Sunday, December 16, 2012

Advent and Gingerbread

"Celebrating Advent means being able to wait. Waiting is an art that our impatient age has forgotten. It wants to break open the ripe fruit when it has hardly finished planting the shoot...Whoever does not know the austere blessedness of waiting - that is, hopefully doing without - will never experience the full blessing of fulfillment." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

an outdoor fireplace in my city, decorated for Christmas

I have not done very many Christmas projects of late, but did find time to have a Gingerbread baking party with friends. The recipe, from the Cozy Kitchen blog, came out beautifully and was lots of fun to make with friends. I recommend making an icing that is not buttercream based, so that it will set and the cookies can be stored afterwards.

To accompany the baking, I love this beautiful, unusual version of one of my favorite Christmas carols:

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen (Abdelli version) by Loreena McKennitt on Grooveshark

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Christmas Cookies: Homemade Thin Mints

"I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year." - "A Christmas Carol," Charles Dickens

This is the first Christmas cookie I've made this year, but honestly, these can be made any time of year. The Girl Scouts have some definite competition with this recipe from the Cozy Kitchen blog.

cutting out the cookies

cookies, baked

coated with chocolate and setting in the fridge

This is a definite winner, and highly recommended. Be sure to store them in the fridge or freezer to keep them from melting.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

New Knitting Projects

"Properly practiced, knitting soothes the troubled spirit, and it doesn't hurt the untroubled spirit either." - Elizabeth Zimmerman

As my difficult trial has still not abated, and I continue to have free time on my hands, I've been remarkably productive with knitting.

First, I finished a lace scarf project that has been dragging on for many months:

I gave this to my housemate as a birthday present after it was finished. She loves blue, and this scarf suits her very well.

I ended up ripping out the Princess Kate shawl and starting over, since it had several mistakes. I haven't made significant progress on it yet, as I am saving it to work on during my flight home for Thanksgiving next week.

In the meantime, I've finally faced my fears of knitting adult-sized sweaters, and have begun work on this Cardigan:

image credit: tottopper

The cables on it make me nervous, as they can easily go wrong if you don't pay enough attention. I am making it for myself, so that if it comes out looking absolutely hideous, at least I won't be inflicting it on an unsuspecting third party.

I'm using a leaf green yarn, and the bottom edge is almost finished - nearly time to move on to the dreaded cabling:

My housemate saw me knitting this and said "green is a good color for you." When I was a child, my mother always reverted to dark blues when we shopped for my clothes together, against my pleas for more green-colored items. As an adult, I've been taking every opportunity I can to shun dark blue (except in cases where it is unavoidable, such as business attire) and purchase or make green garments for myself. My mother finally agrees that it is a good color for me. 

To be continued...

Thanksgiving Pies

"Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness." - Jane Austen

Since the start of the problems I briefly mentioned a few posts back, I've been looking forward to flying home for Thanksgiving more than anything. My family are also going through some troubles of their own, and we're all looking forward to getting together on Thanksgiving day.

I've informed my mother, who is in charge of compiling the menu and figuring out the shopping list, that if we don't have one or both of these pies for dessert, Thanksgiving just won't be complete (yes, I volunteered to do the baking).

Tell me I'm wrong:

image credit:

This is the Braided Bourbon Pumpkin Pie from the Cozy Kitchen blog...

image credit:

...and this is the Salted Caramel Apple Pie, also from the Cozy Kitchen.

Oh. good. grief.

I'm not sure if choosing one over the other will be possible. But hey, at least it's one of the very few days of the year when a feast cannot be criticized for being too large.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Robert Frost Shawl

"Whose woods these are I think I know; his house is in the village, though. He will not see me stopping here to watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer to stop without a farmhouse near, between the woods and frozen lake, the darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake to ask if there is some mistake, the only other sound's the sweep of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep/ and miles to go before I sleep." - "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," Robert Frost

I finished the shawl for my mom, which was described in the last knitting progress post. I was working blind, since the project involved combining elements of two different shawl knitting patterns, so I had no idea what it would look like when it was finished.

The result was surprising:

the shawl in progress

While working on the beaded eyelets, I noticed that they resembled snowflakes, and that the edging looked like a forest. It immediately brought my favorite Robert Frost poem to mind.

detail of the shawl, blocking

one corner of the shawl

My mom has been watching my progress on it via pictures, and is excited for it to be done. I'm currently debating whether to send it to her right away, or keep it for her Christmas present - probably the latter.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Smitten Apple Cider Caramels

"No sun - no moon! No morn - no noon - no dawn - no dusk - no proper time of day. No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease, no comfortable feel in any member - no shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees, no fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! - November!" - Thomas Hood

In the part of the country where I am living now, November has been comparable to September so far. I expect that to end in the next couple of weeks, but right now it is much preferable to my old home, where it is currently averaging 20 degrees Fahrenheit at night.

So, to celebrate the most gorgeous November I can recall, I am making these caramels:

the finished product

the caramel block

cut into bars...

...and cut into squares

These beauties come from the Smitten Kitchen blog, and capture all the beauty of Fall in a small square. The recipe can be found here.

Note: I don't recommend chewing these, if you value your teeth. 

Happy Fall!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Knitting progress

"Women like to sit down with trouble -  as if it were knitting." - Ellen Glasgow

Lately I've been facing a daunting trial, and have had a lot of "free time" on my hands as a result. While there is blessing in the fact that I've been able to catch up on my rest, it is also a stressful time since a lot of things are weighing on my mind, and I am under as much stress as I ever was. The only difference is that now I can go take a nap whenever I feel like it, or I can knit.

Knitting is a contemplative hobby by nature - it both engages the mind and leaves it free to pursue its own ends. No wonder there are groups of Christians who make prayer shawls - it is an activity that accompanies prayer singularly well (until you drop a stitch, and then you have to watch that you don't intersperse your prayers with profanity).

I've been working on a handful of shawls lately - my "prayer shawls," in a sense.

I finished the Wine and Roses shawl:

I decided not to add the flowery edge, and just put a fringe around the two longer sides.

This project has been about a year in the making, and while I love it, I'm glad it's finally done.

I also recently started a shawl for my mom:

I'm using a double strand of lace-weight yarn in a light moss/sage green for this one. I'm still on the edging, but once I get to the main body of it, I will be placing tri-corner eyelets with pearl beads in the centers all over it. This project took a while to figure out, as my mom had a hard time deciding on what style she wanted. All she knew was that she wanted tri-corner eyelets with pearls, and a lacy edge, so I'm going to mash two sections from different shawl knitting patterns together to create this effect.

Last, but not least, I've finally started work on the Princess Kate shawl:

I adore the greens in the yarn I ordered for this one. The pattern is not very difficult, but does require a certain amount of focus to keep from making mistakes. See my previous post that talks about the inspiration for this shawl's design.

To be continued...

Monday, October 29, 2012

Narnia Chalice Blanket for Laura

"You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve," said Aslan. "And that is both honor enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth." - C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian 

I began this blanket earlier in the year once I found out that a good friend of mine, who is also an impressive C.S. Lewis scholar, and her husband were expecting their first baby.

This pattern caught my eye because it makes me think of everything that has to do with Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia: magic, beauty, honor, greatness.

Sadly, the pattern itself is rather tricky, and I restarted the project multiple times (even my mother gave it a shot, since she is very talented with making baby blankets, but gave up in disgust.). And as baby blankets are not my forte when it comes to knitting, a few mistakes wormed their way in.

the blanket, washed and blocking

If, like I was, you have to make this blanket and are determined to see the difficulties through, the pattern can be found here. My advice is to be prepared to rip everything out multiple times.

Happy Knitting

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sopaipillas with Cheese and Green Chilis

"Nothing is more fearful than imagination without taste." - Johann von Goethe

Since moving, I have had almost no time to experiment with new recipes or make any progress on the knitting front. Blame it on finally taking up a full-time job (which, after years of search, is worth any amount of neglect towards domesticity).

This weekend I finally had time to play in the kitchen, and came up with a delicious new concoction. Sopaipillas (pronounced so-pie-pee-yahs) are a Southwestern fried bread pocket that can be cut and filled with meat, etc. for dinner, or coated with sugar or honey for dessert. Since I'm all about bending preconceived ideas where cooking is concerned (in the proper context, of course), I decided to strike a balance between the two.

kneading the dough

I went with a local, ready-made bread mix (again, very little time due to the new job), but a recipe for scratch-made can be found here.

cutting dough into squares

Once the dough is kneaded and has been rolled out, cut into whatever shape you wish (squares, triangles, etc.).

frying the squares

Heat 3 cups of Canola oil in a large pot until it reaches 375 degrees F. Fry the squares one at a time, for a minute each side. They should puff up into pockets while frying.

a finished square!

Once removed from the oil, sprinkle a little bit of sugar on one side. Repeat until all are completed. Using a sharp knife, cut a slit into the sopaipillas so that a pocket is formed.

Now combine 1/2 cup sour cream, 2 tsp. all-purpose flour, 1-3 tablespoons scallions (I love scallions, what can I say), 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese, and 2-3 tablespoons chopped green chilis (depending on how much spice you can stand) in a pot on the stove over medium heat. Stir frequently until the cheese has all melted but is not burned. Spoon the cheese mixture into the sopaipillas and serve immediately (the cheese mixture recipe needs to be at least doubled for 1 dozen sopaipillas).

The combination of sweet, spicy and cheesy is definitely too good to miss.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

New life, new place

"Home is where one starts from. As we grow older, the world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated of dead and living." - T.S. Eliot

In the lengthy time since my last post, I moved across the country to a new land, started training for a new job, and essentially jumped head-first into as many new experiences as can be imagined. I've been stretched, challenged, exhausted, but felt completely blessed by the whole experience.

For these reasons, I have made miniscule progress on my knitting, and have not tried any new recipes to date. Once things settle down more, I am hoping to continue my adventures in new areas of domesticity (which will end up in posts here), but for now, a few photos of my new home must suffice:


I love my new home. More to come soon.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Clementine's Purple Teddy Bear

"It is astonishing how many thoroughly mature, well-adjusted grown-ups harbour a teddy bear - which is perhaps why they are thoroughly mature and well-adjusted." - Joseph Lempa

This is the third project I've made for my friend Anna's baby Clementine with the same purple yarn (the first two were the baby outfit and the purple elephant). This was originally meant to be a Christmas present, but is now going to be a birthday present when Clementine celebrates her first birthday soon. 

 This pattern is cute, but you have to knit the individual pieces, sew them together, then stuff and assemble. For a knitted teddy bear, it is very simple, but I prefer the elephant pattern above, which you knit in one piece and stuff as you go - a bit more complicated, but with fewer seams and less fiddling around with needles and thread.

While stuffing and assembling the bear, I was amused to notice that my dogs were paying close attention to my progress (teddy looks a lot like their squeaky toys, and they probably hoped he was destined for their enjoyment). I had to get a picture of the younger dog with the bear once he was finished:

...and I will definitely be keeping teddy up out of reach until he gets shipped!
I still have the same red-velveteen bear from when I was a baby (I like to think that I am thoroughly mature and well-adjusted. In any event, I take no shame in admitting that I still love my teddy bear):

My teddy, a gallant knight
He's been stitched up in several places and is missing an eye, but still sports his lace collar and isn't leaving me any time soon.

I also had to share this photo, which has been circulating around the internet for a while now:

the byline reads "protecting innocent children from monsters-under-the-bed since 1902"

If you still have your teddy bear, go give him a hug and thank him for his faithful service.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Jane Austen Knits Even More

"'It is amazing to me,' said Bingley, 'how young ladies can have the patience to be so very accomplished as they all are.'" - Pride and Prejudice

Now that I'm starting a new full-time job soon, I expect my knitting to slow down a bit. I will still keep it up, but with my current knitting to-do list, and the number of projects I currently have in motion, I really don't need another excuse to buy more yarn and add another slot to my "works in progress" page on Ravelry.

And then they spring this one on me:

Yes, Jane Austen (via Interweave press) has even more knitting projects available for those of us who wish to knit ourselves back in time. It is for sale at Barnes and Noble, or online at Yarn Market.

My definite favorites which I'm hoping will end up in the Ravelry queue at some point:
  • Pemberley Reticule (read: gorgeous lace knitted market tote bag)
  • A Book Cover for Edmund
  • Marianne's Romantic Bookmark
  • Beloved Baby Bonnet (so many of my friends are getting married and having babies, I'm sure to know someone who will appreciate an Austenite baby accessory)
Happy knitting!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Strawberries, Smoked Salmon and Ginger Mint Tea

"The best way to keep good acts in memory is to refresh them with new." - Cato the Elder

This weekend was a trifecta of terrific recipes.

First was this amazing recipe for Iced Green Tea with Honey, Ginger and Mint from Ezra Pound Cake:

Green Tea infused with ginger and mint, with honey and a little lemon juice added. Serve over ice - possibly the definitive cold summer tea.

Next is this recipe for Eggs Norwegian from the Pioneer Woman Cooks webpage:

Eggs Benedict used to be my favorite breakfast - it has been officially ousted by this delightful fishy variation. I've always had an adventurous palate, and have been conducting an on-again off-again love affair with smoked salmon for years. This is perfect for a weekend brunch (unless you're having fuss-pots over who are too scared to try new, weird, and wonderful things. Honestly, if they are coming over, serve it anyway. Life is too short).
I do love the Pioneer Woman, but sometimes she gets things wrong. Here are a few notes/warnings about this recipe:
  • For the Hollandaise sauce, she tells you to use the juice of "1 whole lemon" while failing to realize that not all lemons are created equal. So, instead of using her slap-dash Hollandaise recipe, use this one instead and make the sauce ahead of time.
  • Even though she tells you to toast the English muffins first and only to "light golden," I recommend doing them last and until they have a bit of singeing on the tips of the crannies. That way, they're a bit more crunchy and warm when you serve.

Last and not least are these Strawberry Cupcakes with Strawberry frosting from the Brown Eyed Baker:

The frosting is pink, but the lighting really washes it out in this picture

These are delightful, and I was looking forward to make the original Strawberry Meringue Buttercream frosting in the recipe, but the humidity here has been out of control for weeks. So, after a valiant attempt with a copper bowl, cream of tartar and over 20 minutes of beating, the meringue was completely comatose and unresponsive, and the plug was accordingly pulled. I went with this deliciously simple Strawberry Buttercream frosting recipe instead.

*apologies for poor picture quality - my camera is dead and I'm stuck with my iPod camera for now*

Bon Appetit!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Chocolate Buns

"Ideas should be clear, and chocolate thick." - Spanish Proverb

My brother came home for a brief visit before I move away from home. To mark the occasion, I decided to make these chocolate swirl buns from the Smitten Kitchen.

Chocolate and cinnamon swirled in a beautiful sweet bread dough: it's safe to say that I have officially reached baking Nirvana...

I will never view cinnamon buns the same way, nor be able to eat them without thinking "but... they could have added CHOCOLATE to these!!!"

the chocolate-cinnamon mixture

unbaked buns

This recipe is definitely going to stay in my repertoire, and should be added to yours, too.


Friday, July 6, 2012

Daniella's Beret

"In the movies, Paris is designed as a backdrop for only three things - love, fashion shows, and revolution." - Jeanine Basinger

I don't know about revolution, but Paris is definitely a wonderful place for love and fashion. This is the second and last top-secret undercover project in the needles n' yarn bag. One of my dear friends is traveling to Paris this month with her husband for his work. This is her first time traveling overseas, let alone to France, and I sadly missed sending her a birthday card not too long ago. Hence, I knitted a French beret as a late birthday present which she could wear in Paris.

But this isn't your typical French beret...

...nope, definitely not. This is the kind of beret French people would see and say "ooh la la!"

(probably because I found the pattern in the Dec. '09 issue of Vogue Knitting magazine)

July 23: here are some pictures of my friend wearing the beret in Paris:

Au revoir, mon amie!