Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Teeny Runway...

Make it work.

I am huge fan of Project Runway, the reality show where designers are given fashion challenges and a limited time frame and budget to complete them. I've been watching since the first season. Down in C-bus town, there would generally be a small pool and much weekly discussion about whose outfit was best, who brought the best drama to the episode, etc. etc.

(I even got a chance to meet Kara Janx from season 2 at a charity fashion show a couple years ago with some of the other grad students. The picture is bad, but Kara is the one in the middle.)

In honor of Project Runway, Mason-Dixon Knitting is holding a Teeny Runway contest in which enterprising knitters must create a fashionable outfit for a non-bear object (you can read the whole story and the rules ) which wil then be voted on by the general blog-reading public.

I haven't gotten through the pictures yet today, but since we now have a snow day, and even my Master Gardener classes were canceled, I may try and peruse a bit.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Salad days part 1

During the summer, I gorge on fresh veggies. I could eat them roasted, grilled, raw whatever. Winter months bring sadness and gloom to me because there are so few fresh veggies available. (Yes, I know they bring them in, but once you get used to eating tomatoes from the summer months you can not touch one of those hard nasty tasteless things they stock on the shelves). I try to compensate with a lot of salads.

These salads become especially important when I look at the calendar and realize that we only have a few months until the days of baggy sweaters and jeans will vanish with the snow. I lost about 40 pounds a few years ago and I am still fearful of putting it back on again. Winter is particularly tough since it's harder to justify walking around the neighborhood when you are knee-deep in snow.

Anyway, back to the salads. We eat two core salads in this house - a caesar salad and a mixed greens salad. And it's really more that we have two core salad dressings, and the salad revolves around that.

Make salad dressing is such an easy thing. It does take a little longer than pulling a bottle out of the fridge, but the results are so much tastier, and I control what I'm putting into it. I have tried making a larger portion of salad dressing a couple days in advance, but have found that it loses too much of its flavor, so we're back to making it immediately before dinner.

Tonight's dressing is a honey-citrus-mustard dressing. It's very, very simple. It works best with mixed greens or something slightly on the bitter or tart side to compliment the sweetness from the honey. I probably wouldn't serve it on romaine or head lettuce.

Citrus-Honey dressing

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 tbls dijon mustard

1 tbls honey

about 3 tbls to a 1/4 cup citrus juice- we frequently use lime because it is what we always have in the house. I really like it with lemon, or even a lemon-orange mixture.

Mix the above together well.

Take a good bottle of olive oil and slowly drizzle it into the juice-mustard mixture, stirring constantly. An emulsion should form. I'm not quite sure how much olive oil I put in. It's not a whole lot.

This dressing is a re-creation of one I had down on a mixed green salad at Enormous U served with roasted veggies and cumin spiced black bean hummus (super, super good - I highly recommend the combination) . We also eat it with the above salad - mixed greens, onions, sundried tomatoes, sea salt and pepper. And homemade croutons.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Feed me Seymour...

After the whole date thing, I remembered the package Mr. H had recently received. One of the fun parts of his job is that he gets all sorts of little swag and weird perks. Once, he was sent a remote control car that can go up to 30 mph for filling out a survey. Around the holidays, he was given some credit to a geek store, where he used the credit to get a star-scope thingy (because I like astronomy) and this....

It's a little plastic grow-dome and a whole bunch of carnivorous seeds (edited to add - the seeds aren't carnivorous - that would make things a whole lot more dangerous. The plants they grow into are carnivorous). We had set it aside assuming that we should plant it when it gets a little warmer, but I broke it open today to see what the actual instructions said.

Given the number of varieties, I'm really tempted to try and get a bigger terrerium before I try and plant these. Carnivorous plants are a little persnickety and take care. I haven't grown any before, but I'm really looking forward to it!

And here is my favorite part of the box...

The actual instructions note not to feed your plants actual meat. I don't know if I would consider flies and insects "meat" but I guess they aren't exactly herbacious either.

Some of these plants take up to 3 to 5 years to mature, so we have to be in it for the long haul. They certainly aren't native to this area of the US, so I'm going to have to be careful with them.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Dinner Club - Appetizer Edition...

In an attempt to meet some people in our new neighborhood, I signed the poor, unsuspecting Mr. H and myself up for a dinner club. Although I am a bit of an introvert, Mr. H. loves a random social engagement, and could quite possible entertain anyone on his own for several hours.

Our job was an appetizer. When I spoke to our most gracious host to inquire what she was making so I could coordinate the appetizer, she replied "a meat." So, assuming that she had not settled on the main dish yet, I was left to my own devices. Which, for the first time, I could not come up with a damn thing. It's not like me not to know what appetizer to bring. I totally love appetizers. But we had some considerations - because we were going to someone else's house, it needed to be portable, able to travel easily, not needing to be cooked and immediately served.

So I tried something new that I found on the Epicurious web site - dates stuffed with parmesan cheese and then wrapped in bacon. I'm rather unfamiliar with the whole date thing. I'm not a big fruit person in general. But I love parmesan cheese, and I liked the concept of the salty cheesey and the sweet date (even though I almost gagged when I tried a date by itself). And who doesn't like bacon? I could eat just about anything wrapped in bacon.

So here we go.

My first surprise was the need to pit the dates. I had never seen a pit from a date before, and was very surprised at how much they look like beetle larvae (unfortunately my picture of it did not turn out well).

After pitting them however, I had a gaggle of hungry little mouths like wrinkly pac-men.

Next, came the cheese. Little wedges of my good parmesan (you know, the stuff that has the crunchy crystalized salt or something in it - I love it. I really love it melted) shoved into these bad boys' mouths. I kind of felt like I was in Little Shop of Horrors and danced around the kitchen singing "Feed me Seymour".

Then, after squeezing the little mouths closed, wrap them in bacon (I partially cooked mine because it was thick-cut) and bake at 400 degrees until the bacon is crispy and golden.

This picture was taken before the final baking, but you get the drift. They were all that they were promised - gooey, sweet, salty and smokey. They were best right out of the oven, but they held up well on the ride over, and they were surprisingly almost completely consumed. I wasn't sure how they would go over. Even if you are a little concerned, give them a try!

Friday, February 15, 2008


My favorite band in the whole wide world is coming within an hour of my current location in the near future. It doesn't happen very often. I missed them last time they were within two hours due to my dissertation stuff. I don't do concerts very often, but this is one that I would really, really like to see.

But Mr. H is going to be gone that night.

And it's spring break for the Marvelous Miss Thing.

So I need to try to find a babysitter and maybe someone to try to go with me. I'm not sure I'm going to be able to make this happen. I wouldn't mind going by myself, but it would be nice to drive with someone else.

Love is a warm coffee.

I don't do Valentine's day. This is a well known fact in my house. However, a little girl's love will change things a bit. She thought it was cool that she and I went out to dinner since Mr. H has been on the road again.

Mr. H called to let me know that he had bought me a little thing while at his conference. I briefly panicked - he knows how I feel about Valentines day, but I hate not reciprocating.

So quickly, I made him this...

Based off a pattern that I found on Raverly. I did make one change to it.

On the back, I sewed in a pocket. To hold sugar, or maybe a full card worth a free cup of cappucinno that I had been saving for a special occasion from the local coffee shop. Love is coffee. (One note - the pocket is not really crooked - the pocket is a little small for that card, and it pulled the pocket wonky).
And for me? Well, Mr. H knows I have a weakness for geekwear.

I heart it so much. Most of my "geek" shirts are men's which makes me look not only like a geek, but also a poor dresser. This has a girl fit and its a cute color.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

I feel like a knitting idiot.

I have been working on the same "simple" pattern for three days now. It's a simple lace scarf. It should be simple. Everyone else says it's simple. I understand the stitches.

And yet I can't get the freaking thing to work correctly. Somehow everytime the stitches end up screwed up. Sometimes I have too many. Sometimes too few. And based off my understanding of math (given, I only really understand calculus, comprehension of arithmatic still eludes me) these things should not be happening. I have plotted the stitches out. I have drawn pictures. I think i know how this thing should work, but apparently I don't, because it never looks like the picture.

I have knitted and unknitted this project 4 times in fluffy MOHAIR. If you are familiar with this, you know its a bitch to do. I then decided to practice on my wool yarn - and I have knitted and frogged that piece 3 times.

I'd like to get this piece done by March. It shouldn't take that long. I may have to have someone else look at it and tell me if I'm either doing it wrong or doing it right and think I'm doing it wrong.

Update: Indeed, I am an idiot. It took me a long time to figure out what I was doing wrong. A ball of yarn may have been thrown across the room. But I figured it out. It was my bad. I was yarn-overing wrong. For every yarn-over, I was yarn-overing AND knitting the stitch which always brought my stitches out wrong.

Mastah... mastahhhhhhh.....

Today was the second day of master gardener class.

The Master Gardener program trains volunteers in horticulture, who then take those skills and assist in educational programs throughout the state. Run through the land-grant institutions, it works through extension to train people in every county of most states (at least, this is my understanding). Educational programs may include working with community gardens, with organizations such as botanical gardens or zoos, conducting plant informational sessions, working the plant hotline.. etc. etc.

In my case, classes run all day, once a week for nine weeks.

I've been eyeing this program for about 5 years when a former coworker joined the ranks of Master Gardener upon retirement. But I have a casual agreement with myself that I will not pursue more than one serious educational endevour at a time, and the whole doctorate thing won out.

But since I'm between gigs right now, this is a perfect time to get into this - I have the time to offer the 50 hours volunteer time required for your first year as a Master Gardener (after the first year it goes down to 10 or 20).

Today's topic - vegetables in the morning and soil in the afternoon. The veggie topic wasn't anything particularly new for me (Mr H: "What did you expect? You throw yourself into everything"), and I was slightly surprised that more people had not really explored the joys of growing veggies. I collect heirloom tomato varieties, although my collection has suffered due to the limited gardening of last year's move. I'm hoping maybe to get some people talking about their veggies in future meetings.

The soil topic was interesting but my chemistry was never good enough to hold my attention for the conversation on adhesion and cohesion and how it explained that water moves quickly through sand and slowly through clay. The speaker was engaging, but my eyes kept being drawn to the large quantities of snow that kept falling. I still can't believe what a difference 120 miles north makes in climate.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A small step closer to complete self-sustainability (aka my first hat)

After watching too many Armegeddon and "How the World Will End" shows on the Discovery Network and such, some people might consider how they would sustain themselves if something catestrophic would happen. Don't mock me. Have you thought about it?

This may sound a little out there, but that was in part how this whole thing started. Now, realistically, this is a lot more about relying less on supermarkets and such, and supporting local farmers, watching the chemicals I put into my body, etc than preparing for doomsday, but one too many late-night Nostradamous shows got me thinking about how little I know about supporting my own daily needs.

So I learned more about gardening. It then turned into canning. I haven't learned plumbing yet, but I did teach myself to knit.

And now, I have created a hat. I have made my own clothing.

It is my first "beyond scarf" project. And no, it's not knit correctly (this was before I learned that I was knitting into the back rather than knitting into the front, so it's all knitted into the back). And no, it doesn't really look good on me. But the Marvelous Miss Thing likes it, so I made a big white rose to stick on it, and she now has been wearing it nonstop.

And I can now make my own clothing. Ok, so it's a hat, and a sweater is pretty intimidating because I'm not really good at following detailed directions (see my recipes), but I have created Fuzzy Things to Keep Me Warm.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Cakes cakes cakes...

I love to create cakes. I'm no Chef Duff or anything, but I love to play around with different textures and possibilities.

I try to take pictures of my cakes as well.

Now that I'm at home, I have less opportunity (or excuse) to make a crazy cake, so I'm just going to reflect on some previous ones.
If you click on the picture, I have added notes to the Flickr image, if you are so inclined.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

I've got the blues, and my garlic does too.

I feel crappy. What's worse, I can't tell you exactly what is wrong, but I know I don't feel good. Mr. H offered me the hope that it is what he had last week ("I felt like crap, and it lasted a week"). Fan-TAS-tic.

In the meantime, the weather is crappy too. It's been raining for days, mixing with snow. The snowman that the Marvelous Miss Thing and I built last week gave up its slow backward limbo and now appears to be lying in the corpse position in our front yard. You can see the bottom snowman, and his stick arms lying directly out from the ball on the ground.

And to add to it, in my need for croutons (Mr. H and I are back in salad-mode), my damn garlic turned blue again.

If you have never seen blue garlic (which I had not prior to two years ago), garlic will sometimes turn blue due to a chemical reaction between the sulfur in garlic and an acid. It supposedly happens more frequently with immature garlic. The garlic is still completely edible, and it does not affect the taste. The blue that I have seen is fairly unnatural looking. Rather smurf-life. (because I am feeling too crappy to take and post my own picture, here is someone else's picture of it)

The first time I had it happen, it was when I was roasting tomatoes. Nothing more disturbing than what appears to be mold growing all over one's precious tomato harvest. It was a huge panic moment. Later, when I was pickling jalepenos, blue garlic struck again.

Today, I have blue-flecked croutons.

Fortunately, with continued heat, the blue color will fade away. Right now my croutons have some blueish-gray specks on them, but soon all will be golden brown.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

I just realized that I have been knitting wrong

Bugger. It's not a huge deal, but I have to re-teach myself the physical motions. From what I can tell, my knit stitch is actually a knit into the back loop or I was using the combined knitting technique (but not on the purl stitch).

I looked at the scarf that I have been working on for Mr. H. It's not really noticable, unless you know what you are looking for...

Update: I can now totally notice, but since I was half-way through the scarf before I realized it, Mr. h is just going to have to suck it up.

I also have been looking at Debbie New's book Unexpected Knitting. I am totally in love with what she has done. Once I know how to knit. properly. I am going to start playing around with some of free-style stuff. I think it will suit me better. While the idea of knitting a sweater is intriguing, I don't think I'm disciplined enough...

Pot-sticker soup

There are times when only soup will do. Maybe it is the weather, maybe it is because one imbibed one too many hurricanes at a certain Mardi Gras party the night before, but today both myself and Mr. H needed soup. Needed. Soup. Now

For us, today was a potsticker soup day. Clear broth seasoned with soy sauce and green onions, poured over potstickers and made as spicy as one could take. We fell in love with potstickers and buy them in bulk. They are an essential part of crap dinner. I have made my own potstickers, but they do not hold up well in the freezer, and they really fall apart when in soup, so I generally just stick with the pre-made ones.

Potstickers are little dumplings wrapped in a won-ton like dough that is then steamed and/or fried. When we are eating them as a meal (which we have done on several occasions), we boil them, then pan fry them. Which you can also do for this soup, because it gives them a nice crispy edge, but neither of us was feeling up to that much work.

Potsticker soup

8 cups chicken broth (I would have used my homemade stock, but I had used the rest on french onion soup *sigh*)
4-6 tbls soy sauce (to taste)
1-2 tbls rice wine vinegar (again, to taste - I like mine sour)
1 clove garlic, crushed (A small spoonful of garlic-ginger paste is also lovely)
splash sesame oil
(additional possible soup additions, based on what you have, and your tastes - 1-3 thinly sliced green onions, a couple thinly sliced button mushrooms, a little tofu, a handful of frozen green peas)

Mix together, and let simmer.

Meanwhile, prepare potstickers according to directions and your wishes.

Finally, plate the soup. Place 1 to 2 potstickers in a bowl. Pour broth over potstickers (this is important - you do not want to put the potstickers into your pot of broth - the wrapper will fall apart and lose all its dumpling-ness).

Top with whatever you have in the house - more green onions, bean sprouts, as much hot chili paste as you can handle

The King Cake

Our neighbors (and close friends) in C-bus throw a huge New Year's Eve party every year. Every year has a theme, selected around June. About three years ago, the theme was Mardi Gras. Wendy wanted a King Cake. I didn't know what one way, but I volunteered to make it.

A king cake is not really a cake at all, but rather an enriched bread (meaning sweetened, with eggs and butter), and then you may have a filling in it.

Historically, my understanding is the king cake is only served between the holiday of Epiphany (or 12th Night) and Fat Tuesday. It is shaped in a oval and covered in colored sugar: purple, green and gold. Inside the bread a trinket, traditionally a baby or an almond or bean is inserted. Whoever finds the trinket gets to bring the next king cake or throw the next party.

I'm not going to pretend that I that I'm an expert on the history or culture, because I live in the midwest and we don't really do the whole mardi gras thing.

Since that first one, I average about 6 or 7 each year. Mr. H loves them ("It's like a giant cheese danish!"), and they are a fun and impressive looking. I have tried a variety of fillings, from a plain cinnamon, to praline, and Mr. H's favorite, the cream cheese filling. I have made the cake with white icing and colored sugar, or as shown above with colored icing and colored sugar (I love the brightness of the frosting).

Last night, friends threw a Mardi Gras party in honor of the upcoming Fat Tuesday celebration. I brought a King Cake, and I finally think it was my best baby-hiding job ever. Mr. H couldn't find it after it was decorated. The best thing about being the one to make it is that you never have to worry about getting the baby.

The recipe I most frequently use is based on Emeril's recipe, although any enriched bread dough works just fine.

King Cake with cream cheese filling

First, the dough

2 packages dry active yeast
1/2 cup sugar
1 stick butter, melted
3 eggs plus 2 yolks
1 cup warm milk 4 to 5 cups regular flour
2 teaspoons salt
A dash of grated nutmeg

Combine the yeast, sugar, and milk. Let proof for 15 to 30 minutes. Add butter, and egg yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, and mix until combined. In a separate large mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt, and nutmeg. Add this mixture an batches to the yeast mixture.

Mix on low speed until it lightly comes together, then increase the speed to medium and beat until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the bowl, forms a ball, and climbs slightly up the dough hook. Dough will be smooth but loose - it's not as firm as some other doughs, and it may be just a bit sticky. Coat the dough with vegetable oil. Return the dough to the bowl and turn it to oil all sides. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, set in a warm, draft-free place, and let rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Next, make the filling

16 oz cream cheese (two packs, although I usually use about 1 and half pack), softened
1 cup powdered sugar
Splash vanilla extract
Splash almond extract

Mix well.

Now, fill the dough...

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Roll the dough out to about 30 inches long and 6 inches in diameter. Spread the cream cheese filling across the center of the dough. Bring the two long edges together and seal all sides completely. Using your hands shape the dough into a long cylinder and place on a greased baking sheet, seam side down. Shape the dough into a ring. You can put an empty can covered in aluminum foil and well greased the center of the ring to keep the definition and shape of the cake.

Let the dough rise again - about 45 minutes, until doubled.

Bake at 350 for 25 to 30 minutes. It will be golden brown. Let cool.

Once cooled, you can frost the cake. I like to use a powdered sugar glaze that has been flavored with a little rum and cream.