comfort and simple food

December 8, 2009

I have a really fond memory of cooking in my friend Lucy’s kitchen during college. We had a mini summer cafe  for a little while and would cook lunch once a week from mostly local foods. When I got over to her house on one of these days, she was cooking up a pot of sauerkraut. It smelled delightful, and I asked her what it was. She replied that it was sauerkraut, and that I wouldn’t want to eat it because there was bratwurst in there as well. I sadly agreed, and we went about our lunch prep.

Although I didn’t try the sauerkraut dish, I did quiz her about the recipe, which was from her grandmother. It was a classic recipe containing bratwurst, sauerkraut, apples, and onions.

Now, you either love sauerkraut or you hate it. I (in case you haven’t noticed) love it. Pretty much any way. Out of the jar, with potatoes, out of the jar, on pizza, etc. When my dad served some veggie bratwurst last week with some of the sauerkraut that I had given him, I remembered back to the recipe, and decided to give it a vegetarian try. First I browned the bratwurst in a little oil in my skillet and set it aside. Then I chopped up some onions, cooked them in a little oil, and added some diced granny smith apple. I have a vague memory of Lucy using a granny smith, but I am not exactly sure. When the apples and onions were slightly golden, I added the sauerkraut (well drained), some “winter broth” (optional), a little water, and the bratwurst, then turned the burner to low, covered the whole thing and simmered it for a while. When it was finished, I cooled it and YUM! What a delicious, simple, hearty meal for a snow storm (ok the snow is tomorrow, but I can pretend!). Now I just want to curl up into a ball and go to sleep.

This was my mom’s idea. (And borrowed from an adorable product that we are carrying in the store.) A mouse in a match box. An “easy” way to do the whole ginger bread thing. We made a mistake a few years ago and spent hours and hours on our gingerbread house, and after that decided that we either wouldn’t do one, or plan something simple. For those who don’t know, the first Friday of every month in our town we have an art walk. Somewhere along the line the December art walk (they all have themes) got the theme of ginger bread houses. Now in December every store, restaurant, gallery, etc., has one or more ginger bread houses displayed prominently in the windows. Ours isn’t quite a house, but in my mind sleeping quarters count too.

I kept thinking that I would start the gingerbread experimenting long before the December 5th deadline, but of course I ended up Tuesday afternoon with a batch of chilled dough that behaved like a rock.

I could barely cut it with a knife, and had to toss it out. (For the record, I didn’t do the best job of following the recipe, and heated the butter, sugar, and molasses up too hot. I think!)

Tuesday night I made what was the first of many trips to Hy-Vee for a new jar of molasses. Batch two, on Wednesday worked out much better. I was still afraid of chilling the dough so I just rolled it out warmish, and cooled the pices on a cookie sheet on the porch before baking since it has turned bitterly cold here. I made the design for all the pieces on stiff paper, and then placed the paper directly on the cookie dough, on a cutting board, or directly on the cookie sheet, and cut out the shapes. It is harder to keep the shapes exact when the dough is warm, but I managed ok.

I made a lot of bricks, some logs, a few stockings for the mantle, and the box and fireplace this way. I had a few pieces break as I was removing them from the cookie sheet, but other than that, no major disasters. I kept on changing things around, and needing to bake extra parts. I had a ziplock bag  full of left over dough saved for such emergencies, I would turn on the oven, roll out the part, bake it, and go on to the next part.

Cleaning the flour off of the baked sheets of gingerbread. My vegetable brush worked out to be the best tool for this.

Thursday morning, after another trip to Hy-Vee, this time for junky powdered sugar and egg white powder, I assembled the pieces and stuck them together with royal icing. Royal icing is the best icing for this kind of thing. It is made of sugar, egg whites, and water. It tastes kind of gross, but when it is dry it holds like a ROCK. (When I was in 2nd grade we had a gingerbread house party for my birthday and the person who was in charge of the icing used some other recipe, and we had a night of houses falling all over the place!)

One more trip to Hy-Vee (you would think that I could have made a list and picked up all the ingredients at once…) for marshmallows, and the pillows and quilt were under way. I wanted to make the bedding out of something soft, and marshmallows came to mind. Even though you can’t really see them in the finished product, they create the right shape and feel of cozy bedding. The red candies are really yummy peppermint pillows from the store. They made the perfect topping for a downy satiny quilt.

My mom came over to sculpt the little mouse. I made an attempt, and called her directly to finish it off. She molded the head out of marzipan, and the body is just a padding of marshmallows under the quilt (the old pillow technique). The mouse was finished in stages. First he was placed in bed to check his positioning.

Then he needed a little color. His nose and ears were a little too much marzipan colored. In came my mom with the pink frosting.

We decided at the end of mouse production that we needed to have him wearing a red sleeping cap and red pajamas. We molded the parts with marzipan, and carefully painted them with red icing. We inserted the red shoulders into the box using my size 0 knitting needles. Tricky tricky work. If we got even one drop of red dye on the white pillow we were sunk.

(I can’t decide if I like the peppercorn eyes or the shredded wheat whiskers better here!)

On to the fireplace. I wanted to give it a more “authentic” feel, so I made it three dimensional, and ended up having to brick the inside arch. That was tricky! The hearth ended up working out well.

I made a piece of gingerbread for underneath the bricks, and then glued them all on with the royal icing. The fire was lit up from underneath with a christmas light. I ended up painting some of the logs red later on down the line.

We were a little worried about transportation to the store. My mom brought over a large wooden tray, and we placed each part in a bed of tea towels. The pieces were snugly set in, and the trip was successful. My mom drove, and I held the setup on my lap.

Kathy did an amazing job decorating the tree, and it looked so beautiful in the window! Little mousie got a corner under the tree, and enjoyed the festive atmosphere!

a mini study in stripes

December 4, 2009

I have really gotten into stripes this fall, particularly when applied to socks. I love to see how colors change when they are stuck boldly next to other colors. Right now I am working on a series of socks, or “Christmas Stockings for the Miser.” They are the perfect size to hold an orange or a hard boiled egg, and a sprig of holly…

I might put them up in my cabin for my house guests this holiday season. (Makes you want to visit me doesn’t it…?)

I have found knitting socks to be a great way to test out new patterns. I am currently using socks as a swatch to test the results of color and stripe width mixing. I started off simply, making a red and white striped sock with 8 rows of red, 8 rows of white. Now I am moving onto a dark green and light green sock, making each stripe 6 rows wide. My plan is to make a vairiety of socks, each unique, with different variations on the color themes. I have several balls of red yarn, some greens, and white to work with currently. Maybe I need to throw some non-traditional holiday colors in there for fun, but haven’t gotten that far yet. I also have two balls of sport weight yarn. A red one, and a green one, that when striped could make an exceedingly cute or tacky (depending on how  you see it) pair of socks. I have a thought in my mind of  a ruffle trim. We will see how much of this project I finish before Christmas (the goal date, so that I have something to hang on my banister, or give my guests to wear on their feet…)

Note on the yarn: the sport weight yarn I am using is Koigu Kersti, and the sock weight yarn is Jawoll, which I am having SO much fun knitting with lately. (The same yarn as the baby booties, which I did somehow manage to finish!)


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