January 29, 2013

Felt Slippers

If you haven't already guessed, I have a thing for slippers. Over the holidays, I couldn't stop making these granny square slippers. I also love handbags and luggage -- but I'm not very good at making those from scratch. Yet.

Slippers, on the other hand, are wonderful to create and wear. They make fabulous gifts... and occasionally I keep a pair for myself. 

Like these. 


These are the same felt slippers (or clogs, as they are called in the pattern) that I made my mom a while ago. You can see that pair here. This time, I made a pair for myself. And yes, that's right. It's the same yarn that I've been trying to use up from the stash -- first it was Lawrence, then a pair of socks for a friend. 

Unless there is a spare half ball rolling around under the sofa, I think it's safe to say that I've finally used up the last of this color with the slippers. 

January 26, 2013

Fridge Milk Tart

The Sailor is home-bound so I thought I would make him a special dessert. Since I discussed his distaste for pasta in my last post, I figured it's only fair to share something he actually enjoys -- South African Fridge Milk Tart. 

Fridge what?

It does sound a little strange... I admit. It's kind of like custard, but with a bottom crust. 

My first encounter with Milk Tart was at a South African braai, or BBQ, along a beach in Sierra Leone, West Africa. (That alone is a story for another time...) As a non-South African, I got invited because the Sailor and I were dating. The day was filled with all manner of South African good eats, but I was particularly taken with the Milk Tart -- especially when the Sailor mentioned how much he liked it. 

I cornered the gal who made it and said she must give me the recipe. 

While I'm not a fan of haphazardly posting other people's recipes online (there is somewhat of a copyright controversy in the blogging world) I feel assured that this is a fairly standard Milk Tart recipe. And since she gave me scribbles from memory on how to make it, I'm quite certain she didn't remember who passed it on to her. I have made some minor changes to the recipe (mainly more detailed instructions... the scribbles were a little vague!)

Now I share it with you. Go forth... try something new. Pretend it's summer, and you're having a braai. Unless of course you're in the Southern Hemisphere, in which case, there is no need to pretend. 


SOUTH AFRICAN FRIDGE MILK TART


INGREDIENTS: 
1 Packet of Marie Biscuits (These are not always easy to find in the USA. I found 'Goya Maria' ones that are the same. I have also used animal crackers in the past, with great success!) 
1/2 cup of butter 
1 tin of condensed milk 
3 tins of whole milk (roughly 3.5 cups - I actually just use the condensed milk tin to measure the regular milk while I'm making it) 
3 tablespoons of maizena (cornstarch) 
3 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt
cinnamon for sprinkling

CRUST
Melt the Butter


Crush the Marie biscuits. 


You can crush them even more, but I like my crust to have some substance.


Add the melted butter to the biscuits. Press the mixture into a large rectangular pan (like a 9"x13") or two or three smaller dishes. 


Refrigerate the crust.

FILLING

Heat the milk, maizena, and egg yolks on medium high heat. Use a whisk to remove any lumps. Stir until the mixture thickens. This may take about 10 minutes. 


As soon as it thickens, add the condensed milk, salt and vanilla. Stir together. Fold in the egg whites. 


Stir a bit more until thick again and reduce heat. The mixture burns quickly, so watch it carefully. 

Pour the mixture onto the refrigerated crust. At this point, the mixture may still be runnier than you expect, but it will continue to thicken once it cools. (And, as a side note, if it never thickens, it still tastes good... it is just sloppier to eat and has more of a pudding consistency.) 


Sprinkle cinnamon all over and then refrigerate until chilled. 




Enjoy! Or, as they say in Afrikaans... Lekker eet!




(Still craving more? I'm one of many bloggers on the Pyrex Collective III blog. Go here for my post on how I got that gorgeous Butterprint blue dish holding the Marie biscuits. You can also see more of my vintage refrigerator dish obsession here.)

January 23, 2013

Comfort Food = Mac & Cheese

I love pasta. I'm sure I would have made my grandmother's family proud. Somewhere out there is a distant Italian relative who just shouted 'hurrah' across the ocean.

I have always been a macaroni and cheese kind of gal -- of course as a child, it conveniently came out of a box, and was one of the first things I probably learned to 'make'. Most of my pasta still comes out of a box, but only the pasta itself, and not the packet of orange powder.

When the Sailor isn't home, I tend to eat far too much pasta. He doesn't eat it, nor do I ever expect him to. A friend's father in England often used to say, 'If God wanted me to eat pasta, I would have been born in Italy.' 

The Sailor tends to agree with that line of reasoning. 

So the only pasta dish that gets made when he's home is the occasional lasagna, or some sort of dough stuffed with either potatoes or meat -- a pierogie, for instance. Floating noodles (like in the case of Pennsylvania Dutch Pot Pie*) are also acceptable, perhaps once if not twice a year. 

With temperatures at -19 F this morning (seriously, Old Man Winter -- isn't that a little chilly, even for you?) I was craving comfort food. 

I also wanted any excuse to use this gorgeous 2.5 quart Butterfly Gold vintage Pyrex casserole dish I found last week, at an antique store with a friend (it's the one on the bottom. The top one is a 1.5 quart I found ages ago.)


I had been lamenting not nabbing this piece months ago at the Weekend Antique event I went to, but at $20, I couldn't really justify it. Plus, I already found the refrigerator dishes I wanted that day. Sometimes you need to space out the joy.
 
But last week, I had just put down several pieces of Butterfly Gold that I didn't really like or want (the divided casserole... a few bowls that I already had...) and then I spied this lovely beast in a corner, for only $4. 

That's right. FOUR dollars! It had a few burn marks on it -- and it came with a clear lid, not the white patterned lid like some of the casseroles did, but I couldn't have cared less. I wanted the actual dish! 


 Turns out 2.5 quarts is just the right size for this classic mac and cheese casserole. 

I based the recipe off of this one from Annie's Eats. After I threw the casserole in the oven, and double checked the cooking time, I realized that I somehow completely skipped an entire main ingredient. 

I didn't add any colby jack cheese. 

(Not only did I not add it, but I didn't make up for it with any other cheese. How sad is that?)

I also had about half the amount of panko bread crumbs the recipe called for in my cupboard, no parsley, and no chicken broth (how is this possible? I ALWAYS have chicken broth somewhere.) Fortunately, I happen to save the turkey juice from Christmas lunch, so I used that instead, along with a little bit of veggie broth to get it up to the required amount. I was pretty chuffed with myself, since I do like to use up what I already have in most cases.

And, I used almond milk instead of regular milk, and quite possibly more garlic -- this dish definitely had some heat.
 
In my world, classic macaroni and cheese pairs perfectly with stewed tomatoes. But I only had a handful of cherry tomatoes that I needed to use up, so I sliced them in half and tossed them on top of the casserole. 

Regardless of my kitchen mishap with both directions and ingredient lists, the dish was delightful edible. And I have more than enough leftovers for lunch until the Sailor gets home.


I think next time though, I'll definitely try to stick with the original recipe -- with one exception. I will most certainly keep the tomatoes in there.

* For my true opinion on Pennsylvania Dutch Pot Pie, click here.

January 22, 2013

New Yarn Rules

A new year means new yarn rules. 

I'm still digging my way through the stash, but because I did so well with using up a lot of it in 2012, I'm allowing myself to buy a little yarn here and there for 2013. 

The catch? I have to have a purpose for it. 

 
When I first began knitting and crocheting, I would buy yarn haphazardly, whenever I saw something I liked on sale (hence the giant 'stash'). I had no plans for it -- and often by the time I figured out that I needed one more ball to actually make something, the yarn was no longer on sale -- and sometimes no longer even available.


Now, I purchase with purpose. I have to actually have an idea in mind before I buy the yarn. So when I saw this Lion Brand Wool Ease Thick and Quick on sale, I knew I could quickly whip up a hat and cowl for a friend's belated birthday gift. 


I can't remember the last time I bought super chunky yarn, so it was great fun to be able to finish both items in an evening! Using fun, vintage needles from a thrift store made the task even more memorable.


Of course I had to try them both on for size, to make sure they would fit my friend. The hat pattern can be found here, and the cowl pattern here on Ravelry. The link takes you to Lion Brand's website, where the pattern is free, once you register. I grabbed a free hard copy of the pattern at Michael's. 

I even had enough leftovers from the two balls to make myself a cowl (only just though... I had inches to spare by the end!)

I'm thinking I may also need a matching knit hat, so the next time I'm in town, I'll have to see if that yarn is still on sale.   


January 20, 2013

Table Mountain: Framed

I sold a photography print this week. It's been a few months since I've done any photo shows, so it was a nice change of pace from what I have been working on. I love what digital photography has done for our world -- no more film rolls! However, after looking at photos on the screen for so long, it is a wonderful treat to see one actually printed out and framed. 
 
 
The lady who ordered the print had previously purchased a smaller photo of one of my shots of Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa. The last time we were there, the Sailor and I went for a late afternoon stroll, and I took my small Sony point and shoot camera with me.  The light was amazing and I took several shots of the mountain and the sea. 
 
This one was one of my favorites.




Further down the beach on that same walk, I took this shot of a lonely boy fishing. 




Some of my all time favorite photos have been with small cameras. I love my Nikon d80, but sometimes less is more. It's unlikely I would have carried that big camera on our walk. The Sony, on the other hand, fit right in my pocket. The result? Table Mountain, framed and ready to hang on the wall.

January 18, 2013

Morning Brew


I'm trying to make more of an effort to eat my meals at the table when I'm home. I find that when the Sailor is gone, I inhale my breakfast over the sink while waiting for my coffee to brew, lunch at my computer, and then dinner on the sofa.

Maybe it's the start of Downton Abbey again, and all of those dinner scenes, but I've been reminded to take my time when eating... and that meal times themselves can be a delightful event, even when dining alone. 

In any case, the first meal of the day always starts with a steaming cup of coffee (breakfast was already consumed and cleared from the table at this point...) 



January 15, 2013

Happy Feet

Last night I finally finished these socks. 


This was the Happy Feet yarn I bought in Idaho, during the yarn haul. It was also the yarn I left in my checked bag on the way home, so I didn't get to start on the socks until later. 

And then when I did start them after the first leg of the road trip, they turned out too big because I used the new needles I also bought on the yarn haul. (Yes, I know I should have checked my gauge, but who does that with a sock?!) Besides, I've made this same sock pattern multiple times with worsted weight yarn. This was my first time using actual sock yarn, but it was from the same pattern book as the other socks I made (Patons Next Steps Four: Socks and Slippers if you must know). I figured since those socks fit perfectly following their directions and needle recommendations, so would these.

Wrong. 

I have big feet, but these were floppy enough to put over a set of skis. The one on the left is the first one I made. I know it doesn't look much different than the other one, but I can assure you, it didn't fit properly. Socks should hug your feet, and fit snug enough to keep your toes under wraps. They shouldn't flop off of your feet while you walk. Then I made the one on the right, two sizes smaller and on smaller needles. They fit wonderfully.


So I ripped out the first sock. 


And I proceeded to reknit it. Then I joined the ladies from my knitting club on Sunday at a local cafe to knit a bit. One lady saw the sock I had finished (the one that did fit me, mind you) and asked if it was for the Sailor. I told her it was for me. Bigfoot. 

Mid-way through my coffee, I noticed I had messed up on the instep count -- and had to rip out half the sock. Again.

Last night, I was determined to finally finish them. The socks themselves may not have traveled far yet, but the yarn sure had. Now though, the socks have finally found their home -- on my feet -- my now happy feet. 


January 13, 2013

Kitchen Disasters

Awhile back, after posting about this lovely orange marmalade cake, and my holiday soirĂ©e, I promised a soon-coming post on kitchen disasters. Well, here it is. 

Meet my kitchen. 


Meet the magic that sometimes occurs even with limited counter space.
(What you see above is the counter. All of it. Seriously.) 




 Now meet even more kitchen chaos:


 Including the cake that simply fell apart when I tried to move it:


(For the record, that was supposed to be a chocolate peanut butter marble cake -- but I'm going to guess the original recipe didn't use natural peanut butter like I did, which is probably what should have kept it together.)  


Then there's the ganache that was far too gooey to roll into truffles: 





And oh so many more dishes that never get photographed...

The bottom line? For every wonderful creation I make in the kitchen, there is often a kitchen disaster story to tell. It might be a ruined dinner, a cake that somehow didn't bake properly, or something as silly as a dropped egg. (My mom used to say that eggs make the same sound no matter which floor they drop on... I have dropped enough eggs in several kitchens to know she speaks the truth.) Usually that dropped egg is the last one I have on hand and necessary for the recipe.

Thankfully, the Sailor doesn't mind a disaster every now and again -- as long as we have pizza delivery on speed dial, charcoal for the BBQ, or a Five Guys within driving distance, we'll be okay. He has also encouraged me on more than one occasion by reminding me 'that's how we learn...' 

I have definitely learned a thing or two.

Years ago, I paid too much money for a little black book on basic cooking. I thought I could use some help in the basic area of cooking some days -- most days in fact. 

Sure, I could do a lot of basic things. Growing up, I always prided myself on being able to boil an egg -- that often seemed to be the standard by which people judged someone's cooking ability: "So and so can't even boil an egg."

But I'd never poached an egg before, and my omelettes sometimes turned to scrambled eggs. Ironically, my egg timer supervised this sauce-of-something-or-other that turned whatever cake I made into a dish nobody should have to taste. So awful was the cake, I've completely blocked out the name of it. I couldn't tell you what was actually bubbling below except for that lonely cinammon stick.  


Like that cake, this basic book was a major disappointment. You see -- it was almost too gourmet to be 'basic'. They used words like 'chiffonade' and 'poivrade sauce'. It had recipes for lobster bisque and snail butter -- foods I never actually wanted to eat, let alone create from scratch.

When I wanted to make some simple scalloped potatoes, I searched high and low in this book for the recipe. I just wanted to know the cooking time and temperature. The book contained more than half a dozen potato recipes but nothing for scalloped spuds. (I eventually found the recipe in that old wartime cookbook...

Yet even though I keep wanting to just get rid of this book, something stops me every time I put it in the 'giveaway' pile. I think it's because I need to just try something 'basic' out of it -- even if I can't pronounce it -- even if it might be a flop.

Tonight, when I picked the book back up and flipped through it, I saw the instructions for how to poach an egg. 

I suddenly realized that after all of these years, I have still never tried to make poached eggs before. They are pretty basic, after all.

Perhaps it's time. I think my little kitchen can handle it -- as long as I don't drop the eggs on the floor first. 

If I master that, maybe I can work my way up to snail butter. I've discovered there are no snails actually in the butter -- just garlic, parsley and shallots.  

And when all else fails, I know I can still boil an egg. I can also make oatmeal like a champ. I'm also convinced that anything tastes better in Pyrex. Read more here at the Pyrex Collective III about my hunt for cereal bowls.  


January 11, 2013

Hope for Spring

Remember when I said the post-holiday winter months sometimes still need some extra sparkle?



Well apparently it's supposed to feel a little like spring here this weekend -- 
at least for a few minutes.



My sparkly snowman may already be obsolete.  

Not that I'm complaining. I could always use some extra sunshine in my life.

It's usually the favorite part of my day -- the moments when the sun streams through the windows, shadows dancing on the walls. Sometimes I'm so busy I don't even notice -- but lately I've tried to make more of an effort to stop whatever I'm doing and simply observe.


I like to think of these above-average temperature days as a little glimpse into the future. Spring may still be a long way off, but for a few fleeting moments, I can actually picture leaves on the barren trees.


Hope shining through.



 

January 8, 2013

Family Kitchen Mergers

Growing up without much money, my family got creative with how we entertained ourselves. As a child, I would page through my mom's old, dog-eared wartime cookbook whenever she used it, especially for baking. I loved the photos -- they transported me to another era with pictures of dinner parties, jello molds and decorative cookies.  


When I was old enough to understand the significance of this cookbook in my mother's life, I told her it was the one thing that I wanted her to leave me when she died. The book had been my grandmother's, passed on to my mom at a young age. 


Several years ago, my mom decided that I shouldn't have to wait until her funeral to have my own copy. She found another one online and presented it to me as my very own -- yet still promising me her heirloom edition one day.

I have several old cookbooks from yesteryear, but this one is by far my favorite and I use it frequently. Recipes may have changed over the years, but some things are still classic -- like Yorkshire Pudding. Now I have my own notes and bookmarks falling out of my copy. 

Nowadays, I also appreciate the back section of the book with wartime recipes on a budget.


Around the same time my mom gave me the book, I had recently returned from the Sailor's hometown. During my stay there, I made the Sailor's family a pie. I searched high and lo for a rolling pin -- frustrated that I didn't know where anything was in the kitchen. (Read more about that here.)

My mother-in-law saw my frustration and dug into the cabinet. She handed me what appeared to be a glass bottle. 

I looked at the lid on one end and then I looked at her.

She explained that it was for keeping pastry cold -- you load the rolling pin with ice-cubes and then it keeps the dough chilled while you work with it. 

This was ingenious! I had never seen such a thing before. I somewhat joked with her that she could leave it to me in the future. Sometime later, I realized I needed to acquire my own rolling pin, before I continued to covet the one in the South African cupboard.

Last week, I found myself in the throes of antique hunting in Tennessee. I have spied a few glass rolling pins over the year, but they were always out of my price range. This time, on my second trip through the store, I found one for only $8. It's missing the lid, but I'm sure the Sailor can find something for me that fits. Besides, once the ice-cubes are in there, they're  not really going to 'fall out'.


This week, I realized that I now own two kitchen items that are symbolically related to my mom and mother-in-law -- and I still get to ask them both cooking advice. A perfect family history and merger. The only question remains is which recipe from that cookbook am I going to try out first with my new rolling pin?

January 4, 2013

Granny Square Slippers

I love a good granny square. There is something so old-fashioned, pure, and lovely about the humble crocheted granny square.  

I also love a good pair of slippers. Nobody likes cold feet. 

Combined together? Crocheted awesomeness. 

I think granny squares sometimes get a bad rap, because we remember scratchy acrylic blankets our aunts or grandmothers made. Or maybe we once saw a friend wear a kitschy skirt or poncho... and we vowed to never wear granny squares in our own clothing.  

But really, granny squares are kind of hip -- and so versatile!  They can be big, small, on their own or joined together. 

Slippers however, need no defense, in my mind. Ever since my first summer in Ukraine during my college years, I have found any excuse to wear slippers. It is unheard of to enter a house there and simply keep your shoes on. Instead, it's much more common to leave your dirty shoes at the door, and then throw on a pair of slippers to slop around inside the house.

Of course, as a guest, I would be exempt from this rule on occasion, but I preferred to follow the custom. Often, my hosts would then scramble to find me a pair of slippers to wear as soon as they saw my feet.

Sometimes, this was to my detriment. I gave English lessons to a student at his home regularly one summer. In return for the lessons, the student's grandmother pumped food into me at a rapid pace -- and prior to feasting, she forced me into a hideous pair of maroon and grey slippers whenever I entered the house. 

I was used to being barefoot inside, especially in the summer. However, Babka didn’t back down. My feet were on fire throughout the meal and then the lesson. I returned to college with a roaring case of athlete’s foot -- and the slippers. When I left Ukraine, she insisted I take them with me. 


I kept them to be polite, but I soon found myself actually wearing them regularly. Those slippers lasted me for years -- they kept my feet warm through British winters and they made me smile whenever I remembered how I resisted wearing them at first. 

Now, I try to employ the slipper rule in my own home regularly. We are often falling over shoes on the way in or out the door, but at least they are all clumped together. (I also recently read somewhere that you are less likely to bring certain germs into your home this way -- things like pesticides, etc, stay on your shoes. Who wants to bring that into a home?!) 

My favorite granny square and slipper pattern at the moment is this one from Purl Soho's blog, The Purl Bee. You can also see more samples on Ravelry here.

I've lost count of the number of these I have made and given away as gifts... and I'm still making more. That alone proves to me that this is a pattern you really can't get tired of.



The best part? I can whip them up in a night or two, so they make a great last minute gift. And, I can easily pack them in a bag, making them very portable travel slippers.











The Ukrainian granny was right. Slippers are a necessity. 
And with such a fun and easy pattern, who can argue with that?