Monday, December 30, 2013

Squash Mein, and other leftover concoctions

The meals of Thanksgiving and Christmas are as much about overabundance as they are the gathering together of family and friends.  Which might be why I look forward to leftovers just as much as the actual meal.  Yes, there's the comforting tradition of a plate with turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes with gravy, stuffing, and green bean casserole all fit into their own little space.  But there's also something really delicious about the spoonful of leftover green bean casserole stolen from the Tupperware straight from the fridge.

And after that illicit bite, there's even more fun to be had in deconstructing the elements of the original meal and reconstructing something else entirely.  I swear my brain has several tracks of thought all working at the same time, and one of them is entirely devoted to food.  So thinking up new things to do with leftover dishes is just a great little brain teaser for me to work on.  Leftover cranberry sauce is great mixed with some plain yogurt to make, well, cranberry yogurt.  It's also a fabulously fruity ice cream topping.  And stuffing that isn't eaten with turkey can be stuffed into a portabello mushroom and roasted for a vegetarian entree to worth being giving thanks for.

Spaghetti squash was technically part of our Christmas dinner, but last week we did make way too much of it and ended up with more than an entire squash's worth of veggie spaghetti left in the fridge.  I've been making my way through it not just by reheating it with some tomato sauce and parmesan.  Oh no, that's too easy.

First, I decided to make spaghetti squash pancakes.  I took a little inspiration from the Jewish holiday staple of latkes.  Though the squash is naturally a little wetter than shredded potato, when mixed with some egg whites and flour it can still be pan-fried into a respectable cake.  I still prefer the potato version, but these with some tomato sauce were pretty good.  It's interesting how even the same ingredients just prepared into a different form can keep something from feeling repetitive.

For the pancakes I had already started sautéing some extra veggies, like thinly sliced onions and carrots.  So last night, as I was tossing in some frozen red pepper, beet greens and mushrooms, I decided to improvise a little more, and instead of adding the veggies to cold squash before mixing in the egg and flour, I just dumped the squash straight into the frying pan.  I added a little soy sauce and other seasoning, then really took it over the edge with the addition of a fried egg.

I know that calling this bowl of deliciousness Squash Mein is not an accurate representation of Chinese cuisine, but that's what I'm calling it.  It's all the best things about fried rice, without the greasiness (unless you count that as one of the best things, in which case you're better off calling for delivery).  And I've just made it again tonight for dinner.

Do you have any favorite leftover food hacks?  Or do you prefer to just reheat and eat?  Or have you mastered the art of never having too much left over at all?

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Inspiration Saturday: The sense in a long run

I know that for many people, getting up and running 16 miles on a Saturday is not really rational.  I don't necessarily disagree.  But I still do it.

I cannot believe how quickly the marathon is coming up, and my long run mileage is ramping up along with it.  The marathon is set for February 16th, and my longest, 20-mile, prep run is just a month away. Looking back, I remember when 7 seemed long and I was looking ahead on the calendar in disbelief at the distances I'm going now.  It just goes to show you that you don't need to go into a training program able to do it all, you just need to be able to start, and have the motivation to keep taking those steps forward.

And over the months, there are some things that I've come to associate with going for a run.  For being nonsensical, it sure does involve a lot of senses.  I thought I'd share some of the things that I smell, taste, and feel while running:

What I smell:

While I'm crossing miles off of my to-do list, almost every time I go for a run I can smell that tell-tale scent of a dryer busily at work.  I guess Saturday is laundry day for some people in the neighborhood.

Because I worked for a while in retail at Bath & Body Works, I have a wide selection of soaps and lotions at my disposal.  But after I'm done with my run, I have a habit of using the same scent for shower gel.  Eucalyptus Mint Tea is part of the Aromatherapy line that is meant to relieve stress, and it is rather soothing, while also being a very clean and crisp kind of scent.

What I hear:

Aside from dog's barking from the safety of their fenced-in yards, I like to listen to podcasts during my long runs.  For shorter distances during the week I rely on music to get me amped up and keep my pace and energy up.  I won't even lie, it's a mix of sugary pop music with a dash of popular rap and rock in there.

But for the long runs, I find that music can sometimes make me think about how much longer I have to go, because my mind starts to think about how many more songs I'll probably have to listen to before I'm done.  So I find it easier to listen to podcasts, where the discussion can distract me from the distance.

I started with 'Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me', NPR's comical current events quiz show, but now I've embraced something maybe a little ironic and I'm listening to episodes of 'The Splendid Table', also from NPR.  Because there's nothing like listening to suggestions for candies to try making at home (I so want to try buttermints now, and the honeycomb candy) while burning calories.

What I taste:

Before I run, I've started taking little bites of something just to give me a little bit of fuel.  This morning, I'm not sure a professional trainer would approve, but I took a few forkfuls of the traditional family Christmas potato salad that was leftover.  Hey, it has some protein and carbohydrates, right?

During the run, I'm training myself with the gel chews that they are going to have on the marathon course, from Gatorade.  Today it was Cool Blue flavor, but mostly I've been liking the Fruit Punch.  That and plenty of water has been enough to get me from start to finish.

As I hobble back into the house, I then reach for a post-workout snack.  I've read that chocolate milk is a favorite of many athletes for the mix of sugars, etc.  Remember how I did that Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap?  I decided that one of the three dozen cookies that I received and a short glass of unsweetened almond milk was enough to sustain me through some stretching and my shower.  I like that I've turned a little baking swap into part of my marathon training, it kind of goes along with listening to 'The Splendid Table'.  Also, it's nice to look forward to a cookie at the end of the run.

What I see:

This year was a good one for autumnal leaves, apparently because of some well-timed rain.  This morning most of the leaves were gone from the branches, except for one or two trees that still had some vibrant reds blazing in the afternoon light.

I'll also pass a few people on my run.  Mostly I see people walking to pick up their mail, or walking the dog.  The best thing is when I come across a fellow runner.  Usually we happen to be running in the opposite direction, which is lucky because then there's no awkwardness about whether I can actually pass them or not.  But when we pass by each other, there's at least a cursory smile, nod, or wave between us.  The other week another girl and I were clearly on a similar loop, and after a few encounters we were exchanging short phrases of encouragement like 'Nearly there!'  It's always nice, even as a solo runner, to have a brief connection with someone else who knows my pain.

What I feel:

Speaking of pain, it's hard to think of what I feel when I'm running other than the little tweaks and things that you start to feel when you pass 10 miles.  Mostly I'm learning to appreciate all of the nuances of my feet.  Recently I think I've mentioned some issues with my feet, which I think I've pinned down to my perineal tendons, just the part running from my ankle along the bottom of my feet.  I've bought some compression socks, found some foot exercises, and am planning on getting some new shoes soon with plenty of support so that I can train in them a little before the big day.

Other than that, I mostly just feel a longingness to be reach my allotted mileage and feel the warmth of the shower.

I don't know if that was inspiring for anyone else, but these are the little details that I've been using to try and motivate me through my runs.  For more inspiration, go to Woolen Diversions.  This week, a special guest has posted a really great Christmas crafted present.

Friday, December 27, 2013

FO Friday: FO-la-la-la-la, la la la la

I hope everyone had a very merry Christmas!  I think I can confidently say that mine was a successful one.  Mountains were skied, busy airports were traversed, traditional potato salad was assembled, and most of the present-crafting deadlines were met.

Which brings me to finally getting to reveal some of the projects I've been working on recently that made their way under the Christmas tree.  Now that they have been unwrapped, I can share them with you.  First, I made a scarf to match the beanie I knit for my grandfather last year:

I used the same kind of yarn (except I didn't hold it double the way I did for the hat) and the same sort of almost-rib pattern.  I really like the stitch, it's very simple, all you do is make sure you have an multiple of four plus one as your number of stitches (I had 33) and then K2, P2 to the end of every row, knitting the last stitch.  It makes for a very pick up and knit project, and I like the texture of the end result.

And for my grandmother, a pillow:

I snapped up the fabric with the adorable fox cuddling on a sofa seat during the Shop Hop earlier this year.  The orange with tiny white polka dots was a fat quarter I picked up at Jo-Ann Fabric.  With the help of my much-more-accomplished-sewer mom this was a really easy entrée into the sewing world for me.

On this side of the Atlantic, I did some more knitting, but in a different category than I'm used to: baby. My step-sister (that is such a weird term, by the way, it still doesn't sound right, although it is much easier to get out than my-dad's-girlfriend's-daughter was) is due to have a baby boy in March, and I confirmed with a few people that making something for her son-to-be was an acceptable Christmas gift.

Then it was a torturous matter to decide what to make for him.  Girls are so much easier, let me tell you.  Pink, cute, fluffy, these are places that my mind naturally goes to.  It's harder for me to navigate the theoretical things a still-theoretical boy might like.  And then you want to make something sort of cute, but still useful, nothing that's going to become the bane of the mother's existence, like anything that requires special care when washing or involves things that might present a choking hazard.

I settled on this pattern from Lion Brand for a sort of blanket-meets-soft-toy bunny.  But because I never make things easy on myself, I decided that I wanted a monkey instead of a bunny.  Partly because of my uneasiness around wanting to make something boy-appropriate, partly because I have more of a personal connection to monkeys.  As a kid, and still to this day, my dad will sometimes quip in Czech, 'Opice jses a opice zustanes', which roughly translates to 'You are a monkey and you'll stay a monkey', and more roughly translates to 'You are silly'.  And the result of my silliness:

Cute, right?  The body is super-simple, and it's amazing how crocheting a pair of ears and a face will transform a blank round shape into a monkey's head.  I even gave him little hairs by strategically placing some of the ends as I was weaving them in.

It feels so good to show something finished instead of just alluding vaguely to progress made on secret projects.  How about you?  Did you finish all of your Christmas crafting in time?  Any IOUs under the tree?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Inspiration Saturday: Gone skiin'!

Happy Saturday, everyone!  For me it's the start of my holiday break, and it's beginning in the best way possible: with a trip to go skiing in Colorado for a week.  Woo-hoo!

I'm excited to get the chance to ski for more than a few days at a time, I'm hoping that I really get my snow legs beneath me.  For those moments I'm not on the slopes, I'm bringing some knitting and reading along with me, but not my laptop, so that means that I won't be blogging until at least next Saturday.  I hope everyone has a great week, and those of you who are busy finishing Christmas presents are blessed with speedy knitting.  See you all next week!

For more inspiration, go to Woolen Diversions.

Friday, December 13, 2013

FO Friday: Holiday Cards

I hinted the other week about some crafting that I did while at work.  I love that I work somewhere with a gym/activity center, and I love even more that there are people who work there who want to host holiday crafting time.  I took advantage of it and made these:

Aren't they cute?  They are my first real foray into this kind of sewing, and even though they aren't perfect, I'm proud of them, with their blanket stitching, beading, and French knots again.  They won't be going on my tree however.  I sent them in three holiday cards to some Ravellers.  And because I'm, well, me, these weren't just any cards.  They were chocolate cards.

After the holidays last year, I found these silicon molds for holiday bark and brittle on sale and I have been counting down the days until I could try them out for myself.  All you have to do is melt some chocolate, spread it into the mold, let it harden, then pop them out and cut out the bars.  I started with a layer of white chocolate with red and green sprinkles, then a mix of milk and semisweet chocolate with some dried fruit and nuts.  And it worked!  Yay!

I put each bar in a plastic baggy and attached it to a blank card.  Underneath that, I decoupaged a print out of a photograph I had already taken of that chocolate bar.  So that way they have a chocolate card, but after they eat the chocolate, they still have something to leave on the mantle.

I haven't really sent out any other cards this season, even though I really should.  There's just so much to do this time of year it's hard to organize a mass mailing.  Do you send out cards to a long list of friends and family for the holidays?

For more FOs, go to Tami's Amis.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap: Poppy Seed-Filled Cookies

Huzzah!  The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap has commenced!  And it was delicious!

As I was preparing my three boxes of a dozen cookies, I thought I should add something to reflect my knitterly side as well as my bakerly side.  So I whipped up these Cookie Swap Badges with safety pin backs:

They were pretty quick, being so small, but it did require figuring out how to sew a French knot.  After a few frustrating tries, I finally figured it out.  And though I hope that all of my cookies made it to their destinations uncrumbled, at least I know that these were safe.

My fellow bloggers did very well with their packaging, crumble-wise.  I received yummies from Ashley from Memoirs From My Kitchen and Kimberly from Kimberly's Treats.  I'm still waiting on a mysterious third dozen, but I'm spoilt for choice each night as I decide between dessert options as it is.

I sent cookies to three fabulous food bloggers you should check out: Catherine at The Cat Dish, Alison at Heart of Gold, and Jen at What Jen Does.

As I hinted on Saturday, I took my inspiration for my own cookies from a favorite Czech treat of mine: poppy seed kolaches.  I've been lucky enough to have them in Prague, but there's also enough of a Czech immigrant population here in Texas that kolaches are a not entirely uncommon baked good.  Which is why I hoped that this flavor profile would be the perfect mix of being personal and interesting,  without being too out there.  And since these are special cookies, I decided to give them a special photo shoot with some other Czech favorites.

They take a little bit of love, bringing the dough together, rolling it, cutting it, filling it, crimping it, and baking it.  But that's what the holidays are all about, right?  I had so much fun scheming, baking, and receiving in this truly great swap.  If you want to get a heads up for next year's event, you can sign up here.  And many thanks to our lovely hosts Love & Olive Oil and The Little Kitchen.

Poppy Seed-Filled Cookies
Makes at least 6 dozen

Adapted from Taste of Home: Raisin-Filled Cookies

  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 Tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons buttermilk
  • 1 12.5 oz can prepared poppy seed filling
  • Additional poppy seeds for sprinkling (optional)
  1. In a large bowl, cream together the sugars and butter. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in vanilla. 
  2. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Add to creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk (Note: I used a powdered buttermilk as directed). Cover and refrigerate until easy to handle.
  3. Preheat oven to 350°.
  4. On a floured surface, roll out dough into 1/8-in. thickness. Cut with floured 3" round cookie cutters. Spoon about 1/2 teaspoon of poppy seed filling on each of the rounds, near the center but not quite. Using water, milk, or an egg wash, wet the edges of the round and fold in half, creating a half-moon dumpling.  Crimp edges together with a fork, and cut a small slit in the top. Using more of whatever wash you used for the edges, wet the top of the 'dumpling' and sprinkle additional poppy seeds on top.
  5. Place 2" apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake for 10-13 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove to wire racks to cool.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Monday Movie Madness: Philomena

Do you know what separates the casual frozen yogurt fan from the true devotee?  Winter.  Sure, it's all good fun when it's hot outside and a cool treat is a welcome break.  But what about when the temperatures drop?  When you could keep your bowl of self-serve outside without it melting?  Some people probably don't eat frozen yogurt between the months of November and February.

I, on the other hand, was looking forward to combining a trip to the movies with a trip to Yogurtland last weekend.  It was a tougher journey than I had expected.

'Philomena' is a British film starring Dame Judi Dench and Steve Coogan that's gotten a little bit of press and had some advertising push behind it that I've seen.  Even so, it's not a movie that you'll necessarily find in every theater.

Thankfully in Austin we have several options for independent, smaller release movies like these.  Like Regal Arbor, which just happens to be up in North Austin, near Yogurtland.  Why yes, I will use any excuse to get some of their tasty flavors.  Unfortunately, there was some kind of electrical issue, and they were closed.  So we tried to go to a place across the street, which never gets a fair shot because we like Yogurtland so much.  They, though, thought it was too cold to stay open.  Okay fine, so it stayed below freezing into the afternoon and overpasses and bridges were a little icy.  But I needed froyo!

After a moment of panic, we discovered that Yogertz was located practically next door to the movie theater, so I wouldn't have to settle for buttered popcorn to get me through the movie.

I've fallen off of the 'Froyo files' wagon lately, but I'll just take this opportunity to tell you, Yogertz is pretty good.  Very creamy and smooth, with 14 flavors to choose from, and all of the nutritional information is up on little LCD screens for each one instead of just a laminated flavor card.  There were two sorbets and two tarts, both of which were really tasty, and even the non-dairy tarts were almost creamy.

So after that yogurt break, back to the movie!  It was a really well-done movie.  Of course, I expect no less from Dame Judi, patron saint of wonderfulness.  It's a very straightforward kind of movie, not to say simple.  It's based on a true story, the gist of which you can get from the trailer.  There are some twists which could be sensationalized, but they aren't, it remains a very quiet but emotional movie anchored solidly by Dench and Coogan's performances.

It might not make you feel so great about nuns, though.

Would you eat frozen yogurt in freezing weather?  Or have you seen any good movies lately?  For more Movie Madness each Monday, go to Amaryllis Musings.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Inspiration Saturday: Memories of memories

This week, my inspiration is shared with someone else's.  Namely, Jeni of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams.  She posted a blog earlier this week about the story behind their latest collection of flavors, Holiday in the Alps:

Aside from how delicious the ice cream sounds (I can't decide whether I'm not intrigued by the Cloverton + Red Currant Sauce or the Pumpernickel, since I love caraway), I can really identify with Jeni's story.  Apparently she spent some time as a youngin' in Stuttgart, Germany, on an army base.  The blog post has some great photos of her all bundled up in the snow.  She says:
Today, what I remember most about my long-ago time in Germany near the Alps and of my childhood in Peoria isn’t so much the mountains and or the subtle beauty of the plains of north-central Illinois. What I remember are the treats that always appeared at our house during the holidays. Every year, family friends from Germany always made sure to send my family holiday care packages of torrone, the nougat-honey-and-almond candy, and white and milk chocolates, and more candies.
For myself, I was actually born near Munich and lived there until I was about three.  I've always had a love of the treats that I associated with Germany as well as the UK, where I've also spent a lot of time.  Things like Kinder Eggs, which are actually illegal here in the US because parents apparently can't be trusted to not give them to their kids before they are old enough not to choke on them.  Or Smarties, the chocolate kind, not the powdery tablet kind.  These were and are treasured treats of sweetness and nostalgia.

This also applies to savory things, like pretzels.  I'm really enjoying the current pretzel roll trend in bread right now, because whenever I see them, I think of this:

Yup, that's me, with a pretzel bigger than my head.

I also get just as much comfort from the deliciousness of svickova as I do from the fact that it's such a classic Czech dish that reminds me of that part of my heritage.  Which is why whenever I'm in Boerne I go to Little Gretel's, a Czech restaurant that happens to have svickova on the menu:

The portions are not as outrageous as a Czech pub, but it's still tasty.

I have very few of my own memories from that time, most of them are mixed up with home movies and photographs.  Again, it's not unlike Jeni's experience:
When I tell people about these new flavors I’ve been referring to them as “memories of memories.” All of my memories are of magical places I see in the old slide photos of my brief time near the Alps: the biergarten with smiling, rosy-cheeked men in feathered hats, castles and fountains, the garden of our landlord where I would follow him around.
The holiday season always brings back these kinds of thoughts, I think, because it's all about traditions carried on over the years.  There are lots of special little things that we all do to harken back to times in our own personal history, and food is one of most potent ways we do that.  Something to do with senses and the memory, I suppose.

If I had my own gourmet ice creamery, I would love to play around with these flavors like Jeni does.  I do what I can in my baking, like the caraway shortbread cookies I experimented with at the Thanksgiving potluck this year.  And spoiler alert for my Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap recipe coming next week, I was greatly inspired by poppy seed kolache, another Czech favorite of mine.

What are your favorite flavor "memories of memories"?  And for more inspiration, go to Woolen Diversions.

Friday, December 6, 2013

FO Friday: Cuddly Cowlgirl

This is me finally making good on my promise to show you the cowl I made for a recent swap.  I showed you the wonderful cowl I received a few weeks ago:

Well, this is what I sent off:

I call it the Cuddly Cowlgirl.  It's the Bandana Cowl, a popular free pattern on Ravelry.  It's a very quick but interesting knit, working from the bottom tip of the triangle up.  I would definitely like to make it again for myself.  For my swap partner, I made it in a natural brown and cream alpaca, so it's super soft.  I like that the fabric it made is also relatively loose, so it drapes and even though it's warm, it doesn't end up too hot.

For flair, I added a tassel and cowboy hat charm on the end.  Just to make sure everyone would know that someone from Texas made it, ya'll.  Here's a close-up of the tassel and charm:

I really enjoyed this project, and I'm hoping that the owner is just as pleased.  I know she enjoyed the Gingerbread Pancake Mix from Kerbey Lane Cafe I also sent, which you may remember as the scene of many of my WIP Wednesdays.

For more FOs this Friday, go to Tami's Amis.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

WIP Wednesday: Sew-wonderful, sew-marvelous

My days are completely mixed up this week.  I had Monday off, and then a monthly team meeting that has tended to fall on Fridays was held today, it's all a jumble.  Overall, there's a sense to me that there's barely time to get back to what we were all working on before Thanksgiving before we start dropping off to take our Christmas break.  Especially for those of us who are using up a few extra days.  I'm grateful to have these vacation days to use, but it would be nice to have a few more to make it worth using them during the year for trips to see family overseas.

But anyway.  In the few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, there is work-work to be done and craft-work.  I have some gift knitting to do, but not much.  I've joined a Jane Austen-themed swap on Ravelry, so stalking and spoiling has commenced for that.  I am, of course, consulting all four editions of Jane Austen Knits for projects.

I've been busy in the kitchen as well.  I've sent off all of my cookies for the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap and even received my first dozen last week.  And I made another batch of homemade marshmallows using Jello as part of a fund-raiser for a fellow Raveller who needed some support.  They are still setting in the fridge and need to be cut and rolled in powdered sugar before sending.  If you haven't tried making these yet, I'll repost the recipe soon, I highly recommend them.  So much more fluffy and delicious than the ones you buy in the store.

I have also done a little sewing in the past week!  First, I finally did some seaming on my cardigan.

So far it's just the back and one of the front panels, I still need to attach the back to the other front so I have a continuous edge for the bottom ruffle.  I'm still amazed that the pattern has you make the ruffle on the separate pieces.  That would drive me absolutely nuts, to either have unconnected ruffle sections, or to have to sew a ruffle together.  But anyway, progress.

I did some sewing as part of the Cookie Swap as well, because I decided to make a little something extra to go with my cookies.  I'll have to include that in the post with the recipe, but it included learning how to do a French knot.

Then today the activity center at work hosted a crafting session with supplies for sewing up felt ornaments, so I made some of those as well.  I'm going to send them in a holiday card swap, but I'll show those later as well.  I still need to make one more anyway.  And I think I kind of love making these cute little felt things.  Because I need another craft to take up, of course.  And I got to use that French knot technique again, which made me feel kind of expert, even though I'm so very not.  It was a great time, though, getting to sit and chat with people not in my direct working group and enjoying a little shared craft.

How is everyone's Christmas knitting going?  Or if you aren't knitting, just the gift buying?  Do you at least know what everyone is getting, because I think that's the hardest part.

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

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Cubicle kitchen: Potluck Cookie Trio

I didn't set out to bring a smorgasbord of cookies to the potluck we had at work a few weeks ago, it just kind of happened.  You know how that goes?

It started with my wild and crazy desire to try to make an herbed shortbread.  After having experimented with that, I liked the results but didn't have enough faith in them to make them the only cookie I brought, so I went with a pumpkin shortbread that was seasonal and relatively safe.  And then after that I just coated some store-bought pumpkin sandwich cookies in candy melt.  Because I needed to complete the trio.

I didn't adapt either of the recipes sufficiently to reproduce them here, so just a little link love and my notes.

Potluck Cookie Trio
From the top going clockwise:
  • Very Best Baking: Autumn-Spiced Pumpkin Shortbread
    • No changes, these were delicious!
  • Fudge-covered pumpkin sandwich cookies
    • Very simple: I took storebought pumpkin sandwich cookies, melted some vanilla candy melt, and dunked the cookies into it, like I would have done with cake balls.  Messy, but effective.
  • Food 52: Sweet and Salty Herbed Shortbread
    • I used caraway seeds as my herb of choice
    • The cookies ended up rather thin in my 7 x 9" pan, I could probably have doubled the recipe for a more average depth.
    • Because chocolate makes everything better (especially weird baking ideas), I added a coating of dark chocolate to the squares.
    • For those wondering whether caraway cookies 'work', I would say the results were mostly positive.  The seeds have an almost anise/licorice quality to them, so they lend themselves to a more sweet application.  It was most disconcerting to those who had an Eastern European background and associated it with cabbage or baked into bread.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Monday Movie Madness: Gone with the Wind

I don't think I've ever seen this movie all the way through in one sitting.  But I'm fairly certain that, thanks to various marathons over the years that have played it on repeat throughout an entire day, I've seen the whole thing in bits and pieces.  Including last Wednesday, when AMC had the strangest combination of marathons for Thanksgiving week.  All day Wednesday:

'Gone with the Wind', to make you feel grateful that your Thanksgiving doesn't involve the burning of Atlanta.  Then Thursday they had 'The Godfather' 1 and 2, and for Black Friday, a slew of Hitchcock classics.

I found myself tuning into this off and on last week.  It's hard not to get sucked into the epicness of the entire production.  The sweeping score, the costumes that wouldn't fit through my front door, the outrageous characters, and the famous lines spoken in Southern drawl.  I love a good Hollywood classic, and this is definitely one of them.  But man, is this thing long.  No wonder they save marathons for holidays, otherwise no one has time to sit down long enough anymore to go from credits to credits.  But that makes it part of the magic of the holidays, I guess.

As an aside: I just started up another swap on Ravelry, themed around Jane Austen.  So as I was watching, I was thinking about how Scarlett's ultimate love is Tara, her home.  I think there's a lot to be said for the women of Austen's novels as in love with property as their romantic partners.  Even though Austen would tend to make a heroine out of someone like Melanie more than Scarlett, who is so much more of a Thackeray, Becky Sharp type, I think there are some things Jane might recognize.

For more movie madness, go to Amaryllis Musings.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Inspiration Saturday: Finishing

Another busy Saturday has left me rushing my inspiration this week, but I am feeling inspired.  Not by a particular piece of knitwear or technique, but more by a concept: finishing.

In knitting, finishing is my nemesis.  It's the section of the instructions that keeps me from turning a WIP into an FO.  After all of the work making a lovely lacy shawl, sometimes the picot bind off and blocking just seems to take an unfair amount of time and effort.  I've just started the post-blocking finishing required for my cardigan, sewing together the front panels with the back.  Once I've done that, then the ruffle edging will commence.  With beading, I have to remember those.  And then I'll finally have a cardigan!  It's a good thing I'm not relying on my knitting to keep me warm, or I would have frozen by now.

In running, for me finishing is all that matters.  I know more serious runners have personal records and paces they are setting for themselves, but I just want to make it to the finish line.  Today I ran 12 miles, whew!  I had to mix in some walk breaks, but I finished.  And I tested out some Gatorade Prime Energy Chews to keep me fueled throughout the near-three hour session.  My favorite part of today's run, though, was that I was running the same loop, but in the opposite direction, as another runner.  So we kept passing each other, and after the second time, the polite smiles you exchange get to be even more meaningful.  Since I run alone most of the time, that was a nice moment of runner camaraderie.

And here's another example of finishing I'm really excited about: NaNoWriMo!  Thirty days, 50,000 words, I have done them!  There are still stories that have been left unfinished, and some even I never got to start, but I logged in the man hours and got the creative juices flowing.  It was a challenge, but that's the whole point.  Now I'm going to give myself a little break from fiction-writing, but maybe after the holidays I'll get back to plotting.

Ah, it feels good to finish!  Have you finished anything recently that you are proud of?  Other than reading this blog post all the way to the end, I mean!

For more inspiration, go to Woolen Diversions.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

WIP Wednesday: Thanksgiving Eve

Happy Thanksgiving Eve, everyone!  Tomorrow's the big turkey day, are you ready?  I just about am, my mom and I have plans with some of our knitting group to gather together with food and all of our projects.  I'm hoping that with their help and a Thanksgiving miracle, I'll finally start seaming my cardigan and get started on some of those ruffles.

I've been off work all week, taking a few of my days off before I lose them at the end of the year.  That's given me time to enjoy a little extra sleep and to make sure I keep going strong on my NaNoWriMo efforts.  There's just a few more days to go, and just a few thousand words to go as well.  I'll probably still have story ideas left to explore, and some unfinished ones that I've started.  But I'll get all 50,000 words typed up for sure.

And to go with my literariness, I have a new pair of glasses that I just picked up from the optometrist this afternoon.

They're purple!  For the first time ever, my prescription has stayed stable enough that I didn't actually need new glasses.  But I had the insurance to cover most of it, plus the flexible spending money that I had to use up (insurance and vacation time, gotta use them all before New Year's), so now I have two pairs of glasses that I can wear.  It's kind of exciting.  Plus, it means that next year, when insurance only covers lenses, I can put new lenses in one of the frames and still see wearing the others while they do it.

Sad news about my Fruit Loopy Shawl, though.  The yarn was on Knit Picks the other day, but now that they're having their 'Big Sale', it's gone!  It's like the colorway has ceased to exist.  I'm going to have to find someone on Ravelry willing to sell it from their stash.  But I'm still tempted to make a purchase from Knit Picks anyway.  To comfort myself.

Speaking of comfort, I'm so looking forward to all of the food tomorrow!  I wouldn't have believed it when I was a kid, but I think the dishes I'm looking forward to the most are the cranberry sauce and the Brussels sprouts.  I know, weird, right?  Of course, I'm also going to save room for pumpkin cheesecake and chocolate pie.  For the sake of being festive.

What are you looking forward to eating tomorrow?  And what will you be doing while everyone else watches football?  For more WIP Wednesday posts, go to Tami's Amis.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Monday Movie Madness: Turner Classic triple feature

For the past week or so I seem to have been caught by Turner Classic Movie on a couple of features.  Instead of trying to choose between them, I'm just going to share them all with you.

'The Company She Keeps' is basically the story of a woman after she is paroled from prison.  She had been 'doing time' for check fraud, the latest in a series of acts of petty crime.  Her relationship with her parole officer is…complicated.  She kind of steals her boyfriend, then ends up falling in love with him and needing her help in getting to marry him.  The parole officer is the kind of saint that you only ever find in movies, generous to a fault.  But is her parolee worthy of it?

It's an interesting window into the perception of criminals, particularly female criminals, and rehabilitation.

'Break of Hearts' was originally a radio play with Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth, but it was adapted into a feature film with Katharine Hepburn.  You know you're watching a classic film rather than a modern one when the celebrity playboy is a conductor.  To borrow a phrase from 'Down With Love', he's a 'man's-man-ladie's-man-man-about-town' who can't even be satisfied with the love of Katharine Hepburn, as an unknown composer and fan.

It's not critical stellar, but given that they're playing films 24/7, they can't all be the timeless classics, and it's still enjoyable enough.  The cast is also great.  To be honest, just seeing a young Katharine Hepburn on the screen was enough to keep me from turning the channel.

I only managed to catch the last 15 minutes or so of 'Ball of Fire', a romantic comedy with Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper, but I definitely want to see the rest of it sometime, it was quite sweet.  It's about a group of stuffy old professors who enlist the help of a burlesque dancer to catalogue modern slang as part of their accumulation of general knowledge.  Again, sweet, and funny.

Plus, one of the ensemble cast of professors has a very distinctive voice: he was the Caterpillar in Disney's 'Alice in Wonderland'.  I always love putting the face to the voice, and to compile enough experience with pop culture to recognize people in different roles.  Like when Maleficent from 'Sleeping Beauty' popped up in an episode of 'The Twilight Zone'.  I love those moments.

Well, that's what I've been watching, how about you?  Amaryllis Musings has been enjoying some slightly more current cinema this week.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Inspiration Saturday: Active knitwear

Ah, Texas weather.  One day, it's 80 degrees, the next it's below 40.  I prefer the first one myself, but I suppose I can concede that tis the season for me to be freezing all the time.

One slight benefit of the cold is that I don't need to worry about getting up early to get my run in before it's too hot.  So I slept in, and then bundled myself up as much as possible to avoid being too cold before I had a chance to warm up for my seven miles.  I had a hat with earflaps, convertible mittens, and a scarf for the part of my neck left exposed after I had my running hoodie zipped all of the way up.

Which got me thinking about active knitwear I could knit for myself.  The scarf was the only thing I had made, everything else was bought.  I did that on purpose because I knew I was going to end up getting them sweaty so I wanted to make sure I grabbed washable-type things instead of ending up felting some of my own mitts.

I'm going to have to look in my stash for some washable fibers to make some of these patterns:

Photo credit: MichelleCanKnit
I'm not sure I trust a handknit armband not to stretch and become too loose to reliably keep my iPod in place while I'm running, but I like the idea.  I could imagine doing something similar with more of a pocket for keeping keys and other things that you want to keep with you.

Photo credit: Yarn-A-Go-Go
I'm about to order a new GPS watch (yay!), but at the moment I'm making due with the little Nike+ footpod.  I happen to have the shoes from Nike that fit the pod in the sole, but this would be a really sure and easy way to enable any pair of running shoes.

Photo credit: Blake Ehrlich
I like that this hat not only has that nifty hole for my ponytail, but it covers the ears as well.  I would love to find some buttons of someone running, that would be cute.

I've also been looking at non-knitting 'equipment' I might need for the big event in February.  Mostly I'm thinking about compression leggings, a new pair of running shoes, and the aforementioned fancy GPS watch, maybe with a heart rate monitor (?).  Of course, I'll make sure to get everything in plenty of time to test it out before the actual marathon, including the various fueling strategies.  It's not just your legs you have to get ready for those 26.2 miles, it's everything!

For more inspiration, go to Woolen Diversions.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

WIP Wednesday: If a picture is worth a thousand words...

…then can I add this to my NaNoWriMo word count for the day?

This is my belated haul from the Kid 'n Ewe fiber festival two weekends ago.  Going clockwise from the top-left:

  1. Brooks Farm Riata in an 8 ounce mega-skein of Sherbet (yum)
  2. Heavenly Fiber Stardust Sock in Optimist (what a great name!)
  3. Wooly Wonka Ceridwen Sock in Bazinga (I happened to be wearing all of these colors that day, so it was meant to be)
  4. Knitting Rose Yarn Blossom in Thunderstorm (one of those gorgeous grays that has shades of other colors peeking through)
The irony is that I have all of this yarn, but this week I faced a terrible thing: too little yarn.  I ran out of Knit Picks Imagination in the final section of my Fruit Loopy Shawl.  This puts me in a terrible mood, even though I should be able to order another skein of this colorway, and it gives me an excuse to make a Cyber Monday order.  I just hate that I can't get it done now, you know?  After all of the time you spend working on something, it's frustrating to be so fundamentally stumped in the final phases.

But I comforted myself by looking at all of the other pretty yarns. And then I distracted myself by casting on another project.  I could have started tackling the seaming on my cardigan, but I needed to just start knitting something, and the sweater is going to mean figuring out something I've never done, and starting out frustrated by yarn shortage is not good.  Better to save that for Thanksgiving amongst crafty friends and delicious food.

I cast on another Christmas present, so unfortunately I can't share anything about it.  But so far it's coming together quickly.  And hopefully there will be plenty of yarn.  Or someone might be getting a frustrated pile of frogged yarn in their stocking.  Kidding!

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

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Cubicle kitchen: Pumpkin Spice Candy Corn Cookies

For the past few years, I've look forward to the day after Halloween more than Halloween itself.  Because that's when all the candy goes on sale, of course.  All of the really popular candy disappears in a puff of smoke almost instantaneously, it seems.  But there's always a healthy stock of leftover candy corn.  I'm still seeing it in stores, tucked away in clearance corners with the last of the Halloween make-up.

I, like most people, don't really eat a lot of candy corn.  Maybe one or two pieces out of holiday spirit, and then I'm done.  But I have some ideas for how to use it in baking that I want to experiment with, so I've stocked up on several pounds of the stuff.

My first results are simply cookies with candy corn in place of nuts or chocolate chips.  But they hint at one of the things I want to do later, which is actually an encore of something I've done before: the Homemade Butterfinger.  A peanut butter cookie with candy corn 'chips' doesn't really taste much like Butterfingers, but they are pretty tasty.  Because the candy corn was supposedly 'pumpkin pie spice' flavored, I used another sale item, a pumpkin spice cookie mix.  I don't think the pumpkin-ness came through much, though you could taste the cinnamon notes a little in the candy corn itself.

While baking, the candy corn will melt a little, but it will be back to regular corniness when cooled.  That does make the cookies rather sticky when it comes to the pan, though, so I advise using parchment paper as usual, and waiting a few extra minutes before trying to move the cookies from the pan to a tray to cool.

Pumpkin Spice Candy Corn Cookies
Makes about 3 dozen

  • 1 pouch Betty Crocker Pumpkin Spice Cookie Mix
  • 1/4 cup crunchy peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 3 Tablespoons flax meal*
  • 2 Tablespoons water
  • 1 large egg
  • 10 oz bag Pumpkin Spice Candy Corn, roughly chopped
* Completely optional, I just threw it in

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix contents of pouch with remaining ingredients, except the candy corn, until incorporated.
  3. Fold candy corn pieces into the dough.
  4. Roll dough into 1-inch balls and place on cookie sheet, pressing flat slightly.
  5. Bake according to directions on pouch.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Monday Movie Madness: Salt

Forget variety, we all know that salt is the real spice of life.  It makes everything taste better, even caramel.  And it makes for a fun action flick too.

I caught this on cable for the second time yesterday while waiting for the slate of football games to kick off.  I'm not claiming this is a cinematic masterpiece, but it was worth watching twice, and that's pretty good for the shoot 'em up genre.

The trailer tells you all you need to know: Jolie is a CIA agent who may or may not be a Russian spy, raised from a child to bring down the evil American empire from within.  After being accused, she doesn't just sit around waiting for counter intelligence to clear her, of course.  No, she starts kicking butt and taking names.  There are various interesting twists and turns, and Salt's ingenuity is fun to watch as well.  I don't care so much how well she can throw a punch, but I do like the tricks she has up her sleeves.  It's one of the things I liked about James Bond growing up, the smarts more than the scuffles.  And there's enough emotion to give it some weight without getting sappy.

I saw this as part of one of those 'DVD on TV' shows, where along with the movie they transition to and from commercials with little behind the scenes vignettes.  The most interesting tidbit I picked up was that this was originally written with a male lead, think Tom Cruise.  Watching the movie with that in mind, it makes you realize just how differently we take in certain things depending on the gender of the main character.  I won't go into spoilery details, but it gave me the opportunity to think about how I would have seen the movie Evelyn Salt had been Edwin Salt.  Personally, I like it this way better.

Do you like action movies?  What makes a good one?  Amaryllis Musings is reviewing another breed of action movie in her post today, the superhero flick.  Check it out.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Inspiration Saturday: Cowl Swap Grand Opening

I feel like I haven't been able to really dedicate the kind of consideration I usually do to my blog posts since NaNoWriMo started, sorry about that.  Somehow I've managed to fit in writing 1,667 words into each day while still working, knitting, and running, but my blogging has become somewhat rudimentary.  I'm still thinking of you all though and trying to share what I can.

I need to show you some goodies from a fiber festival last week, but that will involve some photo loading and entering stash into Ravelry first, so instead I want to show you what I was allowed to finally open after running my ten miles this morning: my cowl swap package!  I mentioned it a couple of times in my WIP Wednesday posts (here and here, for instance), it was a very basic swap, to include a cowl and some nominal extra goodies.

I'll save what I sent off myself for an FO Friday post, but here is what I was the lucky recipient of.  First, the cowl itself:

And then, the British candies my spoiler also sent me, including some local specialties:

Isn't the cowl lacy and gorgeous?  The poor thing had to endure a trans-Atlantic mailing journey, so forgive it's slight rumpledness.  And forgive my own slight rumpledness in this photo of me wearing it, I was fresh from my post-run shower and just so excited to try it on and show it off:

The pattern is Glimpse Maxi Cowl by Jane Sowerby, it was published in Issue 38 of The Knitter.  It's a delicate lace weight that I think is going to be perfect for the holiday season, especially with the red yarn having a bit of sparkle to it.  It adds a lovely touch without a lot of bulk, and drapes nicely over the shoulders.

It's always so much fun both to give and to receive in these swaps, even if I am going to have to admit to people when they compliment me on this that no, I didn't knit it myself.

Alright, I hope I have inspired you enough.  Although, even if I have, you should still go to Woolen Diversions for more.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

WIP Wednesday: It's all downhill from here

I love the feeling of Wednesdays, that almost perceptible moment when you tip past the halfway point of the workweek.  Especially because for me that coincides with the coffee klatch in the afternoon, making the 'peak' of hump day something I look forward to.

But there's always something about passing that halfway point that's satisfying.  I'm well past the halfway point on the Fruit Loopy Shawl, it's starting to get narrower on the other end, and I just hope that I have enough yarn.  I removed a short row section on either side of the middle point, so hopefully I'm safe.  I'm not quite sure what I would do if I reached the end of my yarn with a row or more to go.  I just won't think about it.

Being more than halfway through my training program has pluses and minuses.  On the plus side, I've developed the habit of running every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday.  On the minus side, the miles are starting to rack up and it's taking longer and longer chunks out of each of those days.  I've also been experimenting with listening to things other than music while running, because while pop songs are great to help me power through a couple of miles, I find that the humor of 'Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me' podcasts is a more helpful distraction from running for over an hour.

I'm also halfway through my word count towards my daily goal for NaNoWriMo.  Which means I still have about 800 words to go, so, um, I gotta go!  Bye!

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

Monday, November 11, 2013

Monday Movie Madness: Atonement

Since I've been spending every free moment I have trying to add to my NaNoWriMo word count, I was trying to think of movies about writing that I could blog about today.  Writers are often praised for having great imaginations, but here's one movie where having an overactive imagination was not such a great thing.

I think I saw 'Atonement' before I read the book, because I saw the movie in theaters when I was in college just before the winter break, and I was still reading the novel after the break when I left for my semester abroad.  That's not usually the order I like to do things in, but I had been looking forward to the movie, and one of my friends had actually read several of Ian McEwan's novels as part of her coursework, so I had dessert first, so to speak.

That metaphor is a little problematic in that I also usually like the books more than the movies they are turned into.  And this was no exception, though more because the book is fantastic than because I don't like the movie, because I do.  The film is beautifully made, with gorgeous costuming and a wonderful score.  But there are inner motivations and conflicts that McEwan is able to illustrate with words that Keira Knightley just can't convey with a longing look into a mirror.  But I can appreciate what she was trying to evoke once the book told me.  And I love James McAvoy.

The bright side of that is that you can watch the movie and know that in reading the book you will get to see inside the characters so much more, and then you can watch the movie again.  And even after all that, you'll still be conflicted about the central theme of the story: atonement.  Can it be had?  I'm not so sure.  Without giving too much away, I just don't think that Briony relinquished anything substantial to in order to truly atone.  She retained authorship of the story, and used it to play God in too many ways for me to believe that she would accept anyone else's judgement against her.

Hopefully my stories won't ruin any lives.

There's more madness at Amaryllis Musings.