Underway

Ok, after my head start last week on Christmas baking, things stalled for a few days while we were busy with other things.  One of these things involved a fantastic cake made by the husband!

This is the Blackcurrant cake from Sweet by Helen Goh and Yotam Ottolenghi. The cake is made in a big sheet pan and then cut into strips.

The strips are spread with buttercream and then rolled up into one big spiral.  The result is a small, tall, and incredibly cute cake.

Here’s what it looks like when you cut it open.

Isn’t it fun?  And it was tasty as well.  We did not have blackcurrants, so we used some strawberry peach jam instead.  The jam made it extra sweet, so next time I would try to pick something that has more tart than sweet flavors.  A lemon curd would be yummy or, better yet, passionfruit!

After we polished off that cake (It didn’t take long; the cake is only 5.5 inches in diameter), I continued my Christmas baking with a new bread recipe from the Bake from Scratch magazine.  Have you heard of this magazine?  I first came across it a couple of years ago and was taken in by the great photos and feature articles.  The current issue has an article about Christmas wreath breads, and you know how much I love sweet bread recipes!  That, and the fact that a few of them are Scandinavian inspired, just compelled me to buy the issue just to try them.  The first one is a twist on a Norwegian Julekake.  It has a cranberry jam swirl that is made by prepping the dough cinnamon bun style.  Then you slice it in half lengthwise and twist it to make this pretty shape.

The recipe called for candied lemon peel, but we thought that chocolate would go well with the cranberry.  From what I understand, a Julekake is usually made in a boule shape and is studded with dried and candied fruits and peels, so this is quite a “twist” on that traditional bread!

The dough was wonderful to work with and gave me no trouble at all.  I doubled the recipe and made three loaves.  The bread is beautiful once baked, and is wonderfully scented with cardamom.  Sadly, two of the loaves are a little over baked.  After a year and a half, I still feel like I am getting to know my oven.  This time, I learned that I can’t bake two large loaves side by side in the oven or else the edges will burn.  This is actually probably true of most ovens.  If you don’t leave enough room for air to circulate around your pans, you get uneven baking (sad face).

Anyway, the bread is supposed to get an icing, which I will do when I serve it to a larger group, but for now, it is perfect with a cup of tea or coffee at breakfast! That’s all the baking for now, but I have done some prep work for future baking.  I had to make a new batch of candied orange peel because a batch I made earlier had gone moldy (another sad face here).  Also, I was able to find a really nice buddha’s hand citron over the weekend, so I made some candied citron as well.

Some of you may remember that I usually do a giveaway this time of year with a 12 days of Christmas theme with 12 posts.  I’m not sure that I can do 12 posts this year because of our crazy school and sports schedule, but I still plan to do a giveaway.  More details soon, so stay tuned!

 

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Advent Season

Hello friends!  It’s been a crazy busy couple of months here as we continue to adjust to our high school/middle school schedule.  We were not prepared for the increased work load and all the issues that come with that.  It kind of threw us all off mentally and left hardly any time for extra things, especially during the week.  Oddly enough, now that the older one is swimming 2 hours everyday, our schedule seems to be settling down.  Maybe he just needed regular exercise to help his mind focused?  Or maybe we’ve all just adjusted our expectations.  Anyway, I’ll take it and run with it for now!

And now, it’s time for Christmas baking to begin!  Squeee!!!  I’m super excited this year for all the baking.  I think the early Thanksgiving holiday really helped us to get a head start on all things Christmas.  Already this week, I have tried three new cookie recipes:

Pfeffernusse from Classic German Baking by Louisa Weiss

Springerle, also from Classic German Baking

and Bakery Style Butter Cookies from Deb Perelman at Smitten Kitchen

I have literally been waiting for months since I got Classic German Baking to start baking some of the recipes in the Christmas chapter.  I love that that she has a special section for Christmas!  I chose to make Pfeffernusse and Springerle first because they are long keepers.  In fact, they are supposed to get better as they age.  This is perfect for including in packages that might go a long distance, like to a different country.  Neither one of these cookies has any butter in them, which makes them a different texture than most cookies out there, but we don’t mind that.  Actually, it’s probably better for our waistlines at this moment!  Both cookies are really yummy.

The Pfeffernusse are like a dry, bready, and chewy gingerbread.  The lemon glaze on that one really compliments the cookie well.  It was a very stiff dough. Next time, I might try a cake flour to get a softer dough.

We also made Springerle last year, but I used a different recipe, which I actually like better.  These are drier, but that could be because I baked them too long.  Next time, I will pull them out earlier.  That being said, those of us who like anise, preferred this recipe.  I preferred the fruity/floweryness of the recipe from King Arthur Flour.

The third cookie I made mostly because I had two egg yolks lying around and a container of sprinkles I wanted to use up.  These were a bit of a fiasco to make, only because of my choice of equipment.  I did not have a big star tip for piping and I actually dislike piping anyway (it hurts my hands).  Instead, I decided to use my cookie press.  We had a hard time getting them to press out evenly (a lot of them curled into strange shapes) and making them a uniform size was also quite challenging.  Not to mention, loading the press was a three person job (one to unscrew it, one to hold it, and then one to fill it).  Good thing there were three of us!  Anyway, despite all that, they are quite delicious.  I could do without the chocolate dip and sprinkles.  I left some plain, with just jam sandwiched between and those were my favorite.  The kids prefer the sprinkled ones, so everyone is happy, really.

This is a great start to the Christmas baking season.  There’s still a lot left.  So far, we are up to 9 different breads/pastries and 10 different kinds of cookies.  We just need to add a few more and we’d have enough to populate an advent calendar!

Trip Around the Garden

Hi everyone!  I can’t believe it is October already.  Time seems to be flying by this year.  It’s already fall.  Fall is really my favorite season of the year because it is such a huge relief after the heat of the summer to have cool weather.  I love the crisp air and the changes in color and light during this season.  The evenings seem cozier because the sun is going down earlier.  I start to think about baking things all the time because the house is finally cool enough to turn on the oven.  However, that did not happen last week.  Last week, we had a heat wave in which temps around here in New England reached almost to the nineties and we had our air conditioners on every day.  That wasn’t very fall-like weather!  I think the heat got to me because when I remembered that October is the month for me to plan the quilt for my charity quilt, I turned to bright summery-springy colors instead of autumn.

This month, I really wanted to keep things simple because I just don’t have a lot of time right now to do anything too complicated.  I also wanted to try this technique of making trip around the world blocks.  Basically, you sew strips of fabric together in a tube, slice them, and then rip out one seam in each slice to create a block that has a diagonal pattern to it.  When you put them all together, they can make a nice all over repeating pattern.  If that didn’t make sense, I’ll show you step by step.

First, you will need 7 strips of fabric, each 2.5 inch by 18 inches long.  For my Aspire Circle friends, I am requesting:

1 strip of white

2 strips of pink

2 strips of green

2 strips of yellow

Arrange them like this: Pink, green, yellow, white, pink, green, yellow

Using a Scant 1/4 inch seam sew them together along their length.  The last seam, you will sew the first and last strips together to get a fabric tube.  Pay attention to your scant.  If you are off a little, the accumulation of all the seams will make your block too big or small if the seam allowance is not just shy of 1/4 inch.  Ask me how I know.

Now, line up a bottom seam with a line on your cutting mat and trim a little off the edge to make it nice and straight.  Then, you want to cut 2.5 inch strips.  You should end up with 7 identical strips, each in a tube and two little trimmings to just throw away.

Now, here’s where it can get a little tricky.    You’ll need to make sure you go in the same direction when opening up the seams for each strip.  Pick one strip and open up a seam next to the white block.  Lay it on your work surface so that the white block is at the top.  Then, look at color at the bottom of the strip (pink).  Rip the seam that will make that color the top of your next strip (between the pink and green).

Continue in this way until you have 7 nice strips making a diagonal pattern on your table.

Next, you should iron all your strips, one at a time, with seams alternating directions.  This is important for creating those nice nesting seams.  Basically, I took every other strip to my ironing board, ironed them all at once in the same direction, and then put them back in the proper sequence.  Next, I took the remaining strips and ironed them in the opposite direction.  Nesting seams are not only nicer for quilting.  They also make it easier to sew the strips together because your machine doesn’t have to sew through 4 layers at once.

Lastly, sew the strips together in the same order as your layout.  You should a have a nice diagonal sequence of white blocks on the center, with other colors forming diagonals on either side.  The block should measure 14.5 inches square.

The white blocks will create a nice diagonal effect when they are all together.  Friends in my sewing circle should make at least 2, but 3 would be awesome!  I think this will be a cheerful quilt and hope that it will brighten up the day of the person who gets it!

 

 

New and Shiny

Every year, when Fall arrives, I have the urge to drop all my summer knitting and start a whole bunch of new projects.  This September, the urge has been especially strong.  All through August, I faithfully worked on my light summer sweaters: Ivyle

and Westbourne Kinu Love.  I stopped working on this one because I couldn’t decide if I wanted to continue the stripes down the arms or not.  Any thoughts or opinions would be welcome here.

However, as soon as September 1 rolled around, I was casting on new things, on an almost daily basis.

First, was a Recoleta sweater by Joji Locatelli.  I didn’t get very far with this one yet.  It’s one that needs my full attention, so not a good one to knit at the end of the day when I am tired, which seems to happen most days now.

Then, Ysolda started her annual gifty knitalong, Knitworthy 4, and I felt compelled to cast on an Elska hat.

The next day, after a lot of stash sorting, I also started a What the Fade Mystery Shawl.  I am somehow strangely compelled by these knitalongs that use a lot of different skeins of yarn.  Part of it is that they are a great way of using up single skeins of yarn in my stash.

I got through clue 1 on this one when I discovered that I failed to do a couple of increases along the left side (a mistake that seems to be common among those knitting this shawl) and I decided to start over.

The second time, I chose more neutral colors because the first set of colors was not agreeing with me and I was afraid I would never wear it.

This is my first time knitting the brioche stitch and I have found that it is not as hard as I thought it would be.  There’s a certain rhythm to it that makes it interesting.  My only complaint is that since each row has to be done twice, the rows seem to take forever.

I’m not sure about this dark brown color on the back.  It’s a laceweight that I am using doubled and it seems a bit too heavy compared to my other yarns, but I am hoping that will become less noticeable as the shawl gets bigger.  Perhaps I will even leave it out in the rest of the shawl.

Sometime in there, I also started the September project with A Year of Techniques.  I thought this would be a great thing to knit while I was teaching.  It turns out, however, that I really don’t have a lot of time to knit during the school day.

Then last Monday, the new Knitworthy 4 pattern came out, and I had to start that one right away.

Unfortunately, that project suffered a little setback during which I had to rip out about 10 rows.  After moments like that, projects often lose their momentum and this one is no different.  It is languishing while I go on to knit other things, like this hat that I’ve had on the needles since May.

However, lest you think I never finish anything, both hats that I had on the needles are finished now.  Hats are such wonderfully quick knits.  Maybe I should just stick to hats?

Oh, I don’t know.  I think it might be time to cast on a new sweater.

After all, I already did the gauge swatch and got the right gauge on the first try.  It’s almost like it is meant to be.

 

Back to Reality

Hi friends!  Remember me?  I know I’ve been gone a long time, but this summer was just crazy busy.  There’s no way that I’m going to be able to fill you in on all the details, but I can give you some highlights.  This is actually harder than it sounds.  You know in school how it is harder to summarize a long passage into a few sentences than it is just to retell the whole thing?  That’s true here in real life, too!  But, I will try, if only to prove to my kids that this is a skill worth learning and maintaining.

First off, we took an “mind blowing” trip to Jasper National Park in Canada.  The words in quotes are not mine, they belong to my teenage son.  I’ve tried to include a good selection of pictures below, but I’ll say what everybody says–that the pictures just don’t do the place any justice.

From our drive into Jasper until our last moment there, the place enchanted us with its amazing views.

There were gorges.

Waterfalls.

Glacial rivers

Lakes

Views of glaciers.

Challenging hikes.  (This picture in particular does not convey how difficult this part of the trail was to climb.  See all the switchbacks?  That means it was too steep to go down in a straight line.  I’d guess it was at least a 45 degree incline.)

We even had a few triumphant moments.

And we had an amazing half hour on an actual glacier.  (pro tip:  It’s cold on a glacier.  You should probably wear more than I did, which was basically shorts and a light jacket.  A full length down jacket would be appropriate.)

Four days in Jasper was not enough to do everything we wanted to do there.  We would go back in a heartbeat if we could.  The only consolation we had in leaving was that we were moving on to Banff National Park, which was equally enchanting, but in a different, less wild kind of way.

In Banff, you never feel too far away from civilization.  This picture is taken just a short walk from Banff town, which is quite a hub of activity.

In Banff, seeing the most popular views also means seeing some interesting hotels and sharing that experience with hundreds of other strangers.  Still, there are moments where you can feel like you have the place to yourself, such as 7 am in the morning at the shores of Lake Louise.

One of the most charming things about Banff is that there are several trails that have teahouses on them.  So you don’t even have to bring your lunch!

This makes up for the crowds of people that you have to share your incredible views with.

Ok, maybe crowds is a bit of an exaggeration here.  But, there were a lot more people on the trails in Banff than Jasper.

One interesting thing we saw in Banff was an ice cave.

Another nice thing about being closer to civilization is eating incredible ice cream.

We sadly only really had two days in Banff before we had to move on to a place that felt more like home, but was no less amazing because of that.  If I could only go to one national park for the rest of my life, it would probably be Glacier National Park in Montana.

Even though we had been there 4 years before, there was no shortage of new things to see.  Some things we had seen before looked new and different.  The view of the mountain next to our campsite glowed red with the sunrise when I got up one morning.

The Highline trail gave us incredible views, albeit a bit smoky/hazy.

We saw waterfalls we had not noticed before, even though we passed right by them on the road.

Here, in Glacier, we also had more wildlife encounters, like this moose having her lunch right next to the trail.

Some places, we visited again and loved them just as much as we did before, maybe even more for having seen it twice.

When it was time to leave Glacier, we left with mixed feelings.  We were tired of camping and a little footsore.   Ten straight days of camping without any campfires (There was a fire ban.  There had been very little rain in the Rockies over the summer.) was probably one or two days too long for us. There’s only so much you can do to make an airbed more comfortable.  But, I was loathe to leave the mountains behind.

However, there was more adventure ahead as we had planned to end our trip with a couple of days in Seattle.  In Seattle, we all got to see something that interested us.

My younger one wanted to go to the Boeing museum.

And my older one wanted to go to the Smith Tower and see the old fashioned elevator.

The husband got some great food.

And I got to go to the amazing Chihuly Glass Gallery.

If it looks like an awesome trip in the photos, it was exponentially more awesome to be there in person.    It was actually a lot harder to pick which pictures to include here than it was to write this paragraph.  This is partly because, between the four of us, we took over two thousand pictures!  I’m glad we have those pictures, though, because you never know if we’ll ever go back to those amazing places.  The pictures will help us remember them and I hope you enjoyed them as well!

Now, we’re more or less back into the swing of things at home with school and work and life.  I’ll be back soon with some details on some fun things I’ve been working on.  How was your summer?