Sunday, January 18, 2009

Christmas Packaging Tips

This year for the holidays our family decided to exchange food gifts instead of expensive presents. Given the current economy, I'm sure that we were not the only ones to do so. Little did I know what I was getting into. Making and/or purchasing the food items was the simple part. Each household got a bar or two of chocolate from ACKC, a local chocolatier, some spices from local spice company Vanns, a package of peanut brittle, and a package of biscotti. All were items designed to travel well. For local friends, I made up a batch of cranberry white chocolate chip cookies and extra peanut brittle.

Nice, right? Yeah, nice, until you have to figure out how to package everything. Am I the only idiot who did this?? I went to Michaels (3 separate occasions), JoAnn, Pearl Art & Craft, Target, the Container Store, World Market, and even CVS. None of these were in the same location except Michaels and JoAnn. Even that did not work in my favor. I had to purchase cellophane online from JoAnn because every store I went to either did not stock it or had run out. I looked on Martha Stewart's Web site for ideas, but her ideas, while beautiful, involved buying hard-to-find items or things that came in large quantity that would have to be stored, like red and white cotton string. That comes in bulk cones that weigh about 2 lbs and contain over 9,000 ft of string. The other options was to buy things from her craft line, which is not inexpensive.

I worked out my own solutions in the end, but given the amount of difficulty I had in locating everything, I thought I might note down where to find several particularly elusive items.

1. The biscotti were packaged in cardboard gift boxes with clear windows. These came from The Container Store.
2. The 1/4 lb coffee bags held the granola, and also came from The Container Store. They stock both items year-round and are priced quite reasonably, especially given the fact that I looked EVERYWHERE else and could not find anyone willing to sell less than 500 to me. I guess not many people want to buy just half a dozen bakery boxes and coffee bags.
3. As noted earlier, I purchased rolls of clear and colored cellophane from JoAnn online. The cellophane is better than wax paper for wrapping cookies in paper containers because grease will not seep through the plastic. The colored cellophane is more attractive too. If you have the patience, you can also use it to wrap the cookies on their own. Tie a pretty ribbon or a strip of patterned paper around it to give a nice touch.
4. Knowing that the USPS was not going to care about the heat and humidity around my packages, I purchased mini desiccant envelopes to keep my cookies and brittle in good condition until they reached their destinations. I found a good deal at, but you can buy them from camera supply stores, too.
5. To decorate the plain white biscotti boxes, I used a glue gun to apply thin red or green ribbon at the base, and then added a festive cardboard circle to the top. A short box got glittery cardboard letters instead. I did the same with the coffee bags full of granola. The cardboard cutouts came from a box of decorative cutouts meant for scrapbooking.
6. I purchased my treat bags from Michaels as well, and they were TERRIBLE. I made the mistake of putting the peanut brittle into those packages, and they poked right through the bag, making a big mess. Next year I will go back to treat bags from Target - those have never let me down.
7. Mini Christmas tree ornaments from Michaels came in a set of 16 and looked very nice tied to bags of cookies.

Hopefully this list can save someone some time next year.

Adding a fleece lining to a knit hat

This is Part II to the story of that white hat I knit following Elizabeth Zimmerman's instructions in Knitting Workshop. Nice hat, but unfortunately, it wasn't windproof. As I intended to give it to my brother-in-law to fend off Ohio winters, something obviously had to be done to beef it up. But how does one sew a knitted fabric to a woven one? The answer came from a wonderful blog called TECHknitting that shows you step-by-step, with clear diagrams, the solutions to all those questions that keep knitters up at night. I followed her instructions and here are some pictures.

First I pinned the fleece over my brother-in-laws head to make sure I had the right size. I then cut out the shape and sewed it up right-quick on my sewing machine. Coulda done it by hand, but the machine was there and made neater, closer stitches than I could ever hope to. As you'll notice in the picture below, the lining is a little bigger than the hat itself, but that's OK because the hat will stretch a lot, while the fleece (which does have horizontal stretch, but not vertical) will not stretch nearly the same amount.

Next I flipped the knit hat inside out, and placed it INSIDE the new fleece lining, which was right-side out, as you can see from the picture. I then followed TECHknitting's instructions on how to use the overcast stitch to create a stretchy seam so the hat would stretch over the wearer's head, and voila, I was done!
I didn't take a picture of the finished hat since it doesn't look much different and my brother-in-law wasn't around to model it anyways. It went in the Christmas care package I sent over (more on that later). He loved it, but unfortunately, so does his wife. She refused to take it off for the first day; by that night he admitted defeat. No worries though. I had more of the same lovely Green Mountain Spinnery yarn left, with which I knit him another in a Fair Isle pattern. I have lots of fleece left over so that one'll be lined, too, once he shows up to let me measure his head again. Thanks for the helpful and clear instructions, TECHknitting!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Knitting on the edge

Ok, so when I’m bored at work I surf Ravelry… (hey, at least it’s not p#rn). The other day I found this awesomely cool scarf knit knit by Raveler Mimizuku* using - get this!! - HER FINGERS.

I wrote the person who did it and she was kind enough to share this Japanese-language YouTube video. No translation necessary. Check it out.

It also helps that she went to a yarn store that wound up three types of yarn for her to make such a unique yarn. Ahhh...the Japanese always do it better.
*Mimizuku has no blog or Web site of her own to link to, otherwise I would do so. I have tried to give credit where credit is due.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Chocolate Marshmallow Cookies (Part 3?): Fan's Attempt

2009-01-10 Kea's Cookies 1

I'm going to a potluck party tonight, so what better time to try Kea's cookie recipe? It was pretty much a breeze, but next time I may opt for a dark chocolate bar with less cocoa content. I picked a 100% cocoa bar. It might be a little too intense for some people (i.e., not hardcore chocolate lovers!). Of course, when the first sheet of cookies finished cooling, I had to test a cookie! It was "whoa" at first bite. Kea, this is an amazing recipe. I had to remind myself that I was baking these for the party, so after one more "test", I packed them up. I'll report back here if I get any feedback. Thanks for sharing your recipe!

2009-01-10 Kea's Cookies 2

Sunday, January 04, 2009


I learned how to say "oral s*x" in Cantonese today.

It's amazing, the things you can pick up from watching television without parental supervision.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Awesome Ass-Kicking Chocolate Marshmallow Cookies (Part 2), Plus Ninjas

Boyfriend has a coworker/friend who we call the Food Ninja, so named for his amazing and stealthy ability to make food disappear extremely quickly. Many a time have we sat down to dinner with him only to discover a dumpling here, a french fry there, vanish right out from under our noses. Many a time has Boyfriend set out a large bag of chips at the office for everyone to munch on, only to come back moments later and find them all gone. Since there are only five people in his office, this is very impressive. And usually the only evidence is a particularly satisfied look on the Food Ninja's face.

So for Christmas, I made the Food Ninja a batch of cookies. And then I wrote "Awesome Ass-Kicking Chocolate Marshmallow Cookies" on the box, and drew a ninja on it. Unfortunately, I didn't take a picture of it before I gave it away. A few days later, I received this email from him, fowarded via Boyfriend.

"Please tell [Kea] she has taught the Food Ninja the all important lesson in life that is to savour good food. The ass kicking cookies proved to be so ass kicking the Ninja couldn't finish them in under 2 seconds; he had to savour each and every one of them. Thank you, they were beautiful."

I'm not normally that good of a baker, so this made me very happy. And then he asked for the recipe. I've tweaked it since last time, having procured some pure cocoa powder. So here's the non-hack recipe.


1 1/4 cup plain flour
2 tbsp pure cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

100g butter (slightly less than half a block)
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg

Dark chocolate fragments (break up a Lindt bar, and then break up each square into 4 pieces)
Mini marshmallows

1. Sift the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt) together. Set aside.
2. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, whisk in egg.
3. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, combine well.
4. Refrigerate dough for 2 hours. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 175 degrees celsius, and line cookie sheets with baking paper.
5. Roll the dough into 1 inch balls with a chocolate fragment and a marshmallow stuffed inside. Make sure no marshmallow or chocolate is exposed, it'll melt out.
6. Place 2 inches apart on baking tray, and bake for 10 minutes. They should be still soft to the touch when removed from the oven.
7. Allow to cool on tray for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack.

If you are any fan of chocolate at all, you have to try these. I may never invent a recipe this good ever again, not least because I have no idea what I'm doing and I just got really lucky. These kick so much ass they have to import extra asses from China just to fill the demand for kicking. If I may say so myself.

Lentil Tagine

In a curious exchange of roles, I always worry that my parents, particularly my father, aren't eating properly. Just because dad is relatively healthy for his age, he insists on eating like a boy of twenty; beef, heavy sauces, tonnes of sugar in his coffee, and sweets. (I know where I got my sweet tooth from!) And then, when it's just the two of them, it's easy to get into a rut and eat all sorts of unhealthy and/or unimaginative (!!) things.

The thing is, I know they appreciate good food, and they can be made to be adventurous, too. So, I took a little gamble and made a Moroccan lentil tagine using our pressure cooker. I say it was a gamble because they don't often enjoy things with a lot of "foreign" herbs and spices (that is, those not normally used in Chinese cuisine), especially cumin, which the tagine has.

I still don't think my dad enjoyed this very much. He ate it, but when my mother complimented the dish and had more, he didn't say anything, which is tantamount to saying he didn't like it. However, my mother has never hesitated to tell me that something I made doesn't taste good, so I feel that I can trust that she truly liked it. A, who isn't much for stews, seemed to like it well enough, too. The greatest compliment came from my cousins, though. They tried some when they came over for New Year's dinner. They're terribly picky (at least, I think they are, but I'm a foodie), but kept going back for more.

New Year's En Famille

A and I have been spending Christmas and New Year's at home in Oregon with my parents. We had dinner on Christmas Eve at my uncle's house so, apart from A making some mashed potatoes to bring over, we didn't cook too much. For New Year's, we had my uncle's family over, and I was in charge of making dinner. After the excesses of Christmas Eve, I wanted to be sure that we had a slightly healthier (though still delicious!) meal for New Year's. I started early in the morning, marinating the chicken, baking dessert, and working on the cobb salad.
This was my first time making a cobb salad (a little too much trouble, wouldn't you say, for one person?), but I absolutely adore eating them; everything is perfectly bite-sized so that you don't have to have bits of salad green hanging out of your mouth. I roughly followed the recipe from Cooks Illustrated, making the dressing, but approximating all the other ingredients. I used turkey bacon instead of pork bacon, too. There was so much salad, and no big serving plates in the house, so I rubbed our wok with oil (to prevent rusting) and used it as a serving vessel; it was perfect. Everyone really enjoyed the cobb salad, and it was pretty much demolished.
In order to encourage everyone to have more vegetables, I also made a simple Asian salad, with mesclun mix, sliced almonds, dried cranberries and mandarin oranges. I also made an Asian-inspired dressing to go with it, mixing together balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, olive oil, salt, pepper and a dash of sesame oil. This salad quickly disappeared, as well.

We also had oven roasted Brussels sprouts with whole cloves of garlic. A deemed them slightly overcooked, so he didn't take any pictures. But, as a fan of Brussels sprouts, I think they were still delicious.
A was responsible for marinating and cooking the steaks. My family is not fond of sirloin, and normally goes for rib eyes. However, we've found that flat-iron steaks are excellent, too. Moreover, they are conveniently sized in approximately single-person portions, so we decided on flat-iron steaks, which were a success. Really, I think porterhouses and T-bones are over-rated.
My uncle brought over two fresh Dungeness crabs, which we steamed Cantonese-style with ginger and scallions. These were served with dark Chinese vinegar. I'm a very lazy crab-eater, meaning I can't usually be bothered to eat more than a piece or two. With my added handicap of braces, I only had one piece, which was enough to satisfy me.
For dessert, A had requested key lime pie. This request, coming from him, surprised me, since he dislikes sour things almost as much as our father does. It turned out to be an excellent choice, however. Even dad went back for more, and it was deemed very refreshing after a large meal.
The only thing that didn't really get eaten was all the rice we had made, for the eight of us! We had so much rice left over, A made fried rice today (by himself, for the first time). I won't embarrass him with the telling of it (ask him yourself!), but the rice is all gone now, too.