Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Products That Should Be Global

Having traveled outside the U.S. a few times, I've come upon certain foods that I think are amazing, but weren't available when I came back to the states.

My Short List

I think we ought to come up with a full list of food items that we should require all countries to make available (or at least my country).

Kraft Extra Creamy Peanut Butter - I've discussed this before, available in Canada, but not the U.S.
Swiss Coffee - If I were Swiss and visited the U.S., I would be sorely disappointed with the coffee here.
Liberté Yogurt - Until recently, I could only find this in Canada
Hellmann's Real Mayonnaise (also goes under Best brand) - Not sure how global this is, but it needs to be
Non-Pasteurized Cheeses - I ate amazing cheeses in France that don't compare with ANYTHING here
Mee Goreng - stir-fry noodle dish (or at least the ingredients for it...especially Kecap Manis
Italian prosciuttos - Not just from Parma...they have AMAZING cured meats that I need

Recently, I was extremely happy to see that Liberté Méditerranée yogurt had made it to my grocery store in Albany.

I highly recommend the full-fat is worth EVERY globule of fat in it.  But people tell me the low/no-fat version is good too.

What would you add to the global list of mandated food products?

Current Knitting

Only got a few more inches of the first sleeve done, and couldn't really get a good self-photo on my iPhone.

Oh's getting there.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Supreme Court Impact

This coming Tuesday and Wednesday, the United States Supreme Court will be listening to arguments about two issues that mean a lot to me.

California Proposition 8 and DOMA
First of all, the best thing about SCOTUS (Supreme Court of The United States) listening to these two cases, is that is lets a LOT of people know that fairness and liberty aren't there yet for the LGBT community.

Many people I speak with...even relatively well-informed people...think that I am able to get married fact they think all same sex couples can get married in this country.

Or at least I could move to a state where I could get legally married.

I'm hopeful that many of my readers already know more about this issue than most people...while I can go to some States and get legally married, it would only be legal in that State...not in my home state and more importantly, not Federally fact, Defense of Marriage Act, the ridiculously name act passed by Bill Clinton in 1996 says that no State or Federal law is required to recognize any marriage that isn't one man and one woman.

So, suffice it to say, this week's Supreme Court hearings could have a significant impact on my life.

Current Knitting

I finished the neck and did something with it that I'm quite pleased with, and also started the first sleeve, including getting past all the shoulder cap shaping.

The neck might seem a bit small in relation to the rest of the sweater, but it fits quite well, without being tight. The opening was a bit too large, and the shoulder width was a bit too wide when I got to the top, so I reduced the number of stitches I'd normally pick up for the neck and it solved both issues quite well.

For the shoulder cap shaping, I just did short-rows.  I picked up 124 stitches, and then knit one inch past the center of the shoulder-top and turned (I use the standard wrap for my short-rows), and then knit 2 inches back and kept adding an inch of knitting until I had knit 2/3rds of the sleeve, and then I started knitting around.  I haven't tried it on, but it looks like it will work okay.

Readers' Comments/Questions

Julie in San Diego asks, "Are you really retiring in a month?"

I don't think so.  First of all, my current project is slated to go until at least May, so I won't leave until the project is over.  Second, I really haven't met my financial goals for retirement, although I could revise them too.  It's still up in the air what I'll do.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Kinetic Art

Ever since the day we started playing Mousetrap , I've had a fascination with Rube Goldberg-type contraptions.

Right in Philadelphia Airport

Who would have believed that one of my favorite contraptions would be right outside baggage claims in Terminal C at Philadelphia International Airport?

Yes, this delightful piece of art looks out onto the waiting area for offsite parking vans, so I used to get to see this performance art every week.

Next time you fly into Philadelphi, try finding this, it's worth it...much better than the video would indicate.

Current Knitting

I am glad to say that the body of the Icelandic wool pullover is complete.

I even decided to try it on to make sure the basic size was good.

A couple of things.  You'll note I've grafted the shoulders (I use three-needle bindoff) and I've picked up the stitches for the collar.  One of the things I noticed is that the stitch pattern I'm using is slightly less defined when I knit it flat than when I knit it in the round.  I'm thinking that perhaps I'm slipping the stitch differently, but I only do that on the front-facing row in both methods.  Perhaps my purling is tighter than my knitting...hmmm...who knew.

Readers' Comments/Questions

I never realized so many of the readers here are such recipe whores.  Ted writes, "And can we have the recipe for Cuban Bread, please and thank-you?"

I contacted Thaddeus' sister, and this is the recipe she uses for Cuban bread (and she never uses the optional sesame or poppy seeds, and if I remember correctly, she used to put boiling water in a pan at the bottom of the oven).  Suffice it to say, we used to eat the crust on this bread and throw away the doughy insides.  Here's a photo scavenged from the web that best looks like I remember it.

Ron writes, " I second Ted's request. However, I must say the photos of your bread are great."

Looks are VERY deceiving...I can make a bread look rustic and tasty, even when its devoid of flavor.  Really.

Ron goes on to write, "I am also interested in how others do set-in sleeves from the top down. Do you follow Walker or Righetti? Or have you developed your own system?"

I'm not sure what method I'll use...I have books by both Walker (Knitting from the Top ) and Righetti (Knitting in Plain English )on top-down knitting, so I'll check them out before I start the sleeves.  I was planning on doing a short-row shaping at the shoulder, but that limits the amount of excess fabric I can add to the top of the sleeve.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Caveat Emptor Dot Com

Early on in my interwebs dealings, I learned to be very cynical and careful in my dealings.  There are a fair share of phonies and frauds on-line.

Can't Believe Everything You See on Pinterest

Pinterest is no exception to the rule of internet wariness...just because something looks good in photos, doesn't necessarily mean it is good.

Case in point...I saw a link to a recipe for 30 minute baguettes...from start to finish.  Just typing this, I find myself saying, "What were you thinking?"

My version of the bread...the lumpiness was done on purpose to make it look more rustic!
The photo of the bread look good, and the recipe used a twist on a bread baking technique that I already knew to make a crispy crust, so I thought I'd try it.

First of all, the recipe took about an hour, not 30 minutes.  Second of all the bread was bland and boring, and even the crust wasn't as crisp as the technique I already knew.

Their basic recipe was to create a simple, moist bread dough (very warm water, sugar, yeast, salt and flour), cut the dough in fourths and create four long strands of dough...twist two of the strands together and then twist the other two and bake them in an oven that you had just dumped ice into the bottom of (I pre-heated a cast-iron skillet in the bottom, so I didn't have to dump ice on the floor of my oven).

Suffice it to say, bread dough needs to rise if you want any flavor at all.  Also, putting boiling water in a pan at the bottom of the stove works much better than ice.

Thaddeus' sister makes something she calls Cuban bread in a very similar way, but hers is much better...I'll stick with that if I need a relatively quick bread.

Current Knitting/Spinning

I've almost finished the upper back section of the Icelandic wool pullover I'm making.

Soon, I'll be grafting the shoulder sections, working a neck band and picking up to knit the sleeves.

I also started a new spinning project...I have a ton of roving that I need to start making into yarn, so I started with this lovely Black Bunny Fiber roving.  It's a superwash Blue-Face Leicester in a colorway Carol calls Ruby something.  It's very nice to spin.

I'm still not sure how I'll finish the singles from this...I think I'll test-ply a few different options to see what I like best.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The God Particle

The Higgs boson is supposedly that elusive thing that creates life...creation in a particle.

Spark of Life

When broken down into it's various components, the human body is just a list of elements...oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, etc.  Yet put all those elements in the correct proportion into a blender, and alas, a human is not what you will end up with.

So it is with all things creative in my mind.  Put together all the colors and the content, and even use the same kind of paint brush, and you could still hardly replicate the sublime beauty of something like a Matisse painting.

As I've begun to explore the act of creativity in my own life, I realize that not all the things I do are imbued with the same spark of life that some seem to create almost effortlessly.

I'm going to see one of my very favorite singing artists, Namoli Brennet, this coming week in Albany, and so on my drive up to Albany this week, I listened to her songs.  I realized that there wasn't one of the songs I listened to that didn't come together in an incredibly successful way.  And even though my playlist for a very early Monday morning consisted solely of her songs, the music was varied and diverse and endlessly interesting (or at least interesting enough to keep me entertained for about 3 hours drive).

Perhaps my creativity will start to come a bit more naturally and not require quite so much effort and fuss.

Current Knitting

I have been doing some work on the Icelandic wool pullover, and I'm making progress on the upper back.   But I've also been working on a new project, that seems to be turning out just swell.

Yes, it's another pullover, but different than most sweaters I've knit.  I started with a center panel of garter stitch, inserting two rows of gray stripe.  Then I picked up stitches on each side of the center panel, and did shaping and intarsia to continue the stripe across the chest.

The back will not have the stripes, but will have a random square of gray on the center of the back.  I am whimsically hoping the Higgs boson is present in this design and it comes to life.  Perhaps I'll call this project, Frankenstein.

Readers' Comments/Questions

Regarding the biscuit recipe, Jo writes, "It would be a lovely gift to make a credible biscuit! It seems like the proportion of flour and sugar is wrong in the transcription of the recipe here on the blog? "

I realized the recipe looked rather weird in I'll try and edit it so it looks correct.  There's very little sugar and a bit more flour.

To all the blog readers who speak the Queen's English (the other queen), I apologize for using a word that has a different meaning for you...biscuit for us is a non-yeast dinner roll, with baking powder as leavening...not a cookie.

Carol also writes, "We eat/drink so much Kefir, and have been thinking about making it ourselves. Could you tell me, please, how Thaddeus does this?"

I could probably get him to explain this all to me, but you'd be much better off googling this.  He purchased a live grain of kefir from someone on-line, which came soaking in milk.  He adds about 2 cups of milk to the grain every day and a half and creates a beverage that I can hardly gag doesn't taste anything like the kefir I buy in the supermarket.  And I'm sure there are details I've left to do a bit of investigation of this one on your own...there's tons of information on the interwebs.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Son of a Biscuit

For a few years, I've been trying, unsuccessfully, to make a fluffy, tasty biscuit.

How To Make Good Biscuits

I started to think that, like pizza dough in the Northeast, biscuits required water or some magical ingredient that was only available in the South.  My attempts at biscuits weren't horrendous, and they were certainly edible, but they weren't fluffy and melt-in-your-mouth, like some I have had.

Then, a blog reader, Glen, who is also a graduate of Culinary Institute of America gave me a recipe and technique for making biscuits, that I combined with a tip from someone else, that allowed me to make a great biscuit.

First of all, here's the recipe I used (sorry...I only have it for weights, not cups/tsps, etc.):

Buttermilk Biscuits
Unsalted Butter, Softened              113g (4 oz)
Granulated Sugar                       7g (1/4 oz)
Kosher Salt                            2g
Baking Powder                          22g (0.75 oz) 
All Purpose Flour                      300g (10.5oz, 2c) 
Buttermilk                             225g (8oz) 
Unsalted Butter, Melted                 as needed

Cream together the butter, sugar, and salt in 5-quart mixer until light and fluffy.
Sift together the baking powder and flour.  Add to the butter mixture and mix until well combined.  Add the buttermilk and mix until well combined.
Place dough on well floured surface.  Spread out until dough is ½” thick. Fold dough into thirds; then roll long-wise to make a short log.  Lift from surface and flour again.  Roll dough out to ¾” and relax to 1”; cut with desired size cutter.  Place cut biscuits in a grid formation butted next to each other on a parchment lined half sheet pan.
Bake biscuits in a 400F convection oven until risen and evenly golden browned.  Brush immediately with melted butter once out of oven, in two sets to aid in buttery flavor.  May be sprinkled with salt to aid finish.
Biscuits should be used same-day and never be held for more than 12 hours. Any biscuits left over are well-suited to bread pudding or breadcrumbs.
A couple of changes I made:

  • I used salted butter
  • I didn't have buttermilk, so I used some homemade Kefir that Thaddeus has started making at home 
  • I don't have a convection oven, so I pre-heated my regular oven to 400 and then turned it up to 425 when I put the biscuits in
  • I brushed the tops twice with melted butter and sprinkled Kosher salt on them

Finally, I don't have a biscuit cutter, and previously, I had used a can and a glass to cut out my biscuits.  I was told that you should use a sharper cutter (like a biscuit cutter) and not twist it while don't want to seal the edges closed, to allow for the most rising possible.  I used a very sharp, long chef's knife to cut my biscuits into squares.

I'll be interested to know if anyone else tries this recipe.

Current Knitting

I'm working my way up the back of the Icelandic wool pullover, so it won't be long before I get to the sleeves.  Here's a progress photo.

I'm not so sure this pullover will have as much structure as I like in a sweater, so I may line the shoulders with gros-grain ribbon, and possibly do the same thing on the bottom ribbing...we'll see.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

I Want To Be An Amazing Man

Finding someone to aspire to be has been a theme for me lately...always getting partial answers along the way.

Music, Art and Movies

Recently, I was incredibly moved to have gotten to, not Les Miserables, but Searching for Sugar Man incredible documentary that I think everyone should see.  Story about an amazing musical artist with an popularity only within the protected environs of Apartheid South Africa.

 A MUST-SEE movie.  I won't write any more about it, because I think the story unfolds in a way that the less you know about the story, the more impressive it is.

I've also been listening to a lot of music, and I've long been inspired by a song by Christian Andreason called I Wanna Be an Amazing Man!.  Take a makes me want to be a better person.

Finally, I'm always inspired by knitters I know, and lately, especially by the knitters I've met through the Men's Knitting Retreats.  Here's just one, but he's brilliant (like many of the other guys), and has a great new reversible scarf pattern about to be published.

This is Kyle, wearing one of his great knitwear designs.  Check out his web page and connect with him on Twitter or won't be sorry.

Current Knitting

I've finished all the neck shaping on the front and have almost finished the full frontal...see if that phrase gets some web hits:

It's actually starting to look like a proper sweater...just the upper back and a couple of sleeves to go.