July 1st 1995 – December 31st 2011
Sleep well my baby.
July 1st 1995 – December 31st 2011
Sleep well my baby.
I don’t think I ever had an Advent calendar as a kid so the only one that I remember having was one my Sis gave me a few years ago. It was from the ‘local’ coffee chain that has taken over every street corner in the world (this is not a negative IMO since it means I have even more places to get my caffeine fix). It was a cute cardboard tree with drawers and she had filled it with assorted candy but I think we only used it for that one year.
Well this year I decided to make 2 Advent calendars. The first was sent to the Sis down in LA and made it there just in time.
I made stockings out of cream wool felt, trimmed them with 6 different holiday fabrics and hung them from a wide ribbon. I even included sticky velcro tabs so she could hang it up without destroying her walls. While many of the stockings were filled with candy I also included some homemade shortbread, some cake decorating gadgets (the Sis who used to hate cooking has been on a cupcake baking kick) and what I think might get her through the holiday season since she works retail; baby bottles of booze.
The Advent calendar I made for myself is far less crafty and far less ‘fun’. It’s an exercise ‘Advent’. Each day leading up to Christmas I will open my little calendar and whatever exercise is written down I have to do it. It’s my hope that if I can make it through 24 days of little fitness goals then maybe just maybe it can become a habit. I reached out to a couple fitness savvy friends for suggestions and with some basic parameters I had a good variety of goals ranging from easy to slightly challenging. The only stipulation was that none of my days say “Run 10 miles” because the idea of being able to do that right now is laughable.
Here is hoping both my Sis and I enjoy our new calendars.
Panna Cotta and Florentine cookies.
The closest thing I’ve ever made to Panna Cotta was Blancmange in culinary school and since our edition of the textbook had been rushed to print before being properly proofed the blancmange recipe we used made some very obscene desserts. Imagine firm yet jiggly blancmange that when unmolded from their champagne flutes swayed back and forth and had a tactile feel that one classmate likened to “feels like real skin” adult toys. Yeah it was bad. Our poor Chef instructor had no idea what to do with a class full of giggling women and the naughty desserts.
Luckily the DB challenge hosted by A Sofa in the Kitchen has given me a chance to redeem myself with making what I hope is a family friendly panna cotta. (FYI the main difference between an blancmange and panna cotta is the former uses starch and the latter uses gelatin as a setting agent)
First up was deciding on flavors, my first thought was to use the passionfruit puree I have in my freezer and make a gelee. From there it was only a small step to decide on a ginger panna cotta. However life got in the way and before I knew it I had 1 day left and no time to make the passionfruit/ginger combo I had dreamed of. ( I sure as hell wasn’t going to give up a Friday night Happy Hour in order to make a grocery store run for ginger)
I decided on a Brown Sugar panna cotta. Simple.
As for the Florentine cookies, I opted to change my cookie to something less fussy that would pair well with the caramel flavors in the panna cotta. I used the butter cookie recipe from The Best Recipe (Cooks Illustrated) and added cinnamon to make a very subtle flavored butter cookie.
Plus it isn’t at all obscene
Challenge info found here.
The first DB challenge of 2011 was hosted by Asteroshe and she picked a dessert for January that was a flashback to my culinary school days. The challenge was to make a Jaconde Imprime and use it for assembling an Entremets. Think fancy decorated sponge cake wrapped around a layered dessert.
The last time I made a Jaconde Imprime was in either 2001/2002 so my skills were a little rusty because let’s face it, not many of us are going to be making formal decorated desserts for our Sunday dinners at home. I always admire them in the pastry cases at fancy bakeries and there is something inherently elegant about a Jaconde Imprime.
Rather than digging up my old school cookbooks to find the original recipes I tried out I opted to use the ones that Asteroshe included in her challenge with 1 minor adjustment. I made smaller batches. I only needed one dessert and while the recipes from our school cookbooks are typically very reliable they are rarely written for such small amounts.
I chose to make my Jaconde Imprime decor paste with cocoa for a striking contrast, I find the look more traditional and elegant plus it has the added benefit of not making me find my food dyes. I piped random swirls on my Silpat with the dark chocolate paste and then made the Jaconde Imprime sponge while the sheet pan chilled in the freezer. Surprisingly despite not having made this for almost 10 years it actually turned out well. It may have browned slightly more than is ideal but the wrapper was pliable and fit easily in my acetate mold. No cracks or crumbling at all. I have to admit to being a little impressed I got it right.
As for the Entremets portion of the challenge I decided against an elaborate dessert, the goal was to make something layered but there were no requirements regarding fillings or flavors. I chose to make an English Trifle. It’s a popular dessert in my family and really who can resist cake, custard, fruit and cream?
I made a jelly roll sponge that was cut to fill the Jaconde Imprime wrapper, made some jelly with meyer lemon and orange juice, mixed up a batch of Birds Custard and opened a jar of my home-canned peaches in syrup from last summer. Then the whole thing was topped up with some vanilla whipped cream.
I managed to control myself the first night and only had a small piece for dessert but I feel no shame in admitting I ate the remaining half for breakfast the following morning.
It was a great challenge, I got to brush up on a skill I hadn’t used in a while and I have my leftover chocolate Jaconde decor paste in the freezer to use at a later date. It’s not a technique that most people will use more than a few times in their life unless they are professional chefs; while it can be time consuming to do all the steps for a simple decorative wrapper it really can be impressive.
Want to try the DB challenge yourself? The challenge can be found here.
Back in late 2008 I made the decision to whittle down my yarn stash so Stashdown 2009 was born. The reasoning behind Stashdown 2009 was twofold, first I had just been laid off from my job of 3.5 years and second the yarn stash was starting to grow to uncomfortable proportions. I knew I was looking at potentially a long period without work and therefore a paycheck so working from the stash made the most financial sense. It also afforded me a chance to go through my stash and really determine what I wanted and what I could part with by selling it off. My goal was the reduce the overall stash by 20% and by setting this goal it allowed me to continue to buy yarn (I don’t do well with diets of any kind) while still requiring the bulk of my knitting to come from yarn I already owned.
I started Stashdown 2009 with the following stats in my yarn stash:
Balls/Skeins of Yarn: 233
I ended Stashdown 2009 with…
Miles: unknown since I never made note of it anywhere.
It was a race at the end but I squeaked in under the goal which felt wonderful and yet at the same time made me realize just how much I still had left.
2010 was all about falling back in love with baking, hence The Year of Bread and joining the Daring Bakers group.
2011 is shaping up to be another Stashdown year, only this time for fiber. My spinning fiber stash not only outweighs my yarn stash but it also takes up far more room. I haven’t actually bought any spinning fiber since September 2009 but before that I was shall we say ‘enthusiastic’ about collecting the stuff.
Since I only have 1 measurement to go off of for spinning fiber this is purely going to be a weight challenge. I’m starting with 39lbs and my goal is to spin up at least 6lbs by December 31st 2011. It’s not much of a dent in the overall stash size and come time for Tour de Fleece I may revise that goal even higher but for now that number just needs to be attainable.
Bring on Stashdown 2011!!!!
From the way this new blog is progressing it looks like all I ever do is cook and sew with the occasional sideline into knitting and gardening. I swear I do other things but many of them see hardly blogworthy. However there is one project I’m finally thrilled to be finished with.
This is where Daniel* comes in.
If you never visited my old blog you have never met Daniel before; he is my Lendrum double treadle wheel and has been my trusty companion for over 3 years now. The photo above is from the day I got him (August 7th 2007) and his finish has yellowed slightly with age making him a much richer color today. He was not however my first wheel, that honor goes to a single treadle Ashford Traveller that I bought off Craigslist for only $200. (let’s not discuss how much I have paid for Daniel and all his parts)
At the time I didn’t even know how to spin yet but in the 18 months I owned it that wheel helped me fall in love with spinning. My need for speed and the strain a single treadle put on my right leg required an upgrade. I do however miss the looks I used to get driving around town with the Traveller in the backseat of my car.
Spinning satisfies a completely different craft love for me that knitting/crochet/sewing or embroidery can’t. There is something almost elemental about creating your own yarn from scratch. I don’t have to try to match a commercial yarn to a project I want to make because I can make what I need. My handspun is far from perfect and that is big part of it’s appeal. If I wanted perfect yarn with no personality I could buy it. Handspun has lumps and bumps, slight variations in thickness and twist. It’s unique in a way that a commercial yarn can never be.
A year ago I started spinning this handpainted tussah silk top (one of the last batches of Dragonfibers Fiber Club) at OFFF, then life got in the way and before I knew it spring and summer had arrived. Unlike some people I have a difficult time sitting at my wheel during the warmer months. There is so much to see and do outside of the house that finding several hours to sit and spin is never a priority for me. This is also why I have failed to complete the last two Tour de Fleece challenges.
Finished handspun details: Dragonfibers Tussah Silk in Patina. 860 yards, 8oz, 2 ply semi worsted fingering weight yarn.
Next step is tackling the 2+lbs of grey merino/alpaca and 1lb of white BFL for my fair isle sweater.
*Named Daniel because most wheels are made in darker woods or stains and the Lendrum is a lovely blond Canadian Maple. Think Sean, Roger, Pierce….Daniel. (I like to gloss over and ignore both George and Timothy)
You may remember a little while ago I posted about the camera lens bag I made for my sister when I first got bitten by the sewing bug. Well she showed it off to a couple of photographer friends and soon I had requests to make a couple more.
The fabric was ordered and then sat around while I puttered around looking for a good source for the shoulder straps. I stumbled across Strapworks.com and oh my they have every kind of nylon strap you could possibly need or want. The strap choices, the colors, the hardware styles and finishes…..it was the perfect place to get a truly customized shoulder strap.I placed my order and then realized as soon as I got my confirmation that I ordered the wrong sized D loops, a quick email later and it was resolved. I didn’t even get a chance to add yet another fun thing I wanted to try out before my order was packed and shipped out. Talk about seriously fast customer service!
R’s bag is identical to the sister’s except for the fabric. It is a dark navy and cream pinstripe exterior with a navy lining, shoulder strap is the black lightweight polypropylene with matte black hardware.
C’s bag is slightly shorter and therefore more rectangular than the original version, the light green and cream fabric is only on the flap while the rest of exterior and lining is a dark chocolate brown. I decided against trying to match the brown fabric to a brown strap and opted for the same black shoulder strap in R’s bag.
The bags aren’t going to win any awards for innovative design but hopefully there are now 3 shutterbugs in Seattle enjoying their CookCraftGrow OOAK camera lens bags!
I was thrilled to try out the October challenge when I found out it was doughnuts. They are something I have always wanted to try to make but never had the excuse to do. It can be hard enough justifying the sometimes constant stream of baked goods coming out of the oven without the added unhealthy aspect of deep frying your dessert.
I had big plans of making several varieties of doughnuts, including the more traditional yeast raised doughnuts but also the Chinese Fried Dough Sticks that I grew up eating. Time got away from me and the Pie Fundraiser sucked up a whole week with planning/prep and baking. The Chinese doughnuts will be made soon though as it is congee weather again and few things are more comforting than a big bowl of congee with Yau Ja Gwai.
I stuck with a basic yeast recipe from Alton Brown (found here) because quite frankly even though I don’t always love his recipes I’ve yet to have one completely fail on me. Rather than waking up hellishly early on a Saturday morning to start these from scratch I mixed my dough the night before, covered it in plastic wrap and let it slowly proof in the fridge. Not only did that let me sleep in a little the next day but it had the added benefit of firming up the dough and made it much easier to cut. Some of the reviews on the FN site mentioned the very soft dough but my chilled dough was easy to handle and a dream to cut.
I made mini’s. I couldn’t find any of my little cutters so I had to improvise with the metal base of my tea strainer. Each doughnut is about an 1 1/2 inches wide.
The Sis requested Boston Creme doughnuts and I admit I cheated a little and mixed up a mini batch of Birds Eye custard for the filling and made a basic thick ganache for the glaze.
Dad prefers a powdered sugar doughnut with or without filling and all I had close by was a couple jars of homemade Meyer Lemon Curd. Apparently Dad didn’t notice when I filled these and popped a whole one in his mouth only to have it explode with curd. I missed the excitement but was told it was entertaining.
And my favorite, basic cinnamon sugar doughnuts. Simple, sweet, crunchy and what I love is you can still smell the subtle scent of fried dough when they are still warm. There is something so simple yet decadent about that smell.
If you haven’t made doughnuts before I highly recommend it. I made a half batch of the AB recipe and had plenty of mini’s to feed a family of 4 plus extras to bring to my Saturday knitting group.
Link to the original challenge is here.
Just a heads up. After finishing Quilt #1 I’ve been consumed by finding the perfect pattern for Quilt #2.
I’m not talking about randomly poking around through quilting blogs and Flickr for inspiration. I’m talking about all out obsession. If that quilt pattern was a celebrity I’d be in court for stalking already. It’s really becoming an unhealthy fixation.
Things I’ve learned about myself with this new obsession:
1: I don’t find it any easier to find patterns when I already own the fabric
2: I get annoyed when all the stunning quilts I find are all lap or kid sized with no info on how to make it fit my bed.
3: I like symmetry in quilts.
4: I REALLY like symmetry in quilts.
5: I can’t envision wanting to make a quilt that doesn’t show equal representation of all the fabrics I want to use. (I’ve been informed this is a tad neurotic)
6: I suck at quilt math. More so than regular math.
7: I still want to shop for fabric even though I’m planning on using a particular combo from stash.
8: I can easily spend hours drawing and redrawing the cutting line schematics for my fabric pieces to create the least amount of waste.
9: I can find a quilt I love, draw it out, decide on it and still keep looking for something better.
10: I am incredibly indecisive and can’t make up my mind!
In other news…Quilt #1 was a couch blanket for a mere 2 days before Nicki pulled it off a chair, made a little nest and claimed it as his for an entire day.
The only thing stopping me from frantically cutting into my quilt stash is the upcoming pie fundraiser I organize each year for my community garden. I promise to try get photos because the sight of 120+ pies made in 1 day is impressive no matter how you look at it.
Once upon a time this handsome boy
Was a sad miniature ball of fluff. I would have a cute little photo of Nicki in the early days but that was pre-digital camera and all my printed photos from college are wallowing in the storage unit.
He spent the first two months of his life sick, starved and severely abused by his original owner before I “adopted” him.
The adoption process went something like this.
Me: “Give me the cat”
Jackass Owner: “Um ok”
First thing I did was change his name from Igloo to Nicki. Who names a mostly black cat after a house made of ice? Made no sense to me.
Eventually he got healthy, he gained weight and his burnt off whiskers grew back. Then he morphed into a holy terror. Frighteningly violent mood swings for the first couple of years, heightened aggression to men (running joke was if he ever met a man he liked I would have to marry the guy). He truly earned his nickname of ‘Satan Spawn’.
Over time the violent tendencies mellowed and Nicki settled nicely into his life of luxury and pampering. No restrictions on where he could sleep, food always readily accessible and all the catnip and love he could handle. A few medical emergencies over the years only made it easier for him to embrace the role of an old pampered house cat even earlier than normal.
Today my baby is 15 and I can’t believe he has been part of my life for that long. He is the first pet I’ve ever had and I can’t imagine what would have happened if I hadn’t taken him away from his owner all those years ago. He has been my companion through so much, giving me something to care about beyond myself, comforting me when I was sick and staying by my side when I felt alone.
Happy Birthday Nicki!
PS: Yes you’re getting steak for your dinner tonight and no you don’t get to bully the other kitties just because it’s your birthday.