Sunday, January 31, 2010

Snowshoeing in Madison County

Yesterday John, Emily, Jeff & I headed off on a day trip to Madison County. After lunch in a cafe on the square in Winterset we headed to Pammel State Park for some snowshoeing. It was a crisp sunny day, which we felt was perfect for snowshoeing. Apparently we were the only people that felt that way, as we were the only people in the park. It was a great way to spend a Saturday. I actually enjoy winter when I'm able to get outside and have a good time.

Anadama Bread: Bread of the Week Five

While perusing food blogs the other day I stumbled upon an interesting challenge at Pinch My Salt. There is a group of bakers working their way through The Bread Baker's Apprentice. Having recently purchased the cookbook I've decided to join them. First up: Anadama Bread.

Anadama bread is common in New England. It has corn meal and flour, and makes for a mighty tasty sandwich bread. The lore behind the name is that a man was upset with his wife for leaving him and leaving a bowl of cornmeal mush. He made bread with the mush and said "Anna, damn 'er" as he baked it.

I wasn't damning anyone when I made, but I did swear. I walked away for a few minutes and my mixer kneaded itself off of the counter. It smashed one of my kitchen tiles. I haven't fixed it yet, so I curse a little to myself every time I walk over it. Lesson learned: don't leave the kitchen when kneading a lot of heavy dough. Luckily the mixer is fine.

I was pretty annoyed with myself for walking away from my mixer, which led to me not letting the bread rise long enough. My version turned out to be more of a dense bread than a sandwich bread, but it's still pretty good. It makes excellent toast.

I am excited to work my way through the Bread Bakers Apprentice. I'll be working my way through the book; I like not having to decide what bread to make each weekend. Almost all of the breads take two days to prepare, so I am working on planning ahead for my baking.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Pizza Success II: Six month old frozen dough is still tasty.

I went through a phase in high school where I loved Charles Dickens novels. I'm not sure what it was; orphans, hunger, and poverty just aren't that fun. Then again, I was into grunge music at the same time, so it was probably the darkness that drew me in.

One of Dickens' best known novels is A Tale of Two Cities, which starts with one of the most quoted sentences in the English language: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." My night tonight was kind of like that (why yes, I am being melodramatic).

To start out with John and I finally pulled the frozen pizza skins out of the freezer. They had been there since the last time we made pizza (which, according to my post, was in the beginning of August). Because the dough had been frozen for six months I had very low expectations. I topped mine with extra sauce and a little bit of cheese. John did the opposite: extra cheese and a smidge of sauce. He made the right call. The crust was OK, but lacked the crunch of fresh dough. The added cheese made up for the soggy crust.

So the night was great because the pizza turned out even though it had been in the freezer six times longer than the recommended freezing time. Why was it the worst of times? Simple. I discovered that you should not grate your hand when you are trying to clean it. That would be bad enough, but it's my yarn finger, and I'm worried I won't be able to knit. If I can't knit I may have to get around to cleaning my house and painting my guest room. That horrifies me. It would be the stuff of a Dickens' novel.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Maker Monday: week four

This week was a much better week for knitting. I was very productive, which is to be expected given the ice day last Wednesday.

I started out by working on a very simple scarf. It was supposed to be for charity, but I ended up giving it to Stacey instead. It's cheery and happy, like her personality.

After the scarf I worked on a couple of chemo caps for Monica. They are both made with soft machine washable yarn. I like the rainbow one the best.

On the needles I have a sweater. It will be on the needles for a long time. I'm not rushing to finish it, but I do plan on working on it a few nights a week.

Mom's scarf is now 24 inches long. I need to ask her how long she would like it. It is probably 20% finished now. It's coming along nicely. I'm so used to the pattern I can now knit it while talking or watching TV (but not the combination)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Bowling Night

Last night John and I met Justin and Amy for dinner and bowling. It was nice to meet Amy. She is a lot of fun, and I'm looking forward to spending more time with her.

John gave Justin some pointers. Amy and I thought they were just talking, but Justin's game did improve.

I won the first game. It was one of the best games I've ever bowled. After bowling a 143 in the first game I didn't break 70 the second game.

Sweet Vanilla Challah: Bread of the week 4

This week I tried Sweet Vanilla Challah. It's challah with vanilla added and more sugar than a traditional challah. I was really excited to try it, as I like sweets, vanilla, and challah. How could it be bad?

Well, it can be bad if the dough won't come together so you need to add flour. A lot of flour. It was pretty much inedible. I hope next week goes better.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Maker Monday: week three

This was an incredibly frustrating week for knitting. All I finished was a chemo cap. I would have gotten more accomplished, but I ended up tearing out all or part of the cap five times. I could have made an afghan in the time it took to make it. The most frustrating part is that this is the third time I've made the hat. I had never had a problem with the pattern before. I think my difficulties may stem from trying to watch Pop Up Video and knit at the same time. I probably should only knit to boring shows.

I have a simple garter stitch scarf on the needles using a variegated yarn. It was supposed to be for charity, but may end up as a gift instead. I'm going to wait to decide. Mom's scarf is now 16.5 inches long. I plan to focus more on that this week. I'm also hoping to cast on for my sweater after deciding which cast on to use (thanks Amanda).

Sunday, January 17, 2010

If it ain't Brioche, don't fix it: Bread of the week 3

This week I made brioche. Brioche is a decadent French bread. It has a fine crumb that is more cake like than bread like. It is divine.

Brioche takes two days to make. You mix up the dough one day, then chill it in the refrigerator for 10-24 hours. After that you mold it into a loaf and let it rise again. It's a long wait for a loaf of bread, but it is definitely worth it.

It's great sliced and eaten plain, but it can be even better. Lightly toasted and covered in homemade strawberry jam it tastes like heaven. The best part about this toasted bread and fresh tasting jam is that it tastes just like a Hardee's biscuit with strawberry jam on it. That was one of my favorite treats in elementary school, and I am glad I am able to duplicate the flavor in my kitchen.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Taco Night

Tonight John & I made tacos. I picked up taco shells instead of tortillas at a friend's suggestion. The tacos were very good. I'm pretty sure it's due to the shells, which promised the most delicious tacos ever. It was such an odd thing to see a a taco shell box I had to take a picture and post it.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Maker Monday: week two

This week wasn't very productive. I spent more time frogging than I did actually knitting. It was a frustrating week. I unraveled three projects, including a hat that was about 5 rows from being done. I was expecting to accomplish a lot this week because it has been too cold to do anything else. A busy weekend kept me away from getting more done.

All I finished were snowshoeing hats for Emily and me. They match Ellie's legwarmers. I love them because they are just so cheery.

OTN I have a chemo cap for Monica and Mom's scarf (now 14 inches long). I had my sweater on the needles, but after knitting a few inches I decided I wasn't happy with the cast on I used (knit cast on) so I tore it out and intend to start over just as soon as I'm done with Monica's cap.

The sweater is a simple cardigan and I just can't decide which cast on method to use. I'm hoping I can get some help from my knitting readers.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Stacey's Birthday and Derek's going away party

Saturday night was a busy night. We had two parties to attend. First up was Stacey's birthday party. Stacey was my trainer when I first started at Nationwide 9 years ago, so we have been helping each other celebrate birthdays for almost a decade.

After Stacey's party we went to Derek's party. Derek and I met back when Carissa and I spent a lot of time at CABCo. We lost contact for a while, but met up last year when he started working at Nationwide. Since then we have grabbed coffee a few times a month.

A few months ago Derek decided he needed to make a change. He didn't like his job, and was ready to make a commitment to a new life. So he joined the Army. He's signed up for eight years, and because he never finished his degree he is not going in as an officer. Next week he ships off to basic training. I'm really proud of him. I think this change will be good for him. And I'm not just saying that because I want to visit him if he's stationed in Europe.

Honey Oatmeal Bread: Bread of the Week 2

This week I made honey oatmeal bread. The recipe was in the Kitchen Aid book that came with my mixer. It was easy to make and looked beautiful.

Looks are great, but when it comes down to it I want bread to taste good too. This bread was delicious. It was even better than the challah. It was perfect toasted with a bit of jam. This may be my new sandwich bread. I won't be able to go back to grocery store bread after this.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Flat Tire and Friendly People

On my drive to work this morning in what seems like balmy 7 degree weather I got a flat tire. Not a low tire, but a poof all of the air is out of my tire right now flat tire. Not in Beaverdale or downtown where there were places I could walk for help either; on MLK by Marteniz auto (which was not open).

I didn't know where to go for help. I forgot my cell phone, so I couldn't call John to cry for help. I wasn't close to any businesses I knew I could get help at. I had to learn how to change a tire.

So I got out the book from my glove compartment, opened my trunk, and tried to figure it all out. I got the tire and jack out and tried to get to work. I didn't get very far. The book with the car doesn't really have directions. One of the directions was to jack the car up. It didn't tell you how to do it. It was pretty frustrating.

I was staring at the tire cursing myself for forgetting my cell phone and not paying attention when Derek changed my tire for me in the fall of 2002 when a car stopped. A very nice man got out and offered to help. This wasn't just any helpful guy, this was an angel mechanic. He had a real jack in his trunk. And one of those metal x things that takes lug nuts off. He changed my tire in fewer than 5 minutes. It would have taken me 45 minutes, at least.

I am so thankful for the man who was willing to get out of his warm car when it is 7 degrees out to help you change a tire. Not only did he help me out of a tough situation, he reminded me that even though it is easier to drive by and ignore problems, five minutes of your time can make a difference to someone. This year I hope I stop rushing so much. I want to take time to help out my community and make Des Moines a better place.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Maker Monday: week one

In addition to becoming an excellent baker I've decided to keep track of my knitting more this year. I have a tendency to start projects or buy yarn and put them aside, only to discover them months later. In order to avoid that this year I'm going to start posting finished projects every Monday. I'm also going to note where I'm at with projects that are currently on the needles. Hopefully this motivates me to be more productive.

This week I knit fingerless mits for Ann (green) and Mary (yellow). On Christmas I discovered that John's mom & sister work in cold offices like I do. In the winter I wear fingerless mits at my desk all day and they help a lot. I hope they are kept warm by my handiwork.

I finished Ellie's legwarmers. They ended up cuter than I would have imagined and I can't wait to give them to her.

I made myself a cowl out of bulky hand spun wool I picked up at a stand at the last indoor farmer's market. It adds a lot of warmth and looks pretty cute too. I had been coveting the yarn all summer, so I finally decided to go for it. I'm glad I did. It's a cold winter and I'll get a lot of use out of a cowl.

On the needles I have a snowshoeing hat for myself. I finally frogged my first attempt at a sweater, so I should have the second attempt OTN in time to watch the Hawkeye game tomorrow night.

In addition to the other projects, I am making Mom a lace ribbon scarf. That project will be on the needles a long time, so I will give a weekly update. The scarf is currently twelve inches long.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Halla for Challah: bread of the week 1

This year I'm going to improve my baking. I'm going to bake bread once a week. Any way you slice it, I won't be loafing around this year. I kneaded to make a resolution.

This means you will see a lot of pictures of bread. I was inspired by Sara who said she was looking forward to reading about what I'm making. I think this means she'll be getting a loaf of bread the next time I see her.

I started with my favorite bread to eat: challah.

Challah turned out to be much easier to make than I thought it would be. I do need to work on evenly braiding (it slipped a bit to one side). I started with the America's Test Kitchen recipe. I think I'll try the Smitten Kitchen recipe the next time I make challah, as it has a variation that involves raisins.

I am looking for recipes to try, so if you have a favorite bread recipe please let me know. If it turns out to be a favorite you might just get a loaf from me.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

Last night was the busiest New Years Eve I can remember. For once I actually had plans. Not just one party to show up at, not just a bar to hand out at, but several plans. We actually had to stick to a schedule to get it all accomplished.

First up was Sbrocco for dinner with Sarah and Jeff. It was a fancy pants meal. We had champagne and three delicious courses.

My favorite course was the dessert. I got chocolate soup. It was like eating warm brownie batter with a spoon. John got a chocolate torte made with Templeton Rye. It was delicious too. We tried Choco Vine with dessert, it's a mixture of red wine, cream, and chocolate. I need to remember to pick up a bottle the next time I'm at the store.

After the fancy dinner we headed to the Bash at the Des Moines Social Club. It was a crowded party filled with performance art and bands. It was fun, but very surreal. There were people everywhere. We were there to see Ann perform. She was between a belly dancer and a Victorian burlesque troupe. She was by far the best. The video doesn't capture how great of a job she did, but you do get some idea with it.

At the Bash we spent time talking to Ann's friend Colorado John, John's uncle Maurice, and Ann. We also ran into my friend Tara and my old roommate Heath (who is still a dork that is too good to talk to me...what a loser).

After watching the show at the Bash we headed to our last party at Hot Toddy's. It was nice to end the night with with such a good friend.

I hope you had a wonderful New Years Eve and I wish you happiness in 2010.

Wheat Bread

I have decided to bake something once a week. This week it was whole wheat bread.

I should have let the bread rise a little longer, as it was a bit shorter than I prefer for sandwich bread. It does have good flavor and I like it a lot more than the grocery store bread currently on my counter. As an added bonus, my house still smells like fresh baked bread. You really can't top that.