Monday, August 14, 2017

S E V E N


This weekend we celebrated Little Sister's birthday. Somehow, in the blink of an eye, she changed from a tiny new baby weighing less than five pounds into a seven year old who just started first grade. Celebrating her birth is also a celebration of this blog. The blog didn't start until a few months after she was born, but it started because of her.

I was her "baby keeper" for many months. If you've ever kept a new baby, you know there are long days—precious ones, for sure—but long days spent with a tiny person who mostly sleeps and isn't much of a conversationalist. She came very early, so the doctor advised keeping her away from crowds for a few months to let her immune system catch up. So we stayed home. Alone.


These were the months when I learned to knit a sock. I made the most adventurous gorgeous knitted hood for Jessica that had cables and ribbing and seams and a placket and buttonholes. Goodness knows I had plenty of time to learn new techniques while this tiny baby slept nearby.

Somewhere along the way I learned about blogs. I had joked for a while that if I could ever come up with a title for a blog I would write one.  My one outing while being the baby keeper was my ukulele band. I was the director of a senior adult ukulele band that played across the upstate. I was also the one who booked the gigs. Gigs. Grandmother. Ha! I love alliteration. And The Grandmother Gig was born.

This blog has been my journal, my recipe box, my photo book. My record of what happens in our family and in my life. Of course, it doesn't include everything that happens. I write when I have time. And it does not include every recipe I cook. Sometimes even good ones don't make it here. But it has provided space for record keeping.

My grandmothering role has changed over these seven years. That sweet family has lived in two more states since Little Sister was born. Then the family grew when Baby Girl came along. I am no longer the full-time grandmother like I was in the beginning, but there are plenty of "grandmother gigs" on my calendar.

Today, back at home I plan to go back to the beginning of this blog and see how Little Sister has grown. And next time I'm there I know the little girls would love to look at those photos. I know I'll find reminders of funny things I have forgotten. I'll see recipes that I need to make again. (Don't forget there is a Recipe Index tab at the top of the blog.) I'll read comments from you, dear readers, you readers who have become friends.


So Happy Birthday, Little Sister. Our sweet girl who loves music and dancing, who is kind of heart, who is a list maker like her mommy, and who has a smile that lights up the room. We love you!








Monday, August 7, 2017

Knit Here, Knit There, Something To Knit Anywhere


Pattern: Coastal Walk, by Joji Locatelli
Yarn: Rowan Softyak DK, Colorway: Cream
Needles:  size 7

There is knitting. And there is knitting. I know a (very) few knitters who faithfully finish one project before they begin another. I know some knitters who love starting a project much more than they love finishing a project. They might have many works-in-progress. (Knitters call them WIPs.) So, what do I do? Here is what I'm working on right now:

Coastal Walk, pictured above, is my "I need to focus on this one" project. I started this one in early summer, then had to set it aside for weeks while I went to a Rocky Mountain wedding, had a big family gathering at the lake, visited a wedding venue, drove down to babysit, tagged along for wedding gown shopping...you get the idea. Keep good notes on one like this so you can find your starting place when you get back to it.

See that pattern for Coastal Walk? A chart. Written directions. Several sheets of paper. I like having a project like this one that needs focus. But it stays at home. Or it goes with me only when I know there is ample quiet time. I love a project like this that requires a little more of me. So much fun to knit, but I know when I need to put it down and find something simple.

If I had a project with three different colors of yarn, I would save that for knitting at home, too. Too easy to get everything tangled up.



Pattern: Boneyard Shawl, by Stephen West
Yarn: Rowan Felted Tweed, Colorway: Rage
Needles: size 8

My second knitting category is what I call " travel knitting" or "social knitting." This is a project that I can take to our knitting group and work on it while we chat with minimal danger of getting lost in the pattern. It might go along with me while I wait for a doctor or sit while Little Sister has dance practice. Boneyard Shawl falls into this category. It would be a good choice for car knitting. It's easy to stop and start anywhere along a row, without needing to counting every stitch. I do need to keep up with how many rows are between each ridge. But that's easy enough to do.


Pattern: Sunny Baby Blanket by Lucie Sinkler
Yarn: Knitpicks Mighty Stitch, Colorway: Alfafa
Needles: size 8

I also have a bright green baby blanket that I've worked on since spring. There is no rush to finish this one, so I've been able to work on it and then put it down for a few weeks before I pick it up again. I like to work on it when I'm between other big projects. Choosing the next "big" project takes some thought to find a good match for yarn and pattern. But I can work on the blanket while I'm thinking.

The blanket has more happening in a single row than the Boneyard Shawl. But everything is even and once I get going, I only need to count the rows on the actual knitting to keep up with the pattern. No need for the written pattern or stitch counter. I use markers to remind me to change from knit to purl and back to knit. I've also made several of these, so it's a familiar pattern. I remember that the first one wasn't quite so simple.


Pattern: Grandmother's Favorite & Waffle Knit Dishcloth (bottom)
Yarn: Lily Sugar & Cream
Needles: size 7

And if there's nothing else to knit, or if I need a grab-and-go project as I run out the door, I make dishcloths. Don't need to find the pattern. It's useful when it's done. If I make a mistake along the way, it will still wash a dish! So what if I forgot a yarn over. The dishes won't care. They wear out so there is always a need for a new one.

What's your knitting style? One project? Lots of projects? We are all different. It's all good. There is no right way or wrong way. But I'd love to hear how you do it.





Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Man Cannot Live By Bread Alone. Or, Can He?

Sourdough Bread

From the time Sawyer was a little boy, he loved the bread I brought to the family Thanksgiving dinner. I think maybe bread is his favorite food. He loved the Thanksgiving bread so much that some years I would take an extra loaf just for him. In high school he started baking bread on his own, using a bread machine.
 

But the bread machine never quite duplicated what my little granddaughters call "Mimi bread." He had asked a couple of times about how I did this without a bread machine. So we compared schedules and found the one day that we could bake before he heads to college in a few weeks for his freshman year. Yesterday was the day. He came for a long morning baking lesson. His mom tagged along to watch, to be our photographer and our dishwasher. She also was our kitchen director, keeping us in the proper place in the recipe as we worked quickly through two long recipes.


To make it possible for Sawyer to do all the steps without waiting for all of the long rising times, I prepped the recipe like I used to do things when I worked. Cooking demonstrations were a regular part of my job. I would always make multiple batches of a recipe, stopping prep at various points, so that I could show the entire recipe process without any long waits for simmering, baking or, as in this recipe, rising time.

I mixed the sourdough the night before and let it rise overnight. When Sawyer walked in on Monday morning, that dough was ready to be punched down and shaped and plopped into pans, covered and set in a warm place to rise. When he was done with the shaping, Sawyer mixed another big bowl of dough and set it aside to rise. I wanted him to do all of the steps so he could do it again at home.


We had a few hours until that bread was ready to bake. I suppose I could have sent him home with rising dough at that point. But I wanted to make his day worth his trip to my house. So we made cinnamon rolls, another kind yeast dough that was mixed and handled differently than the bread he had just done.


The cinnamon roll recipe is quicker than the bread, so we could do this entire recipe, beginning to end, while we waited to put the sourdough in the oven. In about three hours, pans of cinnamon rolls were sitting everywhere in my kitchen. Oh, the house smelled so good!


The picture I wish I share was right after the rolls were finished. The expressions on the faces of the baker and his mom said it all. (I was also busy eating, so there is no photo.) They both had a look of pure pleasure as they bit into those sweet fragrant cinnamon rolls. Tasting the cinnamon rolls was soon followed by eating hot bread, which was also delicious, spread with soft butter.

This is the same sourdough recipe has been posted here before. But I will tell you that baking it in the summer was a little different that in the winter. I made no changes in the actual mixing of the dough, but I needed to use a little more flour on the board we kneaded and shaped it for the pans. And the rising time was faster.


Even though we were in an air conditioned kitchen, the outside temperature and humidity must affect the flour and the dough. Use your good judgement as you go through this process. Use a little more flour on the work surface if the dough is sticky. And the bread is ready to go into the oven when it has risen to the top of the pan—regardless of whether that's 4 hours or 6 hours or 8 hours. Just watch it. It's ready when it's ready.

SOURDOUGH BREAD

1 cup starter
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup oil
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1-1/2 cups warm water
6 or more cups bread flour (use the extra to flour the surface for kneading)

Mix bread ingredients. (I use a wire whisk to mix in the first 3 cups, and then use a spoon for the last three cups.) Place in large bowl sprayed with PAM.  Lightly spray dough with PAM.  Cover with plastic wrap.  Let stand and rise at least 8 hours.
Punch down dough and knead on floured board about 10 times.  Divide into 3 parts.
Spray three 8-inch loaf pans with PAM.  Shape dough and place in pans.
Cover loosely with plastic wrap. 
Let stand and rise until pans are full, about 5 to 6 hours.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, or until brown and bottom sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.

Whole wheat bread:  Use 2 cups whole wheat flour and 4 cups bread flour.

To feed starter:  Remove 1 cup for baking (or discard) and feed with 1/3 cup sugar, 3 tbsp. instant potatoes and 1 cup warm water.  Mix well and let stand 8-12 hours.  Then refrigerate.  Store in plastic container with slits cut in lid. Feed every 3-7 days. (My favorite container for storage is a large Cool Whip container. Cut an "X" in the lid to let the starter breath.)

To make starter:  Double the feeding recipe.  Put in a glass or plastic container, loosely covered.  Let set out for 4 days.  Then add one pack dry yeast.  Let stand another 24 hours.  Use 1 cup for the first batch or store in refrigerator for up to 7 days.

This bread freezes beautifully. It makes a great gift.


I'll be honest. When we were done, I was tired. (He probably was, too.) We had made eight pans of cinnamon rolls and three loaves of sourdough bread, then I finished up that second batch of sourdough and baked another three loaves of bread about supper time. Yes, I was tired, but it was the good kind of tired. It made me feel good that a teenage boy would choose to spend one of his rare free days with me in the kitchen. And it made me feel good to pass on some of my kitchen skills to a young person. That's how we preserve those skills...by passing them along to a younger person.


I know you want to know about the rolls. We used the Pioneer Woman's Cinnamon Roll recipe. You can also find that recipe on my blog here. It's exactly her recipe, but written with tips you might find useful. Also a word of caution for you Southern bakers—do NOT use a southern all-purpose flour, like White Lily or Martha White. These are great flours for other baking, though. But this recipe needs a "northern" wheat flour, like King Arthur. We have made this recipe more than once with White Lily, and you just have to keep adding extra flour for the dough to reach a workable state and the rolls, while delicious, are a little heavier. And we found the dough harder to handle.

If you want to make these for the first time, you might find it helpful to both look at her photos AND read my tips.

Is it possible to have a cinnamon roll hangover? I think I might have one. Those last few rolls are not tempting me this morning. I am done with the sweet treat for now. We divided the pans of rolls, so I have a couple of pans in the freezer for later. Lots later. I think today our menu will be all vegetables!