Sunday, November 5, 2017

Let's Talk About Cake

My go-to conversation starter when I need to occupy a young child is, "Let's talk about cake." Whatever differences there may be between me and 3 year old (and there are many), we can at least agree on this much: Cake Is Awesome. It is amazing in so many different ways and flavors and there is always so much to discuss. Favorite color of cake? Favorite flavor of cake? Favorite size of cake? (ALWAYS big) Should there be layers of cake? Should the frosting and the cake be the same, or different? What are the best flavor combinations?

Today, let's talk about cake. Let's talk about Victoria sponge cake. Let's talk about Vic sponge with ganache (guh-NOSH) frosting. Let's talk about Vic sponge with ganache frosting in the shape of a HEDGEHOG, which may now be my very favorite shape of cake ever.



I made this cake and it was adorable and tasted wonderful and none of that was my doing because I was just following recipes, so let me give you the recipes so that you can do it too.

This video showed me how to make the 3-D shape, which is super simple. I couldn't find any appropriate candies for the spikes, so I just did the textured effect with a fork, which worked fine. I did the eyes and nose with a bit of melted white chocolate in a Ziploc bag with the tip cut off.

The cake is Mary Berry's Victoria sponge cake, but that recipe has the measurements by weight, which can be troublesome, so here it is in "American."

1 cup butter, softened
4 eggs
2 cups self-rising flour
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder

Preheat oven to 350. Line 2 round cake pans with foil or parchment paper. Spray with cooking spray/oil. Mix all the ingredients together and divide between the two cake pans, smoothing the tops so that they are flat. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool before lifting out of the pan and peeling off the foil or paper.

The ganache recipe was actually a combo of this one and that one, so let me tell you what I did.

2 cups heavy cream
24 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
24 oz milk chocolate chips

Heat cream until hot but not boiling. Stir in chocolate chips until chocolatey and smooth and wonderful. (Right up until it looks amazing, mixture will look manky and weird and worriesome. If it's looking chocolatey but still has lumps, your cream may have gotten a little too cool to melt the chocolate enough. Heat it a little more and keep stirring.) Put in the fridge until cool. Using a mixer, whip for 3 minutes.

This was exactly enough ganache frosting to frost this cake, however due to an error it has LOADS of frosting. When I was shaping the hedgehog I didn't carve the back of it to be rounded, so I just added ganache to make it the shape I wanted when I got to that point. Which is a completely valid solution, but this cake already had a very thick layer of frosting in order to get the textured effect, so the pieces in the back had a truly breathtaking amount of ganache. Maybe 2 and a half inches of frosting, on a 3 layers tall piece of cake. It was something like eating a triple portion of chocolate fudge with a side of cake.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Ahem.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Knitting Through the Year - October

It is ironic that this month, I finished the month's knitting project very early, yet am posting it very late. It was finished on the 7th, because the young gentleman it was knit for was turning two, but having finished and even having taken pictures of the project, I delayed and procrastinated and put off. Due to the magic of scheduled posting, the internet will record this post in October, but the faithful reader will know that it did not appear until almost a week later. Ah well. There are worse things than procrastination, and I would much rather procrastinate on the reporting of knitting than the knitting itself.

So, then, to the report. The October project is an "open collared pullover," more commonly known as a polo shirt. It is a classic design and deceptively simple in its appearance, for EZ warns on a few occasions that one must keep one's wits about one when knitting this sweater. And that even if one does not understand immediately, if one blindly follows the directions, all will become clear.


In describing the edging of the front, which combines a garter stitch edge with an i-cord edge, she writes:

"This is a mind-boggling operation, hard to describe, but, I hope, easy to follow blindly until you get the hang of it. You will be performing it right up to the the neckline, so get the hang of it you must, and fast, because the shoulder shaping is now going to start." - Elizabeth Zimmerman, Knitter's Almanac 

(One of my favorite things about Elizabeth Zimmerman is that she writes of knitting as if she is narrating a baseball game. The knitting experience is rife with urgency, curve balls, and opportunities for valor, and EZ makes you feel every moment of drama.)

Although this is one of the more complicated patterns in the almanac, the pattern is clear and easy to follow. The garter stitch/i-cord edging is an elegant solution. Garter stitch naturally lies flat and is typically viewed as rather informal. Stockinette, which is what i-cord is essentially made of, is smooth and looks polished, but the edge are terribly inclined to curl. This combination unites the best features of both. EZ gives instructions for both vertical border, which is knit along side the body stitches, knitting back and forth, and a horizontal border, which is knit perpendicularly to the sleeve stitches.



The young gentleman's birthday was lovely. It was a brunch (All birthday parties should be brunches, I think. Breakfast food is nearly universally popular, and particularly when it is a party of young children, everyone is fresher and in a better mood in the morning than the afternoon) with cake afterwards. The boy's mother's family has a tradition of decorating the cake with a present, and I think the result is charming.


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Knitting Through the Year - September (Free Pattern!)

September is the logical beginning of the year. Summer heat is nearly past, the weather begins to brisken up, schools open their doors to siphon our beloved young out of the house for longer or shorter periods, adult activity begins to stir, and Mother forms good resolutions and makes lists. 
Top your list with a resolution to initiate all children, M and F, into the mysteries and fascinations of knitting - Elizabeth Zimmermann, Knitter's Almanac 

EZ gives very good suggestions for your child's first knitting project (a garter-stitch potholder) and then suggests that while your young knitter is working away that you knit him or her a pair of "longies" as a reward. These can be fitted to be as tight as leggings, or they can be looser, like lounge pants. Either way, they will be deliciously warm. They are knit in the round, which EZ considers a crucial point for both comfort and durability. Seams "pop inconveniently, especially in a garment which has to have feet constantly thrust into it."


That face!

These leggings were designed to fit my daughter, who is 43" tall and wears a size 5. Her waist measurement is 21.5" and it is 25" from the floor to her belly button. She is long-waisted and slender. If those descriptors don't match the child you wish to knit leggings for, get out your calculator and and measuring tape and figure out the size difference between my child's measurements and yours, and then add or subtract stitches or rows from my pattern to get a custom fit. Or, of course, you could buy Knitter's Almanac, where EZ gives a full explanation of how to knit "longies" for any size, infant to adult. My pattern is informed by hers but not exactly the same.

(This has not been test-knit and may contain errors.)

Cozy Cozy

US 8 DPN (for the waist you will either need a 5th DPN, or a US 8 circular needle)
Worsted weight yarn, less than 660 yards. I bought 3 skeins of yarn because I wanted to do stripes and I have a good bit left from each color. I probably used around 500 yards. 

CO 44 st
Knit 14 rounds in 2x2 ribbing.
Knit 48 rounds in stockinette.
*K2 inc1, knit to end of the round, inc1.
Knit 5 rounds in stockinette. Repeat from * 10 times, increasing by 22 st.
Knit 4 rounds in stockinette.

Repeat for the other leg.

Sew together 18 stitches from each leg using Kitchener stitch.
Knit 1 round, picking up and knitting 4 stitches over each end of the crotch. (104 st)
*K26 past the middle of the back, wrap and turn.
Slip first st, P51, wrap and turn.
Slip first st, K49, wrap and turn.
Slip first st, P47, wrap and turn.
Slip first st, knit 1 round, knitting the wrapped stitches like this. (See note)
Knit 2 rounds.
K23 past the middle of the back, wrap and turn.
Slip first st, purl 45 st, wrap and turn.
Slip first st, knit 43 st, wrap and turn.
Slip first st, purl 41 st, wrap and turn.
Slip first st, knit 1 round, knitting wrapped st as before.
Knit 2 rounds. *

Repeat from * to *.

Knit 43 rounds in stockinette. 
Knit 16 rounds in 2x2 ribbing.

Cast off loosely in pattern. Weave in all ends.
If desired, use a sewing machine to sew elastic to the inside of the waistband. 

Note: This is not a vital element, but the final result is smoother than if you simply knit the wrapped stitches. 


Name: Cozy Cozy 
Design: mine-ish, with the helpful advice of Elizabeth Zimmermann
Finished: Sept 12, 2017

Fancy that! Finished with September before the month is even half over! These were a fairly quick knit; less knitting than a sweater. I think I may collect my worsted scraps for a while and make a pair of crazy striped pants for Munchkin or Twinkle.

Ring-around-the-rosie. I obviously spent a great deal of time coordinating their outfits.
P.S. Twinkle is wearing two pairs of pajama pants, per his favorite things.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Their Favorite Things

When you are 4 or 5 years old, your likes and dislikes are still capricious. Today's favorite may be tomorrow's ma'le*. So I thought that I would record what my children like. As of September 11th, 2017, 7:24 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, all of these statements are correct and truthful. An hour from now, who can say.

*This is the word that Mei-Mei says for "trash," but when I went to look up the tones, Google had no idea what I was talking about. I don't know if this is pidgin word that she made up, or if it is part of a Hebei province dialect.

All of the children love being Mama's Helper at the grocery store. Mei-Mei talks about who is going to help Mama a full week ahead of time.

Munchkin and Twinkle ask for oatmeal every morning. Cinnamon is usually desired. Brown sugar is, of course, best of all, but rarely offered. Sometimes they ask for ketchup instead of cinnamon. This makes their mother gag a little, but she gives it to them anyway.

Mei-Mei loves dippy eggs and chips. These are soft boiled eggs with baked chips made from corn tortillas and oil and salt. You can stab a piece of egg with the point of your chip and eat it that way, which means that forks are unnecessary. Dippy eggs and chips are her mama's favorite breakfast too.

Munchkin loves cuddling with "his" cats.

Twinkle loves the color green. He will always choose the green option. Except for vegetables, of course.

Mei-Mei loves using glue sticks.

Munchkin loves mashed potatoes and peas. Heavily influenced by How My Parents Learned to Eat, by Ina R. Friedman, he views these side dishes as a package deal and makes nests of mashed potatoes to put the peas in.

Twinkle loves spaghetti and meatballs.



 Mei-Mei would live in her My Little Pony nightgown 24/7 if given the choice. For a while, we even had a good-night song about her pony nightgown. As part of the song I was supposed to stroke the pony and Mei-Mei would become upset if I accidentally poked the pony in the eye.

All of the children love potstickers and homemade ramen and Uncle Pop.

Munchkin also loves sushi. The other kids will eat it, but he gobbles it!

Twinkle loves wearing crowns and hats.

Mei-Mei loves going to sleep while holding onto one of her parents. She doesn't always get to, but it is far and away her preferred method.

Munchkin loves having younger children around to take care of and explain things to. Unfortunately, his younger siblings don't count, as they are the same size as he is and thus considered equals.

Twinkle loves wearing multiple pairs of shirts and pants, even in warm weather. This completely befuddles 'Stache, who has on occasion discovered Twinkle wearing up to seven shirts. Twinkle is also an equal opportunity shirt wearer, layering t-shirts, night-shirts, and 'Stache's undershirts.

Mei-Mei loves to help cook and do little jobs. She is an excellent helper.



All of the children love watching me play Minecraft. There was once great concern and worry when I went exploring and got lost and could not find where my house was. Twinkle even prayed about it at bedtime, that God would help me find my house. When I finally found it, the children discussed the matter on and off for a week.

Munchkin loves reading the original Winnie-the-Pooh. I had never read the whole book before, only snippets and individual stories and Disney versions, which lack the charm of the original. It is Excellent and I wholeheartedly recommend it. (Knowing as I do so that this is hardly an original recommendation. However, if I, as a well-read adult and a well-read-to child, am discovering this now for the first time, perhaps my recommendation can help others who were similarly ignorant of A. A. Milne's brilliance.)

Twinkle loves saying Chinese words. We are learning Chinese as part of Munchkin's school program, and Twinkle is the keenest. Interestingly, Mei-Mei is not particularly better at Chinese than Munchkin or Twinkle. I think that, outside of the handful of words we still commonly use at home, she has forgotten her Chinese.

Mei-Mei loves baths, showers, hoses and water in most forms. She has never gotten out of a bath or shower without having to be told to do so.

All of the children love paper airplanes. This causes some degree of conflict at home, because once a piece of paper has been made into an airplane it becomes a PRICELESS TREASURE and if stolen, torn or carelessly trod upon, instigates immediate commencement of hostilities and the drawing up of battle lines.



In addition to the above, there are of course the perennial favorites such as ice cream, crayons, bicycles and hot dogs. I feel that these favorites have staying power and thus do not need to be documented as thoroughly as favorites that may come and go.

It is such a gift to be able to watch their personalities and interests develop!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Knitting Through the Year - August

The August chapter of Knitter's Almanac was written while the author and her husband were water-camping in the Canadian north woods. She describes her troubles thus:

As soon as the poor but determined creature sits itself down on a boat-cushion against a convenient rock, grabs note-book and pen ostentatiously, assumes an absorbed scowl, and writes just one sentence, gentle questions come wafting over the cool sunny air: Wouldn't you feel more comfortable with your boots off? Do you remember if we brought the soap? Where did we put the soap? Do you remember if I brought my fish-mouth-holder-opener? Shall we move on somewhere else? And of course that hardy perennial: Isn't it time for a little something to eat? - Elizabeth Zimmermann, Knitter's Almanac 

Being full, as it is, of adventures such as canoe trips, the knitting projects for August are appropriately compact and whimsical. EZ suggests that hand knit Christmas ornaments are an excellent use of the little scraps time one has on one's hands in August. She has patterns for an angel, a Christmas tree, a star and a net bag for placing a fresh orange or apple in to hang on the tree.

Although the idea of decorating a tree with fresh fruit has a charming rustic simplicity to it, I know that the moment one of my beloved bottomless pits is alone in the living room at Christmas time, hunger would strike and they would be balancing on the armrests of chairs trying to reach one of the Christmas tree apples. I decided to focus on stars.

This pattern is very simple: cast on a multiple of 5 (she suggests 55) and knit in garter stitch, decreasing 2 stitches (knit 3 together) at 5 points on each row. When you have 15 stitches cut the yarn, leaving a generous tail, pull the tail through the 15 stitches, pull tight, fasten off, and sew up the small seam necessary to make it a star. Sounds simple, yes? It is.


I think this would be a great way to use scraps of yarn that are really too small to make a small hat or mitten with but are too pretty or sentimental to get rid of or perhaps (like me) you are just too stingy to ever throw away "perfectly good yarn." Also, I am generally eager to find unbreakable Christmas ornaments, as sword fights are likely to break out in our living room at any moment. These are about as unbreakable as you get! You could also knit several and make a lovely mobile or garland for a baby's room.


Monday, August 28, 2017

Warm as Toast

I believe that cowls are naturally superior to scarves when attempting to keep a young child warm in cold weather.

Being a tube of soft knitting that fits over the head and sits around the neck, there are no long ends that can get caught or trampled on or yanked by a sibling. A mother is guaranteed, having put a cowl on a child, that their neck will stay covered as long as the cowl remains, which cannot be guaranteed with a scarf, which easily becomes untied or twisted or tightened, exposing skin to the elements. And lastly, a cowl requires less than a third of the knitting necessary to produce a scarf, making it a thrifty choice in both time and materials.

(There are very large cowls, of course, designed to be doubled or tripled around the neck, or very wide ones that produce a fashionable bunched effect that would be actually larger than a traditional scarf, but this cowl is a simple one, designed to be only one layer, imminently suitable for keeping a young child who lives in the not too arctic state of Tennessee, warm in winter.)

Mei-Mei may have a future as a knitwear model.

I designed this cowl to be very simple, suitable for beginners. It uses a type of waffle stitch, which is one of my favorite knit/purl stitches. I knit it using the back-and-forth method because I knit faster using straight needles, but the pattern is actually simpler if knit in the round, as the pattern uses an odd number of rows. I have put both here so that you can use your favorite method. This pattern uses approximately 100 yards of DK weight yarn. I recommend that you use a yarn that does not contain more than 50% acrylic or plant-based fibers. The more acrylic or plant-based fibers in a yarn, the less stretchy and less warm it will be


Warm as Toast
approx 100 yards DK weight yarn
US 5 knitting needles, either straight or circular as you prefer
a darning needle 

Back-and-forth directions
Using straights, cast on 102 st, loosely.
Rows 1-4: K
Row 5: P
Pattern:
Row 1: (Right Side) K2, (P2 K2) to the end of the row.
Row 2: P
Row 3: K2, (P2 K2) to the end of the row.
Row 4: P
Row 5: K
Row 6: P2, (K2 P2) to the end of the row.
Row 7: K
Row 8: P2, (K2 P2) to the end of the row.
Row 9: K
Row 10: P

Repeat this pattern 3 times. (40 rows)
Repeat the first 5 rows.
Knit 3 rows.
Cast off loosely, knitwise. Break the yarn, leaving a tail, and pull through.
Sew the selvage edges together using mattress stitch. 
Weave in ends. Block gently.


It can do double duty as a hat/earwarmer in a pinch.

In the round directions
Using circular knitting needles, cast on 100 st in the round.
Round 1: P
Round 2: K
Round 3: P
Rounds 4-5: K
Pattern
Round 1: K2, (P2, K2) to the end of the round.
Round 2: K
Round 3: K2 (P2, K2) to the end of the round.
Rounds 4-5: K

Repeat this pattern 8 times. (45 rounds)
Round 1: P
Round 2: K
Round 3: P
Round 4: Cast off loosely knitwise. Break the yarn, leaving a tail, and pull through.

Weave in all ends. Block gently. 

K= knit
P= purl 

This perfectly fits my daughter, who is four. However, it is a naturally stretchy stitch and the cowl fits over an adult's head also. If knitting for an adult, I would add an additional 10-20 rows of the waffle pattern, as adults' necks are longer.



Title: Warm as Toast
Design: Mine!
Materials: A lovely lavender yarn that I know includes alpaca but for which I have long lost the labels. It might be 100% alpaca or it might be a blend.
Finished: August  28, 2017


We can't wait for winter, how about you? 

Monday, August 7, 2017

Super Simple Blonde Brownies

Last week, I needed a dessert to take to a party. Unfortunately, although I had a kitchen full of ingredients, none of them added up to an existing recipe in my repertoire. So I invented one. It was very simple and pretty yummy, so I thought I'd share. I think this would be an ideal recipe to teach a young child who wants to learn how to bake things. It can be made entirely by hand, or by using a mixer.

Super Simple Blonde Brownies

10 tablespoons butter
2 cups brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
2 cups self-rising flour
a handful of chocolate chips*

*I used half dark chocolate chips and half white chocolate chips because that is what I had on hand. You can use anything that is handy, even M&M's. You can also add chopped nuts if you wish.

Preheat oven to 350F and grease a 13x9 pan.
Melt butter in a large bowl.
Pour in brown sugar, vanilla and eggs. Stir together.
Add flour slowly and stir until completely mixed in.
Pour mixture into the pan and spread it out flat. Sprinkle with chocolate chips. Bake for 30 minutes. Let cool before cutting.


Sweet chewy goodness!