Saturday, December 24, 2005

All finished

The presents are complete and wrapped. The food is prepped for tomorrow. The house is clean. After the boys are in bed Dan and I will do an hour long yoga set and then fill the boy's stockings before drifting off to bed. For once in my life there isn't anything last minute that needs to be done, no worry that someone won't get a completed gift. It's a lovely feeling, though somehow strange. I'm so used to being up late Christmas Eve, scrambling to finsh something gift-ish for the next day that it's almost tradition. Have to admit, I could get used to this.

Happy Holidays, everyone.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Christmas, almost crunched

Woot - I'm just about done!

  • Finish knitting the Twisty Turns wrap for my sister. Block said wrap.
  • Finish the One Skein Wonder for the wee blonde curly haired one (and why on earth is that taking so long?)
  • Stare sadly at Dan's *almost* completed hat and hope that the last skein of Decadence arrives by Saturday so I can finish it in time. (The Decadence arrived on Thursday and I'm all finished!)
  • Buy knee and elbow pads for the boys to go with their new Razor scooters (shhhhh!)
  • Tell my dad that we're moving to Portland (this is a biggie - he's going to freak in a rather spectacular way and I have to handle it carefully, but do it before Christmas. Yeah, I'm calling him today.) (This went much better than I would have thought. He's not certain about the move and whether he'll get to see us much, but seems to be taking it well so far.)
  • Coat the Praline Chantilly (dessert for Sunday) with chocolate glaze.
  • Do the same with the layered dessert I made up for Dan's birthday dinner tonight.
  • Make chimichurri sauce for Dan's birthday dinner tonight.
  • Clean the house as best as can be done with two whirlwinds of chaos. Make a batch of Grandma's rolls for Sunday's dinner.
  • Caramelize apples for the salad course.
  • Get to the store Friday Saturday and buy salad greens and broccoli for the dinner.
  • Make beef stock for the jus to go with the roast on Sunday.
  • Wrap presents.
  • Make spiced nuts to nibble on Sunday.
  • Make lentil soup and bread for lunch on Sunday.
  • Make meringues and chocholate cookies for the small fry.
  • Make mashed potatoes for the preschool Christmas party on Friday.
  • Do at least an hour of yoga.
  • Finish getting stocking stuffers for Dan and my sister (the boys are covered, and yes, we do stockings for grown-ups!)
  • Sleep. (looks like this one is definitely happening this year!)

Monday, December 19, 2005

Real life knitters!

Yesterday I drove out to the Los Angeles Farmers Market and this is what I saw. Knitters! Lots of them, all sitting and talking and well, knitting. Knitters in the wild, I tell you. Something I never, ever see out in my neck of the (out in the middle of almost nowhere) woods. One woman wandered over, watched all of us for a while, then asked if we were a knitting circle. It was a bit difficult explaining that most of us had never actually met before, though many knew each other online, at least sort of. The really funny part is that while much of the group was tagging along with Lauren, there was a completely different group of knitters who just happened to also be out in front of the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf when our group arrived. What are the chances of two unrelated knitting groups showing up in the same random public location at the same time?

Stomachs were grumbling, so several of us branched off to go find food, then it was off to the Knit Cafe with Jen (had a great conversation about Los Angeles en route as we drove down Melrose Place). This is where I realized just how few people I really knew there, even through blogs. This is probably a good thing, since I would have been much more intimidated had I had any idea of who anyone actually was. I mean, here was a luscious knit store filled with incredibly talented, cool, gorgeous knitters...what the heck was I doing there? I worked on Christmas presents and tried hard to blend into the woodwork a bit. Got to see a few things I haven't ever seen in person, like spinning (fascinating to watch) and an actual ball winder and swift in action.

Afterwards a much smaller group walked down to Mel & Rose, a small store/deli with a mind-boggling array of candy, liquor, and other random gift items. Somehow we all ended up oggling the chocolate aisle (yes, there was a whole aisle devoted to premium chocolates) together, and everyone grabbed something to drink and chocolate to nibble while we all talked. Got to talk more with Lori, Julia, MJ, Andrea, and Lauren (and meet her boyfriend - definitely a keeper!) while we all knitted. What a great group of people. I really enjoyed talking with everyone and getting to know people outside of words on a page and pictures on a screen. All in all, it was a wonderful day. Many thanks to Lauren for putting it all together, and all the knitters who made it well worth the drive.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Proud mama time

Last night was Winter Carnival for the local YMCA preschool and after school programs. There were raffle tickets, a spaghetti dinner, a slightly *too* enthusiastic announcer (who was nonplussed when asking about holiday traditions and I offered up "making this!" and held Dan's almost completed scarf aloft), plays and songs by all of the children, and a rather young, slender Santa Claus who could barely keep from laughing. Good times were had by all, but the highlight of the evening was when all of the littlest ones nervously lined up on stage and sang. Decked in red and black, with Santa hats of all shapes and sizes, the preschoolers were uncertain at first, but warmed up and had a great time as they sang. Arden was placed dead center alongside his best friend: both are not shy in any way, shape or form. Arden boogied with a grin on his face to "Santa Claus is Coming to Town", becoming (marginally) serious while ringing the bells for "Jingle Bells". There was just something about watching him up there, so earnest and full of joy, that made my heart sing as well.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Quick Sangria recipe

I served this with the tamales last weekend. Wanted something light and fruity to go against the rich fare served, and this was perfect. I will be making it again many, many times.


Makes 8-10 servings (leave at least 2 servings per person)

4 cups water
1 cup sugar
2 cups dry red wine
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup lime juice
lime, sliced thin
lemon, sliced thin
orange, sliced thin

Combine water and sugar and stir until sugar dissolves. Alternatively, pour everything into a juice container with a top that seals and shake away. Add wine and juices and chill in the refrigerator at least one hour before serving. Pour into a pitcher and add sliced fruits. Serve over ice. (I set out a nice looking bowl with ice and a large spoon)

More knitting

First, another finished scarf and hat set, this one going to my mother in law. I know, I know... it looks just like one I finished last week, but they are a little different - see? This set is a little more refined, and the hat isn't huge (my mother in law has a normal amount of hair, unlike my sister in law who sports a gorgeous mane). The moment I finished adding a fringe I started on Dan's hat and scarf. Same yarn, but in a rich chocolate color. Oddly enough, it's a little softer than the blue. I can only imagine the dyes are different or some such thing. But soft and warm are perfect for Dan, the cold one of the two of us. Why is that, anyway? Every couple must have one warm person and one cold person, if only to balance out the universe in some way. At least that's my theory.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Weekend Cookbook Challenge

Yes, I realize that it's Tuesday. But the ever kind hosts of Weekend Cookbook Challenge have extended the deadline of the first challenge to December 15th, so all is well. The idea for this one is to pick out the cookbook I've had the longest and make a recipe from that book. This isn't my first cookbook (it was a spiral bound community cookbook that has long since fallen completely apart, a gift from my aunt when I was ten), but the first I purchased on my own as an adult. Back in 1990 I was living in Pennsylvania by myself with few friends and no family nearby. At the time I loved to raid my local Penn State library for anything that seemed interesting, especially cookbooks. Anything to avoid homework. I found World of the East Vegetarian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey during one of these basement library crawls, the copy reinforced with layers of clear tape that showed what my librarian friends like to term "years of love". I loved everything I tried making from it and kept renewing my loan again and again. Samosas, somen noodles, spiced basmati rice, baklava, it was all delicious. I think I had it for almost three months when someone else requested my copy. It was a sad day when I had to return it, and I vowed to get my own soon. It took a while to get the $25 together to buy it, but about a year later I proudly marched into Barnes & Noble and got my very own copy. Now it's falling apart, the pages only barely held together, full of notes and love. Need to get me a new copy soon.
The next part of the challenge was more difficult: finding a recipe to try. I've had this book for so long, it was hard to find a recipe I hadn't made before. I chose Chapchae, a Korean noodle and vegetable stir-fry that I often grab as a snack over at the asian market. Full of garlic, sesame oil, a hint of soy sauce, and thick, chewy noodles, it isn't a lot to look at, but the end results are quite satisfying.


Serves 2-4 (2 as a main dish, 4 as a side)

2 ounces thick mung bean or yam noodles
2 Chinese dried black mushrooms
1/3 pound tender spinach leaves
1 carrot, peeled and julienned
1 small zucchini, julienned
2 medium sized mushrooms (I subbed red bell pepper - don't like fresh mushrooms), cut into matchstick pieces
2 large Chinese cabbage leaves
4 green onions
4 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 Tb. dark sesame oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tb. soy sauce
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt

Soak the noodles in 6 cups of water for 30 minutes, then drain and set aside. Soak the mushrooms in 1 cup hot water for 20 minutes. When soft, cut off any hard stems and slice fine.

Blanch spinach in boiling water for a minute or so. Drain, then run under cold water. Squeeze as much moisture out of the spinach as you can.

Cut away the tender, curly part of the cabbage and discard. Cut the thick core crosswise into thin strips.

Cut the green onions into 2 inch sections. Quarter white sections lengthwise to make narrow strips.

Mix all the vegetables in a bowl, separating the spinach leaves.

Heat vegetable and sesame oil in a wok or large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and stir fry for 10 seconds. Add the vegetable mix and stir fry for 3-4 minutes, or until vegetables are just tender-crisp. Turn heat to low. Add the noodles, soy sauce, sugar, and salt. Stir well and cook for 2-3 additional minutes. Taste for seasoning (I ended up doubling the soy sauce, sugar and salt).

Monday, December 12, 2005

Knitting, meme, and a recipe

First, the knitting. I've been clicking needles merrily (and not so enthusiastically) almost every possible moment for the last few weeks, trying to get Christmas presents finished in time for, oh, say, Christmas. Not doing terribly badly, but I have to get moving if everything is going to get done. Clockwise from upper left: One Skein Wonder in stash yarn of some sort for a wee five year old, plain ol' mistake rib scarf in KnitPicks Decadence, and Twisty Turns from Warp Style in KnitPicks Andean Silk (the color is a gorgeous burgundy that refuses to photograph properly). Also in line are a scarf and hat for Dan. Already finished a scarf+hat set for my sister in law and the hat that goes with the blue scarf, and both the Twisty Turns and One Skein Wonder are pretty far along. I'm switching between projects as I get bored or tired but sticking with things-that-must-be-finished-by-Christmas. And as reward for my dilligence, I got a copy of Knitter's Handbook and some gorgeous Cherry Tree Hill Supersock as birthday gifts this last weekend. Karma, baby!

On to the meme. I was pegged by B'Gina over at Stalking the Waiter and I've really been thrown for a loop. How on earth to narrow down my very favorite foods? It's a bit like picking a favorite child - each has their own special traits that make them unique and wonderful. I'll do my best, though.

So here they are, my Top Ten Favorite Foods (in no particular order):

  • Asparagus - In the Spring, when slender stalks can be had for less than a dollar a pound, I go a little crazy. I have been known to steam a pound, top it with butter and a little salt, and call that dinner. Wonderful, heavenly stuff.
  • Pistachios - Anything with pistachios and I'm instantly addicted. There's something about the flavor, the color, the crunch that pulls me in every time.
  • Fresh, ripe, peaches - I can't think of many things better than a perfectly ripe peach, juices dripping down my arm as I bite into it.
  • Fresh bread - Something about the smell of bread, right out of the oven, and then the taste and feel in your mouth. There's really nothing like it at all.
  • Indian food - All right, I know that's a whole category and not a specific food. But I could eat Indian dishes every day and night for the rest of my life and be blissfully happy. Can't even come close to pinning down anything specific.
  • Rice - I eat rice in some form almost every other day. It's so simple, a perfect foil for almost any other dish, yet satisfying all on it's own.
  • Tea with milk and sugar - One of my favorite small indulgences. Rich, sweet, warm, and the perfect start or end to the day.
  • Steak - There are days when nothing will do except meat, preferably meltingly tender and flavorful.
  • Perfectly scrambled eggs - For me, this means cooked long and slow so the eggs are creamy and almost custard-like. Each bite practically dissolves in my mouth.
  • Toffee - In general, I don't have much of a sweet tooth. I can pass up cookies, cake, just about anything...except toffee. Once I found pistachios covered in toffee and chocolate at Bristol Farms and just about died happy right then and there. Sadly, they don't make them any longer. Though perhaps I should be thankful, since I could not stop eating them AT ALL.
Last, a recipe. I'm working from notes and trying to piece together everything I did, so tamale recipes are going to come one at a time. First, the one sleeper of the night, Tamales Dulces. These were made up as a last minute answer to "what the heck are the small fry going to eat if they don't take to tamales?" I made up a sweet masa, then grabbed a bottle of cajeta (a sweet, thick caramel made from cooking milk for a long, long time) to dollop in the center before steaming. They came out sweet, but not cloying at all, with a rich, warm texture that was hard to put down.

Tamales Dulces

makes approximately 3 dozen small tamales

3 cups masa harina
1 cup lard (Yes, lard. No, it won't taste the same without it.)
2 cups water
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
corn husks
cajeta, dulce de leche, or caramel sundae topping (in a pinch)

Soak the corn husks in water for at least two hours before filling the tamales. Drain, then pat dry.

Beat the masa until light and fluffy. Mix the masa harina, water, sugar, salt, and baking powder together, then mix into the lard. Beat again until mixture is light and all ingredients have combined well.

Fill each husk with a small amount (perhaps 1/4 cup) of the sweet masa, then add a spoonful of cajeta in the center. Make sure to enclose the cajeta on all sides with the masa or it will leak as they cook. Steam the tamales for approximately one hour, or until the masa is set. Best served warm.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Full and happy

The last guest is gone, there are piles of empty corn husks covering the counters, and bags of tamale love in the freezer. It was all so incredibly good. Even better than the food was seeing friends and spending time together while elbow to elbow in masa.

Pictures and recipes to come, though here's a sneak peek:

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Where in the world...

...are you? Yes, I found one of those map thingies to play with, too. Come on over and give me a wave, why don't you?

Check out our Frappr!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Many simmering vats later...

Today has been a day of large pots and things cooking for a long time. Pork, bay leaves, salt and pepper simmering for a long time. Pork fat rendering for a long time. Fresh corn tamales steaming for a long time. Small boys steaming for a long time (this last involved not cooking but tempers).

Pork has been shredded, pork fat rendered, fresh corn tamales steamed, tempers (mostly) cooled, and drinks (for the grown-ups) poured. Tomorrow more cooking and hopefully less steaming.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Eight years ago

....I married my very favorite person in the world. I still feel fluttery and excited when he comes in the room, and we still hold hands and kiss in public. Things are deeper, smoother, more well worn and comfortable, but underneath is a fire that shines so bright it eclipses everything. The best gift I ever got was Dan, my partner and my soul mate. I can't wait to see what the years to come bring.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Preparing for a Tamalada

Next Saturday Dan and I are having a joint birthday party. He was born right before Christmas a year before me, which makes right now my favorite time of year since I'm two years older for a few weeks. Fun to pinch his cheek and utter, "oooh, what wee little one!" Yes, I am easily amused. Anyway, we're getting a bunch of friends together and making a mess load* of tamales together. After that comes out the Princess Cake, something completely non Hispanic in any way. Hey, it's our birthday party, and the cake sounded really good.

I got the tamale recipe from Chef Pedro, guru of all things edible back at my old hospital job. He made tamales around Christmas time that were just amazing. Managed to get him to share a very loose recipe, though most of the specifics I'm having to figure out as I go along. More fun that way since I like a good challenge.

Just finished simmering four pounds of chicken thighs and legs with some salt, pepper, and bay leaves. No other seasonings, as per Chef Pedro. They smell delicious already! Waiting for them to cool so I can shred the meat. The broth has been set aside to flavor the masa dough later.

I'll cook up some pork as well tomorrow. Then off to hunt for corn husks, lard, ancho chiles, corn, masa, and marzipan (for the cake).

The menu for Saturday:

fresh corn tamales with chiles and cheese (vegetarian and made up before people arrive so everyone can munch a bit)
chicken tamales with ancho chile
pork tamales with ancho chile (thinking of coloring the masa for these with some paprika so they're easy to tell apart)
moroccan carrot salad (lots of garlic, parsley, and lemon juice - should go well with the tamales)
roasted green onions
red and green cabbage slaw with oranges

Princess Cake

*mess load = fantastically large amount, similar to ass load but more acceptable in polite company

Saturday, December 03, 2005


Last night, while I was cooking dinner, my youngest jumped off the top of the couch down to the lower cushions. Getting up on top of the couch is strictly against the rules. The boys got quite a lesson in why that exact rule exists.

As A was jumping down, his foot got caught and he hit face first against the edge of the coffee table. Split his eyebrow right open. Poor little guy was screaming and crying, saying how much it hurt, while Dan held him and tried to comfort while I called the pediatrician. The office has late hours, so we grabbed a teether from the freezer (keep several of these on hand for bumps and bruises) and some gauze to keep pressed against the wound, and packed into the car. I sat between the boys so I could help hold the ice pack and hold his hand, since it still hurt quite a bit.

Got to the office where we were ushered into a room pretty quickly. A was very still and quiet, still hurting. The doctor took one look at the gash (almost an inch across) and told us to go to the ER for stitches. So back in the car we all went, Dan driving ever so carefully over the bumps in the road. At the ER A wanted me to stay with him, so Dan and R stayed outside and got paperwork done while we waited for a bed. Got a room and soon after a doctor came by, took one look at the wound, exclaimed, and come back with suturing supplies. About half an hour later a different doctor came in, looked at the wound, looked at the tray, then whisked it away and came back with completely different supplies. Guess everyone has their favorite set up. Meanwhile, I held A's hand and talked to him quietly. He kept telling me how much it hurt, which broke my heart. I kept wishing I could do anything at all to make it all better besides simply being there.

The doctor and a nurse came back into the room. Then the really hard part: the ever dreaded shot full of lidocaine. I held A's hands and tried to soothe him, but he kept screaming and yelling, "It hurts! Oh, it hurts so much! I want to go home now!" I simply held him and comforted as best I could, but it was so hard to let someone do something that caused him so much pain. Finally the numbing medicine kicked in and he grew quiet as the doctor started stitching. Smart doctor - he told A he was just washing everything, that it wouldn't hurt, and that he'd go home very soon. A didn't even know he was getting stitches and was relieved that the pain was finally gone. Once everything was done I told him that he had stitches that would hold everything together so it could heal.

He thought about this and then seemed satisfied. "I got six stitches! I have to show everyone at school tomorrow!" Suddenly the fear and pain was forgotten, to be replaced with something new and exciting. Much like when I first labored and gave birth to him almost five years ago. Love you, sweetheart. Hoping this is the last time you get stitches, but know that I'll be there if you need me again, any time.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas least from the output of knitted gifts so far. This scarf is a long awaited thank you for Ryan's Speech and Language evaluator, a wonderful woman who deserves something really special. Made from Silky Wool in a simple lace pattern, it should do nicely in warm Southern California weather. I'll wrap it in tissue and send it off tomorrow.
These are for my sister in law who lives in San Jose. It actually gets cold there, so something warm and fuzzy will be a big help. The hat was made like Susan's pattern but subbing my own top down shaping (K1, M1 all around, then K2, M1 all around, then K3, M1, etc. until it's large enough). Knit up in Decadence, they came out really soft and luxurious.
OK, I had to try them on. Had to. May well have to knit up a set for myself after I'm done with Christmas presents. Now, on to the next scarf and hat set for my mother in law, then one for Dan. Meanwhile I'm almost a quarter way through a Twisty Turns wrap for my sister. Mindless knitting to make up, but the end result looks to be really nice.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Happy birthday to me

Thirty seven years on the planet and still learning. Today I plan on all the usual things: taking the boys to and from school, making phone calls, doing errands, washing dishes and chasing small children and cats. I also plan on knitting curled up on the couch while watching something without any redeeming qualities, doing an hour and a half of yoga, and eating something chocolate simply because it's there. Later we're all going to dinner with a gift card given to us after I stuffed my dad's friends full of good Indian food. The boys will chase each other with Legos. Stories will be read and cheeks kissed goodnight. And as I go to sleep, I'll hold Dan close and feel profound gratitude that I am here, that I am still learning more every day.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The day after

Well, technically it's the day after the day after, but it still feels post-Thankgiving to me.

The dinner went really well. We tossed a tablecloth on the expanding coffee table, gave the littler ones plastic wine glasses full of sparkling cider, then poured the real stuff for the grown ups to enjoy. The salad was perfect: the contrast between the crunchy, salty pecans and the crumbly feta against slightly bitter greens and sweet, soft caramelized apples was something I'll be making again many times. I'm finally happy with my stuffing after many years of tinkering and playing with things. The turkey still has a way to go, though it was moist and quite tasty. The Dobos Torte proved tricky. I didn't time the caramel quite right and didn't get it poured onto the top layer quickly enough so there isn't anything covering the sides of that layer. I had the cake out for a little while before we had dessert and learned the hard way that buttercream doesn't do well with heat. The rosettes of ganache that I so carefully placed under the caramel wedges to prop them at an angle melted by the time we ate everything. Ah, well. Lesson learned. It was still delicious.

We've all been nibbling on leftovers for the past two days, picking at stuffing and mashed potatoes and polishing off those rolls. I made shepherd's pie out of some of the turkey and mashed potatoes yesterday (it came out really, really well - saving that recipe, too), and made gumbo from the rest of the meat and some frozen sauage tonight. There's almost nothing left, after sending everyone off with leftovers and our two day's worth of picking.

There's something rich and deep about Thanksgiving for me. The time spent with family, the preparations and cooking of such a bounty of food, the realization that we have so very much to indeed be thankful for. It ushers in the holiday season in such a warm and gentle way to me that I want to make that feeling last for a little while before moving on. Christmas decorations can wait. Let me savor the feeling of thankfulness for just a little bit longer.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Almost Thanksgiving and still cooking

Yesterday I deboned the turkey, made stock, baked all the cake layers for the torte, made chocolate buttercream (mmmm....chocolate....), made more rolls, started the dark meat marinading and the white meat brining. Lots of cleaning going on around here as well. Today I'll braise the dark meat, prepare the mashed potatoes up to adding butter, blanch the green beans, make the stuffing, and get all the odds and ends together. Also trimming a tree skirt for a friend of my sister, so there will be a bit of sewing as well. All in the holiday spirit (of insanity, that is).

Here's the recipe I use for cranberry jezebel sauce. I think it came out of Food & Wine magazine years ago, though I can't remember exactly. It's wonderful with pork and beef, but equally delicious with turkey, especially as a dipping sauce the next day. I like to give mine a whir with the immersion blender and strain, but it's good chunky as well.

Thought I'd share my roll recipe as well. These are rich, buttery, and perfect for just about any holiday meal. My family used to beg my Grandma to make these for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, any chance we could get our hands on them. Now she isn't able to cook any longer due to a series of strokes, so the recipe has been passed down and it's my turn. Thanks, Grandma, for the recipe and for inspiring me to be even half the cook you were.

Grandma's Rolls

Makes 36 rolls, enough for ~ 12 people

3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup warm water
1 Tb. yeast (a bit less than 2 packages of yeast)
2 eggs
5-6 cups flour

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease baking sheets.

Scald the milk (heat over medium flame until small bubbles appear around the edges); stir in sugar, salt and butter; cool to lukewarm. Measure the warm water into a large bowl. Sprinkle the in the yeast; stir until dissolved. Stir in the milk mixture, eggs and 3 cups flour; beat until smooth. Stir in additional flour to make a soft dough.

Turn dough out onto a floured board; knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes. Place the dough in a bowl and cover. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 30 minutes. Punch the dough down and turn out onto a lightly floured board.
Split dough into 3 pieces. Roll each piece into a 12 inch circle. Brush with melted butter, then cut into 12 wedges. Roll each wedge from the wide end to form a crescent, then place on baking sheet with the pointed end underneath. Squeeze sides together to form a "C" shape (the funky looking one was rolled out by one of the boys)
Bake at 375 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes, or until lightly golden. Brush with more melted butter and cool on racks.
These rolls freeze beautifully, which is a good thing - there are never enough!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Very little knitting, much cooking

My hands have been very tingly and stiff lately (weather change, I think - I have a bit of arthritis), so there hasn't been a lot of knitting going on here. I started on a scarf that will end up as a gift for my SIL, but haven't gotten half as much done as I'd like.

What I have been doing is a lot of preparation for Thanksgiving. This is one of my favorite holidays, both for the abundance of delicious food and because I get to cook my little heart out and go a little crazy. I was also born on a Thanksgiving day, so every seven or so years (it depends due to leap years) my birthday falls on turkey day as well. This gives me just enough holiday+birthday to make it special and a chance to cook like a mad fiend on my birthday and make exactly what I want. Nope, no control issues here at all, I tell ya!

I've made Thanksgiving dinner regularly over the years and tend to play around, adding new dishes and changing things to make it a bit different each year. This year we happen to have very few guests - just two other adults besides me and Dan and little girl to add to the children's camp. My mother in law is coming over later, but she works at an assisted living center and can't take the day off if she wants to get Christmas. So four adults, three small children.

With such a small group, I'm taking it easy on dishes this year and sticking to basics. The menu will be:

Crudites with a cilantro-walnut dip
Lemoncello (looks like it should be ready by then) and Prosecco with these

Arugula, caramelized apples, pecans, and feta with a honey and Dijon dressing
Roast turkey breast
Dark meat braised in port and red wine
Wine reduction sauce
Herbed dressing
Mashed potatoes
Cranberry Jezebel sauce
Buttered green beans with nutmeg
Grandma's rolls (these are rich, a little sweet, and out of this world)
Pinot Noir and Gewurstraminer to go with above

Dobos Torte for dessert

I just finished up the first batch of rolls and the Jezebel sauce and am starting on the turkey prep. The bread for the stuffing has been dried and cubed. I'll boil potatoes and whip them with half and half later today, then set them aside to finish with butter on Thursday. Not a bad start!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Have you been touched by His Noodly Appendage?

Of course you have. And I know you have often wondered, just as I have: "how can I knit a likeness of the Flying Spaghetti Monster for myself?"

Worry not. For here you will find a pattern. Now go forth and knit.

Monday, November 14, 2005

One glove down, one to go

Look ma, a glove! OK, so there are ends to weave in. That part's easy as pie and will be done as I watch random television tonight. The true wonder of this glove is the following mystery: why don't I mind the pooling? I have gone into pure conniption fits in the past when confronted with colors that ebb and flow against my every attempt to control them, so why am I so happy with it this time? And why do I suddenly adore something that has pink in it? The world may well be coming to an end. Or perhaps the glove just looks damn cool.

(The bored looking cat is Lewis, named after Lewis and Clark since she was the first in the litter to leave the box and explore. I helped with the birth since her mama cat was very young and tiny (and I was a veterinary technician at the time) and she was the first one out. Her head got stuck and she wasn't moving or breathing once she came free. I cleared out her airway, rubbed her all over to get her circulation going, and she pinked up and mewed right away. She's a little, well, off , most likely due to a wee bit of damage. But she loves everyone and is more than content if there's a motionless lap available, and Dan still thanks me for helping her into life. She came over to grab some scritches since there was a hand available.)

This is a sampler I made up to test out some rib stitches for upcoming Christmas presents. Not sure what the yarn is - some sort of wool blend in a worsted weight, I think. From top to bottom:
cartridge belt rib1: (mult. of 4 sts +3) *k3, sl1 with yarn in front; repeat from * to end
broken rib: (mult. of 4 sts +1) Row 1 - *k2, p2; repeat from * to end
Row 2 - k1, *p2, k2; repeat from * to end
cartridge belt rib2: (mult. of 4 +3) Row 1 - k3, *sl 1 with yarn in front, k3; repeat from * to end
Row 2 - p1,
*sl 1 with yarn in front, p3; repeat from * to end
wavy rib: (mult. of 6 sts +2) Row 1 - p2, *k4, p2; repeat from * to end
Row 2-4 k the knit sts and p the purl sts
Row 5 - k3, p2, *k4, p2; repeat from * to end
rows 6-8 - k the knit sts and p the purl sts
faux brioche rib: (mult. of 4 sts +1) Row 1 - p1, *k3, p1; repeat from * to end
Row 2 - k2, p1, *k3, p1; repeat from * to end
eyelet lace rib: (mult. of 8 sts +5) Row 1 and 3 - k2, *p3, k2, p1, k2; repeat from * to end
Row 2 - p2, k1, p2, *k1, yo, ssk, p2, k1, p2; repeat from * to end
Row 4 - p2, k1, p2, *k2tog, yo, k1, p2, k1, p2; repeat from * to end

Note that broken rib and faux brioce rib look practically identical. They do differ slightly: faux brioche has more of a garter stitch look to it. Cartridge belt rib was odd to track down. The first one I knitted up was the third section from the top, which I really like. It's tightly woven and has a subtle pattern to it, though it is in no way reversible. After hearing that this was the perfect scarf pattern and that it was the same on both sides, I did more hunting and found the pattern that I knit up last. Incredibly simple. It, too, looks a lot like the broken rib stitch, but it lies much flatter and the vertical lines of slipped stitches give it extra visual interest. Wavy rib is really just a basket weave pattern turned around, though I like the look. Eyelet lace rib would be nice on a finer guage yarn.

Nice to have an idea of what the stitches all look like and get a feel for the ease of the patterns as well. I could use some honest to goodness easy knitting since I'll be burning the midnight oil making up holiday gifts this year.

1 - this is a version I found somewhere on the web, and it actually looked like the pictures I've found of cartridge belt rib.
2 - this is the "corrected" version ot the pattern from Weekend Knitting.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Palm looking more peaceful already

Yep, I'm finally working on my very first pair of gloves thanks to Nona and her Peaceful Palms knitalong. I'm using the Hooray for Me pattern since I like the idea of fingerless gloves - I'm all about being able to use those fingers and nails whenever the mood strikes. Using KnitPicks Sock Garden in Geranium, one of my few impulse, ever. Something about the vivid reds and greens with hot pink peeking through here and there just called to me but I hadn't figured out exactly what to do with it. The answer is now quite clear: make rockin' fingerless gloves, of course! Starting the fingers tonight. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Leaf hunting with the boys

Today there was only a paltry amount of homework. More importantly, there are leaves falling all around our townhouse complex...leaves that must be sorted, exclaimed over, and collected. Or "hunted", as my youngest likes to call it. So off we went, the three of us equipped with baskets, to see what we could find. Out in my neck of Southern California there aren't a lot of trees that actually turn color in the Fall, but as luck would have it there are several within walking distance. Each leaf was held up and displayed by the boys, each waiting for a thumbs up that this leaf was a good one. Cries of "look! I found one with lots of colors!" were heard over and over. I was humbled at the look of awe on each of the boys faces as they looked at the next leaf.

I was able to get a quick picture of both of them together. Hard to get them to stop moving long enough to snap a picture, especially when they wanted to move. This one really shows both their personalities well, and also shows how close they are in size despite being two years apart. Amazing, both of them. I'm so glad I got a chance to go leaf hunting with them today.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Shawl, gifts, and a new project

Blogger wasn't playing nicely the last few days, so I'm finally sharing pictures. Here's the Shaeffer Anne shawl with yours truly as a size indicator. Not bad at all, especially considering I used just a little over 320 yards. Can't believe there was so much left after such a lovely pair of socks! Thanks again to Julie, my incredibly considerate sockapal2za pal who sent the extra yarn along, just in case I could use it.

One more peek - the colors are more accurate on this one. It's so soft and light, with a bit of warmth that's comforting. I'm sending this off to someone in a very bad patch at the moment, and comfort is exactly what she needs. Julie, this yarn is getting a really good home :-)

Look what I got in the mail on Friday! A card and beautiful stitch markers from Danielle over at aswim in knits. Looks like I was one of the prize winners out of everyone who donated at Give a Little put together by Margene of zeneedle fame. I actually won something! And such a lovely something - I love the colors and the sheer number of these. Have to be making something lacey and intricate soon, I think. The green and mauve ones are my favorites and are sitting on my knitting needles right now. Thank you, Danielle, and many thanks to Margene for putting all of this together. So happy to be able to help in any small way.

Last, I decided to start something simple as a rest from lots and lots of lace and tiny needles. This is what I came up with as "easy". Actually, it's pretty simple and I'm loving how it's coming out so far. It's Classic Aran out of The Children's Collection with Alice and Jade Starmore, though I'm using the pattern more as a guide and changing things as I go. For instance, I'm using Cotton-Ease, which is a slightly larger guage but CHEAP. My youngest (he's four and a half) picked the pattern out with a wide grin and a "can you make me a sweater, mommy?" - how could I say no? The only glitch is that I only have 3 skeins of Cotton-Ease. Looks like I'll get a front and a back out of that, but the kid needs something to cover up those arms, I'm thinking. Anyone happen to have 2 or 3 skeins of Cotton-Ease in Blueberry? I'll send money, handmade soap, baked goods.... Never mind that last bit - Norma has 3 skeins that will soon become the rest of the sweater. Thank you, Norma! Isn't the Internet grand?

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Shaeffer Anne shawl, almost finished

Here's what it looked like after binding off. I was left with eight inches remaining, so my guestimate worked pretty well. I love the way the colors ended up here.
The whole thing takes a dip in warm water with a tiny bit of Dr. Bronner's soap. It bled more than I would have thought, but given that shawls don't tend to get washed much if at all I think that's fine.
Pinned to my portable pattern board and drying in the shade. It ended up fourty-five inches on the long side after much gentle tugging and pinning. The whole thing is much larger than I would have thought, a decent size to drape over shoulders and make the wearer feel extra special.

Finished pictures tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Played hookey today

Dan stayed home from work and my MIL picked up the boys from school and took them for the afternoon. We had incredible dumplings at Din Tai Fung Dumpling House, then zipped off to watch Serenity in one of the few places where it's still showing. Found out tickets are only $5 all day on Wednesday and had a completely empty theater all to ourselves to boot. Felt like having our own private viewing room to cozy up together in. Great movie, by the way. Then we walked through the mall and window shopped for a bit, holding hands and laughing at displays together.

Sometimes all I need in the world is a few hours with my best friend. I love playing hookey.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Ah, there's nothing like a hoarde of small children hopped up on sugar

Today was D-day. In the last twenty-four hours I:

  • Bought construction paper, feathers, tacky glue, googly eyes (surprisingly hard to find), a long adhesive magnetic strip, and clothespins.
  • Cut out 28 rectangles out of orange construction paper (to go along with a reading of "The Little Orange House")
  • Planned out a ghost finger puppet craft project (teacher handed me white felt and ribbon and said, "you can make some kind of ghost puppets with these, right?")
  • Cut out 48 felt ghosts
  • Cut out 24 orange ribbons for the bows that went on the ghost puppets.
  • Tied and trimmed 24 orange bows for the ghost puppets.
  • Made up a sad sample around midnight.
  • Traced out 24 mask shapes from orange construction paper.
  • Made up a pathetic sample around 1:00 am.
  • Painted 24 clothespins black.
  • Drew out bat wings (teacher handed me a bat magnet and said, "can you make up something like this for the Halloween party craft?" I stupidly said yes. Then I lost the bat so this one's all my own.)
  • Cut out 24 sets of bat wings from black construction paper.
  • Cut 24 strips of magnet for the back of the bats. Have to have something to hang on the refrigerator door, you know.
  • Cut 24 lengths of narrow orange ribbon for the bat magnets.
  • Tied and trimmed 24 orange bows for the bat magnets.
  • Made up a not entirely pathetic sample bat around 2:00 am.
  • Got to bed by 3:00 am - at least I beat the sun!
  • Made cheese dip for my youngest's Halloween party.
  • Got both boys to school and stayed at the youngest's party long enough to play musical chairs twice.
  • Went back to Michael's to get orange construction paper for the jack o lanterns.
  • Picked up youngest at school.
  • Ran the Halloween party for 20 first graders, 3 younger siblings (all four years old), and a darling 5 month old baby girl.
  • Somehow managed to run all the children through four craft stations without anyone gluing themselves to anyone else or loss of life and limb.
  • Served humongous cupcakes, juice boxes, and chips to the above mentioned children (aside from the baby who was quite happy with breast milk, thank you).
  • Distributed goodie bags to 20 first graders while assuring the siblings that their bats, jack '0 lanterns, ghosts, and masks were really lots of goodies and just as nice as the goody bags. Honest. Only a few tears here.
  • Managed to maintain my sanity. Mostly.
...and we haven't even done Trick or Treating yet.

I'm doomed.

Oh, and can I just say publicly, for the record, that 89 degrees is too freaking hot for Halloween? Just had to get that out.

Sunday, October 30, 2005


Panna Cotta (brain style)

1 cup milk
5 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
4 cups heavy cream
1 cup sugar
pinch salt
2 Tablespoons. vanilla
8 oz. pomegranite juice
1/4 cup cornstarch

Place milk in a small bowl and sprinkle gelatin over the top. Stir and let sit for about five minutes so the gelatin can rehydrate a bit.

Combine cream and sugar in a pan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla and salt. Add the gelatin mixture and stir again until combined. Pour into (brain) mold, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight or until mixture is completely set.

To unmold, gently tilt mold so sides of the panna cotta pull away a bit, then place on platter or plate. You can also dip the bottom of the mold into warm water to help in unmolding.

(Ror non-brain occasions, pour into small custard cups, ramekins, or a large bowl. Especially pretty in small individual molds, centered on a plate and topped with berries or sauce.)

For the pomegranite sauce, I just got a small bottle of Pom Wonderful, added three heaping spoonfuls of sugar so it wasn't so tart, mixed in about 1/4 cup cornstarch, whisked like crazy, then brought it all to a boil in a small saucepan while stirring. I'd use less cornstarch of you wanted to use the sauce without the brain mold - the consistancy is rather disgusting. Let the sauce cool before plopping/spreading over the brain.

Friday, October 28, 2005


Last night, I made fingers. Many, many fingers. Oh, and toes. Big toes, little toes, stubbed toes.

Have I mentioned just how much I love Halloween?

When else could I spend an hour making severed digits out of almond dough, carefully applying red "blood" and making them look as realistic and gross as possible? More importantly, when else could I do this without having someone come and lock me up?

...and when else could I say, "honey, could you give me a hand?" and have him answer like this?

Halloween Fingers
These are not only scary but quite nibble-able as well. Crisp, almond flavored shortbread that tastes better as you store them.

Yield: 5 dozen

1 cup Butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 Egg
1 tsp Almond extract
1 tsp Vanilla
2 2/3 cups Flour
1 tsp Baking powder
1/4 tsp Salt
3/4 cup Almonds, whole blanched
Raspberry jelly or jam (you can use red decorator gel, but it won't taste as good)

In bowl, beat together butter, sugar, egg, almond extract and vanilla. Beat in flour, baking powder, and salt to make a very stiff dough. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes.

Working with one quarter of the dough at a time and keeping remainder refrigerated, roll about a tablespoon full (I used a 1 oz. cookie scoop) of dough into a thin log shape about 4" long for each cookie. Squeeze in center and close to one end to create knuckle shapes. Press almond firmly into the end of the cookie for nail. Using paring knife, make slashes in several places to form knuckle. You want them a bit thin and gangly looking, since they'll puff a little when you bake them.

Place on lightly greased baking sheets; bake in 325F oven for 20-25 minutes or until pale golden. Let cool for 3 minutes. Meanwhile, stir a little of the jam until it's thinner or warm for 30 seconds or so in the microwave (or use decorator gel straight from the tube). Lift up almond, squeeze red decorator gel onto nail bed and press almond back in place, so gel oozes out from underneath. You can also make slashes in the finger and fill them with "blood." Breaking one and adding jam to the end makes a pretty impressive severed finger, too.

Soap recipe and more information

I got several requests to share recipes and I thought I'd add a bit more in terms of general information on soap making. The biggest thing I want to say is that it's not a hard process and that the results are absolutely worth it.

(begin soap rant) If you've had dry skin every time you leave the shower and avoid soap for your face like the plague you need to try real soap. No, what you are using is most likely not soap. It's a detergent bar. Lever 2000, Irish Spring, Ivory, Dove and the rest of them - all detergent bars (notice how the packaging doesn't actually use the word "soap" anywhere? They can't, legally). What's the difference between real soap and a detergent bar? Real soap has high levels of glycerine that are produced as the lye and oils/fats chemically react or saponify and become soap. Detergent bars have that glycerin removed so it can be used in other products. This is why "soap" is so drying and harsh to skin. Oh, and if you're vegan you'll want to switch to real soap, since detergent bars pretty much all contain beef tallow as one of the main ingredients (it's cheap and readily available). Real soap, however, is very gentle and moisturizing. There is glycerin and a small amount of fats/oils remaining in the soap once it is finished and those ingredients moisturize and soothe skin. It's amazing what a difference there is once you try it. Real soap is gentle enough for the face, gentle enough for a baby's delicate skin. If you want to try soap without making your own, grab a bar of Dr. Bronner's soap, giggle a bit as you read the packaging, and give it a whirl. It's not my favorite soap by any means but it should be available at most health food stores, drug stores, and even many grocery stores. Just give real soap a try, OK? It's amazing stuff. (end soap rant)

Whew. Got that out of the way.

Now, you'd like to make soap? Here is my favorite recipe, sized to fit my soap molds. I use all vegetable oils, but you can use any fat or oil to make soap and there are many ardent fans of lard as a soaping ingredient (note: do not substitute oils for the ones I have listed without recalculating the amount of lye needed - the amount of lye listed is for this particular mix and amount of oils and fats only). This recipe produces a relatively hard bar that's creamy and full of suds when you use it and very gentle to the skin.

Basic Vegetable Oil Soap
2 ounces Castor Oil
7 ounces Coconut Oil
17 ounces Olive Oil
17 ounces Palm Oil
1 ounces Rice Bran Oil
Total Weight 44 ounces

14 ounces water
6.07 ounces lye (or 172 grams - I like to measure the lye using grams since it's a much more accurate measure of weight)

Optional things you can add in after trace:

3 Tablespoons essential oils
2 ounces fragrance oils (be sure fragrance oils are intended for soapmaking)

3 Tablespoons botanicals (any dry add-in such as herbs, ground tea leaves, seeds, ground oatmeal, etc.)

If you'd like to make up a different size batch, run it through a lye calculator, calculate for lye, then go to the bottom of the screen and change the amount to whatever you'd like. I wouldn't suggest going much smaller than 30 ounces or so as small amounts are tricky to measure properly and this is chemistry in action, so precise measurement is key.

A really basic vegetable soap recipe
17% coconut oil
42% palm oil
42% olive oil

lye needed for the amount of oils (again, use the lye calculator)

To figure out actual weights for the individual oils, plug in 17 oz. coconut oil, 42 oz. palm oil and 42 oz. olive oil into the calculator. Then resize the batch to whatever size you need. This is handy when you want to play around with the percentages of different oils/fats/butters, too.

Coconut, palm and olive oil are the vegetable oil triad - a mix of all three produces a well balanced, attractive soap. Coconut oil can be purchased in many grocery stores and pretty much all health food stores. Olive oil is easy, just get the cheapest you can get your hands on. Palm oil is tougher but can be found in restaurant supply stores. You can also order it online from many soap making companies. I'll list a bunch at the end of this entry. Lye can be purchased at some grocery stores (look for "Red Devil" drain cleaner) and in many hardware stores. Depending on where you live it might take a little bit of searching around to find some.

Even more information:
Kathy Miller's soap site - a great source of information on making soap. Tons of information here.
Walton Feed - another great starting place
The Soap Dish - one of my very favorite places to go to talk about all things soap related. There are some amazing people in this forum and a wealth of information available.
Majestic Mountain Sage - soap supplies and a great lye calculator
BrambleBerry - more soap supplies, great prices, great fragrance oils
SweetCakes - not the best prices, but awesome selection of fragrance oils
From Nature With Love - all the soap making supplies you could ever possibly want or need. Prices aren't the best, but you'll find literally everything here.
Camden Grey - essential oil mecca. Quality essential oils of every kind.
Essential Oil University - essential oils at truly incredible prices.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Soap making

In an effort to start paring down things that need to be moved, I made soap last night. We're running a bit low on our regular antimicrobial/nice to the skin shower type bar, so I made some more up. Here's how I do it:

First, I measure out all the oils and fats needed. For this batch, that meant olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil, castor oil, and shea butter. The amounts of each are important, so I use my kitchen scale to weigh everything out. I give the oils and fats a bit of a whir with my stick blender to break up any large pieces about now.

Next I measure out the "extra stuff" - things that add scent, help soothe skin, or just make the soap look more interesting. From left to right are powdered chickweed (soothing and healing), tea tree and oregano essential oils (antimicrobial), and powdered oatmeal (soothing). The first and last will also give the soap a nice flecked appearance since there isn't anything that will color it otherwise.
Next, I need a mold. I have a custom wooden mold that Dan made up for me a while back, but you don't have to use anything that fancy. For instance, pictured on the left is a mold I often use if I want to make a few quick square bars. Can anyone guess what it is?

Next I measure out the lye. This is very, very important. Different oils and fats need different amounts of lye to cause the chemical reaction needed to form soap, so I use a lye calculator (there are many of these available online) to do the math for me and measure carefully. Yes, you do need lye to make soap. No, there isn't any lye remaining in the soap when you use it. Yes, you should be very careful when using lye. Wear protective clothing (including eye protection), gloves, and shoes that cover your feet.

Next, I measure out the water. Then I slowly pour the lye into the water (never pour water into lye!) and stir until the lye dissolves. The lye solution heats up pretty quickly. There are some fumes that aren't good to breathe about now, so I make sure there's lots of ventillation. The measuring cup is in the sink in case of spills.

Now the lye solution gets poured into the oils and fats. The heat of the lye and water help to melt any fats that aren't liquid yet and also starts saponification (the process of turning fats and oils into soap). Heat and motion both speed the process along, so I start in with the stick blender to get things going.

I blend until I see trace, meaning when I pick up the blender (or a spoon), the mixture is thick enough to show a trace of the drops or drizzle on top for a moment or two. Pictured at left is a rather thick trace - I really wanted to get a good picture and went longer than I had planned. This makes it harder to mix in essential oils and the like, and can make getting it into a mold more difficult as well. I quickly add in the essential oils and other goodies.

Into the mold it goes. The mixture was thicker than usual this time, so I had to work quickly. I cover the top in plastic wrap to cut down on exposure to the air while saponification is happening. Otherwise, you can end up with an ashy layer on the top of the soap. Nothing harmful, just unattractive. I pop the mold into the oven preset to 170 degrees, then let it sit and warm for an hour. This helps speed things along. Then the mold is left in the oven (turned off) overnight. In the morning I do a quick test - rub my finger along the top and touch my tongue to see if I feel any "zap". None at all, so we have soap!

I cut the long bar into one inch sections and voila. The soap will be harder and lather better if left to dry and cure for a little while longer, but I can't resist using some of the ends to give my hands a quick wash. There really is nothing like real, honest soap - it's so unlike the detergent bars that you find in the supermarket (yes, even Dove isn't as gentle or good to your skin as real soap made with lye). Truly lovely stuff.