Friday, June 29, 2007

Lunching in Style

My SO has searched high and low for his ideal "lunch pail," as he likes to call it, and finally asked that I make one up for him. He wanted it totally plain; ideally, it would look like a brown paper bag, but would be insulated and/or waterproof. As luck would have it, Lana had recently purchased a Japanese craft book on making lunch totes, which I borrowed. We decided that this one would do the job nicely.
We couldn't find the reflective insulating material that lines most ready-made bags, but we did find a cool iron-on vinyl. I found a plain brown cotton drill that looks somewhat like brown paper, and found a nice brown gingham to iron the vinyl onto for the interior. (the picture below is of the floral lining I used for my own lunch bag. After doing the first one, there was enough material left to do a second!)I made my promise back in January, but it wasn't until I came up to Albany to visit Lana that I put scissor to cloth. While I was there, Lana helped me translate the instructions, and thank goodness I waited, because it would have been a disaster if I'd proceeded with the diagrams only. I was also able to take advantage of her cutting board, quilting rulers, rotary cutter, Bernina sewing machine, and various bits of sewing odds and ends that made the whole process much less painful. The only downside was that there was a heat wave, and I sweated buckets while laboring over the fabric in 95-degree weather. At 6:30 there was a giant thunderstorm. Rico - a friend who was staying with us - and I ran downstairs to stand in the rain like they do in the movies. It always looks so refreshing and liberating. Not so in real life. Unfortunately, this was no gentle summer storm. The rain was COLD, as in, about 50 degrees. With 25 mph gusts of wind lashing at us and horrific crashes of thunder and lighting seeming to occur right over us, we only stayed for 5 minutes and returned, drenched and defeated, into the stifling apartment again. Still, I perservered, and after four hours of labor, I ended up with a wonderful new lunch tote! It's different from the picture in the book(much less feminine!) and has a fastener rather than a strap, but it turned out well!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Hat of Torture

Phew. I finished my Hat Of Torture. It's based on this pattern here, but since I couldn't figure out what "heavy worsted weight" yarn was, I ended up buying "double knit" by mistake. Yarn terms confuse me endlessly. Not wanting my yarn to go to waste (or sit languishing in the closet), I tried doing the math to compensate for the thinner yarn. The pattern goes on 20-stitch repeats, so that's what I added.

So I cast on 100 stitches, and started knitting. But 100 stitches looked far too big. It could fit a basketball. Could I have made a mistake? Darn. I ripped it out and started over with 80 stitches.

It looked OK at first, but as I started doing the cabling to create the scrunchy brim, it shrank. A lot. It might have fit over a toddler's head. A really small toddler. So I ripped it out and started over with 100 stitches. This time, it shrank down to what looked like a reasonable hat size.

This was also my first attempt at cabling. I messed up a bunch of times. I managed to put a twist in the brim, so I had to take out a few lines.

Eventually, I knitted the whole thing up. But it was not over. I'd used 4mm needles because that's what the yarn ball tag recommended, but it turned out to be so tight that it felt like a tourniquet around my forehead. So I ripped the whole thing out, again.

This time I switched to 5mm needles. The size turned out OK, but since I didn't have any circular 5mm needles, I had to work the whole thing on double points. You can't put 100 stitches of double knit yarn on double point needles without them falling off all the time. I dropped stiches like dandruff. I managed to pick them up, but at the cost of introducing several really obvious ladders up the sides that I had to spend ages stretching out.

And finally, it was done. Good grief. I've never had so much trouble from a hat. At least now it fits comfortably, and looks reasonably good, even if it's not much like the one in the original pattern. I don't think I'd pick this type of yarn to do this kind of pattern again, though. I think the cabling would show up better with plain solid yarn.

By the way, what exactly does "Pass Stitch" mean? I can hardly find any references to it on the internet. The one site I found said it meant to slip the stitch, but do it as if you're purling rather than knitting. I don't know what difference this makes. So I really have no idea if I even got the pattern right. Oh well. It seems to work.


This is my new hobby. It started with my mint plant. I was browsing the internet for things I could cook with mint, and happened on some sorbet recipes. It's amazingly simple. Water, sugar (lots of sugar!), fruit juice or puree. Some recipes tell you to fold in stiffly beaten egg whites to add air and improve the texture, but it's not really necessary.

If you're doing it without an ice cream maker, you just put it in a metal container in the freezer, wait for it to partially freeze, take it out, mash it up with a fork, put it back, wait another hour, mash it up again, put it back, and so on. The more times you stir it, the more air you work in, and the softer the sorbet. It still turns out more snow-cone like than ice-cream like, but I'm not complaining. It's better than anything I've had from a store.

The sugar content affects the texture too. Once I put too little in, and ended up with a gigantic inedible block of ice. I don't like my sorbet so sweet, so I counterbalance the sugar with copious amounts of lemon juice.

This time I got it right. It's lychee, mango and lemon. And I could eat a bucket of it.

Here's the approximate recipe.
2.5 cups water
10 tablespoons white sugar
Juice of 2 lemons, remove the seeds (Sour! Use less if you want!)
Bit of lemon zest
Flesh of 2 small mangoes, blenderized
About 25 lychees, skinned, de-pitted, blenderized

Boil sugar and water together to make syrup. Let cool.
Pour into metal container. Cake tin will do.
Stir in lemon juice, fruit puree
Put in freezer for a couple of hours.
Take out, mash, put back, wait an hour... etc.
Takes about 5 or 6 hours until completely frozen.

Working on the Stash

Not that much progress to report on Bayerische, the second pair of socks that I'm knitting for my Sockapalooza 4 pal. Seriously, I took a picture, but decided not to post it because it looked so much like the one I posted almost a week ago.

On the other hand, putting all my yarn stash information into the Ravelry database and putting patterns I want to knit into a queue (76 patterns so far!!!) really highlighted the fact that a) I do have a considerable stash, and b) I should finish my WIPs and start some new projects so I have a snowball's chance in a warm place of getting to some of the projects in my queue some time this century.

Unlike some knitters, who suffer from second sock syndrome (SSS; in which a pair of socks is never completed, because they run out of steam after the first sock), I believe I suffer from armholeitis. This is the dread disease where I tend to fizzle out right when I hit the armhole of a sweater. Something about all those "bind off x stitches every other row y times," and "increase z stitches at each end q times, then m stitches n times, then j stitches k times" really gets to me. But I exerted willpower and completed the armholes on the Victoria Tank, which I had allowed to languish. All that's left now is to knit the picot edging around the armholes and neckline, and to block.

I've also been chugging away at a project I started very recently, the Clementine Shawlette. It has a very simple lace pattern, and I'm about 2 repeats away from finishing the second half, after which I just need to graft the two halves together, and block. I ordered a box of T-pins (and a box of coilless safety pins) from PinKits to use for blocking; I just hope they arrive soon, because I'm almost ready for them!

Another reason I'm trying to finish/start projects is that I'm moving next Sunday (in a week)!! I know, it probably won't make a huge difference in the size of my stash but, darn it, I'm going to chip away at it just so I won't have to duck away in embarrassment when my friends, who are coming to help me move because I'll be feeling poorly from having 6 teeth removed for my braces on Wednesday, see that I have 4 or 5 big boxes of something suspiciously light. (Okay, maybe not 5 big boxes, but definitely more than 1 or 2.)

Speaking of which, my orthodontist glued the brackets (the little squares you normally notice when someone has braces) onto my teeth on Wednesday. My orthodontist likes to do things differently. The brackets go on first, then the necessary teeth come out. Then he'll put the wires (and rubber bands) on, at which point the braces actually start working.

I got ceramic braces, which are the new "clear" braces. They're tooth-coloured, but better than the early, clear braces because they don't discolour. A lot of people didn't notice that I had them on until I pointed it out and gave them a huge grin. I'm relieved, because they do cost more than the regular, metal braces. I already feel as though I've gotten my money's worth!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Cooking in Thailand

While I was in Hong Kong last month, my friend Elaine and I decided to take a long weekend together in Bangkok. We had a full schedule planned for shopping and eating and visiting the Thaifex Food Fair, but with all the tourist-oriented cooking schools popping up all over the globe, we decided it would be fun to squeeze in a cooking class, too. So we signed up with the Baipai Cooking School, which is located in a private home-turned cooking school in the southern suburbs of Bangkok. The school has a couple of shuttle vans that will pick up and drop off students at their hotels, so transportation is not an issue. It was a little painful for Elaine to manage the 7:30 am wakeup call..."Aiyah...but we're on vacation!!"...but she was a trooper. A half-day class with lunch included cost 1600 baht, or around US$50. The picture above is of our bubbly chef Noi, who is holding the mortar, and her assistant/translator Sue, on the right.

The kitchens and sitting areas are all open to the outdoors, so there was a constant, refreshing breeze that mingled the scents of the gardens "outside" with our fragrant pursuits "inside," and carried the sounds of occasional bird calls and tuk-tuks (moped-like taxis with room for 2-4 passengers) into our classroom. Every student has their own stove and cooking station. If you're curious, there are more pictures of the school on their site.

The class started with a scratch-and-sniff tour of the basic ingredients in a Thai kitchen.
The best part was getting to rub, smell, taste and name ingredients that are less common in the States. My favorite ingredient is the pandan leaf, which is essential in Thai cooking and imparts a grassy vanilla-like scent to rice, curries, and desserts. My high school boyfriend's Malaysian mother would cook rice with a pandan leaf on top when making Singaporean food at home and the entire house would be perfumed. Like vanilla, it also comes in bottled essence form. Pandan iced tea is a popular drink, made up of nothing more than a pandan leaf in a glass of ice water, with a small pitcher of simple syrup that may be added to your taste.

Palm sugar is made by boiling down the sugary sap of the Palmyra palm or the date palm and comes in plastic tubs. It looks rather like wet, compacted brown sugar and is used for similar purposes. Kaffir limes and their leaves are both used in Thai cooking, and impart a far more complex floral bouquet than does their American supermarket counterpart. As in other Southeast Asian cuisines, the rhizome galangal, a botanical cousin of ginger, plays an important role and has an earthy, piney flavor with a suspicion of citrus. While Thais use jalapeno peppers in their cooking, it is more for its visual effect than for its spicy properties - for that, Thai red peppers are preferred. The fresh ones are the spiciest and are used in green curries. The dried ones are less spicy and are used in yellow and red curries. You can see the big dried peppers in the far right of the photo here. Thai fish sauce is similar to Vietnamese fish sauce and is used in small amounts to add depth of flavor in cooking, and is commonly found in the orange dipping sauce for spring rolls. It is naturally high in MSG and is therefore a natural source for an umame taste. Also extremely pungent and very salty is dried shrimp paste. Dull purple in color, it is also used in small amounts, as in Chinese cooking, to flavor stews, stir fries and sauces. Coconut milk and coconut cream are key ingredients, as well, and we were taught how to obtain one from the other. Coconut cream may be skimmed off the top of coconut milk exactly like regular cream off cow's milk. Coconut milk may be obtained, in turn, by diluting coconut cream with water.

I love eggplant, and was delighted to use two kinds of eggplant in our curry that day: the round ping-pong sized Thai eggplant (left), and the even smaller pea eggplant (right), which is plucked off branches. I didn't much care for the latter as it stays hard after cooking and is bitter.

Other more familiar items we used were turmeric powder, white and black peppercorn, sesame oil, white rice vinegar, fresh Thai sweet basil, cilantro, and of course, the ubiquitous Maggie Sauce.

There are several different menus taught at Baipai, and what you end up cooking depends on which day you take the class. For our class, we learned how to make:

spring rolls

beef saladgreen chicken curry (we made the curry from scratch, pounding spices together in a mortar and pestle, and you can see the pea eggplants semi-submerged here), and a steamed pandan egg custard. The egg custard texture was rather like that of Chinese egg tart or creme brulee.

All in all, it was definitely worth the half day and $50. I love to cook and to wander through ethnic grocery stores, but I am always very anxious about whether I am purchasing the right brand/quality/item. This was an excellent introduction to the Thai kitchen, and even though we only cooked a total of four dishes, I feel confident about expanding my repertoire on my own now.

Donut Muffins

Talk about having your cake AND eating it!

The caterer at one of my school events served these up one morning and they were to die for - more cake-like than muffin-like, but the crumb is light as a feather. Topped with a lovely "crust" of cinnamon sugar, the muffin is reminiscent of a Dunkin Donuts' Old Fashioned. Best of all, you can make it the night before and bake them the next morning, fresh. I photocopied the recipe from her and yesterday we finally had them for a leisurely breakfast, served with a pot of French pressed coffee.

What is there not to like about this recipe? You don't need any special ingredients or equipment. Butter, sugar, eggs, flour, vanilla, salt, baking powder and baking soda, and bake up in a regular cupcake tin. I even made the mistake of creaming only half the amount of butter into the batter the night before. The next morning I creamed the other half of butter with a sprinkling of sugar (so that the butter would have something to cream WITH), then folded it gently back into the batter, and everything still rose just fine. It's from a recipe in Fine Cooking magazine, so if anyone wants the recipe, drop me a note and I would be glad to share.

My Left Sock

Get it, get it? :) ...How embarassing...I just noticed I put the thing on my RIGHT foot for the photo...

Seriously, this is my first-ever completed sock. Made using some of the fabulous hand-dyed yarn I purchased while visiting East Side Weavers (more about that here) back in April. It really was a cinch, and I hope to finish the second sock within the fortnight.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

On the Needles Now

After a couple mistakes, and ripping back to the cuff about three times, I think I've finally figured Bayerische out. The pattern is established and, hopefully, this will mean relatively smooth sailing until the heel. Lang Jawoll is just a tad bit finer than other sock yarns I've worked with, and the deep, dark, burgundy colour makes seeing the stitches difficult. However, I've started my second pair of socks for my Sockapalooza 4 sock pal, and I have hopes that I'll actually finish in time, instead of being forever stuck on the first inch!
I've spent (too much!) time recently on Ravelry, uploading my projects, needles and stash, and adding patterns to my queue. Just taking a look at my queue spurred me to cast on for the Clementine Shawlette (IK, Spring 2007), because it seems to me that if I don't, I'll never get to half the items on my list!

I used some mystery yarn that I bought a while back from The Yarn Tree in Brooklyn. It's a blend of wool, silk and something else, but it's so soft and has a lovely sheen. I only have 542 yards of it, but I'm hoping that it will be enough to finish the shawl.
A couple of weeks ago now, when I was working on Arwen (IK Winter 2006), I realised that I'd made a mistake in crossing a cable. I put it aside, but I was determined to fix it. Well, I did that this morning, and made a little more progress on the sleeve. I just love the way this cardigan is constructed! And there's just the right balance of cabling and plain stockinette stitch to keep it from being too monotonous or too difficult.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Chicken Cacciatore with Portobello and Sage

A while ago, when I made a beef stew in my slow cooker, I bought a bottle of Merlot to add to it. Of course, I only used half a cup or so. And, since I don't drink alcohol, it's been sitting there ever since. I'm fairly certain I don't particularly care for the taste of red wine in my food, but I hated to see almost an entire bottle go to waste, so I've decided to give it a couple more tries with some new recipes.
Today, I tried a Chicken Cacciatore with Portobello and Sage recipe from the Cook's Illustrated website. While I'm still not overly fond of the red wine flavour, I have to say that it didn't turn out badly at all. (I also got to use my lovely dutch oven.) The chicken was very tender and flavourful, and I loved the mushrooms! I got lazy so, instead of rice, I served it with orzo. Close enough, don't you think? My plate could do with a bit of greenery, though. Next time, it gets a side dish of green beans.

Strawberry Soup

Sorry for my lack of posting, but there may be more kitchen adventure stories from me because but I finally bought a combination food processor/blender the other day! At least I hope I'll have stories to share. I've got to make good use of this thing. Anyway, the first recipe I tested with my new toy was a strawberry soup recipe.

Strawberry soup? Isn't that the same as a smoothie? And aren't I being pretentious by calling it a soup and putting it in a bowl? Well, I don't know if I am, but I got it from The New American Plate Cookbook (highly recommended, by the way), and that's how the dish was presented. And I like it! It's a great summertime beverage... er... soup. Incredibly easy to make, too. Just hit the puree button and voila!

It's pretty to look at, too.

A comment on the cookbook: It's authored by the American Institute for Cancer Research, so the recipes are super healthy and nutritious. I picked it up from the library and have only made this recipe and another so far, but it's definitely a keeper. I think I will start off my cookbook library with this one. Any other cookbook suggestions for a novice home cook (who mainly cooks for one) are welcome!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Macho Cake

After a long month of final papers, a thesis presentation, a wine exam, and two weeks of travel, I suddenly find myself waking up at 6.30 every morning and wondering what to do with my day until school starts again. Well, what's a future pastry-chef to do but to bake, of course! The most delicious thing to come out of the oven in the last week has been this Chocolate Stout Cake, made with 1 cup of Guinness or other such stout beer.

My boyfriend asked me to bake a cake for someone's going away party at work last week. When I suggested this one, he figured it would appeal to all the macho types at work. Beer is macho, no? So a Macho Cake it was to be. Except for the first batch, I accidentally splashed water into the bowl of butter-stout mixture, effectively ruining it. The second batch came out much better, and came out of the oven smelling divine. Only I forgot to double-check for doneness when using a new oven. When I removed the cake from its silicone baking pan (best thing since sliced bread guys, seriously), one side (the one closest to the door) had not cooked properly, resulting in a collapsed, lopsided cake. There was seriously about a 15-degree gradient between one side of the cake and the other, which no amount of chocolate ganache could hide on a bundt cake. So I had to start from scratch again.

Macho cake indeed...more like masochist cake. I ended up baking for five hours total, but here's the end result. The lopsided cake we ate ourselves and shared with the neighbors. While it's not going to win any prizes for good looks, it made up for it in improving its flavor over the next three days. The other one I made pretty with a few slices of strawberries...nice, huh?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

New Obsession

I received an invite to the all new, so very cool knit and crochet site, Ravelry. I spent several hours last night putting in different knitting projects, putting projects in my queue, and just looking around. Even though the Ravelry team is still working on the site, it's pretty darn impressive right now!!

I don't know if I'll give up on keeping my own notebook but, with this site, you can keep track of finished projects, WIPs, projects you'd like to knit/crochet, yarn in your stash, your collection of needles and hooks, your knitting/crochet books, blog posts related to your projects, and so much more!

People are still joining, but I have already used this site to find out who has knit patterns that I've knitted, or would like to knit, what yarns people have used, and whether they were successful. If you haven't checked out Ravelry yet....well, what are you waiting for?

A Pair of Snowflakes

I can't believe I'm finished already! My first pair of sock exchange socks. I'm so pleased with how they turned out, I think I'll have to make a pair for myself.

On the other hand, I've started the second pair of socks that I'm making for my sock pal, and I've already run into difficulties. I'm knitting Bayerische and, now that I'm past the ribbing, I just can't seem to add the correct number of stitches in the increase row! I've ripped back 3 times now. Can the fourth be the charm?

Pattern: Snowflake Lace Socks by Melanie Berney
Start Date: 26 May, 2007
Finish Date: 11 June, 2007
Yarn: Cascade Fixation (98.3% Cotton, 1.7% Elastic)
Colour: 5104, a pale blue-green
Yarn Source: Simply Socks Yarn Company
Yarn Cost: $4.60/ball; I used around 1.75 balls
Needles: Size 1; 2 pairs of 16" KA bamboo circular needles
Size Made: To fit a woman's medium-sized foot
Recipient: My Sockapalooza 4 sock pal

Pattern Changes: I worked the pattern exactly as written, except I knitted on 2 circular needles, rather than on dpns.

Comments: The charts for the lace pattern weren't written in the conventional way. Normally, I would read and knit Row 1 of a chart from the bottom right corner, going left. It is only because I compared the chart to the written directions for the pattern that I realised I should be reading the chart from left to right.

The pattern was easy to follow, and a pleasure to knit. As many people have said before, it takes a while to get used to knitting with the extremely springy and stretchy Cascade Fixation. I wasn't sure if the finished sock would be comfortable, because the yarn felt kind of nubbly, but they turned out wonderfully.

Friday, June 08, 2007

A New Me

I made an eLouai candybar doll the other day. I think it looks a little bit more like me than did the Meez I created a while back. Those of you who know me will know that I don't believe in putting pictures of myself on the internet, but I guess this is the next best thing. So much fun, and a great waste of time!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

A Foot of Snow

I've been looking at three or four apartments a day for the past couple of weeks. If you'd like to know why, read this, this and this. Admittedly, I'm probably being very picky. I want some place in a nice, safe, quiet neighbourhood, that is bright and sunny, with reasonable rent, a gas stove, and laundry facilities. I was beginning to despair. I found places that I liked, but they were either too far away, or didn't have laundry, or had an electric stove. Finally, the landlady at one of the apartments said that she really wanted to rent to me, and so she is going to put in a washer and dryer! We're in the process of ironing out details on the lease.

But I have been doing some knitting. My first ever Sockapalooza sock is finished! That's the first Snowflake Lace sock, and I've already cast on for the second sock. I'm planning to finish this second sock this month, before my move (on July 1st). That leaves me July to knit the second pair of socks for my pal, in the Bayerische pattern. I just hope that's enough time, with the move, and my summer internship, and working at the restaurant.
I have to admit that, even though I'm starting the second sock, I haven't memorised the 12-row pattern repeat. That's because I've been watching season 2 of 24 and movies the whole time while doing it, so my attention has been divided. I do like how the sock has turned out, and I'm pretty sure it will fit my pal's foot well. Her foot is a little larger than mine, and I think the extra stretch will show off the lace pattern even better.
Sorry about the funny angles. It's really difficult to take a good picture of a sock that's on your own foot. The colour isn't really true in the photo, at least on my monitor. Right now, on the screen, it's a strong turquoise colour. In real life, it's a little paler and has a little bit more green in it.
And remember the two stitch markers that Terri Lynn sent me? Well, I bought some similar beads at JoAnn's and, while watching Castaway the other night, I made myself a set of matching ones. I now have 22 of these markers; they should be enough for a modest lace project, or a sweater. Making stitch markers is addictive!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

First gloves ever

These are the first gloves I've ever knitted. They were a lot simpler than I thought they would be. But then, there's nothing fancy here, just plain old stockinette stitch. I used a pattern that I found online - here's credit where credit is due and it was very easy to follow. Funny thing is that it calls for needles 2 sizes bigger than the ones I actually used, but since my hands are small they turned out just right.

Posted By Kea to Bumbling Bees - Girls with Purls at 6/02/2007 01:33:00 AM