Tuesday, July 31, 2012

July in Instagram

Trip up to Austin with Frank to see friends.

Last year's drought meant no fireworks, but this year we celebrated in style.

Mission City Hot Rhythm Cats at the Witte Museum

Cream Soda made with fresh Texas peaches.

Much like a crow, I'm distracted by any shiny thing in my line of site.

I fixed my broken headphones by knitting a cozy for them.

Blueberry pancakes!

Hank earned her keep this month by killing 4 lizards.

Austin Graffiti. 

Good times with friends at the James McMurtry show.  Back in Austin again!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Olympic Spirit

I love the Olympics.  I watch the trials, I cry at the commercials (the same ones, over and over again), I stay up late into the night watching first-round judo matches.  I'm not really sure why I love them so much.  I've played sports all my life and always been a competitive person, but I don't watch much beyond KU basketball games.  I guess, for me, the Olympics has never been about winners and losers of games, it's about dedication and focus and the world coming together.

Is it completely free of politics?  Of course not.  But it can be an opportunity for a few wounds to heal as when a unified Korea marched marched into the Sydney Olympics.  Is it free of commercialization?  Not at all.  But where else do you see dedicated athletes making $400 a month, not $4,000,000.  Do athletes and countries cheat to win?  Sometimes, but it is also an opportunity for greatness to be achieved even by those who come in last (see #6 here and prepare to cry).  It's Jesse Owens winning in Nazi Germany and Saudi Arabia finally, begrudgingly allowing women to represent their country in London.  As Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the International Olympic Committee, said, "it is more important to take part than to win."

So tonight, I'll be watching the Opening Ceremonies.  I have no doubt that it will be gaudy and over the top. That Londoners will be inconvenienced and some ridiculous dance routine will be mocked.  And I'm sure that I'll be mostly consumed by my knitting (pssst...have you seen this knit Olympics?).  But I wouldn't miss the chance to watch the dreams of athletes from 204 nations come true and to feel, just for a little while, that the world is a beautiful place.

(All photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Christmas in July: Gifts for Him

I'm calling this my "Gifts for Him" post, but just like my "Gifts for Her" and "Knit Gifts" posts, these can be adapted to just about any recipient.  I hate to generalize, but I frequently find men harder to craft for.  One option that I frequently rely on is taking something utilitarian and customizing it for the recipient.  I love monograms and the bespoke air they lend to just about any object.  There are a few ways that you can add a monogram.  For larger monograms, I like to do applique.  This is chef's apron I made for my dad last year using this pattern - I think the checks do a nice job of hiding stains.  Then I added a fabric "Q" and stitched tightly around the edges to keep it from fraying.  Personal and useful!.  

Embroidery is a classic.  Last Christmas, I sewed my very fashionable brother a handmade tie out of Kona cotton with a monochromatic Q on it.  This can also be done quite easily on a purchased tie, handkerchiefs, or any number of other things.  As favors for a bridal breakfast I threw for my friend Sarah, I stitched these handkerchiefs for each woman in attendance.  It's so much classier than a wad of Kleenex for dabbing your eyes.

A somewhat more unusual method is glass etching.  Etching paste can be found at any craft store and used to customize inexpensive tumblers. I used contact paper to create a stencil of Geoff's monogram and just applied the paste according to the directions on the bottle. The monograms for this or any project are easy to design using any word processing program or by searching for free fonts online.  I hope these ideas inspire you and stay tuned next week for Gifts for Kids.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Christmas in July: Knit Gifts

Alternate Post Title: Shameful Gift Admissions.  Winter accessories are a popular Christmas gift, but hand knits are a bit more luxurious and a lot more full of love.  However, knitting generally does not fall into  the last minute gift category - a fact I repeatedly forget.  Take, for example, these gloves that I wanted to give to my Grandma the Christmas before last, but I didn't finish until nearly Halloween.  

Luckily, my Grandma is a very patient women.  This Ringwood pattern from Knitty is perfect for gifting because the stitch pattern is extremely stretchy.  I knit the smallest size for my grandma because she has small hands, but long fingers.  The stitch stretched so much that they fit my big ol' hands, too!  These were knit in some gorgeous alpaca yarn that I picked up from a farm in upstate New York the morning of the wedding of some dear friends.  I'd been waiting for a special project to use it and this was it!

You think 10 months is a long wait?  I finally gave this scarf to my brother 3 years after I started it (and made the mistake of telling him about it!).  This Binary scarf spells out his initials in case he looses it around other nerds.  The scarf is knit in the round, which means that there is no "wrong" side.  However, it also means that you are basically knitting two scarves - so start now!

Okay, have I scared you yet?  Don't worry, there are plenty of knit gifts you can knock out in just a few nights.  This R2D2 hat is a great gift for any Star Wars lover in your life.  I finished this in a few nights while watching TV.  Hat patterns are abundant and can be customized to any recipient., so they make great gifts.  The mushroom hat up above was my first-ever knit hat and Kevin still wears it (at least when I'm around).

And finally, a pattern for those times when you need a gift right now.  Just knit a rectangle of garter stitch and wrap around a sachet of lavender and cedar.  Add a felt head and legs to make a sheep to keep your wool safe from moths!  Happy knitting!

Previous editions of Christmas in July can be found here and here.

p.s. If you want more details about my knitting habits, let's be friends on Ravelry!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Summer's Bounty Salad

I love grilling vegetables in the summertime.  The intense heat of the grill intensifies the flavor and caramelizes the edges to bring out the sweetness.  This composed salad can be made with any combination of summer vegetables you may have on hand or find at the market that week.  I used slabs of eggplant and zucchini cut 1/2" thick, sweet onions, and red bell pepper.  Once grilled over medium heat until tender all the way through, the vegetables were tossed immediately in a red wine vinaigrette.
The warm vegetables are contrast with a cold salad of pear tomatoes, mozzarella pearls, and fresh basil plus salty kalamata olives and caperberries.  Any type of cheese would be nice, especially a fresh goat cheese, and you could substitute whatever types of olives, pickles, or maybe giardiniera you may have on hand.  I included caperberries after seeing them at the deli counter.  The only time I had tried them before was a few years ago at a small Italian restaurant and I remembered really enjoying them.  Caperberries are the fruit that results from the caper bud being allowed to develop; they are bright and briny with a nice crisp texture.  The ones available at Central Market were a little too salty, but a brief soak in water will reduce the saltiness.  If you are a fan of olives, capers, and other briny goodness, they are worth tracking down.

The variety of flavors and textures keeps the salad plenty interesting, but some bread finishes out the meal nicely.  Any type of bread would be good - in fact, this reminds me a lot of plate of assorted breads, cheeses, and marinated vegetables I frequently had for lunch at Wheatfield's bakery in Lawrence.  I made my standard pizza dough and rolled it out into approximately 8 inch rounds which I lightly oiled and grilled.  Once off the heat, I rubbed the flatbread with a cut garlic clove.  Leftover, veggies, and mozzarella make a great panini the next day.  

Red Wine Vinaigrette

2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 teaspoon minced fresh oregano
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1/4 tsp garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together.  Great on salad, vegetables, or even as a marinade.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Vignette: My First Sweater

I've finished my first (adult) sweater!  I fell in love with this Vignette pattern by Amy Herzog as soon as I saw it in Knitty.  She describes it as "curvy and just a touch retro" and I totally agree.

I love the classic feel of the pattern, but that it also has the fun, but easy to remember, lace and rib pattern on the front as well as along the shoulder.

If you want more of the "knitting gritty" you can find it in my Ravelry project notes.  I'm so excited to have a new cardigan for work and to take a huge chunk out of my yarn stash!

Before I started this project, I made this super simple row counter bracelet to help keep track of repeats.  It's the best row counter I've ever tried.

As happy as I am to have this sweater finished, I'm itching to cast on something new!  I'm thinking about a featherweight shawl in fuzzy mohair.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Rosebud was Her Biscuit

My quest to catch up on some of the most iconic movies of all time has already paid dividends. In the last week, I read an article about the Cold War referencing specific characters in Dr. Strangelove and listened to a episode of my new favorite podcast, NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, in which the machinations of Addison DeWitt from All About Eve were discussed. (Although the list is always getting longer, in the past 48 hours, Geoff has asked me "You haven't seen Clockwork Orange, have you?" and "Oh, I guess you haven't seen Demolition Man?" and "You don't recognize the theme from The Natural?").  

Citizen Kane is, according to the American Film Institute, the greatest movie of all time; however, all I knew about it going in was that (do I need to call spoiler alert for a 70 year old movie?) rosebud was his sled.  I had no idea why that mattered or really what the movie was about.  In truth, though the quest to understand the meaning of rosebud is the driving force of the plot, you can know the answer from the beginning without a losing much.  This is evidenced by the fact that that my version of the DVD features a sled with "Rosebud" on the menu screen you have to look at to play the movie.

Overall, I was surprised at how funny it was given that it is a critique of wealthy man (based on William Randolph Hurst) whose money can't buy him happiness.  I'm not much of a cinephile and I don't generally notice things like how a shot is framed, but there were several times where I was taken in by a particularly clever detail that would be innovative even today.  For example, the passage of time is shown not by the (now cliche) changing of the seasons out a window, but by the changing seasonal puzzles one of the characters puts together.  Geoff pointed out that there are a number of other elements that have become commonplace in modern films, but would have been completely novel in 1941.  (Google research indicates that Citizen Kane  was among the first movies to use flashbacks, particularly in conjunction with unreliable narrators and to put the entire depth of field in focus.)   Not to mention that Orson Welles was 25 years old when Citizen Kane came out and had never directed a movie before.  I'm no expert in film (thus the need for this 30 by 30 goal) so I'm not in a position to determine if it is or isn't the greatest film ever made; so all I can say is that I was as entertained by this 70 year old film as anything that came out in 2011.

So I've mentioned in the past the difficulty of picking a meal inspired by a film I've never seen.  However, some early searches suggested that there is a pivotal breakfast scene in the movie.  While a wealthy man in the 1940s would have servants to make his breakfast, busy working people today tend to stop for a breakfast sandwich from a drive-thru.  I decided to take my inspiration from this more modern morning meal - spicy pan-fried chicken on a biscuit.

For four servings, I cut two large breasts in half and brined them in pickle juice with two serrano chopped up, seeds and all.  I left them in the brine for about 8 hours before draining and coating them in flour. To cook, I added a small amount of butter and oil to a cast iron pan over high heat.  Once seared on both sides, I slid the pan into a 400 degree oven alongside a pan of biscuits (PSA: check the expiration date on your baking powder, my biscuits came out flat!).  Both were done in about 12 minutes and ready for a quick dinner.  Pepperjack cheese is a nice addition to kick up the heat even more and a bowl of sweet summer melon to cut the spice.  This was my first experiment using pickle juice as a brine and I wasn't sure what to expect.  The chicken was extremely moist and not particularly pickle-flavored.  It's nice to use up something you would otherwise dump down the drain, but I think a regular brine would work just as well.  Remember, money can't buy happiness, but it can buy breakfast!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Christmas in July: Gifts for Her

Wow.  Week Two of my series (Week One is Here) and I"m already running behind.  Don't be like me, get your Christmas crafting done early!  Today I have two quick projects, perfect for the women in your life.  I loved both of them so much that I made extras for myself as well!  The first is this bird's nest necklace that I made following these instructions from Sarah Ortega (who also sells them in Etsy shop if you don't want to make your own).  The trickiest part of making these is finding the right beads.  I had my heart set on robin's egg blue, and I think these come pretty close, but I'd love to find some beads that look like natural eggs.  Once you have the beads, wire, and chain, it's just a matter of bending the wire until it looks right to you.  I made two necklaces and a pin in under an hour last Christmas and I get compliments on my necklace all the time.

The second gift this week was driven by my own needs.  I'm pretty good about taking reusable bags with me to the grocery store but I frequently find myself out running errands without them.  This tote from Sew, Mama, Sew measures about 12"x12" but zips up into a handy package about 3 1/2" square and about 1 inch thick.  It's plenty small to stay in my purse until I need it.  The cashiers at the sewing store are always particularly impressed.  I used quilting cotton which is great option since it comes in any possible pattern and you can customize it for each recipient - favorite sports team, cartoon characters, anything.  I couldn't find it in my local stores, but if you are looking for an even thinner and lighter-weight version, you could try and find rip-stop nylon.  Who says practical gifts have to be ugly? 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Friends, Fun, and Fireworks

The last week has been bursting with friends.  Last Friday, we drove up to Ft. Worth for the wedding of our friends Dawn and Jim.  Dawn had her dress custom made and it is so perfectly her.  The reception was held at a really nice RV park (sounds crazy, actually crazy-awesome) which boosted the retro-kitsch vibe that was also very much in the bride and groom's style.
Our friend Maria befriended a local chicken and Dawn brought out her friend Abe (long story).  Geoff was the last person to go get cake, so they gave him a half-pound piece (he had about three bites, then pushed it aside and I ate it - I have a major cake weakness).  These giraffes were our place cards and now hang out on our bookshelf.
Quite a few of our Pennsylvania friends flew in for the wedding (although only a few still live in PA) and it was great opportunity to catch up in person instead of on Facebook.  We only had a few days with most of them, but our Frank came back to San Antonio with us for a four-day visit.
I had to work most of the week, but Frank and Geoff rented some bikes and toured the town.  Of course, they went to the Alamo (they failed to find the basement), but they also looped around the McNay, and tried on some fancy new hats.
On the Fourth, we had a cookout over at the Holtz' and entertained the kids with bubbles (left over from the wedding) and runs through the sprinkler while the adults relaxed and ate way too much 7-layer dip. Man that stuff is good.  It's a good thing I only have it every five years or so.
Mike's niece and nephew are visiting for a few weeks and Veronica got them matching flag shirts and made them pose for a series of increasingly ridiculous portraits.  I call this one "bored at Six Flags."
After last year's drought, we were excited to shoot off fireworks.  I think the adults were nearly as excited as the kinds and they graciously shared their sparklers.
Obviously, I had to make some things for the party, because that is just how I roll.  I had my favorite tart crust from 101 Cookbooks in the freezer so I baked that up and filled it with peach butter and berries.  Never one to stop at just one desert, I made red velvet graham crackers which were combined with Veronica's homemade marshmallows into insanely decadent s'mores.  To channel the kids' sugar highs, I helped them make pinwheels that work like gangbusters:

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Feeding Friendship: Popeye Pie

Okay, it's really spanakopita, the Greek spinach pie.  You can make these into lovely appetizers by laboriously wrapping strips of phyllo around the filling to form cute little triangles. It's delicious, but it takes all day and I wanted an after-work dinner.  The ratio of crisp butteriness to hearty spinach filling is much lower in the pie than in  the appetizers, but the nutritional value is undoubtedly higher in the pie. One of the major attractions of this dish, for me, is that you can just as easily make two pans (and you should, because otherwise you will end up with leftover phyllo) and freeze one of them to eat later.  I've noticed that the vast majority of freezer meals found online are meat-based and we try to only eat meat once or twice per week.  

The major adjustments that I made to this recipe were to decrease the fat and increase the garlic.  Cutting back on the butter and oil mixture can be done by only brushing it on every 3rd layer of phyllo. I used frozen spinach in this recipe because 40 oz. of spinach is more than 25 cups and I didn't want to wrangle that much home from the farmer's market on my bike.  You could absolutely use fresh and wilt it down.  While the pie was in the oven, I made a quick Greek salad of cucumbers, olives, pear tomatoes, and feta dressed in red wine vinegar and olive oil seasoned with minced onion and oregano.  Νόστιμο!

Popeye Pie
adapted from About.com
serves 4-6 per pan, makes 2 pans

40 oz. spinach, chopped (I used frozen)
4 tbsp. olive oil, divided
2 tbsp. butter, melted
2 large onions (about 6 cups), diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
1/2 cup fresh dill, chopped
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
8 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
4 eggs, lightly beaten
8 oz. cottage cheese
1 lb. phyllo pastry sheets, thawed

1. Saute onions in 2 tbsp.olive oil until lightly golden.  Add garlic and cook an additional 2 minutes.
2. If using frozen spinach, squeeze as much moisture out of thawed spinach as possible and then separate the clumps.
3. Stir in spinach and all herbs and spices.  into the onions and cook out all remaining moisture.
4. Remove the spinach mixture from the heat and taste for seasonings.  The flavoring should be assertive, but not too salty as the feta will add additional salt.
5. Once the mixture cools slightly, stir in the eggs and cheeses.
6. Combine remaining oil and butter.  Line one 9x13 pan with aluminum foil and lightly brush the bottom of both the foil-lined pan and the unlined pan with fat mixture. 
7. Cut the phyllo sheets to fit your pans and layer 1/4 of the sheets into each pan, brushing every 3rd layer with the oil/butter mix.  Divide the spinach mixture between the two pans and press firmly into a solid layer.  8. Top with remaining phyllo sheets, again brushing every 3rd layer with butter and oil.  Place both pans in the freezer for 10 minutes. 
9. Remove pies from freezer and cut only through the top layer of phyllo, dividing the pan into 6 sections.  This will make it easier to make clean cuts later.
10. Return the foil-lined pan to the freezer.  Once frozen solid, the foil will allow you to remove the spanakopita from the pan and freeze wrapped in plastic wrap.
11. Bake the room temperature pie at 350 for 45-60 minutes or until top layer of phyllo is browned.  Frozen pie can be returned to the pan and baked without thawing at 350 for 60-90 minutes.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tex-Czech Breakfast

West, Texas (which, confusingly, is in the northern part of the state) is known as the kolache capital of Texas. The traditional fruit-filled, pastry which came to the area with Czech settlers, is generally similar to a Danish, but more tender and less flaky.  We stopped at the Little Czech Bakery at the Czech Stop in West (just off I-35, on the opposite side of the highway from the Czech Inn) on the way home from Dawn and Jim's wedding in Forth Worth last weekend to sample some of the best.

Frank, Geoff and I all tried the jalapeno, cheese and sausage-filled kolaches and they were HOT.  I would say that there was about a 50-50 cheese to pepper ratio.  But as soon as my mouth cooled down, I wanted another one.  Unfortunately, we were already back on the road so I had to be satisfied with my sweetened cottage cheese kolache with strudel topping and apricot kolache with cream cheese.  The cottage cheese kolache was so-so, but the apricot featured a half of the fruit pushed down into the dough and filled with a sweetened cream cheese.  As it baked, the apricot softened and became sticky and candy-like, it was amazing.

Inspired, I decided to make some of my own.  Fruit kolaches are the most traditional but meat and cheese stuffed ones are popular in Texas (and were our favorite).  Luckily, The Foodie Bride had recipes for both.  The enriched dough reminds me a lot of a Hawaiian roll due to the sweetness and the addition of eggs, butter, and milk.  I didn't have any peach jam to make the filling, so I just cooked down chopped peaches with brown sugar and a splash of almond extract.  I really enjoyed the almond-peach combination and the freshness of the filling.  Texas peaches have been overflowing in our farmers' market so I was glad to have another way to use the ones I didn't eat as snacks.  Hot-house peaches are such a poor substitute, so I always try and get my seasonal fill.

For the savory version, the recipe actually calls for the same sweet dough, which I was a little but uncertain about.  While the dough really is sweet, it held up well to the heat from the jalapenos.  However, if I were making only savory kolaches, I'd cut back on the sweetness.  I like big flavors so I used an extra-sharp cheddar cheese, red and green jalapenos, and garlic chicken sausages inside my kolaches.  The enriched dough is extremely tender which is great for flavor, but it tends toward holes.  I missed a few and ended up with pools of cheese on my pan (still delicious).  If you can't make it to Texas, try your hand at making kolaches of your own, you'll be glad you did.
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