Thursday, March 26, 2015

Obligatory Knitting Content

I actually have been knitting and knitting a lot. I need to reach a certain income threshold due to Missouri's butt-headed insistence on turning down Medicaid expansion, and knitting is helping me do that.

Commission after commission has flowed from my fingers, the latest being the Katniss vest/cowl from The Hunger Games. My sister now wants one, and I do too. One of my friends said I looked badass in it, a good thing to be now and then. This one is going off to live with one of Steu's trainers.

I've got two more commissions in the pipeline, but am taking a break to knit for myself for a bit.

I picked the Revel Modular Kerchief, for which I picked up some souvenir yarn in Warrenton, VA this past Christmas. In many ways, it's a very simple pattern: just a garter-stitch triangle with a knitted-on garter border, all designed to make the best use of the long color repeats.

The pattern is so simple, however, that I have managed to mess it up three times, accidentally skewing the center increase. Hours of work down the drain. I'm finally back on track, but may stick with the fiddly stuff in the future. Harder is somehow easier.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Ten on Tuesday: 10 Favorite Kinds of Cheese.

A friend nudged me to blog again, I'd been having strong writing urges anyway, and today's 10 on Tuesday was perfect for me.

So here I am. Again.

I had a long talk this weekend about food choices with a friend who has recently gone vegan. I've actually been eating fairly healthy for me, but find that I do best with a high-protein, low-carb diet.

I generally give up cheese and all dairy products for the month of December to save my voice, but I probably think about cheese during that time the way a smoker trying to kick the habit thinks about cigarettes. I don't think I could ever go vegan.

  1. Raclette: All the accoutrements! The grill, the little trays, the side dishes! The melty, gooey goodness! The conversation! 
  2. Stilton: I love all blue cheeses, and probably could have written a list of my top 10 blue cheeses alone, but I settled for only three, all ridiculously expensive. Beyond the taste, and the semi-dry crumbly texture, I love the color of Stilton. There's no other cheese that has quite that shade of yellow. I also love tracing the puncture veins and nibbling out the blue.
  3. Cabrales: A Spanish blue, not for the faint hearted. I love it best warmed and melted with a filet, but it's also good in mashed potatoes, or cold with endive or just in chunks. It's definitely the most intense cheese on this list.
  4. Roquefort: This one combines two of my loves: blue veining and a high cream content that just coats the mouth. 
  5. St. Andres: Speaking of high cream content. Brie is for newbies; you can buy brie at Walmart, for pete's sake. Go with a triple creme every chance you get.
  6. Brillat Savarin: Another triple creme. I love it also for its namesake, who said "Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are."
  7. Bulgarian Feta: Not French. Definitely not Greek. Always pick Bulgarian feta. Something about it has the perfect degree of brininess and intensity.
  8. Kefalotiri: The Greek cheese used in saganaki. Enough said.
  9. Cabecou: My favorite illegal cheese. It's a tiny little thing, but so full of complex flavors from the rind to the puddling center. Plus, you're left with a handy terracotta dish at the end.
  10. Pimento: I bet you thought this list would be all gourmet. Nope. Homemade pimento cheese is cheese nirvana for me.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Outstanding Barters

I love to barter, but it's occurred to me that I've got quite a few outstanding ones right now and wanted to note them down lest I forget.

  • TL--norwegian cap for some madder yarn
  • CV--sortie cap for something lovely
  • NG--undersleeves for pasteboard box
  • BL--undersleeves for wheel cap/cart
I'm not in a huge hurry, but didn't want to totally lose track.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly, Challenge 10: Let Them Eat Cake (plus bonus grub!)

This semester is kicking my butt, so I've had to let fun stuff slide--fun stuff like eating home-cooked food.  I did actually make three historic dishes for my book club last month, to go with Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood.  I can't really figure out where they would fit into the challenges, so here they are all at once.


Year/Region: 1855; Hartford, CT

How Did You Make It: I had noticed this recipe in The Improved Housewife: Or, Book of Receipts; with Engravings for Marketing and Carving by Mrs. A.L. Webster, a married lady, when I was looking for "foreign" names. The recipe jumped out at me because it's the name of a nearby road.

I followed the recipe faithfully, although if you notice, the recipe doesn't say at what temperature or for how long to cook the cake (which is actually more like a cookie). In fact, it doesn't mention cooking at all. I ended up baking at 350 for about 12-15 minutes. I sprinkled the cakes with powdered sugar both before and after baking.

Time to Complete: Because I had 3 dishes to make, I spent a big chunk of the morning cooking and worked on multiple dishes simultaneously. This one probably took about an hour from start to finish.

Total Cost: I had all the ingredients on hand.

How Successful Was It?: The large number of eggs make for a cake-like, slightly dense crumb. I loved the delicate flavor of the rose-water, but didn't love the texture as much. I have a feeling my book club members were slightly less than enthusiastic about any of these dishes, but they really weren't designed for a modern palate. There were plenty of leftovers, which surprisingly never seemed to go stale. I feel they're kind of a generic cookie/cake.

How Accurate Is It? I used an electric mixer and a convection oven. I also used silpats instead of buttering the cookie sheet. Otherwise, it's an authentic recipe. The eggs were from our birds.


Year/Region: 1855; Hartford, CT

How Did You Make It: I wanted a protein for my book club spread, but didn't want anything too heavy, hot, or messy. I've had this chicken salad before and quite like it. Again, it's from The Improved Housewife.

I decided to double the recipe since I was cooking for a crowd. I boiled some boneless, skinless chicken breasts. It's nearly impossible these days to buy a chicken of that size; roasting chickens today are just massive.  I used cider vinegar and prepared yellow mustard. Instead of essence of celery, I used celery seed, which was suggested as a substitute in another recipe in the same book. I also opted to serve it on a bed of lettuce and tomato for color and put a basket of dinner rolls nearby for anyone who preferred a sandwich.

Essence of celery seems like a fascinating foodstuff we've completely lost:

Time to Complete: Maybe an hour, the bulk of which was waiting for the water to come to a boil.

Total Cost: It's been a few weeks, but I do recall that I winced at the price of chicken. I had everything else on hand.

How Successful Was It?: I've always liked boiling chicken. It's so fast and easy and not messy in the way that frying is. Today, we expect to have mayonnaise-based chicken salad, but this was lovely, if a bit dry. As my DH and I worked away at the leftovers, I tended to mix in a bit of mayo.

How Accurate Is It? Fairly accurate. I used chicken breasts only instead of a whole bird. The eggs were from our chickens. The one substitute I made was a period one.


Year/Region: 1870; Oxford, NC

How Did You Make It:  I wanted a third dish and recalled I had a lot of persimmons on hand that I could put to good use. I cast about and came up with this recipe from Mrs. Elliott's Housewife: Containing Practical Receipts in Cookery by Sarah A. Elliott.

I had harvested local persimmons last fall and was able to raid the freezer. The day we harvested, a friend and I gathered all we could and tried several labor-intensive methods before finally settling on a chinois, those cone-shaped strainers you sometimes see in junk stores. We each ended up with three gallons of pulp and I've been gradually trying different recipes. I opted for the cornmeal option and baked in a pyrex 9x13 baking pan.

Time to Complete: Well, if you count the persimmon bit, for-freaking-evah! Otherwise, I ended up looking up a more modern pudding recipe and baking for about 40 minutes.

Total Cost: I had everything on hand. At this point, if you've done the math, you'll notice that I have used 17 eggs in just these three dishes!

How Successful Was It?: Moderately. I found that I don't really love persimmon and have a feeling the book club members didn't either. It has a distinct taste that lingers. The texture of this is also something modern eaters aren't used to--dense and quite moist. That said, I generally love puddings. It transported and held up well. I took to serving very small pieces at breakfast time. The chickens eventually enjoyed the last of the leftovers.

How Accurate Is It? As far as I can tell, very. I hand-harvested and hand-processed the persimmons, and they were a local variety from a nature reserve nearby. I followed the recipe faithfully.

There you go. Lord knows when I'll get a chance to cook again.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly, Challenge 5: Pies

I honestly thought I would not be able to do this challenge. I'm pushing up on a zillion deadlines and had three out-of-town trips in less than two weeks. Then last night, our neighbor brought us over a massive bowl of peaches from his tree, and I found myself doing what I always do--reaching for my grandmother's Fannie Farmer Cookbook to find what I could make with on-hand ingredients. Voila, peach pie!

Date/Year and Region: 1939, Boston

How did you make it?: I went with the peach crumble pie. Over the past few years, I've been making a peach cobbler from Cooking from Quilt Country, which is delicious. We've gotten a bit bored with it, however, and this one seemed like a fun possibility. Plus, even though the recipe title says "pie," there's no actual crust. Given my time constraints, there was a lot about this recipe I found appealing.

First, I did a 30-second boiling water/ice water plunge to help with peeling the peaches. This step wasn't mentioned in the recipe, but it's what I've always done with tomatoes and peaches.

Then I sliced them and put them in my pie pan. The recipe calls for the glass pan, but I wanted to use my stoneware one as it holds more. I had a LOT of peaches to use up. In fact, I've got some peach jam cooking away right now as well and still have nine more peaches. Fortunately, they're freestone peaches, which makes them easy to slice. Look how gorgeous!

The recipe called for creaming the butter, but for some reason I chose to cut it in with a pastry cutter. 

I sprinkled the crumble over the peaches and popped it in the the oven for 35 minutes. We have a commercial convection oven, so I generally cook for less time than any printed recipe.

Time to Complete: Less than one hour. The most time consuming bit was preparing the peaches.

Total Cost: Zero out of pocket. I had all the ingredients on hand, and the peaches were free.

How Successful Was It?: I've discovered I like a little more complexity of flavor in my peach pie. It's good, but I would probably add some salt to the crumble and perhaps some brandy or almond extract to the peaches. A little nutmeg wouldn't hurt either. That said, as soon as I'm done typing, I'm going back for seconds.

How Accurate Is It?: Very. I followed the recipe faithfully. I did use a modern oven.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Craft It Forward 2014, v3.0

I sent off the second round of craft-it-forward gifts this week. One (Joe R) hasn't gotten back to me with what he wanted, but I sent off cooling neckbands or washcloths to the others. When Mindy posted she was crafting it forward again, I jumped on it. Her stuff is awesome. I was surprised at how quickly my spots filled up, but I'm sending to Ann M, Erin S, Kama B, Linda Y, Mary W, and Mrs. G as a bonus.

A few ideas are percolating in my head, but time will tell.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly, Challenge 4: Foreign Foods

Last entry's chop suey would have been perfect here, and I'm still reading the book (one last chapter to go), but the main reason I decided on doing these challenges was to get more comfortable with nineteenth-century cooking. I decided to return to The Improved Housewife: Or, Book of Receipts; with Engravings for Marketing and Carving by Mrs. A.L. Webster, a married lady. 

I perused the table of contents and found the following terms: Spanish, Scotch, French, Tunbridge, Rousse, East India, and Iceland. I was really excited about the Tunbridge cakes, but further research revealed that Tunbridge was in Vermont, while Tunbridge Wells was in England. There was an intriguing reference to roasting coffee the French way, but I don't drink coffee and my husband was less than enthusiastic about helping with the preparation.

 Eventually, I settled on Spanish Fritters. I'm terrified by yeast, but since I entered the challenge to stretch myself, I figured this would be a good choice. As a bonus, these didn't seem to require kneading. Besides, anything tastes better when deep fried.

Mrs. Webster was quite the plagiarist; the same recipe appears in The Virginia Housewife in 1828. Spanish fritters appear in a number of historic cookbooks, without much in common beyond the frying.

This one from 1758 looks like French toast:
This one from 1806 sounds like a deep-fried pate a choux:

This one from 1833 is definitely French toast (an earlier edition dates to 1808):

 This one from 1854 is entirely different:

Anyway, you get the idea. Some kind of dough, deep fried. Yum! Doesn't this look delicious?

Date/Year and Region: 1847, Hartford, CT

How did you make it?: I followed the recipe fairly faithfully. Because it only called for one egg, I couldn't really halve it. I combined 4 cups of flour with 1 packet of yeast, a pinch of salt, and one egg.  I then scalded about 2 cups of milk (the recipe doesn't call for this step, but I knew the milk should be warm for the yeast to rise well) and kept adding milk until the dough had what I thought was a muffin-like consistency (1 1/2 cups). 

I set the dough to rise for an hour, added 2T of melted butter, and set it to rise again for 30 minutes. 

I heated the lard to 375 (the temperature recommended for modern donut recipes) and used a serving spoon to pull off walnut-sized chunks of dough. They tended to be ready to flip after about 1 minute per side.

I sprinkled a few with cinnamon sugar (as in the 1758 recipe) but have yet to try the other sauces.

Time to Complete: I let the dough have a first rise for one hour. Although the recipe didn't call for it, I gave the dough a second rise of about 30 minutes since mixing in the butter caused quite a bit of deflation. Each batch of fritters took about 2 minutes to form and fry up. Total time was probably slightly less than 2 hours.

Total Cost: Out-of-pocket expenses were zero. I happened to have some lard in the fridge and this recipe was a perfect way to clear it out.

How Successful Was It?: Surprisingly only so so. I wasn't expecting them to be so bland. Unlike a donut, there's no sugar in the dough and with my decision to interpret "a little salt" as just a pinch, there just isn't a lot of taste. Both the sauces recommended would be quite strong tasting, however, so perhaps they are merely a vehicle for sauce.  If I got lazy and didn't make my dough walnut-sized, the insides tended to be a bit gummy as well.

How Accurate Is It?:  Very accurate. I did make it "early in the morning." The egg came from our own antebellum-breed, backyard chickens. I used a packet of instant-rise yeast. I did fry them in lard. Period cooks would have fried a bit of bread to check for temperature, but I used a digital thermometer. My favorite bit of accuracy was that I got to use my yellowware dough bowl, which my mother recently passed it to me.  She had used it to make bread when I was a child, and it's clearly a family piece with no markings. Someone at some point dinged it with electric beaters, but I was delighted to set the dough to rise in it.