Monday, March 31, 2014

Cubicle kitchen: Chocolate Cream Cheese Muffins

The line between cake and sweet bread can be so very, very thin.  Particularly when it comes to muffins versus cupcakes.  Aside from a lack of frosting, does a muffin need to have a particular consistency?

These may be the kinds of questions that you ask yourself as you bake these, but I don't think you'll be wondering when you eat them, because you just won't care.  They are so yummy.  The pumpkin makes them so moist, and then the bite of cream cheese in the middle just takes it over the top.  The only thing I would change would be the cereal topping, because it loses it's crunch after the first day.

Other than that, though, these freeze really well and taste really good after being warmed up in the microwave after a few seconds.  Which might be why, after making sure my direct coworkers had their fill, I didn't put the rest of these out for the general population.  Instead, I brought them home, bundled them in the freezer, and have been enjoying them as dessert myself for the past week.

But there's no frosting, so I'm just going with muffins.  Delicious, dessert-worthy muffins...

Chocolate Cream Cheese Muffins
Adapted from The Table: Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins and Hungry Girl: Chocolate Caramel Muffins
Makes 21 cupcakes


For the filling:
  • 8 oz Neufchatel cream cheese, softened
  • 3/4 cup sweetened cocoa powder
For the cake:
  • 1 box Devil's Food Cake mix
  • 1 15-oz can pumpkin puree
  • 1 large egg (optional; Hungry Girl's recipe doesn't include an egg)
For the topping:
  • 1/2 cup chocolate cereal, crushed


For the filling:
  1. Mix together cream cheese and cocoa until combined.
  2. Transfer cream cheese mixture to a one gallon plastic bag, or use plastic wrap, and roll into a log about an inch in diameter.  Place in the freezer for at least a few hours, or overnight.  
  3. Before preparing the batter, cut the log into coins.

For the cake:

  1. Preheat oven to 400°.
  2. Combine pumpkin and egg.  Stir in cake mix and mix until combined.  Batter will be thick.
  3. Spoon one tablespoon of batter into the bottom of each cupcake liner. Press a coin of filling into the batter lightly.  Spoon a second tablespoon of batter on top of the cream cheese mixture.  If necessary, smooth batter evenly to ensure the filling is covered.  Sprinkle crushed cereal on top.
  4. Bake for about 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted around the middle comes out clean (unless you hit cream cheese).  Allow to cool.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Inspiration Saturday: Healthy Greens

Yes, I love my chocolatey browns, tart yellows and of course sugary pinks.  But I also have an appreciation for those healthy greens.

I admit that I tend to look up the health benefits of fruits and veggies as I eat them.  There are two reasons for this:
  • Self-righteousness tastes good, and
  • If there's any chance that I could gain some placebo effect just by thinking that something is lowering my cholesterol or whatever, I want it.
But the logical reasons that I should eat these things are secondary to the reasons that I want to eat them.  Because they taste good.  I know I'm alienating all of the third graders out there who think that by pushing peas around their plates their parents might not notice that none of them have been eaten.  But I'll say it loud, say it proud: I love Brussels sprouts!

Oven-roasted or in the slow cooker, with some dijon mustard, having Brussels sprouts for dinner is kind of an exciting event.  Just a big bowl of them, and I'm all set.  More and more, my dinners are centered around green things, like steamed broccoli with melty cheese for dipping, and oven-roasted slices of zucchini.

In the past few weeks I've also tried some greens for the first time.  First, a gigantic bag of kale that I found on sale at the grocery store.  Then, again in a gigantic on-sale bag, collard greens.  Both were totally prepped for cooking, washed and chopped and all that.  All I did was put them in a big pot with about an inch of water and boiled/steamed until they were tender.  I love discovering new veggies, it's the flip side of all of the baking experimentation I do, keeping things simple instead of tossing in extra goodies and the calories that come with them.

I'm surprised that I don't have more green in my stash.  I think it just doesn't jump out to me as much as the crazy pinks and purples, which tend to be my impulse colors.  But I really do like green, from a limey chartreuse to a darker forest green, and those are making their way into my projects as well.

Do you love your veggies, or do you only eat them so you can get to dessert?  What about the color green?  And for more inspiration, go to Woolen Diversions.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

WIP Wednesday: Can you hear me now?

Yesterday I challenged myself in two notable ways.  First, I went to my first group exercise class since my marathon training started impeding on my time way back near the tail end of last year.  It was a 'power half-hour' of squats, lunges, and other full-body strength exercises.  I survived, but I am feeling so sore today.  I tried not to audibly groan whenever I got up from my desk.

Speaking of groaning, the other challenge yesterday was a visit to my cell phone carrier.  Nothing went particularly wrong, but dealing with this kind of stuff is always kind of torturous.  We were adding a line because my mom is making the leap from her non-smart phone that she doesn't even text on to one of my passed-down iPhones.  She's also switching carriers because it just made more sense to join into a family plan than to each have individual ones.

She's very trepidatious about the iPhone, because she really only wants it to be a phone, but it doesn't really seem to be an option to go smart-less these days, so she's getting 1 GB of data that she doesn't really plan to use.  I'm hoping the transition to the touch screen and all of that won't be too traumatic.  She uses her iPad all the time, but is adamant that she just wants a phone to make phone calls, nothing else.  We'll see how it goes.

At least my knitting hasn't elicited any groans this week.  My Affection-ite Color Affection shawl progress is slow and steady.  The rows are starting to get long enough that I have to think about whether I have enough time to finish a row before I get started, because when I'm knitting straight I prefer not to stop in the middle.  And all of the stitches are started to get scrunched on my needles:

My cable is slightly shorter than recommended, and I might at some point bite the bullet and switch it out for the 60-inch one I bought in case I ever decide I want to do magic loop hexipuffs two or three at a time.  Who knows when I'll get around to those hexipuffs, though.  For now, it's all about the soothing garter stitch of this shawl.  I have a few more stripes left in the middle section, and then it's onto the tricolor short rows.

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

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Cubicle kitchen: Marshmallow Sandwich Cookies

Last year I joined the Kickstarter campaign to bring Veronica Mars back from the mists of cancelled TV time to make a feature film.  And a few weeks ago that film made its world premiere right here in Austin at SXSW.

In honor of the movie, I was, to quote Wallace in the premiere, 'just dying' to bake something:

And from that moment on, marshmallows have been associated with this troublesome teenage detective.  Somehow, I always forget that part about the Twinkie.  Personally, I think Veronica is far too unique to be a Twinkie, though she might have the same capacity for survival.  So I made my own marshmallow treat for her.

If I'm honest, she would probably think these were a bit too baby shower pink.  I'm sure Logan would have something sarcastic to say about them.  But they are such pure sugar-high deliciousness, I still think she would bring them to a stake-out.  I know they made the rest of the afternoon better for my coworkers after they ate them at klatch.

And as with most of my favorite recipes, there are so many flavor possibilities.  You are limited only by the gelatin aisle of your grocery store.  I've seen both cranberry and green apple in stores at various times, I'm thinking I might need to bring those out for fall...

Marshmallow Sandwich Cookies
Makes 22 sandwich cookies


For the cookies:
For the marshmallow:
(My original source for the recipe has been lost to the interwebs, but I found the same one at Everyday Nutrition: Homemade Marshmallows.  I'm going to go ahead and document it here for posterity.)
  • 1 3 oz packet of Jello*
  • 1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
  • 2/3 cup boiling water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons corn syrup (I used light)
  • Additional sugar or Jello for rolling
* I used Cherry Jello for both the cookies and the marshmallow (and Berry Blue for rolling), but you can use any combination of flavors you like.  I have not tried using sugar-free versions.

  1. The Jello cookies should be baked before starting the marshmallow, to ensure that they are fully cooled before assembly.
  2. In a saucepan over low heat, whisk together the Jello and unflavored gelatin in the boiling water until dissolved.
  3. Stir in sugar and corn syrup.
  4. Transfer mixture to large glass bowl (it needs to be big enough to allow the marshmallow to at least triple in size) and refrigerate until slightly thickened.
  5. Beat the chilled mixture until soft peaks form.  You will need an electric mixer for this, and it will take at least ten minutes.  For me, it was more like fifteen.
  6. Assemble the cookie sandwiches, dolloping about two tablespoons of marshmallow per sandwich, squishing the cookies together and rolling the edges in sugar or Jello if desired.  Allow the marshmallow to set a little before packing, or you can eat them straight away.
There will be leftover marshmallow, feel free to complete the remaining directions for making marshmallows, namely:
  1. Spread evenly into a tray lined with parchment paper. I used my 7 x 9" pan, but only spread the marshmallow over about 3/4s of it, so it was about an inch thick.
  2. Place in fridge to set overnight.
  3. The next day, carefully slice into squares or use a cookie cutter to make fun shapes.  Roll in powdered sugar (or more Jello).

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Inspiration Saturday: Crafty critters

I wouldn't say that having a raccoon living in our ceiling was particularly inspiring, but having someone come catch it and take it away sure was a relief.

We'd been hearing some scratching around for a little while and weren't sure exactly what it was.  But when it started following a schedule of noisiness that included scuttling around at five in the morning, we did some Googling to discover that it was probably a raccoon, and called in a professional.  He stalked all the way around the house, including on top of the roof, and set three traps.  The next morning, we had caught two things:

  • A very displeased neighborhood cat, and
  • A raccoon!

Success!  Stuck in its little cage it looked much cuter and more sympathetic than when it was keeping me from my final hour of sleep before work.  So far there have been no noisy recurrences, so we're hopeful that the wildlife saga is over.  For now.

A year or two ago, I saw a PBS show called 'Raccoon Nation':

The major lesson I took from that is: forget 'Planet of the Apes', it's the raccoons who will one day rule over us.  As we attempt to thwart their advances into our homes and trash cans, we are only teaching them more skills that they can use against us.  We were doomed the moment they evolved into having thumbs.  And we can only hope that they are as benevolent as they are wily.  And that this one will forgive us for kicking it out of the house.

Elsewhere in the animal kingdom, my mom seems to be in a mystery knitalong phase.  Having completed the second shawl in the series, she's now knitting some kind of animal in the Fuzzy Mittion Mystery KAL 2014.  So far her creature has arms, legs, and a smart little cardigan:

Yesterday she received the section of the pattern for creating the head, and finally next week will come the body.  She's really enjoying the guessing game of figuring out exactly what she's knitting and seeing how other people's projects are going.  The strong suspicion of the group is that they are making kangaroos, but soon we'll know for sure.

I've done a little animal-inspired knitting myself.  Like this fox scarf for Christmas two years ago:

And more recently, the monkey blanket/washcloth for a baby who recently arrived into the world:

There are a lot of cute raccoon patterns on Ravelry, but I think I'm going to need a little bit of emotional distance before I attempt any of them.  For example, I love these mitts from tiny owl knits, from the woodsy association:

Photo credit: tiny owl knits
I especially love the little tails at the end of the wrists!

Raccoons are not the only critters to have invaded the house over the years.  We once had a squirrel make his way into the walls when I was in high school.  There's a hilarious story about that which involves my mother and I chasing it around my bedroom in the middle of the night and trying to coax it out of the window with dry cat food.  I haven't knit any squirrels either, but I do have some squirrel earrings, a squirrel necklace, and the unofficial mascot of Sarah Lawrence was a black squirrel.

Do you have any tales of wildlife encroaching on your space?  Do you do any zoo-related crafting?  For more inspiration, go to Woolen Diversions.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

WIP Wednesday: Spicing things up

Remember the movie 'Bend it Like Beckham'?

It's been a while since I've watched it, but I kind of want to pop the DVD in.  It's in my head because tonight at Tarka I decided to take a chance and instead of my beloved Chana Saag I tried Aloo Gobi.  Yum.

If I do watch the movie again, I'll definitely be able to knit at the same time, because my Affection-ite Color Affection shawl is the epitome of mindless knitting, and I love it.  After I make sure to drop and redo the YO after the first stitch, and then make a stitch, I can just knit knit knit along until a practically the end of the row.  By the end of the weekend, I was nearly done with the first block of solid color:

Of course, my cat Spice is always there to help me knit.  That's her in my lap, wondering what on Earth I could be doing that's possibly more important than petting her.  And why there is an intruder, a.k.a a shawl, invading her personal space.  These are the kinds of trials and tribulations that make cat life so hard.  No wonder she has to nap so much.

Anyway, no naps for me.  Now I have a triple digit stitch count on the shawl, so one row could probably get me through a girls' soccer training montage and then some.  And I'm officially striping:

I already know this won't be my last Color Affection.  I have yarn to make one for myself, and my mind is spinning with other possible color combinations.  One with a variegated yarn, perhaps?  And maybe I'll have a Vegetable Vindaloo next week.  My life is so wild and crazy.

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

Monday, March 17, 2014

Cubicle kitchen: Apple Almond Mini-Muffins

Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone!  I don't have any leprechaun cupcakes or shamrock cookies for you, but I do have some yummy apple muffins.  Because potato ones didn't sound as tasty.

I don't know that I've ever shared with you my love of apples.  For a while there, it was a little obsessive.  I was using an app on my phone to take pictures and notes when I tried new varieties, because my phases of obsession are usually accompanied by a strong desire to catalogue (see: Froyo Files).

While I still love apples, I don't record the tasting notes each time I bite into one anymore.  The other week I tried a variety called Kanzi which was pretty good.  It's amazing how different each kind can taste.  Personally, I lean towards crisp and tart, like Granny Smith.  I also love Pink Ladies, Braeburns, and Jonagolds.

When I started this recipe, I thought I would end up with more of an apple blondie, but the final texture is definitely more in the muffin realm.  The only difference that makes to me in terms of changes I would make would be using paper liners.  Otherwise, they are, as I said, yummy.  They have a great mix of textures from the super-moist crumb to the bites of almond and the apples with just a little crunch left in them.  There's a hint of spice, but if you want something more autumnal you could certainly add more.

Apple Almond Mini-Muffins
Adapted from Allrecipes: Apple Brownies
Makes about 40 mini-muffins

  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup applesauce
  • 1/2 scoop Trader Joe's Spicy Chai Mix
  • 1 cup sugar, minus the volume of the chai mix
  • 1 egg
  • 2 apples, peeled, cored and cubed (I used one Granny Smith and one large Braeburn)
  • 1/2 cup Pumpkin Spice Almonds, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon Trader Joe's pumpkin spice blend

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar together.  Add egg and mix thoroughly.  Fold in apples and nuts.
  3. Sift together dry ingredients, and add to wet dough, stirring until combined.
  4. Spoon into prepared* mini-muffin tins.  Because the muffins won't rise much, you can fill wells almost completely.
  5. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes.

*I didn't use paper liners, but because of the moistness of this muffin, I would suggest it.  If you don't, make sure you use some non-stick spray and allow the muffins to cool before carefully removing them.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Inspiration Saturday: Affectionately Yours, Jerome

I don't know that I've ever been particularly trendy.  Except perhaps by accident, happening to love something that everyone else loves for a while, like cupcakes.  Except while cupcakes are declared 'over' by some, I'm still obsessed.  The only time I could possibly be construed to be a trendsetter was when I was a kid and during my summer vacation with family in the UK I was introduced to the Spice Girls at the point when they were topping the British charts but still hadn't crossed over to the US.  So I was able to come into school in the fall with 'Wannabe' already stuck in my head.

But with more recent trends, like say the universal knitalong that Color Affection seemed to be a couple of years ago, I'm not even fashionably late.  Casting on yesterday, it feels like I'm closer to the second wave of trend that comes with something being 'retro' than with the initial popularity.  What can I say?  I was waiting for just the right moment to jump on the stripe train.

And that moment is now.  It's going to be my second handmade project for a long-term swap.  This particular swap doesn't have a defined theme, and I've had a little trouble coming up with a connective thread on my own.  But what is developing is a box of things that take inspiration from personal tidbits from my life.  The Krtek cowl was from my Czech childhood heritage, and this shawl is going to be from my recent trip to Phoenix.

We took a day trip out to Jerome, a former mining turned ghost town that is now a sort of local tourist spot with weekend trippers stopping by for artsy shopping and gorgeous views.  The panorama of mountains near and far is impressive, but I actually found my colors for this shawl in a rocky close up at one of the museums:

I love the brilliant blue-greens of the Azurite and Malachite, with a little stony gray reminding you that this is really a piece of rock.  Mother Nature is amazing, isn't she?

I found some KnitPicks Gloss Fingering to recreate the color palate:

Right now, I have just 57 stitches, but I know that soon enough I will have hundreds and hundreds in a single row.  Thankfully I have a few months to get it done, and I have the advice of all of the many knitters who completed it before me to guide me.

Where do you find the most inspiring colors in nature?  Do you follow trends, in crafting or otherwise?

For more inspiration, go to Woolen Diversions.

Friday, March 14, 2014

FO Friday: Totally whelmed

It almost feels like cheating to have another FO so soon.  But then I remember that I've had this on needles for over a year.  So it's not exactly a 'quick win', something we always think we've identified at work at the start of the year, then discover that we're still working on it come summer and realize that there is no problem so small that the solution cannot be discussed in a few more meetings.

Before my meeting days, '10 Things I Hate About You' was one of my favorite movies.  It was my first introduction to my alma mater, Sarah Lawrence College, and is chock-full of quotable quotes.  So when Schmutzerella Yarns dyed a yarn inspired by the movie, I was all in.  Along with the yarn, she sent everyone who ordered a skein a little button with the word 'whelmed', as in:
"I know you can be overwhelmed, and I know you can be underwhelmed, but can you ever just be whelmed?"
"I think you can in Europe."
Indeed.  I have that button pinned to one of my early chunky knit hats.

She based the colorway on the scene where Kat and Patrick go paint balling, so the bare yarn looks splattered with primary colors.  I love these kinds of crazy variegated yarns, but I'm always struggling with patterns for them.  Nothing too lacy, because you won't see all of that hard work.  But nothing too plain and boring.

I think my Up for Anything Cami has turned out to be one of the perfect examples of a pattern that handles color while still holding its own:

It kind of looks like I've been rolling around the paint ball field, right?  Incidentally, these photos also show off my relatively new hair cut.  Right after my birthday I told my stylist that I wanted something short but still kind of ponytail-able, and she got it just right with this asymmetrical cut.  We also bonded over having both run the marathon, who knew?

Anyway, I might block the body of the cami just a bit, but I really like it as it is.  I'll almost certainly wear it with a tank top underneath, for modesty and warmth.  For the most part, this was a simple knit.  I had a little trouble finishing the top, you can find some info in my project notes about that.  Basically, I used another knitter's modification but needed to do some rewriting in order to make them something I could follow.  I've already told you, I like things to be spelled out explicitly, otherwise I cannot be trusted to know that I should do it.

So, now that my cami is done, it's official: I'm ready for spring!  And I mean real spring, not a day or two of nice weather and then a sudden chill and then back again.  Fully-sprung spring.  Full of whelming weather.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

WIP Wednesday: Rant forward

We're all over this whole daylight savings time thing, right?  I mean, why do we keep putting ourselves through the Chinese water torture that is shifting the time by an hour twice a year, making it either impossible to fall asleep because it feels too early or truly painful waking up in the morning, again because it feels too early?  Why do I now have to drive to work in the twilight and eat dinner in the sunshine when I didn't last week?  And we can't even agree when to change the clocks, or whether to do it at all, so any meetings with people in other timezones get completely thrown off depending on who hosts them.  Chaos, I tell you.  Chaos.  I think this speaks to a deep-seeded masochistic streak in our culture that we should deal with and move past.

Anyway, now that we're all on the same page there...on to the knitting!  Despite suffering from daylight savings trauma, and still being in a post-Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream haze, I managed to make progress on my Up for Anything Cami:

Not quite done, but I just need to finish this strap and knit the second.  Who knows, I might have it finished by Friday!

Until then, you can read about more WIPs at Tami's Amis.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Cubicle kitchen: Coffee-Laced Oatmeal Lace Cookies

Sometimes you can take for granted that certain ingredients will be in your pantry.  Like, say all-purpose flour.  Thankfully, when you find yourself without one thing or another, there's always another option.  And when what you're missing is flour, there's a whole Google-verse of gluten-free recipes to choose from.  The trouble there is usually finding recipes that don't require flour at all, rather than ones that use chickpea or some other concoction to fake it.

Because I had just brought in peanut butter cookies the week before, I wanted to steer clear of another nutty treat.  So I turned to another gluten-free staple, oatmeal.  I had been wanting to make some of those thin, crispy lace cookies for a while, and doing them with oatmeal instead of flower made them a little chewy as well as crunchy.  I added some instant coffee to add another layer of flavor and make them particularly appropriate for our afternoon coffee klatch.  If you want them to be more than just laced with coffee flavor, though, feel free to add more.

Making these can get a little messy because the 'dough' is so loose.  You are really just taking pinches of the mixture and trying to get them close enough together that they stick together when baking, without them sticking to your fingers.  Or at least, only as much sticking to your fingers as you want to surreptitiously eat.  I might have enjoyed licking my fingers a little too much, because I decided to bake two batches of these over the course of the same weekend.  But it's okay, because they are so delicate and tiny that people don't have to feel guilty about eating several at a time.

Coffee-Laced Oatmeal Lace Cookies
Adapted from Chinese Grandma: Flourless oatmeal lace cookies
Makes about four dozen (at least)

  • 2 1/2 cups quick-cooking oatmeal (could also use old-fashioned)
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp instant coffee
  • Dash of salt
  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Combine all ingredients in a bowl.  It will be very loose, that's fine, just make sure everything is mixed in completely.
  3. Take teaspoonfuls of the mixture and form roughly-shaped circles onto parchment paper-lined baking trays.  Pat circles down to ensure you get the flat, lacy look in your finished cookies.
  4. Bake 10-12 minutes until cookies are golden brown.  Allow cookies to cool before removing from tray.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Splendidly SXSW

There are a growing number of events that draw crowds to Austin these days.  The Formula One racetrack, for example, has earned us our own direct flight to London Heathrow Airport.  And currently South by Southwest, or SXSW, has all kinds of celebrities and their adoring masses gracing us with their presence.  For these kinds of things, I usually try to avoid the chaos that comes with so many people and so little infrastructure to deal with them.

But when SXSW is the means for bringing a delectable frozen dairy treat from Columbus all the way to Austin, I have to brave the hipster hoards.  It must be so, because Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream has come to town!

I think I first heard about Jeni's on one of those Food Network shows where they tell us their favorite whatever and we get to feel both jealous and hungry.  I guess I'm a glutton for punishment, because I signed up to get their emails, and since then I've been craving some of their sweet Ohio genius.  Unfortunately, Texas is not one of the handful of states with a scoop shop.  There were two smaller grocery stores listed as carrying their pints, but I hadn't indulged myself yet, although I had been inspired by some of their flavors.

Last weekend they were a part of Southbites, a collection of food trucks huddled together off of Cesar Chavez.  Sure, it was a little chilly and rainy, but there was ice cream to be had.

And it was delicious.  A triple scoop of Lemon Blueberry for Mom, which she declared to possibly be the best ice cream she's ever had.  I split my double scoop between one of Milk Chocolate and one of Brown Butter Almond Brittle.  I will have dreams about that ice cream.  It was so good that when we discovered on the drive home that they now sell their pints in Whole Foods, we had to make a pit stop to grab some Brambleberry Crisp.  Brace yourselves for the delicious, delicious jealousy:

If you're in Austin, Jeni's will be at Southbites until the end of Saturday, along with some other events, check their schedule.  You will not be sorry.  Or, more accurately, you won't be sorry until your bowl is empty and you realize they live in Ohio.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Inspiration Saturday: Fixing mistakes

I still have some inspiring vacation tales to share with you all from my Phoenix trip, but this week I think my biggest inspiration has come from an unlikely part of knitting: mistakes.

No one wants to make mistakes.  They aren't fun.  There you are, happily knitting along, when you get to the end of a row and discover you don't have the right number of stitches, or stop to take a look and see that your lace pattern has gone askew somewhere.  Maybe you're lucky enough to find that you made a mistake on the current row and can just tink back some stitches and fix it.  But maybe not.  Maybe there are a few, or more than a few, rows in between you and your mistake.  And then you think about all the time you took to knit those rows, so blissfully unaware that they might be completely pointless.  Argh.

Usually, when I find that something has gone mysteriously wrong with my knitting, I hand it to my mother with a blank look of fear and frustration, and she magically fixes it.  I can handle simple things like tinkling back a few knit stitches, but I lack a few key things for fixing knit problems:

  1. The experience to 'see' the knitting and recognize what has gone wrong.  (I'm getting better at this, but I still bristle when my mom says, 'Look, you can see ________.'  Because I can't.)
  2. The technical skill to actually fix said mistake.
  3. The confidence to realize that I have #1 and #2 to try fixing it myself.
In this past week, though, I did some of my own mistake-fixing.  As I was finishing my socks, I noticed that about 8 or 10 rows down I had missed some of the purl bumps in the textured row of my pattern.  Drat.  And it was going to be a few days before I would see my mom.  I looked up some Knitting Help and YouTube about dropping down a single stitch and re-knitting back up the ladder.  But without the right crochet hook, and needing to fix about 15 stitches, it was just easier to frog back down instead.  Picking up all of the stitches after ripping is something I'm always paranoid about, but somehow I managed it, and because I had seen all of those tutorials about how to knit a stitch that's a row below the one you are working on, I was able to catch the ones that had gone too far down.

Even though making a mistake isn't exactly inspiring, it is inspiring to be able to fix it.  I'm glad I still have my mom to turn to, though, because I needed her later in the week for my camisole.  Baby steps.

For more inspiration, go to Woolen Diversions.

Friday, March 7, 2014

FO Friday: Sock-cess!

Now I have conquered not only hills, but heels, and my first pair of socks is complete.  I finished them earlier this week, but I didn't have a chance to do a photo shoot with their inspiring shoes until today.  And even then, it was a fun game of angles to take pictures of my own feet.  Smile, toes!

I knit these while watching the Winter Olympics and before and after running my marathon, and I took them with me to Phoenix.  So even before I walked a step in them, they were well-travelled.  Now that they are really socks...Oh, the places we'll go.  I can't wait to wear them to the Yellow Rose Fiber Fiesta to show the fiber artist how her hand-dyed yarn turned out.

I don't know what else to say about these socks.  They were pretty easy to figure out, I think the hardest part to figure out was the swatching and sizing.  My biggest fear was that I would make them and then find that the cast on was too tight to get onto my foot or some other variation of the sock being too small.  But no, they slip on easily.  If anything, they could possibly be a tiny bit more snug around the foot, but that aren't too big.  Even the dreaded heel made sense, especially with Alicia's fantastic instructions.  I like to be molly-coddled as a knitter reading a pattern, and she gives me all the explicit direction I need.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

WIP Wednesday: March really is quite mad

I cannot believe that February has come and gone.  I don't know if it was looking forward to a few highly anticipated events (marathon, birthday, Phoenix trip, etc.) that made the month fly by, or if perhaps that extra 48-72 hours every other month has makes all of the difference, but it's time to accept the preposterous fact that it is now March.  Madness!

I think the parodies of March Madness are actually more popular, and certainly more fun, than the actual madness of collegiate basketball.  Basketball remains one of the sports that I keep on the outskirts of following, even in the pros, where I'm still a little traumatized after rooting hard for the San Antonio Spurs in last year's ill-fated championships.

So I prefer things like Jezebel's Cake vs. Pie tournament from a few years ago.  Democracy and desserts, what could be better?  Though I remember some heated debate around who could claim cheesecake and who got Boston Creme Pie.  And now there's the PBS vs NPR Public Media Madness, which is has already forced me to make some really difficult choices.  Sorry, David Attenborough, but Bob Ross' happy little trees gave him the edge.  And I love Robert Siegel, but I have a nerdy fan thing going on with Kai Ryssdal.  I have compared Kai being 'my' Marketplace host with David Tennant being 'my' Doctor.  I know, I'm such a nerd.  I'm sure that as the rounds go on the decisions will only get more difficult.  Is there anyone I would choose over Mister Rogers, though?  I don't know.

I'll use Mister Rogers and his cardigans as a segue into the knitting portion of this post: I finished my socks!  Yay!  So I'll have to do a little photo shoot with those for Friday.  Unlike the marathon, which I'm thinking is a once-in-a-lifetime achievement (half marathons should be enough for me from now on), I don't think this will be my one and only pair of socks.  I don't know which ones I might make next, but more socks will also be on my to-knit list.

What I have actually been knitting this week, after finishing up the socks, has been one of my long-term WIPs, the Up for Anything Cami:

This picture is actually from the last time I worked on it a few months ago, but it doesn't look much different, just a few inches longer.  I still love how easy the stitch is for mindless knitting and how it creates a texture that perfectly handles the crazy colors of the yarn.  I'm really hoping to carry some momentum and just finish this up before setting it aside for another project that I have yarn being delivered for.

Because I just didn't have enough yarn already.

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

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Cubicle kitchen: Honey Roasted Nut Butter Cookies

Part of the secretly selfish reason I bring baked goods into work to share is because I love baking, but I cannot eat the results in a portion-controlled way without half the batch going off before I get to it.  A few dozen cookies eaten one at a time?  Eep.  And the equally unacceptable alternative would be eating them all myself in the space of a few days.  Double eep.

So by bringing in those cookies, I'm spreading not only the love, but the calories around.  And with these cookies in particular, I was deliberately passing on the calories before I ate them all myself.  Nuts are delicious, and full of healthy fats and protein.  But they also pack a fair number of calories for not a lot of nuts.  If you've ever weighed a one-ounce serving of almonds and then counted the actual number of almonds that gave you, you understand what I mean.

I indulged in nuts as a post-running snack while I was marathon training, but they were kind of mocking me in the post-marathon haze of my pantry, so I wanted to get rid of some of them.  But not all of them, they will be my motivation to get back to some longer runs in the future.  I'll spend a Saturday morning running if I can eat a big handful of nuts afterwards and not have to count them.

Because I made these after my weekend trip to Phoenix I didn't have time for a complicated recipe that required forethought in collecting ingredients.  To that end, peanut butter cookies were the perfect nut-sharing solution, with a honey-roasted twist.  And getting to 'sample' the dough (always the baker's prerogative) was a delicious bonus.

Honey Roasted Nut Butter Cookies
Adapted from Kraft: Easy Peanut Butter Cookies
Makes about 3 dozen cookies


  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup honey nut butter
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped honey roasted mixed nuts


  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Combine the first four ingredients in a bowl and mix until dough forms.  Then mix in chopped nuts.
  3. Roll into 1-inch balls and place on prepared cookie sheet a few inches apart.  Using a fork, flatten the dough with the traditional peanut butter cookie criss-cross.
  4. Bake for ten minutes, or until the edges are golden brown.  Allow to cool on the sheet a few minutes before transferring to wire rack to cool completely.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Inspiration Saturday: Chihuly in the Garden

Last weekend I went on a whirlwind mini-trip to Phoenix, and in three days I took over 900 photos.  Whoa.

Many, if not most, of those photos were taken at the headlining event of the weekend, Chihuly in the Garden.  It was the initial spark that drew us to Phoenix, taking (and deserving) half of Saturday's schedule.  We arrived in the afternoon, took a full turn around the garden in the sunlight, then ate at Gertrude's, the on-site restaurant, and then saw the same exhibit lit up in the dark of night.

I enjoyed the entire trip, but certainly seeing Chihuly made the travel and use of vacation days from work worth it.  Separately, both the botanical garden and the pieces of glass would be beautiful, but together they are quite stunning.  It's no wonder I took so many photos, because every time I took a step there was something else to see, or at least a new angle to view it from.

Here are some highlights from the sunlight:

Then I enjoyed a salmon salad while the sun went down and what felt like a whole new exhibit lit up.  Navigating the paths in the dark made it a little more challenging for me and my camera, but we both still did pretty well, I think:

Amazing, isn't it?  I love the way the art interacts with the plants and the desert landscape, which already feels a little alien.  Some of the pieces look like they could be cacti, and some cacti look like they could have been crafted from glass.  And each of the pieces are so intricate, so complex, throughout the exhibit I was overhearing people wondering how they were constructed, and being tricked into thinking that the light was coming from them rather than just reflecting.

So even a week later, this is what's inspiring me, and I hope you as well.  If you ever get a chance to see Chihuly in person, I can only recommend that you go and bring spare batteries and memory for your camera, because I needed both.

For more inspiration, go to Woolen Diversions.