Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Card Crafting

Christmas Card

I'm not very good at ever managing to get christmas cards out, but this year I made some. Here's what I did:

Christmas Card

I cut out snowflakes of different sizes from paper, then I traced the shapes onto thick craft foam. I carved the craft foam with a wood burner, just like I did for my circlet at Halloween, but with no three dimensional shapes. In this way, I turned the craft foam into a stamp.

Christmas Card

I experimented with my stamps and the message I wanted in several different fonts to narrow down to my final choice.

Christmas Card

I printed these on pre-perforated cardstock from Avery, then separated them into individual cards before stamping.

Christmas Card

A registration mark at the corner of where I placed the card helped me keep the cards fairly similar from one to the next, once I had figured out how I wanted them to look.

Christmas Card

Christmas Card

Once the outside of the card was done, it was time for the final stamp on the inside.

Christmas Card

Fold it up, and it's done!

The next step was to print everyone's names on the envelopes. I entered all of the names and addresses into the computer, and went to print them all, and they became inaccessible. I guess I'll be writing them by hand instead. That's one way to keep myself occupied on the way to my parents' house.

Cocktail Wednesdays: Hot Buttered Rum

Hot Buttered Rum

This week's drink was Hot Buttered Rum, which I chose because I was interested in the recent 12 Bottle Bar post on the subject. Years ago, a friend made her father's recipe for a party. That recipe was made in huge batches and used a batter similar to the syrup I made for the Butterbeer. This new simpler, more raw recipe was much easier to make in single servings.

Hot Buttered Rum

2 oz Good, Dark Jamaican-style Rum
1 tsp Raw Sugar
3+ oz Boiling Water

Rinse an earthenware mug with boiling water
Add sugar
Pour in an ounce or so of boiling water and stir to dissolve sugar
Add rum, another 2 oz of boiling water, and a hazelnut-sized knob of butter
Sprinkle nutmeg over the top

Hot Buttered Rum

The verdict: This is basically a rum-based-toddy. It's a drink for when it's cold out, but on the whole, it's watered down. The butter does add to the experience by giving it a richer mouth feel, but it's not as rich and full as the other kind of hot buttered rum.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cocktail Wednesdays: Milk Punch

Milk Punch

As we enter the holiday season, it's about time for me to get over my fear of adding milk to cocktails. You won't be seeing any possets or syllabubs here, because curdled milk scares me. On the other hand, as Irish cream shows, not all dairy drinks have that issue.

Last night's choice was milk punch. I first encountered this drink on Smitten Kitchen, where Deb was feeling pretty obsessed with it last winter. For some reason, I remembered it as being something I had read about on Four Pounds Flour, so I had a bit of trouble finding the recipe post I had originally read. Ok, I say "for some reason", but I know exactly why. Four Pounds Flour is a cooking blog where Sarah Lohman documents her historical gastronomy research and experiments she conducts in her tiny New York apartment, or at the museums where she demonstrates, such as the Lower East Side (Jewish) Tenement Museum. Deb of Smitten Kitchen also makes all of the dishes she writes about in her tiny New York kitchen, and she often posts Jewish dishes from her family; additionally, she linked to Ben Franklin's milk punch recipe and talked about it a little in her post, so it's no wonder my memory was fuzzy. I thought about history and a New York cook, so my mind immediately had me searching Sarah's blog. Recently, 12 Bottle Bar posted a recipe for milk punch, which helped bring it to the forefront of my list of drinks to try during cold weather. During my search, I also found 12 Bottle Bar's brandy milk punch recipe, and a recipe on Cocktail Hacker. Ultimately, I decided to go with the recipe that involved only milk, no half-and-half, because we don't keep half-and-half on hand.

Milk Punch

1 oz Brandy
0.5 oz Dark Rum
0.5 oz Simple Syrup
2 dashes (1/4 tsp) Vanilla Extract
4 oz Whole Milk

Add all ingredients to a mixing glass
Shake with ice and strain into a rocks glass filled with shaved or crushed ice
Garnish with a grated nutmeg

The verdict: This was a nice wintery tipple to drink in front of the fire. It's a bit like eggnogg, but not so dense, with a frothy top. I really liked the way the vanilla extract and the vanilla qualities in the rum played with the milk. I was a accidentally bit heavy handed with the nutmeg on my glass, and I must agree with Sarah Lohman that large quantities of nutmeg is a bit of a 19th century flavor, but somehow wintery weather by the hearth with a fire made it seem just right to have a bit of Victorian flavor.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Knitting Projects

Random Stripe Knee Socks

I haven't posted about my knitting for a while, largely because I hadn't finished anything in a long time. After running out of yarn on two large projects, I started work on a pair of knee socks with random stripes generated by die rolls.

Random Stripe Knee Socks

Finally, I finished the socks at the beginning of November.

Random Stripe Knee Socks

I knit the socks from the toe up and used a four-sided die to select the color and a twelve-sided die to select the number of rows.

Hand-knitted dishcloths

Next, I needed some fast projects. I was tired of not finishing things, and I was way behind on my goal of at least twelve finished objects for the year, so I started knitting dishcloths. It was fortunate timing, because this was a difficult few weeks, and a bit of mind-less knitting was in order.

Ruby Red Rosehip Socks

When I had used up the last of my cotton left-overs, I started another pair of socks. I finished this pair on Tuesday, then on Wednesday morning I went for the first time to the yarn store in Wyandotte, Riverside Yarn Gallery, where I purchased more yarn to complete my scandinavian stranded colorwork cardigan. If I can complete it before the end of December, which I think I will, it will make the twelfth completed project for the year.

Ruby Red Rosehip Socks

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Chocolate Cake and Decorating

Chocolate cake -- First decorative icing

Yesterday, I baked a chocolate cake. On Scott's sister's Christmas list were tools to use to decorate cakes because she wants to learn how. So, of course, when I was in the cake decorating aisle, I got excited about doing some myself, and since I know Scott loves cake, I knew he'd be happy for me to make more. The last time I baked a cake, it was so huge that it was ridiculous for the two of us, so I bought a couple of 6" cake pans, so I can make lots more cakes.

This was my first time piping boarders, which were a mess, and my first time making roses, which I think turned out well.

I baked this chocolate cake recipe from Whisk-Kid:

Super Chocolate Cake

3/4 c (177ml) heavy cream
1 c (160 g) dark chocolate chips (I used 52%)
2 c (250 g) flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
3/4 c (177 g)butter, cubed and at room temp
1 c (142 g)firmly packed brown sugar
2 eggs + 2 yolks, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350F (175C) then grease and line two 6 inch pans.

Heat cream until steaming, then pour over chocolate. Allow to set for 5 minutes, then whisk gently to combine. Allow to cool to room temp (put it in the fridge/freezer for a bit, if you like).

In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside

Cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, and then add both yolks plus the vanilla. Then, alternating between wet and dry (beginning with wet), add the flour and cream mixtures in 2 additions each. Be sure to scrape down the bowl!

Divide batter into the two prepared pans and bake 35-40 min.

The batter was stiff like icing, so it was tricky to divide, but it baked up beautifully, light and airy. I may have baked it a tad too long or left it out to cool uncovered too long while I went to buy more butter for the icing, because it was a little dry, but I don't think that was the recipe's fault.

Then I made a Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting based on Whisk-Kid's tutorial. Unfortunately, it didn't turn out well. The meringue was beautiful -- the best I've ever made, and I can't wait to try the technique for Pavlova -- but the butter didn't blend in correctly. I think that perhaps it was too cold. In the end, this may have been because our thermostat was set a little low, and "room temperature" wasn't in the right range. Anyway, after making several efforts to get it to thicken up and get the bits of butter to blend out, I roasted some hazelnuts, crushed them and added them to the frosting, to use as filling. Then I made Julia Child's chocolate buttercream frosting. Unfortunately, this came out a bit too thick -- probably because the room was a bit cold -- and I had difficulty spreading it cleanly when trying to frost the cake. Finally, I made buttercream icing from this video for the decorative elements. It was simply 2:1 confectioner's sugar to room-temperature butter. Because I made this after the point when I realized that the butter needed to be a little warmer than room temperature, it came cout beautifully, and I was able to pipe with it pretty well.

This video was the best one I watched to learn how to pipe my roses. I also liked Little Lady Cakes's drop flower tutorial, though I think I didn't have quite the right tip to try to make them.

Hopefully, I can use TLC's tutorial next time to make better boarders.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Cocktail Wednesdays: The Scofflaw

The Scofflaw

In honor of this past Monday's anniversary of Prohibition repeal, this week's cocktail is The Scofflaw.

To quote The Cocktail Spirit with Robert Hess:

It was in 1923, when Delcevare King, a member of the Anti-Saloon League, posed a contest to create a new word in order to combat the continued drinking which was going on during American Prohibition. The new word was to be one "which best expresses the idea of a lawless drinker, menace, scoffer, bad citizen, or whatnot, with the biting power of 'scab' or 'slacker.'" The $200 prize elicited a huge response. On January 16th, 1924, the Boston Herald announced the winning word as "scofflaw", with the winnings shared by the two Boston area residents, Henry Irving Dale and Kate L. Butler, who both submitted it. This was not the end of the story however, in just a little over a week, a salvo was launched from Harry's New York Bar in Paris, where they created a new drink and christened it the "Scofflaw".

Those of us Americans who enjoy an old-style cocktail have something to thank those scofflaws for, and the drink is a good one to celebrate the repeal of prohibition. I find it interesting to note that the word has come to mean "A person who flouts the law, esp. by failing to comply with a law that is difficult to enforce effectively." as per the Google dictionary. What strikes me about this current definition is that the word is now a critique of the law as well as the law-breaker. World Wide Words defines it as "A person who flouts a law, especially an unsustainable one," and says "it often refers to persistent offenders against parking laws and other minor regulations." Not all dictionaries make this distinction between the meaning of scofflaw and criminal wherein the law in question is criticized, however I find the distinction to be a marked critique of Prohibition and of other current laws that they would be equating to Prohibition.

After looking at a number of recipes, I chose to use the one Kenn posted on Cocktailia, which follows what appears to me to be the most typical ratio of rye to dry vermouth, most typical amounts of lemon juice and grenadine and also includes orange bitters, which is always included in the recipes with slightly different ratios. I also included a lemon twist, which frequently appears in the recipes.

The Scofflaw

1 1/2 oz Rye whiskey
1 oz Dry vermouth
3/4 oz Lemon juice
3/4 oz Grenadine
2 dashes Orange bitters
1 Lemon twist (garnish)

Shake over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

I chose to use Canadian whiskey, rather than American rye because I was reading that this was likely what was used during Prohibition when this drink was invented. Canadian whiskey is historically referred to as rye whiskey, though unlike American rye, it has no legal definition of rye percentage. Per Wikipedia "Historically, in Canada, whisky that had some rye grain added to the mash bill to give it more flavour came to be called “rye”. Although many Canadian whiskies are still labelled as “rye”, the modern mash bill for a Canadian “rye” whisky often contains little or no rye grain, and their flavour is derived in other ways (such as flavour development from the aging process, blending with stronger-tasting Canadian whiskies, and the addition of flavourings)." On the other hand, American rye "is, by law, made from a mash of at least 51 percent rye." Under Canadian law, "rye whiskey" and "Canadian whiskey" are synonymous, so a drink made during prohibition was most likely made with Canadian whiskey.

Canadian Club seemed particularly appropriate given its popularity here in Detroit, where many scofflaws ventured across the Detroit River in rowboats or over the winter ice pack in cars to bring it back from Hiram Walker Distillery in Windsor, Ontario. The same laws and the same geographical situation that led Hiram to move from Detroit to Windsor to establish his distillery ironically led to the prominence of The Purple Gang, and the national dominance of Detroit as a liquor-smuggling port. This dominance was supported by the burgeoning auto industry and the suped-up cars that savvy Detroit gangsters were able to have built for their rum running. Anyway, back to it.

The verdict: I think I may have been a bit heavy-handed with the orange bitters. I think the orange overtook, with the red fruit of the grenadine close behind. It seemed a bit like a boozy version of those pea-sized powdered-sugar-dusted hard candies that came in round white tins when I was a kid. I don't remember what they're called, but that's what it made me think of. I can think of a number of people who would like it just as-is, but as for myself, I would try it with a more pungent American rye or dial back on the lemon juice, grenadine and orange bitters. Of course, part of this may be that my grenadine is rich simple syrup, rather than 1:1, which I am starting to suspect is more common.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


I think it was the week before Thanksgiving that we were called upon to host the meal this year. There has been so much going on in the family that no one had even thought of Thanksgiving until we asked what the plan was, and Scott's aunt was quite grateful that we could take the pressure off of her by taking it over for the year.

After making pumpkin pie

This year, I found that Thanksgiving is at least as much about cleaning up as it is about cooking. Here's the aftermath of roasting two pumpkins and baking two pies. We got Scott's grandmother's recipe for pumpkin pie with homemade graham cracker crust, and I made two huge ones in the lovely new pans my parents sent me. Unfortunately, the pans were much bigger than the ones the recipe called for, so I was really thrown off on the baking time. I was worried about the charred edges, but everyone enjoyed the result.

After making pickled beets

Here's the result of making pickled beets, which Scott's Polish family traditionally has at the Thanksgiving table. Unfortunately, I accidentally left them in the refrigerator!

Next up was a pumpkin cheesecake with a gingersnap crust which also really needed a smaller spring-form pan to make a nice high cheesecake, and which I stupidly cracked thanks to forgetting to do a water bath, and which I made look worse thanks to an attempt to be fancy on the decorating front.

Then there was a turkey that pretended to be done, with juices running clear, but was pink down near the drumsticks. Scott took over and cooked it more, cutting deeply into the turkey every time he took it out of the oven, so that by the time it came out of the oven, it was already carved. Fortunately, it was still juicy and tasty.

The end result was hectic, but everyone was pleased with how tasty everything was. And of course, the other result was piles of pots and dishes to wash. And that's not even mentioning the six hours I spent shampooing the carpet, or the rest of the house cleaning. Plus, I was trying to finish as much of the basement as possible beforehand, because I knew that the whole family would want to see our progress.

Despite the hectic preparation, I'm grateful that we could host the meal for the family. Everyone had a good time hanging out together, and I think it was ultimately a success.

Fall into winter

It's been raining and snowing day after day this week, and we need to get the yard cleared out before winter really comes, before the snow stops melting during the day, the ground freezes, and the snow sticks permanently. If we're going to excavate the basement wall before this happens, step one is to clear out the leaves, since we haven't gotten a chance to rake the back yet. But before I can rake the back, I needed to finish up raking the front. You see, I have raked the front several times, but never managed to finish and get the sides of the yard.


Our lawn isn't big, but we have several large trees, including the biggest maple on the block. The most difficult problem is that our big sycamore trees in the front drop leaves the size of my head. Just bagging up the sycamore leaves on the sides of our house took me a couple of hours and eight lawn bags. Six of those bags were just from the side in the picture above. I also ended up with a bin full of sticks and picked up a large branch that broke and fell from one of the sycamores. I may have been dealing with wet leaves, but at least it's progress.

Flooding: Update 8 - One step forward, two steps back

Basement painting

This week, we finished the new walls in our basement and I finished painting the walls.

Above, you can see the new entrance to our storage room, which will have double bi-fold doors.

Basement painting

This is the new linen closet located where the old door to the storage area used to be. I've painted it the same dark color as the lower part of the wall, and I think it will be lovely once we put the white shelves in. Of course, it will get a door, too.

Basement painting

I finished the paint all around both main the room and the hallways. We thought that meant that all we have left is staining the bar, installing the floor, the moldings, and the doors.

The first problem arose when we went to double-check that no flood water seeped into the bar. We planned to pull the back off and deal with it from there, but what we found made that impossible.

Bar demolition

It was impossible to simply pull the oak veneer plywood off the back of the bar. We found that the bar had been constructed by liquid-nailing the oak plywood to particle board. We couldn't simply remove it without destroying it. Additionally, the particle board had soaked up the water, and on the back side, the particle board had been applied over a layer of drywall, which had also been soaked.

Bar demolition

That meant we have to rip our the entire thing, including the cabinets and back wall.

Bar demolition

The only thing we might be able to salvage is the upper counter.

The second bad news had no photo associated with it, but it may be more dire. On Wednesday, I found small puddle on the floor of the storage room. We believe that the rain seeped through the cinderblock exterior wall. That may mean that we need to excavate and waterproof from the outside. Certainly, some water has been getting in without our knowledge, since the bottom shelf of our new shelving unit in that corner was already mildewy, after only a few months of owning it.

Get 'er done

I've been planning to post about a lot of things and not getting anything up besides the weekly drinks, but I want that to change. My new motto for the blog is "Just Do It." So, I'm trying not to take too long writing or worry about the order I'm putting these out in, just get that content out that I want to share with you.