Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Authentic Italian Cookies

I always have knitting to share but occasionally I like to mix it up with a recipe or other fiber related craft.  In this post I'm sharing a recipe that is special not only because it is an authentic Italian family recipe but also because it came from an exceptional person.

This recipe comes from Eileen Doran who was in charge of the Notre Dame Legal Aid Clinic the Summer that I worked there.  She is one of those rare individuals who has a passion for helping those less fortunate, is tireless in her good works, and is one of the very few lawyers that I admire.  Thinking about her takes me back to the Summer that I worked at the clinic.

With the luxury of unlimited time to pour into a project (a luxury usually reserved for students and those unconcerned about billable hours) I was assigned to work on a political asylum application for a Hungarian youth who was fearful of returning to his home in a far away land where a war was waging and the Hungarian youths were being conscripted and used as cannon fodder on the front lines (due to their ethnicity).  I researched the situation and spoke with various human rights organizations and, at the end of my Summer internship, I submitted a Petition on his behalf.  The follow up for the case was assigned to another student.

It wasn't until years later when I was in practice that I thought about this case again.  One day the receptionist told me there was someone in the lounge who wished to speak with me.  It was the young man whom I had written the Petition for and he wanted to thank me in person.  His petition had been granted.  In the twenty odd years since that Summer my professional career has largely involved complex business litigation and I've had some  impressive wins.  But none have felt as good as being thanked by that young man.

I also remember fondly working at the clinic because Eileen would bring in some of her delicious baked goods and in addition to being a terrific lawyer she had a talent for Italian cooking and my favorite was her Grandmother's Nini's Special Torta cookie.

I consider this cookie part of my whole grain diet because, well, there are a lot of nuts in it.  And nuts are good for you.  Eileen says they are great with a cup of coffee and she's right.

Grandmother Nini's Special Torta Recipe
Originally published in Notre Dame magazine along with an article about Eileen Doran (reprinted with permission).

6 cups flour
3 cups sugar
6 tsp. baking powder
1/2 lb. butter
1/2 tsp. anise oil or 3 tsp. anise extract
3 eggs and 4 egg yolks
1 lb. blanched chopped almonds (I use a food processor to chop the nuts otherwise this is a chore)

1.  Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
2.  In a large bowl combine flour, sugar and baking power.  Using a pastry mixer, add butter and blend until it forms a coarse mixture.
3.  Add anise extract to eggs, beat lightly.  Incorporate egg mixture into flour mixture using hands.  Work dough with hands until smooth consistency.  (N.B.  This takes some time and effort so be patient.  I find using my breadboard is helpful.)
4.  Add chopped almonds.  Pat into a 13x9x2 pan.  Bake 1.5 hours at 300 degrees.
5.  Cut into diamond-shaped pieces. Cover with plastic or foil and keep in a cool, dry place.  Keeps for several days.

I'm a Grownup Now

I don't understand it.  Simcha is 1 year old now but I've aged 5 years since he's come home.

Until next time be well and love well and why not take time to bake cookies, you'll be glad you did!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Heavenly Handspun Scarf

Sometimes it's the simplest things in life that bring the greatest pleasure. The feel of the sun warming your skin after it has rained or a walk on the beach as seagulls circle overhead. I forget these things until we return to San Clemente, California, as we always do, the week after Christmas where we have no TV or computer access and nothing important to do but remember that time to relax is important too.

In the spirit of keeping it simple I'm wearing a scarf that goes everywhere and looks great with everything. This scarf does not have a bold look but it is subtly rich in color and texture and dresses up or down depending on what I'm wearing. It's my favorite scarf. Ever. I used a handspun yarn and if you look closely you will see that the spinner plied dark gold and dark silver glass beads randomly throughout the skein adding twinkle and glimmer to the fabric.

I suspect the spinner who lives in Scotland and dyed the yarn in a Scottish tartan color, in a style that reminded her of a Scottish grid, would be surprised that her yarn ended up not being worn while hiking the Hebrides Isles but rather just chilling out on the beaches of Southern California. The internet makes the improbable possible.

Particulars: Kocurek Etsy Shop Handpainted and Handspun yarn; BFL and Seacell wool top; glass beads randomly plied throughout; Scottish Tartar colorway; 66 grams; 452 yrds sport weight, WPI 18; 1 ply; US8 needles; spinner is Kocurek on Ravelry and she writes the blog Kocurkoweconieco. This is a simple scarf knit in the linen stitch which, based on swatching, created the prettiest fabric. I've named it Heavenly Handspun Scarf and I've written out my notes below. Washed and blocked dimensions: 6" x 50."

Heavenly Handspun Scarf Pattern:

This scarf is based on a slip stitch pattern known as the linen stitch. The resulting fabric has almost a woven and/or tweedy appearance that is slightly different on each side. This scarf is designed to be a light weight accessory worn to accent an outfit and achieving drape is important.

Yarn Suggestion: light sport weight yarn with a fluid drape such as yarns blended with silk, bamboo, seacell, etc. I think handspun and/or handpainted yarns look particularly nice in this stitch due to the complex appearance of the yarn.

US 8 needle ~ or size to achieve desired drape and dimensions.

CO 42 stitches
R1: Slip 1 purl wise (K1, slip 1 purl wise with yarn in front)
R2: Slip 1 purl wise (P1, slip 1 purl wise with yarn in back)

Repeat to desired length.

Designer Tips and Tricks:
To add individual flare and a designer touch you can add a panel of contrasting or complimentary yarn of similar weight in seed stitch which is a suggestion that came from my friend and knitwear designer Murielle (of Murielle Knitwear). Following her suggestion, at approximately the midpoint I changed yarn (I used leftover yarn from my wristletts with an edge) and switched to seed stitch for approximately 4 inches at which point I changed back to the original yarn and pattern. I'm glad I added this design element as it added both length and visual interest to my scarf! N.B. If you find your gauge is looser in the seed stitch (which mine was) you can either go down a needle size or every inch do a little runching (gathering) stitch (i.e. a row of evenly spaced decreases followed by a row of evenly matched increases) which is what I did. This will help keep the edges of the scarf even throughout.

P.S. Other scarf patterns in the linen stitch that might interest you are the Cerus Scarf a free pattern from Hilary of The Yarniad (knit lengthwise and designed for a man) and the Linen Stitch Scarf a free pattern compliments of Needleworks, Inc. (also knit lengthwise but using multiple colors of yarn and is gender neutral).

Until next time, be well and love well and think about the simple things in your life that bring you pleasure - and then do at least one before the day ends! I suggest putting your feet up and enjoying a cup of hot tea while you consider the endless possibilities.