Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A Sneak Peek


Here's a sneak peek at my current knitting focus. "Monogamous knitting", as it's sometimes called—as in I'm only working on this one project until it's done. No putting it down to knit something else for a while. It has to be that way because there is a deadline involved. I'm right on track to finish when I need to. I calculated that so far, I've knitted 48,501 stitches. That's the actual number of stitches hanging on the needles. I didn't count the stitches that got knitted twice when I had to undo a mistake and reknit them. Thankfully, the number of reknitted stitches is pretty low considering the size of the project.

I know Daddy-O will be glad when I am back to spending a little more time in the kitchen, but I still have thousands of stitches to go. There is enough food stashed in the freezer to take us through a few more weeks. So he is not in danger of starving.

For the non-knitters...my chart is a way to keep up with where I am. The pattern doesn't tell you to do this. Each knitter is on their own to figure out some sort of tracking system. Each line of boxes represents the actual lace pattern. Those boxes are numbered 1-12. I knit those twelve rows over and over. I've knitted those twelve rows 26 times so far.

I had said that when this was done, I was going to only knit tiny little projects for a while because I'd be tired of this big one. But you know...I think it's going to be more like when I finish this, I'll miss knitting it. This has been pure pleasure.

This will be the last time I'll post anything about this project until it's time to share the finished object. Patience, dear readers. Patience.







Friday, February 16, 2018

A Cake By Any Other Name

Prune Cake. (Or, spice cake. Or, dried plum cake.)

While I'm steadily knitting away, I'll share another recipe from our Christmas holiday. This one was baked by my son-in-law before they headed back home. The recipe came from my collection but he has made it more often than me for the last several years. I got the recipe from my secretary many years ago when I was working as a home economist. I've never been famous for my cake baking, but this one has always provided sure-fire results.

Don't let the name frighten you. It's basically a spice cake. The prunes help create a moist cake and give it this lovely rich color. Trust me that it's delicious. Look at the long list of spices. That's what you'll taste. All the grandchildren love it. So do the grownups. They think it's perfect with a cup of coffee.

PRUNE CAKE

1-1/2 cups sugar
1 cup cooking oil
4 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
about 6-7 ounces baby food prunes (about 2 jars/containers)
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix sugar and oil, then add eggs and beat well. Mix buttermilk and baking soda together and set aside. Sift all dry ingredients together. Add to egg mixture, alternately with buttermilk mixture. Add prunes and vanilla. Fold in nuts, if using.
Pour batter into a greased and floured 9x13-inch pan and bake for 40-45 minutes. (Now, I use a baking spray.)

After removing cake from oven, cut into squares while it is still in the pan and is hot. Leave in pan and pour hot topping over cake. Additional chopped nuts may be sprinkled over the top, if desired.
Topping:
1 stick butter
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Mix and bring to a boil. Let simmer while cake bakes last 20 minutes. Pour hot topping over hot cake.

Helpful tip: Measure all the spices before you start the mixing process. Then the rest of the recipe is a snap.


Now let me tell you a story about using old recipes. This recipe was given to me about 40 years ago. Back when baby food all came in jars. So when a recipe called for "2 jars of baby food prunes" as this recipe didthere was no doubt as to the amount.

Fast forward several years. Baby food started coming in two sizes—small jars for babies, larger jars for toddlers. I had never paid any attention to the amount. And it had been a long time since I had baked the cake and I had forgotten which size jar I used. So I called the Beechnut helpline and asked them to help me figure out how much to add to this recipe. That's still been so long ago, I've forgotten exactly what we were converting. Small jars to large? Large jars to small? But we determined that I needed 6-8 ounces of baby food prunes.



Now go look at the baby section of your grocery store. Baby food often comes in little plastic containers or squeeze pouches now. Jars are harder to find. The prunes I found this shopping trip are a blend of prunes and apples. That will work, too. Each little plastic container is 4 ounces, so this recipe would use two of them. (Goodness, I miss those little glass jars that I saved for so many other purposes.)

There is a bigger lesson here, though. When you use a recipe based on packaged foods, it would be wise to make note of the actual measurement—in cups, in teaspoons, in ounces, etc. Those package sizes will change.

You know can sizes have pretty much all shrunk. And cake mix recipes...the doctored up recipes...are mostly based on an 18.25 oz box of cake mix. Cake mixes are now 15.25 oz. That's 3 ounces less, a significant difference! So I find myself looking for recipes that are based on real ingredients that will always be the same. Measure out the flour and sugar yourself and you won't run into the problem of changing box sizes.

So back to the prune cake. If you think your family will still be freaked out by the name "prune cake," call it spice cake. Or, call it dried plum cake. That's all prunes are. Here are a few words from the CaliforniaDriedPlums.org:
Are dried plums the same as prunes?
 Yes, they are.  All prunes are plums, but not all plums are prunes.  Prune plum varieties have very high sugar contents that enable them to be dried without fermenting while still containing the pits.
Why was the name prunes changed to dried plums?
Research conducted in the U.S. showed that our target audience, women ages 25 to 54, responded more favorably to the name dried plums.  It is also more descriptive for people who don’t know that prunes are fresh plums that have been dried.  Outside the U.S., the product is still called prunes.







Sunday, February 11, 2018

Preparing Ahead


It's that time again. Time for the Lenten lunches that happen weekly for the six weeks of Lent*. Time for the soup and cornbread lunch that our church has hosted since I became a member there over 30 years ago. Soup and cornbread the first week. (Then chicken pie and congealed salad the second week.) Then the lunches move down the street and the Baptists and the Presbyterians have a couple of weeks each until Lent reaches Easter. Yes, there is more than food. The lunches follow a short Lenten service held each week at the participating churches.

I've made this cornbread many times for this particular lunch. And it's been posted here a bunch of times. But I'm sharing it again. Because you may not have seen it before. Because it's still winter and we're in soup and chili season and this cornbread is the perfect accompaniment. Because I'm 27 inches into my big knitting project (which I'm not ready to share yet) and I haven't spent much time in the kitchen. This is the lone recipe this week in our house. Knitting has taken precedent over cooking for the time being.

But today I stopped and baked this recipe three times over. Three dozen muffins. I'll add my three dozen to the dozens and dozens that others have baked. I usually do my cornbread in a pan. Or, in a cast iron skillet. But muffins work well for serving lots of people. And this recipe works any of these ways. Just keep an eye on it as it bakes. The time might change a little depending on your pan.

If this were for my family, I'd be baking it right before supper. But this needed to be done ahead. This particular recipe freezes beautifully. The cornbread is moist and tender. Not crumbly like some recipes. I won't be in the church kitchen when this is served, but I know the ladies in charge will warm it up and it will be perfect.

CORNY CORNBREAD

1/2 cup vegetable oil (plus extra for greasing the pan)
1-3/4 cups self-rising cornmeal mix
1 cup cream-style corn 
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream (the light kind works just as well)
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Generously grease a 7x11-inch baking pan or a 10-inch cast iron skillet with cooking oil. Preheat the pan in the oven. 

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl, stirring with a spoon until combined. Pour batter into the preheated pan. Place pan in the oven and bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Serve hot.

You can also bake this in a muffin pan. I don't preheat the muffin pan. Makes 12 muffins. Bake for about 25 minute, or until golden brown.

If you have leftover cornbread, wrap it well and pop it in the freezer for a busy day later. 


*Lent is a season of forty days, not counting Sundays, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday. Lent comes from the Anglo Saxon word lencten, which means "spring." The forty days represents the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan and preparing to begin his ministry.



Thursday, February 8, 2018

Winter Wind Up


[Trying to catch up on some blog photos that I've not posted yet.]

Just a quick peek at my knitting get away a couple of weekends ago.
It's a annual knitting retreat at a nearby (for me) camp at our local lake. 
Some knitters traveled much further to get here.


I enjoyed the knitters and the knitting time, but the outdoor beauty 
at the lake was another reason this retreat spot was special.
It was quiet and peaceful. A needed change of pace in our crazy world.


I never get tired of being at the lake, knitting or not. 
Walking outside is like hitting the reset button.


Thanks to the retreat organizer and the camp staff for making this all happen.
And thanks to those folks working in the dining hall.
Not cooking or even thinking of what to cook for a few days was fantastic.


I know a knitting retreat doesn't sound like fun to all of you. But there is something similar for every interest if you search for them. And some of you can't get away for several days. So find a way to "retreat" at home. Sit on your back steps with a cup of tea and don't go in until the cup is empty. If you are a mom of small children even this can be hard. But keep trying. It's worth it.

What is your favorite way to "retreat?" The big kind or the tiny kind.





Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Inch By Inch, Row By Row


There is a Peter, Paul & Mary song that we performed a few times over the years for spring school programs called The Garden Song. It starts "Inch by inch, row by row, I'm gonna make this garden grow." The tune has popped into my head from time to time as I've knitted. That is exactly how I feel about my current knitting project. Back and forth. Back and forth. Over and over. Singing in my head as I knit, "Inch by inch, row by row, I'm gonna make this white shawl grow..."


I am on schedule at the moment, but I'm in that long middle slog. At the beginning you can see the progress. But where I am now, there isn't much visible difference between 17 inches and 20 inches. It all looks alike. And there are many inches still ahead of me. So I sit still and knit.



In order to see some proof that I'm making progress—and to keep my place as I go—I made a check-off sheet for every row that I knit. And I have the pattern written out on index cards...one row per card, flipping cards as I complete a row. That way my eye can only read one row pattern at a time. Knitters know that when you work from the printed pattern, it's too easy to read part of one row and then part of the row below.

I'm taking extra precautions while working with white yarn. Frequent hand washing is a must for clean knitting. It's also a good thing during this bad flu season. I keep the work in a large baking pan (17.5x13-inch, Nordicware, from Amazon) with a lid. When I'm not knitting, I put the lid on to protect it from spills or drips. This project mostly stays at home. It would be too easy to have an "accident" in transit. And I can't work on this and talk, so it doesn't go to my Thursday afternoon knitting group.

I spread a large dish towel over my lap when I knit. This has served several purposes. It keeps the yarn on a clean work surface. When I put the project back into the pan where it lives, I don't pick up the project. I pick up the towel and fold it up over the knitting. Keeps me from excessive handling of this yarn. And I discovered that if I drop one of those very tiny stitch markers, they neatly land on the towel instead of falling down between my legs or between the sofa cushions.

Taking breaks has been as important as the dedicated knitting time. It's good for my hands. It's good for my eyes. It's good for my back. Knit three rows. Throw clothes in the washer. Knit four rows. Move laundry to the dryer. Knit two rows. Unload the dishwasher. That means I need to stay at home even though I'm not knitting for hours straight through. I need to be able to do it in many short bursts. And I'm being honest about when it's time to stop for the day. When the tiniest mistake happens, I fix it and then put everything away.

Netflix has kept me company while I work. I tried audiobooks that other knitters love. I found myself listening and then realizing I had "drifted" while I knitted and missed half a chapter. I do better with something on television. Interesting, but not too interesting. I mostly listen and then glance at the screen every now and then. I switch around between shows. I evidently am not cut out to be a binge watcher in the truest sense. About two episodes of one show and I need a change.

I am loving every stitch of this pattern. I love who I'm knitting it for. I love that it's for a special day. But when this is done, I'm knitting dishcloths. Quick. Easy. No worry about spills. It's going in the washer anyway! Yep. I'm knitting dishcloths.









Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Knitting, Knitting, Knitting...And Soup


These are busy days here. So there might be less blogging as I tried to stay focused on a special knitting project with a deadline. It involves 1500 yards of slippery bamboo yarn that needed to wound by hand. I figured that out after I tried it with the swift and winder. It wanted to slide right off the swift. Thankfully, just after the failed attempt doing that way, Daddy-O came in from his farm work and was willing to help me.

I made sure he had washed his hands thoroughly. He rolled up his shirt sleeves. He took off his watch that had a strap with a buckle. And he settled in to watch the evening news while I wound the 760 yards. It took us an hour to wind this one skein of yarn. There is another skein that will need to be wound later. But we won't worry about that until I knit enough to need it.


I started the project this past weekend. And as of this morning, I have about six inches of lace completed. That leaves only 50+ inches to go. I think I can do this! The past few days, I have mostly knitted. Knitted and watched old movies that everyone else saw years ago.  I know that can't happen every day, but I'm taking advantage of these rare unscheduled days this week to get a good start on this.

Creamy Tomato Soup

All this knitting means less cooking. Less time in the kitchen. So I'm sharing a recipe I made twice right before Christmas. I looked for the recipe last week and the first place I looked was here in my own recipe index. It wasn't there. I nearly panicked! I wasn't sure where I had found the recipe in the first place. It took some searching to find it again. So I'm posting it here for my own piece of mind.

This soup was extra yummy. The first time I made it with heavy cream, like the recipe calls for. The next time I used half-and-half because that's what I had on hand. Both were good. But to be honest, we liked the heavy cream version best. My knitting friend (and blog reader) Betsy tried it after I did and she said she used almond milk and that also worked well.

I found the recipe on The Pinning Mama and she has the recipe written for a stovetop version, too. To be honest, it possibly is faster than the Instant Pot. The IP requires that "before and after time" when the pressure builds up and then must be released. But the IP version cooked the tomatoes so soft that the texture of the soup was perfect.


The soup freezes beautifully. I put single servings into pint-size Ziploc freezer bags and popped them into the freezer. Daddy-O thawed one out while I was away last week and said it was just as good as the first time.

CREAMY TOMATO SOUP (Instant Pot)

1 (28-oz) can crushed tomatoes (I found a brand without basil added)
2 (14.5-oz) cans diced tomatoes, with juice (or one 28-oz can)
1 (14.5-oz) can low-sodium chicken broth (2 cups, if you have homemade)
1 tablespoon crushed garlic (I used the kind in a tube)
1 tablespoon dried basil
2 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup heavy cream

Put tomatoes, broth, garlic, and dried basil into Instant Pot. Put on the lid, close the vent and set it to Soup Mode for 20 minutes. When it's done, do a quick release of pressure. Add sugar and stir to dissolve. Add butter and stir until melted.

While stirring continuously, very slowly pour in heavy cream. Stir until it's well blended. (The slow pouring of the cream helps it blend in smoothly and not curdle.)


The instructions here are written for an Instant Pot. But check out her blog (link above) for the cooking time on the stove if you don't have an Instant Pot.






Friday, January 19, 2018

Caring And Cooking


There is someone who could use a meal because of a surgery or illness, or a job loss, or a new baby, or a new house, or....  Good or bad, the reason why doesn't matter. They need a little help in the kitchen. Something home cooked that says "someone cares enough to take time to cook food and bring it to me." 

I like to cook. I decide I'll help out. I start thinking about a menu. This is the part where it's easy to get stuck. I can't think of a menu. I don't have time to make an entire meal. I wonder about what foods they like. Or, don't like. And that's where I sometimes stop. Sometimes it's easier to make excuses than to make spaghetti. I want it to be so perfect that I end up doing nothing. There is a whole lot of "I" in this train of thought and not so much thinking about the one in need.

DO NOT let that happen. What about the "someone cares" part? The caring is as important as the actual food. Take a casserole. Take a salad. Take a dessert. Take hot dogs, for goodness! Sloppy Joes are a good meal if there are kids in the house. Just act on your good intentions. (You realize I'm talking to myself here.)

I just delivered supper to a friend. I called and promised to bring supper before I decided what I would take. Maybe that works best. I think if I'd tried to plan before I called her, I might have never made the call. I made a slow cooker meal that we like and it made plenty for me to divide—supper for them, supper for us. I knew I should have added something green, but I delivered just the beef stew, bread and dessert. And I managed not to apologize for not bringing a green vegetable or a salad. 

These recipes were easy for me. And the slow cooker worked with my schedule this time. But you likely have your own easy recipes. And there are plenty of simple recipes with fewer ingredients here on my blog. It's a good idea to have a couple of meals—or dishes—that are your standard "comfort meals." Your go-to menus. That will make it easier to offer a meal. If you take single dish, you can think of it as a "meal starter." It still shows you care. These meals don't need to be gourmet and are not cooked to impress. It's the caring that counts.

Here is what I took yesterday. Do you have a "go to" comfort meal or dish that you typically take? I'd love to get new ideas. If you look on the recipe index here, you'll see ideas under the MENU heading for Care Package Meals. There are a few ideas there of foods I've taken before. To be honest, I had forgotten about that list. On my own blog. 

Let's make this year a "year of kindness." Goodness knows the world needs it. So you don't cook? There are plenty of ways to show kindness—send a card, write a thank you note, smile at people, run an errand for someone, donate to a food bank. There are so many ways to be kind. Do the one that speaks to you. 

SLOW COOKER BEEF STEW

This time I used 3 lbs of beef and added an extra potato to make a little more stew and cooked it in a 5-qt. slow cooker. You can serve a bowl of this hearty stew or spoon it over rice. It's good both ways.

SLOW COOKER BEEF STEW

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1-1/2 to 2 lb. beef stew meat
2 tablespoons cooking oil (or more as needed)
2 medium potatoes, peeled & cut into chunks
2 or 3 carrots, peeled & cut into chunks 
1 onion, peeled & cut into chunks
2 teaspoons instant beef bouillon granules
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram or basil, crushed
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 bay leaf
2-1/2 cups V-8 juice

Place flour in a plastic bag. Add meat cubes and shake until meat is coated with flour. In a Dutch oven brown half of meat in 1 tablespoon of oil, turning to brown on all sides. Brown remaining meat in remaining oil. Drain off any excess oil.

In a 3-1/2 to 4 quart Crockpot, layer potatoes, carrots and onion. Add meat. Add all seasoning. Pour vegetable juice over all.

Cover and cook on LOW for 10-12 hours (or on HIGH for 5-6 hours) until meat and vegetables are tender.  Discard bay leaf.


SOURDOUGH BREAD

was baking bread anyway and it was nice to share it. This is easy for me because I've made a zillion loaves of this bread and don't need to look at the recipe anymore. But a pan of Sister Shubert rolls from the grocery store freezer would have been just as good. The Parker House Style is our favorite. 

If you'd like to try this sourdough bread, you'll find the recipe HERE.

CARAMEL CAKE

This is the easiest cake I know of. (Both recipes say "quick." They really are.) Use your favorite frosting, or top it with fresh fruit. This time I couldn't resist caramel. I used the pans I had here...one round for us, and one oblong with a lid that was easy to transport. I do my best to only use dishes and pans that don't need to be returned.

QUICK & EASY CAKE

2 cups self-rising flour 

1-1/2 cups sugar
1 cup oil
1 cup milk
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Beat until well mixed.  This can be baked in layers or 13x9x2 pan. (Greased and floured, of course; or use baking spray.) Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, until golden brown and top springs back when lightly touched. 

QUICK CARAMEL FROSTING

2/3 cup butter
1 cup dark brown sugar (packed)
1/3 cup milk
3 cups powdered sugar (sifted)

In a saucepan over low heat add butter--melt. Add brown sugar--stir and cook for 2 minutes. Add milk--stir and cook while you bring it to a boil. Once boiling, remove from heat and let it cool for 10 minutes. Slowly add powdered sugar while stirring--keep stirring until thick enough to use as frosting.

(I used a wire whisk to add in the powdered sugar until it got thick and then I switched to a heavy spoon.  This frosting hardens, so ice your cake quickly.)