Sunday, December 28, 2008

2009 Project List

Originally uploaded by 3Birds
A lot of the projects I conceive of never make it out of the speculative stage because I forget about them before I begin. I have a queue of knitting projects on Ravelry, but the folks who designed that fabulous knitting community prefer to keep the focus on knitting, crochet, and spinning. Short of designing a sewing/embroidery/baking/candy-making/papercrafting/weaving/bookmaking/etc knock-off (which, noway, nohow!) I suppose the best way to improve my follow-through would be to maintain a craft journal. Since I'm almost certainly too undisciplined and disorganized (my blog's previous incarnation wasn't called the Desultory Knitter for nothing!) to keep a journal, I'm going to make a list now of all the projects I can think of that I'd like to try this year. Ideally, I'll post similar lists to my blog from time to time whenever I'm inspired. Perhaps I'll eventually move this to a sidebar, and simply add to it whenever I'm moved to do so. For now, here are some of my plans for Creating in 2009:

1. I'm in love with the stitch pattern pictured above, and I think it'd make a lovely scarf without the garter edging.

2. A project I started last year, but that fizzled, still interests me: I want to make oodles of paper cranes and hang them from my dogwood tree just as it's beginning to bud out but before it blooms.

3. I absolutely MUST make doughnuts this year! Just plain buttermilk doughnuts with a sprinkling of cinnamon and powdered sugar. Then we'll gobble them up and wash them down with cocoa for the kids and coffee for the grown ups. I'm going to do this soon, because it seems like a good winter project, but I also want to do it in the fall and serve them with apple cider.

4. I also want to perfect my recipe for apple candy (also called 'aplets' and, when made with apricots, 'cotlets') I tried a recipe I found online and wasn't entirely happy with it -- the candies were a little too soft so I'm going to try adding pectin or increasing the gelatin or cooking the apples down more. Or, probably, all three singly and in combination until I make them exactly the way I want them.

5. I want to make some small muslin bags for my knitting projects; normally I shove my knitting into my big old messenger bag but the yarn gets tangled with my keys and things and I end up dropping stitches just trying to fish the thing out and it always ends up getting dusty and sad looking. My plan is for simple drawstring bags out of muslin, but dressed up with embroidery -- I have lots of embroidery patterns from Wee Wonderfuls and Sublime Stitching as well as some vintage transfers, so this would be a fun way to use some of them. This idea was inspired (swiped is probably more accurate) from an ad I saw for some muslin project bags with a swallow or something stamped on them. Which brings me to number...

6. I want to try various printing projects. I have the Lotta Jansdotter book, and another book that was mentioned in one of my blogs as being even better is in my Amazon wishlist, and I've been wanting to do this for nearly a year already. I've always loved woodblock prints, particularly Hokusai's Mt. Fuji prints, as well as the many examples I have in children's picture books. I don't aspire to anything like that, because I never could draw, but I think I can manage some simple prints.

7. I want to find a penpal and correspond regularly through letters. I had a penpal when I was young (well, several really, but only one whom I wrote to regularly) and it was lots of fun. Email is convenient, and it has it's own charm I suppose, but it's not as elegant or literary as a real letter. I remember how fun it was to decorate the margins and the envelope, and to select tiny little things to send along with the letter. I'm not sure how I'll find a penpal, whether I'll invite someone I already know to exchange letters or whether I'll try to connect with a stranger from another country, but I'm very excited about this.

That's enough to be going on with I think. I was going to do a top-ten, but I can't possibly order my list in any meaningful way and anyhow, 7 is more magical and poetic than 10. Not to disrespect 10 -- where would we be without the decimal system? -- but I prefer odd numbers in any case.

dinner tonight: carry-out -- I had a blast cooking for Christmas but I need a break!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Have some cake in a hurry!

have some cake
Originally uploaded by 3Birds
I needed cake this afternoon, and I needed it fast. Ever have a day like that? Usually I go with some variety of sponge cake, but today I tried a new recipe adapted from one in Dorrie Greenspan's "Baking, From My Home to Yours" called Swedish Visiting Cake. The idea is that, if you look out the window and see friends on their way to visit, you can get this cake mixed and baked and ready to slice by the time they arrive and sit down for coffee.
If you can see about a mile that would be so, as long as your friends took a good 20 minutes to cover the mile and as long as you took your time greeting them and brewing the coffee. It takes a mere 15 minutes to prepare and another 25 to bake. Since it uses melted and cooled, rather than softened butter, you can get started right away. Here's what you do:

Heat oven to 350. Take out 2 eggs and set aside. Grease and flour, or spray a 9" cake pan, or lightly butter a 9" cast iron pan.
Put 1 cup of sugar in a large mixing bowl, followed by the zest of 1 lemon and 1/4 t salt. The microplane is your friend. If you don't have one, order one, then use a box grater or a zester until your microplane arrives. If you use a zester, you'll want to chop the zest fine before mixing with the sugar. Work the zest into the sugar and salt with your fingers.
Use a whisk to mix in the eggs, one at a time, then whisk in 1t of vanilla extract and 1/2 t almond extract.
Now you have a choice. If you have almond meal or almonds and a food processor, whisk together 3/4 c flour and 1/4 cup almond meal. If not, just measure 1 cup of all-purpose flour. Use a rubber spatula to gently fold this (or the flour and almond meal, well mixed) into the sugar and egg mixture.
Last, fold in the melted and cooled butter. If you live in a cold and draughty house like mine, you might need to remelt the butter. Just make sure it's not very much warmer than room temp. when you add it, or you might cook the eggs and that would be nasty.
Pour the batter into your prepared vessel, then sprinkle over slivered or sliced almonds, or even coarsely chopped almonds and some sugar, coarse if you have it, regular if you don't. Pop it in the oven and bake for about 25 minutes. It should be golden on top and a little bit 'underdone' in the middle.
Be a pal and don't overcook this! If you do, poke some holes in it with a cake tester and brush it with some sugar syrup, maybe with a bit of kirsch mixed in. But really, just don't overcook it and all will be well.
If you have a toddler in the house, make him hold his slice on a plate while you snap a few pictures for your blog. It builds character!

dinner tonight: pork shoulder roast, braised red cabbage, roasted red potatoes

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Boy and his Hat

Originally uploaded by 3Birds
I didn't like the middle bit of my first attempt (see previous entry) well enough to bother with reknitting the crown and the ribbing, so I started again. The beauty of the knitted hat (for me) is that I can finish one in about the time it takes to watch 2-3 episodes of House. The bottom band is adapted from a chart in Alice Starmore's Fair Isle book. I'd already knit the first 4 rounds when I brought my knitting with me in the car. I'd left the chart at home, so I improvised the remaining rounds. the rest of the patterning is improvised. Ever since I knit him his first hat, a rusty orange watch-cap with a sad little pompon, Robin has worn his hats indoors and out all winter long. Not every day or anything like that, but frequently enough that I notice when he doesn't have it on, and worry that he's lost it.

We've been spending a lot of time cooking and baking these past two weeks. None of my food pictures have turned out well enough to post, so you'll have to imagine the simple beauty of a creamy white blancmange with nubbly bits of almond and a raspberry swirl. Our jam thumbprints were also a success, so much so that they are my new favorite cookie (replacing molasses spice cookies and not including snickerdoodles which are in a class by themselves.) Finally, I have a new method for preparing a whole chicken, thanks to Cooks Illustrated. Instead of roasting the bird, I seared it on both sides along with some aromatics, then cooked it in a covered pot in a low oven until it was done. The suculunt meat and rich jus more than compensated for the lack of crispy, crackling skin. No doughnuts or cream puffs yet; these require more time and concentration than I've had lately. Soon!

Finally, if you're ever feeling gloomy because the kids are sick, it's raining, the house is drafty, the economy sucks, or any other reason, and you can't manage cookies or cake, try sauteeing some onion in butter. Then add garlic and ginger and curry spices. Dump in some butternut or acorn squash, peeled and cut into chunks, or even some canned pumpkin along with some water, broth, or coconut milk. Simmer until the squash is tender or, if you used pumpkin, until the flavors have had time to make friends one with another. Your house will smell heavenly and you will feel better. Probably better enough to make a lovely pilaf and perhaps even some quick bread!

dinner tonight: curried butternut squash, saffron-almond rice, homemade chapati

Friday, December 05, 2008

My first (and possibly last) slip-stitch project

Originally uploaded by 3Birds
I finished these about 2 weeks ago and I'm pretty pleased. I departed from my usual format just a bit, in that the armholes aren't raglan but semi-fitted. I put the underarm stitches on hold, then decreased every 2nd or 3rd row (I don't remember) for a bit and then knitted straight. The v-neck is also decreased 1 stitch every other row on either side. I was a little haphazard with picking up my stitches, but it's more symmetrical than it appears from the photo.

I wasn't as careful with the tension as I might have been, as you can tell from the way the slipped stitches sort of recede into the fabric. However, the fabric doesn't pucker and the overall effect, on the baby, is charming.

I suppose slip-stitch is 'easier' than fair-isle, but I much prefer the latter:

I'm going to rip back to where I began the crown shaping, despite Robin's protests, and make it a little taller and pointier. Just a tiny bit pointier. I tend to like pretty flat crown shaping, probably just because it's fun to decrease fast and furiously and finish the damn hat in an evening, but I think the flatter crowns look a bit feminine. Also the hat barely covers the tops of his ears and I do want it to be functional. Finally, I don't like the isolated red stitches that form lines along the decreases.

Finally, I knit a pair of mittens!

I took leave of my senses and knit them flat and seamed them. Never again! The monogram is atrocious too -- the initials are too small for duplicate stitch, but the stem stitch wasn't a raging success either. However, they are for a charity project and are due soon, so I need to send them along. Maybe I should unpick the monogram first? The project listed a monogram as nice but not necessary and since my recipient is an approximately 11 yr. old boy (his hand size match my daughter's) I think he might not like a mongram anyway. Justin says not, and he was an 11 yr. old boy once.

I've been doing lots of fun baking and cooking but, alas, no pictures. We'll have a baking day next week featuring either doughnuts, cream puffs, or pie, and I will post pictures if the project is successful, and perhaps even if it is not!

dinner tonight: cottage pie (homely, but delicious!)