Monday, January 30, 2012

Sourdough - a story

In 2001, I decided I wanted to start making sourdough bread.  I ordered a starter from King Arthur Flour.  It was a great little starter.  Simple instructions (KAF is great with instructions) arrived with the container.  I followed them....until I didn't.  Life (work - new job) got in the way.  The poor little starter was neglected.  It died an untimely death.

Fast forward to 2008 - I decide it is time to attempt sourdough again, fully committed to the needs of a starter.  I considered purchasing another starter, but decided to give it a whirl "catching" my own.  I followed instructions very similar to these, except I recall using rye flour for a much longer time.  I caught a very vigorous rising yeast.  It was great.  I loved on that starter.  We were getting along so well.  Unlike the time before, I had plenty of folks more than willing to take a loaf or two of sourdough off my hands.  (While I love to bake bread and my family is only provided homebaked bread, we never finish a loaf.)  The starter lived with our family for quite some time.  It was a very happy existence until a busy period of work travel hit.  Knowing the starter's needs and my impending travel hades, I astutely decided to freeze a portion of the starter for posterity.

The frozen starter found its way to the back of the freezer.  You can fill in the rest.  I would occasionally see it back in there and ponder "I need to get that back out and love on it" but would quickly realize there were upcoming trips/family commitments/etc. that would cut into my attention and prevent the starter from receiving the love it needed to thrive again.  I finally dug it out this past fall.  No matter how much love and attention I showed the starter, it couldn't be revived.  It was absolutely my own doing.  I had a period of mourning.

I finally kicked myself into reality and decided to "catch" another starter.  Heck, I did it before with ease, right?  Apparently my first experience was not indicative of usual success levels.  No matter how many times I tried, I was not catching another wild type yeast!  I was so frustrated!  (Although, I do plan to try again this summer hoping that shifts in household temperature will be the key.  I will not give up easily!)

Sitting at Taekwondo one day with some other moms, I overheard one make reference to her sourdough starter.  I kindly requested a bit of her starter and she gladly shared.  That's what sourdough is really about - sharing.  This starter has a wonderful aroma and acidic bite.  (My fabulous wild-caught was a very vigorous riser, but didn't have a strong acidic bite.)  I promptly took the starter home and started loving on it.

Then my problem arose:  I was trying to make the new starter be just like my wild-caught one.  As in life, anytime you try to make someone or something into what you THINK they/it should be - you will get bit in the rear.

After coming to realization I wasn't in charge (which is incredibly difficult for me to accept in any situation), I had to get over my preconceived notions/convictions.  I had it in my mind that NO sourdough is TRUE sourdough unless the starter does ALL the rising.  (I often set terribly high standards for myself.)  The resulting loaves of sourdough were bricks with great flavor.  I finally caved and dissolved 1/2 T. of yeast in 1/4 c of warm water with 1 t. sugar.  I added this to my 12+ hr room temperature fermented starter.  The results can be seen here.

Moral of the story:  open yourself to new approaches and possibilities.  The results are always surprising and most often fabulous.

If you live nearby, let me know if you need some starter.  I finally have come to an understanding with it.

Notes from the needles:

Lots of things have flown off the needles during my absence.  (Knitting was one of the few things keeping me sane during the incredibly busy period.)

A quick garter stitch scarf from reclaimed silk cut in ribbons.  I'll find the band and post the particulars sometime.  (At least I *think* I will find the band.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A little here and a little there, a little bit everywhere

Each holiday season, there are plenty of "little" gifts you need to secure.  "Little" is a misnomer.  More often than not, these "little" gifts are for folks who help the world go 'round.  Teachers, mail deliverers, music instructors, care providers, co-workers, neighbors.....the list goes on and on.

I have a lot of friends who are teachers.  I listen to them.  (Heck, I admire the fool out of them.  They have chosen a career I know I am not meant to do.)  One thing they have drilled into me:  teachers do not expect gifts.  They do not expect families to spend money on them.  If a family feels compelled to present them with a gift, it doesn't need to be expensive.

RULE #1:  Small gift cards are GREAT!

A $5 gift card can be great!  Coffee drinker? Local coffee shop or Starbucks - whatever is closer to the school.  Target?  A teacher can ALWAYS find something at Target.  Local grocery store?  Everyone need to make a quick grocery run every now and then on the way home from work.  Select a store near the school (preferably on the quicker route away from school).  While it may seem boring to grab a $5 gift card to a generic store, we all run in and out of these stores and that is $5 they don't have to spend out of their pocket!

RULE #2:  No coffee cups full of candy!

Apparently teachers get LOTS of coffee cups full of candy.  They don't need anymore.

RULE #3:  Homemade food is nice, but can be creepy.

This one was hard for me to wrap my head around UNTIL a teacher explained it to me.  It is great that people want to share food with them.  There are people who have issues with eating food prepared by people they don't know well.  I can respect that.  Keep it in mind when you are preparing food as a gift.

Additional gift options for teachers and others:
Levenger offers a variety of games during the holiday season.  Many are moderately priced, such as:  Story Cubes, Literary Charades, Ever After Memory Game, Orijinz, Tell Tale, Spot It, Name Chase, or Zip It.  (There are more great educational games to consider for the offsprings and others on the gift list too.)  My absolutely FAVORITE little gifts/teacher gift/stocking stuffer are book bungees.

Penzey's has some great spice boxes for small gifts:  Kind Heart, Mini Gift Box, Grill and Broil Mini Gift Box, and Baking Mini Gift Box.

If you want some food treats to include, there are a wide variety of holiday options available at:  Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Earthfare, and many local grocers.  I have found nice bowls and containers at Tuesday Morning and TJ Maxx (not coffee mugs!).

Have fun.  Be creative.  Most of all, enjoy the act of giving!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Food is love, so gifts of food are fabulous!

We can't always provide someone with a gift of homemade food.  Logistical (distance), safety (it is a bit weird to receive homemade food from someone you don't know that well), dietary (allergies and medical limitations), and preference (some folks really like prepared foods - I've been trying for years to understand it without much success) all play a role.  There are some cool options available though!

All of these food options are family/local businesses.  They just aren't necessarily located around the corner from your house!  Purchasing from them still supports the small business backbone of our economy during these tough times.  Best of all:  their products are FABULOUS!

Many years ago, my spouse had a business trip to Racine, WI.  A colleague (originally from the area) enabled introduced him to Danish kringle from O&H Danish Bakery.  When their kringle became available for online ordering and delivery, we haven't had a holiday season (or his birthday or Father's day) without a delivery.  He hoards it.  Literally.  It disappears to the spare frig in the garage to stay out of view of potential guests.  The offspring scores servings now that he has proven he will eat the entire allotment and not waste any.  The great thing about ordering from O&H is that you can schedule your delivery when you order (i.e. order now and have them arrive at the appointed location on the days of your choosing during the holiday season).  You don't have to worry about logging in multiple times to take care of your list.  I have scheduled for kringle to arrive at holiday locations the same day we drive in.  Additionally, we have yet to send kringles as gifts where the recipients weren't hooked afterwards.  Favorite flavors of the spouse and offspring (in no particular order):  cherry, pumpkin caramel, raspberry, pecan, turtle, maple walnut, cranberry.

Sunnyland Farms pecans (and treats) are awesome!  There is always a debate as to whether orange frost or sugar and spice is the ultimate favorite.  Either way, the recipient is a winner.  (Full disclosure: I'm in Camp Orange Frost.)  There are lots of other great goodies to choose from too.  October is pecan season so gifts from Sunnyland Farms will be fresh when they arrive for the holidays.  IMPORTANT:  when you order, make sure you are on the list to receive the catalog next year.  You'll understand why when you receive it.  One of my favorite fall activities is reading the Sunnyland Farms catalog.

I have mentioned Gearhart's chocolates before in the blog.  A gift from Gearhart's is the ultimate in indulgence.  Treat yourself (the spouse and I do EVERY year) or someone else.  The standard assortments are great, but for $1 more you can create custom assortments also.

Gifts that keep giving:
For the foodie or wanna be foodie:  Bon Appetit
For the foodie who wants more information/detail:  Cooks Illustrated
For folks dealing with allergy/medical issues:  Living Without

Needle news:
Birthday gift for my mother-in-law.  She requested a felted handbag.
Pattern: Little Slip of a Thing
Yarn:  Ella Rae 100% worsted weight wool; one skein each purple and gray

True sign a nip is in the air.  Freshing up the socks.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


It has been a busy month or so.  Can you tell?  When the day winds down, I focus on spending time with the family, cooking, and - obviously - knitting.

We have celebrated the offspring's birthday!  Rule at our house:  birthday celebrant sets the menu for the family meal.  Oh, how I love my child!  The menu: homemade macaroni and cheese with bacon; cooked apples; baked sweet potatoes; lima beans; and ice cream cake.

I've never made an ice cream cake.  As usual, I developed a plan and dove it.  First, I baked a homemade brownie layer (cake style vs fudgy) in an 8" layer cake pan.  I removed the brownie from the pan.  After it was completely cool, I wrapped it and placed it in the freezer.

Next, I began making the ice cream layers.  The offspring chose (from bottom to top): mint chocolate chip, cookies and cream, and cherry chocolate.  I softened the ice cream and used the 8" layer pans to form the separate ice cream layers.

After at least overnight in the freezer, I began to assemble the cake.  I placed the frozen brownie layer on the serving dish.  One-by-one, I removed the ice cream layers from the pan by dipping each in a sink of warm water for about 10 seconds and turned it out on ice cream cake.  I placed the assembled cake in the freezer overnight.

The next day, I prepared a double batch of Super Stabilized Whipped Cream and decorated the cake the day of the dinner.

After decorating, the cake was in the freezer for approximately 6 hrs before serving.  All components were frozen.  It was a little difficult to insert the candles in the whipped cream.  The next time, I will most likely utilize the Stabilized Whipped Cream for frosting.

It was enjoyed by all.  We will definitely have another sometime.

I could have done without the mint chocolate chip and the cherry chocolate together.  Of course, it wasn't my celebration.

Our birthday gift to the offspring was a trip to Universal Florida and a visit to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  We had great fun.

The offspring had a few items on a punch list for the trip:

We drank butterbeer.  (Both frozen and liquid - frozen won out as the favorite for our family.)

Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans were consumed.  (Plus more brought back for sharing.)

Pumpkin juice was consumed.

And most importantly - a wand was procured from Olivander's.

Several knitted items have been completed during the blog absence.  I'll gather all the pictures and include them later.

I also have some wonderful holiday gift suggestions.  I'll include those next time.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Bits and Pieces

What a month!  I have had every intention of posting, but work has gotten in the way.  New (relatively temporary) duties have required even earlier hours and have sucked up my knitting time during the offspring's afternoon activities.  In a fit of "I must accomplish something fiber-related or I might pop" on a Saturday, out came the following bits and pieces busters.

I am sure I'm not the only one who hangs on to bits and pieces of skeins of yarn.  You never know when you might need to make Silly Socks for school or an anemone for a diorama or mend a hole in a sock (I'm still ticked at some bug) or anything else that might pop up.

As my hair has gotten wider longer, I have been in search of an effective, yet comfortable headband.  This particular Saturday, as I was sipping my cappuccino, I decided to check Ravelry for patterns.  Low and behold, I came across the perfect match!  All you knit is a simple I-cord.  Rachel Bishop takes the time to pictorially show how to knit an I-cord.  Easy as can be!  I-cords are a good way to get use to double points or magic-loop.

It took me about an hour to knit each of these.  All were knitted from my "leftovers stash".

Manos del Uruguay Silk Blend
Forest Has a Long Memory
Merino/Tussah Silk
I knitted three I-cords, braided and attached to the hairband.
I-cord for 3 inches.  Increase to 8 stitches.  Slip stitch beginning of row, 2x2 cable for 8 inches.  Decrease to four stitches, I-cord for 3 inches.  Attached to hairband.
Navajo ply
Northern Lights
Blue Faced Lecester
Spinning Awesome Good

For my pseudo-offsprings:
Supersock Select Azalea
Single chain crochet flower in Northern Lights (see above)

Manos del Uruguay Silk Blend
Flower in discontinued color of Knit Picks Stroll
Koigu PPPM in a long-lost color
Flowers in Cherry Tree Hill Supersock Select Azalea and Knit Picks Stroll

It was a fabulous, fiber-productive-feeling weekend.  Plus, there are several girls enjoying their one-of-a-kind headbands that don't pinch or hurt!  Fabulous!

Holiday gift ideas:

Teachers - I received a Penzey's Spice catalog this week.  They have  a teacher's gift FOR FREE with a purchase.  Code: 83018C (one per household)  It is an AWESOME deal.  You can purchase additional kits for $8.78 each.  Kits include:  1/2 c jar Penzeys Forward seasoning, 1/4 c jar Penzey's cinnamon, Teachers Care bumper sticker, Teach! pin, and Teach! book of stories and recipes. (You can also get a free 1/2 cup jar of Penzey Forward for yourself with coupon code: 15958C)

If you have a potential sock knitter (i.e. they have been discussing it, but haven't taken the plunge), enable them for life by shopping at Knit Picks.  Knit Picks double points are great and affordable.  You can purchase individual sets (select sizes 0-2 for sock newbies) or a great set for those bitten by the sock bug.  Throw in a skein or two of Stroll and you have a full sock knitting kit!  (At VERY AFFORDABLE prices.)

Friday, September 2, 2011

One of those people

That would be me.  I have already started Christmas shopping.  I actually started some time ago, but this is the time of year I begin to ramp it up.  (If it makes you feel better, I don't start wrapping until the tree goes up the first week in December.)

From now through the holidays, I will try to offer gift suggestions for the fiber and food lovers on your shopping lists.  I will try to offer a wide variety of ideas for every budget.  Hopefully you will find something just right for your loved ones.

If you shop for a hardcore sock knitter who has everything, Blackthorn DPN are the ultimate splurge.  Many knitters would feel guilty spending this on a set of DPN (double point needles for the non-sock/hat knitting folks) so a set would be a wonderful expression of "I know you would never treat yourself, but I know you will use them constantly" caring.  [Honey, here is your hint - 6" size 00 would be perfect.]

For the foodie on your list, spice gift boxes are a fabulous option.  Penzeys offers gift boxes for every budget.  Spices are also something that need replacing every so often also.  Spice blends can open up new doors for cooking creativity also.

Fiber fanatics who would like to give hand knits for gifts, now is the time to start!  Scarves (in particular lace ones) are great gifts for colleagues, teachers, family members, etc.  There are tons of pattern options on Ravelry (most are free!).  The Cherry Tree Hill semi-annual yarn sale occurs Labor Day weekend.  Cast on and start knitting!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


The heat of the summer is upon us (heck, the heat of the summer has been here a.l.l. s.u.m.m.e.r. l.o.n.g.).  One of the pleasant things about the end of summer is harvesting a crop of basil and stashing next year's pesto!  (This year's heat has resulted in a modest basil crop. [insert grumbles])

Making fresh pesto and stashing it in the freezer for the winter is a snap.  You only need a few supplies.  (If you want a recipe, you can find a simple recipe here.  If you want to buy the book (it is great), please consider visiting a local, independent bookstore before "clicking".)

First, wash and spin dry the basil.

Toast pine nuts in a dry skillet.  When I toast pine nuts, I usually cover the bottom the skillet and put the leftovers in the freezer for pasta and breads.

Gather your supplies and ingredients.  I add fresh lemon juice to my pesto to help retain color.  I squeeze it through a fine mesh strain directly into the food processor.

If you need lemon zest for something else, harvest it before juicing the lemon.  I have found that lemons stored in the refrigerator produce a higher juice yield.

After the ingredients have been added to the food processor (basil, toasted pine nuts, fresh garlic, salt, pepper, and lemon juice), add about 1/2 of the recommended olive oil.  Process, taking time to scrape down the sides and add more olive oil until you have the proper consistency.

I prefer pesto for freezing to be slightly thicker in viscosity than if I were planning on using it immediately.  The consistency will change when it is thawed.  I add oil after thawing to achieve the desired viscosity for my application.

I freeze pesto in ice cube trays.  It is important to note:  DO NOT ADD CHEESE to the pesto before freezing.  Cheese is added to the pesto after thawing.  The cheese will not freeze well.

Once frozen, pop out of trays and store in a zip top freezer bag.

Frozen pesto cubes are also great to throw into red sauce.

So simple!  (and wonderful - all year round)

Recently off the needles:

Back in June, I shared a recent handspun.  It has now turned into -
A Rain Drop stole.  (US 9 needles)

Before blocking.

On the pins.  (Sorry for the craptastic lighting.  The cat REALLY wanted back on the bed, so I was hurrying.  Hey, she's 20 yrs old.  She has earned the right to be pushy at times.)  This is stretched on a queen size bed.