Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Rhinebeck Wanna-be

I so want to go to Rhinebeck. I don't really know what I would give to be able to go. I've never been to a sheep and wool festival, and this is like the Holy Grail of American festivals. It's also in New York and so expensive, what with the travelling, accomodations, food, entrance fees, and, of course, money for YARN!!!

For now, it's simply a pipe dream.

But I thought I'd get in on the Rhinebeck hoopla and attempt to finish my shawl before Rhinebeck starts in 17 days. I started chart 3 today, which means I finished the eyelets and starting the first round of little drops. Think I can make it by October 15th?


I'm seriously crushing on this mug.

Rhinebeck Mug 2010 Squirrel side

Monday, September 26, 2011

Pumpkin Soup! (needs tweaking)

I saw this recipe and I thought to myself, "what says the entrance of fall more than squash and apples and spice?" There aren't actually any apples in this recipe, but of course I didn't want to leave them off the list!

I made this recipe for dinner after a long college-football Saturday because I figured a small bowl of a slightly rich soup would be all we need. The only change I made to the recipe is I used some sausage crumbles I crisped up in the frying pan and drained really well instead of using bacon, and I didn't have a shallot, so I used 1/4 of a red onion.

Dad liked it. Well, he said he'd eat it. Mom was out of town. I didn't like it. I liked it enough to give it another chance, but I'm going to make some changes. I found the soup to be both flat in taste and overwhelming in certain flavors. The soup itself had a chowder-like texture on the tongue, although it was a bit thinner than a traditional chowder. However, it was certainly appealing to the eyes with a rich orange color floating with spices.

First of all is the canned pumpkin. It's flat-tasting and smells foul, although it is a really pretty color. Cooking it with cream and chicken stock helped a bit, but I'm still not sure I could even taste the pumpkin. Neither could Dad, and I think part of that problem lay in the blue cheese, which I found hit a strong and slightly bitter note against the pumpkin, and the onions, which were a bit forward on the palate because I don't think I cooked them long enough.

So here's what I would do if I make it again (which I will). I'm going to use 1/4 of a yellow onion or a Vidalia (milder and sweeter) and make sure they're cooked in the butter until they're all soft and happy and mellow. I'm not going to skimp on the pumpkin pie spice or the molasses, and I might even use half molasses/half maple syrup. The big change I'm going to make is I'm going to add a roasted red pepper (I might even be able to find them in a jar!) and blend it all up before serving - NOT with blue cheese - with simple sour cream and bacon or sausage. I will resist the urge to garnish with chives as it is in the photo. I might even throw in some peeled apple slices if I find the sweet/spicy ratio is still off.

Hopefully the changes will balance out the flavors and give the soup more depth, as well as taking the edge off that canned pumpkin (*grimace*).  Overall rating: 3.5/5

My next challenge is to try and duplicate a bbq salmon salad I had at a pub in St. Louis.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

I Have a Secret.

A tasty secret. And no, it is not lost on me that once I post it, it will no longer remain a secret.

Wanna hear it?

It's really good.

Take this recipe here and add a packet of oscar meyer bacon bits. REAL bacon bits.

Everything's better with bacon, right?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

a hankering for cheese, and spice, and... yum...

I really wanted some mexican food today. I when I say really, I mean really wanted some mexican food. There were, however, a few problems with this craving. For one, it's a home game day, which means crazy busy traffic and tons of people. Everywhere. Two, it would totally derail my diet. I am NOT dieting for weight, I just want to eat healthy, and cheesy cheesy quesadillas with bacon and cooked in butter are, don't get me wrong, wonderful, but not necessarily something my bum needs. Three, it's expensive to eat out. Mucho dolares. And lastly...

I'm still in my jammies.

Luckily I raided the kitchen (sorry mom) and got together the ingredients for a healthier, quick quesadilla that I wouldn't have to shower for.

Simple, Healthy Quesadillas

1/2 pound of turkey sausage (I prefer medium spiced)
1 jalapeno, de-veined and de-seeded
1 small-medium tomato
low-fat (part-skim) mozzarella
four 8" whole wheat tortillas
non-stick cooking spray

In a small saucepan, cook the sausage until brown and crumbly. While that is cooking, chop the jalapeno very fine, and the tomatoes as well. Let them drain on a paper towel to wick away excess moisture (it will keep your tortilla from getting soggy and drippy). When your sausage is done, do the same. Drain it of all the extra fat.

Heat up a skillet or pan on medium heat and, when hot, spray lightly with cooking spray (it will help the tortillas brown nicely). Put in two tortillas at a time, sprinkling one half with cheese, veggies and sausage. Fold over the tortillas and cook them exactly like you would a grilled cheese sandwich. Wait til the cheese is nice and melty, and flip it to brown the other side.

Guilt-free add-ons? Salsa (no fat!) and low-fat sour cream. This recipe will serve two people at two quesadillas each.

Yum. And I didn't even have to take off my jammies!

P.S. don't ever rub your nose after handling peppers. Ow.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Shawl Progress

See that little pink line? That's about how much progress I've made since the last time. Of course, I had to tear it all out and re-start it on larger needles, so I guess if you think about it, I've made even more progress. I had a brief freak-out when I thought I had dropped a stitch, but the nice ladies at the yarn shop told me I was being silly and they were right - everything was fine.

It really helps on monotonous projects to have a fun group and something to do, because otherwise it's a total slog. Yes, it's fine yarn. No, stockinette doesn't require ample amounts of attention. I just have to make sure I don't forget a yarn-over.

So this site appears to be down, but is an organization that promotes awareness of shaken baby syndrome. One of the ladies in our yarn group brought the flier in because they're doing a hat drive (purple) as part of the awareness program. What happens, she explained, is some babies cry so hard they stop breathing (ever laugh so hard you can't breathe?) and they start to turn purple, and the over-stressed, under-rested, new parents start to panic and shake the baby to try and get him/her to breathe again. It doesn't come from a place of malice - she says - they just panic and don't know what to do. Hence purple for the awareness color. If you'd like to contribute, Judy is collecting hats until late October at the Crazy Girl yarn shop in Coralville. The organization needs preemie and infant hats in baby friendly (and washer-friendly) purple yarn, any pattern will do. However, there shouldn't be any parts that could potentially choke a baby, such as ties, or things that could fall off like pom poms or buttons. Otherwise, all types of yarn, all shades of purple, all different patterns are welcome. Here's the one I'm currently working on.

That's all for now: I'm off job-hunting again.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Walnut Chicken

So I lack a clever title today. But the food's good!

Walnut Chicken (sorry, there's no pictures: we ate it all!)

1 red onion
4 small-med size chicken breasts
2-3 tbsp. butter
1/2 cup flour, plus a little extra
1/2 cup walnuts, pulverized!
1 tbsp. parsley flakes
generous pinch ground black pepper (the fresher, the better)
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. ground mustard
1 tsp. plum sauce


1. Halve your onion and slice it thinly. Set them to carmelize in a pan with a bit of cooking oil or olive oil, stirring occassionally so they don't burn. You want to get them nice and brown with "crispy bits" - they'll get soft and the very strong onion flavor will cook out. Set another pan with a bit of oil on the burner to get hot - you want it hot before dropping the chicken in.

2. While your onions are going, set up three dishes: one with the extra flour, one with melted butter, and one with the 1/2 cup flour, walnuts, parsley and pepper tossed together. Lightly coat the thawed chicken in the flour, then the butter, then press in the walnut mixture and place in the pan.

I have a disclaimer to make: I haven't figured out proper breading yet! My breading will have no trouble browning up and sticking to itself, I just can't get it to stick to the chicken. Maybe I need to use skin-on chicken, maybe I need to use eggs instead of butter... ???

3. So, anyway, the theory is you can brown the chicken in the pan, and then move it straight to a preheated oven (350 should do it). Getting really nice pans that can go in the oven is AWESOME and totally worth it. Plus you have less dishes to do.

4. Once you move the chicken to the oven (don't forget to swish your onions around once in awhile), dump the balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan and turn it on high heat. Boil it until it's reduced by half - and be careful to not stick your face directly over the pot unless you want seriously cleared-out sinuses. Once that's accomplished, whisk in the mustard and plum sauce.

5. To plate, roughly divide your onions in four parts. Place a layer of onions on the plate, topped with chicken, and drizzle with the balsamic sauce. Usually I serve it with couscous and either carrots or asparagus. Fresh asparagus with a little parsley butter is especially nice.

I need a catchphrase.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Next. Thursday Next.

The Eyre Affair, Thursday Next Series #1
By Jasper Fforde

"A combination of fantasy, comedy, science fiction, Douglas Adams, Kurt Vonnegut, Lewis Carroll, Monty Python, and even 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'." ~ The New York Times

Set in an alternate 1985, where to say literature would be a big deal is an understatement, Thursday Next is a special operative (SpecOps for short) for the London Literatecs. When a greek-style madman goes on the loose and starts messing with original manuscripts, it's up to Thursday to keeps the plots running straight. And when Jane Eyre is pulled straight from the pages of, well, Jane Eyre, things start to get dire.

Fforde's tale is chock full of literary puns and references, which make for an ultimately clever read, but I would have to say it's not for the casual reader. The avid reader, however, will eat it up. (Agent Stoker works for SpecOps 19 - guess what he does!)

The parallel universe is creative, both circumventing the conventions of traditional reality and giving Fforde the opportunity to play with history a bit. The characters are equally as interesting, and while they are engaging, sparkling personalities, they fall a bit flat. What are their histories? Their motivations? For a novel so chock full of intricate settings and intelligent plot, the questions are adequately covered: when the back cover closes, you don't feel like you're missing too much. You get the feeling, or the hope, maybe, that these characters will develop over the course of the succeeding novels.

And that, few readers, is where I am heading next, after a brief(?) respite into Gulliver's Travels, I will be making my way through Thursday Next #2, Lost in a Good Book.

Oh, and the shawl? It's bigger now.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

It has Begun.

One hour of knitting equals this:

It's gonna be a long time, but I'm loving the way the yarn is turning out so far. Did I mention the tiny supercoils? They look like miniature caterpillars! The needles are so small, I had to steal some of my mom's jump rings because my own stitch markers were too big. It will be an adventure.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Best Laid Plans and All That

I have this plan, and this plan is to make a shawl. This shawl is a very difficult one for me to attempt, due to its past life as a previous shawl. I'm torn between resuscitating the old shawl (being faithful to the memory behind it), and starting over. New life, new shawl. I wanted to pick a pattern that would show off the yarn better than the first one, too.

The yarn is a beautiful thin dark green slubbed cotton with tiny flecks of deep red. It's almost a thread-like tweed, except for the fluffy green slubs. I bought it at Earth Guild in Asheville, North Carolina when I was there a summer ago. That same trip I had hiked part of the Appalachian trail, and I picked that cone of yarn because it reminded me of the shady trails and the trees. Am I getting too sentimental?

So I picked Dew Drops shawl, from Ravelry.

The stockinette body will show off the yarn to it's best advantage, and the winding lace around the dots reminds me of paths and trees. So it's faithful to the old memory, in a way, but still can be a new shawl.

So i got me a pair of 2.75mm needles, and I'm casting on. Let this be my public declaration that I intend to finish this shawl, to vanquish this memory, and move on with my life. None of it will be easy. I've never attempted anything this difficult with this fine of yarn. I've never had to face the kind of things I've had to deal with this summer. So, wish me the best of luck, and on with the knitting.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Muffins are the Good Stuff

I have a housewarming party to go to today. So what do you bring? Candles? Some decorative thing like a picture frame? Personally I love candles, and I know a few men who want one handy in the bathroom, but overall I feel like candles (or at least their scents) are a personal choice, and rather feminine. Picture frames and what not? Same thing: personal style must be taken into account, and if you've never seen their place, it's rather difficult to pick something that matches.

So what's a woman with a bend for improvisation and a knack with a spoon to do?

Dig out her mom's old Betty Crocker cookbook (1978! that's old for cookbooks, not people) and tweak* a recipe. Tasty treats abound.

Peach Oatmeal Muffins
makes about 24

2 eggs
1.5 cups skim milk
1 cup vegetable oil (or... 1/2 cup veg oil and 1/2 cup applesauce)
2 cups flour (white or wheat... I prefer half and half)
2 cups quick cooking oats
1 1/3 cup sugar
6 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
1.5 tsp. vanilla
2 cups chopped fresh or frozen peaches (frozen is so so so much easier. just don't use canned. they're too soft and sloppy)

1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 stick cold butter
1/4 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a muffin tin with foil or paper liners.

In large bowl, beat eggs, milk and vegetable oil together. Stir in dry ingredients and vanilla, pausing between each to make sure they're mixed in completely. Fold in peaches.

In a smaller, separate bowl, lightly mix together brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Cut in butter with a pastry cutter, potato masher, fork, knife, whatever your preference, until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Handy tip: Use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to scoop the batter out of your bowl. Fill each cup at least 3/4 full and sprinkle with crumbs. Bake 18-20 minutes or until edges are golden and a toothpick comes out clean.


* recipe used only as a basic referrence. I changed some ratios, added 6 ingredients, and changed quantities. There isn't even a listing for peach muffins in the cookbook. This recipe is a significant departure from the original, therefore I have no qualms about sharing it here with you.

Friday, September 2, 2011

MONSTER (We Capture Yeti!)

"I thought I asked you to stock the ice cream," he said.
"No need," she said. "Yeti is eating it all."
He raised his head. "What?"
"Maybe not all of it," she said. "Doesn't seem to like vanilla."

So begins our first glimpse into the life of Judy, a light incog (can perceive magic/magical entities but forgets them again just as quickly) and her association with the Cryptobiological Containment and Rescue agent Monster, a technicolor man with varying superpowers, an origami assistant, and the girlfriend from hell.

Perhaps the plot is a bit predictable, but the cast and the witty, droll dialogue keeps it fresh and interesting. No boy-meets-girl, girl-hates-boy, girl-and-boy-fall-in-love. The closest you get to that is a little purring. Literally. A. Lee Martinez manages to strike a resonant chord with twenty-somethings (perhaps) not living the life they would like to lead. Monster and Judy are surprisingly down to earth - not everything is sunshine and puppy kisses in either life. Two humans who don't even like each other, then, have to team up to save the world before magic is gone, or humans are gone, or we're all drinking from saucers of milk.

One arresting feature of the book (find it online here) is the bright yellow cover that led me to pull it off the bargain shelf. Sporting a demon-horned skull and crossbones, the cover looks like a phone book ad. Unlike some books, the cover delivers on its promises; the sort of "you can't be serious" additude that appropriately matches the content inside.
Overall, while you can see plot turns coming as easily as you can bends in the road, the cast and characters are fresh and original. The book is clever, witty (even snarky), imaginative and fast-paced. Martinez creates real human characters with real human dilemmas and feelings, even if their situations are a bit bizarre.

Check it out. And watch out for the neighborhood cat lady.