Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A delicious contradiction: quick bread in a slow cooker

I love baking, but sometimes it just seems so wrong to have it be 100 degrees outside, with the air conditioning keeping it in the mid-80s, then cranking up the oven to 400.  And so I've also made friends with my slow cooker.  Along with the energy savings, I love that most recipes involve gathering some ingredients into the pot, leaving them for a few hours, and returning to find a delicious meal.  And the more I use my slow cooker, the more things I find you can make in it.

Case in point: bread!  Bread is one of my aspirational bakes, I eventually want to do some of the 'real' bread baking of yeast activating and rising and punching and all that jazz, but quick breads are a good stepping stone for building my confidence.  This recipe popped up in a few places, and I thought I'd give it a try.  I thought bread would make a good addition to the pot luck table for the Ravellenics cast on party, since it's pretty much a finger food that requires few 'accessories'.  And since this is a garlic parmesan bread, anything you spread on it would just be extra goodness.

This is a very simple recipe that lends itself well to making again with some variations and additions.  From the base of Bisquick, egg, milk, and a little sugar, you could add more than onions and garlic.  How about some rosemary?  Maybe switch it up entirely and add taco seasoning and Jack cheese for taco bread?  I'm clearly making this again.

The only adjustment I made to the original recipe was to double it because my slow cooker is a 6 quart. It turned out great, though I could probably have left it cooking for a few minutes more to get the middle a little more done.  I haven't yet learned the fine art of knowing when bread is ready like I have cookies and cakes.  And then it sure was a fun conundrum figuring out how to get it out of the deep ceramic dish.  But I got it eventually, with just a little breakage.

This was graciously gobbled up by my fellow knitters, and we only took a chunk home with us.

Monday, July 30, 2012

No more yarn...and this time, I mean it!

The trouble with going on a yarn diet for any length of time beyond a month is that there are always little events popping up that make seem irrational not to add to your stash.  There are big sales at Hill Country Weavers at the start and middle of the year, fiber festivals in April and November, not to mention other random sales from stores both on and off-line.  Birthdays and swap packages also create reasons to grab more yarn.  And just like grocery shopping, once you're in, you rarely leave with just what was on your list.

This time, it was a sad sale that caused me to gorge myself on new yarn.  As I mentioned before, Yarn Barn in San Antonio is closing, and so their stock was on massive reduction.  We drove down yesterday to bid them a reluctant farewell, and bring a small piece of the store back home with us to remember them by.  My piece just ended up being slightly larger than planned.

I ended up with:
  • Several skeins of Cascade 220, two for Christmas gift knitting and four bare skeins to be dyed using Kool-Aid or food coloring sometime in the future
  • What Would Madame Defarge Knit?, a pattern book that I've had my eye on for a while
  • A skein of Abstract Fiber yarn in a brilliant pink (call it the theme of the weekend)
  • A skein of Dream in Color that blends misty blue and a very light blush pink, I'm thinking it will make a nice shawl with icicle motifs
But that's it until October!  Between now and the Yarn Crawl, I'm going on a diet.  The only exception made will be for the purchase of yarn for swap packages.  Very strict.  No cheating.  Absolutely none.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Colorway of the day: pink

I've signed up for another swap with the Odd Ducks that will be assigning partners soon.  This one is themed around our favorite colors, and I'm going with pink.  Not pastel pink, no.  Hot pink.  Eye-searingly fun pink with just that drop of blue in it to electrify it.

This has me thinking about pink, noticing it all around me, and wanting to point it out to whoever my spoiler is destined to be.  Because pink could mean so many different things, especially depending on your computer monitor.  So I've been finding real world examples everywhere.

First, I woke up with the Olympic tennis coverage, and lo and behold, the stoic dark green that is the traditional background of the courts during the Championships has been replaced with a sort of pinky-purple.  This article has some good pictures, though I'm not sure this is what I mean by my favorite pink.

After watching the Bryan brothers chest bump their way to victory in the men's doubles, Mom and I ventured out to do some shopping.  In preparation of which, I applied my super-duper pink eye shadow from Makeup Forever:
Now this is what I'm talking about!  You're all starting to see how I chose the color scheme for the header and link text, aren't you?

First, we went to Michael's, and I scoped out some yarns that had the colorways (if not the fiber content) that makes me smile.  There was Vanna's Glamour in Jewel, Lion Brand Homespun in Tulips, and Vickie Howell Sheep(ish) in Hot Pink(ish):

Our next stop was DSW, because a $5 off coupon simply cannot go to waste.  And what do you know, I found myself another pair of running shoes that just happen to be another great example of pink:

They're Nike+ shoes, which I like because I have the little '+' thing that tracks my runs and everything.  I have another pair that are more black with fuchsia and highlighter yellow.  I like these because they are almost completely colorific, and I feel like that's important in a running shoe.  You want it to be something that makes you smile, because halfway through, you'll need every excuse you can find.

Can we pause to marvel at something: I am excited because I have a new pair of running shoes.  Seriously.  A few years ago, I wouldn't know myself.  But I would wish I could be that person.  And now I am.  That's just pretty darned cool.  Okay, the moment has been paused, onto more pink!

We also went to Home Depot, and along with other things which are worth their own blog post later, I scanned the paint chips for more examples of pink to give to my spoiler.  Unfortunately, there apparently isn't a lot of demand for fluorescently pink walls, so most of the pinks I found were close, but lacking some of the brightness that I guess they avoid because it might drive someone insane if a room were actually painted that color.

Thankfully, plenty of people want their nails to be this color.  I would say China Glaze Pool Party, Goldie 80's (check out the first picture for the one I mean), and Orly Flirty (another comparison blog, basically all these pinks are awesome!) are three from my own collection that embody the spirit of hot pink.

Alright, I think that's enough pink for one day, I wonder what tomorrow's colorway will be?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Ravletes, are you ready?

Yeah, it's still annoying that the Olympics continues to make more headlines for brand-enforcement and security issues, but I'm determined to stay peppy.  After all, Andy Roddick could win gold!  Haha, what was that I said about not getting my hopes up at Wimbledon?  Anyway, there's tennis to be watched, and even more importantly, things to be knit.  I am counting down the minutes until I'm allowed to cast on and get started with my Ravellenics projects.

Big thanks to one of the gals in my mom's knitting group, she sewed up project bags for everyone, and included me amongst their ranks, even though I don't get to join them weekly.  It's London-themed, and fits my supplies perfectly:
Given how perfectly-themed my bag is, it's only right that my first project in line for the next fortnight or so is an attempt to make a Union Jack Danger Monster.  I'm hoping it will look something like this:
Cute, right?  I'm challenging myself with this one because I haven't really done any color work before, and I've never made a monster.  Hopefully I can keep my tension, and the improvisations that are required in adding the chart into the original pattern don't end in chaos and tears.  Positive thoughts!  If those athletes can walk in the opening ceremonies in some truly eye-searing national uniforms with a straight face, I can knit this monster!

Technically, I could start knitting at 3 pm, when the opening ceremonies are actually happening, but I'm going to hold off until The Knitting Nest's viewing party, when NBC will show the whole ceremony and we will be noshing on a pot luck dinner.  More on the results of my contributions later, because knitters have to carb-load just like Olympic athletes!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Success, as measured by a lack of fainting

Yesterday I donated blood for the fourth time.  You'd think the hard part would be the actual blood-giving, or maybe the finger prick to test my iron levels and getting my blood pressure tested after being asked a barrage of questions about my needle usage.  But no, the hard part comes at dinnertime.

This is because I am silly.  This is what my mother would say.  I wait just a little too long to start making dinner, and end up on the kitchen floor.  The first time I donated blood, she had to revive me with a spoonful of honey nut butter.  For the next two donations I managed to avoid having a smelling salts moment.

Unfortunately, I decided to make myself some oatmeal for dinner last night, and that takes a little while to thicken up.  I kid you not, I barely made it to the sofa with my bowl before the lights started to dim.  But I was able to nurse myself back with my bowl of oatmeal and all was well.  Hopefully by the fifth donation I'll have learned my lesson and will make something microwaveable or something.

But the good news is that the vampires found my veins on the first try, and I managed to sneak out with an extra packet or two of Oreos.  I'm thinking they're going to end up on the bottom of some delicious cupcakes.  Because I'm a giver of life, love, and delicious cupcakes.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Cubicle kitchen: Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Bark

There's something about the addition of salt that takes sweet to a whole other level.  In the case of this week's office treat, it took it from casually licking the spoon to ravenously scraping the cookie sheet for every last ounce of this salty sugar crack.

I've already admitted that my baking is often a way for me to enact a little kitchen stash busting, using up pantry items which might otherwise go to waste.  This week, I had a box of Pretzel Thins and this handy dandy recipe from Tina at My Life as a Mrs.  She used Pretzel Crisps as opposed to Pretzel Thins, but these are clone products, so no difference there.

So basically, brown sugar and butter are melted together and poured over pretzels which have been laid out on a cookie sheet lined with tin foil that's been sprayed.  That bakes for a little while to continue developing the toffee/caramel, and then chocolate chips go on top, melt with the residual heat, and are spread evenly across.

One actual difference is one I'm a little ashamed to admit.  The same way you should measure twice and cut once in home improvement, you really should make sure you have all of the recipe's listed ingredients before you start cooking.  Especially when it's a 5-ingredient recipe, for goodness' sake.  How was I to anticipate that I didn't actually have a bag of chocolate chips?  Thankfully, it was a happy accident, because I did have a bag of Reese's peanut butter chips.  Along with that, I had some of those solid milk chocolate mini-eggs from the candy clearance aisles, so those were chopped up just for good measure.

Spreading the melting chips wasn't a very pretty business, I wasn't sure I was doing the 'right' thing and that everything would stick together.  But I diligently kept going, and put it into the fridge to set up.  Even after a night in the fridge, it still wasn't as bark-like as Tina's was, so I used the same trick I do with fudge, which is to start cutting (or breaking in this case) apart and sit the pieces upside down to dry/harden.  This helped to get the caramel a little less gooey.  It's still not quite in the fully-hardened state I had imagined, but it's certainly stable and not melty anymore, just sticky to the touch.  Not sure if that's because I used margarine rather than butter, or if I didn't heat the sugar and margarine mixture enough, but it's still darned tasty.  And all remaining goo was thoroughly enjoyed by myself, huddled over the cookie sheet in the kitchen losing all sense of restraint in the face of the pure desire for sugar.

Given it's power over me there, I was pretty sure that no one would mind that these don't look like prize-winning beauties:
The mix of salty and sweet, chocolatey and peanut buttery is definitely a winner in terms of taste, and no one cares how it looks. Some people have declared it to be my best baking achievement so far.  I feel confident saying that it is at least the most addictive.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Some self-Examination

I wonder if there's someone over at Examiner who has noticed that I went from an article every weekday to one or two a week.  But they probably don't.  After all, I'm just one in thousands of writers across the country that suddenly decided to break ranks and start blogging.

And I'm finding for myself that forgetting about Examiner is easier than I thought.  I have to make sure that while I'm typing away here for you that I don't let the whole week go by without something for Examiner.  Last week I squeaked in just under the deadline with a sad article about the closing of the Yarn Barn in San Antonio.  Mom and I are planning on going this Sunday to bid adieu a yarn store that we both loved visiting on the Yarn Crawl the past two years.

Thankfully, one place that is not closing anytime soon is BookPeople.  Or at least I hope not, God forbid.  But they have a fully-booked schedule of events this week as per usual.  And as per usual, there's at least one book in there that I end up thinking, 'Hey, I should read that.'  I'll let you try and guess which one it might be...

I'm going to try and publish again in a few days about all of the Austin Ravellenics events.  But just so you know, when I'm drafting articles there, I'm always thinking about blogging.  Because I love you more.

Monday, July 23, 2012

To hair is human, to obsess divine

There are a number of things that needing to wear glasses make difficult.  Swimming, for instance, or any other water-related activity.  Another is getting your hair cut.  Perhaps difficult is a strong word, but when you are blind as a bat without glasses, and the stylist has to take off your glasses in order to cut freely, it's a little more nerve-wrecking to wait and see what kind of cut you will end up with.  While I imagine that those with 20/20 vision can glean clues as to what they might look like at the final blow, I myself can only just based on a vaguely me-looking fuzz in the mirror, and by trying to gauge the relative lightness of my head compared to when I walked in.

This could explain why getting my hair cut is something that requires a little bit of planning.  If I have an appointment with a stylist (like I did on Saturday), I also have an appointment with my computer, to spend several days pouring over images of hairstyles, from online makeover sites to celebrities who look like they might possibly have comparably thick and bushy hair.  Because it doesn't matter how much I like this haircut:

My hair won't do that.  Or maybe it would, if I put in 15 minutes or more of effort every morning.  But that's just not an investment of time I'm willing to make.  That's valuable spinning and knitting time!

No, a rebel pixie cut is not the direction my hair is going at the moment.  So after hemming and hawing, and searching for something 'different' to do, I decided to just continue to grow my hair a little longer.  I have some bangs, or fringe to Ms. Knightley, that are already started to grow out due to lack of trimming.  The rest of my hair also just needed some cleaning.  As the stylist said, my ends were screaming.  They needed to be put out of their misery.

So what I ended up with is something a little more like:

And yes, I know Keira's hair and mine have not become any more alike, but this is something my hair will do pretty much by itself, as long as I can brush all the tangles out.  My hair isn't quite this long yet either.  So far my hair has gotten just long enough to constantly get caught under the straps of my purse as I sling it over my shoulder, which is annoying.  But it can also go up in a ponytail, or even a braid depending on how dextrous I am.

Now that this monumentally important decision is made, I can move onto the next great debate: choosing a nail polish color...

Sunday, July 22, 2012

I look good in yellow (jersey)

I did it!  The Tour de Fleece ends today, and I have the last of my skeins soaking right now.  I have successfully turned 4 oz of beautiful blue roving into 4 dare-I-say also beautiful skeins of yarn.

It involved a little last-minute rushing, so any photos will have to wait until later in the week.  Yesterday, I didn't stop to blog because I needed to get as many rotations on the spindle in as possible.  I even spun for a few moments in between executing my very important bridesmaid duties:
Today, I spun furiously while watching golf, and then tennis as Andy Roddick won his 32nd career title.  And then my mother very graciously sat by my side and kept my center-pull ball from tangling up as I plied right up until dinnertime.

But I made it, and after a little thwacking to distribute the twist, then drying overnight, I will have earned my yellow jersey.  After the hourlong+ plying session, I might be just as sore as some of those cyclists tomorrow morning.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Marissa Mayer, Yahoo's new CEO (Cupcake Enthusiast/Obsessive)

For over a year now, I've been a regular listener of NPR, beyond just Car Talk and Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me.  I still love these programs of course, but they are like the dessert of public radio, and now I'm also enjoying my tasty veggies.  That might sound like a negative way to view the news, but let's not forget my enthusiasm for spaghetti squash.  So a comparison to vegetables is meant in the best possible sense.

That being said, even in the news, my mind is still on dessert.  More specifically, cupcakes.  Recently, Yahoo pulled of a kind of coup by hiring Marissa Mayer away from Google to be their new CEO.  I'm interested to see what she can do with the company, because she's the brains behind a lot of the Google features that I use everyday.  But what really caught my ear this morning as I was listening to the latest discussion of the move was the casually-included detail that Mayer has been noted for her love of cupcakes.

That's all I need to hear to go Googling.  Maybe after Mayer is done I'll be Yahoo-ing, but for now it's her former employer that I turned to to find this profile, published in 2008.  It's all about the qualities and quirks of a successful woman in Silicon Valley.  But this is all I need to know about Mayer:
Who else in Silicon Valley could report, with absolute seriousness, that she’d recently bought an array of cookbooks to study the cupcake recipes in each, created a spreadsheet for the ingredients, and then tested the recipes before writing her own? (She made another spreadsheet for frosting.)
Cupcakes and spreadsheets?  I love this woman.  Because the only thing that makes butter, sugar, and flour come together better is the excessive organization.  I've made spreadsheets for buying yarn and crafting for swaps, as well as for baking.  This makes me wonder why there's no 'Recipes' tab in Google when you search, like there is for 'News' and 'Images'.

And the application of logic to an ironically irrational level doesn't end there:
Mayer is an eager practitioner of the art herself. “I’ve always loved baking,” she says. “I think it’s because I’m very scientific. The best cooks are chemists.” In addition to creating her famous cupcake and frosting spreadsheets, she has analyzed all of the different paper linings available. “The problem with the silver ones,” she says in utter earnestness, “is that they seal the cupcake. You’ve got to go with the classic paper, which allows the cupcake to breathe.”
Because suffocating your baked goods is a crime, people!

I already knew that I wasn't the only quirky person out there.  The Sarah Lawrence campus was crawling with them, I'm always making friends with them on Ravelry, and heck, this is Austin.  But Mayer is the first example I've seen of this in the high ranks of the corporate world:
In many ways, Mayer is still that geeky, super-normal, enthusiastic girl. So it’s no surprise when we spend hours one day at—where else?—I Dream of Cake in North Beach. Mayer samples a piece of cake and says, “I’m a huge fan of frosting. Vanilla fudge is my favorite. It gives you brain euphoria.”
Granted, Silicon Valley is a little more open to 'brain euphoria' than Wall Street.  But it's still cool to see the kind of unapolagetic enthusiasm that nerdiness displays survive the real world rather than being something you have to grow out of.

Maybe Mayer is to cupcakes as Steve Jobs is to turtlenecks?  Except I don't think Steve really liked those turtlenecks all that much...

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Make it work (please please please)

Tonight is the night.  Well, tonight is a night.  After all, it's just the premiere of the latest season of Project Runway.  And unfortunately, that just doesn't mean what it used to.  It used to mean that I would spend all day in anticipation of more challenges, more quips, more fashion, and more Tim.  In college, it even used to mean going to the one place on campus that had cable TV to watch the episode with all the other PR fans in a sort of empowering communal viewing experience.

Today, it means having Lifetime on in the background as I work from home, with a marathon of the last non-all-star season.  And as I watch, I become more and more trepidatious.  Do I want to spend another season watching contestants design more drama than runway looks, and have the producers showcase more construction skills than the designers in their deft control of the judging panel?

I feel like bemoaning the downslide of the show is like complaining about the latest update to Facebook, it's a little boring because everyone seems to be doing it.  But while people might get used to the news feeds and timelines, I really hope I don't have to get used to the expectation that I will root for a winner who can't construct a pair of pants.

Please, Project Runway, make this season work.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Cubicle kitchen: No Pudge, Yes Coffee Brownies

Having just decried weight control instant oatmeal, I must admit to having used a ready-made mix that sells itself based on being 'light' for this week's baking adventures.  Behold, in a truly tiny pic:
For me, No Pudge Fudge Brownies were something I wanted to try because:
  • I had heard of them through Hungry Girl, and I like to try some of the more gimmicky foods once in a while
  • They only require one additional ingredient to be added to the mix, non-fat vanilla yogurt, which I already have in the fridge almost all of the time anyway
  • They were on sale
Okay, so I took this box and followed the instructions like a good little baker.  I mixed the chocolate-y powder with the yogurt until it was a batter (much like any other brownie batter, a bit on the thicker side if anything), poured it into my parchment-lined 8x8 pan, spread it evenly, then baked according to the time and temperature on the box.

One thing I did do, because I'm 99% good little baker, 1% wacky rebel, was add instant coffee.  This particular box of mix was of a Cappuchino variety, so I thought I'd go ahead and give it a helping hand in the caffeine department.  I added a few spoonfuls.  After all, these were destined for a meeting, I wanted to keep everyone perky!
The result was moist, fudgy brownies with a definite coffee kick.  Again, I very much enjoyed eating the bits that stuck to the knife as I cut them into squares.  I've heard that you should be able to use the non-fat yogurt as your only add-in for any old brownie mix, but the one time I tried it, the results were tragic.  I might try it again, but in the meantime, I happen to have gotten an extra box of this mix anyway.  Did I mention they were on sale?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Froyo files: Skinny Dip

It's becoming an annual trek for my mom and I to head out to Fredericksburg in the summer and pick up peaches and preserves of the season.  This is the second year we've made a point of the pilgrimmage.  And despite my liberal sampling of jams, we also go get frozen yogurt.  Because, well, it's frozen yogurt.

Skinny Dip: 1579 East Main Street  Fredericksburg, TX 78624

When I visited: Saturday, July 14th, around 1 pm

Cost per ounce: 42 cents (I think, it wasn't written on the wall and I forgot to ask, but I calculated based on the weight and total cost)

Number of flavors: 6

Sorbet options: 1

Nutritionals provided: No

Experience: This is a very small little joint, as you can see.  It's not unlike Froyoyo I suppose, when you compare the options and scale of the operation.  But what I like about this place is that there's always a sorbet option, and there's always a sugar-free option as well.  The first time we tried this place, last year, the sorbet option was so tasty that we made sure to come back.  This year, it was a mango, which was again very good.

We were both disappointed that though there was also a Lemon flavor as one of the yogurty options, it wasn't quite lemony enough.  We love lemon and have maybe a higher requirement for it than most.  I found solace in the sorbet, as well as a yummy Coconut, and Raspberry, which was the sugar-free option.  Mom went for a swirling tower of the sorbet and was very happy with it.

There is at least one other froyo place in Fredericksburg, maybe we'll branch out and try it next time we're out there.  But I do like this place, if only because I know that Mom and I are sure to find something we both like in the sorbet option.

Worth a revisit?  Sure.  I wouldn't drive all the way out there just for the froyo, but it's something I look forward to when we are making the trip.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Instant rant-meal: just add water

Okay, before I enter into this rant, you have to understand something: I watch a lot of TV that, if it was food, would be empty calories.  I use it as the background noise that keeps me from thinking that every creak in the wall is a serial killer, and to try and quiet the many trains of thought constantly leaving the station of my brain.

Having said that, Saturday night I was watching the second season of 'Biggest Loser' on Netflix Instant, with our newly-returned access to the internet.  I tend to favor TV series that don't require me to be constantly paying attention.  Unfortunately, during a moment that I was paying attention to the ever-so-slightly contrived weight loss show, they were in the middle of one of those really obvious infomercial moments.  A trainer walks in and asks if they've eaten breakfast, then takes them into the kitchen to show them a great option: oatmeal!

'We can eat oatmeal?' a contestant asks.  Why yes, in fact, you can!  But this isn't just oatmeal.  It's Quaker Weight Control Instant Oatmeal.  It has fiber and protein and dairy-flavored pixie dust, and just 160 calories in a single packet.  Wait, what?!  I went from doing something random online to searching for someone to rant to.  Because that's freaking ridiculous.  In that one packet there couldn't have been more than 1/4 of a cup of actual instant oatmeal.  And I am obsessed with making oatmeal (seriously, I had it for dinner last night), so I know that that amount of straight-up oatmeal is just 75 calories.  So that means that over half of the calories are coming from whatever else is in there.  Basically, the powdered dairy and flavorings.

Now, I am not against ready-made, portion-controlled things.  I mean, I stuck Stove Top in a mushroom, I'm always doctoring up cake mixes in baking, and I do often take advantage of things that are 'light' for the sake of a few calories.  It just made me so mad, because the people who saw this little vignette could save calories and cash by just taking a regular old tub of instant oatmeal, some non-dairy creamer, maybe some Splenda and dried fruit, put it into little baggies, and they'd have the exact same thing.  I know it's advertising, the point is to sell something.  I just hate that the selling point in this case is a statistic that relies on the consumer not having the rest of the numbers in order to look impressive.

Okay, I feel better now.  You can all go about your regularly-scheduled Monday now.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Not cool at all

If my dad was prone to unreasonable paranoia, he might think that the entire spectrum of modern convenience was plotting against him.  It seems that everything that can break, has broken.  Most significantly for the past few days while I was staying with him, he had no air conditioning and no internet.

This being Texas, most people's reaction has been, 'No A/C, that's torture!'  But with the rainy week we've been having, it's mostly the humidity that gets trying.  And quite honestly, I'm more comfortable sitting in my room without air conditioning than I am at my desk at work with the massive amounts of cold air being rushed towards me.  It's the middle of summer, and I go to work armed with knitwear and a personal heater.

No, for me, it was the loss of the internet that was truly the trial.  It's funny how quickly something goes from new fad to natural state of being.  It felt so debilitating to not be able to Google a recipe quickly or check YouTube for a plying tutorial.  But I think the worst part wasn't the inability to grab information instantaneously, it was the inability to communicate.  Without the internet, I had no way of posting photos on my Tour de Fleece progress,  or composing a blog post, without my work computer.  It was like being stuck at home on a Friday night when you know all your friends are together at a party.

But somehow I made it through, and Time Warner has once again deemed this house worthy of connecting to the rest of the world.  I won't go into that rant, though.  I'll just say that the moment order was restored, I felt so relieved.  I have rejoined the party, and as always, I've brought snacks!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Froyo files: The Yogurt Spot

I know I said that I love frozen yogurt, but I swear that I usually don't get the chance to have it this often over the course of a few weeks.  I'm quite enjoying the regularity of my recent frozen yogurt consumption, but just so you know, weekly reviews might not be a continuing thing, as much as I would like them to be.

And even though I say that, I did just visit yet another place, so there will be a post next week.  So maybe one of the perks of being a blogger is just happening to end up eating frozen yogurt all the time.

The Yogurt Spot: 500 North Lamar Boulevard #150  Austin, TX 78703

When I visited: Saturday, July 7th, around 6 pm

Cost per ounce: 43 cents

Number of flavors: 16

Sorbet options: 2

Nutritionals provided: Online, but not posted in-store, by the 1/2 cup

Experience:  I'm in love.  Not only is this place within walking distance of BookPeople, Austin's own most awesome bookstore ever, but the frozen yogurt is absolutely top notch.  I'm so glad I went around dinnertime, because it gave me an excuse to really indulge in the deliciousness.

First of all, technically there were two sorbet options, Key Lime Pie and Razzgranate.  But there were also several others that weren't technically non-dairy, but were great for people like my mom and I who love fruity flavors.  There was a Lychee Tart, Blueberry, new Orchard Cherry, and the star of the show as far as we were both concerned: the Strawberry Tart.  Strawberry so often goes wrong, and like banana, there are two kinds of strawberry flavor: artificial and real.  And this tasted so deliciously real.
As you might have been able to guess, we got exclusively fruity flavors.  With the exception of my continued need to have some Tiki Taro, which was also very good.  I did sample their other flavors, like Salted Caramel and Chocolate Craving, which were good, but the fruits were just so mind-blowing.  The Lychee Tart was one of those ones I just tried thinking, 'Why not?' as I was passing with my cup, and my eyes popped.  Really good.  Really tart.

Worth a revisit?  Absolutely, when can we go?  Is now too soon?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Welcome back, Alisha!

When you start to knit/crochet/spin, you not only discover an activity that's full of techniques and textiles to try, you also meet a cast of characters who quickly become part of the joy of the craft.  From Stitch 'n Bitch groups that meet in-person to the larger circle of friends that can be reached across the globe through Ravelry, even though knitting is done individually, it's very much a team sport.

The community of craft includes, of course, those who supply the tools of our trade.  Store owners, woodworkers, and fiber artists are all more than simply 'sellers', they are fellow crafters.  That means that we don't just buy from them, we buy into them, we care about them.  And we miss them when they're gone, if only for a little while.

That's my sappy introduction into the welcoming back of a hand-dyer from New Braunfels whose yarns are available in several yarn stores around Austin and Central Texas, as well as online.  Give it up for Alisha Goes Around!  Yay, applause, raucous cheering and whoops!

Alisha had been on a break for several months due to additions as well as losses to her family.  Even so, she had still been dyeing for stores and designers, as well as attending various shows.  And you can imagine, if that's what a break looks like, 'active Alisha' is going to be pretty busy, especially with her yarn having been featured in various published designs, like my coveted precious, the Twist Pullover.  The re-opening of her Etsy store marks the restart of Alisha, which will still include all the stuff she was doing while she was 'away' as well.  By the way, Panoply Fingering makes up a large part of the store's current stock, which is what the pullover is knit with.  And more yarn is coming.

She's also created a Facebook page, Ravelry group, and has been on Twitter for a while.  Pop in to your social network of choice to say hi, and browse through the store.  I challenge you not to find something screaming to join your stash.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

When life gives you non-diet soda, make syrup

The other night, I had just popped the top on my soda can, when I noticed: it wasn't diet.  Gasp!  I count all of my calories, and there's just no room for 160 of them to come from a drink.  Turns out, I had grabbed the wrong 12-pack in HEB, so I was stuck with 11 cans of something I couldn't drink (unfortunately, I think I drank one, but what's drunk is drunk).

I suppose I could have just given them to someone, but that's not the way my mind works.  I wanted to think of some way to cook with this stuff.  There are a variety of recipes using sodas as a sort of marinade for roasts, hams, etc.  Which sounds intriguing, but with the possible exception of Salt Lick BBQ, I find meat less tempting a treat than something sweet and possibly baked.  And so I wondered whether this root beer couldn't be reduced into a concentrated syrup.  Why not?  The idea is the same as with most reductions: heat to boiling, reduce to simmer, stir occasionally and remove from heat when desired thickness.  It was after all just sugar, water, and bubbles.

And some unpronounceable chemicals, which I couldn't predict the reactions of.  That lead me to search online for examples of successful results.  There weren't many, but there were a few.  And having nothing to lose but a little time effort, I poured a few cans' worth into a pot and set it simmering. 

The first time, I burned it.  My own fault, because I let it go too long without checking it, and as with any reduction, it's a fine line between done and done for.  The second time around, I knew to be more careful, and set five cans a-simmering once more.  I didn't keep an eagle eye on the clock, but it was between an hour and an hour and a half before it was  right where I wanted it.  Essentially, you want a syrup that's on the thinner side and doesn't taste like burning.  Just stop when you're comfortable with the consistency if you try this yourself.  I wasn't comfortable going any thicker because I didn't want to burn it again. 

I poured dark brown elixir into a glass jar, which I pre-warmed by filling it halfway with water and microwaving, then pouring out the water.  This was just to make sure the hot liquid wasn't going into a relatively cold container and causing disaster.  Out of the 60 fl oz that were originally contained in the five cans, I estimate that I have about 12-14 now.

I let this cool, and it's now resting in the fridge to be used as a soak for cupcakes, syrup for pancakes, etc.  The possibilities are endless.  Be on the lookout for root beer-infused treats in the near future!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

TdF: I think she's got it! I think she's got it!

I'm clearly in a honeymoon phase with spinning.  I find myself with spindle separation anxiety when I go to work, and coming home to get a few spins in is like sitting down for happy hour.  Here's my first fully spun, plied, washed, thwacked, and dried skein of yarn:
I love my baby blue.  And it has some sibling skeins in the works as well.  One single cop is just waiting for the third to be complete so my spindle will be free for plying.

And speaking of plying, one of the honeymoon symptoms is that I have a thirst to try every tool, technique, and fiber that I see.  Including this magical thing called chain, or Navajo, plying.  It takes one single and turns it into a 3-ply yarn, and it means that any color progressions in the single will be maintained in the yarn instead of the barber pole effect.  I love that effect, but I also love being able to do it another way.

Of course, there are stages of discovery with these things.  The first is hearing/seeing a term a few times while having no idea what it means.  You see the result without knowing what it is, and then you make the connection and start to investigate how it's done.  This means Google and YouTube.  And after a few sessions of squinting and yelling at the screen, 'But how did you get that first loop?  What is going on, which strand is that, make it stop!' you find one that actually makes sense to you.  And like Pickering rising from repose with a newspaper over his face, you hear Higgins' voice in your ear, 'I think she's got it!  I think she's got it!' 

Or maybe that part only happens to me.

To help anyone who is in any of these phases with chain plying, this is the video that made it click for me:
The relief!  I still have to take the final step and actually do it myself, but I'll have to save it for my next braid, since I'm going to try and turn this one into four matching skeins.  That's right, I already have plans for my next braid.  What can I say, I'm a newlyspun!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A meta mushroom

Let's get this straight: I'm not Sandra Lee.  My kitchen does not magically change decor to match the theme of everything I cook, I barely use table settings much less crafty ones, I don't pair every dish with a cocktail, and I'm not nearly as perky.  But I am a big fan of the idea of semi-homemade cooking.  I love taking 'real' ingredients and mixing them up with readymade stuff that comes out of the freezer or pantry.

Take, for instance, a recent dinner.  Mom had brought home two yummy portobello mushrooms, and after wiping them clean and cutting out the stem, the question only remained what we would cook them with.  Stuffing them with something only made sense, and stuffing them with...well, stuffing, made even more sense.  Here's what I had:
  • 2 portobello mushrooms
  • 3/4 cup dry Stove Top mix
  • a little bit of onion, chopped up
  • a dash of minced garlic
After setting the over to 350 degrees, I wiped the mushrooms clean and cut the stems off of the caps.  I sprayed them with non-stick spray and set them on a baking sheet, gills up.  

After trimming the end off, I chopped the stem and sautéed with with that bit of onion and garlic.  Meanwhile, I took the Stove Top and microwaved it with the necessary amount of water.  I didn't bother adding the margarine.  

When both of those were ready, I mixed them together and filled the caps as evenly as possible.  Then popped that into the oven for just over 25 minutes.

With just a few minutes left on the oven, I decided to give in to a temptation that usually yields a good result: add a fried egg on top.  Here's the finished dish:
I love the herby quality of the stuffing paired with the earthiness of the mushroom, and the egg acted almost like a sauce.  And getting to add in the mushroom and onion to the stuffing makes me feel like I'm doing something a little extra.  And it makes it a mushroom stuffed with mushroom, or mushroom squared if you will.  This is definitely something I'd like to make again, very easy to throw together.  And light enough to go a little crazy with dessert!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Cubicle kitchen: Apple Butter Bars with Pumpkin Spiced Almonds

My mind was swirling with ideas for office treats this week.  Brownies, cookies, cupcakes, muffins, pretty much every possibility was on the table, or counter, at some point.  I've been reading a lot of baking blogs, and at this point narrowing things down amongst all of the inspirational deliciousness is the hardest part.

There are a few factors that I consider in making this decision each week.  As I've said before, making it seasonal is always a bonus.  Even if it's just for a weird holiday like World Nutella Day, I like there to be a reason behind whatever it is.  I also like to use something in my pantry that is otherwise just sitting there, and if I don't have to go to the grocery store in order to make it, so much the better, if only for the timing of when I bake versus when I shop.  As I bake more and more, however, my pantry is better and better prepared for taking on random recipes as long as there aren't too many ingredients and they aren't too fancy.  Flour I have, spare vanilla beans, not so much.

In the spirit of using up a jar of apple butter that was in the fridge, I ended up choosing a recipe for Apple Butter Walnut Bars from Sugar Pies.  At first I was hesitant because apples speak more to fall than summer, but then I decided that hey, nothing is more American than apple pie, July 4th was less than a week gone, and two plus two equals I wanted to make these bars.

The basic concept is the same as for most jam bars, I'll probably make several variations in the future, because I have many jars of jam in my fridge.  But for my first time, I followed the recipe as written, with one exception: I substituted the walnuts with Planters Pumpkin Spiced Almonds.  Because I had them in the pantry, another check in the 'use what I already have' box.  They'll likely appear later in the year in something using pumpkin.  Mmm, pumpkin...

Anyway, I followed Buck's directions, baking the crust, then spreading on the apple butter, sprinkling nuts and remaining crumble mixture and baking some more:

After letting it cool (and cheating just a little by putting it in the fridge for some of that cooling time) I was able to cut them into squares:
Yum.  I always enjoy licking the batter from the bowl when I'm mixing and scraping the extras from the knife when I'm cutting, and this was no exception.  Gooey, but structurally sound enough to be left on the office kitchenette counter and taken by passersby.  Which is what is happening right now, just a few left waiting to be the bright baked spot in someone's Monday.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Spin and sob Sunday

Oh well...

I'm just going to admit it right now: Andy was sobbing, the crowd was sobbing, I was totally sobbing.  There was just something so poignant about seeing just how much Murray wanted to do it not only for himself, but for the fans.  And then to see the fans expressing so much gratitude for what he's done already, lifting him up and thanking him for the effort.  We are, indeed, getting closer.

I think it was the second final that Roddick lost to Federer that I didn't eat the rest of the day.  I was just so disappointed I was almost sick to my stomach.  Until later in the evening, and I ate an entire box of Kraft Deluxe macaroni and cheese.  To try and quell the starvation and despair

Times have changed, though, so instead I watched the trophy ceremony with a bowl of strawberries and cream, because that seemed appropriate and a little more healthy, since it was fat-free whipped cream as well.  And for dinner tonight it's another round of spaghetti squash.  Yum!

Then I used my emotions to fuel my most productive Tour de Fleece day yet.  I finished spinning my second single cop, and decided to go ahead and ply my first cop from earlier in the week.  I have no idea if I'm doing it 'right', but I spun the two ends of my center-pull ball together in the opposite direction that I spun.  Then I wrapped that onto a borrowed niddy noddy.  Now it's resting in it's warm bath, because it's just as stressed out as I am after that match:
I'm hoping that I've made yarn, but who knows, maybe it will dry and turn out to be a hippopotamus!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Don't count your strawberries before the cream's been poured

Tomorrow could be the day.  It could be the day that 74 years of disappointment ends and an entire nation's hopes will finally be realized.

Sorry.  It's just so easy to fall into the pomp and grandeur of a British man playing in the Championship's final match.  When it comes down to it, I know that it's just a sporting result.  But that's not how it feels.  It feels like a foundational shift in the truth of tennis.  The fact that I've never experienced a British Wimbledon champ isn't that impressive, seeing as I only just caught the tail end of Sampras.  But at 74 years, we're teetering on the edge of living memory even for sports fans who were born and bred to it.

And then there's the fact that there are so many millions of people investing their emotions into it, spending ridiculous amounts on Centre Court tickets, or camping out religiously for a grounds pass.  And even though I don't have the money to fork out for a fancy seat next to Kate and Wills, or the opportunity to sit in line (with my knitting) for two days straight, I'm right there with them all in rooting Andy on.

Of course, there's the matter of Roger Federer.  You know, Rog, over the years, you've dashed a lot of my hopes.  Especially at Wimbledon.  Not once, but three times, you raised the trophy next to Andy Roddick as the runner-up.  And I know you would like to raise it again, prove that you are still the King of Grass.  All I'm saying is, let this Andy win, and I'll forgive you all the pain and suffering of the past.  Just this once.

For the Queen.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Joe Wright's book club cinema

I'm starting to wonder if Joe Wright has something against original screenplays.  Not that I can hold it against him, if I were a director the first place I would probably go for inspiration would be my bookshelf.

Having started with many a reader's favorite novel, Pride & Prejudice, Wright has also adapted Ian McEwan's Atonement, and even The Soloist, which is a true story, was also a book before becoming a film.  Only his previous film Hanna was an original screenplay (though I feel the need to point out its many fairy tale elements).

He's done everything from classic to contemporary to non-fiction when it comes to book adaptations.  And now, he's going for full-on Russian epic:
Something else to look forward to later this year, right now Anna Karenina is looking at a November release in the US.  Given my current reading rate, I don't think I'll have time to read the book first if I plan on seeing it in theaters.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Signs you might really be a spinner

I hope everyone had a happy 4th of July, whether you are in the US and it was Independence Day, or you're anywhere else and it was just another Wednesday.  It's an incredibly awkward holiday, smack dab in the middle of the work week.  Just as you get into the week, you take off for a day, and just when you get used to that, it's back for another two days of earning your salary.  But it's better than no day off at all.

For my free day, I went with my mom and her knitting group to see Pixar's latest movie, 'Brave'.  There were just too many things going for it for me not to see it.  I trust Pixar implicitly to make movies that mean something to them, and thus are more likely to mean something to me.  And you just cannot go wrong with sitting in a darkened theater and listening to the voices of Emma Thompson and Billy Connelly.

Yet again, thumbs up for a job well done, Pixar peeps.  But there was one thing that kept coming to my mind as I watched the film that likely wouldn't have occurred to me even a week ago.  Merida, the heroine of the film, is the first Pixar princess, and aside from archery skills and a fierce desire to change her fate, she has a mass of ginger curls atop her head.  And I just couldn't help but think how much it looked like fiber.  Fiber I'd like to spin.

This after just five days of Tour de Fleece-ing.  I guess I really am a spinner.

I don't need more yarn/But there's a sale!

Having made a gigantic purchase of this new laptop less than a week ago, I'm a little gun-shy about whipping out the wallet for anything else.  But like other budget-conscious phases, it's being tested by a yarn sale.

Hill Country Weavers is having another First Thursday sale, as they do every month when businesses along South Congress stay open late.  Every month, I also write about it for Examiner.  And every month, I'm tempted to take advantage of the sale with a purchase of my own.

This month, the deal is a fourth off of yarn that contains fiber either from plants or made in a plant.  Any percentage applies, even just the scant 10% of nylon that is in many of my favorite fingering weight sock yarns.  In particular, I'm thinking of the Alisha Goes Around that is used in the Twist Pullover we already know I love.

Sometimes being able to make the connection between a sale and a queued pattern is dangerous.  Curse my deal-seeking synapses!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The apocalypse or finding this blanket: which will come first?

Friends, we have now entered the third phase of the search for the crocheted afghan featured in 'Seeking a Friend for the End of the World'.  Having spotted and admired it, we now know it is made by Anthropologie.  Unfortunately, it seems very unlikely that I will be able to take a closer look at one in person.

In a rare show of preparation, I called the closest store location before we went to visit, and learned that not only did they not have one in stock, but they were able to tell me that Orlando, Florida, was the nearest store with one.  So I'm more than likely on my own in terms of recreating it, since I'm not going to take a road trip to Florida in order to hold this thing in my hands.

Someone on Ravelry did suggest a pattern for making it yourself, though.  The newest Interweave Crochet has a pattern that gives the same sort of look, the Bullion Beach Blanket:
Photo credit: Interweave Crochet
So for now this is going on my 'should really make someday' list.  And then I'll have to figure out exactly how I want to construct it.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

TdF: The first three days

Although I'm sure I haven't burned nearly as many calories as the cyclists, I have successfully completed three days of my own personal Tour.  Here's what I have to show for it:
Pretty, huh?  This picture is from Sunday, and I added a little more last night, but being a work day slowed me down a little (pesky thing!).  I also didn't want to do too much last night because I'm running out of room on the legs of the spindle, and I didn't have any yarn with me to create a new leader.  But tonight I'm going to celebrate the weird mini-weekend that July 4th is inserting into the middle of this week by taking this off my spindle and starting up my second single ever.

And then the fun really starts, because I'll ply those two together to create a 2-ply yarn.  Which I'll then have to wind into a hank to set the twist.  Oooh, don't you just love my mastery of the technical terminology?  Try not to be over-awed.

So far, I'm loving being a spinner.  The possibilities are opening up, and I'm constantly finding fibers, techniques, and tools that I want to try.  And counting down the minutes until I can leave my desk and pick up my spindle to officially start Day Four...

Cubicle kitchen: Wimbledon Strawberry Blondies

Andy lost.  Sad face.  But there's another Andy to root for, Andy Murray.  Because the sheer explosion of exhuberance that would follow a British win at Wimbledon is enough to make it a desired outcome.  It's been decades since they had a champion at the Championships, and though I'm sure many would wish that Murray was an English gent rather than a Scot, that's part of what makes it great.

To spread the joys of Wimbledon, I decided to make something with strawberries this week.  Strawberries and cream are one of the many traditions at Wimbledon, along with the players only wearing white, and Andy Roddick raising my hopes only to dash them.  I scoured the web for the most appropriate treat, and decided on the White Chocolate Strawberry Blondies from love & olive oil.

Other than adding one or two strawberries extra, I followed Lindsay's recipe exactly.  Luckily the 8x8 pan fits in the countertop oven, so I was able to keep the additional heat in my Texas kitchen to a minimum.  Here's what came out:
I think I should have taken it out maybe one or two minutes earlier, as my edges were a little burned.  This might also be because the pan was quite close to the heat source.  But other than my own folly, this is tasty.  The melted chocolate in the batter really gives it a yummy flavor and a nice texture.  It's somewhere between cakey and chewy.

This one didn't inspire anyone to drop by my cubicle and gush over the deliciousness, but they did disappear over the course of the day.
Now to decide on next week's treat...

Monday, July 2, 2012

Froyo files: Froyoyo

I made the largest purchase of my life so far this weekend, replacing my laptop.  My poor little MacBook, at 5 years of age, still works fine, but it just missed the cut-off for the move from MobileMe to iCloud, so my hand was forced.  After that kind of spending, I needed some frozen yogurt to calm my nerves, so Dad and I went to the nearest self-serve.
Froyoyo: 3201 Bee Caves Road  Austin, TX 78746

When I visited: Saurday, June 30th, around 3:30 pm

Cost per ounce: 42 cents

Number of flavors: 8

Sorbet options: 0

Nutritionals provided: Yes, per ounce

Experience: Ehh.  We were greeted as we walked in, and there were sample cups sitting out, so that was nice (again, I hate being made to feel guilty for sampling).  There's nothing above or below par in terms of service or atmosphere.

But there aren't a lot of options.  Eight seems like it should be plenty until you're standing in front of them.  And it didn't feel like there were a lot of different kinds of flavors, if that makes sense.  You can be in different flavor moods, and it felt like this was mostly a rich and creamy mood place.  There were two tart options, original and passion fruit.  On the other end, there were two cake-y flavors, red velvet cake and yellow cake batter.  There was also cookies and cream and chocolate.

But it's the two 'Only 8's that would really be my only reason for choosing this place.  Only 8 is basically a diet frozen yogurt that magically only has 8 calories an ounce.  And to be honest, it tastes like it.  It's okay, but it's not as good as the real stuff.  It's something to get when maybe you know you shouldn't have anything but you want something.  I've had it before at another shop, and some flavors are better than others, so far peanut butter has been the best.

The chocolate was pretty good.  I had sampled the passion fruit tart, and it was appropriately tart, just not my preferred fruit flavor.  The red velvet was red velvet, so it wasn't bad, but I was able to resist putting it into my cup.  I ended up with some Only 8 cappuccino swirled with the Only 8 vanilla, and some chocolate.  Then I added fruit, which honestly could have looked a little fresher.
I only remembered halfway through about my journalistic duties, so the photo is a little sad.  Dad also had the chocolate and cappuchino, with chocolate sprinkles.

Worth a revisit?  Technically, this was a revisit, but had their been a more convenient choice available, I probably would have gone there instead.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Make it blue!

I spend a lot of my crafting time dedicated to swaps.  The basic idea of a swap is that you fill a box full of goodies based on a theme as well as your spoilee's likes and dislikes.  Meanwhile, someone else does the same for you.  It's like Christmas year-round.  As I've already mentioned, I've just wrapped up a series of swaps.  Which means that the other week I received the last of my own packages,  themed around the magical world of Disney.

'Beauty and the Beast' will always be my favorite Disney film.  What I wouldn't give to be Belle.  Heck, just to have her library!  But over the two months of crafting for the swap, I also rediscovered a love of 'Sleeping Beauty'.  The animation is gorgeous, and something that the smartest computer couldn't possibly recreate.  Add Maleficent, so deliciously evil.  She's not just out to destroy the princess, she wants her and her prince to survive so they can suffer all the worse.  And for what?  Not getting invited to the baby shower?  Love her.

But my favorite part of this film is the three fairies: Flora, Fauna, and most of all, Merryweather.  She's fun and feisty, even in the face of the elegant evil of Maleficent.  And she made everything blue, my favorite color as a child, constantly battling with Flora, who made everything the far more conventional princess pink.  Of course, I love pink as well, but blue made me a rebel, so I liked that.

I don't know if that had any influence on some of my recent yarn purchases, but they have been distinctly blue.  I had noticed a while ago that though I love blue, I didn't have a lot in my stash.  I would say that I have now rectified that oversight, but that would mean I don't have an excuse to get more, so I won't.

Somehow, my wonderful spoiler knew that I was rediscovering my Merryweather love, and she made me the most amazing knitted doll of her.  I wanted to show off the amazingness of her work, and display a little stash while I'm at it, so here is my very own Merryweather, making it blue:
Isn't she great?  She has a cape, wings, underskirt and bloomers, even thumbs!  My spoiler said she was the most challenging toy that she's ever made, and I believe it!  It's always a little overwhelming to look at a handmade when you know how much work went into it.  For you.

So Mickey might be the keeper of the Disney magic, but I think knitters have plenty of their own to share.