Friday, October 29, 2010

Bake Off "Participant"

There was a night two weeks ago when I decided I did not want to watch TV. Which was really weird, because it was Thursday night--only the BEST TV night of the whole week--and they were even doing that whole 30 Rock live show thing (which I found kind of uncomfortable to watch.) Instead, I decided I would bake.

I also, however, did not want to go to the store. So I made a sweet treat using whatever I could find in the house, which resulted in white cupcakes. But I was out of powdered sugar, so instead of a buttercream frosting, I had to make a "7-minute frosting," which is sort of like hot sugary meringue, but in a good way. I sprinkled these suckers with coconut and brought them to work, which made people happy. Apparently, they were good!

So then I got to thinking, you know what? I should enter our company's bake-off next week!!
I was feeling good. I was on a roll! I could just TELL that I was going to make something delicious. Like, "who knew Liana was such a good baker" delicious. I photocopied my recipe out of Alabama Studio Style--the chocolate tartlets recipe--and I marked it all up with my super fancy additions so that they would become souped up Mexican Chocolate Tartlets. Delicious, right? Add cinnamon here, a little orange zest there, some chopped almonds, a little coffee instead of water. Nom nom nom...

I had a lot going on. And things were going pretty well! But along the way, I started to remember some of my baking failures from the past. Just in the last year, there was the recipe that I tested for Baked Explorations--an orange pudding in which I failed to temper the egg yolks before adding to the double boiler. Have you ever strained scrambled eggs from an orange pudding? Well, I have. NOT YUMMY. That experiment resulted in, literally, filling the baked pie shell with flavored whipped cream and serving that for dessert. Before that, there was the chocolate cake that was delicious, but a tad too moist. When a "slice" was put on a plate, it couldn't hold its shape, and dinner guests couldn't help themselves from making poo innuendos. (And who could blame them??? I love my friends.) About a week after that was the failed jello. I put sliced kiwis in it, not knowing that the liquid would leach out and throw off the delicate chemistry that makes jello gel. So yes, I have even failed at jello.

My baking track record over the last year or so has been about 1 success in every 5. And as I stirred the chocolate for the tartlets, I realized I had just had my one success the previous week with the cupcakes...uh oh.
I shook off my doubts and kept baking. The tartlet shells were rustic, but cute. The meringue had character. The chocolate...little messy. But whatever, this was just an amateur bake off.

It wasn't till the morning that I realized meringue is never a good "make the night before" bake-off entrant. The meringue had sort of started to liquefy and settle into itself, beading up with sweat like, as Paula Deen would say, "a fat girl writing her first love letter." I knew I was in trouble. And then I got on the subway. Fifteen minutes of spooning-a-stranger-while-standing later, I was at work with a smooshed mess of sticky, melty, chocolatey tartlets with utterly harranged meringue. My desk at work looked like a surgeon's triage tent. Of the 22 tartlets I brought, ten made it to the plate. And then, when I brought my plate to the judge's table, I almost laughed out loud. The baked goods that my coworkers brought were SO amazing, SO professional looking, and SO delicious. Not to mention, people actually brought in their own fancy plates and trays from home to present their goodies. I had no idea! My tartlets were perched on two paper plates, one labeled "with nuts;" the other said "without (I hope)." At that moment, I awarded myself a "participant" medal and walked away.

Needless to say, I did not win. Ivy, our lovely managing editor, won with some scarily professional looking peanut butter cake thing from Martha. She even wrote about it at the STC Cooks Blog! And dear Dervla was runner-up with her yummy Mississippi Mud Pie. (You'll get 'em next year, Dervla!! I believe in you!) And me? In addition to my self-proclaimed award of "participant," I also learned a little something about myself: Baking is not my forte. And I am totally okay with that.

Back to the sewing and knitting for me...!

Monday, October 25, 2010

HeyAllday Handmade

So I've been up to something. My biggest craft project yet! I've started a business. On Etsy. Selling handmade bags. Yay!!!!!!

The idea to start HeyAllday Handmade came from a mixture of two things: 1) a handful of requests from people who have seen my bags and wanted to buy them, and 2) something that feels like a childhood yearning to build a lemonade stand. About a month or so ago, I decided to finally go for it. I was in the elevator with two coworkers, both of whom had those nifty nylon shopping bags that stuff down into a little attached nylon pouch. We all had these bags at one time, given to us as a promo from a paper supplier, but since I'd lost mine soon after receiving it, I had made one for myself using a vintage '70s kaleidoscopic print in orange, yellow, and cream. I pulled this bag out of my purse to show the girls in the elevator, and they gave me such a positive response that I went home and decided I'd start making them to sell. So here I am, presenting to you my first batch of HeyAllday Handmade reusable grocery bags.

Why make reusable grocery bags? Well, I've always been a bit stumped on what I can do to save (or at the very least not further ruin) the planet. Sometime in the last decade I decided that if I were to do one thing to help the planet, it would be to stop using plastic bags. Over the years, I've almost completely eradicated them from my life. But you have to train yourself to do this--you've got to remember to bring that bag with you. This is why the stuff bag design is key!!

A tiny little 3" x 4" pouch is sewn inside of the larger bag. So when you're not using it, you stuff the big bag into the pouch, and voila!...

...You have a little pouch that you can drop into your purse or backpack or man-bag or what have you. (OK, I've gotta work on getting more masculine fabrics. The bags shown below are the current palette.)

For a fabulous demo on how to stuff the bag into the tinier bag, watch this video. Julie is a very good stuffer! She successfully stuffs the bag in just 13 seconds.

video

Julie also made a fabulous model and co-stylist for our little photo shoot. After all, who has cooler clothes (and more importantly, cooler shoes) than Julie??


I also participated in the photo shoot and did things like wear funny hats.

So that's the scoop people. It's been a lot of work putting all of this together, but I'm loving every second of it. It's so fun to see a little collection blossom before my eyes and I can't wait to fill up my store with all sorts of things--not just bags. Maybe funny hats? We shall see!

Here's the url to my shop: http://www.etsy.com/shop/heyallday

I of course hope you fall in love with one of these bags and simply have to snatch it up for yourself. And if you see something you think a friend or loved one would like, feel free to pass along the link (or just buy it for them. Right?) These bags literally make great stocking stuffers and are the perfect gift since you can fill them with things and the bag becomes the wrapping paper. For example, my friend Nicole had to go on a business trip during her birthday last year, so I made her a bag and stuffed it with People Magazine, gummy bears, and many tiny bottles of tequila. A little handmade + a little gossip mag + a little booze = good gift, right? (Obviously, you can use your imagination to tailor the gift to its recipient.)

That's it for now, folks. So happy to finally share this with all of you!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Failures and New Beginnings

I know, I know, it's a very dramatic blog post title. FAILURES! But also, new beginnings. I think I'm incapable of ever being too negative. In fact, in most incidents of failure I manage to see a bright side within 36 hours. Not too shabby.

The past few days have been rough. I won't go into it. (And don't worry, no one's sick, dying, bankrupt, or going to jail.) It's just been a series of small disappointments that, when considered cumulatively, result in an involuntary need to sigh. Let's use the blue hat as a metaphor. This hat shown above...it was supposed to be a beret. It's kind of crazy to work on a hat for half a year imagining that you are making a beret only to discover that you have actually been knitting a beanie. The thing is, it's still quite a handsome hat, but I'll always look at it and wonder how I could have been knitting at the wrong gauge for so long and only realized it at the very end.

Like most things that don't wind up working out in my life, I make a pom-pom (metaphorically in most cases, but in this hat literally) and sew it to the top. Why not make our failures whimsical? If we can't laugh at it, then I don't know why we're doing it.

Another thing I know about myself: when something doesn't work out, I throw a good old-fashioned tantrum, and then I almost immediately get back on the horse and try again. I finished the blue beanie on Sunday, and then last night I started winding a skein of Classic Elite Fresco. Soft and forgiving, it felt like an old friend as I draped it over my knees and fed it through the ball binder. I opened up More Last-Minute Knitted Gifts and turned to the knitted beret presented there, which Joelle tells us will take 6-8 hours to make. It is blissfully done in rounds and rounds of mindless stockinette stitch, so I can have time to ruminate life's disappointments, dream about tenacity, or watch competitive cooking shows on TV. Or all three. I always forget that knitting is therapeutic that way.

Especially when you're working with something as fuzzy as wool, alpaca, and angora.

I also went to the Sheep and Wool festival in Rhinebeck on Sunday! It was a long day, but SO great to stand alongside our authors, Kristy McGowan, Joelle Hoverson, and Bruce Weinstein, and chat with customers about our books. Kristy, the author of Modern Top-Down Knitting, was especially fun to watch--as a first-time author, you could see the wonder on her face as people stood before her and gushed over her designs. And really, wouldn't it be an amazing thing to see your creation leap out of your living room and into the hands of thousands of people? You can hardly find it surprising to see so much light in her eyes.

Though a day of yarn and border collies herding sheep and ducks should have been enough, my favorite part was the train. Amtrak runs along the Hudson river, and on a cool, bright day, I was lucky enough to be on it first thing in the morning and as the sun was going down. So I leave you with some snaps because I, for one, love blurry shots from moving vehicles. Hope you do too.







Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Preservation

For many people, October may seem a little late in the year to just start thinking of preservation. I believe August, or even September--when foods from the garden are wildly abundant--are the times of year when most people think to preserve their foods. But in our household, we tend to be too busy eating everything in sight to actually look ahead and preserve the fruits (literally) of our labors. And so October winds up being the month when we say, oh crap, we forgot to save ANY of this for later. We also recall that we forgot to give any to our neighbors (oops!) as we were too busy eating whole tomatoes as hand-fruit like complete gluttons.

The first sign that it was time to start thinking of preservation was when Robb pulled 84 (yes EIGHTY-FOUR) hot peppers out of the pepper patch. He'd kind of just been letting them hang on, turning nice and red, so that they'd be ready any time we found ourselves in a taco mood. I don't think either of us realized how many were out there. Eeeps! This photo of Robb, where the hot peppers are literally spread out as wide as his wing-span, is possibly his proudest/happiest moment.

Robb put each variety in its own ziploc bag and threw them in the freezer. We did this last year with a handful of Thai Dragon peppers and it worked just fine. They defrost in minutes, don't get mushy, and stay nice and spicy. Is it ironic that something hot survives well in the cold? Perhaps.

Canning tomatoes, on the other hand, is a little more complicated than throwing hot peppers in a freezer bag. But still a worthwhile endeavor! This year, by the time it occured to us that we should can tomatoes, we had literally run out of them. (Gluttons!) Actually, we had enough for about one quart jar, but who wants to can one jar of tomatoes? So on a very industrious Saturday morning, we made our way to the farmers market and loaded up on the end of the year's crop. You can tell by their "glistening" that they're about to turn the corner to rot-town. Gross!

Because we also decided to do laundry, clean the house, watch Law and Order and I don't know what else (it was a really busy day), we didn't actually have time to can the tomatoes the day we bought them. But the glistening signs of rotten tomatoes were freaking me out, so I flash boiled all of them and peeled their skins, putting them safely away in tupperware until we had more time to can.

The following night, I got out all of our canning equipment. Even my fancy totally impractical porcelain measuring spoons from Anthropologie! Within a couple of hours, we had five lovely jars of tomatoes.

Two of the quart jars were from "someone else's garden." Whose garden? I don't know. But look at my handiwork with the pinking sheers on my homemade stickers!

One was from our garden (yay!). And one quart (plus whatever is a size smaller than a quart...a pint?) were the "fancy pants heirlooms" that we got at farmer's market for $4 a pound. We literally paid $15 for three tomatoes! So dumb. But rest assured, these are the fanciest pants canned tomatoes you ever did see. I feel like I want to put them in a museum, not make them into spaghetti.

These are the tomatoes with my mocassins. Just cuz.

OK, and one last thing. Miracle of all miracles, we have carrots!! We planted the seeds in March and have been pulling these puppies out of the ground since July, laughing hysterically at their impossibly puny size. The other night, Robb decided to start digging. Lo and behold, he pulled a few freaky-looking huge carrots out of the ground! This one even had two legs, like a little carrot man.

(No Carrot Top jokes please.)

Monday, October 4, 2010

Micro and Macro Knits

I'll admit it. Sometimes it takes me a really long time to knit something. And then, when I'm nearly done with the project, I decide that I'm going to make something else. Right on the cusp of victory! And then I finish that something else WAY quicker than the original thing I started. Which results in me feeling like kind of a jerk for not sticking to my first project and seeing it through to the end. Also, I usually can't remember which row I left off on.

Such are the dilemmas of a knitter.

Like having dessert before dinner, sometimes we like to do things a little out of order. Mix it up, you know? In the case of knitting, for me anyway, this philosophy usually applies to gauge: sometimes I just get a hankering to knit something on really big needles with big fluffy wool and knock it out in an evening. And sometimes I get the urge to knit on toothpicks and do intricate stitchwork. the two are totally different yet very satisfying experiences. And in the case of the two hats shown here, that's precisely what happened. I've been working on the hat on the right since April. The other I started and finished last Wednesday on a whim.

The thing is, a project with a complex stitch pattern like the Cabled Beret from Knitting 24/7 requires an ounce of solitude and a calm mind. You can't watch a TV show that you particularly like while making this hat for fear of actually watching the show, and if you're hanging out with a friend, you'll probably make a lousy conversationalist when you get to that cable row. But the end result is rippling and delightfully textured, and you almost can't believe the fabric sprung from your very own hands.

The hat knit on US 15s in stockinette stitch? I made it in a bar. Talk about your low-levels of focus. And gosh, do I love a good unfussy hat.

So the complicated hat remains unfinished for now. I'm decreasing for the crown! Nearly there! But I had these pretty flowers on hand so I thought I'd give the hat a little photo shoot anyway and ponder the micro and the macro mindsets of knitting.

I also had this dinosaur kicking around and thought he looked kind of nice with the hats, too. Like he's crawling across some sort of alien terrain where the ground is made of wooly knits.

Think about it. It could totally happen.

And yes, this is what I do when I'm alone. Take photos of my knitting with dinosaur toys. Everyone's gotta have a hobby, right?