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Hurry Up and Wait

My life seems to made up of two types of time these days: The majority of it is super busy times when I am juggling multiple things at once, such as when I am trying to cook dinner and teach both kids different subjects simultaneously. Occasionally, I get a little respite where I get to sit somewhere and wait for one of the kids of finish a lesson or sports game or, as I did today, sit and listen to a whole roomful of kids give presentations. These are the times when an easy portable project is super handy.

Yesterday, I cast on a sock. By the end of the younger son’s soccer game last night, it looked like this.

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No, I didn’t knit that whole sock in the back! That one was finished months ago! The blurry cuff in front of the bag was what I worked on last night.

Now, after about two hours of presentations today, it looks like this.

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That’s about two and half more inches. If it looks different to you, it’s probably because I have switched to using two circular needles instead of 4 double pointed. Over the past year or so, I have been slowly making the switch over to this method because I find it easier on my hands. I still find casting on and ribbings easier with double pointed needles, but once I get into the actual patterns, I find that circulars are not as pokey and leave things a bit more flexible.

Anyway, with more soccer games and an all day swim meet in the near future, this sock should be done in no time.

What do you do when you are waiting?

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Orange Cranberry Scones

It’s been awhile since I have made scones. I don’t know why I don’t make them more often. They are easy, fairly quick, very tasty, and the freeze and reheat well. What’s not to like?

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In fact, for this week’s Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, Buttermilk Scones, I decided to double the recipe because I knew we would like them. Plus, I had a couple of organic oranges sitting around. To help make the cutting in of the butter easier, I enlisted the help of my trusty food processor.

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Then, I added a generous amount of dried cranberries because they go so well with citrus and are really tasty in a scone.

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I made twelve regular sized triangular scones and twenty-four small square shaped ones. I sprinkled them with coarse, raw sugar instead of the regular sugar that was called for in the recipe. I love how the cranberries look like jewels.

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We loved them. There were some wonderful layers and eaten just warm, they were soft and fluffy on the inside with a little crunch from the sugar on the outside. They make a great companion to tea or coffee breakfast or snack time. I’m thinking of making some more, but subbing the orange zest for lemon and using blueberries instead. Or chocolate.

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Really, I think you could add anything to these and they would still be good. They are perhaps not the best scones I have ever made, but it is one of those recipes that is simple, reliable, and just plain good. You can’t really go wrong here.

Orange Cranberry Scone
adapted from Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan

3 cups (15 ounces) all purpose flour
1/3 cup (2.5 ounces) sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1 cup buttermilk, plus more if needed
Grated zest from one orange
1/2 cup dried cranberries

For topping:
3 Tablespoons melted butter
3 Tablespoons coarse or raw sugar

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

Combine flour, sugar baking powder, baking soda, salt, and orange zest in a food processor bowl. Pulse a few times to mix the dry ingredients together. Add the butter pieces and pulse until the pieces are no larger than a pea, about 8-10 times. Pour into a large bowl.

Stir the cranberries into the flour. Then, add the buttermilk and toss with a spatula or fork until most of the flour is moistened. If it seems really dry and won’t hold together when you squeeze a bit of it with your fingers, then add extra buttermilk, a tablespoons at a time, until the dough starts to come together. There will still be some crumby bits in the bowl, though.

Dump out the dough onto your counter or pastry board and knead gently until the dough is more or less one shaggy mass. If you bowl is big enough, you can also do this inside the bowl and it will be less messy. Divide the dough in half. Pat each half into a 1/2 inch thick 7 inch diameter circle. Using a sharp knife, cut each dough circle into six wedges and transfer to your baking sheet with at least one inch of space between them.

If you want to make smaller scones, pat the entire amount of dough into a 1/2 inch thick rectangle, roughly 8 inches by 12 inches. Then, cut into twenty-four two inch squares.

Brush each scone with melted butter and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Bake until slightly browned around the edges, about 13-15 minutes for large scones, 10-12 for small scones. Serve warm.

These will keep for a few days in a sealed bag, but should be toasted in the oven for a few minutes before eating to crisp them up. They can also be frozen, already baked for several months. Thaw and toast lightly before serving.

Summer

Someone recently asked me how my summer was going, and I really had to stop and think and ask myself the same question. We’ve done some summery things such as VBS and there’s definitely a lightness and flexibility to our schedule that is a nice change. But, we’ve only been to the pool once and we haven’t gone anywhere. Yet.

In several days, that is about to change. We have an epic trip coming up. One that some may describe as once in a lifetime. It is certainly a once in a decade if not a once in 25 years kind of trip. It’s been almost a year in the planning and the last few weeks has seen us take the logistics of vacation planning to a level we had never gone before. Lots of stuff has been bought, many hours of research have been spent looking for places to stay, things to do, and items we will need.

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By now, you could be wondering where in the world we are going. No, we are not going on an overseas expedition. In fact, we are not crossing any seas at all, but we might leave the country for a bit. We will be flying and there will be lots of driving, and, if we are lucky, there might even be boats and horses and carriages involved in this journey.

Have you guessed it yet?

Yes, we are going west to the mountains. We will be visiting the mountains and glaciers at Glacier National Park, and then continuing on to spend some quality time with extended family and Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park. There will be camping (hence the crazy gear aquisition and packing that’s been going on here for weeks) and stays in cabins and hotels, with a final stop to visit some dear friends before we limp our way home after nearly three weeks on the road.

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Crazy. Some might call us that and I will admit that there have been moments during the whole planning of this trip when I have felt crazy. But, I am also crazy excited. And stressed. If I let myself think about all the details, I feel the life draining out of me. But, I am pretty sure it will all be worth it when I see those mountains and I cannot wait to see the look on my boys’ faces when they see some of these wonders for the first time.

So, this is why I had a hard time answering the question, how is your summer going? Our summer feels as if it hasn’t started yet. We have spent the past couple of months in a state of anticipation of this epic trip and so it feels like we’ve just been holding our breaths for it to begin. As you can imagine, we are just about fit to explode here.

Summer. Here we come!

P.S. I made those bags pictured above for the boys to use on the trip for their various personal toiletries. It was my first time using laminate on my own fabric. Though it worked out in the end, I would not do it again. The plastic coating was fussy to use and tore easily when I was trying to turn the bags right side out after finishing. Also, I had a lot more trouble with the zipper. They are functional, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they look terrible once the trip is over.

Cookie Quest, Part 1 plus a New Cookbook Adventure

It’s only been a couple of months since the end of our annual cookie fundraiser, but I am already thinking about the cookie list for this year’s event. There are a few cookies we will be dropping from the list since they did not receive many orders and at least two, probably three, that I need to change because I just was not happy with them.

Oatmeal Raisin is the first one that is getting some attention. Well, actually, during the most recent drive, it manifested itself as an oatmeal cranberry white chocolate cookie. But, even though those who ordered them seemed happy with them, I was not. In fact, I have yet to meet an oatmeal cookie that pleased me.

What is it about the oatmeal cookie? I love the idea of them. I feel happy feeding them to my children as a snack because they have oats and dried fruit, sorta like granola in disguise. But, most of the recipes I have tried in the past are disappointing. They tend to bake up brick-like, without much spread, and they tend to be hard and dry, not moist and chewy. At least, every recipe I have tried in recent memory have turned out like this, except for the ones I made last week.

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Last week, I decided to start baking through my newest baking cookbook: Bouchon Bakery by the infamous Thomas Keller and his sidekick, Sebastien Rouxel. This book came into my possession a couple of months ago and I have been itching to get started with it for awhile. The first recipe of the book (well, actually, it’s the second, but the first was in the introduction, and I’ll get to that another day) just happens to be Oatmeal Raisin, so it was fate or destiny or something like that.

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I made the recipe mostly exactly as written, even though I was sorely tempted to double or even triple it, but I resisted. The only change I made was to sub in some rum-soaked fruit that I had leftover from the holidays. I didn’t think that was a big deal since he said you could soak the raisins if they seemed dry, so I figured a little added rum in the fruit would be ok.

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I also made the cookies a little smaller than he suggests. I got 21 small cookies out of a recipe that was supposed to make 6 giant ones. Those giant cookies must be the size of lunch plates because I thought mine were a pretty good size, about 3 inches in diameter. In fact, the recipe instructs the baker to bake only three cookies to a pan! I wouldn’t call those giant; they’d have to be colossal!

Anyway, I don’t know if it was the rum soaked fruit or the recipe itself, but it was a good cookie. They spread nicely and remained soft, but moist, with a little crispness around the edges. This recipe will have to be tried again with the usual raisins to see if it will make the cut for me. I thought they looked a little uneven, but that could be from the extra moisture from the rum.

This is a very good beginning, I hope, to a very good and long relationship with this book. I may just bake through the whole book, one recipe at a time. Wouldn’t that be fun? Guess what the next recipe is? Oatmeal cookies without fruit! I am sensing a change in my oatmeal cookie fortunes.

Pretty Crumby Muffins

Buttermilk Crumb Muffins. They sound good, don’t they? But, there are two reasons why I have always passed this recipe by when I saw it in Baking with Julia.

One, the recipe uses shortening. Seriously, in a muffin? Aside from being just plain bad for you, I always associate shortening with greasy blandness. I only have it in the house because a little does help sometimes in pie crust, and it also lends a unique texture to snickerdoodles. Other than that, I try to avoid it.

Secondly, the recipe uses two cups of sugar for 14 muffins. That’s just crazy, too. I like sugar and all, but it just seems like overkill to use that much sugar in a muffin.

Well, I am committed to making all the recipes in this book, so I did make it. I decided that I could live with the sugar, but I could not deal with the shortening. I substituted butter for that.

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They came together very easily; just stir everything together basically.

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I may have overfilled my muffin tins a bit and I think it may have helped if I had let the batter sit for a few minutes before baking. The tops were really flat and not all that attractive, which is why I am showing you so many pictures of them upside down.

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Plus, I sorta liked the way they looked when I turned them out of the pan. They were nice and golden and had a great fluffy texture.

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The boys loved them. The husband and I thought they were too sweet. Additionally, I thought they were kind of boring. Now, 17 years ago, as a newleywed, I would have been thrilled with these muffins, as I was with everything I made out of the Fannie Farmer Cookbook, but now, I guess my tastes have changed. I wished for some blueberries or citrus, something that would make this muffin more than just sugar and fluff. The husband suggested that some bran would be good. I don’t know if I would like that, but at least it would be different.

In any case, and I think this is the first time I have said this about any recipe I have made from Baking with Julia, I will not be making this again. I just think there are better muffin recipes out there.

If you want to try them, you can find the recipe here.