Friday, December 30, 2011

Kitchen Adventures: Turkey Stew with Rosemary Dumplings

This time of year I am inevitably on the hunt of good uses of dark turkey meat, thanks to an abundance of turkey leftovers in late November. This post on SouleMama got me thinking “stew”, though I went off-road significantly from the instructions.

The blogger’s*** dinner was Chicken Stew with Rosemary-Garlic Dumplings, published by The Herb Companion. I have quite a few issues with this recipe as written. First, the chicken breasts are cooked and served whole. How is that a stew? My belief is that if a knife and fork are required to eat stew, it’s not stew. Second, the “rosemary-garlic dumplings” contain no garlic. Shouldn’t that be a requirement as well???

Instead, I opted for Turkey Fricassee from Joy of Cooking. Since the meat was already cooked, I simply deboned it and cut it into bite-size morsels, and went on with the instructions as written from that point. I also added fresh rosemary a la Herb Companion, add added Herb’s rosemary dumplings at the end of the cooking time.

Not the prettiest photo of a pot of stew in the world, but man was it super-flavorful!

And yes, I would call this a stew.

*** Note that Amanda Soule (who I adore and respect) is not the author of this recipe, and that I am throwing all my criticisms squarely in the lap of the editors of The Herb Companion. After a semi-recent series of increasingly pleading emails from one of their interns asking for information on an area I have some knowledge in, ramping up until it was clear said-intern didn’t just want direction but rather for me to write her damn story for her, I feel extra-justified in using a sharp tone.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Finished Object: Trapezoid Crocheting, When Rectangles are Directed

For those in the know, I am ever hopeful that someday I will successfully teach myself crochet. Yes, I am semi-knowledgeable in bobbin lace, locker hook rug making, kumihimo, etc. Yes, I did teach myself how to crochet an edging on a knit shawl for my mother so I (a learning through reading person) could teach my sister (a learning through demonstration person) how to do the motif so we could gift it to our mother. But beyond a few potholders, I’ve never successfully completed a project.

I am the type of learner that needs to do something with enough frequency that “knowing” drills down to muscle memory. With knitting, that happened fairly quickly because it’s the same knit stitch over and over and over. And with stockinette, it’s the same knit row/purl row/knit row/purl row over and over and over. Scarfs are a great starter project. Then maybe advance to hats (gauge/circular). Sprinkle in some cables or lace. Try garment construction with increases and decreases. There are plenty of projects that can increase a knitter’s skill base in baby steps.

With crochet, on the other hand, you can crochet a scarf in single or double crochet. But anything beyond tosses a thousand new obstacles in the new maker’s way. Where do I put the hook? Is it through the space created by a stitch, or in the stitch itself? The whole stitch, or just one side? Which side? How is a half double crochet different from a single crochet or a double crochet?

“Help” sites/programs like Knit & Crochet Today are anti-help, as far as I’m concerned. The host (always a host with immaculately lacquered nails) begins to describe a basic stitch. In the hook goes, ever so slowly. Then whoop whoop whoop whoop. There now (following blur of wraps, grabs and re-grabs), see how simple that was?

Because crochet tends to combine multiple stitch types to create a motif, which is then repeated, there is little opportunity to truly learn one stitch type before switching to another. And those questions above? Most of the answers are dependent on the specific pattern, and a specific pattern will likely utilize a combination of all these answers.

So it is no surprise that the project that is my latest attempt to learn crochet was suffering from some... shall we say “peculiarities?”

This is supposed to be a rectangle...

One more-absent-than-not member of our knit group kindly suggested the reason for this outcome is that I wasn’t doing the necessary chain at the beginning of each row. But I was, which I kept telling her over and over and over. What was super-confusing about this is that the next row always had one less motif than the row below. I was making every motif that there was room for, but I would inevitably run out of room.

As it turned out, I was forgetting something critical. I would get super-wrapped up in making the crosshatch motif, that I blazed right past the sort-of half motif at the beginning of the row that created a straight edge for the angular stitch ground. Without this, that I dubbed a “flying buttress”, there wouldn’t be enough room to make the sufficient number of motifs on each row.

I had to remind myself often to count the motifs before proceeding, and there was plenty of careful frogging back and starting a day’s work over.

Are there mistakes? You betcha! Am I convinced I was doing a proper double crochet? Hardly! But... it’s done, and ends woven in the morning of the recipient’s birthday. I call that a victory.

Details: Crosshatch Stitch Afghan from Best Ever Afghans by Crochet! Fall 2011. Patons Lace Sequin, size K hook.
I didn’t concern myself with meeting gauge, so the afghan is not the size specified, and I added a few extra rows for a total of 67 to make this the right length/proportion (26 x 50) to be more of a shawl.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Kitchen Adventures: Cooking a “Tweet Tart” for your “Tweetie Pies”

This week, I focused my kitchen experiments to food for our outdoor feathered friends. Seed-embedded suet cakes have traditionally been a mid-winter treat in the feeders at my house. The birds need the extra fat for energy during these cold months.

Suet can be easy to prepare, and there are lots of recipes available on the internet. Basically the process involves melting suet (a specific type of fat found around the organs of cattle), and adding to it other food stuffs, like peanut butter, cornmeal, and seeds, etc. The mixture is then poured into molds, and kept in a refrigerator or unheated garage until ready to use.

Trouble is, between now and the time I made this at my old house (maybe 5 years ago), butchers and meat markets no longer seem to receive entire beef carcasses, and the meat locker/processor has removed the suet before beef reaches the store. The only fat that a local butcher will have is subcutaneous fat, most of which they need to add to hamburger and sausages.

After asking at every butcher shop I thought would be most likely to carry it and coming up empty, (I didn’t bother with WalMart, etc.) I thought my days of making homemade suet for our birds was over. Thankfully, one of my knitting friends heard me talking about my quest at a recent knit group. She happened to run across suet for sale by a local beef raiser at a holiday farmer’s market, and picked up a bag for me. I’ve never been so happy to receive a bag of fat! (Thanks, “J”!)

In celebration - and inspired by Cooking for the Birds, I decided to go a bit crazy with my suet production. The suet cakes I made are not in that book, but the author’s ideas, photos and recipes certainly got my creative juices pumping.

I first made a crust for the suet tart by melting suet, adding lots of cornmeal, and just a little bit of seed.

I pressed part of the mixture in the bottom of the tart pan, and set it in the refrigerator to cool.

With a solid base, I then pressed more of the mixture around the sides of the pan, and put it back in the refrigerator.

Now for the filling. For that I melted more suet, and added lots of crunchy peanut butter, some cornmeal (proportionally less than for the crust), and more seed (proportionally more than in the crust).

I removed the pan from the heat, and added chopped raisins and cranberries to the mixture.

The spooned the mixture into the crust, placing it back in the refrigerator to cool.

Once they were solid, I turned the pans upside down and gently pushed on the center of the tins to encourage the tarts to pop out. (With all that grease built in to the crust, you better believe they did!) I then took some creamy peanut butter and melted it in the microwave a few seconds to liquefy it. The peanut butter is piped around the edge of the crust, and sunflower seeds are pressed in to it. A cranberry garnish is added to the center.

Three suet cakes ready for the next bird black tie ball, hostess gifts, or to keep on-hand for surprise visitors bearing gifts.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Finished Object: Claus and Effect

Mr. and Mrs. Claus have been a part of my Christmas since my earliest memory. My mother would set up the display in front of the piano by the front door - Santa warming his backside in front of the wood-burning stove, Mrs. Claus sitting on a child-sized wood & rattan chair.

Mostly paper mache and standing about 2 1/2' tall, they originally came from a florist’s holiday window display, and were purchased by my uncle in the late '50s/early '60s.

I’ve always been fond of them, though they were mistreated most of their lives by being hauled up into an attic and left there for most of the year. Bugs live in attics. Bugs that like to eat paper.

Did you know paper mache was mainly paper??

In repairing these figures, I tried to retain the the original work of what gives the characters their personality, so I didn’t do any work on the skin tones or non-hair facial features.

Here’s a close-up of Mrs. Claus from the front

(note the lack of eyelashes)

And again from the back

(and major bald spots in her hair)

The first step I took in repairing them was to purchase a new can of matte white latex paint. Behr’s Polar White was a pretty good match.

I applied a fresh coat of paint to her chair

Glued what remained of her original hair back to her scalp over the bald spots, painted the hair (which sealed in and strengthened what remained of her hair), and finished it with clear glitter that I sprinkled over a diluted all-purpose glue that I brushed over the areas I wanted the glitter to stick.

(The Conair hair dressing apron helped to keep the glitter from sticking to her clothes)

For her eyelashes, I used matte-finish white tissue paper.

One figure down, one to go.

(The “wood burning stove” only required minor paint touch-up)

Mr. Claus shared many of the same problems, and had the additional burden of a broken arm.

Fortunately his nightgown is not a true finished garment

so I was able to reach in and peel back the sleeve fabric, revealing that his arm wasn’t truly broken, but was removed from its original “socket”.

I played with the arm placement until I found the best match for the paper tears, and temporarily held it with glued strips of tissue.

And then secured it with multiple layers of glued muslin strips.

With the arm fixed, I turned my attention to the hair and beard

and finished up with glitter.

Unfortunately my seemingly minor fixes changed Santa’s center of balance, which was never that good, as you can see from this photo.

While I tried to put his arm back in its original position, I didn’t have an earlier reference photo to ensure that. And all that new paint on his head made him more top-heavy. Our solution was to make felt lifts

which I then glued to the bottoms of his slippers

Mr. Claus needed some new eyelashes, too.

Next year I’ll spend some time trying to clean/brighten the clothing and trim, but Christmas is rapidly approaching, and I’ve got other holiday-specific deadlines that are demanding attention. And I wanted to get the couple into their unheated new home so the sub-zero winter nights would kill any buggies that remained. So for this holiday season, Mr. and Mrs. Claus are officially open for business.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

For Anyone Who is Interested in Clean Air, Clean Water, and Safe Food

Run, don’t walk, to rent/borrow/buy a copy of The Last Mountain. I had a feeling that it would be both interesting and disappointing (as a view of humanity) based on my visit to a coal mining region of eastern Kentucky. The entire time my press tour group was hauled around being shown the beneficial results of reclaimed mined lands, I had that peculiar sensation of wind being blown “up my ass”, which I try not to be a natural sensation, and therefore stands out.

The simple act of turning on a faucet and taking a drink of water, which we take for granted, can sicken or kill the residents of regions impacted by these practices.

If we are not trying to create a world that is better and safer for our children than what we inherited, wtf are we thinking?

And, if I ruled the universe, executives like these would be forced to move with their families into homes beneath retention bonds and coal silos, and breath the air and drink the water—similar to what slum lords are forced to do in New York.

For my local peeps, the public library owns a copy.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Monday Smile

Every week should begin this way:

(From the new Muppet movie)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Kitchen Adventures: Applesauce Cake

I’m having trouble finding duds in my cookbook library that would allow me to free up some shelf space, and this next book isn’t cooperating either. But I’m learning to live with each tasty “disappointment.”

Family Sampler is a compilation of recipes contributed by one family, and published by Morris Press. So far I’ve tried three recipes. The first was for a chicken artichoke casserole using frozen artichokes. Turned out sourcing frozen artichokes was the most difficult part, but finally found it in the third store attempt (Kroger stores stock it in their Private Selection line. If a store carries frozen edamame, then they are likely to carry frozen artichokes as well. I’ve never done much with artichokes, so I was up for the experiment. The base recipe turned out okay, but the result was a bit bland and a-tonal in color. I’ve made some notes about ways to improve it on both counts the next time around.

A few days ago I realized I was famished for some applesauce cake, which is weird since I don’t think I’ve ever made and rarely eaten applesauce cake. Still, this was one impulse that couldn’t be ignored. I found a recipe in Family Sampler, which was easy to make, called for ingredients that were already in my pantry, and baked in an 8x8x8 pan, so we didn’t end up with a huge cake and only two of us to eat it.

Dee-lish! This one goes into my permanent file with no alterations recommended.

That evening I made another recipe out of that book: Chicken & Rice Divine. Basically it’s a cream soup dump recipe, but it’s not a 15-minute stove top process. Cooking in the oven for 1 1/2 hrs not only gives the rice a chance to cook, but it blends and marries the flavors. Unlike similar recipes I’ve seen in the past, this one also called for a bit of curry powder, which turned out to be a genius move on some cook’s part. My substitutions included using leftover Thanksgiving turkey instead of chicken (the dark meat from one thigh and one wing produced the right amount of meat), choosing their option of broth (low-sodium) instead of water, and adding a tablespoon or so of pimento to give the otherwise a-tonal casserole a bit of color. The result was amazing, and I’ll be sad when I run out of dark turkey meat (I think dark meat is the way to go on this because of the fat content and the almost smoky flavor of that cut). The only alteration I’ll make next time is sauteing the onions and celery in less butter to allow them to build up more color before they are mixed in.

The experiments are not over. Tonight I’ll test a recipe for Herb-Crusted Sirloin Tip Roast with Creamy Horseradish-Chive Sauce that I found through the Kansas Beef Council’s web site, and twice baked potatoes from Joy of Cooking. I suspect the look of my sirloin will only bear a faint resemblance to the Council’s photo, given my knife skills, poor lighting, lazy camera action, and impatient food styling. But it’s the final flavor the counts, right?

Friday, December 09, 2011

I Had Blamed my Mother, but Apparently these Roots Tap Deeper Down the Ancestral Tree

“dark sense of humor”—check

“pessimistic view of human nature”—check

“dark view of the human condition”–check

“feeling that the world's messed up”—check

“we might as well laugh about it”—check, check, check, check

The BBC News article, How Scandinavian is Scotland?, could easily be retitled, How Scots/Scandinavian is this Kansan?

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

A Brief Bulletin from Movie/TV Land

Loads of knitting/crocheting to be done, and it’s too miserably cold to garden. Thank goodness for a backlog of quality entertainment!


Detective Inspector Irene Huss, a Swedish cop drama. Episodes 1-3 now out on DVD in the U.S. My only question is how on earth does her professional chef/husband leave the restaurant every night to have dinner with his family? It is subtitled, so knitting stockinette is the only way to go.

Exporting Raymond. The creator of the U.S. sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond is sent to Russia to help them re-create the series in that cultural setting. Having grown up during the Cold War (I received booklets in grade school advising how to prepare for/and survive a nuclear bomb) I found this particularly interesting.

Sopranos. I know. I’m late to the party. But it’s too great a party to miss!

Long Way Down. Sequel to Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s Long Way Round documentary when they circumnavigated the globe west to east on their motorcycles. This time they begin in northern Scotland and travel south to Cape Town, South Africa. Watching the shifts in culture, political and natural landscapes is fascinating. I hope they follow through on their plan to do a third sequel through the Americas.*


Hollow Man, a Kevin Bacon remake of The Invisible Man.

Looking forward to:

Saving Private Perez. (Yes, it is on order at the local library. I’m hold #1, thankyouverymuch.)

The quilt is still coming along beautifully, though ever so slowly. The callouses that have formed on my fingertips are making it hard to use my smart phone. At times I find myself wondering if sewing conductive thread directly into my callouses would help... Not that I would, but there are times! On a recent episode of Castle, the police were pondering the identity of a dead body, based on physical attributes: calloused fingertips, and a wide bottom. What career would cause that combination? My answer: Professional hand quilter! (Turned out he was an over-the-road trucker. I like my answer better.)

* All the above titles, except for the Long Way series, are available through our local library. Long Way may be rented from the local art house, but be forewarned that each title is a full season of shows, so watching even one title during a single rental period is a challenge. Renting and watching both would only be possible if the viewer gave up sleep and personal hygiene rituals.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Finished Object: Christmas Wreath Repair

Back in 2006 when I assembled/acquired/fabricated the parts and pieces of my mid-century modern white Christmas tree, I realized that my usual green door wreath would be completely out of place. Around that time I happened across one of those HGTV/DIY shows that combined entertaining tips with do-it-yourself decorating projects. This particular episode (Creative Juice on DIY) was about decorating and cooking for a winter holiday party, and included a how-to on making a felt wreath.*

That happened to be just the key I needed to design my own door wreath. The first year it worked pretty well, though I found that the snowflakes, which had been secured with only ribbon, were floating around, powered by wind, gravity, and humidity. Also, despite the fact that the wreath was protected from precipitation, the humidity would cause the snowflakes to wilt and collapse forward.

After the move, the wreath failed the float to the surface until after the holiday season, and we simply didn’t get around to it again until this year. Last week, pulling it out of its high-class storage trash bag, I discovered (shockingly) that the wreath had held fairly well, but needed some TLC and additional snowflakes due to the shifting issue I previously described.

For the past week I’ve been slowly spreading white glue to the backs of the snowflakes to stiffen them up, cutting out new snowflakes, and applying glitter and beads.

The result:

Not bad. Not bad at all.

Wire wreath frame
Blue and white felt
Blue tulle
Light blue 1/4" sheer ribbon
Large eye blue beads (approx 1/4" diameter)
Small grommets
Elmer's all-purpose white glue
Blue glitter glue
Silver glitter glue
Galvanized wire to make hook for hanging
Hot glue
Hot glue gun

Two types of snowflake patterns are made. The top pattern is more intricate, while the base is plain and blocky. Make the same number of top and bottom pieces, but 1/2 in blue and 1/2 white. The number you’ll need depends on their size and the size of your wreath, but my snowflakes are roughly 6" in diameter, and the finished wreath has over a dozen.

It’s been a very long time since I made the original, so the details of its construction are sketchy, but I believe that white felt is also used to wrap and pad the wreath frame, and then covered in tulle. Since it’s covered in tulle, I can only tell you today that a white fabric is beneath.

The snowflakes are decorated separately, then glued and grommeted together. The ribbon then wraps around the wreath, pushed through the grommet and a bead, then down through the grommet and wrapped around the wreath to the next snowflake. Once they’ve been arranged, hot glue holds them nice and tight.

Here’s my original post where I discuss the project, and a close-up view of the wreath. (Holy cow I’ve been blogging a long time!)

Now to return to my Mr. and Mrs Claus repair so I can get my North Pole tableau up before the season is over!

* Here’s a similar project on the HGTV site, but for making a fall-themed felt wreath using a twig base.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Radio Silence

Sorry about the lack of blog posts of late, but

I’m really wrapped up in this quilt project!