Saturday, February 26, 2011

More Baking Fun!

I like snacking.  There, it's out!  I feel so much better now.  And while I've been done to eat an entire pan of brownies by myself (no, not in one sitting, thank you!), I do occasionally try to make healthy snacks.

This past Sunday, I decided to make Michael's Energy Bars, by Michael Chiarello.  I've made these before, and I happened to have all the ingredients on hand, so now I'll share with you.

The dry ingredients.  The recipe calls for a half cup each of 3 different fruits, which can get expensive.  I used a packaged of mixed dried fruit, plus a half cup of dried cranberries.
Step one:  toast the oatmeal and almonds for 10 minutes.

Step two:  Place dried fruits and oatmeal/almond mixture in a food processor.  Pulse until coarsely chopped.

Step three:  Place egg, butter, molasses, and brown sugar in a mixing bowl.

Beat until light and fluffy.

Step four:  Combine remaining dry ingredients and vanilla extract in a small bowl.

Step five:  Add to mixing bowl and blend well.

Step six:  Pour in milk and blend well.

Step seven:  Add fruit/oatmeal/nut mixture and blend in.

Step eight:  Pour evenly into a well buttered pan and bake for 30 minutes.

Step nine:  Cool in pan.  Remove and cut into 18 pieces.  (The directions say into 18 1"x4" pieces, but mine are squares.)

Super yummy!  The kids even like them, yet you know there is healthy stuff hiding inside!  What could be better?  I've found this is a versatile recipe.  Use whatever kind of dried fruits you like.  Substitute nuts if you want.  Don't like a strong molasses taste?  Try using half molasses and half honey.  Or all honey, if you'd prefer.  I've got some golden table syrup in my pantry that I think I'll try next time.  I'm not sure how much the nutritional information will vary with these substitutions, though.  I do know that I've substituted frequently, and never met a batch I didn't like.  I hope you try them and like them too!

Friday, February 25, 2011

My Adventures in Crochet

My mom taught me the basic knit stitch about 15 years ago.  (Actually, she originally taught me some 30 or so years ago, but those lessons didn't stick!)  But that's all I knew.  For a dozen years, that's all I knew....the knit stitch.  There's only so much you can do when you don't know how to purl, but for the life of me, I couldn't understand what she was trying to teach me.  So, I decided that I would not be a knitter!  That simple, it's not like my life would be incomplete or anything.  Lots of people don't knit, and they are perfectly happy people.  And that worked for me.  For a dozen years or so, it worked just fine.

Two and a half years ago, that stopped working for me.  I wanted to knit, would not be happy if I were not a knitter.  I was pregnant with my last child, and was determined to knit for her, something beyond the basic garter stitch blanket I had started years earlier.  So, I bought a "Teach Yourself to Knit" book.  And guess what?  It worked!  I could knit, I could purl!  I could yarn over (YO), I could knit 2 together (K2tog)!  I wound up finishing 2 blankets, a nightgown, and an infant cap before Maddie was born.  I was knitting booties for her while we were in the hospital!  As you no doubt know by now, I love to knit.

Which is why, when the time came, I bought a "Teach Yourself to Crochet" book.  Seems simple enough, right?  It must be half as hard as knitting, I mean, you're using one stick instead of two!  Fewer pieces of equipment to keep track has to be easier.  And every crocheter I've ever met says it IS easier.  Who am I to doubt them?  I'll tell you who I am.....a VERY frustrated would be crocheter, that's who!  I decided that particular book was the stupidest book I'd ever read, so I bought a different book.  The second book wasn't any better, nor were the third book, various pattern books, and scads of YouTube videos.  Bottom line:  The only two things knitting and crochet have in common is that they both use yarn, and they both start with a slip knot.  I. Could. Not. Learn. To. Crochet.  And it made me mad.  I wanted to, and there shouldn't be any reason why I couldn't. 

So, when I got word that my church was starting a group to sew, knit, and crochet chemo caps to donate to the local hospital, I jumped on it.  I could certainly knit hats, and I would have the opportunity to learn, elbow to elbow, with crocheters.  I went to the first meeting, and was told that it was easy.  I was told that it was twice as fast.  I was told that anyone could learn.  And I was given a pattern.  Now granted, all I had was a printed pattern, and that hadn't worked for me before, but as soon as I got home, I got out some yarn and a hook and got started.

Here's my very first attempt:

I quickly realized that I had made a mistake, and abandoned the project.  (By the way, Abby spotted it, and decided it would make a good headband!)

Not deterred, I started again, later that night.  This time, I was sure I had followed the directions perfectly, and was happily "hooking" away.  About 3 rows in, I realized that....

...when I joined the ring, I had twisted the stitches around.  Not useful in a hat.  So, I decided that maybe I needed to learn on something else.  I got out a few pattern books, and poked around in them.  I found a pattern for a bathroom caddy.  Something along the lines of a soft cup for holding cotton swabs and the like.  I found some yarn and began.  I was really moving along, and stopped to count the stitches, to compare my work to the pattern.

The cup is curving, like it's supposed to, and I'm sure this can be completed, but my stitch count is off.  So, that project was also shoved into a basket.  Sigh. 

I know!  Granny Squares!!!  Perfect for a beginner.  Everyone does Granny Squares.  I found some complementary colors of yarn out, and made:

...a coaster.  Only who needs ONE granny square coaster?  It looked like it was supposed to, but it is 100% cotton, which is not really useful in a blanket, plus I'd have to make about 500 more of them.  But hey, it's progress.  If I could do that, I should be able to do a basic washcloth, which led me to this:

Again, the stitch count is off somewhere, and it is not lying flat.  After this particular failure, I was quite vocal in my opinion that anyone that thinks crocheting is easier than knitting has CLEARLY never tried knitting!  My "abandoned project" basket is getting fuller!

I decided to try one more washcloth pattern before completely giving up.  This one was a little more challenging, as you crochet one triangle first, then the 2nd triangle, and so on, until completing the square.  Three triangles into this, I was quite pleased with myself.  I would have a very pretty washcloth when I was finished, and a much needed confidence boost in my ability to learn this craft.  Here is the resulting washcloth:

In the picture, this actually doesn't look too bad, if you ignore the poor color quality.  (We have been challenged in the natural light department here lately...very cloudy!)  But, if you look carefully at the upper right corner, you can see that my last triangle isn't quite right.  Yep, you guessed it, my stitch count is off, and I don't have a true square.  However, this is the closest I've come to success yet!  (Maybe I really CAN crochet!  Maybe the problem is that I can't COUNT!)

Then, I found a pattern for a blanket composed of granny triangles.  It uses only 2 colors, and would be slightly different from the squares, yet similar enough that I thought I could manage it.  I've done 3 triangles so far:

I really like this.  I'm not sure I'll ever finish 150 more triangles, but I can do a few at a time, just to practice.  And in the end, I might have something useful to show for it.  I was ready to concede that I might, eventually, be able to say that I can crochet.  Yay!  I was feeling quite good about this.  Not proficient, certainly not good enough yet to call myself a crocheter, but I had hope. 

So imagine my surprise when my husband came home from his mom's house with an old crocheted blanket that needed some repair work, desparately.  My husband had seen this hole in the blanket, decided the pattern looked like the "coaster" that I had successfully made, and decided to bring it home to see if I could fix it.  Sometimes his faith in me is a little stronger than my faith in myself.  Which is a good thing, definitely.  But sometimes,'s not.  Sigh.
The first thing I did was use locking stitch markers to hold the loops for the green clusters, while I studied the pattern, to make sure I understood what had to be done.  I began, using the original, unraveled yarn.  While it looked almost identical to the intact part, I didn't have quite enough yarn to finish.  So, I undid the work, went down a hook size, and tried again.  Still not quite enough yarn, but close.  I did have to use some additional yarn to fasten off the row, but I'm very happy with how it came out!

This picture was taken the next morning, so you can better see the actual colors.  The row I fixed is the light blue row at the top of the square.  In the upper left hand corner, you can just see the little bit of blue yarn I had to add.  I hope my mother in law thinks it looks as good as I do!

While looking at this blanket, I found some other spots that need some attention:

This is the worst spot, and all it will take is a little bit of re-seaming.  As it happens, I have some brown yarn that is nearly identical in shade, so I will be fixing that bit directly after dinner. 

There may be hope for me yet!  I may be able to learn this craft yet!!  But I still might not be up to making hats this way.....

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Pretzel Day

By now, you must know that everything I do is done on a large scale, especially when it comes to cooking.  For one thing, making a recipe for an average sized family just isn't enough for a family of 8, even when 4 of those are not full sized people.  For another thing, I firmly believe that making a double batch of a labor intensive recipe does NOT double the time you spend on it.  At best, it is only a few extra minutes of assembly time, which saves buckets of time down the road, if you freeze half for later.  I'm a big fan of freezing things for later!

So today I'm going to show you a recent Pretzel Day our family had. Ultimately, I made 2 double batches of dough, and used one batch for pretzels, and one batch for pretzel dogs.  Yummy!  Ingredietns listed below are for a single batch, which will yield 12 pretzels or 12 pretzel dogs.

1 package active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
2 1/2 to 3 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons salad oil
1 tablespoon sugar
6 tablespoons baking soda in 6 cups of water
coarse salt (for pretzels)
hot dogs (for pretzel dogs)

To make pretzels:

In a bowl, dissolve yeast in water.  Add 1 1/2 cups of flour, the oil, and the sugar.  Beat for about 3 minutes to make a smooth batter.

Gradually stir in enough of the remaining flour (about 1 cup) to form a soft dough.  Turn out onto a floured board and knead until smooth and satiny,(about 5 minutes), adding flour as needed to prevent sticking.  Place dough in a greased bowl; turn over to grease top.  Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled (about 1 hour).

Punch dough down, turn out onto floured board, and divide into 12 pieces. 

Shape each into a smooth ball by gently kneading.  Then roll each into a smooth rope, about 18 inches long, and twist into a pretzel shape.

Place slightly apart on a greased baking sheet (at least 12 x 15 inches), turning loose ends underneath.  Let rise, uncovered, until puffy (about 25 minutes).

Meanwhile, in a 3-quart stainless steel or enameled pan, bring baking soda/water mixture to boiling; adjust heat to keep water boiling gently.  With a slotted spatula, lower 1 pretzel at a time into the pan.  Let simmer for 10 seconds on each side, then lift from water, drain briefly, and return to baking sheet.

Let dry briefly, then sprinkle with coarse salt, and let stand, uncovered, until all have been simmered.

Bake in a preheated 425 degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes.  Transfer to racks.  Serve warm, or let cool completely, wrap airtight and freeze.  (I freeze them completely, then transfer them to ziptop bags.)  I reheat them in a microwave.

To make pretzel dogs:

Follow the above directions through rolling out an 18 inch long rope.  Then, wrap around a hotdog, keeping wraps close together.  Roll the wrapped dog with your hand on the board a few times to tighten up.

Eliminate the rising time for the pretzels, but simmer the hotdogs as directed above.  Place the hotdogs on a baking sheet.  I line my baking sheets with parchment paper, to eliminate sticking.  I do not sprinkle them with salt.

Bake as above, but for 8 to 10 minutes.  I find that they are usually golden brown by now.  We really like these with mustard.  You could, for a variation, top the pretzel dogs with shredded cheese before baking them.  I haven't tried this yet, but plan on it some day.

You can freeze these as you do the pretzels, and then have a quick and easy lunch for the kids to grab!

(The above recipe for pretzels came from the Sunset Breads cookbook, printed in 1991.  I devised the use of the dough for pretzel dogs after seeing how much the local pretzel shop wanted for one!)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

January Finished Projects

While I don't typically make New Year's Resolutions, I did decide that one of my goals for 2011 is to finish up some of the Unfinished Objects (UFOs) that I have around my house.  And to use up some of the yarn that I have stashed in every available spot around my house and in my garage.  (I promise you, you'd be horrified if I were to disclose the size of either of those 2 categories here.)

So, in order to track my progress on that goal, I've decided to take pictures of every finished project for the year.  Hopefully, I will see some sense of productivity by year's end.  I won't be able to show you every picture every month, as a lot of them will be presents, but I will show them to you by year's end.  And, in order to stay honest, I'll let you know if the yarn used was a stash yarn, or a new purchase.  Oh, and I guess I'd better designate which projects were former UFOs, and which were new.

First up, a potholder.  Kind of mundane, I know, but I had purchased a book of patterns for dishcloths and potholders, and this was in there.  I wanted to try out some new techniques, my pot holders all look really awful, and I had the yarn in the garage, so I was totally able to justify this new project:
Next was a new hat for Maddie.  I had put a new knit hat in Don's Christmas stocking, and Maddie adopted it.  I really wanted Don to have his new hat back, so I had to make a new one for her, didn't I?  Plus, I tried a new technique, and I had both yarns in my stash.  (See how this justification stuff works???)  So here was new project #2:
P.S.:  She won't wear it.  She still has Don's hat!
Project #3 was for my grandmother, who fell and broke her finger.  I wanted to do something for her, kind of an "I'm thinking of you/get well soon" gift.  So, this was a new project.  And while I have lots of this type of yarn in my stash, I had none in her favorite color.  The picture doesn't show it very well, but this is a very soft purple color, knit in Lion Brand Homespun yarn.  It was a really quick knit, and I wrapped it up with her favorite teabags, cookies, and candy, and shipped it off.  So, while it didn't qualify for ANY of my goal criteria, I really, really enjoyed this one:

The next project was legwarmers for Katie.  That girl wears dresses or skirts almost every day, regardless of the weather!  It makes me cold just looking at her sometimes, so I made her some legwarmers, as a kind of compromise.  I actually knitted these on her birthday, and finished them the same day I started them, so they didn't stay on the needles for very long.  While they were a new project, I had the yarn in my stash, so that was a plus.  Here is Katie, modeling them:

That project led to projects 5 & 6.  Yep, that's right, they wanted legwarmers too.  So yes, 2 more new projects.  But, I used stash yarn for both, and had both pair done in 2 days.  Katie's are in the pictures too, but Emma's are pink, and Abby's are purple.  I was going to make a pair for Maddie also, but we discovered that her pair from last year still fits.

Project #7 probably shouldn't really count, but I'm going to.  I made this dishcloth last year, and it's been sitting around for at least the last 6 months.  Finished.  Except for one thing:  weaving in all the yarn ends.  And there were about 8 of them.  I hate weaving in yarn ends.  That is why this at around.  But, when I came across it, I decided that the time had come, and in approximately 15 minutes, I finally able to add a check mark to my list of UFOs. (I'm not proud, I'll take it!)  (Again, a new technique!  I found the pattern for this dishcloth online, and sadly, cannot find it now.  When I do, I will publish the link.)

I'm not going to show you project #8, because it may or may not be a present for someone.  I will say that I used yarn from my stash, but that it was a new project.  So it counts on one list, but not the other.

Project #9 will be a gift, and it was a UFO.  It was a fun project, and I learned some new techniques, so I will be making more of that one!

Projects #10 and #11 were UFOs, started before Christmas, and may or may not be gifts.  Also projects that I learned some new techniques in!

Okay, so final count:

1 new project with purchased yarn,
6 new projects with stash yarn, and
4 UFOs completed

All in all, not a bad January!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Katie's Birthday Party

As I mentioned, I'm a little behind on posts.  Katie celebrated her 5th birthday on January 24th.  Hard to believe she is 5 already! 

We had a family party for her.  Mom, Dick, and Becky came over, and Brittany's boyfriend was here.  We had dinner, which was yummy...homemade ravioli, flower shaped noodles, eggplant parmasean, salad, and garlic bread. 
After dinner, Mom read stories to the girls, while we did dishes and got ready for the rest of the party.  All of them decided to wear party dresses.  I have such girly girls!

Then came presents.  (Katie loves dresses and skirts...wears them almost every day, in fact.)  So I'm sure she was hoping that's what was in her packages! 

Emma and Abby "helped" Katie quite a bit.  They handed her the presents and kept track of the cards.  They actually were very helpful, and genuinely happy for Katie's day. 

After sending everyone upstairs for pajamas, it was time to play with the favorite present:

Abby is teaching Katie how to play with her new computer, which my grandmother sent her.  It was a huge hit, not only with Katie, but with everyone else too.

Even Maddie!  And she was having such a tantrum over not being allowed to play with Katie's present, that Brittany got out her computer for Maddie to play with!  (No, she's not at all spoiled!)

Next was cake time:
Katie's ornament series features gingerbread houses.  You can put a light bulb in the bottom, adn they light up, and are really cute.  So, Katie's cake usually features lots of extra candy!

The birthday girl with her cake.

I wonder what she wished for!
And so we enter another year with our Katie.  Next stop, kindergarten!  And believe me, she can't wait!

Monday, February 21, 2011

100 Days of School!

I'm a little behind on posting events of our family the last month or so, so I'm trying to catch up.

On January 21, Abby and Emma celebrated 100 days of school.  They each had to make a paper bag vest with 100 things on it as homework.  My poor children are blessed/cursed with a mother who's always trying to think of things that are different from what anyone else might too.

While Emma was in Southern California with Don, Abby and I got started on her vest.  The first step was a spelling test, to see how many words she knew how to spell.  (Can you see where this is going?)  She was able to spell a whopping 110 words!  She told me, in no uncertain terms, that she didn't want to write 100 words on her vest.  So, we compromised on 50:
She did a great job, and selected which words made "the cut".
She also used her markeres in a pattern.
That left us with an empty front, and a deficit of 50 objects.  So, we decided to tint butterfly pasta with food coloring.  Abby used them to make a picture on the front, which she detailed with markers:

It's a little hard to tell in this picture, but she has grass, flowers,
a sun, birds, and butterflies.  Ignore her facial expression, apparently,
I exasperate her!
 So, of course, my desire to have my children be originals was thwarted as soon as Emma got home and saw Abby's vest.  She decided to use the same ideas.  Sigh.  Emma's spelling test resulted in her being able to spell 105 words, and she chose which words to use on her vest.
Emma chose to use only a red marker for her words.
This is the front of Emma's vest, using her colored pasta:
Her pasta is in more of a pattern, and she drew spots on the red noodles for ladybugs!
Both girls together.  Apparently, Abby wasn't in the mood to pose for me that day.
When I picked the girls up from school, all the teachers told me that in their years of doing this project, they'd never had anyone use spelling words before, so at least I hit that one!

After school, I decided we needed a special "100th day" dessert.  So, using Alton Brown's recipes, we made 100 day doughnuts.  I made some in the shape of 1's, and some 0's.  The 1's were glazed with a plain glaze, and the 0's were glazed in either chocolate or maple glaze.  We made 9 sets:  one for each of us, and one for the kindergarten teacher.
That left us with the holes, and with plenty of leftover dough.  We made some regular doughnut holes, and some "Maddie" doughnut holes, and rolled them in granulated sugar.

That still left us with leftover dough.  What to do with it?  Then, it hit me!  I made circle doughnuts, stuffed them with vanilla pudding, and glazed them with chocolate.  Here is a picture of the results:

And here is what our dining room table looked like that night:

The girls asked me to make up a sampler plate for their teacher, who told me she'd never had homemade doughnuts before.  I thought that was very sad for her, but on thinking about it, I guess she is more the norm than we are.  Probably most people don't make homemade doughnuts.  There are no doughnut shops in Brentwood; a couple of bagel shops carry a small selection, and you can get them at our local grocery store, but there are no specialty shops.  Brittany suggested that we start one.  Hmmmm......