Getting ready for the holidays

I may not be posting, but I am doing stuff! I've been hibernating a bit since the election happened. I realised the other day that it's kind of funny that everyone is worried that he is going to send the U.S. back to the pre-civil-rights 1950s, and I am responding by retreating into the kitchen like 1950s Mom. Ah well.

I've been working (slowly) on this turtleneck:

Afraid the turtle is too small for my big head though. Because it's on dpns, I can't really stretch it to see. But I found my 2mm circ, so I can transfer it over to see. Meanwhile, it's getting cold for running, so I made this earwarmer headband:

Surprisingly quick knit, for 2x2 rib on 2mm needles! Will test it tomorrow morning. Also made this cowl in an hour:

So satisfying to start and finish something after putting the kid to bed, and wear it the next day! Unlike this scarf, which I'm still sort of slowly plugging away at:

Meh. And I've cast on these for the kid's teacher's xmas present:

Yes, mittens again. Can't fail. If I have time, I might make a hat too, since I have enough yarn.

In other holiday news, it hit me this week that November is half over, and I ought to be doing party prep! So yesterday I made candied peel:

and shortbread dough, and Imperial Cheddar biscuit dough, and today I am doing hamantaschen dough and puff pastry. I also made a "test loaf" of this pain aux figues, which I think will be a new staple! Yum.

And raisin bread, because it makes the best toast.

Most importantly, fruitcake today! Because it needs time to soak up some whiskey. Yum.


Hallowe'en cookies!

Made some more Hallowe'en cookies, and thought I'd do a quick tutorial on the decorations.

I love the classic sugar cookie recipe from the Cake & Cooky Cookbook, brushed with milk and sprinkled with sugar or sprinkles. Generally, this means sugar or sprinkles all over the cookie sheet, cooked on, keeping me from lifting off the cookies without breaking them. So this time, I made stencils out of heavy paper, by tracing the cookie cutters and then cutting inside the lines (the idea being, if the stencil is slightly smaller than the cookie, there will be less spillover). After I had done a few, I realised at one point that folding up the edges of the stencil would result in even less spilling.

Then I made separate stencils for the Jack O'Lantern face and ghost eyes.

A slightly tedious process, but much less time than icing, and after the first sheet I had a pretty good assembly line going, doing the white sugar first, then the orange, then all the black (eyes, faces, cats) at once.

They look like more work than they are!


The Flash!

This is a lifetime first for me: I finished a Hallowe'en costume one full week before Hallowe'en!

I am frankly astounded, and at loose ends. But miracle of miracles, it is true. Despite having to re-do the leggings from scratch because they were too small (curse you Burda and the randomness of your seam allowances). The costume is basically a hoodie and leggings (Burda 9482), with a bit of felt decoration, appliquéd using the old classic zigzag wheel on the Supermatic. Before I started, I asked the kid if he'd possibly wear it to school or elsewhere after Hallowe'en was over (in which case, I'd use something that would hold up in the laundry better than felt). He said, "No." I guess he's too old for that kind of thing.

When I asked him to try it on for size, he said, "Hmm, I could wear this to school!" Sigh.

The boots are yellow felt, cut to fit over the kid's rainboots. There's an elastic strap that goes under the heel to hold them on (I hope).

The tricky part was making the wing/lightning thingies sticking out of his helmet and boots. I ended up using multiple layers of felt fused together with Wonder Web for stability, and zigzagged around the edges.

There was a lot of zigzagging with this costume. But it's done done done! A week in advance! I guess I can always kill time making more sugar cookies.



Luckily I got my pyjamas finished - buttons and all - just in time, and knitting and movies to while away the hours.

Speaking of, I was delighted to discover this blog post about the two starlets I've been most entranced with of late - Barbara Stanwyck and Ginger Rogers. Apparently both were avid knitters when not lighting up the screen!

In my most recent binge, I've watched Barbara in The Lady Eve and Ginger in Roberta and Flying Down to Rio and The Gay Divorcee.

I have to say, I never cared for the line about Ginger doing everything Fred did, except "backwards and in high heels" - Fred's greatest performances were solos after all! But Ginger is far the better actor; she has a great sense for comic timing, and shone in roles with no dancing at all (e.g. The Major and the Minor, or Monkey Business). I don't think any director cast Fred in a non-dancing role, and unlike Ginger, he never won an Oscar for his acting.

Both played smart, funny heroines - no shrinking violets they! Barbara I think will always be my number one for her performances in Double Indemnity and Ball of Fire, but my whole life I've wished I could dance like Ginger.

And now, I think I'll take some cough syrup and fall asleep to Fred's soft-shoe sandman routine in Top Hat.


Pyjama party

So excited to say I already have one Xmas present done!

As usual, I am making pyjamas for my son for Xmas eve. This year, I am making us a matched set. How dorky is that! I got his done, and mine started, and then ran out of thread.

The rainbow of buttons down the front match the mini-buttons I used to decorate one of the trees on the pocket:

I am making myself some summer pyjamas too, but again, ran out of thread! I need to get buttons, too.


Whole Wheat Bread

Have I finally done it? I think I have finally done it!

Perfect crumb, perfect rise, great texture and taste. I think I am finally ready to stop with the endless tweaking of the bread recipe, and just stick with this one.

Whole Wheat Bread

3 cups whole wheat bread flour (hard)
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup powdered milk
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 TBS yeast
2 1/2 cups water
1 egg, beaten
sesame seeds to sprinkle on top

Combine all dry ingredients, including yeast.

Make a well in the centre, and add water and egg. Stir to combine.

Dump out onto counter and knead 15 minutes. Do not add any additional flour, even if it's really sticky.

Return to bowl, cover (I use a butter paper), and let rise one hour.

Preheat oven to 500 F. Butter a 4" x 4" x 16" bread pan.

Dump dough onto counter. Knead lightly and roll out into a large oval about 1/2" thick.

Fold in ends so it is the same length as bread pan, then roll up jelly-roll style. it will be a bit thicker at the ends but that is just fine.

Lift the dough into the pan. Let rise 45 minutes-1 hour. Brush the top with a little milk or beaten egg, and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

As soon as you put it into the oven, drop the temperature to 350 F. Bake 25 minutes, turning once.

Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then unmold and let cool on rack.


Sewing day!

Finally getting a chance to do some sewing! It's a good thing too, as I have far too much fabric, and not enough money. This is like getting new clothing for free!

First off, a dress. This fabric had been sitting around for two or perhaps three years. It's just cotton with some machine embroidery - sort of eyelet without the holes - and I love how the slight dressiness of the fabric takes a pretty plain pattern and makes it look much smarter.

This skirt is from fabric I think I got two years ago. It's a woven polka dot, again in all cotton. This was mostly done last summer, but I needed to do hand finishing and then I decided I needed to tweak the fit. You can tell I'm really keen on pencil skirts at the moment! I think I overdid and/or outgrew the fuller 1950s skirts I was enjoying for so long.

This one is actually recent fabric, purchased this spring. I took my favourite shirt pattern, switched a few things around, and voila! A shirt with a very different sort of look, still work-appropriate for summer.

Three down, nine zillion to go. I have so many things cut and pinned already...


Eggs: yolks + whites

I love eggs! The most versatile, irreplaceable ingredient. If I was allergic to them, I would surely weep.

So the other day, when I picked up a couple dozen organic eggs of exceptional egginess, I felt they needed a recipe to really show them off - a classic gold cake, a simple way to showcase a good egg.

Then of course, you have egg whites left over, so you have to make meringues!

Gold Cake
(from The Cake and Cooky Cookbook)

2 cups sifted cake flour
1 TBS baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, soft
1 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup milk

Grease two 8" round pans, line with waxed paper, grease paper.

Measure flour, baking powder, and salt into sifter.

Beat butter, adding sugar gradually, till light and fluffy.

Beat egg yolks till thick and lemon coloured. Blend into butter/sugar along with vanilla.

Sift and add dry ingredients, alternating with milk.

Divide between prepared pans and bake 35 minutes at 350 F. Cool 5 minutes in pan before turning out onto rach.

Chocolate Frosting

1 1/2 cup milk
3 TBS corn starch
1 cup butter, soft
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1 tsp vanilla

Whisk together milk and starch, cook over medium heat until thick. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Beat butter, adding sugar gradually, till light and fluffy. Beat in cocoa and vanilla.

Gradually add cooled milk mixture, beating till smooth after each addition.


2 egg whites, at room temperature
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

Beat egg whites with cream of tartar and salt until foamy.

Gradually beat in sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition to dissolve sugar completely.

Continue to beat till meringue forms stiff peaks. Stir in vanilla.

Spoon mounds on ungreased cooky sheet, leaving room for spreading.

Bke 60 minutes at 275 F, till crisp.

Cool on racks, then store in airtight container.


Picnic pie!

I have wanted to make one of these ever since the Picnic Pie finale on The Greak British Bake-Off, so when a friend invited me to a potluck picnic it was an obvious choice! The recipe I used is from Jamie Oliver.

I started early in the morning, when the kitchen was still cool (west-facing windows mean it gets hot in the afternoon). And there was a lot of cooking involved in prep. Eggplants got done on the grill:

... as did the zucchinis. Red peppers and squash and garlic were roasted in the oven.

Once the prep was done, the assembly began. Fresh basil and parmesan:


Red pepper, wilted spinach, and ricotta:

Caramelised red onions and goat cheese:

And finally the top! Ready for the oven. This was when I realised I'd forgotten to include the squash. Whoops.

Here it is, out of the oven! But I had my doubts about whether it was really done - I translated 180 C to 350 F, but I think I should have put it in at 375 and left it in longer.

Here it is after some dithering and eventually deciding on a second bake:

Still had some structural integrity issues though. Lessons learned for next time!


cutting and sewing and more cutting

In an effort to put off cleaning the kitchen, I've gotten a bunch of stuff cut out!

I am going on a pyjama binge, on a roll after finishing the kid's summer pyjamas.

These will be summer pyjamas for me:

And these will be Christmas Eve pyjamas for the kid, with a matching set for me as well (yes that dorky):

I also cut out a white cotton shirt, and a black cotton dress. And possibly something else I am forgetting.

This one is even sewn! A different sort of shirt for me: mandarin collar, blouson, bottom band:

Except the buttons of course. I can never find a needle when I need one. But I am hoping to get that taken care of tonight and wear it tomorrow!


Summer pyjamas

A while since I've updated! Mostly I've been baking baking baking lately, although I have gotten back into the sewing a bit.

My kid "runs hot" so I promised him a pair of summer pyjamas - short pants, short sleeves, lightweight cotton instead of flannelette!

I am pretty pleased with the job I did matching the pattern on the pocket:

Although, with a fabric this busy, it is really hard to notice any details at all! You can barely even see the piped collar (hence my hand for contrast).

The kid loves them, but is (as usual) unwilling to model them. "No papparazzi!" he cries. Ah well!


Movies make things get done

I feel like I have watched a zillion movies lately, and by coincidence, I also feel like I've been getting a lot done. I can only conclude that movies are good for productivity.

My bread-making has been improving - look at the crumb on this loaf of 60% whole wheat!

Hoping to get the next loaf a little higher. And that's home-made strawberry jam in the background too. Had the good fortune to stumble upon the last of the strawberries I froze last summer, just as I ran out of jam.

Have also been knitting - trying again to make socks:

Self-striping yarn to make them look interesting without being difficult. Will have to learn to do an afterthought heel. Also, this scarf, seen here a few days after I started it last week:

is now complete! I left it to soak this morning, and will block tonight. And today I am wearing a shirt...

that I sewed up on the weekend from fabric I cut a zillion years ago, literally. I'm quite pleased.

All this courtesy of a bunch of old films, from Idiot's Delight to Grand Hotel to Of Human Bondage to Some Like It Hot. They don't make 'em like they used to!


More Easter baking

A long weekend is the perfect excuse to work on baking and projects!

I am finally thisclose to finishing my work on the bedroom. Walls are painted, shelves are built, pictures are hung. I finally finished the trim on the window box seat, although looking at this photo makes me think it could use another coat of paint. Other than that though, I am pretty pleased with my peaceful little corner - a perfect place to sit with a good book and a pot of coffee to watch the rain.

For Easter dinner, we decided on duck - easy and festive. I like this recipe from Epicurious. Super simple.

Served with spring asparagus, braised red cabbage, a potato gratin, and homemade bread.

For dessert I wanted something light and springlike after a rich main course - and Ontario rhubarb is already in the shops! So I opted for a classic rhubarb custard cake. I found a number of variations on the same recipe online - funny sometimes you see things on blogs with beautiful photos and recipes that don't quite make sense. It is so obvious that the pictures are borrowed because the blogger has no idea what they are talking about! In this case, the miscreant in question suggested you could turn this gooey-bottomed, fluffy-fruity-topped cake out onto a rack, and then flip it right side up again. Sounds like disaster to me! Others made it in a square pan and served directly from the pan; I wanted to be a smidge less casual, so I used a springform. Worked perfectly.

Rhubarb Custard Cake

1 1/2 cups diced rhubarb
2 tbs sugar
2 tbs water
4 eggs, separated, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup butter, melted, room temperature
3/4 cup all purpose flour
2 cups milk, room temperature

Simmer rhurarb, 2 tbs sugar, and water over medium heat until rhubarb starts to soften. Drain and set aside.

Beat egg whites will stiff peaks. I like to use a copper bowl for this.

In another bowl, beat yolks with 3/4 cup sugar till thick and lemon-yellow. Whisk in vanilla and melted butter.

Whisk in flour and milk alternately. It will be very runny.

Fold in egg whites gently.

Pour into a very well-buttered 9" springform pan. Spoon the rhubard over top, gently, so as not to crush the egg whites.

Bake at 325f for 60-70 minutes, or until it doesn't wobble terribly when you jostle the pan.

Let cool on a rack for 10 minutes before removing the sides of the spring form pan, then allow to cool completely befre serving.

Best served with whipped cream!