Vegetables, yarn, and yarns: all of my passions all in one place.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Giving Indian Food Another Try

We don't like Indian food. As a couple, my husband and I had this motto to define us. You see, when the husband and I were in undergraduate school together (before we were even dating), we had this fantastic poetry professor, an Indian man named Saleem. We were a smaller, close knit college and so, for kicks, Saleem took a group of students to an Indian restaurant his family enjoys in Ann Arbor. We did not enjoy it. At all. My then toddler-aged special-needs son was also there and didn't like his food either, most of which ended up on the floor no matter what I did to try to stop the rain of rice from landing on the carpet.

Fast forward to a year or so ago at work. One of my coworkers, upon hearing the full story assured me that Indian food is delicious and I really ought to give it another try. I held off, worried about the spiciness of curry and the memory of the bad Indian food of my past. Then, in the library a few months ago, there it was on the shelf: Made in India, a cookbook by Meera Sodha. And I decided it was time to get over my Indian food fear.

I can say this much: we tried a number of dishes in this book and every single one tasted amazing. Bombay eggs were a particular favorite of my son, whose picky-eater status is still very much a thing. (For example, he will eat soft taco shells in a quesadilla but refuses to eat soft tacos. It doesn't make sense to us either.) The recipes in this book were so good that they turned self-avowed Indian-food-haters into a family in love with the idea of Indian night. Go out, get this book, make the food, and savor each spoonful.

For my birthday this year, I even chose to make Indian food. While I was at it, I turned it into a regular science experiment. With the help of the preteen, I made naan, daal, and even homemade paneer, a soft Indian cheese.

We made the black daal the day before. Black daal is made from a type of lentil that isn't so easy to find in a normal grocery store. With the daal out of the way, we could focus on the time-intensive cheese and bread. Daal, it turns out, is time-intensive on its own, requiring near-constant stirring during its long simmer on the stove.

With the daal just needing to be warmed up though, the naan dough was first priority, since dough has to have plenty of time to rise. It said to put the dough in a warm place, so we covered the bowl with a towel and popped the whole thing into the car. It doesn't get much warmer than a car interior in June.

Next up was the paneer. We chatted with the nice cashier at our local (meaning two towns away) Indian grocer and were informed that the recipe for paneer and mozzarella is the same, only to make mozzarella, you stretch the cheese. Two cheeses for the price of one recipe.

Making cheese is actually a lot simpler than I was expecting. You heat milk in a pan and add lemon juice. My son was amazed watching the curds separate from the whey, so cheese-making really works well for science in the kitchen. Then you line a strainer with cheese cloth and pour the curds in. The whey runs straight through and down the drain, leaving the curds behind:

At this point, the recipe said to put something heavy on the ball of curds in the cloth to hope release remaining liquid. So I used the best heavy thing I had handy:

Then, I left the cheese to sit, by which point it was time for the naan. I rolled up the dough into a number of little balls, which then needed to be rolled out into flat ovals like so:
Once they were all rolled out, I put them into a hot frying pan two at a time.

They cook for a few secs on each side for a few flips. It goes really fast and so, never gets boring. There is no wait time. It's like making pancakes on steroids.

The cheese was finished pretty much at the same time as the naan and the daal, I heated up in a pan while the naan was frying. Paneer looks a lot like tofu and doesn't have a lot of flavor. Like tofu, it seems to take on the flavors of other elements in a dish really well.

If the cheese ended up a little tasteless, the naan certainly didn't. It was perfect. My Indian food-loving coworker assures me that I got a good char on them. The taste is like a more flavorful, slightly charred pizza dough but better. The daal was rich and lentil-y and utterly delightful.

Indian food. People weren't making it up. It really can be quite tasty. And not one grain of rice on the floor.

Friday, July 3, 2015

A Needle Pulling Thread

There have been months and gnashing of teeth. It has been a hard thing, this break from blogging, but I have done it. I still have back-blogs half-finished, just waiting for me to remember what needs done to finish them. I will get back into the groove with time.

On the homefront, though, I can tell you that life has gone on. Though the upstairs nursery/spare room construction is still not totally constructed. It has studs and, trust me, that is a vast improvement to where it was a few weeks ago.

All the plans I had for maternity leave, those went out the window, along with a lot of other plans, including the timeline for second story construction. They were good plans, but it is important to know when to re-prioritize and the fact is: work and family come first. I did finish the husband's Dr. Who scarf in time for Halloween:

The girl was also decked out in her knitted finest and ready to exterminate:

And now, 9 months later, months since I have returned to work, she is decked out in her sewn finest because I, the-one-unable-to-sew-a-straight-line, I, dear readers, have learned to sew.

This just goes to show you that with initiative and the right book, anything is possible. Even if you have the hand-eye coordination of an intoxicated mole. My right book was Making Baby's Clothes by Rob Merrett. What set this book apart as perfect for this beginner was the step-by-step guides with each pattern. Each step has a handy illustration so a newb like me can see what the heck Merrett means when he says things like "pin the outer yoke to the front and back panels of the dress, matching up the outer edges of the armholes with the reference dots on the yoke."

I have no idea what that says but when I did what the illustration looked like, it all worked out fine. The pattern I used, by the way, is a plain version of Chiquita Charm with bias tape made from the dress material used for the sleeve holes and a second material used for the yoke and flounce. I also hemmed the flounce instead of finishing the edge with bias tape. I rather enjoy how it worked out, even if I had to rip out the yoke three times before I got it (mostly) right.

The patterns in Merrett's book are cute, varied, and tackle-able for a beginner. I did find the sizing to range a little large. The dress I made was sized for 9 months and my daughter is wearing 12 month stuff now and it's still a little big for her. Up-side: it should fit for a long time to come.

Maybe it will fit her when her nursery is finally finished...

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Garter Stitch Land, Population 2

We have finally welcomed a new addition to the household:

That's the baby girl in the afghan my Aunt Donna made for her. She weighed in at 6 lbs 10 oz at 19 inches long with ten fingers, ten toes, and a slight case of jaundice.

She's 12 days old today and I'm wondering if I will ever get sleep again.

Now that I'm on maternity leave, I have big plans for learning to sew, getting a lot of writing done, and most importantly, finishing Art's Dr. Who scarf in time for Halloween. I'm knitting it in various colorways of Lion Brand Wool Ease.

I'm over 75% finished with the knitting, which is entirely done in a never-ending stream of garter stitch.

Once the knitting is done, I still have a countless number of ends to weave in and a crap ton of fringe to add to either end.

Just to add to the garter stitch fun, I'm also working on a baby blanket for the girl using the Elizabeth Zimmerman baby blanket pattern. The construction just seemed fun. It is done up with four squares knit using two triangles. The first you knit one stitch fewer every other row until you are down to about five stitches. Then, the second triangle adds a stitch back every other row until you are back to the full number of stitches. It's small enough to still be portable for the moment.

With all this garter stitch, I have a feeling I'm going to need a more intricate pattern with some stranded colorwork or lace or cables or something and soon. Anything that requires more than the knit stitch and oodles of time.

But it is nice to work in worsted and bulky weight after finishing that dress and hat set for the baby's home coming day. Better still, the whole thing actually fit her:

I believe I will be coming up with a hat pattern for this one in due course. I was worried it would be too small, but with some intense blocking, it all worked out in the end.

In the meantime, it's just me, the baby, and miles of garter stitch. Wish us luck.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Pacman the Ghosthunter Sugar Cookies

There is much news chez Kate, but all in due course. In the meantime, content yourself with a little recipe magic, courteous of the last office potluck.

I wasn't a fan of the potluck theme, which was to make food inspired by your favorite reality tv show. Only I don't watch reality tv. The closest I come is a youtube only show in which knitwear designers face off to see who will be the champion. It's called Fiber Factor. No one else in the office is going to guess that.


But my husband really loves watching Ghost Hunters. Sometimes I watch it with him and make snide comments. He doesn't watch it with me very often anymore. Instead we watch things we can both be snide about. Like William Shatner's Weird or What.

Either way, I needed a food that screamed not only "ghosts" but "I hunt ghosts." Naturally I thought of Pacman and decided to make up a nice batch of sugar cookies.

Pacman Sugar Cookies
What you need:
3/4 cups shortening
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
3 1/2 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup milk

Plus ingredients for frosting
food coloring
metal spatula
circle cookie cutter

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Put the shortening through the milk in a large bowl and mix to form dough. Roll the dough into two equal-sized balls. 

2. On a floured surface, roll out a ball of dough to desired thickness.

3.  With the cookie cutter, cut as many circles in the dough as you can fit.

4. Remove the excess dough from around the circles. Roll it back into a ball and then roll it out again to the desired thickness. Repeat until no dough remains of the ball.

5. Repeat steps 2 through 4 for the second ball.

6. Place the circles on a cookie sheet. For half of them, use a spatula to remove a small pie wedge from the circle, like so:

7. Bake the cookies in batches for 10 minutes each in the oven, set for 400 degrees.

8. Remove cookies after 10 minutes and let cool.

9. While they cool, make frosting. Then, separate the frosting into three bowls. Leave the frosting in the first of the three bowls white. In the second bowl, make the frosting yellow (as you see fit for Pacman). In the third bowl, make the frosting a purple-tinged blue. Do this by adding a good amount of blue and then a drop or two of red. Play with it until you get the right color for the ghosts in a Pacman maze when they are safe for Pacman to eat.

10. Eat the pie wedges immediately. There's no point in frosting so small a cookie and you really really shouldn't have to deprive yourself of cookies for too long. Frost the circles with the missing pie wedges yellow. Voila, you have an army of cookie Pacmen.

11. Put the blue frosting and white forsting in two separate small ziplock bags. Cut the very tip of one corner of the blue bag. Use it to frost small ghost figures onto the center of each completed circle cookie.

12. Once all the ghosts are done, cut the tip of the white bag and add two eyes and a squiggley mouth to each ghost.

No one at the office guessed that my show was ghost hunters, but it's enough that my cookies were adorable.

Monday, September 29, 2014

More Baby Knits (and Construction)

Well, I'm in labor over here and have been for a week. Alas, it's early labor so I'm just biding my time, wondering if this day will be the day these contractions start kicking it up a notch. My hospital bag is packed and every morning, I have to take my toiletries out of the bag and then put them back in. It's a barrel of frigging monkeys.

The good news about the baby wait is the upstairs is not ready for her to be here yet:

Baby's room

Baby's closet

Guest room

And all together

Granted, since the taking of these pictures, the plaster and debris have all been hauled out to a dumpster, but it's still not exactly a heartening site.

On the knitting front, there has been much progress. I finished my Her First Party Dress, blocked it, and added a cute little black ribbon with white hearts on it that my husband actually picked out.

I didn't knit this one up like it was stated on the tin, mostly because I don't understand why anyone would knit this flat when it is clearly an in-the-round sort of design. Thus, once I finished the yoke of the dress, with all it's cabling, I converted the rest of the pattern to be knit in the round. I also changed the bottom ruffle from what it was to a cable that sort of matches up with the yoke. A little pearl button from my mason jar o buttons and voila.

This dress is packed in the hospital bag, along with a matching hat I created the pattern for that the blog will see in due course. I don't have pictures taken of it yet because it only just finished blocking.

I also finished a quick little Washcloth I knit mostly to use up bits of worsted weight cotton scraps. It worked like a charm.

I also used up a skein of self-striping baby yarn I got on clearance but really ended up not caring for a great deal to make some Essential Leg Warmers and a matching hat. With the hat, the leg warmers look at least a little less strange.

Finally, there is the baby's Dalek Costume. The dress is the Mummy's Little Dalek Jumper but the hat I created the pattern for myself, and I'll be sharing it with the general public soon. I think I'll wait and see how it actually fits on a baby's head first.

Of course the knitting is far from over. In fact, I have already started on the Doctor Who scarf my husband requires to complete the baby's dalek ensemble. Then, of course, there will likely be frantic Christmas knitting while on maternity leave.

For now though, it's just a lot of waiting. Oh and contractions.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Using up the Zucchini

August has passed and the end of gardening season is upon us. It was a late start, with the lack of hot nights in the early part of summer, a lot of the plants just didn't get the opportunity to flourish. The tomatoes, for example, never really turned color except for one or two weeks. Instead, the green tomatoes I kept hoping beyond hope would ripen started rotting on the vine. Near the start of fall though, things really started to get going. Especially the squash. We have more squash now that we know what to do with, of both zucchini and scallop/patty pan varieties. There's plenty of kohlrabi and the tomatilloes are finally filling in their husks. The peppers are coming in and sadly, a large rabbit has completely obliterated the broccoli.

In the front yard, there is chocolate mint. Oh is there chocolate mint. And I have been delighting in mint tea, with and without chamomile. Since the chamomile never grew in, I have to use tea bags to get my chamomile fix. The mint leaves, though, I just pluck off the stem, give a wash, and throw in my Teatanic tea infuser, a lovely novelty gift given to me by a friend who shares my love of bad puns.

It sinks every time.

To use up my plethora of zucchini, I decided it was finally time to try out the recipe for zucchini chocolate chip cookies from Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Vegetable Miracle, one of my favorite books on food and eating whose website features an easy print version of the recipe, which I have conveniently included above.

We also took this opportunity to use our handy food processor for the first time ever. It was a wedding present, I do believe, but since we lived in an apartment when we got hitched, there was no counter space with which to use the food processor and it was just relegated off in a cabinet, never to be used. When we moved into our house, it sat there on the counter and I would say, "You know, honey, you should really use the food processor to shred that" and the husband would poo-poo and say it was easier to just do it with our manual shredder.

I'll have you know, I was right. He was wrong. And we have much shredded zucchini bagged and stuffed in the freezer for future use. The cookies were delicious.

And because I had a family reunion to attend in which a dish to pass is required and a mass of shredded zucchini. I baked some zucchini bread too, using my mother's recipe, passed down from her mother. The best thing about these sorts of recipes is that they give no real instruction and often interesting directions. For example, I had to call my mother and ask if by "Crisco oil" she meant "Crisco" as in shortening or vegetable oil. She meant vegetable oil. Why it was necessary to specify a name brand, I leave for you to ponder, but I have left off the name brand placements in my recipe here.

Mom's Zucchini Bread
3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 and 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups shredded, unpeeled zucchini
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 and 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon (I tend to be more liberal with my cinnamon)
1 c chopped nuts (optional)

Mix together in a bowl, pour into two greased bread pans, and bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for one hour, or until the top is firm and golden brown.

Easy peasy and delicious. Some of my more modern recipes in the recipe box require stapling on an extra index card to fit all the instructions. Not the good, old-fashioned recipes of my childhood. They usually contain no instructions at all on the back, just a list of ingredients on the front with a notation for the number of degrees for the oven and length of time in which the baked good should remain in said oven. That's all and sometimes, it's all you should need: a boatload of shredded zucchini, some bread pans, and a list of ingredients.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Preparing for the Baby

Here in the rural-end of Cleveland suburbia, we are in full preparation mode. This baby is coming in a month and a half and nothing seems ready, including the house. Demolition of the living/dining room and the second story above it commenced at the start of summer. However, due to the fact that the ten-year-old was home with the husband and needed chauffeured from swim practice to band to summer rec and then still required large amounts of "pay attention to me" time, not a lot of progress happened until recently, with back to school in the air (the school year here starts in the middle of August).

The house demo has resulted in numerous unexpected surprises, as is the case with old houses and this house in general. For one, the wall between the future dining room and living room, the one we are taking out to make one large great room? The husband sledgehammered through drywall to find a second wall beneath made of plaster and lathe and in that wall:

A large opening. The rooms used to be connected. This has happened twice before to us and has led me to the conclusion that we are not renovating the house. We are merely returning it to its original state.

In the upstairs, the husband found the original means of heating the second story in the form of a poorly plugged whole in the chimney, sealed behind layers of drywall and plaster and lathe. It was a bit of a sooty mess and plans are underway as to how to properly seal that hole. Also discovered: there is no insulation. Zero. We had planned to have insulation blown into the house after the polar vortexness of last winter, but the budget just wasn't there for it. In lieu of that, we (and by we I mean my husband) are in the midst of ripping out that whole part of the upstairs down to the studs, Then, it's insulate, redistribute wall and closet locations, fix the radiators, dry wall, and paint. Can it happen in a month and a half? Probably not. Hopefully enough of it so that the radiators function by winter. The baby will be in a bassinet in our room for the first few weeks or so anyway, right?

Because of house is a mess and I'm in serious nesting mode, I got out all the baby clothes and washed all the blankets, socks, hats, and clothes sized 0 up to 9 months. There's a little dresser now set up in our dining room to house the clothes and a garage-sale purchased changing table in the current living room. I also hosed down the car seats, port-a-crib, bassinet, and stroller and washed all the cloth parts separately. The bassinet went in our bedroom, the port-a-crib is back in its box for storage, and the rest is in the garage.

It made me feel a tiny bit better.

On the knitting front, it's pretty much all baby all the time. After much procrastination, I finally did the last of the finishing for the striped boatneck sweater, started so long ago I didn't know the gender of the baby yet and now done in two lovely shades of Cascade 220:

The Daphne baby cape I started and ran out of yarn for, requiring a hurried yarn purchase from a nice lady in Australia, that's done too. All it lacks is the buttons, which I'm waiting on because I'm still hoping to find the perfect buttons. I have some. They just aren't perfect.

Also finished: the baby's first Halloween costume (assuming it fits). The dress is the Mummy's Little Dalek pattern and the hat I created the pattern for myself because I just couldn't find one I liked in the right size. I'll have more on this in a later post.

And these mini baby motif mittens, done using the Totoro chart. The entire family loves Studio Ghibli and Totoro in particular so it only made sense to introduce it early.

I took the photo before blocking so the colorwork doesn't look as smooth in the photo as it actually is. The mitts are my first real attempt at stranded knitting and I found the whole experience thrilling. I know want to rush out and knit a complicated fair isle that requires steeking. I won't. But I want to.

Nothing feels ready but at least this baby will be awash in handknits. That's what really counts, isn't it?