Monthly Archives: November 2009

A Yarn Tragedy

As anyone who lives in the Cambridge, MA area and has even the faintest interest in knitting—or a general appreciation for those one-of-a-kind shops that give a place character—already knows, a tragedy has struck Harvard Square. Woolcott and Co is no more. Let’s just say that I was more than a little devastated when I first heard. This place was my yarn haven through my four undergraduate years—but like any good yarn store, it was even more than that. It was an oasis for the soul, a needed retreat whenever academia-induced anxiety became too much to handle. Even though my life is a lot less stressful these days, it will be badly missed.

If there’s a possible bright side to this dismal development, it’s the fact that a closing yarn store means a massive sale on all fiber, sample knits, books, and notions. So to make the best of a less-than-ideal situation, and to say one last ‘thank-you’ to my beloved yarn store, I took advantage.

First of all, I bought this hilarious sample scarf. I’d always admired it every time I went into the store—it’s sort of Dr. Seuss-like, and I’ve been told that I dress like a Dr. Seuss character more than once. (I take this a compliment).

I also loaded up on Cascade Eco which is already inexpensive so I basically got it for free:

Sometimes yarn shopping is impulsive and done without any real end goal in mind. But I have plans for this lovely addition to my yarn stash (which, believe it or not, has been diminishing thanks to some diligent scrap knitting). I’ve already finished my Funnel Neck Pullover from Classic Elite Yarn’s “Weekend” pattern book, and I’m already eager to make another.

I used the called-for yarn, Kumara, which is lovely and soft. In fact, I’m pretty much in love with this sweater in every possible way. Designer Pam Allen is a genius. It’s slightly shaped at the hip, has this lovely cowl neck (though I think I’ll make it a bit looser next time with the next size up needle) and bubbly sleeves. You may have noticed that, for me, this sweater is shockingly… monochromatic. It must be because a design this fabulous speaks for itself. Then again, I plan on using my newly acquired, bubblegum pink yarn for the next one. You know my philosophy; find something you love, and make it in as many different colors as possible. Sometimes I’m a lot more productive than I expect—thank you, OCD, type-A personality—but I seriously don’t expect this one to go quite as quickly since holiday gift making has been taking up lots of time. Anyway, it’s always nice to acquire some new yarn—even better when you know exactly how you will put it to good use—but sad to lose Woolcott. I wish their former employees the best of luck in their future knitting endeavors.

On an unrelated note, I have a new holiday season habit: sweet loaves. I’m a bit addicted. They’re the perfect mid-morning snack, the perfect evening treat—not exactly low-cal, I realize, but a little extra insulation for the winter never hurt. It all began with that wonderful gingerbread, and continued this week with a new take on that recipe: pumpkin bread. Pureed pumpkin is wonderful for baking since it stays moist for quite some time—but it needs a fair amount of sugar to coax out its flavor. At least the whole wheat flour gives this cake-like bread the pretense of being somewhat healthy.

(Try it with fig spread and eggnog whipped cream)

Pumpkin Loaf

  • 1 cup pureed pumpkin
  • ¾ cup honey
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsps ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsps pumpkin pie spice
  • ¾ cups brown sugar
  • 2 cups milk

Beat together the pumpkin, honey, oil, and eggs in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, and sugar. Add the dry ingredient mixture to the pumpkin mixture, alternating it with the milk.

Pour the batter into a greased 13″ x 9″ x 2″ baking pan, or two 9″ x 5″ loaf pans. Bake for about 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. It can be tricky to tell with pumpkin, since it’s very moist and slightly gooey. You may need to cut about an inch into the center with a knife; once it has a bread-like texture, it’s good to go, even if it still looks a bit wet—and it will firm up a bit as it cools.

This is another good one for dunking in eggnog–or, even better, eggnog whipped cream. I’ve also been slathering it with fig spread for an additional hint of sweetness.

As for yeast breads, I did a very little bit of fiddling with last week’s eggnog bread to make a cinnamon raisin loaf. I discovered that if you go easy on the cinnamon, it still works wonderfully in a savory sandwich (try it with turkey, any soft cheese, and sliced apples):

Savory Cinnamon Raisin Loaf

  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • ¾ cups warm water (100-110 degrees F)
  • 2 tsp vegetable oil
  • ¼ cup milk, room temperature
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp white sugar
  • ¾ cups whole wheat flour
  • ½ cup raisins
  • 1½-2 cups bread flour (I used whole wheat bread flour, but white would work as well)

Add the yeast to the warm water, gently stir, and allow to proof until foamy. This usually takes about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, mix together the vegetable oil, milk, and sugar in a medium bowl. Once the yeast has proofed, add it to the milk mixture. Mix in the whole wheat flour and raisins. Add the bread flour slowly until you have a firm dough that can be kneaded by hand. Knead the dough on a floured surface for 5-7 minutes, until it is slightly sticky and elastic in texture.

Place the dough in a greased bowl. Preheat your oven for one minute, then turn it off. Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and place the bread inside the oven. Allow to rise for about 45 minutes, or until it has doubled in size. Knead the dough for about 3-5 minutes and shape into a bread loaf.

Place the loaf on a greased pan—again, I like using La Cloche. Cover the loaf and return it to the oven, allowing it to rise for another 30 minutes, or until it has doubled in size. Remove the bread from the oven, preheat it to 350 degrees F, and bake the loaf for about 40 minutes. If you use La Cloche, remove the lid after 30 minutes.

Ah, fresh warm bread. I just can’t get enough.

Oh, and I almost forgot. I’m behind on my nine-patch updates but I’ve made a couple new ones.

The first one is celebratory since it was made in honor of my sister’s 21st birthday which turned into quite the occasion. My brother’s birthday is actually the next day, but he’s off at Princeton so I had to send my birthday wishes from afar. The second nine-patch… I can’t really explain it, except that it fit my mood at the time. What can I say? Sometimes fabric speaks for itself.

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It’s Never Too Early

I can’t help it. As soon as Halloween is over, I’m thinking about Christmas. That’s not to say I don’t love Thanksgiving. It’s more that I think of the holiday season as one big conglomeration of family and friend time, gift-giving, good food, and all that seasonal splendor. The next couple of months are also a particularly wonderful season for quilters and knitters since it gives us the excuse to go craft crazy—I mean, how can I not hand-make every single gift that I give? (If you’re familiar with Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, you’ll recall that this ambition can beoverwhelming at times, though word it). On the other hand, it’s not the best time of year for blogging since I’d rather not spoil any surprises; don’t be surprised if my next few entries are a little less loaded than usual. For now, I still have some projects to share…

First of all, it didn’t take me long to think of the perfect application for that hilarious mushroom fabric from Autumn. As far as I’m concerned, mushrooms belong in the kitchen—and so do aprons. So I fiddled around and came up with this design, which couldn’t be simpler (you can easily make one in an afternoon):

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I’m a big fan of the beautiful apron movement (ever been into Anthropologie? Half the time I like their aprons more than their skirts and wish I could find a way to get away with wearing them on the street). Aprons are one of the most essential kitchen accessories. I used to try to sneak in some slicing or stiring while not wearing one every now and then, but that’s always the time when you wind up with grease splattered across your favorite sweater. Now, I won’t even spread hummus on a slice of bread without wearing an apron. Even though aprons meant to get dirty and you should use them to the max, they can still look lovely (that’s what washing machines are for).

Whenever I go away for a weekend—even if it’s a one-night trip to NYC—I like to spend the next one hunkered down at home, taking immense pleasure in grocery shopping, doing laundry, cleaning, and generally relaxing. So last weekend’s nine-patch is a homey one:

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 One of the fabrics reminds me of the Log Cabin motif. The other one qualifies as ‘homey’ because, well, it’s actually from a pair of my boyfriend’s old boxers (washed, don’t worry) that didn’t fit anymore. I realize how odd that may seem but boxers are such an around-the-house kind of thing… work with me here…

 As much as I love home and my homemade pizza, I have to admit that NYC pizza is amazing. On Halloween night, having forgotten to make dinner plans, we spontaneously bought these absurdly delicious slices of pizza. It may have been the circumstances, but they tasted… unbelievably good.

Around 3 am, we were struck by a major craving for more and searched around what felt like the entire city, but no luck. Shouldn’t you be able to procure pizza at any hour in the city that never sleeps? Anyway, the memory of those slices has lingered, so I tried to capture a bit of their delectable flavor in my latest pasta:

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This is basically mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes, basil and shredded rotisserie chicken (you’ve gotta love those lovely warm grocery store rotisserie chickens). Nothing’s better than long strings of melted mozza, and the quintessentially pizza-y essence of basil. This one’s definitely a keeper, but I’m going to do some tweaking before I post the recipe.

For the first time in a long time (possibly ever) I used my mixer to make something other than fool! Gingerbread. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love those little gingerbread people cookies that you can decorate, stick on trees, and give away as gifts. But truth be told, I’d much rather eat the fluffy, dense gingerbread that you cut into like a piece of cake. So I did some browsing and found this simple and surprisingly healthy recipe—don’t worry, it doesn’t taste as healthy as the ingredients would suggest. I did a little fiddling to accommodate my personal preference for a slightly more seasoned and gooier loaf:

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Wholesome Holiday Gingerbread

  • 1 ¼ cups molasses
  • 1 cup honey
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 ½ tsp ground gloves
  • 1 ½ tsp liquid ginger (or ground ginger)
  • 2 cups milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Beat together the molasses, honey, eggs, and oil. Mix together the dry ingredients and add them to the egg mixture, alternating with the milk. Pour the batter into a greased 13″ x 9″ x 2″ baking pin. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. This is heavenly when served warm from the oven, but don’t fret if you don’t finish it all in one go- the generous amount of molasses keeps this bread moist for quite some time. I enjoyed it reheated for about a week; simply wrap a piece in foil and place in a 350 degree F oven for about ten minutes. 

Nothing tastes more like Christmas then gingerbread dunked in eggnog (with a side of pomegranate fool, of course). Yes, I already have a stash of eggnog in the fridge. What I didn’t have in the fridge when I went to make my latest yeast bread, however, was milk (I think it all went into the gingerbread). In fact, I didn’t really have much of anything  besides the bare essentials. So I combined a couple bread recipes, did a little subsisting (slightly nervous that this would be a total failure— I tend to think of yeast breads as incredibly fragile and prone to disaster). In the end, it turned out beautifully.

The more bread I make, the more convinced I am that the most crucial element of the process is allowing your yeast to proof separately in warm water before any other mixing begins. Being patient with this step is crucial. If it goes well, there’s room for experimentation without a major mishap.

The eggnog in this loaf imparts a subtle hint of nutmeg but is far from overwhelming—it still works wonderfully as savory sandwich. The texture is both soft and dense, but this may have to do with the brilliant La Cloche that my mother gave me. If you’re a bread-baker, trust me, these are worth the investment. Overall, this is a straightforward and gratifying recipe, well worth trying out this time of year:

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Eggnog Wheat Bread

  • 2 tsp vegetable oil
  • ¼ eggnog, room temperature
  • 2/3 cup warm water (100 to 110 degrees F)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 packet active dry yeast
  • 2 tsp white sugar
  • ½ cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 cup rolled oats
  • 2 cups bread flour (whole wheat or white)

Pour the yeast into the warm water, gently stir, and allow to proof until slightly foamy (usually about ten minutes). Meanwhile, combine the vegetable oil and eggnog in a medium bowl. Once the yeast has proofed, add the yeast, salt, and sugar to the oil and eggnog. Mix in the wheat flour and the oats. Add the bread flour, ½ a cup at a time, to form a thick dough that can be kneaded (I used about 2 cups of bread flour but you may find that you need more or less).

Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead for about 5-7 minutes until it is slightly sticky and elastic in texture. Place the dough in a greased medium sized bowl, and turn it over so that it is lightly greased on all sides. Cover the bowl with a clean cloth. Preheat the oven for one minute, turn it off, and place the dough inside. Allow to rise for about 45 minutes or until doubled in size.

 Turn the dough onto a board and knead it for about 5 minutes. Shape into a loaf and place on a greased bread pan (or La Cloche). Place it back in the oven and allow it to rise for about 30 minutes. Remove the bread and allow it to continue rising for about 10 minutes while you preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake the bread for about 40 minutes (if you bake it in La Cloche, remove the lid for the final ten minutes). Turn it onto a drying rack and allow to cool before slicing (not too much—nothing’s more divine than warm bread fresh from the oven).

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Commitment

Who knows why, but most of my latest projects involve quite a bit of dedication—as in, they’re not anything I expect to finish by my next blog post. It might have to do with this hibernating time of year; long-term projects to keep me company throughout the winter months are just so appealing.

For starters, it has slowly dawned on me that one area of quilting which I tend to overlook is, well, the actual quilting. Most of the time, my creative energy goes into patchworking together the top, and the final quilting stitches are practical, following the seams, and not particularly inventive. But now that my jobs involves being surrounded by truly gorgeous stitching, I’ve decided I need to try give my own handiwork a bit more attention. So I’ve put together this very simple patchwork top. I bought the simple brown cotton and the flannel backing at Sewfisticated, my new home away from home. The patterned fabrics are from the remaining fat quarter pack that I bought at Portsmouth Fabric Company of Anna Maria Horner’s designs.

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However, this one pattern is a gift from my friend Autumn.

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Autumn and I met while participating in the TNNA summer internship program, PiPN, and I fell immediately in love when I realized I’d never met such a crazy eclectic girl—she has a thing for chickens, McDonald’s apple pies, and spins lovely yarn, sometimes while wearing only her underwear. Autumn recently sent me the most wonderful impromptu gift; a beautiful little collection of cotton fabrics. This one went so conveniently well with the other fabrics in this quilt, I had to include it, but I’m saving the others for something special. I’m particularly fond of the mushrooms, they’re just adorable:

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Anyway, back to the quilt. The extremely simple, large block pattern is intentional since I’m going to use this piece as an opportunity to explore my hand quilting,. It’s the perfect winter/holiday project since hand stitching can easily be done in the company of others (as opposed to sewing machine work) and to me, this time of year is all about lounging around with the people you love.

I’ve committed myself to several fairly ambitious knitting projects as well, but for now I’ll focus on one. As is probably clear by now, I have a major weakness for Classic Elite Yarns, which isn’t such an awful thing since I have easy access to them given my summer internship there a couple of years ago. All those gorgeous, natural fibers… not to mention their  patterns. And even though I haven’t been following patterns much these days, my heart practically skipped a beat when I saw this stunning sweater.

 

I knew it had to be mine. And I’ve wasted no time. Since I decided to spend this past Halloween weekend in NYC, I had 8+ hours on a bus which means lots and lots of knitting time. Only yarn this lovely (Kumara: 85% extra fine merino and 15% baby camel) could have kept me alive and functioning on Sunday morning. By the end of the weekend, I’d completed the entire back and most of the front. This might not be such a long-term project after all…

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Speaking of Halloween, I have two new nine patches in honor of this past week, the inspiration for which should be clear:

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I also did a little costume sewing, though not for myself. About when I was going to sleep on Sunday morning, my older sister was waking up and taking the bus to the start of the NYC marathon. Let’s just say that she runs about as much as I patchwork, and she is absurdly good at it. But, since she couldn’t exactly celebrate Halloween evening given her run the next morning, she requested a Winnie the Pooh hat and gloves to make the actual event a little celebratory. I was, of course, honored to help—and sewing a fuzzy hat and mittens out of yellow fur material was a total blast. It turned out quite well, if I do say so myself:

Mile 26
(Hey, this is at MILE 26- you’d look this way too!)

I’d also like to brag that her final time was 3:13:33 (for those of you who don’t normally follow marathons, this is an average speed of about 7:24. That’s fast). I’d like to think it has something to do with the ensemble, but I realize that no amount of awesome accessories could make any normal person run at that speed. Congratulations, Charlie!

Let’s just say that I’m glad it wasn’t me running on Sunday morning. I managed to overload on sugary coffee and somehow drag myself back onto the bus, but I wasn’t up for much more than that. Imagine how good it felt, then, to come home to pasta and fool waiting for me in the fridge. I love when I have the foresight to make leftover-producing meals before a trip.

The pasta is a taco-inspired ensemble of avocado cream sauce, black beans, grated cheese, and ground turkey meat. I used Greek yogurt (along with smashed avocados, lemon juice and diced tomato) to make the sauce and the result was enough to give the meal some substance, but thin enough to spread throughout the pasta.

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And the fool: cranberry-orange. Seeing as my mother’s stupendous gooseberry fool is what got me started on this dessert in the first place, I was absolutely delighted to discover that cranberries are pretty darn close. Once stewed in orange juice and doused with sugar, they’re the perfect amount of sweet and tart, and their tangy flesh dissolves just a bit, yet lingers so you get little bites of it spread throughout the fool. Truly delicious.

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Yummy food that lasts, plus sewing and knitting that keeps you company during the cold winter months… Commitment feels good.

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