Wednesday, October 30, 2013

WIP Wednesday: There's always time for hellos and goodbyes

It's the last week of October, so I'm saying goodbye to one month and hello to another.  But that theme has repeated itself throughout the week.

First, a bittersweet goodbye as a local yarn store closes.  Farewell, Old Oaks Ranch.  I'll miss the statue garden and the alpacas, but I'll look forward to the new yarn stores which may be opened in its wake.  And I'll always have the closing sale yarn purchases to remember it by:

Apparently I start stashing when I feel sentimental.  Or any other emotion.  I had seen the skein of Araucania Puelo during the Crawl and liked it, so I went ahead and got it this time.  I also got two balls of Liberty Wool Light, because I always like their color mixes, and this chartreuse, gray, cream and lilac is no exception.  I'm thinking a pair of yoga socks, and maybe enough for some matching mitts?  And then, three colorways, two skeins each, of Llama Lace.  You gotta love the name.  And after seeing someone else's WIP in the store using it, I couldn't choose between them and just brought them all home with me.

Also coming home with me is my own alpaca!

No, not one of those, unfortunately.  An alpaca needle felting kit, including naked alpaca starter:

Cute, no?

On a happier note, I also bid adieu to one of my WIPs, the Christmas knit.  It feels good to get that one completed and move on to the next gift.  This one I'm going to sew!  In the meantime, I'm also making progress on my selfish knit, the Fruit Loopy Shawl.  It's still colorful and makes me smile whenever I pick it up.

Everything isn't coming to an end, though, some things are starting up in November.  Specifically, NaNoWriMo.  I've mentioned this before, but basically, I'm going to be trying to write 50,000 words over the course of the 30 days in November.  I know it's 'Novel' writing month, but I'm actually working on a collection of short stories.  Shh, no one tell the strict NaNo dictators or I'll be smeared with red ink and thrown in a life-sized slush pile.  Just kidding.  I'm looking forward to the mad panic of blurting all of the words onto the keyboard and getting the stories out of my head.  And hopefully attending some write-ins to engage in that very specific kind of socializing that involves staring at your computer and working intensely…around other people doing the same thing.  Communal isolation.

Alright, so those are the beginnings, middles, and endings for this week's WIP.  For more posts, visit Tami's Amis.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Cubicle kitchen: Dessert Tea Sandwiches

Whenever I bring my treats into the office, I feel like a parent dropping their kid off at kindergarten for the first time.  I'm a little bit proud, a little bit scared, a little bit excited.  I know I should just leave them to fend for themselves and make friends, but I want so desperately to follow them around and make sure everyone likes them.

Is it wrong to think of baked goods as children?  It's probably wrong.  But then again, it's also probably wrong to make a frosting sandwich.  Out of bread baked with ice cream.  So wrong is clearly not something I'm concerned with.

But back to the metaphor.  These were yet another child that I knew was gifted with deliciousness, but their uniqueness made me anxious to explain exactly what they were.  I usually try to come up with something snappy, but this time I just reverted to 'bread made from birthday cake ice cream then sandwiched with frosting'.

This recipe is really very, very simple.  Aside from returning the recipe to it's original loaf pan rather than Bundt cake shape, I didn't change much from Katrina's recipe.  I did bake it longer, and even then found it ever so slightly underdone in the center.  One thing I did which I've left out of the recipe is the addition of chocolate chips.  Because though they were delicious, they made slicing thinly more difficult.  You could, of course, make your own frosting.  I do think that you would want to go with something light and fluffy like this Cool Whip frosting, though.  Nothing too thick or overly sweet.  Because that would be too wrong.

The reason I chose the name Dessert Tea Sandwiches is because I think these would be perfect at a little girl's tea party.  You know, for those of you who are parents of actual children, and not just cupcakes.

Dessert Tea Sandwiches
Adapted from In Katrina's Kitchen: Cake Batter Ice Cream Bread


  • 4 cups premium ice cream, softened* (I used Blue Bell's Birthday Cake flavor)
  • 3 cups self-rising flour
  • 1 container Cool Whip frosting (I used Chocolate)

* Leave on the counter for 10-15 minutes, or scoop some out and microwave for short bursts (not entirely melted).  Measure after softening.


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix ice cream and flour until fully incorporated.
  3. Pour into loaf pan (mine was about 6" x 11") lined with parchment paper, use a spatula to gently even out batter.
  4. Bake for 45-60 minutes, until the top is firm and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  5. Allow to cool completely.
  6. Slice into 1/2-inch thick slices.  Cut these slices in half again.
  7. Frost slices and make sandwiches.  Chill in the fridge before slicing into triangles.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Monday Movie Madness: A Place of One's Own

This isn't exactly a review, because I can't tell you how good this objectively was, and I'm not exactly recommending that you pop this into your DVD player any time soon.  Think of this week's Madness more as me sharing a movie experience with you.  Just for the sake of it.

Every so often, I'll be flipping through the channels and find myself caught up in something on Turner Classic Movies.  Aside from showing some very interesting things, they don't have commercials, so there's no 'easy out' to snap me out of the story and move me along to a rerun of 'Castle' or another fascinating real estate adventure with 'House Hunters'.

Speaking of 'House Hunters', the movie I randomly found myself watching last week was sort of related.

'A Place of One's Own' was a 1945 film produced by Gainsborough Pictures, a studio that released a series of melodramatic films that were unrelated, but had the same general tone and employed a recurring cast of actors.  From what I can gather, I would say that they were the cinematic equivalent of a beach read: popular escapist fare.  Except that instead of being paired with sun and sand, these were vaguely moody distractions from World War Two.

This one is a ghost story, where the haunting is represented entirely by the eerie playing of a piano and the actress' portrayal of possession.  It all starts when an older couple buys a house, fulfilling their lifelong dream.  There are rumors about the house being haunted, but of course they don't indulge in such silly fancies.  Along with them are some servants and a young woman, Annette, who is a companion to the wife.  Where has that career path disappeared to?  Companion.  Only Time Lords seem to get to have one anymore.

Moving swiftly on, Annette proceeds to engage in classic young heroine activities, such as getting engaged to a local doctor.  And, of course, just when things appear to be ending happily ever after...cue the eerie piano playing.  Annette become possessed by the ghost of a young woman who died under mysterious circumstances and has some unfinished business with a handsome young doctor of her own.

I won't say this was a fascinating film, but it was intriguing.  It's always interesting to see pieces of pop culture that aren't the one or two masterpieces.  It gives you a different perspective on the people making and taking the culture.  Maybe it was because I was about to go to an alumni event for Sarah Lawrence, but I couldn't help but think that these films would be rife with conference paper topics.  There's so much going on here having to do with home ownership, which kept me from changing the channel more than wondering what would happen to poor little Annette.

For more madness, go to Amaryllis Musings.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Inspiration Saturday: LC's cables and lace sweater

It's funny the way things turn out, isn't it?  'Laguna Beach' was a high school guilty pleasure of mine, following privileged teenagers socially scamper in ways which were totally foreign to me.  I couldn't really relate to most of their drama, but part of what drew me in was the fact that these kids were going to prom and graduating and going through all of these basic steps at the same time I was.  I distinctly remember watching a marathon one weekend my senior year, and thinking, 'Wow, that's going to be me in just a few months.'  And then they made teary goodbyes to their family and friends at the end of the summer as they went away to college a few episodes later and my heart raced again.

Who could have guessed that many years later, I would be buying clothes designed by one of those 'kids'?  Lauren Conrad (or 'LC' as she's been known since the Laguna days) went on to have her own spin-off reality show, but now she's pretty successfully transitioned into fashion design.  She has also written some novels, which aren't really on my short-list of books to read, but I find myself consistently being drawn to her pieces for Kohl's.  The tend to be on the delicate feminine side with some nice details.

So this week, my inspiration is based on one piece in particular from her latest October collection:

The giant teddy bear might be a bit distracting, but what I'm looking at here is the sweater.  A simpler shot in another color:

Image from Polyvore

The interesting part about this sweater to me is the use of lace around the neck to back the cables.  You can get really up close and personal on this detail on the Kohl's product page.  I saw it in the store this afternoon and instantly wondered if I could do something like this myself.  Not necessarily the entire sweater, but the concept of using lace as a background to open knit work.  Or for that matter, a printed fabric.  It shouldn't be too difficult, my mom assures me.  I think it would be really interesting to try, and bring some interesting texture and depth to whatever you made.  And I like the idea of mixing and matching various crafts like this.

I'm not sure where I'll be taking this inspiration exactly, but I wanted to share this random find with you all.  For more inspiration, visit Alicia at Woolen Diversions.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

WIP Wednesday: The end of a Crawl is just the beginning...

As if last weekend wasn't enough, this past weekend brought even more lovelies into my stash:

  1. From Nan's Needleworks: Noro King in two colorways with nondescript names
  2. From Happy Ewe: Wooly Wonka Arianrhod in Spice; and a pair of 60" cables for my Knit Picks interchangeables
  3. From Gauge (yes, I had to come back again for more!): Hazel Knits Artisan Sock in Lichen and Nekkid
  4. From Yarnorama: Rowan Fine Tweed in Monsal Dale, Beresford, and Leyburn; and a mystery silk noil wool fingering weight yarn on a cone
  5. From WC Mercantile: Sport weight alpaca with angelina from Bluebonnet Hills Alpaca Ranch; and two skeins of sport weight sari silk yarn
First of all, I want to apologize for the different look of the numbers in this graphic.  I had to recreate it on another computer to make sure I could post today.  It irks me, especially since my day job is about documentation standards.  But anyway...

What are my plans for these?  Or, to put it another way, how did I rationalize buying them all?  Well, the Noro was just such an intriguing texture, made up of microfiber, silk, mohair, and wool.  And I love projects that stripe alternating colorways of Noro, so I'm thinking a simple triangle shawl switching the yarn every right side row.

The Wooly Wonka I just love, and this store is one of only four I think that has it in stock.  There were so many gorgeous colors, and fibers as well as yarn, but I really liked the chocolate-y-ness of this one.  And then I remembered that I have some really cute cupcake buttons, which seems only right for a yarn from Wooly Wonka.  Oh, and the interchangeables are to aid me in turning the Wonderland mini skeins from last week into a Mini Mania scarf.

For the next few, I have a very good excuse: good deals!  The Hazel Knits and Rowan were the special 25% off featured yarns for their respective stores.  I'm thinking of dyeing the Nekkid colorway of the Hazel Knits at some point, possibly after I've knitted whatever it is going to be.  The Rowan will probably actually be used to make the pattern provided by Susan at the store:

Color work and bobbles!  I wear fingerless mitts every day in my freezing cold office, so these will make me smile as I'm working hard at the keyboard.

WC Mercantile wasn't technically part of the Crawl, but they advertised in the passport, offering a discount for participants, and once we were at Yarnorama we were halfway there anyway.  I love the stuff they bring to Yellow Rose Fiber Fiesta every year, so this was my excuse to buy the exact alpaca yarn I coveted there last time.  Plus some sari silk just for the heck of it.

Whew!  Now it's back to real life.  Except that in two weeks we're planning a trip to Houston to meet up with another Raveler at another yarn store, and then after that it's Kid 'N Ewe Fiber Festival.  I just love fall, don't you?  The good news is that while we were driving I made great progress on my Christmas knitting, so I can finish that up soon and get started on some of these new additions to my queue.

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

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Cubicle kitchen: Pumpkin Peanut Butter Blossoms

I hope neither you nor my coworkers are getting sick of my fall-flavored recipes, because here's another one I brought into the office last week.  It starts with the seasonal Pumpkin Spice Hershey's Kiss.  When I think of baking with Kisses, I think of those peanut butter blossom cookies with Kisses stuck in the center.  I don't know why there's no peanut butter Kiss variety out there, because it would be perfect for those cookies.  But in the meantime, I decided to give the classic recipe a seasonal twist, and gluten-free to boot.

I actually made these twice, slightly tweaking the ratios of peanut butter, pumpkin, and sugar between the two attempts.  The pumpkin is the crucial factor, because of the moisture it brings to the batter. Even with the reduced amount, you'll notice that I bake these in mini-muffin pans rather than forming cookie dough balls.  That's because the batter just doesn't quite come together enough to manipulate it.  But once baked they are structurally sound, though the more pumpkin you use, the fudgier the blossoms.

The first time around I used a 1:1:1 ratio of peanut butter, pumpkin puree and white sugar.  For the second try I reduced the pumpkin and mixed in a honey nut butter I had on hand.  Because of the added sweetness, I reduced the sugar. I also switched from brown to white, just because that seemed to go along with the flavors.  Both were tasty, but the second version baked up a little prettier and had a better texture in my opinion, so that's what I've included here.  

Pumpkin Peanut Butter Blossoms
Makes 2 dozen

  • 1/2 cup natural peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin honey nut butter
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 24 Pumpkin Spice Kisses

  1. At least a few hours before you start, unwrap the Kisses and put them in the freezer.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  3. Mix all of the ingredients except the Kisses together in a bowl until combined.
  4. Drop by the tablespoon into greased mini-muffin wells.  Bake for 10-15 minutes.
  5. Immediately after removing from the oven, press a Kiss slightly into the center of each blossom.  Allow to cool before carefully removing from pan.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Movie Madness Monday: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Ah, democracy.  It seems to be working out, for the most part, right?  Sure, sometimes the government shuts down for more than a week, but overall, this whole concept of representation to go along with our taxation is mostly working out.  In the spirit of democracy, I have two things for you.

First, I want to mention that Craftsy has opened their polls on your favorite bloggers in various categories like knitting and baking, two of my favorite things.  Check out all of the nominees and vote for your favorites.

Second, I have a recommendation for a classic, democracy feel-good film:

I remember watching 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' in my high school government class.  I think we were supposed to be learning about politics and graft, but mostly I remember a lot of my fellow female students noticing how dreamy Jimmy Stewart is.  It's one of those self-evident truths that crosses generations.

But aside from that, this is legitimately just a fantastic film.  It's a simple story, not in a bad way, but in a universal way.  Smith is literally a boy scout, the good guy brought into the moral morass of D.C. unaware of the plots being hatched in the inky shadows of all of those patriotic monuments.  His idealism is played for laughs at the start, as the audience knows better than to expect politicians to be sincere.  That's even more true today, when cynicism is prized.  But I defy even the most sarcastic millennial not to be rooting Smith on by the end, and feeling a little glow of civic pride.

I'm pretty sure that part of the reason the filibuster remains a part of our system is because of the positive associations we have with it because of this movie.  Because no one wants to give up on the possibility of Mr. Smith showing up and saving the day with one.  So there's your lesson in democracy for today.  Watch this movie, vote for your favorite blogs, and then apply these same principles in something that actually matters to you.

Don't forget to check out more movie madness from Amaryllis Musings (hey, I recognize that movie!).

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Inspiration Saturday: Cranberry Orange

Last Thursday, in the final sleep before starting the Crawl (Crawl Eve, if you will), my subconscious revealed just how excited I was about the impending yarn roadtrip by having me dream about it.  And in my dream I was on the Crawl and found a yarn in a color that is not my usual color.  I'm usually drawn to jewel tones.  Bright, saturated, and leaning towards the blue-toned.  But in my dream, there I was, buying a skein of orange yarn.  But not just orange.  A cranberry orange.  I think this was my subconscious again blending my foodie craving for all things fall-flavored, like pumpkin and cranberry, with a just-as-powerful fiber craving.

This was in the back of my mind throughout the first weekend.  But it wasn't until the final stop that my dream came to life.  You might have spotted it in my WIP Wednesday post:

It's the Plumage Ltd from Little Green Finch, a local dyer who just happened to be in the store.  I had a fabulous time chatting with her and playing the game of 'put random colors together and be amazed at how gorgeously they go together'.  I could play that game forever.  I really just need to find the job that requires me to match yarns and mix up ice cream flavors and I'm all set.  Anyway, when I first spotted this skein, I knew it was my dream come to life.  I don't know if I foresaw this colorway, or if she was able to read my mind, but one of us is clearly psychic.

And so I will take the lead from my subconscious and just share with you a few more cranberry orange things that inspire me:

If I were to try and evoke cranberries in knitwear, bobbles would have to be involved.  I particularly like the look of orchids & fairy lights from tiny owl knits:

Photo credit: tiny owl knits
Nice and chunky, and I can imagine just how squishy it would be in Malabrigo Worsted, as suggested.

Speaking of fruits and bobbles, I feel like this is also a good time to give another shout out to the gorgeous Blackberry Cabled Cardigan my mom made for me:

Less bulky bobbles here create a really nice texture in the back and on the sleeves alongside all of the cables.

Okay, so now I have to revert to the tastes that cranberry and orange evoke for me.  Since I gave my mom some props, I'll do some horn-tooting and mention the Cranberry Jaffa Cakes I made the other week, which had just a hint of orange:

These would be really tasty dunked in a mug of some Blood Orange Herbal Tea, from Tea Embassy here in Austin, to enhance those citrusy notes.  I don't know if that would be considered heresy in the UK, to dunk ones Jaffa Cakes.  But that will just be our little secret, no one needs to tell them.

And I can't talk about cranberries without passing on the recipe I use for cranberry sauce.  I use the one from Stephanie O'Dea from A Year of Slow Cooking.  Again, it's cranberry, but it's enhanced with the flavor and acidity of orange.  We don't just make this for Thanksgiving to go with the turkey and dressing, I end up making this several times in the fall season, to go with ice cream, yogurt, oatmeal, fresh fruit, scones, or almost anything else.  No, you don't really need to use a slow cooker to make cranberry sauce, but it's so easy to just put it all together in there and let it do it's thing.  

And in the meantime, you can knit.

For more inspiration, go to Woolen Diversions.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

WIP Wednesday: Crawl in progress

I can't give you details on the knitting I'm doing for the holiday season, but I can give you lots of colorful details about what I've added to my stash so far because of this year's Crawl:

  1. From Hill Country Weavers: Yarn Carnival Highwire 3-ply in Amaranthine
  2. From Tinsmith's Wife: Malabrigo Worsted in Nostalgia
  3. From Yarnivore: Frabjous Fibers Wonderland Yarns Cheshire Cat Fingering Multi-Pack of 10 1-oz skeins in Dark Rainbow
  4. From The Yarn Barn: Lone Star Arts Armadillo in Ellie Avery
  5. From her studio: Alisha Goes Around Panoply of Peacocks Fingering in Macedonia
  6. From Lucky Ewe: Vice Paradigm in Serendipity
  7. From Old Oaks Ranch: Henry's Attic Prime Alpaca in Bare and Black
  8. From The Knitting Nest: Trekking XXL in 550 (aww, no name)
  9. From Gauge: Little Green Finch Plumage Ltd in a nameless one-of-a-kind colorway I'm calling Cranberry Orange and Theodora's Pearls Theodora's Saphhire in Chartreuse Spritz
I have plans for a few of the skeins.  The Alisha Goes Around has been on my radar for a while now to create the Twist Pullover.  This is actually the colorway used in the sample that made the cover of Knit Wear, though it appears darker in the magazine.  I've nearly bought the yarn several times before, in yarn stores or at fiber festivals, but being in her studio, it seemed like I might as well take the plunge now.

The Wonderland Yarns were a revelation.  They are a new yarn which debuted at TNNA this summer, and I'm in love.  The colors were all so gorgeous, I couldn't decide on one for a full skein, so I splurged on the entire rainbow of smaller skeins.  I'm thinking that this is going to make a glorious technicolor Mini Mania.

The others, well, they were just too pretty to leave behind, and many of them were part of the selection of 25% off yarns that can be used to make the patterns that each store handed out.  That's how I ended up with two skeins of the Malabrigo.  Such a good price, I might as well see if I can make a medium-sized project like a shrug.  And I have so much black and white alpaca, I think that will supply several projects.  Some of the bare yarn might even get dyed.

So there are the results of my Crawl in progress, more to come this weekend!  And more WIP Wednesday posts are at Tami's Amis.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Cubicle kitchen: Minted Pea Cake Truffles

There is no such thing as a failed cake.  There is only the opportunity for cake balls, or cake truffles for those of us who don't like the word balls.  Especially when I already have peas involved, it's best not to give third graders any more reason to snicker.

Remember when I baked up a batch of cupcakes using a boxed mix and pea puree?  I mentioned at the time that I had tried making a cupcake with pea puree from scratch using a recipe from the James Beard Foundation.  It's a very yummy cake, dense and moist.  But they didn't really rise much in their paper wrappers so they weren't aesthetically right for that week's treat-bringing festivities.  If you want to try the original cake with strawberry marmalade topping, though, I think that would make a fabulous dessert.

Anyway, there's no use crying over unpretty cupcakes.  So instead I reached for the boxed mix, and in the meantime I put these cupcakes in the freezer in an airtight container.  When I was ready to make the truffles, I just let them defrost and treated the way you would any other cake destined for truffling.  Yes, it's a verb.  As of now.

The cake was moist enough that instead of a can of frosting, I just used a little milk to bring it to ball-shaping form.  This has the added benefit of keeping the truffles from being overly sweet.  And then, unlike when I first made cake balls, I cheated and used 'vanilla coating' instead of melted chocolate.  I'm still just a little traumatized by the seized chocolate, I think.  This was much, much easier.

I know that this is kind of an outlier of a recipe.  The chances that anyone is going to want to replicate it  in the way that I made it are slim.  But take it as a proof of concept for various truffle tactics.  And as proof that just because it's cake with a candy coating, that doesn't mean that it can't have a hidden serving of veggies.  Skip the dried pea garnish, and who is to know that the green didn't just come from food coloring in an effort to match the minty flavor and be festive?

Minted Pea Cake Truffles
Adapted from Finding Silver Linings: How To Make Cake Balls Without Frosting

  • 1 batch of pea cake or cupcakes, made from scratch or boxed mix
  • 1/4-1/2 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon mint extract
  • 1 package of vanilla coating
  • 1/4 cup crushed dried peas for garnish, optional

  1. Using your hands, crumble the cake into a large bowl.
  2. Whisk together 1/4 cup of milk and the extract.  Add slowly into the crumbled cake until it has absorbed enough to form balls that hold together.  If needed, add another 1/4 cup milk.
  3. Form bite-sized balls and place on a tray lined with parchment paper.  Place in the fridge or freezer to cool for at least 30 minutes.  This helps them to keep their shape when coating.
  4. Follow the directions on the package for melting the vanilla coating.  Remove the balls from the fridge/freezer.  Have the dried peas or other garnish on stand by.
  5. Roll the balls in the coating and replace on the tray, immediately sprinkling with crushed peas or other garnish.  Repeat until all of the balls have been coated (and are now truffles).
  6. Allow the coating to harden, in the fridge if you want to speed the process along.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Monday Movie Madness: Doctor Dolittle

When I was listening to the music for Book of Mormon, I heard a lot of references to other famous musicals.  I had to Google 'I Believe and I Have Confidence' to make sure I wasn't just imagining the connection.  But as far as I could tell, there were no references to this particular musical.

'Doctor Dolittle' was one of the half-dozen or so musical films that I grew up playing on VHS on almost non-stop repeat.  Unlike most of the others, this movie is not a critically-acclaimed classic, it was a budget-buster back in the day that apparently required a lot of wining and dining of Academy voters to get some awards.  But it's one of those things that because you loved it when you were young and didn't know any better, you still love it even now that maybe you should.

So this is an ambivalent review in that I want to share my love of this movie, but I don't want to take responsibility for recommending it.  If you are a classic musical fan and haven't seen it, it's good fun.  But it isn't to be taken seriously.  After all, we're talking about the story of a man who can talk to animals and goes on a journey to find the Great Pink Sea Snail.  And hey, it's on Netflix Instant right now.

I caught it playing on Turner Classic Movies the other day, right at the start of possibly my favorite part, the pushmi-pullyus.  Basically, a pushmi-pullyu is a llama with two front ends.  As a kid, I was simply enchanted by this creature, who loved to dance.  And now that I'm a knitter, I'm going to make the executive decision that Rex Harrison made just a slight error and that they are in fact a breed of alpaca.  Yes, that's right.

Things have been busy over with Amaryllis Musings, so there's no Madness there for this week just yet, but you should still check it out, since she started me on these weekly cinematic tangents.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Inspiration Saturday: With a little help from my friends

This week, I'm feeling inspired by the communities which surround the things that I do.  I value my alone time just as much as anyone, and I'm certainly an above-average homebody, but there's something special about the support that comes from a communal experience.

First, I'll talk fitness, then I'll get to the fiber.  On Thursday I did my first group run.  Because my company is sponsoring the marathon for which I am training, the activity center has been organizing various talks, trainings, and things of that nature.  I ran about five miles over my lunch break with a few other folks, and even though I was staring at their backs the whole time, it still felt different than when I'm just running in my neighborhood.

Actually, it was different, because in trying to keep pace with them, I ran my fastest mile.  And just knowing that a few more people know about my goals makes me feel even more committed to them.  I'll try to bring that to mind as I run six miles (my longest yet) tomorrow morning.  I'm hoping to join them for future runs, but it's always tough to carve time out of the middle of the day.  I know I'm touting the benefits of getting together with people, but how many meetings does one person need?

Having run with a group, now I'm crawling with one.  Yarn Crawling, that is.  My mom and I travelled more than 240 miles today and hit six yarn stores, plus one fiber artist studio.  We won't mention a number of dollars spent.  What's important is that along the way we not only reconnected with our favorite store owners, but also with fellow Crawlers.  Coming from all over the hill country and even beyond, there's still often a common flow from store to store, and you start to build a rapport as you pet the pretty yarns.  It's comforting somehow during the Crawl to be surrounded by so many crafty people.

And that comfort can even be felt in cyberspace.  I know I wouldn't be the knitter I am today without Ravelry.  Posting in the forums is what I do most on this great invention of the internet.  And the group crafting has been the driving force for me improving and adding to my repertoire of skills.  Without swaps and knitalongs like Ravellenics, I wouldn't have tried half of the projects on my page.  If it wasn't for Tour de Fleece, I might not have a single completed handspun skein to my name.  Heck, if it wasn't for Ravelry, I wouldn't have a wheel right now.  It's a powerful thing when the camaraderie formed over online craft talk will 'earn' you the inheritance of a training wheel.

And then, of course, there's all of you.  Group hug, bloggers and readers!

Okay, that's my motivational speech for the month.  For more inspiration this week, go to Woolen Diversions.

Friday, October 11, 2013

FO Friday: The prodigal notebook returns

Here's a finished project that isn't just mine.  It belongs to seven other people as well, each of whom added wonder and excitement to pages of my notebook which were blank when I last saw them oh so many months ago.  After traveling around the country, and even crossing the border into Canada, there are drawings, collages, and plenty of words.  No knitting, but I think there's still plenty of craft to call this an FO.

Here are just a few of the pages:

If you're on Ravelry, you can see all of the pictures in a project page I created for it.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

WIP Wednesday: Crawl countdown and cowl confidentiality

I am again entering that awkward phase of crafting when my projects are kind of a secret.  So I have some teasers and clues for you, but I can neither confirm nor deny the knitty gritty details.

First, I decided it was time to start some holiday gift knitting.  The recipient may or may not read this blog, so my lips are sealed on that front.  Then there's the cowl for the swap I'm currently in.  After much consideration, I not only decided on a pattern, but I have cast on and off again.  It's a very simple pattern, which I complicated for myself by knitting it in a different weight of yarn.  In the end, though, the dimensions were just right and I like the way it turned out.  It's not quite done, though.  I have some finishing touches I want to add, including a charm or bead or something.

I'll be looking for just the right one while we're on the Yarn Crawl, which starts this weekend.  My mom and I have all of our routes pretty much planned, not only hitting all eleven stores but also stopping at a fiber artist's studio, two additional yarn stores, a bead store, and of course a frozen yogurt spot for each day.  It's going to be a good two weekends.

So next week I might have some new yarn to show you, and maybe a little more progress on my non-secret WIP, the Fruit Loopy Shawl.  Until then, there are more WIP Wednesday posts for this week at Frontier Dreams (no post up yet at Tami's Amis).

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Cubicle kitchen: Cranberry Jaffa Cakes

Remember how I went on a roadtrip on Saturday and came home with a spinning wheel?  That was a fantastic finish to what was already a very exciting plan to meet up with a fellow Raveler and surprise her with spoils from several members of our group.

They had been sending their contributions to the uber-package for the past couple of months; yarn, knitted items, tea, buttons, books, we collected a big box of things for her.  And because she's known for making and sending the fudgiest, most deliciously chocolate brownies, it only seemed to make sense that I should bake something for her as well.

Deciding on what to make was tough precisely because she is a baker herself.  I obviously wasn't going to do brownies, because they wouldn't be better than hers, and if she wanted them she would make them for herself.  What could I make that would be delicious, special, and travel well in the car for five hours?

The answer is Jaffa Cakes. A sponge cake/cookie base with a jelly center and covered in chocolate.  Traditionally, that jelly is orange.  But if you're going to make something at home, you might as well take the opportunity to change things up, right?  Plus, I knew from some of her posts that she liked cranberry.  So once again I played to the season and went with an autumnal flavor.  I also added some orange notes to the cakes and the chocolate because she liked that combination.

What I'm most excited to pass along to you all are the tricks I came up with to make creating these a little easier.  Notably, the use of cupcake and mini cupcake pans, tablespoons and teaspoons, to create some uniformity in the size and shape of the cake and jelly.  And take my advice on freezing them before coating in chocolate.  It gives you just that little bit of a head start in not ending up with oozing jelly chocolate mess.

This is one of the more involved recipes I've done, which is one of the reasons I wanted to make it.  It's the kind of treat that most people, even bakers, wouldn't necessarily make for themselves.  But it's so satisfying to get to the end of the process and look at a tray full of your very own, homemade Jaffa Cakes.  And then even more satisfying to give them to someone who loves them.

Cranberry Jaffa Cakes
Adapted from BBC Food Recipes: Homemade jaffa cakes
Makes a dozen


For the jelly:

  • 1 3-ounce box of Cranberry Jell-O
  • 125 mL boiling water (just over 1/2 cup)

For the cakes:

  • 2 eggs
  • 50 grams sugar
  • 50 grams flour
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
For the chocolate coating:

  • 1 bag semisweet chocolate chips (you won't need the whole bag)
  • up to 1 teaspoon shortening
  • up to 1/2 teaspoon orange extract

Make the jelly:

  1. In a bowl, mix the Jell-O packet with the boiling water, making sure the powder dissolves completely.
  2. Pour a teaspoon of the mixture into each well of a mini cupcake pan.  The pan should either be non-stick or sprayed to avoid sticking.
  3. Place the pan in the fridge and leave to set.  This will take a few hours.
Makes the cakes:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Prepare a double boiler on the stovetop, with water simmering.
  3. Add eggs and sugar to the bowl suspended over the water, and beat for about four minutes, until they are pale and fluffy.  Continuing to beat, add in flour and zest.  Mix until combined.
  4. Pour a tablespoon of batter into each well of a cupcake pan.  The pan should either be non-stick or sprayed to avoid sticking.
  5. Bake for 8-10 minutes.  When done, remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
Assemble and coat:
  1. When the cakes are cool and the jelly has set, place a 'coin' of jelly in the center of each cake.  
  2. To make covering the cakes in chocolate easier, place the jellied cakes on a tray lined with parchment paper and place in the fridge or freezer for a while again to make sure they are as cool as possible.
  3. Using the double boiler again, melt the chocolate, using about a cup at a time.  Mix in the extract.  Add a little shortening to make it easier to work with.  You can add more chips, shortening, and extract as needed as you coat the cakes.
  4. When the chocolate is ready, remove the cakes from the fridge or freezer.  Working quickly, coat the tops of the cakes with melted chocolate.  The key is to completely seal in the jelly before it is melted by the heat of the chocolate.  Place coated cakes back onto the tray.
  5. When all of the cakes have been coated, place in the fridge to set the chocolate.  These should be served at room temperature, but you don't want them to get too warm while you are transporting them.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Monday Movie Madness: Sense & Sensibility

When I reviewed 'Austenland' a few weeks ago, I mentioned that it didn't compare well to another film from the Austen library.  So why not, let's delve into my love for Emma Thompson's adaptation of 'Sense & Sensibility':

I haven't had a lot of opportunities to go up and pester any celebrities, but I've always sort of thought that I would like to follow a standard of required appreciation before I barge in on their daily lives with my annoying admiration.  It's one thing to be able to tell someone that you really love the work that they do, it's quite another to go up to someone just because they happen to be well-known.  That would feel too much like wasting their time.  Not that it's incredibly productive even for a celebrity I'm obsessed with to hear me awkwardly gush about them, but it seems more worth it.

All of this is to say that Emma Thompson is someone I admire enough to run across an airport and declare my undying affection for.  The difficulty would be in deciding what, in my few seconds of her attention, I would thank her for.  She's been involved in so many things that I've loved throughout my entire film-watching life, it would be hard to choose.

Obviously, this movie is high on that list.  It's a very true-to-spirit adaptation that does take some liberties with technical plot points and characters, but recreates the essence of Austen's story brilliantly.  In case you didn't already know, Emma Thompson didn't just star in this, she herself adapted Jane Austen's novel into the screenplay that won an Oscar.

The movie is fabulous, and I of course recommend it.  But if you're a fan of Austen you've probably seen it before.  Possibly multiple times.  So I'd like to also highly recommend something a little sideways to the film: the DVD commentary.  Emma Thompson and producer Lindsay Doran talk over the film and offer their little insights into how the film was made, and it's equal parts fascinating and hilarious.  You know it's going to be good when Thompson jokes as the Columbia Pictures statue pans across the screen about how her arm got so tired and she kept that wrap.

It's not on Netflix Instant, and you can't even listen to commentary that way anyway (am I the only one that would like that feature?), so it's going to have to be a DVD if you want to have the commentary.  You will never watch the movie the same way afterwards.

Would it be weird to run up to Emma Thompson and tell her I loved her DVD commentary?  At least it might make me stand out from the crowd.

For more movie madness, head to Amaryllis Musings.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Inspiration Saturday: Special delivery

So this week's post is a little late in the Saturday night, and that's because of two things:

  1. I spent ten of the hours in today in the car.
  2. I wasn't ambitious enough to draft a post earlier in the week to be able to schedule for release or just need to push 'Publish' when I arrived home.
There are a couple of things I could tell you about, like all of the new cowl patterns I favorited in search of just the right one to knit for an upcoming swap.  

But for now, it's late.  I'm full of soup, salad, and frozen yogurt.  I had an awesome day, which was inspiring in oh so many ways, not the least of which was this one:

I brought home a wheel!  I'll save the formal introductions for another time, but I'm so excited!

I'd love to read your first wheel stories in the comments, and any advice you have for transitioning from spindle to wheel.  As always, there's more inspiration at Woolen Diversions.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

WIP Wednesday: I would like to share with you the most amazing WIP

Hello!  My name is Elder Twit.  And I would like to share with you the most amazing WIP.  It has so many awesome colors.  You simply won't believe how many short rows there are in there.  This WIP will change your life...this WIP will change your life...this WIP will change your life!


So I saw 'Book of Mormon' last night.  Can you tell?  Or did you think I had suddenly become incredibly hyperbolic?  And you can't even see the jazz hands I'm doing right now.  It was a good night.

Aside from the singing and dancing Mormon amazingness, I discovered that a night at the theater is a prime location for knitting appreciation from strangers.  In the fifteen minutes or so that I passed the time before being let into our seats by knitting a row or two of my Fruit Loopy Shawl, no fewer than three people asked me what I was working on and complimenting me on the colors.  The power of the rainbow.

I'm officially halfway through the pattern, which is just as well as I am halfway through the yarn I'm using for it.  I'm really enjoying it, because it's so simple and very easy to memorize.  I like the ruffle effect of the short rows as well.

I also did some swatching in the past week, but unfortunately I undid it all before thinking to take a picture.  I've joined a cowl swap, which is pretty much what it sounds like, so I'm trying to decide on a cowl.  I was thinking of adapting the bunny cable in this pattern, and tried it in a tweedy alpaca and some spare Lustra I had.  Unfortunately, the alpaca lost the definition of the cable, and the Lustra just wasn't the look I was going for.  Nevermind, I'll make bunnies another time.  Perhaps a cowl for myself covered in NaNoWriMo plot bunnies?

Magical October has begun, and with the first event over, I'm looking forward to the weekend.  Maybe the long drive will give me enough time to finish the second half of this shawl, so I can start on the cowl that I have decided to knit.

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

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Cubicle kitchen: Cookie Chip Chocolate Fudge

Chocolate chip cookies are great and all, but you know what's wrong with them?  The cookie-to-chocolate ratio.  There is entirely too much cookie needed to justify the delivery of such a small amount of chocolate as a chip.

This fudge has a much more satisfactory ratio.

Really, this is just a variation on my favorite fudge recipe.  I keep the two required ingredients for it in my pantry at all times, just in case I need a last-minute treat, like if, for example, a particularly aspirational recipe burns/sinks/catches fire.  It is also perfect when you have an ingredient on hand that you want to use, but aren't sure how.  Like some leftover cereal that's lost some of its crunch.

Cookie Crisp is pretty much on the same level as IHOP's Funny Face pancake for kids.  You know, the chocolate chip one with whipped topping and maraschino cherry eyes.  Even ice cream sundaes only have one cherry.  This has two and passes as breakfast?  It's the greatest loophole ever known to childhood.  Similarly, Cookie Crisp is basically miniature chocolate chip cookies that kids have permission to pour into a bowl and add milk to enjoy with their Saturday morning cartoons.

I think I might have removed all pretense by putting it into fudge, but hey, the ratio must be obeyed.

Cookie Chip Chocolate Fudge
Makes one pan, about 9" x 9"


  • 1 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 12-ounce bag (2 cups) of milk chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • About 2 cups of Cookie Crisp cereal
  1. In a microwave-safe bowl, combine milk and chocolate chips.
  2. Microwave at half-power in 30-second intervals, stirring after each interval until all of the chips have melted.  Don't overheat.
  3. Stir in vanilla extract.
  4. Quickly stir in cereal and mix just until combined.
  5. Pour fudge into a prepared pan.  If desired, place individual Cookie Crisp pieces on top of fudge, pressing down slightly.  Place in fridge to set.  Cut into squares.