Red.'  And Wild Red is H-E-B's store brand version, but they've clearly stepped things up another notch by turning it into a cereal.  I mean, someone at H-E-B is clearly my soulmate, because I thought I was the only person who would even think of something like this.

The other side of the box announces one of the cereal's many wonderful features: turns milk pink!  Fabulous!  It also has a recipe to make cereal treats.  Basically, Rice Krispy Treats, but with this.  And the same idea applies to pretty much any cereal you have.  Lucky Charms is one I want to try, just because it would be a meta-marshmallow moment.  But before I get too distracted by that sugar coma, let's focus on this one.

It's not a precise recipe.  All you need is:

  • a 10.5 oz bag of marshmallows
  • 1/2 cup of butter (I substituted Brummel and Brown)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 6 cups Wild Red cereal
First, before you get started, you want to prepare the pan that the treats will go into.  With things like this, I always just use parchment paper to line the pan, cut to fit into the corners.  That way I know that whatever it is will come out and I can carefully peel the paper away, plus the pan will be totally clean.  For this, I took a 9" by 13" glass dish.  Again, this isn't a precise recipe, use whatever size yields the treat size you like.

the butter (or butter-like product) goes into a large glass bowl.  The bowl needs to be large enough to eventually hold all of the ingredients.  I microwave that to melt the butter, then mix in the marshmallows, and back into the microwave to very carefully melt together.  This can also be done on the stove, but I prefer to just zap it for 15 seconds at a time and stir.

Once the mixture is completely melted and you don't have any individual marshmallows left, add the vanilla, and stir in the cereal.  Make sure all of the cereal gets a coating of marshmallow, then scoop everything into the parchment-lined pan.  Use a rubber spatula or your hands to press the treats evenly into the pan.  Either way, use some non-stick spray so the treats stay in the pan and not on you.  Set the pan in the fridge to chill, then cut into squares.  This is always trickier than it sounds, because there's always a sticky factor.

Here's how mine ended up looking:
Coworkers were definitely intrigued by these.  Some people didn't understand what they were, while others absolutely loved them.  They are very sweet, as you would expect from a soda-inspired cereal held together with marshmallow.  And again, the flavor is, well, red.  They are definitely fun rather than fancy, perfect for people who love Big Red.

If I made them again, I'd probably want to smash up the cereal a little ahead of time, since the spherical shape isn't conducive to getting them to stick together.  I'd also like to try turning them into the crust of a pie or bar.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

On my needles: Up for Anything Cami

My year in crafting so far has been dominated by swaps, building packages of goodies to be sent to someone else (while another person does the same for me).  It's been a lot of fun, but I did feel a sense of relief to reach June, the first month of the year that I wasn't signing up, crafting for, or sending a swap.  It's a short break, because I'll be signing up for another in July that will start crafting in August, but I'm hoping to bring my grand total of finished objects for myself to at least two before then with this project.

I am a sucker for colors when it comes to yarn.  The more the merrier, whether tonal, striped, or hand-painted.  It's so pretty, but it can be tough to figure out what to knit out of it.  With so much visual interest already fulfilled by the colors, there's no point in slaving over a complicated lace stitch that you won't be able to see.

This yarn comes from Schmutzerella, one of my favorite indie dyers.  It's from her movie club, inspired by the paint-balling scene in '10 Things I Hate About You'.  She calls it 'Are You Up For It?' and it's on her Schmutzy base, so that's 490 yards for 100 grams in Superwash Merino.  See how pretty?
Photo credit: Schmutzerella
I had just finished knitting a tunic dress when I was browsing for patterns to use with this yarn, so I suppose I was in the mood for clothing.  I ended up choosing the Razor Cami pattern, which is free on Ravelry.  It's a very simple lace; the pattern is a single page (including photo), which is nice.  Just knit in the round for about a foot and a half and you have a really cute tank top.

I started this a few weeks ago, and so far I'm really pleased with it.  The colors are great, and the stitch gives just enough texture to complement the color without getting lost in it.  And it really is simple.  I've been making sure I get my 10,000 steps a day in on my pedometer by walking back and forth in the living room as I knit this:

The only thing I will mention for anyone else trying this is that the row with the razor shell pattern ends on a YO.  The way it's written that isn't quite clear, but you are just knitting the stitch pattern and repeating until you have knit the last stitch, and then YO, move over your stitch marker, and start knitting the next round.

Here's my progress so far (along with the project bag Mom managed to snag from Ravelry!):
We'll see how far I get before I have to set the needles aside and pick up the spindle for Tour de Fleece!

Update: still seeking a friend, but I found the crochet

Well, that was fast!  Thanks to some shameless self-promotion in a Ravelry forum, one of my friends there was able to point me to the origins of the crocheted item seen on Keira Knightley in 'Seeking a Friend for the End of the World'.  Drum roll, please....

It's the Quirky Heirloom Throw from Anthropologie!  This place is like the Pottery Barn of fabric-y things, and makes me think of that episode of 'Friends' when Rachel has to invent funky flea market backstories to an apartment's worth of furniture because Phoebe hates Pottery Barn.  The place is full of cute and quirky things that are just the other side of ridiculously expensive for someone who isn't raking in $1 million an episode.

The good news for crafters who might have a similarly biased roommate is that they can make this themselves, rather than spending $198.  There just happens to be a store located here in Austin, so I'm going to try and seek this out for a closer look.  I may not crochet quite yet, but Mom does, and she's a great detective when it comes to figuring out how things were made.  So stay tuned for more!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Seeking a friend for the end of the world: must be crafty

You know you're a knitter or crocheter when you're sitting in a darkened theater, watching a trailer for the first time, and you get distracted by an FO (finished object).  That's what happened to me when I saw 'Seeking a Friend for the End of the World', which is out today.  As soon as I saw this:
Photo credit: Focus Features
I'm pretty sure I perked up perceptibly when I caught sight of what is pretty obviously a crocheted...something.  For the rest of the trailer, I didn't care so much about how funny the film seemed to be, or who else might be in it.  The star of this show is the crochet.

Thankfully, it made a few more appearances:
Photo credit: Focus Features

Photo credit: Focus Features

Looks like it's an afghan/blanket that's been sort of Frankenstein-ed together from various crocheted pieces, including a granny circle.  So far I've only gotten as far as to crochet a bind off on one of my knitted shawls, but this makes me want to try crochet even more.  It's just such a quirky, unstructured-looking piece.

Anyone know how it's done, or where it's from?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Hypocrisy of Olympic proportions

Several years ago, I was lucky enough to visit Olympia, Greece.  It's one of many places I went with my grandparents over summer breaks that I look back on and almost can't believe I was really there.  But sure enough, there is proof:

Olympia a beautiful place, and even as ruins, the scale of the Olympic Games is breathtaking.  A celebration of peace and athleticism across an empire that was only just beginning to take shape, but would become perhaps the most influential to ever exist.  The myth that surrounds the Games is continually built upon by athletes who spend their lives working to display their abilities on this one stage.  With so much determination focused on a single idea and goal, it's a unifying force that's hard to deny.

Unfortunately, it's also an opportunity to make money that is far too tempting to exploit.  By reserving the rights to anything vaguely 'Olympic', or any image which involves multiple interlocking circles, Olympic Committees around the world protect a trademark which is indeed precious.  But only because of what giant corporations like McDonald's and Coca-Cola will pay for it.

Yesterday a kerfuffle broke loose in the crafting community because the US Olympic Committee requested that Ravelry rename their Ravelympics event.  Some of you may not know what this is, so I'll try to be brief: it's essentially crafters around the world challenging themselves to complete projects while watching the Olympics.  As athletes compete against each other for international glory and medals, knitters push their skill boundaries for online glory and a little badge to add to their profile.  I want to emphasize that no one 'wins' anything except pride and a sense of community not only with fellow crafters, but with the Olympics.

Aside from the argument of whether or not Ravelympics is a violation of trademark, what has angered so many is the tone of the letter which was sent to those who run Ravelry.  Here's the particular paragraph that sparked my ire:
The USOC is responsible for preserving the Olympic Movement and its ideals within the United States.  Part of that responsibility is to ensure that Olympic trademarks, imagery and terminology are protected and given the appropriate respect.  We believe using the name “Ravelympics” for a competition that involves an afghan marathon, scarf hockey and sweater triathlon, among others, tends to denigrate the true nature of the Olympic Games.  In a sense, it is disrespectful to our country’s finest athletes and fails to recognize or appreciate their hard work.
First of all, as I've already pointed out, it's not really a competition.  It's not a for-profit endeavor, and seeks only to bring crafters together in their participatory viewing of the Games.

Second, 'denigrate'?  'Disrespectful'?  Was that in any way necessary?  No one is saying that these knitters think they are Olympians (although ironically knitting was an event in the first modern Olympics), the idea was to be inspired by their efforts and apply that inspiration to something we love to do.

And let's set the whole idea of 'disrespect' aside.  Because aside from being yet another example of people just not 'getting' what it means to knit, there's a larger trend at work.  They wouldn't care if people were comparing knitting the simplest stockinette scarf to the monumental effort of running a marathon.  If we were paying them for it.  Because selling $5 footlongs don't exactly compare well to the lifelong commitment of amateur athletes either.  What's offensive is not that we are connecting craft to the Games, it's that we aren't paying admission.

There's so much more I could vent about this.  But there would be no point.  Most of you probably already know what I mean.  This is hardly the first time there's been negative press for the aggressive protection of the 'true nature' of the Olympic Games.  These examples of rudeness and greed are constantly standing in the way of our view of the actual event.  Kind of like a tourist who won't step out of the frame of your picture, it gets a little annoying:

The Olympics has a wealth of goodwill that springs from tradition and the inspiration that the event continues to evoke.  I think that when these kinds of cease and desist requests are made against well-meaning knitters, school field days, long-established cafes, or newspapers in cities called Olympia, they assume that they just have an endless supply of that goodwill to counteract their bullying.  But each step they take, people get closer and closer to a finish line of putting up with an Olympic Games that is one long commercial.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Oven-baked s'mores bananas

Generally, once I get an idea about food into my head, I can't stop thinking about it until I get it into my mouth.  So having already made those oven-baked PB&J bananas, been struck with the possibility of doing it s'mores-style, and bought a bag of marshmallows for entirely other treat-making purposes, there  was no way I wasn't going to try it.

Starting with the same premise as before, I split the banana while still in the peel.  Instead of Brummel and peanut butter powder, though, this one I stuffed with a fun-sized chocolate Hershey's bar all chopped up.

Then I squeezed in a few mini-marshmallows, and popped it into the oven.  I unwrapped it a little for a few minutes near the end, just to let the marshmallows brown a little.  The result?
Now tell me that doesn't look good.  I'll tell you: it tasted good.

Grammar: so easy a caveman could do it?

A co-worker sent me this online comic, and I thought it was rather apt:

Cyanide and Happiness, a daily webcomic
Cyanide & Happiness @

Being an editor now myself, I spend my days toiling in technical documentation where the rules of grammar are my only guide through a morass of information I don't otherwise understand.  Thankfully, the authors of these documents are much more receptive to my edits.  But that might just be because they don't have any clubs...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The magical squash

You know that super-cool band that everyone seems to know about before you do?  And when you finally do get around to hearing some of their music, your complete and total love of it is ever-so-slightly tinged by the annoyance that you didn't find out about it earlier?  This is how I feel about spaghetti squash.

I know, I know, if you've been reading anything about eating healthy, you've been told about this golden gourd.  I had heard about it to, but I was skeptical that it would really work the way they said.  My first taste of it came from Alamo Drafthouse's Spaghetti Squash Pomodoro, which I had as I watched 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' (a very sweet film, by the way).  I love that they added this to the menu, it means that I can have something other than a salad and actually eat everything that I'm served.  Because no matter how liberally they finish it with olive oil, it's not going to come close to the caloric cost of, say, the Wild at Artichoke Hearts pizza.  I can even eat the side of garlic bread without worrying.  And along with being guilt-free, it was delicious.

Now that I knew that spaghetti squash could be tasty when prepared by the professionals, I wondered if I could do it myself.  My online buddies on Ravelry assured me that it was indeed idiot-proof, so when I spotted it in the grocery store, Mom and I decided to give it a try for dinner, grabbing a jar of pasta sauce to go with it.

First, I attacked the squash with a fork and tried to prick it as I had been instructed.  I didn't get the fork very deep into the rock-hard raw squash, but what I lacked in depth I made up for by making that squash absolutely freckled with tiny holes.  Then it went into the microwave for 2-3 minutes, just to make it a little easier to cut in half, length-wise.  Even so, it was still an absolute beast to break into.  But we got into it eventually, and baked it in the oven at 375 F, cut side down, on a baking sheet with tin foil and non-stick spray.  After an hour, this was what we had:
Okay, so it's a baked squash, but would it yield the spaghetti-like strands I was looking for?
You betcha!  It was the coolest thing to just take my fork and start scraping out these strands of veggie goodness into my bowl.  And I didn't stop until my half was absolutely bare, every 'noodle' freed.  I seasoned it with some salt and powdered garlic, then topped with the aforementioned sauce:
Let me tell you: this was yummy.  No, it's not pasta.  And yes, I'm slightly biased towards vegetables and fruits (it's weird, somehow I found that the more I ate them, the more I liked them).  But this was really, really good.  Now I'm daydreaming about using it for a mac and cheese swap.

In my day, Nickelodeon game shows were hosted by Olympians

I'm old.  There's just no way around it.  There are way too many things that were better 'in my day'.  Case in point, the new version of 'Figure It Out' on Nickelodeon.  I was browsing TV Guide last night looking for something to watch, and saw it marked as 'New', I giddily grabbed the remote.

In the '90s, aka when all was right with the world, gold medalist Summer Sanders hosted this children's game show with a panel of minor celebrities, like cast members from 'All That' and 'The Adventures of Pete & Pete'.  These days, the host is some guy named Jeff Sutphen.  What medals does he have, huh?  None!  And all I was able to recognize the panelists for was their relative incompetence at figuring it out, as it were.

They did seem to be using some of the same sound effects, but alas, Billy the Answer Head was nowhere to be found. If only I had known, I would have just set the VCR to record constantly from about 1996 through, say, 2005.  Unfortunately, I was not that wise, so I just have to watch some of the DVDs that are finally coming out.  Like these...

Yes, that's right, I'm a nostalgia enabler.  So slime me.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Froyo files: Yogurtland

Frozen yogurt is one of my favorite treats: lots of flavor options, plus portion control.  So I tend to steer myself towards it whenever I'm out and about.  And so I shall impart the wisdom of my experience to the blogosphere.  Because that's just the kind of selfless giver that I am.
Yogurtland: 2525 W. Anderson Lane, Bldg 1 Ste 125 (basically, what used to be Northcross Mall)

When I visited: Saturday, June 16th, just after noon

Cost per ounce: 35 cents

Number of flavors: 16

Sorbet options: 0

Nutritionals provided: Yes, per fluid ounce
Experience: Fabulous.  First of all, they greet you with the offering of sample cups.  So many places either hide them somewhere on the side or keep them behind the register so you have to beg for one like Oliver Twist for gruel.  This is clearly part of the corporate script, but it's a really nice touch.

They also had a lot of options.  I wish they had a dairy-free/sorbet option, because that's what my mom really likes.  But they did have Dulce de Leche that met with her approval, so that was alright.  And they had Taro, which is pretty much my all-time favorite flavor.  I tried pretty much everything, though, just to be sure.  Along with having the standards, there were a few more unique flavors, like Pecan Praline and Blueberry Lychee.  Along with lots of options, the flavors all tasted good.  Maybe that's why they're so liberal with the sample cups, they know once you taste it you'll be even more likely to load up.

Mom went with a cup of the Dulce de Leche, adding some caramel sauce, condensed milk, and white chocolate chips:
I went with a nutty theme mostly, with a little Taro/Pistachio swirl, some Peanut Butter, Pecan Praline, and a dollop of Red Velvet Cupcake Batter, all topped with a little fresh fruit:
Worth a revisit? Definitely.  This is in the top two of places in Austin that I've been to so far.

The family that knits together...

My mom was the one who taught me to knit, when my college's Stitch 'n Bitch group got me interested.  I think a lot of knitters learn this way, having the craft passed down to them by a parent or grandparent. But what if it's the parent that wants to learn?

Hill Country Weavers is having a series of classes called K1P2 Kids Learn and Parents Too!  For more information, head on over to my Examiner article...

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The un-Examined life

My weekends are usually spent trying to grab as much time in front of the computer as possible to draft articles for Examiner.  This weekend, I started off by not posting an article on Examiner at all.  It was the first time I had 'missed' a weekday in over a year.  And I enjoyed being out of the house most of yesterday without worrying about needing to catch up today.

Of course, I'm so exciting about this blog that I still ended up drafting about half a dozen posts, but that's not the same thing.

After spending months thinking about moving away from Examiner, I'm not sure what finally pushed me to create this blog and transition my energies.  It just suddenly seemed obvious.  In my enthusiasm, I imagined not writing for Examiner at all anymore.  Thankfully, you can't actually quit the site, so over the course of a few days I went from 'I quit!' to 'Let's just be friends.'

For at least a little while, I'll write one or two articles a week, and I'll link to them from here so everyone can enjoy.  Eventually, I might move everything over here, but for now I'm just going to enjoy feeling less pressure to fit into the mold, and maybe bring a few Examiner readers over to the twit side.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Oven-baked PB&J bananas

Before my 5k run on Thursday, I thought a banana would be good fuel for the ride.  But rather than just take the easy way out and eat a banana, I wanted to try baking one.  Why I wanted to make my pre-outdoor-in-a-Texas-summer-run snack warm, I will not attempt to explain.

After a little Google search, I started with Sweet & Saucy's basic directions for baking bananas in their peel.  She did hers with cinnamon, which I love, but I wanted to see how this powdered peanut butter, PB2, would work.  The idea with this stuff is all the fun of peanut butter without the calories.  I like it for putting into oatmeal or other things that I want to taste of peanut butter without actually needing it to be...buttery.

First, I took a banana and surgically opened it up, cutting it almost like an 'I', with one long slit and two smaller cuts at the end so I could actually get in there and cut the banana in half, like so:

Ignore the slightly sad look of the banana.  I recently learned that not being able to refrigerate bananas is a myth, and that they will be perfectly fine for much longer, the peel will just not look quite as attractive.  I guess the evil banana empire doesn't want us to know about this?

To my banana, I added:
  • 1 tablespoon of PB2 powdered peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon of Brummel and Brown spread
  • a sprinkling of Splenda

I closed up the banana and wrapped it up in a little pouch of tinfoil.  I set that directly onto the rack in my little countertop oven (an OSTER 6058-000-000 6-Slice Digital Convection Toaster Oven, Stainless Steel), set to 400 F.

Jenny's banana took about ten minutes, but I left mine for more like 15-20.  I think this is because the chilled banana started out colder, so logically it would take them longer to warm up.  Basically, you just want it to be warm and soft.

I put some strawberry jam on top as a finishing touch:

Nostalgic school lunch flavors made my pre-run snack a little more fun.  This could easily be tweaked with other flavors as well.  A little chocolate, perhaps?  I'll be trying a few different combinations in the future.  Also, this would be a great camping dessert to set over the fire, for anyone having a moment of insanity and not making s'mores.  Or perhaps you could stuff the banana with marshmallows and chocolate, with a sprinkling of graham cracker crumbs on top.  Ooh, maybe I need to go camping...(maybe not)

Friday, June 15, 2012

A 5k cupcake

Yesterday, I ran in Maudie's Moonlight Margarita 5k, supporting the fabulous hike and bike trail along Lady Bird Lake.  I say this not to tout my athleticism, but to reveal how despite having recently become the kind of person who actually enjoys exercise, I am still very much someone who enjoys eating 'bad' things.  A twit for treats, if you will.

Recently, chocolate milk made headlines for being a good post-work out drink because of the mix of protein, sugars, and magical pain-reducing chocolate.  This was all the justification I needed to bring along a cupcake as my recovery/reward.  After all, if you can't enjoy a cupcake after an evening spent running through the still quite potent Texas summer heat, when can you?

A little background: I have a Groupon problem.  I see a deal, and, well, it's a deal, right?  If I think I can get to wherever the deal is being offered within the time frame, I feel like I should go for it.  Especially when it comes to baked goods.  I love them, and the opportunity to get a dozen cupcakes for half price is just one temptation too many to resist.

The trouble with this way of thinking is that I end up with a dozen cupcakes, and I want to eat each one.  But I count my calories, and twelve cupcakes are not going to get eaten any faster than within twelve days.  It's likely going to be longer than that.  And a fortnight later, those precious baked goods aren't so fresh.  And so I turn to that fabulous modern invention: the freezer.  One or two cupcakes are enjoyed straight from the store, while the rest are lovingly placed in Tupperware and saved for later.

So when I needed a post-5k cupcake, I went to the freezer and dipped into my cupcake stores.  I choose the Triple Stack Trio cupcake from Sweet Indulgence in Grapevine, TX.  I highly recommend this little shop.  Even after freezing, the cake was moist, and the frosting was delicious.  They've recently opened up a new storefront, so I'm clearly not the only one enjoying their work.  This is their signature flavor, I think it's a vanilla, chocolate, and red velvet cake with what I think is a cream cheese frosting.

And it was good.

It was very good.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Weird is wonderful

When people ask me where I'm from, I say 'Austin'.  Now, I don't say that to people in Austin, because technically it's not true.  I live along the stretch of spreading interstate suburbia south of the city, but most people would respond with the name of that town with a blank stare.

Austin, on the other hand, is bound to illicit a more recognizable response.  And along with music, one thing Austin is known for is being weird.  That's supposed to be a slogan for supporting local businesses, but it's also a mantra for Austinites to feel free to let their freak flag fly.  Which I, as a twit, am in full support of.

In my online freelancing, I would write a lot about local events and businesses.  Though I want to be able to write about other things, I don't want to stop writing about Austin.  In fact, I'd like to write about things in Austin beyond my previous scope of knitting or literature.  So while this blog will hopefully attract adoring fans around the globe (insert self-deprecating laugh here), I will be highlighting some of the weird and wonderful things going on around my fair city.

Or at least the fair city that's just a short drive up the road.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

T-wit, t-who?

Sometimes I have more fun naming things than actually making them.  For example, I have names for some of my work outfits.  Some combinations of clothes just call out to be titled, you know?  Clever names are always appreciated, whether in ice cream flavors or nail polish colors.  How do you get to be the person that does those, by the way?  Because I would be great at that.

Anyway, in the time it takes to draft more than a few posts, I could agonize over the title of this blog.  While I might toy around with some of the niceties, I think I've got the basic idea.  I started with 'knitlit' because of my Twitter handle for promoting my Examiner titles.  Words and yarn are my two favorite things to play with, and there's rhyming involved, so why not just go with it?

But why choose twit as the final installment in the title trilogy?  Aside from its newfound association with microblogging, twit doesn't have the nicest connotations.  'An insignificant, silly, or bothersome person'?  Ouch.  But wait a second.  I like silly.  Silly means not taking things too seriously.  Silly means having a little fun.  Silly means puns.  There are plenty of serious things going on in the world, I think that indulging in some of the more insignificant things can significantly ease the tension.

So I'm putting it out there to start the reinvention of the twit.  The same way nerds and geeks are having a positive pop culture moment, it's time for twits to be embraced for their innocent enthusiasm, their genuine excitement over things that aren't really that important.

Who's with me?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Brave new blog

I can't remember a time when I didn't want to be a writer.  From random squiggles pretending to be prose to grasping at job listings after graduating from college, it has been my quest.  Particularly in the post-graduate state of my life, this has lead me to try various online freelancing positions, some for longer than others.  Something about an external structure somehow made my writing seem more legitimate than just having my own blog.

But no one else can make you a writer.  Publishers don't make novelists, and networks of online content don't make me a writer.  They just make it more work, with rules about what I can write about and how.  But more work doesn't equal more wages, and I'll sacrifice a few pennies for the freedom to write about cupcakes, knitting, and 18th-century British literature.  Probably not all in the same post, but you never know.