Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Helpful Decorating Tips

Have your helpful cat inspect all old decorations. They will get up close and personal with each garland, ornament and light strand.

If he's not too busy , ask the cat to help with wrapping gifts. They are a tremendous help!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

No Comment

Several others have admitted to a shared enjoyment in reading the reader comments in online recipe blogs. I will also confess here, in public, to my addiction in the comments everywhere, but especially for products offered by online retailers. You’d think that people would not care enough to offer an opinion on, say, men’s pajamas, but au contraire! They care, and care deeply.
For example, these comments on men’s pajamas from the Gap:

“The colors were different than I expected when I ordered. The stripes are grey and teal or aqua on a white background- there was more white than I expected.

.  Colors - most men don’t care or even know the difference between teal/aqua/blue etc. There was more white than she expected? Really? Does that matter?These are pajamas, not tuxedo pants-- your husband does not care about the stripes, I guarantee.

Love these thoughts on the sweatshirt hoodie, a slacker staple:

This won't function as a garment to keep you warm, but it is really cute and simple. I returned mine, but it fit me flawlessly. I got the Medium Tall size, I'm 6'4 and 170 lbs for reference. But yeah, if you want a layering hoodie or something to wear in the spring, this is good. Not for winter though.

So...he liked it but he returned it? and why would you buy a hoodie that wouldn't keep you warm? Isn't that the raison d’etre of the sweatshirt? The whole point of the hoodie(besides being warm and cozy) is to be emphatically Not Fashionable. To loudly display your complete disinterest in playing the fashion game, and also, to show that YOU don’t have to wear suits and ties, those are for the nameless drones who work for The Man.
I was pleasantly surprised to see a man use the description “cute” in his comments.

My favorite comments remain the comments on cooking blogs. The range of experience in cooks is so great that the review on a plain old cookie can be anything from 1 fork to 5 forks, depending on the cook:

I think I have to stop trusting the forks on epicurious. I now have a huge bag of these in the freezer. There is something they lack...I think it might be salt but I'm not sure. I even added some orange zest and chopped hazelnuts to some of them...still too crumbly and buttery in a bad way and not much better in the taste department. Maybe they're better with nutella?

The answer here is EVERYTHING is better with Nutella..;.next question?

These brownies were too cakey and not chocolaty enough for my taste. The former could probably be addressed by reducing to 4 eggs. But to address the chocolaty issue I'll probably just poke around for another recipe.

I think I could have a career as a recipe commenter therapist. The real problem here is a Fudgy Brownie Person has made a Cakey Brownie recipe. Like the Hatfields and McCoys, those two tribes should not be mixed. Also, brownie recipes with five eggs (!!!) should be avoided.. It’s not chocolaty enough because it’s made with melted chocolate, not cocoa - very zen but true.
Find a brownie recipe made with cocoa and fewer eggs.

And of course, some people take recipes personally, and are insulted by the very existence of a variation on a traditional bread::

First of all, challah is a bread for the Jews and it is made by certain standards and none of those standards are met with this recipe. Secondly, only Rosh HaShanah challah is round and it is made with raisins, cinnamon and honey/sugar but no seeds. The rest of the year the dough is braided as is shown in your kneading video. In my entire life I have never heard of a challah recipe with so little flour and not being kneaded. I would have no objection to this recipe if it were not called challah but this recipe is an insult to the Jews and to Challah itself.

Can’t non-Jewish people bake challah? Isn't that one of the reasons that makes America great? And what is so horrible about a quicker, easier version?
Something else is going on here besides her horror at a non-traditional baking method.
As a Recipe Therapist, I have to say, “Lighten up, sweetie”.

What’s your favorite comment? Please share.

(on a side note, I find it deeply amusing that Google spell check questioned the spelling of "hoodie". You'd think that they of all people would know , since that's all they wear at the Google campus.)

Monday, December 3, 2012

Compost Cookies

Love the Comments sections for recipes. Some people do not know how to read recipes, or cook, and their cranky comments are available for all the world to see. As my Grandmother would say, “bless their hearts.”  It was the comments on the Momofuku Milk Bar Compost Cookies recipe that intrigued me.
The success rate was all over the place.There were people who got great cookies, and people who threw the whole batch away.
“the 1st pan was greasy,flat,and chewy so I threw it away “, “Very disappointing. I don't see how the cookies came out so puffy and dense for you. Mystifying. I wouldn't try this again based on how it worked for me, but would if someone had tweaks to improve the recipe listed here.”
“When I finally baked them, I was so disappointed. I let the dough balls chill all afternoon, and I set the oven to 400 degrees, but they just wouldn't cook in the middle. They got super dark (almost burnt) on the edges, but raw in the middle..”

What was it with this recipe?
There are several versions of this recipe online: there is this one in the Los Angeles Times, this one on Food.com, also here, and here.
Careful reading of the ingredients shows that this is based on the Toll House Cookie .But the techniques supplied are different. The Chef, Christina Tosi, advises beating the butter and sugar for ten minutes in a mixer (!!!), plus she adds what I considered unnecessary additions: corn syrup, and too much salt.
I know from reading the comments that some people’s cookies came out flat, but looking at pictures of the “real” Compost Cookies, they are somewhat flat. Most people have an unrealistic expectation of what a cookie should look like, based on a lifetime of buying cookies, as opposed to making cookies. (Just like they don’t know what good clothes should look like, because they wear RTW).
I resolved to conquer the Compost Cookie.
After reading all of the recipes online, I decided to start with this one, with the following changes, based on my ten thousand hours plus of cookie baking.
I eliminated the corn syrup, which is my view provided more sweetness, plus makes the cookies flatter.
I decided against the ten minute beating of the sugar and butter, because that makes the butter soft and oily, causing unpleasant texture.
I did not add any additional salt, because I used salted butter, and the potato chips and pretzels are plenty salty. Since I did not beat my cookies senseless, I did not have to chill them overnight, although if you want chunky, chewy cookies, as opposed to flat, oily cookies, this is a good idea, if you have time.
Momofuku Milk Bar's compost cookies
Adapted from Los Angeles Times version of the Momofuku Milk Bar in New York.

First, make the graham crust
Graham crust
1 1/2 cups  graham cracker crumbs ( I crushed a package of graham crackers in my Cuisinart, and measured the correct amount)
1/4 cup  milk powder
2 tablespoons  sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) melted butter, more if needed
1/4 cup heavy cream
I did not add any additional salt here, because graham crackers already have salt, plus my butter was salted.

I mixed this all together in the Cuisinart, and then set it aside.
There is more than you need for the recipe, so I stored the remainder in the fridge, and resolved to think of other things to add it to.

Compost cookies

1 cup  butter,  (recipe writers always tell you to use room temperature butter. This is flat out wrong, IMHO. It will lead to flat and oily cookies. Your butter should be solid and only slightly pliable. You will be able to gently bend it. It will not be soft.)
1 cup  sugar
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup mini chocolate chips
1/2 cup (1/4 recipe) graham crust (from above)
1/3 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
2 1/2 teaspoons ground coffee
2 cups potato chips
1 cup mini pretzels
I also added ½ cup crushed and broken Oreos
and ½ cup crushed corn chex

My method: mix butter and sugars together in Cuisinart .Add egg, and vanilla. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda. I did not add additional salt as my butter was salted and the potato chips and pretzels have salt.. I removed this from the Cuisinart, and had Mr. Hunting Creek blend in the pretzels, oatmeal, chips, chocolate chips, chex, Oreos, etc. He decided to break up the pretzels and potato chips slightly. When it was all mixed together, I let it rest in the fridge for a while - maybe an hour? while I did Christmas shopping “research” online, and Mr. Hunting Creek watched football.
Then I used my tablespoon cookie scoop to form the cookies. I did not want giant, salad plate sized cookies. I do not want to eat that much cookie at one time,. so I opted for a saner size. Preheat your oven to 350. .
We baked a batch at 350 for 14 minutes, you may need to go a minute longer or shorter - you should always do a test batch to see if the recipe time works for you. Don’t do what so many commenters did and bake giant batches of cookies at 400 degrees, just to end up throwing them out. Doing this - baking a giant batch for the first run through is like using your expensive fabric for a pattern that you have never made before. Make a muslin! Do a test batch!

My version of Compost Cookies came out delightfully craggy and crunchy and chewy. Baking time has a lot to do with texture too. Bake slightly less if you want a more chewy texture.
Next time I make these I will try reducing the sugar a little bit and adding different “Compost” ingredients. My testers liked them,
I will include these in my Christmas cookie tins this year.
What new cookie recipes are you going to try? Or do you stick to tried and true?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Mini Pecan Pie Trifles

Even though I tell less experienced cooks to never use a recipe for guests that they haven't tried out before, I myself do it all of the time. I am a Ninja Warrior when it comes to trying new things. Fearless and stealthy. My sister wanted Pumpkin Pie Trifle for Thanksgiving. "but I made that last year!", I cried. She claimed that it was her favorite. "How about Pecan Pie Trifle?" , she countered. I wondered, is that even a thing? It turns out that it was a thing.. I love the internet - not only is it a thing, but generous cooks have shown their work so that we can all be inspired. There were Pecan Pie Trifle Shooters (excellent idea) and giant standard trifles. And then I had an Epiphany - Mini Pecan Pie Trifle in those mini jam jars. YES

How I made Mini Pecan Pie Mini Trifles
Step 1 - send Mr. Hunting Creek to Variety Store to obtain teeny jam jars.
Step 2-wash jars. Admire their extreme cuteness. Set tops aside.
Step 3. Figure out how to make mini Pecan Pie Trifles. Some of my fellow cooks suggested cutting up an existing pecan pie. If I were making a standard size trifle that would work, but I wanted everything on a smaller scale. I decided to make pecan pie cookie bars, stealing the recipe right out of Betty Crocker.. I added a tablespoon of rum.
Those worked perfectly - not too thick, and I could cut them up into small pieces, but still tasting like pecan pie. (You will have more cookie bars than you need, but no one ever complains about extra cookies at Christmas. Don't chop all of them up. I chopped about half., with plenty of tastes..I mean, testing bites.)
Step 4. what about the creamy part? This is entirely up to the chef. You could make a traditional pastry cream. Or maybe vanilla pudding.. I wanted something fancier than that - I decided on a Tiramisu filling = which is the easiest thing in the world - mascarpone cheese with whipped cream, to which I added vanilla, rum and sugar- it was delicious. I had to make myself stop testing.
Step 5 - embellishing - what would make this special? I debated different options - chocolate? Caramel? Fruit? I decided on a caramel sauce - also super easy to make or buy. You can do either. I went the easy route and used Trader Joe's Fleur de Sel Caramel sauce, which I happened to have on hand due to its extreme deliciousness, (and my extreme laziness about large vats of molten sugar)
Step 6 - assembly. Cut up the Pecan Pie Bars into little chunks. Mine were about half an inch. You can get all OCD about this, like some cooks I know, or you can be slapdash like me - no one is going to be able to tell! Sprinkle some of these in the bottom of each mini jar. Drizzle with caramel sauce. Stop licking your fingers, you'll get sick. Then a scoop of the mascarpone cream. I used my tablespoon cookie scoop so I would not get cream all over everything and it worked perfectly. I then smoothed the cream to the edges to cover the cookie squares, (I used my mini spatula) and then sprinkled more cookie squares on top, then drizzled more caramel sauce on top of that.If you warm up the caramel sauce in the microwave a little bit, it is easier to drizzle.
Perfection! I texted the picture to my sister.(Kind of like sending food porn, yes?) She loved them.
On Thanksgiving, everyone liked how cute and small they were - just enough for a serving.
I left the jars at my sister's house, telling her that she needs to think up a mini dessert for Christmas.
I need to send Mr. Hunting Creek back for more little jars. I have some ideas of my own.

Friday, November 23, 2012

New Christmas List

Bhutanese Flag

A couple years ago Mr. Hunting Creek was buying a used computer game from a small store near our home when the young woman helping him with his list suddenly looked up from the list and asked, "Are you J.Hunting Creeks father? Is this J's list? " and of course he is, and it was. J. Hunting Creeks lists are so recognizably him that anyone who knows him , knows him from his list.
His lists from the past have included such items as bars of gold, throwing knives, silk smoking jackets and taxidermy animals, so anyone seeing those items once would never forget them..It is Christmas List as art form. J. considers making a list consisting of pajamas and gift cards to be rookie material. Your list should both reveal who you are and also what you aspire to be. Let that be an inspiration for us all.

Here is the list from this year:

J’s Christmas List 2012

A gun belt
Something from space
A neon sign
A copy of the New York Times from the day I was born, or the Economist from that week. The Washington Post is not an acceptable substitute.
Disguises (pilot’s uniform w/ fake mustache, doctor’s uniform, Dalai Lama/Pope/Prophet Muhammad outfit, etc.)
A prop from a moderately well-known movie (with certificate of authenticity of course)
Something signed by a world leader (G20 members only. Come on, guys)
A functional pocket watch, top hat, and monocle
A full-size flag of either Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Kiribati, Kyrgyzstan, Papua New Guinea, Brunei, Seychelles, Swaziland, or Montenegro (list is in order of preference)
Something really tall
A smaller version of a toaster oven, if that exists? Approx. the size of a lunch box
Smaller versions of things in general (not miniature toy versions but actual functional versions of things like those tiny trampolines)
A taser (will be used only on myself, willing participants, or unwilling assailants, purchase only if potentially having my death on your hands is worth the risk)
A breathalyzer
Like, a lot of ankle socks. A lot (for real you guys my dad keeps stealing mine).
Something that would have been worth a lot of money a long time ago, but today is not (has to have been an existing product at the time when it would have been valuable, by which I mean no recent inventions that would have been valuable just because they weren’t invented yet)
Piece of the Berlin Wall – without graffiti, please
Piece of the Great Wall of China – graffiti acceptable if in Chinese
All gifts from previous years are still acceptable, and if you can mix them together that would be sweet (e.g. gold-plated taxidermy animals)
All gifts can be replaced with their approximate value in cash (so that I can maximize utility), as long as the cash is wrapped like a present and accompanied by a note saying what the cash is replacing (in case I want to buy it myself).

Now that you have read the list of a Master, what list would you write? Will your new list include what you want in your secret heart? Sewing lessons from Ralph Rucci? Dancing lessons from a Broadway choreographer? Cooking lessons with Eric Ripert? A trip to Chiang Mai?
Only by learning what we truly desire and then expressing those desires, can we take the necessary steps toward realizing those dreams. The dreams might start with a silk top hat and a monocle, but who knows where they will lead.
Take another look at your Christmas List and see if it needs a rewrite. I know mine does.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Cat Fish

There are fish in here

There's a disturbance in the cat-force. My sister brought some new fish for my aquarium and they are driving the cats insane . They have knocked that calendar you see on the floor off of the wall, and thrown everything on top of the bookcase out of their way.

What are you looking at?
Every time I turn around one of them is trying to catch a fish.I had to shut the door to my office last night to keep them out.
They are plotting something right now, I know it.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

All Clear

Super storm Sandy cleared out after about 2am. I could hear a change in the intensity of the screaming of the wind. It was SO LOUD! The rain was pounding sideways against the windows. It would have made an excellent horror movie sound track.. My co-workers in New York are still without power; some are away from home waiting to go back. The subways are flooded and the trains are stopped until the teams can inspect the tracks, tunnels and stations. My sister is here working because we have power here and she doesn't . Thousands are without power in Virginia and Maryland. Ours went out, but thankfully came back on.

I can't tell you how impressed I was with the NY nurses and firemen. They carried the sick people out of the hospital down flights of stairs in the dark during the storm when the power went out and the back up generator failed. It was a clear demonstration of our valuable our first responders are. Kudos also go to the NOAA and National Weather Service teams who worked tirelessly over the weekend and all night Sunday and Monday, constantly updating the storm path information .What an invaluable service they provide. The next person who says something snarky in my presence about government workers will get hit with my Jaguar-topped cane.
(Did you know that those agencies that  just saved millions of lives are part of the Department of Commerce? Just sayin')
Photo above courtesy NOAA.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hunkered Down

Image of Sandy courtesy NOAA/National Weather Service
(A government agency that saves thousand of lives daily - just sayin')

It's pouring rain and windy; it's only a matter of time until the power goes out, probably sometime tonight. The utilities say that due to safety issues that they will not be able to even start getting it back on until Wednesday. If we're lucky.

I have my embroidery and needle felting supplies at hand to work on. We have food, water, batteries and cat food. Plenty of books and flashlights.
Batten down the hatches, we're in for a rough night, say the eerily cheerful weather TV people.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Frankenstorm Prep

Photo of Sandy, aka "Frankenstorm", aka "Snor'Eastertcane" courtesy NOAA

Mr. Hunting Creek is hard at work clearing the gutters, removing dead branches and putting the outside furniture and umbrella away. We have already bought bottled water, batteries and all sorts of food, including what looks like a month's supply of cat food. "How long do you think we  would be trapped in our neighborhood?" I asked Mr. Hunting Creek. We have just the two cats. We have 15 cans of food.. He said, "It's best to be sure." There's a man who takes care of the pets first!
Last year at this time it was snowing, now we're getting a monster storm, the likes of which have never been seen before. Global Climate change is real and it's happening now. We had the Derecho this summer and it was bad enough..
In honor of the approaching storm, I have made some preparations of my own. I made my weekly batch of granola, and to use up three ripe bananas, a batch of Melissa Clark's Olive Oil Chocolate Chip Banana Bread. It's a storm emergency. Plus we can eat banana bread with no cooking required, if the power goes out.
I stopped by the Variety Store to get some materials for ornament making that I can do by hand if we are without power. I think we're ready. Stay safe and dry, my Mid-Atlantic friends.

Monday, October 22, 2012

UFO Control

Velvet Tree Skirt

October may be a little early to complete a Christmas Tree Skirt, but I cut this out last December and then got too busy doing other tins and it kept getting put off until it was too late to sew it. And who wants to work on a tree skirt in January through September?
It's made out of star-embossed velvet that I found on the sale table at Hancock's Fabrics. .Some sewists like to cut out many things while they are cutting; they like a stack of projects waiting for them and go merrily from one to the next. I have discovered that this approach makes me feel oppressed, feeling like I have left things undone. Then I get off on a tangent and things get put aside, and then a year goes by and I feel guilty. No more. I vowed last January that I was converting to a one project at a time person. I have a basket of incomplete things that have been weighing on me, so yesterday I cleared the worktable and looked at what I had waiting. The tree skirt looked like an instant gratification project. The words Velvet and instant gratification are not combined in sewing literature for good reasons. Velvet is a tricky, slippery customer. Velvet made out of unknown , possibly man made materials, slippery-er still. It didn't want to feed evenly, even with my Pfaff even feeding foot turned on. Pinning only helped a little. I ended up basting the whole thing - which is like basting a very large circle skirt. Not quick. Not difficult, but certainly not instant. I could understand why I had set it aside when I got busy last December - velvet tree skirts should only be attempted in leisure hours in October. I was determined to finish yesterday and there it is draped over a chair; Christmas Trees being  somewhat scarce this time of year.
Next up, from the UFO pile: a Forest Green Stretch Velvet top. Because I love green and velvet and  I'm a glutton for punishment. I cut this out last December too, but was too busy to finish it so now is the time.(Quick and easy, right? This is Vogue 7264 view A. My notes remind me that this is a stretch velvet from Gorgeous Fabrics. It's soft and such a pretty green. The pattern is OOP, and the fabric is sold out. But she has other pretty things :)
Are you a one project at a time sewist, or a multiple choice sewist? I am a recovering Multiple Choicer.
This is not to imply that I have no more UFOs lurking about; I do. Now with every two completed ones I get to start a new thing. Baby steps.

Friday, October 19, 2012

His and Hers, Or, Matching, A Cautionary Tale

It must not have worked out with Cecil, because this pattern is folded, uncut. (We could have told her!)
There should be a warning label on patterns that show Happy Couples wearing matching outfits, saying "Proceed With Caution", or as Mr. Hunting Creek quipped, "Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here."
For a sewing person, it is an early temptation. (Older and wiser sewists nod sadly). She/he likes to sew.. She/he wants to make a nice something for the Special Someone. This route is Fraught With Peril. Many a magazine has advised upon the dangers of "over-gifting.". You know: When you give him a hand knit fisherman's sweater made of hand-spun wool from your own antique heirloom sheep breed, and he gives YOU a Cross Pen Set for your desk.(Mr. Hunting Creek interjects here, "You aren't going to bring up that bicycle pump again?" Why yes. Yes I am. The Bicycle pump gift will never be forgotten in the annals of cross-gender gift giving.) How many sad tales of hand sewn gifts have we heard from our fellow sewists?
Handmade silk ties for him, he gives you a Magic Bullet. Hand made silk pajamas? A Cat Calendar in return.
But Love is deaf to warnings as well as blind, so our  fellow sewist purchased this fine pattern back in 1976, determined to make a trendy top for their beloved. To make this top most authentically, the use of ethnically inspired fabrics is strongly encouraged. Ikat, batik, Guatemalan hand-woven, African Wax prints  all good. Bonus points if you went to Africa/Guatemala/Peru YOURSELF to acquire this fabric  This will give the wearer the feeling of being a World Citizen, which was quite the thing among certain college students of my acquaintance back in 1976. (I myself had a dashiki shirt that I wore often with jeans to my classes, where one of my TA's announced blithely, "You don't have to be a Socialist in this class to get an A, but it will help.".This caused quite a sensation back at UC Irvine, heart of then staunchly Republican Orange County. I think my shirt may have shown how non-Orange County I was. I did get an A. I was not then nor have I ever been a Socialist, but I think the shirt helped.)
Make the shirt and iron it well. If you make a matching shirt for yourself, be aware that most men do not like to wear matching items of clothing. Mr. Hunting Creek, for example, would prefer to have hot sticks of flaming bamboo stuck under his fingernails than wear even so much as the same color shirt as his spouse to an outing. If he sees that I am wearing a dark blue sweater, and he has on a dark blue sweater that is close in color, he will demand that I change my top. Since like most women, I spent some mental energy selecting an outfit, so I refuse. He grumbles and changes.
Don't wrap the gift too nicely - just do it nice enough. Most men do not understand the niceties of excellent gift wrapping and your efforts (like the effort expended in making this shirt, most likely) will be wasted.
I have a spotty track record in the Gift Shirt, so I speak from experience here. I have made lovely, professional quality shirts for three boyfriends, two of whom broke up with me and one of whom married me. I admit, the sample size is small. But I have extensive anecdotal evidence that sewing a shirt for your boyfriend is like entering the Food Chain. Proceed with caution!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Hand Made Olive Oil Granola

Every week I make a giant batch of olive oil granola and all of it gets eaten. It's easy to tailor the recipe to your own preferences..
Here is my basic formula:

Olive Oil Granola
 4 cups old fashioned oats (I use the gluten-free organic oats from trader Joe's, but you can use any kind of course)
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup chopped walnuts
\1 cup unsalted sunflower seeds
1 cup pumpkin seeds (unsalted, hulled)
1/4 cup toasted flax seeds
1/4 cup ground flax seeds (these add omega 3)
1 teaspoon cinnamon (sometimes I use pumpkin pie spice)
1 teaspoon kosher salt (if you use regular salt, only use 1/2 teaspoon)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup honey

Mix ll of the dry ingredients together, then pour in the olive oil, honey and maple syrup. Mix well, Pour into a greased large baking pan or two greased cookie sheets. Bake at 325 F  for 45 minutes - BUT - you need to set the timer for 15 minute and stir every 15 minutes.I like it toasty - if you like it less toasted, then bake 30 minutes and stir every ten minutes.
Let cool, break up with a wooden spoon and store in a sealed container. This only lasts a week in my house.
If you don't like nuts, leave them out. You can use any kind of nuts - pistachios, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts...your choice. I add flax seeds, but you could leave them out. You could use canola oil instead of olive oil. You could use coconut oil - I have - it's delicious. Instead of honey you could use all maple syrup, or agave syrup, or all honey  If you like it sweeter you could add a quarter cup of brown sugar, more cinnamon, ...you get the idea. If you would like to add dried fruit wait until after it is toasted. Dried cranberries are nice. So are freeze-dried blueberries.

What do I do with all of this granola? I'm glad you asked.
I sprinkle it on top of mt Greek Yogurt and fruit

I add it to my cooked oatmeal, for crunch.
It makes an excellent topping for baked apples.
Last summer I ground it up and used it for a cheesecake crust. This gave Mr. Hunting Creek ideas - he ground some up with melted butter and more cinnamon, and spread it on some pizza dough that was in the fridge and made cinnamon rolls.
I add it to cookie dough.I add it to pumpkin and banana bread.
You could always make a half batch, but it makes a great gift.
I like to give some to neighbors for Christmas, in a pretty container, tied with a bow.
pretty soon they'll be back with the empty container, asking for more.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Needle Felted Christmas Stockings

Sometimes when I get an idea, I have to stop everything and try it out. I made these Needle Felted Christmas stockings this week, even though I was working on a fall top. But when inspiration strikes, I've learned that I need to take advantage of the ideas when they are fresh.
The body of the stocking and the cuff are loosely based on McCall's 2991, but the design is all mine.
Here is the red side:

These are constructed of wool blend felt , which is very easy to work with and a dream to needle felt applique.
I cut the poinsettias freehand and laid the petals on until I had a pleasing design:

Then I needle felted them down with my machine, the way I did the polka dot stocking:

Then I sewed the stockings together normally. Felt does not fray, so it is a very quick process. Don't they look beautiful?
If you'd like to work with wool blend felt, I have two sets of felt sheets in assorted colors available on my website here.

I took my pictures and put away my supplies. When I came back to cut out my next stocking, the cutting board had been taken over by Rebel Forces:

They are so much help!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Caught in the Act

Heard mysterious thumping from the Sewing Room. Upon investigation, found this perp in the uppermost cubby, kicking fabric out of the cubby for his own nefarious purposes.

Oops,  guess I knocked some down. Now I can sleep on it.

 I don't know anything about that fabric on the ironing board and the floor.

That was a lot of work. I think I'll take a well-deserved nap.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Visitor in the Garden

Look carefully and you'll see that we had a very large visitor in the garden yesterday morning. I snapped a quick picture with my iPhone. He stood so still for a long time, blending in quite well with the woods. If you didn't know he was there, you wouldn't see him. After a while he walked slowly into the woods next door, going to eat their hostas.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Do Not Throw Rocks Into The Water

The National Park Service doesn't even say please do not throw rocks into the water. Just Don’t. OK?

Taking that tone makes me want to throw rocks, although normally I’m not a rock-throwing kind of person. This is why certain groups get upset over what they perceive as excessive Government regulations , I think. In a lot of ways, they don’t like that Hermione tone of voice.

We took my new wheelchair out for a spin at Jones Point Park, under the Wilson Bridge. It’s been landscaped and fixed up and is a beautiful place to view the boats on the Potomac, or launch your small boat or canoe, or have a picnic by the water. Just don’t throw rocks.

We walked all the way north from the Wilson Bridge into Old Town. Well, Mr. Hunting Creek walked, I rode like Cleopatra in my new wheelchair. It was cool, but not too cold. We saw dogs playing in the dog park, (Alexandria is a dog-loving city), kids playing in the kid-park (likewise for children) and looked at all of the pretty doorways and river views.

The view is different from a wheelchair. I blessed the Americans with Disabilities Act at every curb and street crossing. The Park and the City of Alexandria are both remarkably disability -friendly. When I wasn't disabled I appreciated the ramps on the sidewalks for stroller pushing purposes, now that I am disabled, I find that it makes walking with a cane or riding in a wheelchair just that much easier.

Now that I am disabled, I have no patience with people who complain about handicapped parking spaces. My kids don’t either,now. They make those whiners cringe like bad dogs with a chilly, “My Mother is disabled,” It’s amazing how thoughtless some people are.
I was on a call,  and before the call started a friend asked how I was doing, and I mentioned my new medication treatments. A third person asked what the therapy was for and when I said MS, she stated, “Oh My God, if that were me I’d kill myself!” I had the presence of mind to gently say, “perhaps it is fortunate that it is me instead.”
People! M.S. is not a death sentence! Therefore, do not say stupid stuff like that. When you notice that I use a cane and a wheelchair, don’t blurt out what a shame it is that I am a burden to my husband, and ask how he is “taking it.” He is taking things just fine and enjoys driving the wheelchair. I think he enjoys having complete power over what I get to see and where I get to go. And it’s a man’s dream come true for shopping purposes - I can only go where he pushes, (he is a good sport about going on thread, yarn and pattern runs).

When we came back home from our walk,  I found a late Clematis blooming in the front garden. Don’t we all appreciate late bloomers even more than the early blossoms?  Something to think about.

Friday, October 5, 2012

For the Discriminating Dog

Dog Wedding Costumes and Pajamas...these fall into the "Now I've seen everything" category.
I showed these to Mr. Hunting Creek, He said, "Dogs are getting married now?"
Obviously, YES. And they need cute clothes.
(Cats continue to live in sin.)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

New Favorite Thing

Mr. Hunting Creek gave me a needle felting machine for my birthday, after I had expressed a desire for one after seeing an article about them in one of my magazines. He ordered it ahead of time, which should go down in some kind of husband present-giving hall of fame. He’s come so far from the bicycle pump of our first year of marriage! (When I asked, somewhat pointedly, why he had given me a bicycle pump out of the world of gift giving opportunities, he replied, simply, “Yours was broken, so I thought you needed one.” He can be a bit pragmatic)
After playing with it last week, I had one of those epiphanies that has to be followed: Needle felted Christmas stockings. Needle Felting is my new Favorite Thing. Felt is awesome, and my machine is even awesomer.
There are handheld felting needles, but the machine makes it easy enough for a complete neophyte to use. I bought some wool-blend felt and started messing around.
I happened to see a ball of yarn on top of my Wall o’ Fabric. (I had hidden it there to keep the cats away from it. It’s true, they do love to unroll yarn. Unroll all of it. Down, down the stairs and around the chair legs...but I digress.) I needle-felted the yarn on top of the denim blue felt. See top picture. It looked awesome. I then decided to do a Dr Seuessian inspired dots and shapes for the other side.

Felt will stick to felt, so it is easy to lightly tack the appliques where I want them, then go back and really felt them down. Here's the back, so you can see the fibers have meshed and attached the applique firmly. 

Here are both finished sides:

Here is the finished stocking:

This felting is fun, and easy and nothing is a mistake. My favorite kind of art. Hardly any learning curve, and the results are amazing. This weekend I’ll go looking at the thrift store for some wool sweaters to felt. Then I have plans for it. Serious plans.
Have you needle-felted anything yet?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Secret Ingredients

When we were first dating, I remember being served this birthday cake at Mr. Hunting Creek’s house, When I asked for the recipe, his mom said, “oh it’s on the back of the Galliano bottle.” So I dutifully asked my dad to buy some Galliano, not being 21 at the time and made the cake. It was really good, but not as good as Mr. Hunting Creek’s mom’s cake. I grilled her about her recipe and technique. She claimed she “followed the recipe”.
Years passed. Mr. Hunting Creek continued to request the Harvey Wallbanger Cake for his birthday.I continued to make it, tweaking the recipe, adding freshly squeezed orange juice and freshly grated peel,  more glaze, less glaze,  but still Mr. hunting Creek claimed it wasn’t the same as his mother’s. This annoyed me. It would annoy a saint. I am a better cook than his mother, and a better baker. so I was nettled by this. so much so that when he brought home her recipes after he closed her kitchen, the first thing I looked for was that recipe. :
You know those cooks who pass on recipes but who leave out that secret ingredient or technique so that your version is never quite what their version is? Mr. Hunting Creek’s mom was one of those cooks. Her recipe for Harvey Wallbanger Cake was , in her own writing, different from the standard one in only one way, but the difference was huge. Instead of half a cup of oil, she used one cup. No other recipe for this cake that I have seen uses one cup of oil, but it makes an indecently moist cake.

Harvey Wallbanger Cake
1 box Duncan Hines Orange Cake mix (you can use yellow in a pinch, but it’s not the same)
1 packages Instant vanilla Pudding mix, 3 ¾ oz size
4 eggs
½ cup oil for Galliano’s version, 1 Cup for Mr. Hunting Creek’s Mom’s Version
½ cup galliano
1 oz vodka
½ cup orange juice

Combine cake mix, pudding mix, eggs, cooking oil, Galliano, vodka, orange joice Mix until smooth, about two minutes if using a hand beater.
I use my Cuisinart and it takes a few pulses
Pour into greased and floured 10” tube pan or bundt pan Bake 45-50 minutesat 350 degrees
Cool and glaze.

Glaze recipe
1 cup confectioners sugar
1 oz Galliano
1 oz vodka
1 oz orange juice in a bowl, blend, drizzle over cake

We won’t even mention that eating this cake as a child just shows how highly unusual Mr. Hunting Creek’s childhood was. When we were first married we used to argue about whose family was , shall we say., the most dysfunctional. When I learned that he had been eating this booze monster of a cake since early childhood, I proclaimed him the winner.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Mother-in-law Recipe Box Project

When my mother-in-law closed her kitchen , the one thing Mr.Hunting Creek wanted was her recipe card file. My sister grabbed the same thing when her mother-in-law closed her kitchen. But what to do with all these recipes? We  decided that we needed to write a cookbook, so they would not be lost. Some of them are quite charming, and all have that special mid-century certain American calories and fat be damned attitude. (Also, what was all the margarine love about?)We didn't want them to be lost forever. Of course, that means we will actually have to scan them in and then write it.
As we all know, the best way to tackle a project like this is just to START.
Here's the first recipe installment:

Banana Nut Pancakes
This one was cut from newspaper - probably the Los Angeles Times Food Section.  And then taped to a 3x5 note card. There is another, hand-written recipe on the back for muffins that we'll get to another time.

These are moist and delicious and an excellent use for a ripe banana.

I cup flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 egg
2 tablespoons oil
1 medium banana, chopped
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Combine flour sugar, baking powder and salt, set aside. In large bowl, stir milk, egg and oil until well blended. Add flour mixture., blend well. Stir in banana and walnuts. Scoop by scant 1/4 cup cupfuls on to hot, lightly greased griddle. Cook, turning once, until golden. Serve with margarine and syrup. Makes 12

What I do differently in my kitchen: for one thing, I never let margarine so much as darken my fridge. It would be a nice touch to toast the walnuts first, but that is unlikely to happen in my kitchen on a  Sunday morning. But maybe if I were feeling OCD about it, I'd toast them the night before.
I use melted butter in them instead of oil, just because I like that extra layer of buttery flavor. And sometimes   add a dash of vanilla, if I remember. And I serve these with applesauce or other fruit, bacon and Real. Maple Syrup. That fake stuff is just flavored Corn syrup.

One recipe card down,about a hundred more to go.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Scary Patterns:Dog Version

Dog mommies, don't dress up your babies like this, It just embarrasses them and makes them sad
If you have no shame  find the pattern here.
Look, the little Bumblebee dog is begging you not to!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Mayonnaise Chocolate Cake

Several people told me that I had teased my readers with mention of an old recipe for Mayonnaise
Chocolate Cake, but had not revealed it to you. Of course the problem this cake solves is an excess of homemade mayo. Nothing better on a BLT, but how many BLTs can we eat in one week? Not as many as we'd like, but that's a separate issue. In the olden days people frequently made their own, as I do from time to time, as does my daughter. But how to use it up?
This recipe comes from an old cookbook that I have had since I was first married,. What Shall I Cook Today, by Nika Hazelton. 
This book has recipes and menus for every day of the year, and is quite charming in a retro way. Of course we all cook our families lunches from scratch every day! My sister always tried to steal it from me.

In the book it's called:
Thrifty Waldorf Chocolate Cake

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup water ( I always use cold coffee with a little rum or liqueur, like Amaretto or Hazelnut)
2 teaspoons vanilla (I make  my own and you should too)
2/3 cup mayonnaise

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9x9x2 pan, or two 8 inch layer pans or a small bundt pan. I normally make a square one.

Mix the dry ingredients. The book says to sift, but I never do. I just dump them all in my Cuisinart and pulse it a couple times. Or put them in a bowl and whisk. If you want to sift, be my guest.
Add the water, vanilla and mayonnaise and mix thoroughly. A few pulses of the processor or beat by hand until smooth. Add to pan or pans, bake 30-35 minutes, or until cake pulls away from the sides and is not gooey inside. Frost when cool, or not. My family doesn't love frosting, so I never do. 

This is a super easy cake that you can whip up on a weeknight, and no one will ever know what's in it. Sometimes I add chocolate chips.(the mini ones work best).
Everyone will think you are amazing and in fact, anyone who bakes a cake for their family and friends IS amazing. I like mine with vanilla ice cream and berries.
Happy Friday!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Career Counseling

  Sometimes my job is super tedious like 90% of the time. Like the airline pilot joke says, it’s hours of boredom interspersed with moments of sheer terror. During those hours of boredom I try to imagine what my Perfect Job would be.  The job that uses my considerable natural talents and pays Big Bucks so that I can have plenty of free time,  Greek Yogurt and fancy Cat Food for the kittens. Plus extra left over from that to use to buy patterns that I might never make but need, just in case.

And Extra Money, which is a concept I explain to my children is like Unicorns or the wendigo.

Remember when your High School Career Counselor told you to list your favorite hobbies and classes and they handed out this sheet where you filled in the little bubbles with a number two pencil and then got back a printout that told you that you were divinely chosen to be a dental hygienist or a plumber or a nurse?
Mine said (not making this up, I even saved the paper somewhere) that I was best suited for Military Intelligence. OK... now that you’ve had a good laugh and are making that lame old joke about how that’s an oxymoron, just think about this. What if my high school counselor was right?
I ponder this while waiting for software upgrades to upload.
Do you suppose the Intelligence Community looking for these skills?

1. Baking bread – I guess I could hide secret messages in it. Or feed other, hungry spies.
2. Fixing failed mayonnaise – this skill came in handy just yesterday, when my daughter called saying that her mayonnaise was a giant puddle of eggy oil and I gave her the magic solution and it totally worked and mayo’d but then she had the horrible problem of two cups of fresh mayonnaise to use up after eating her BLT, which I also deftly solved with an awesome Mayonnaise Chocolate Cake recipe, baby, which uses 2/3 cup of mayonnaise. Plus also Crab Cakes, Chicken salad in Heirloom tomatoes and Garlic Cheese Bread. Leave it to a child of the seventies to know her way out of a mayonnaise glut.
3. Sewing: I could make awesome disguises. I once made my son a Darth Maul costume so awesome that he won our neighborhood Halloween contest. Plus, Star Wars! Knowing the star Wars canon has to be good for spying. “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.” I could totally say that with a straight face.
4. Painting. See disguises, above.
5. Trivia.  A person who reads all the time necessarily knows lots of previously useless information
6. Never been beaten at Chinese checkers. An unbroken streak lasting 30 plus years.
7. being able to fold those elastic bottom sheets has to be good for something.
8. Never forgetting passwords
9. Know every bridge on the George Washington parkway, thus enabling me to leave bundles of spy stuff hidden where no one but us spies will find it.
10. Tracing Burda Patterns. Anyone who has done this knows that no Cold War expert could do better at solving these Undecipherable Puzzles

Mr. Hunting Creek offers that I am really good at predicting how mysteries will end, either in book or movie form, and also remembering the plots of old movies.
Do you sit and Fantasize about other, more Glamorous lines of work? What’s your Fantasy Job?