Sunday, November 30, 2008

An Italian Thanksgiving...and more

Lana and our brother came to visit for Thanksgiving this week. No one was too excited about having a bird for the holiday meal, so the DH and I suggested an Italian theme instead. We had recently tried out a recipe for meatballs that we'd seen on an episode of Bobby Flay's Thrown Down. The challenge was over meatballs (DUH!), and the competition's secret recipe involved the use of four eggs per pound of meat. I'd never heard of using so many eggs in a meatball recipe - it was so decadent. Anyways, the meatballs turned out beyond expectations - soft and tender, almost souffle-like. They were better than any we'd ever had in a restaurant, and it's made it into our standard roster of meals.

So, on Sunday I threw eight eggs into two pounds of ground chuck, mixed in chopped parsley, onion, black pepper, salt, and a cup of pecorino. I then added enough bread crumbs to make everything stick, formed golf ball sized meatballs, baked at 350 for 25 minutes, and froze them for T-day. For sides we had garlicky green beans (so the DH would have some greens) and golden-crusted brussels sprouts, from a recipe.

Dessert had to be Italian, of course, and tiramisu is always a crowd pleaser. Lana and I made a tiramisu using a recipe my friend Andrea gave me from when she worked at the Mandarin Oriental hotel. I had asked if she had a tiramisu recipe using a pate a bomb (egg yolks whipped with sugar cooked to softball stage) so that we wouldn't have to choose between eating raw eggs or trying to find pasteurized yolks, which is what most tiramisu recipes ask you to do. My friend's recipe turned out excellent - thick and rich-tasting but with a texture that was light as a cloud. We soaked Italian Savoiardi with a mix of espresso, Godiva liquor, and Amaretto and laid down two layers of cookie. I dusted pure cocoa powder on each layer of cookie and on the top layer, and sprinkled grated chocolate over everything just before serving. The recipe is below - our 2.5 qt vintage pyrex cassesrole was filled to the brim. Unfortunately I didn't think to take a picture before it was completely demolished by my brother, who claimed not to like tiramisu.

Andrea's Mandarin Oriental Tiramisu

mascarpone 500g
gelatin 12g

Pate a bombe:
yolks 140g
sugar 260g

whipped cream 500g

Savoiardi dipped quickly in coffee and liquor combination of your choice (do no oversoak - center of cookie should still be hard)
Grated chocolate
For pate a bombe:
- Add about 1/2 cup of water to the sugar, stirring with your finger to make sure there are no dry spots. Heat the sugar to 121 celcius, or softball stage. Meanwhile put the yolks in the bowl of a mixer and give it a minute or two of whipping.
- When the sugar has reached softball stage, restart the mixer on high and immediately pour the hot sugar in a slow and steady stream down the side of the mixing bowl onto the eggs. Try to keep the whipping attachment from whipping the syrup around the bowl before it hits the yolks - this is best done by directing the sugar syrup straight down the side of the bowl. Pour all the sugar out, but do not scrape the bottom. Immediately set the pot in the sink and fill with hot water.
- Whip yolk-sugar mix at high speed until increased in volume, pale yellow and forms ribbons. - Set pate a bombe aside and continue with rest of recipe.

- Pour cold water over gelatin and let sit until soft.
- Meanwhile, whip the 500g of cream until stiff and set aside in refrigerator.
- Drain gelatin well and place in medium-sized pot over low heat until liquified.
- Add mascarpone to pot and stir/whisk vigorously until mascarpone is just liquified and warm, with no lumps, but NOT hot.

To combine:
- Fold mascarpone mixture into pate a bombe in two additions.
- Fold whipped cream into this in two additions.

- Lay down a 1" layer of tiramisu cream in your container.
- Dust with cocoa powder.
- Add layer of cookie and try to fill in all corners.
- Add another layer of tiramisu.
- Repeat above.
- Smooth tiramisu over, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least overnight to allow it to set and flavors to develop.
- Before serving, remove plastic wrap, dust with final layer of cocoa powder, and finish with grated chocolate.
- Buon appetito!

Everyone likes tiramisu except for the DH, so I also made up a batch of pate sucree and pastry cream for these pretty fruit tarts that we later during their stay.
We had them with the HUGE grass-fed steak Lana's advisor gave her when he was cleaning out his freezer. It was literally enough to feed a family of four. Anthony gave us a break and whipped up this classic steak dinner for us the day after Thanksgiving, and learned how to roast brussels sprouts during the same meal. The spices he used on the steak made the house smell good for two days after. With luck, next year he'll be making a standing rib roast for us.


My husband has the tolerance of a militant five year old for all things green. It's not that he's a huge meat-eater either. He is just very particular and can happily get by on a sandwich or a bowl of cereal for dinner. Unfortunately, I can't do that, so I've been spending much time and energy trying to come up with new ways to make green foods enticing for him. I draw the line at pureeing food for him. He is not a baby.

We have had some successes. For green beans, that has meant copious amounts of garlic or bacon in a quick saute. Since we cannot live on garlic green beans alone though, I have tried other vegetables too. Turnips are out. As are parsnips. No cabbage. He cannot stand the smell of cooking brussels sprouts or cauliflower. He pretends that Shanghai bok choi and broccoli rabe don't exist when they appear on his plate. Peas are the devil's spawn. Celery is tolerated as long as it is minced into oblivion.

A few weeks ago I picked up a beautiful multi-colored bunch of swiss chard at the farmer's market up the street. When I came home, I showed the DH the pretty bouquet, hoping that the rainbow colors and innocuous-looking green leaves would pass muster. Below are pictures of the dishes I came up with that even my picky DH managed to polish off.

First, I promised to chop everything up SMALL and toss with a sausage over pasta. (I have discovered that pork is my friend in my quest to make vegetables palatable.) That went over quite well, and to my relief there were few "green bit" casualties at the end of the meal.

As there was a LOT of chard, I had to figure out another way to use them. Ironically, that was even harder as I discovered that I did not like chard very much either.

It's been freezing cold here and as we'd been making a lot of barley-based soups, we had some barley on hand. Instead of putting the chard in a soup though, I came up with this barley, sausage, onion and carrot dish that was actually very quick to prepare. Start boiling water for the barley and let the barley simmer away while chopping and sauteing the other ingredients. By the time that's done, the barley is ready to be tossed with the rest, making a very warm, satisfying meal in itself. I used this to stuff some roasted red peppers, which made for a pretty presentation, but taste-wise wasn't really worth the effort.

Even I didn't mind the chard in this dish.

Lastly, I used all the rest of my chard in another recipe from 101cookbooks, the Chickpea Hot Pot. I had a giant cauliflower hanging out in my window sill, and a carton of brown rice left over from a meal at P.F. Chang's, so I threw everything into a pot and had a lovely soup for three meals. I have to say though, that after 8 meals featuring it, I was glad to see the last of my bouquet of chard!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Chocolate marshmallow cookies

We had a very warm autumn this year. It stayed hot throughout September. And then October. You could wear a t-shirt outdoors at night for half of November...then bam, it got cold. Winter's finally here, giving me a craving for baked goods. Baked goods with lots of chocolate. Nothing like chocolate to relieve anxiety over grad school applications. (I hope there's a special circle of hell for people who write application forms. Three essays for one school, are you kidding me?)

I modified a cinnamon cookie recipe to make these cookies. Pure chocolatey goodness.

100 grams butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup plain flour
1/2 cup cadbury's drinking chocolate powder*
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup dark chocolate shards or chips
1/2 cup mini marshmallows

Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl. Whisk in the egg.

In another bowl, sift the flour, salt, baking powder, and cocoa powder together.

Thoroughly combine the flour mixture with the butter & egg mixture. Chill in refrigerator for 2 hours, or freezer for 1/2 an hour.

Preheat oven to 175 degrees celcius

In your palm, take a spoonful of dough, place a chocolate shard and a marsmallow on top, and then another spoonful of dough on top. Roll it into a 1 - 1.5 inch ball.

Place on cookie sheet lined with baking paper, at least 1 inch apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

The chocolate and marshmallow melt together in the oven and permeate the cookie. They also makes the centre slightly soft. Remind me to post a picture when I get a chance. Boyfriend's got the digital camera and he's working late. For now you're just going to have to trust me. These are good.

* I didn't have pure cocoa powder. If you're using pure cocoa, increase the sugar and flour content, and reduce the cocoa powder. I don't know by how much. Experiment.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Ex-T-shirt Dress

Here's another one of Boyfriend's unwanted t-shirts modified into a dress. I cut the sleeves off, removed about five inches of material from either side of the body, reduced the size of the armholes, and then sewed the sleeves back on.

And yes, Parrot insisted on being in the picture.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Hearst Castle Shortbread

"A" came to visit me and my DH yesterday afternoon. She has a serious sweet tooth so in honor of the occasion, I went shopping that morning and got the ingredients for this shortbread recipe from 101 cookbooks that I've been dying to try out. The little story behind the recipe is fascinating, but I won't recount it here as you can read the original account on Heidi's blog. The cute mini butterfly shapes she used were also an inspiration, so I drove out to Michaels to see what I could score as I had only large, palm-sized cookie cutters. It being two weeks before Halloween, the store was all stocked up for the holiday and I ended up with a set of mini Halloween-themed cutters for two bones.

Like all shortbread recipes, this one does not contain any liquid. The most basic shortbread recipes contain only butter, flour, and sugar, but that's very basic, not containing even any salt. A pinch of salt is desirable though as it adds depth and complexity any cookie. The Hearst Castle recipe uses salt, all purpose flour, butter, and confectioner's sugar, and - the surprise ingredient - a touch of baking powder. Many traditional recipes use rice flour to achieve that delicate crispness that the best shortbreads offer, but I had never seen a recipe calling for baking powder before. My curiosity was piqued as most of the shortbread recipes I'd tried over the years yielded heavy, greasy cookies.
Half an hour before "A" arrived, I patted the dough together and wrapped it up. By the time we came back from our stroll around the Old Town historic district, it was properly chilled and we were ready to start cutting out our cookies. I showed "A" how to pound out the cold, stiff dough evenly with a French rolling pin. She took to it like a natural, clobbering the thing into a nice, even round. I also shared a pastry school secret to using minimal flour while preventing the dough from sticking to the counter - pick up the dough with a bench scraper and move it in between every roll so that it doesn't have a chance to be rolled right into your surface. We cut out pumpkin and ghost shapes and, looking at the amorphous ghosts, "A" joked that they could double as snowmen in two months. The cookies were shoved into the freezer for half an hour and 11 minutes in the oven later, we had ourselves these lovely bite-sized treats. The cookies are barely sweet, delicate, and with that elusive tender crispiness. I think I would like it a teensy bit sweeter next time, but otherwise it's the nicest shortbread cookie I've made. I was going to decorate them with orange icing, but they taste so lovely on their own, we left them alone. "A" is on the train back up to NYC as this is being written, maybe making a dent in the little bag she took with her.

Friday, October 10, 2008

My first sweater

I've been drooling over sweater patterns for years, but it has taken me a long time to screw up the courage to actually attempt one. When I finally did, I was cautious and decided that a baby sweater would probably be a smart and manageable first project. This was especially daunting as it would be the first big project I would start without my knitting coach, Lana. Eventually (with some online help from Lana) I settled on this simple pattern that is knit in one piece from the top down. As a bonus, it also served as my intro to lacework. As with every new project, it started with the best of intentions and lots of excitement, but because of a pattern error I ended up doing and undoing the sleeve 6 times (yes....SIX). To say that was frustrating does not give the statement enough color. It also slowed me down considerably and made me very unenthused about the project for a good three months.
Last night I finally blocked it and sewed on the little red buttons. It's done! I'm glad I stuck with it, because it's quite lovely. I used a cotton/merino wool blend on a large needle so it's super soft and drapey. Hopefully the recipient and her parents think it's nice, too.
Now that I look at it, the arms look a little long, but then, what do I know about baby clothes?

NB: I was asked where the pattern came from. The good news: it was free from Knitwits Heaven. There were several errors discovered earlier and they had published corrections in blue but - the bad news - the last correction was dated September 2007. Beware, the sleeve error still exists on row 32, when you start the sleeve.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Hong Kong Borscht

Once in a while I get a craving for Hong Kong borscht soup. Hong Kongers borrowed the recipe off the Russian refugees who passed through in the early 20th century, but must have ditched all the ingredients that made the locals grimace in bewilderment or disgust. There are no beets in it. Served at every diner and coffee shop in the city, the Hong Kong concoction is actually a tomato soup with cabbage and beef. It ranges from cheap-and-nasty diluted tomato paste swill to quite hearty versions which are pretty good in their own right, even if they aren't really borscht.

I decided to try making some at home. Vast quantities of it in fact, so that I could keep it in the fridge and reheat portions all week for lunch. I made it up as I went along, but I managed to produce something that tasted quite authentic. Or rather, inauthentic. (If you successfully commit culinary blasphemy, is that a good or a bad thing?)

I'm going to cut my portions in half here, since you probably don't want a whole vat of the stuff.

You need:
1 large pot

1/4 catty stewing beef (about 150 grams or 5 ounces). You can use a bit more if you want.

3 tomatoes
1/2 a small cabbage
1/2 an onion
3-4 carrots
1 large potato

1 can tomato paste
2-3 tablespoons ketchup (no kidding)
1 cup beef stock (or 1 beef stock cube, dissolved)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1-2 cups water, depending on size of your pot

1 bay leaf
2 sprigs thyme
1 sprig marjoram (optional)

Chop the beef up into bite-sized cubes. Chop up all the vegetables.

Put everything in the pot, bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for at least an hour.
Season to taste with salt, pepper, and if it's too sour, sugar. Chili flakes optional.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

But not a real green dress (that's cruel)

In the song "If I had a million dollars" by the Barenaked Ladies, a young man sings about all the things he would buy his sweetheart if only he had the money, one of which was a green dress (but not a real green dress, that's cruel).

My green dress certainly didn't cost a million dollars. It was free. I made it out of one of Boyfriend's old t-shirts, which he was going to give away because it didn't fit him ("this is how fat my mom thinks I am"). If it's knee-length on me now, imagine how big it was before I trimmed a good 6-8 inches off each side. The pocket used to be a sleeve. I'm pretty happy with the results, even though the colour is admittedly less than ideal.

There's still a couple of other old Boyfriend T-shirts that I intend to convert into dresses. I'll upload more pictures when I get a chance.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Italian Tomatoes

I was looking over old photos I'd taken of a food class I took in Italy and came across a series of bodacious tomato shots taken at a market in Bologna.

I can't imagine why I didn't post these pictures sooner, but here they are.

Looking at all that round, fleshy red make me nostalgic for the gorgeous bounty of European markets in summer.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Grey Cars, Silver Linings and Korean Food

I had car trouble today, and my year-old grey VW Rabbit (his name is Peter) had to get towed to the dealership today. Some waiting ensued. The car miraculously fixed itself, I was charged ridiculous amounts for an oil and filter change, but I did get something out of all that: some better soon dubu (a Korean tofu stew). I've tried making soon dubu before, following a recipe I found online (I can't remember where), but although it satisfied my craving of the moment, the flavour just wasn't as complex and intense as I've had at Korean restaurants.
There is a Korean grocery store near the VW dealership, and I picked up some pantry items for the Korean kitchen: some chili soy bean paste, and salted shrimp. The recipe I had only called for the salted shrimp, but I figured some chili soy bean paste - to bump up the spiciness, and the flavour since I wasn't using beef or pork - wouldn't hurt.
Soon dubu is all about the tofu. I can never get enough of the extra soft, extra silken tofu you find in little tubes. I got these at the Korean grocery, too.
That zucchini/squash is from the CSA, but I think it is (or is very similar to) the type of squash I saw at the Korean grocery, and that I've eaten in Korean restaurants. It has a slightly softer texture and more delicate flavour than the darker green zucchini you can normally get.
I departed seriously from the recipe. What follows is what I did, and not necessarily what you should do for an "authentic" recipe. Instead of beef or pork, I had a seafood mix, which I marinated with ginger juice (I grated, then squeezed, a large piece of ginger), minced garlic, sesame oil, white pepper and soy sauce.
In addition to scallions, I added the squash, onions and daikon.I started out sauteing the onion and squash (I would have added the daikon at this point, but I forgot I had daikon until later in the cooking process), and adding chili powder, salt and a little bit of soy sauce. Then, I added water (you could also use beef broth) and kimchi (I added my daikon in at this point, too) and brought it to a boil. I used some of the cooking liquid to thin out a bit of the chili soybean paste, and added that back to the pot. The tofu is gently spooned in, then the seafood is added. After a couple of minutes, I stirred in some salted shrimp, chopped up hot peppers, and the scallions.

The recipe I based this all off of said to put a raw egg yolk and some sesame oil on top of a bowl of soon dubu for serving. I just cracked an egg into the bottom of a bowl and ladled some hot soon dubu on top. Soon dubu should be served very, very hot, with steamed rice.

Soon dubu is very quick to make, no long cooking times involved. This was a definite improvement on my previous attempts, but it still isn't as richly flavourful as I remember it ought to be. Next time, I may actually use beef, and see if that helps.

Small Packages

The best gifts really do come in small packages. Look what Kea sent me! The sweetest, most considerate gift because she remembered that, during my trip to Hong Kong earlier this summer, I looked for cute hair clips in vain.
Look at the cute goodies inside! It would be difficult to choose my favourite, they are all so pretty. Thank you, Kea! They're perfect!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Suddenly, a sweater

I have a finished sweater! I haven't been blogging for a while, so it must appear that I conjured it out of thin air, but the Green Gable pattern from Zephyr Style is such a quick, easy knit that I finished it in two weeks from knitting on the bus to and from work, with a little knitting time at home some evenings.

This top is knit from the top down, and is entirely seamless. I'm not a huge fan of finishing seams, so I enjoyed this construction method immensely. Knitting from the top down also allowed me to try on the sweater as I made it, to ensure a perfect fit. That's in theory. In practice, I only tried it on once before I finished. I transferred all the stitches to waste yarn so that the sweater would pull over my shoulders, and made sure that it fit correctly under the armpits after I had separated the sleeves from the rest of the body.

Pattern: Green Gable from Zephyr Style
Size: Small
Yarn: Brown Sheep Co. Cotton Fleece (80% Cotton, 20% Merino Wool; 215 yards/100g; 5 stitches per inch)
Colour: CW-550 Mariner Blue seconds (I got this at a discount, because it was a dye lot reject)
Purchased from: Little Knits
Start Date: 29 July, 2008
Finish Date: 12 August, 2008
Needles: Size 5 Denise interchangeables, and Size 3 KnitPicks classic circular needles
Yarn usage: I bought 3 skeins of Cotton Fleece, but only used a little more than 2 skeins.

New skills: Is knitting from the top down a new skill? It was so easy, I'm not sure if it counts. I did, however, use the magic loop method to finish the sleeves, because I didn't have two pairs of 16-inch size 3 circular needles, just one 32-inch needle. After seeing some pictures of it being done in books and on blogs, figuring out how to do it when circumstances demanded it was like learning to run after walking. It may have been easier with a longer circular needle.

Thoughts: I think that this is the perfect pattern for an advanced beginner, or even an adventurous one. There is some simple shaping, a little bit of a very simple lace pattern, and some ribbing, but otherwise it is all stockinette stitch, with no seaming to put you off from finishing. Therefore, it contains all the basics you need to go on to knit something more complicated. It's easy to ensure a great fit, and the finished product is so much more exciting than a scarf!

Scalloped Tomatoes

I've made scalloped potatoes before, but I didn't know that you could make scalloped tomatoes.
We got a lot of huge slicing tomatoes in the CSA, though, and a recipe in our newsletter for scalloped tomatoes, so I thought, "Why not?"

The recipe was very simple. Just saute some finely chopped celery, onion and hot peppers together. Add some whole wheat flour (I used a mix of all-purpose and cornmeal, because it was what I had on hand). Meanwhile, lightly toast and butter 3 slices of whole wheat toast and cut it into cubes. Add the tomato and half the toast cubes to the onion mixture and season it. Then, add some Dijon mustard and sugar. Pour everything into a baking dish, top with the rest of the toast cubes, and bake for about 50 minutes.
I didn't quite know what to expect for this dish, but it wasn't soggy at all. The other vegetables and toast give the tomatoes some texture, and I was surprised by how good it tasted, too. It may have been the Dijon mustard that saved it all from being bland.Here is a picture of my healthy and delicious meal that night, the chicken pot pie that I made, with scalloped tomatoes. How I'll miss farm-fresh vegetables after the CSA season this year!

My First Chicken Pot Pie

Did you know that I absolutely adore chicken pot pie? Even when they were a bit of a goopey mess in the college dining halls, or the pre-made frozen affairs you find in the supermarkets, I adored them just a bit. But I had never made my own chicken pot pie before. Recently, I was telling a coworker about the CSA pie that I had made, and he said it sounded a little like a chicken pot pie, without the chicken and the cream. And he went on to tell me how easy chicken pot pie is to make, and how his father makes a really delicious one. Well, how could I resist? I had most of the makings of a chicken pot pie already, I just needed some chicken. (Another bid at using up CSA vegetables.) Since it was my first attempt at this, I followed a recipe from Cooks Illustrated. First, you cook some chicken breasts in chicken broth. Then, you saute some vegetables (onion, celery and carrots) until tender-crisp. A sauce is made with butter, flour, the broth, and milk. Once that thickens, you mix in the chicken, vegetables, peas (I used cut up green beans) and parsley. Season with salt and pepper. It was late when I got home that day, so I didn't want to bother with making my own crust. Instead, I bought some pre-rolled crust from the supermarket. I wanted a double-crust chicken pot pie, so I followed the instructions on the box to blind bake the bottom crust. Bad idea.The instructions had said simply to prick the crust and bake it. I should have followed my instincts to line the crust with parchment paper and fill it with some pie weights (a.k.a. dried beans). With the crust so shrunken and inflated, I had to abandon it. Good thing I had the top crust left. I would just have to make a single-crust pie. So, the filling goes into a deep-dish pie plate (all of the filling filled the pie plate perfectly)
The pie crust goes on top, with vents cut in. I put the pie plate on a baking sheet before putting it into the oven, which was a good thing. The filling bubbled over and out the sides a bit, so the baking sheet saved me from a big mess in the oven. After the filling was bubbly and the crust golden brown, the pie was ready.

The filling tasted great, although I probably should have put a little more salt in. All the farm-fresh vegetables that went in, still ever the slightest bit crisp (instead of overcooked and soggy) gave the pie a wonderful texture. I shouldn't be lazy about the crust next time, though. I should definitely blind bake with pie weights. Also, the pre-made pie crust was sweeter than I liked. It could just be the brand that I purchased, but next time I may decide to make my own crust. Or, perhaps I'll just top it with biscuit dough. If I had enough ramekins, I could even make single-serving pot pies. Yum!


This year, as with last year, I am helping out at the Fox Creek Farm CSA, which entitles me to some free produce every week. At this time of year, the fresh vegetables are coming in in such abundance, it's a challenge to keep up. Moocow told me about a Farmland Vegetable Pie recipe on that could make use of a lot of the produce that I am getting now. Tonnes of summer squash, tomatoes, scallions, garlic, corn and basil. With squash coming out of my ears, I settled in to make this CSA pie (about a week ago now) with something that felt like relief.
I made the crust using the instructions in the recipe, which uses a mix of all-purpose flour and cornmeal. This is a double crust pie, and the bottom crust is lined with slices of hard-boiled egg.
I cooked up a big pot of pie filling. Although I had red tomatoes, I decided to buy yellow tomatoes (which are used in the recipe), and I really liked the way they tasted and looked. The cut pie looked like a slice of sunshine.
The recipe also called for okra, but I didn't have any. I just put in more summer squash, and some onion. I think the okra would have helped to bind the filling together some more. However, since I cooked the filling first, before putting it into the pie, I was able to drain away a lot of the excess liquid. (Also, the recipe tells you to salt the squash and drain it, and press it dry, which helps.)
My medium-sized pot full of filling was more than enough to fill the pie. Leftovers are good by themselves, or in an omelette After adding the top crust and cutting some vents in the crust, it went into the oven.
The pie tasted delicious. The filling was light and full of the bright flavours of fresh summer produce; it makes for a pleasant change from cream based fillings (although there was cheese in the filling). I wasn't that impressed with the crust, however. It was dry, bland, and not very flaky at all. If you're thinking of making this pie, I would go with a different recipe for the crust.

The crust notwithstanding, I would consider this recipe a success. Just remember to read the instructions over carefully before you begin, to streamline the process. I think the recipe can be very versatile; you can use almost any vegetables that you may have lying around.

I would like to take some credit.....

My friend/coworker/boss Jane (that's not her real name, but oh, well) was the one who went with me to Eastside Weavers for our first spinning lessons on a wheel. We were both seriously hooked but, whereas I managed to keep spinning on my drop spindle, Jane came across a used spinning wheel for sale (it was ridiculously lowly priced) and snapped it up.

Click here to read her posts about the spinning that she has been doing, and the beautiful yarn that she has produced. I didn't do any of the hard work, and I probably don't deserve any credit, but I would like to take some credit all the same, for bringing Jane to Eastside Weavers. Of course, if I do so, and she goes into debt buying fibre and spinning equipment, I might get blamed for it......

Clearing Your Drain Naturally

Commercial drain cleaners, used to unblock your drains, are some of the nastiest, most toxic chemical cocktails you can keep in the house. When you consider it, anything that can dissolve away hair, as well as the grease that builds up from soaps, must be seriously corrosive.

If, however, you have long hair (as I do), every once in a while, something must be done to keep your drain working freely. Firstly, I use drain guards/hair traps religiously when I wash my hair, to keep most of the hair that I shed from going down into the drain in the first place.

Second, don't be lazy. You can probably clean out a good portion of any caught up hair from you drain fairly easily. No, it won't be the most pleasant of tasks, but mechanical removal is the most environmentally friendly option. If you want to take this one step further, you can buy a snake (a.k.a. an auger) that goes down into your drain/the pipes to clear blockages.

When you have tried to remove any easy to reach blockages, and your water is still draining sluggishly, you can use this recipe for an all-natural drain cleaner. I tried it about a week ago on my seriously slow bathtub drain, and it worked like a charm. A week later, and it's still draining perfectly.

You will need:

1/2 cup baking soda

1 cup distilled white vinegar

1 pot of boiling water

Pour as much of the baking powder down into the drain as possible. Follow with some of the white vinegar. It should start to fizz and bubble. Mix together the rest of the baking soda and vinegar, and pour it slowly down into the drain. If you have a drain plug, cover the drain now. After 15 minutes, (remove your drain plug if you used one) pour the boiling water slowly down into the drain.

It's as simple as that. I did read somewhere that you shouldn't pour boiling water down your drain if you have plastic pipes because they might melt. Instead, just run hot water from your tap. Also, don't do this if you have just tried using a commercial drain opener, as the vinegar can react with the chemicals in the drain opener to create toxic fumes.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Andean Plying: Cool!.......Ouch!...Umm, help!?

It was a quiet Friday night at home last night because I had been struck by a bad attack of allergies. A perfect night to ply those yarn singles that I had finished before Moocow came to visit. (Moocow has the pictures from her visit, so I am waiting for her to send them to me, or post some herself).

I don't have a lot of fancy spinning equipment. Just my drop spindle and my hands. I did want to make a 2-ply yarn, though. (That is, a yarn made by spinning two singles together.) Without another drop spindle, bobbins, a lazy kate, or even a ball winder, I decided that my best option was to experiment with the Andean Plying technique.

What does the Andean Plying technique do? Well, it is a method of winding yarn singles off of a single spindle - and onto your hand - in such a way as to produce a centre-pull "bracelet" of yarn, from which you can pull both ends of yarn at once, without creating a tangled mess. That means that you can make a 2-ply yarn from just one ball of yarn, instead of working off of two spindles, two bobbins, or two separately wound balls of singles.

I decided to follow the winding-off technique on Mielke Fibers' page, because they had decent diagrams. Then, off I went, winding away. It looks complicated to begin with, but soon I watched in amazement (then, in mounting concern) as more yards of yarn singles than I had imagined began to accumulate on my left hand. I quickly came to understand why others have written that their middle finger begins to turn blue.

I also learned a couple of other important lessons:

  1. Before you start Andean Plying, eat and drink something, go to the bathroom, turn on your answering machine, and make sure nothing is on the stove. Once you start, you have to finish!
  2. When the instructions say to keep track of the ends, they mean it! Don't lose that loose end that you started with amidst your growing ball of yarn. Believe me. I learned this the painful way; I had to rewind my bracelet because I couldn't find my other end! (See how super-neat my ball of yarn is, with just a single loose end? That isn't the goal for Andean Plying.)
  3. I like my middle finger, and don't want to lose it. Don't try to remove the yarn by manipulating your finger. Ouch! You slip the ball of yarn off your hand as you would a boxing glove. Then, you slip the resulting bracelet around your wrist.
  4. Do not overload your drop spindle with singles. You fingers (mainly, your middle finger) is only so long. You may run out of room on your hand if you have too much yarn to wind on.
  5. I want a Handy Andy, to save me further pain and frustration.

If you think about it, whoever invented the Andean Plying technique was a genius. A sadistic/masochistic genius, but a genius all the same. Trust the instructions, follow the directions, and it really works!

So, having had the opportunity to practice my winding technique twice, with the bracelet of yarn on my left wrist and the two ends of singles firmly in hand, I proceeded to spin/ply them onto my drop spindle. I was surprised by the change in texture that the plying produced. Whereas the singles were fairly solid, firm threads (probably overspun by yours truly), the plied yarn was softer and fluffier.
Since I didn't have a skeinwinder/yarn swift or a niddy noddy, I wound my plied yarn off of the drop spindle and onto the back of a chair.
Then, I tied four sections around the skein with figure-8 ties, to keep the skein tangle-free.
Here's a close-up of the figure-8 tie (and the yarn!).
Then, I soaked the tied off skein in some Eucalan, a lavender scented wool wash with lanolin.
Soaking the plied yarn relaxes the yarn and evens out any extra twist from over-spinning, so that the finished yarn is balanced, bouncy, and ready for knitting.
Squeeze (don't twist! or rub!) the water out of your skein of yarn and press it in some towels to remove most of the moisture.
Then, hang the skein up and hang a small weighted object at the bottom of the loop to balance that twist. I just hung another clothes hanger on the bottom, weighted with a little pouch with things inside it.
That skein of yarn is still drying, but I will have pictures of the finished yarn soon. Now that I have gone through the entire process once, I feel ready to spin the wine red corriedale that Moocow chose, way back when, for me to spin so that she could knit a pair of Elizabeth Zimmermann mittens.