Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Alpaca handspun & knitting

Alpaca handspun

I finished spinning the alpaca sampler by winding it into a center pull ball and plying it onto itself from either end of the ball.

felted slippers

Today, I attached leather bottoms to the felted slippers I made for Scott last year.

Crocheted jade bracelet

I also crocheted a new red bracelet for my jade beads to replace the knitted one that didn't work out so well due to wearing through the single strand at each bead. This time I tried crochet, even though I don't really know how to do many stitches. I used DMC pearl cotton, which I think will be stronger, and I was able to thread the beads onto a crochet chain, which should be stronger than the single thread. Then I used the other two stitches I know -- single crochet and slip stitch -- to thicken the strands between the beads, and I surrounded each bead on the outside with three other crochet strands.

Nessie In Progress

Last week, when I couldn't get my car to start, at first I was waiting to get to the store to buy fiberfill to stuff a knitted toy I am working on for my coussin's baby, due this spring. On Friday, I realized that I have about a pound of organic cotton fiber from a UGA test farm. I stuffed the body, and now have to knit the rest.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Cocktail Wednesdays: The French 75

French 75

On Wednesday, I went with a classic drink containing champagne, the French 75, named for a French field cannon.   There are several recipes I have seen for this drink, which was invented during Prohibition.  Some are gin based and some are cognac based.  Apparently, there is some considerable debate about which is the more authentic recipe.  I went with gin, which I thought would be a more interesting contrast to the previous night's drink, and which turns out to be how it appeared in The Savoy Cocktail book.

French 75

1 ½ oz Gin
½ oz Lemon Juice
1 tsp Powdered Sugar

Shake gin, lemon juice and sugar over ice and strain into a champagne flute half filled with ice.  Top off with chilled champagne and garnish with a lemon twist.

The verdict: This drink really shows where Scott and my tastes differ.  I thought it was a nice summery drink with juniper and lemon, like a Tom Collins with the additional flavor of champagne.  Scott, on the other hand, thought it tasted like Lemon Pledge.  Not so piney as Pine-Sol, but he definitely felt that it was a bit like a cleaning product.

Cocktail Wednesdays: Buck and Breck

Buck and Breck

This week, you get two cocktail posts, because we tried one on my birthday on Tuesday as well as last night. I popped a bottle of sparkling wine to make a French sauce for dinner, and we've been making cocktails with the rest. I say sparkling wine rather than champagne because it is actually cava, which is from Spain. Scott prefers this to the champagnes he has tried, though it does make me wonder what he has tried. It may be that you can get better cava for the price of not so good champagne since it doesn't have the prestige name. At any rate, I do enjoy the cava.

Tuesday's drink was the Buck and Breck, which is another cocktail using absinthe. It dates all the way back to the 1860's and 1870's in California.  Apparently, the name is derived from an epithet for President Buchanan and his V.P. John C. Breckinridge.  During Buchanan's term, his party split, with the southern wing backing Breckinridge for the next election and, most importantly, the country was led to the brink  of the Civil War.  In fact, his negotiations with South Carolina led directly to Fort Sumter in particular becoming a flash point, and later the location of the first shots of the war.  What the Californians thought of him at the time may have been a little different from the opinions of their countrymen to the east.  What is certain is that this drink combines manly flavors such as bitters with fancier and more delicate champagne in a way that could probably only arise from the gold rush.

Buck and Breck

1.5 oz cognac
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 dash Absinthe
lemon juice

Swirl strained lemon juice in a champagne flute to coat inside of glass and discard excess.
Fill flute with superfine sugar, coating inside to make glass appear frosted.  Discard excess sugar.
Fill glass with Cognac, Bitters, and Absinthe.
Top with cold Champagne.
(Optional) Give drink a quick stir.

The verdict: First, I would say that I think I would recommend stirring the drink.  The contrasting flavors in each sip at first as it mixed itself while I drink were interesting, but not terribly tasty or balanced.  Also, frosting the entire glass with sugar led to an explosion of bubbles in the sparkling wine, and an overflowing glass in moments.  One apparently traditional solution is to just frost the rim, but I don't know if that would give enough sweet to counter balance the bitters and the absinthe.  The main flavors are the bitters, absinthe and champagne, but I think that because the cognac is made with the same kind of grapes, the flavor blends rather seamlessly into the champagne.  Once the drink was blended, it was nicely balanced.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Guest Room

Guest Room

Another thing I've done recently is rearrange the guest room. The first thing I did was to move my desk into Scott's office. Now that we're mixing our stuff more, that room is now "the office" and the other room is really the guest room, rather than the room that holds all my stuff.

Craft Room

Above is what this corner looked like before. Taking the desk out allowed me to move things around so that both sides of the bed can be accessed.

Guest Room

The drop leaf table moved next to the bed, serving as both a desk and a bedside table.

Craft Room

This was previously the location of the bed.

Guest Room Bookcase

Now, one of the bookcases has been moved to this wall.

Guest Room

This week, I moved and rehung pictures throughout the room, as well as the basket on the wall by the desk.

Let there be (Functional) Light

New Lamp

Three seasons have gone by since I have posted about parts of the house other than the basement. In other recent changes, thanks to some Christmas gift cards, I was able to get new lamps for the living room, and finally replace the broken torchère.

New Lamp

There are no real before photos, but you can see some of what it looked like back in 2010.

Flooding: Update 9 - Bar Demolition

Basement Bar Demolition

As I mentioned in my last flooding update, we were forced to demolish the bar in the basement. Scott has worked very hard on the demolition.

Basement Bar Demolition

Taking down the tiled bar top was especially difficult.

Basement Bar Demolition

It was made by screwing down through particle board that was also liquid nailed to the structure. Then the tiles were mortared directly to the particle board. Although particle board is not a proper substrate for tile, the mortar hung tight onto it, and there was no way to unscrew it from below. (Particle board should not be used because if it gets wet somehow -- through cracks, steam from a dishwasher, or some other water from below -- it will swell and the tile will be destroyed. A better way is to mount cement backer board on top of plywood for strength. Materials that have different expansion rates should not be affixed to each other in a way that will not allow for expansion, or there will eventually be cracking and breakage.) There was a lot of hard chiseling necessary to remove the tiles and uncover the screws. Eventually, Scott was able to rip out the remaining screws.

Basement Bar Demolition

On Friday, a couple of friends helped Scott haul the refrigerator to the curb. Only the counter and cabinet at the sink and dishwasher remains.

Remember, this is what it looked like before:

Basement Bar

I think it will be even better when we're done. We'll be bringing back the wood paneling, but adding more storage, and more style.

Spinning Alpaca

Alpaca singles

This week, I finished prepping a a sampler of alpaca fiber from Georgia Oaks Farm. It was produced by a a prize winning cria named Chocolate Rum Runner.

Georgia Oaks Farm Alpaca Roving

The fiber was somewhat clean, but it still smelled a bit of the barnyard, and had some straw in it. I washed the fiber with shampoo, removed the vegetable matter, and used hand cards to make a small mountain of rolags. From these rolags of carded fiber, I spun singles.

The spinning was tricky, especially at first, because the alpaca is so fine and slippery, and has no crimp. It is beautifully soft, but I had to add twist to keep it together. I had hoped to spin a fine lace weight, but the yarn came together much better at a heavier weight. Without measuring, I would say that the singles by themselves are about fingering weight.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Chocolate Cake with Italian Buttercream Icing

Chocolate Cake

Last night, while Scott was working late, I made a chocolate cake for him to come home to. It was my second attempt at cake decorating, and I definitely learned from it.

I am quite pleased with how the frosting came out, both in texture and in appearance. I went back to the tutorial to remind me how to get it looking nice, with crisp edges. Also, although it tasted sweet on its own, it was more buttery and didn't seem sweet at all on the cake, which was a big surprise. The texture of the Italian Buttercream was great. It was scary to make but it worked!

I also learned a little more about piped decorations. Not only did I try making leaves for the first time, which I'm really pleased with, but I also learned a valuable lesson about short cuts. You see, when I was at the store, they had a clearance sale on the pre-made green and red icing tubes left over from Christmas, and I thought I'd pick two up to make red roses. Well, I guess it's just another sign that I shouldn't buy prepackaged foods, because the frosting in them was much more difficult to use than the frosting I used to decorate the previous cake. It seemed grainy, and it broke easily in the middle of a petal, but didn't break well when I stopped applying pressure. There was only a little frosting left over, and I piped the white roses with it. As I was doing so, I realized that I could mix some of the tubed frosting in for some quick color, and that's what I did with the leaves. I also learned from last time's terrible edging: I practiced the leaves a little on a plate before applying them directly to the cake. I had to scrape the frosting off the cake back into my piping bag just to have enough to work on the cake itself.

The cake itself was moist and tasty. Perhaps it was a little too moist, or under done, as one of the two pans of cake partially collapsed when I turned it out on the cooling rack. I was only able to salvage one layer from it, so this cake is a little shorter than the last one. On the other hand, I'm not sure how I would have frosted a cake with another layer, since I felt I was cutting it close as it was.

Sandy's Chocolate Cake from Whisk Kid
The recipe below will make two 6-inch layers. Doubling it will produce, two 9" layers.

1 1/3 c (166 g) flour
3/8 c (33 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 c (118 g) butter, room temp
1 1/2 c (213 g) brown sugar, lightly packed
2 eggs, room temp
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 c (157 ml) sour cream, room temp
2/3 c (157 ml) boiling water

Preheat oven to 350F (175C). Oil and line either two 6-inch pans. Set aside.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, soda and salt in a large bowl and set aside.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, soda and salt in a large bowl and set aside.

Cream the butter and add the sugar, then whip until lightened. Add the eggs, one at a time, followed by the vanilla. Add in about a third of the dry ingredients, then half of the sour cream. Repeat, ending with the dry ingredients. Briefly stir in the boiling water, pour into pans and bake 35 to 40 minutes.

Italian Meringue Buttercream from Whisk Kid
I used (and HIGHLY recommend) her step-by-step directions for making Italian Meringue Buttercream

1/4 c (63 ml) water
1 c (210 g) sugar
5 egg whites
1/4 c (53 g) sugar
1 c (237 g) butter, softened, cut into small pieces
1 tsp vanilla

Place the egg whites in the bowl of a standing mixer.

Heat the 1 c sugar and water on the stove to 245F stirring occasionally only after the sugar has been dissolved. When it is within the range of 230F to 235F, begin whipping the egg whites. When they get to soft peaks, begin adding the remaining 1/4 c sugar and continue whipping to medium peaks, being careful not to overbeat. When the syrup is the correct temperature, slowly pour it into the eggs with the mixer on high. After the syrup is fully incorporated, beat the frosting 7-10 minutes until the outside of the bowl is room temp. Lower the speed to medium-low and begin adding the butter, tablespoon by tablespoon, beating until fully incorporated before adding the next piece. The frosting will deflate a little, but it's ok. Once all the butter has been added, return the speed to high and keep whipping until the frosting comes together. Add the vanilla and beat until incorporated.

I'll admit, it was pretty scary trying to watch the temperature of the sugar with a thermometer made to clip onto the side of a deeper pot (so I had to hold it if I didn't want it touching the bottom), while also whipping the egg whites with a hand mixer, then pouring syrup at the hard ball stage into the egg whites I am mixing with the hand mixer. I was afraid my pan was too big, the syrup too shallow, shallow and the sugar would heat too quickly, not giving me enough time to whip the egg whites before reaching 245ºF. I was afraid my butter would be too cold again, so I turned up the thermostat and microwaved the butter a little. I had to beat that frosting for nearly 15 minutes after adding the butter before it came together, and that feels like an eternity when all you are doing is standing there holding the mixer, but it worked in the end, giving me a lovely, smooth, light and creamy frosting.

Cocktail Wednesdays: Flowering Fields

Flowering fields

This week, I chose Flowering Fields, another drink featuring absinthe and Green Chartreuse, one component of one our top favorites -- The Last Word. It also uses the pineapple syrup I made for The Bengal, and I was looking for other uses for it since I don't want to have to store a ton of not-very-useful ingredients.

Flowering Fields
1.5 oz Rye
3/4 oz Pineapple syrup
1/2 oz Lime juice
1/2 oz Green Chartreuse
1 tsp Absinthe
2 ds Orange bitters

Add ingredients in a shaker over ice. Shake, double strain into a coupe. Garnish with a thin lime slice.

The verdict: This drink is one of our favorites so far.  The predominant flavors are the Chartreuse, the absinthe and the pineapple.  I wasn't sure how they would interact, but they play very nicely together.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

2012 Goals: January

I plan to post my goals every month to help keep me on track.  Here are my plans for January:

General Goals:
  1. Every workday either: read at least one section of LEED, work on one portfolio piece, contact at least one employer, or photograph items to sell on Etsy.
  2. Post at least three topics a week: one fiber arts, one cocktail, and one other.
  3. Focus on doing things myself: complete something photographable every day.
  4. Exercise at least three days a week: dance, yoga and/or biking.

From past goals:
  1. Finish unfinished projects - In addition to this month's knitting, spinning, and sewing goals, I will make and send the Christmas cards I initially didn't make enough of.
  2. Make a chocolate cake as soon as the apple pie is gone. Bake bread at least once.
  3. Decrease my consumption of processed food: victory at the store - no chips or similar guilty snacks.
  4. Visit the local fishmonger I just found.
  5. Declutter something every workday.

Fiber goals
  1. Finish my Scandinavian cardigan and Nessie. Work on my peacock shawl.  Sew leather soles onto  Scott's knitted slippers.
  2. Prep and spin Georgia Oaks Farm Alpaca sampler.
  3. Cold sheep yarn and fiber.
  4. Knit every day, starting today.
  5. Spin or prep fiber at least once a week.
  6. Sew steampunk petticoat.

Goals for 2012

Given how last year went, I think I also should make goals for 2012, and see if I can have a bit more success.  I am going to apply the tips for success shared by Gretchin Rubin and Christie Morgan.

General Goals:
  1. Work toward getting a job or going back to school every single workday.  That can include studying for my LEED accreditation, updating and filling out my portfolio, researching or contacting employers, or making, photographing, or posting items to sell on Etsy.  As long as I keep working on it, I'm not failing.
  2. Post at least three topics a week.  I've felt pretty bad about how my posts have dwindled, and I'm sure that has something to do with my low number of followers, since I have far more followers on Pinterest -- mostly strangers -- and I pin much more often.  I'm contemplating doing some round-ups.  Also, having the regularly scheduled Wednesday posts makes it easier to keep to posting, as you can tell by the fact that these have become my primary posts.  I may start some other series as well.  I've also taken over posting on my dance class' website, so I've got to fit that in as well.
  3. Focus on doing things myself rather than watching and reading about what others are doing.  That means less blog reading, TV watching, etc. and more doing.
  4. Exercise at least three days a week.
I also want to recommit to my past goals:
  1. Finish unfinished projects.
  2. No new hobbies.
  3. Use my craft supply stash.
  4. Make either bread or cakes at least every other week.
  5. Continue to decrease my consumption of processed food. Less guilty snack foods, more real lunches.
  6. Continue to buy organic, free range meats and eggs.
  7. Continue to eat local in-season vegetables.
  8. Continue to choose local options for cheese, wine, beer, etc.
  9. Canning & freeze all garden produce not eaten immediately.  Pick frequently and maybe even buy tomatoes to make canned sauce.
  10. Declutter something every workday.
I've already posted my fiber goals on Ravelry.  They are as follows:
  1. Finish at least 12 projects.
  2. Finish everything I already had a plan for before the start of 2012. That would include three WIPS (a cardigan, a toy, and a shawl), and get me an additional shawl, pair of socks, scarf, and two pullovers.
  3. Use up all of the remaining commercial yarn in my stash. That’s eight entries, three of which are included in current WIPs, and three others are associated with planned projects.
  4. Spin one colorway per month, until I run out of small batches, then at least 4 oz per month.
  5. Cold sheep yarn until I run out of commercial yarn. Exceptions only for project completion.
  6. Cold sheep fiber all year. I must start processing my unprocessed fibers and spinning my large batches.
  7. Knit at least three items using handspun.
  8. Minimize pattern & book purchases. I will buy some books and magazines to show support for my LYS, but I will keep these to a minimum and use the patterns I already own first.
  9. Knit every day.
  10. Spin at least once a week.
  11. Post my goals every month, with concrete plans for each month.  This will help me stay on track.
  12. Use fabric stash - at least one sewn item per month.

2011 Round Up

In 2011, I learned a bit about sewing and fitting garments, knitted some lovely projects, spun yarn gardened, tried cooking some things that intimidated me, visited cool places in the area, lived through a sewage back up, worked on the house, and learned about mixed drinks.

How did I do on my goals for 2011?

First, my knitting and spinning the goals:

  1. Finish at least 12 projects.  I finished 11 and got very close to two more, and at least half-way on a third.
  2. Finish everything currently in my Ravelry queue. Two of the almost finished projects were from my queue, and there are two more projects I never got to.  I did finish the others in my queue.
  3. Use up all of the remaining commercial yarn in my stash. Not so much  I have five commercial yarns left that I started the year with last year.  On the other hand, I have used the oldest yarns.
  4. Spin one colorway per month. Pretty badly failed.  I only spun a little after April, as I let myself get intimidated by prepping fiber.
  5. Cold sheep yarn until I run out of commercial yarn. Accomplished!  I only bought for project completion.
  6. Cold sheep fiber all year. Accomplished!
  7. Knit at least one item using handspun for every four projects. Not quite.  I knit two items with handspun.
  8. Minimize pattern & book purchases. Very few bought.
  9. Knit 1 hour a day. I did well at the beginning of the year, but tapered off.
I also want to recommit to my past goals:
  1. Finish other unfinished projects not related to knitting.  I did some, including the Crepe, but not many.
  2. No new hobbies. I forgot about this one.  Oops!
  3. Use my craft supply stash.  Pretty successful, actually.
  4. Make more bread. Sadly, not much!
  5. Continue to decrease my consumption of processed food. Okay, not as good as when I was in Georgia, but still less than Scott is used to.
  6. Continue to buy organic, free range meats and eggs.  Progress.
  7. Continue to eat local in-season vegetables. Pretty good.
  8. Continue to choose local options for cheese, wine, beer, etc.  Good!
  9. More canning & freezing.  Participating in the Zymology Guild helped, but I still need to pick up some of the jars I've "banked".
  10. Make any new clothing or buy from small producers/handmade or second hand.  Success, but I mostly accomplished this by getting very few new clothes.
  11. Declutter.  Some progress.
Of course, the other main goal is:
  1. Get a job or go back to school.  Erm... I seem to be right about the same spot as I was then.  Feels a bit like a lost year.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Cocktail Wednesdays: The Corpse Reviver #2c

Corpse Reviver #2c

This week, Scott picked up a small bottle of absinthe at the liquor store, which opened up our selection of drinks to include many drinks that require only a tiny amount of absinthe. The famous Sazerac, for example, requires rinsing the glass with absinthe. Of course, we couldn't make the Sazerac because we don't have Peychaud's Bitters. Instead, I went with another classic I've heard mentioned frequently: the Corpse Reviver. This version is based on the second recipe in the Savoy cocktail book, as posted by 12 Bottle Bar. They adjusted ratios for the lack of Lillet, and I adjusted it further by substituting lime for lemon due to Scott's sensitivity (hence the c).

Corpse Reviver #2c

1.5 Orange Liqueur
1 oz Gin
1 oz Dry Vermouth
1 oz Lime Juice
1 drop Absinthe
1 Maraschino Cherry (garnish)

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass. Shake with ice.
Strain into a coupe.
Garnish with a Maraschino Cherry

The verdict: this is really good. Both of use as well as our guest thought so. It was nicely balanced between the different elements. It didn't taste very alcoholic, but I could still taste the gin, as well as sweeter flavors of the other ingredients. The absinthe and maraschino provided background notes.