Sometimes I need to remind myself that I can indeed bake a cake. I bake cakes so rarely, that when I see something that looks interesting, and I have the inclination, I just need to do it! This afternoon, while browsing, I found a recipe for Chocolate Guinness Cake. Being the lovely beer drinking holiday that it is tomorrow, I decided to make this one…

Then I went through all the formalities. Made a list (left it at home by accident), called my brother to look up the recipe online and advise as to the type of beer recommended (while wandering aimlessly through the wine and spirits section of Drugtown), bought the rest of the ingredients from memory, went home, and baked the cake.

I love the satisfaction of following a thought from start to finish so quickly. (It wasn’t a particularly daunting task, but completed all the same.)

I don’t think that I have ever tried beer in baking. Sometimes my mom cooks with beer (most famously, welsh rarebit), but I can’t remember her baking anything either.

This particular recipe, by Nigella Lawson, calls for called for Guinness, and so I went to Drugtown and purchased a 6 pack (taking care to get the “real” stuff imported from Ireland), for which I only needed one cup…

The beer is heated in a large saucepan with the butter, and it created in my kitchen a deliciously tasty aroma of beer and butter…sounds kind of gross, but it wasn’t . I have never mixed a cake in a saucepan, and was a little worried that I might cook the eggs and sour cream mix (being incorporated below). I didn’t though, and everything went smoothly, and I got the batter into the springform pan and into the oven.

I broke down and drank the left over bit of beer (breaking my no drinking while operating hot ovens rule..). There was only a little left, and it tasted particularly delicious paired with the left over batter!

The frosting is a cream cheese, cream, and sugar frosting. It is layered onto the top to mimic the frost on the top of a pint of Guinness. The cake isn’t too sweet, and the tartness of the cream cheese goes well with the rich chocolate flavor of the cake.

I took the cake into to work in my pie carrier basket, which is the perfect size to carry pies and cakes around. As the day went on, the cake gradually diminished in size, and when I took the basket home, there was one piece left for my mom…thanks to everyone that helped in eating!

I had two tiny balls of qiviut, from the arctic muskox. Delicate, fuzzy brown, and very special. My mom gave them to me for my birthday about 4 years ago, and I have been saving them in a little bag in my top drawer for the right project. A few weeks ago I found the perfect project. A stork’s nest lace pattern, in a new Piecework compilation magazine.

I began the scarf (a little wider than the pattern instructed) and loved knitting it! Every few rows I would look at what I had done, pet it, and then continue on. I find that lace is particularly magical to knit. I love to watch as the pattern develops, and the yarn overs and decreases come together.

If I were a stork, I think that I would have been particularly happy to make my nest out of this scarf. Or at least line my nest with it. After I weave in the ends I am going to sprinkle the scraps from the scarf in my yard so that little birds, building little nests will have some extra soft fuzz to add to their nests. (And I might even get around to blocking the scarf too…)

johnny cake

March 11, 2010

I am a sucker for packaging. Especially when the box has a recipe on it that I would like to try. And that is how I ended up with a box of Kenyon’s Stone Ground White Corn Meal; complete with recipe for Johnny Cakes.

It is a simple recipe. Add boiling water to corn, salt and sugar. Make a thick dough, and fry in oil (6 minutes the first side, 5 minutes the second!).

And the finished result? Crispy on the outside, gooey on the inside. A little like “clumps,” or fried leftover cream of wheat (a childhood favorite), but maybe not as good. I think that I need to work on the recipe a little more. Or at least on the frying process. It says that you can thin out the batter with milk or water, and this might make a more manageable batter to work with.

I ate my stack of Johnny Cakes with Heli’s apricot jam and a little cup of coffee. I used about 1/3 of the jar on my little stack of cakes…

Now my belly is full, and I am ready to clean house, aided by sunshine and “balmy” fresh air!

a sock (that fits)

March 11, 2010

I love the process of knitting, trying on, knitting, trying on, to make the finished garment exactly to my size! It is nice to work with a pattern that allows for fit! Cat Bordhi’s new book, Personal Footprints, explains how to work just this way.

I started my first sock yesterday, and it was quite fun. I had to make a cardboard cutout of my foot (I did) and mark it with special lines for increasing and decreasing (I sort of did…). The cardboard foot is supposed to be the footprint that you use for making socks that fit! And the procedure is rather engaging. The sock is knit “toe up.” The toe is knit, there are increases for the instep, and then the heel is knit and closed off, mirroring the toe. Kind of fun.

The result is an elongated egg shape that has no holes. The ankle and leg stitches are then picked up and knit, with an easy snip of thread.

With a bit of measuring (on the first sock anyway) the whole thing works out rather well. The process might take some getting used to. My finished sock looked kind of funny, but when I put it on my foot, it gripped in all the right places, and the spiral increases/decreases at the toe and heel are really pretty! The hand painted yarn (Koigu KPPPM, knit on size 1.5 needles) is all over the place with the different shaping techniques, and I really like the effect.

frozen pizza

March 7, 2010

Part one.

I love frozen pizza. It is one of the few things that I actually like from the freezer. Something happens to the pizza when it is frozen to make it taste, well, like frozen pizza. And then there is the convenience. Go to the store, pick up a pizza, take it home and bake it. Or more simply, open freezer, grab pizza, unwrap, bake.

In theory anyway. I am not the type to have frozen pizzas on hand. If I have them, I eat them, so if I want one, it requires a trip to the store…usually Hy-Vee, usually late at night.

And part two…

A few nights ago I made some pizza from scratch. It was good, but I forgot (since the last time that I made it) that my recipe makes too much dough for my pizza pan. I ended up, again, with a slightly ruffled pizza that had way too much dough on the edges. I wanted to make some pizza, figure out the best size, so that I have it all figured out for the next time I make pizza. The problem is that I don’t really feel like eating more pizza.

So, perfect time for me to make frozen pizzas. Then, some cold lonely night, I can creep down to the basement, open up the freezer door, and pull out a home-made frozen pizza. No more trips to Hy-Vee! (Oh, the things that make my world go around…)

I made a batch of pizza dough, kneaded it until the dough was the consistency of an earlobe (as per directions..). Then let it rise, and shaped it into 3 pizzas. Large enough for one meal (plus leftovers for the next morning). I love to have cold pizza with lime pickle!

The pizzas are simple; tomato sauce, cheese, and a little bit of dried oregano sprinkled over the top. I can always add extra cheese, or toppings before baking.

I cut out some cardboard circles, wrapped them in plastic bags, and put the pizzas on them to freeze. I wanted to make sure that the pizzas froze flat, and then in the morning I will give each pizza its own ziplock bag for extra fresh, airtight storage.

baa baa baa

March 4, 2010

When I was 8, my mom gave me a knit your own lamb kit. I remember carefully knitting the lamb, and painstakingly sewing the seams. It was quite an ordeal. I loved my lamb, and played with it for many years. I don’t know where it is anymore…somewhere in a box in storage I guess.

A few months ago, I came across the original pattern.  I wanted to make a new lamb, so I got started and knit to the end of the pattern, which ended up only giving me piece #1. It turns out that piece #1 is the body…no head. And that was it for the pattern. I realized that I must be missing page number 2…

Below is piece #1, with the addition of the head (stitches picked up and knit around the neck)…

I wanted to make a lamb in the style of the original, so I put the lamb piece #1 down and took to the internet. With no luck. I found one random posting for a kit being sold from 2001, and that was it. I called all friends that might have had the pattern, which was written in 1988. No luck there either. Then a few weeks ago, I was looking in a notebook full of recipes and other notes, and page number 2 fell out!

So I set to making lambs.

Attaching the top of the head to the chin.

Stuffing the legs by pushing wool batting to the tips with a thin pen.

Sewing up head and neck. The process of actually knitting these lambs is quite quick and easy. The time is spent in assembling the parts and sewing them all together.

Here is a lamb sewn up minus ears and tails…

…they look rather funny! Ears and tails are attached by threading a double length of wool through a stitch or two on the head and rump.

The yarn is then crocheted for a few chains, and the loops are reattached to the body, forming a little bubble for ears and tail! I was talking with my friend Jeanne, who used to raise sheep and lambs, and she said that the tails of lambs are actually rather long and floppy, but we agreed that the loopy tail looks quite sweet.

We have a beautiful undyed yarn from Rowan (Rowan Sheep Breeds) in our store,  and the variations in color and texture come from the different breeds of sheep. I have knit several sweaters out of this yarn, and just love it! I wanted to make a little field of lambs, to show some of the different colors of yarn for the store window.

Kathy made a beautiful wooden box, which we lined with plastic, and filled with pea gravel and potting soil. We sprinkled the soil with grass and clover seed (and a few poppy seeds!) and covered the top with straw. I am hoping that the grass will poke up soon through the straw field, so the lambs have something to frolic in and graze on!


March 2, 2010

I saved baby bok choi from my CSA share for a week and a half to have enough for this recipe (it requires for about 4 baby bok chois). Kimuchi is a Japanese style kimchi, that I found in my usual canning book, Joy of Pickling. The recipe is normally made with napa cabbage, but Joy of Pickling suggests that you can use other types of cabbage as well. Since we reliably get bok choi in our CSA, I decided to try it instead.

The cabbage is sliced into sections, ready to be salted…

…and pressed overnight.

Salting draws out the moisture in the cabbage, and works as a preservative. The salted cabbage ends up looking quite shriveled.

I chopped the salted bok choi  into 1″ squares, and added slivered carrots, grated apple, and the usuals: ginger, garlic, green onions, salt, and hot pepper. I used a little less hot pepper, to experiment and see what happens.

The kimuchi now has to sit, loosely covered, for a few days before it is ready. My last batch has been living in my fridge now for about a month, and it seems to get better with time. The flavors aren’t quite as sharp…

group ski

March 1, 2010

One of the benefits of living in Iowa in the winter is cross-country skiing. Especially when the snow doesn’t seem to ever go away. It is one of the best ways to get outside, enjoy the weather, and stay warm, toasty warm! Some friends organized a group ski a few days ago, and it was a great opportunity to have fun with friends, enjoy the beautiful sunshine, and get some exercise.

And eat treats and drink tea and cocoa of course!

Up the hill after break. I have two favorite things about going up hills. The first is knowing that I will get to zoom down an equal amount of hill some time in the relatively near future. The second is the Groucho Marx uphill shuffle. Lots of little bouncy sort of steps to keep going, and keep the traction on the bottom of the skis.

And the silo set against the beautiful blue sky, reminders that the group ski is indeed in Iowa. It is a little later in the afternoon, so the shadows are growing a little longer on the snow…

One of the highlights of the skiing trip was a taste of a maple icicle. I have never thought or heard of such a thing, but as we were skiing a long, my friend Sam noticed a rather large icicle hanging off of a maple tree. He tried it, and it was indeed maple syrup flavored. YUM! It makes me want to try to tap some maple trees in the next month…