Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Clover Shawl

It's not often that a knitter receives hand knit gifts herself.  I guess people assume, well, she can make it herself!  Although I do make myself plenty of beautiful knits, it still tickles me to receive a gorgeous item that I didn't have to make.  It's sort of like cooking.  Sure, you may love it, and you may enjoy knowing exactly what you're eating, and you may take pleasure in serving yourself and your loved ones.  But isn't it delightful to sit down and indulge in a meal that someone else lovingly prepared just for you?

J, E, Jacqui in Clover Shawl, AM, and AC at a friend's wedding

In the above picture, I'm wearing the The Clovers, a shawl knit for me by Tricia, sfcorgi on ravelry.  I suppose this shawl was more of a prize than a gift.  I won it in Tricia's auction to raise money for the susan G. Komen 3 Day Walk for breast cancer that she did this fall.  I am so happy that I was able to contribute to this cause.  Hopefully someday there will be a cure for this disease that touches so many of us, but until then early detection is our best defense.  In fact, that is the key that saved two of my online knitting buddies, Katie and Stephanie.  This past year the two of them, both in their late 20s and early 30s (the same ages as the women pictured above), beat breast cancer that they discovered early on by doing self exams.  Tricia's Susan G. Komen 3 Day fundraising page is here.  If you would like to contribute, donations can be made until November 1.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Book Review: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

As much as I enjoyed this book, I just did not understand it.  I am slightly embarassed to admit this.  I'm an intelligent young woman.  I majored in English, and it was always my best subject.  There is very little that has left me scratching my head.

This book started off intriguing and wonderful.  People often say that food is "made with love," but what if you could really taste the emotions that were coursing through the chef's psyche as he or she prepared your food?  Nine year old Rose develops this mystical skill on her birthday.  Instead of tasting fresh lemon and chocolate in the birthday cake her mother bakes her, she tastes insecurity and desperation.  

As teenagers or adults we realize that our parents are flawed.  Imagine discovering their true feelings, imperfections, and secret affairs when you are an innocent child.  These complex plot points are augmented by author Aimee Bender's lyrical prose.  I could actually taste the foods and emotions along with young Rose.  However, the plot veered more from magical realism to weirdness, for lack of a more technical term.  Rose's older brother has mystical secrets of his own, which completely tear the already detached family apart.  I trusted the trajectory of the story and expected some sort of explanation or insight to wash over me, but I just did not understand the ending.  Bender obviously tried to compare Rose's extraordinary taste to her brother's strange detachment, but I just couldn't wrap my brain around the analogy.  If you've read this book and you have a more salient idea about the meaning of this, can you clue me in?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Pumpkin Pie

For me pumpkin pie is completely hit or miss.  I've had some that was not so good and some that was great.  Given my recent obsession with roasting pumpkins, it is only natural that I'd attempt to make my own pie, even though I've never done it before.  I started off by roasting two small sugar pumpkins (why make one pie when you can make two?) and pureeing the flesh in a food processor.  I modified this recipe from Spiced Pumpkin Pie from allrecipes.com to create this healthy, delicious desert.  I didn't know pumpkin pie could be this good...I am never using canned pumpkin again.  The quantities I've given are for two pies, so just half them for one pie.  Most of the substitutions I made were purely due to availability (I ran out of pumpkin pie spice and I forgot to buy brown sugar) except for the milk--I am lactose intolerant, and the almond milk worked well.

Spiced Pumpkin Pie
makes 2
 4 cups pumpkin puree
1 cup egg substitute
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 tablespoon Chinese five spice powder
12 fluid ounces of almond milk
2 9 inch unbaked pie crusts

1.  Preheat oven to 35o degrees Fahrenheit.  
2.  In a medium bowl mix together the pumpkin, egg subsitute, sugar, molasses, spices, and almond milk.
3.  Pour half of the pumpkin pie mixture into each of the pie crusts.  Bake in the preheated oven for about 80 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

The five spice powder gives it an interesting complexity.  If you use evaporated milk like the original recipe calls for, you may want to double the amount because it is so much thicker than almond milk.  Try the recipe and let me know what you think!

Sneak Peak and Good Wishes

Happy 20th Birthday on the 20th, Sarah!  I hope this day is just perfect!  I know you'll like the colors in the knitting photo below, and for now that's all you're getting!

I haven't been doing much knitting lately.  Actually, I guess I should say that I haven't finished many knitting projects recently.  I've been working on so many different things, knitting and otherwise, that I just haven't been able to focus and dedicate myself to getting anything done. 

The photo on the right is a sneak peek of a project that is almost finished.  I have so many "almost finished" items lying around, and I plan to finish and share them soon!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Book Review: One Day

Even at quite a young age, I loved When Harry Met Sally.  I loved the idea that two people can dance in and out of each others' lives as acquaintances, friends, lovers, and enemies, and maybe, just maybe, end up together.  The easiest way to describe One Day by David Nicholls is to say that it's  a British version of the Nora Ephron modern classic that spans 20 years yet only looks at one day per year of these two star-crossed friends' lives.  But that would be doing this novel a disservice.  One Day is not only a story of two friends, but also the story of how each individual overcomes personal demons and comes into his or her own.  Sometimes the arc of their lives intersect, sometimes they do not.

Emma and Dexter meet on the day of the college graduation in 1988.  They both feel an attraction towards each other, but their lives are quickly moving in two very different directions, so they choose to remain friends instead of embarking on a surely doomed relationship.  Emma, a distinguished scholar, ends up working in a tacky Mexican restaurant for years instead of unleashing the political literary guru inside her.  Is she stuck in this dead-end job because of the recession as she proclaims, or is Emma herself lacking in talent or determination?  Dexter, a mediocre student, launches on a world tour only to fall into a lucrative yet short lived career as a television personality upon his return to England.  Will he remain an overnight sensation or will his hardpartying and womanizing ways be his downfall?  This is only the beginning of each of their lives.  Peppered with nostalgic pop culture references, Emma and Dexter experience 20 years of personal growth, failure, career changes, and life changing events, all while remaining a part of each others' lives.  While a bit archetypal and predictable at times, I found both Em and Dex's journeys to be entertaining, and their interactions so very real. 

Verdict:  One might think that 20 years of will-they or won't-they would get boring, but Nicholls' storytelling device of revealing only the events of July 15 of each year kept me turning pages, often in frustration over a missed encounter or the rabid desire to read more about Em and Dex's sexually frustrating trip to Greece.  Don't expect a stuffy literary masterpiece when you pick up this novel, but do expect to be completely absorbed and invested in the events and outcome of this lifelong friendship.  And if that's not enough to convince you to read, a film version starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess is slated to be released in 2011.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Ruffle My Feathers

I finally got around to photographing this beautiful shawl that I knit when our summer days were just turning into fall.  Ruffle My Feathers by Caryl Pierre is a fun, fast knit.  I just love the squishy garter stitch, the practical shape, and the girly ruffles that adorn the border.  I definitely need to make another one of these.  Although this shawl would make the perfect gift, I know I'd have a hard time giving it away.  I only blocked the shawl lightly, and now that I look at the above photo I think that it might benefit from a slightly harder blocking to make the ruffles cascade a bit more smoothly.  The merino/cashmere/nylon blend of this yarn is so so soft, I think that would show it off a bit more.

I love how the shawl sits squarely on your shoulders.  I wore this all day last Thursday at work, where I ran around setting up and hosting library programs for 7 hours straight.  No need to adjust my shawl at all.  It kept me warm in our cold program room, but not so hot that I needed to strip off layers as I lugged a huge, unwieldly flip chart, podium, and karaoke machine into the room and then back out (don't ask).

Part of my photography delay (I finished the shawl a full month ago) was due to wardrobe issues.  I absolutely love the color of the yarn I chose for this shawl.  Brown and pink is one of my favorite color combos, and this pattern highlights a slightly variegated yarn beautifully.  However, most of my clothes are blue, green, and black.  All of the pink and most of the brown I have is much warmer than the tones in this yarn.  This outfit was a serendipitious find in my closet.  I was searching for a warmish skirt to wear with my new brown boots, and Eureka!  This outfit matches my shawl perfectly too!  I have since located another brown shirt that I can wear with my Ruffle.  What other colors can I wear with this?

Project Specs for Knitters:
Pattern:  Ruffle My Feathers by Caryl Pierre of Caryl Style (karako17 on ravelry)
Yarn:  Lotus Yarns Chakra in colorway Jayne Mansfield
Needles:  US 7

Caryl is having a 15% off sale on all of her patterns purchased through ravelry this month with the coupon code "stockpile."  It's a great time to buy patterns to knit for holiday gifts!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Bottoms Up, Charlie Brown!

Ok, I've gotta stop with the "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" references that no one outside of my own head will understand.  Last week I read a ravelry post about making your own pumpkin infused vodka.  Given my recent obsession with sugar pumpkins and the fact that I have enjoyed many a home-infused fruity vodka in my time, a fire was lit under me in no time.  I had to make my own pumpkin vodka.  Luckily I also had the perfect pumpkin-loving vodka-swilling partner in crime, so we set out to mix up our concoction last Friday night.  Want to spice up your Halloween or Thanksgiving with your own version of the Great Pumpkin Martini (geez, there I go again...)?  Here's what we did:

Pumpkin Vodka
1 Qt. Mason Jar (any jar that seals will work--food safe seal not necessary.  We're not canning here, people.  Besides, doesn't alcohol kill germs?)  
2.5 C triple distilled vodka
.75 C vanilla triple distilled vodka
2 cinnamon sticks
2 split vanilla bean pods or a dash or two of vanilla extract
1 sugar pumpkin, no larger than 3 lbs
cheesecloth or coffee filter for straining

1.  Cut your pumpkin in half and scoop out the guts.  Check out Elana's Pantry for a fabulous hand-holding photo tutorial on how to do this.   This time I had four hands rather than two to hack open the pumpkin, but that didn't make it much easier.
2.  Roast the pumpkin in a 350 degree oven for about 10-15 minutes, just long enough to get the raw taste out. 
3.  After the pumpkin cools, cut it into wedges.  Stuff the wedges in your mason jar along with the cinnamon and vanilla.  You may not be able to fit the whole pumpkin in just yet. 
4.  Add the vodka.  As the ingredients settle add more pumpkin if you still have some left over.  Add more vodka in the previously stated proportions as desired.  Fill that jar up!
5.  Seal the jar and store in a cool dark place (we have ours in the fridge) for 2-4 weeks.  The more natural your ingredients (aka vanilla bean pods instead of extract) the longer it will take for the flavors to seep out and flavor the liquor.
6.  Move the jar around daily to make sure all of the vodka touches the pumpkin.
7.  Strain the liquid through your cheesecloth or coffee filter.
8.  Mix up a pumpkin pie martini and enjoy!

I'm not linking a Pumpkin Pie martini recipe because I can't find one I like.  Who needs heavy cream in their liquor?  Yuck, not me!  I'll get back to you after I've personally sampled and crafted the perfect drink.