Thursday, February 16, 2017

Invaders of the Heart Shawl and Chocolate Cupcakes!

I had recent occasion to remember that it is important to be flexible in this life and knitting is no exception.  As much as you want something to be a certain way and to work out well, it may not. When that happens it's best not to fight against your circumstances and instead adjust your actions to the hand that you are dealt.  And yet.  Maybe we should strive for more.  Recently I read a story and one of it's characters observed "we are all slaves to our circumstances." That stopped me short.  I wondered, am I a slave to my circumstances?  I realized that whether our circumstances stem from our birthplace, parenting or the choices that we inevitably make we all find ourselves in circumstances that we are in some way slave to.  The challenge is to make changes despite circumstances that may seem insurmountable.  Everyone has at one time or another thought "I would... I wish.... I want....." and whether those thoughts become a reality largely depends on our motivation and actions because the future is not yet written.  And tomorrow is a new day.

Bringing this topic back to knitting, the circumstances I recently found myself in was having bought 4 skeins of yarn to participate in Stephen West's 2016 Mystery Knit Along.  Regrettably, the skeins that I had bought for the project did not play well together in the pattern.  And I could tell that almost immediately.  So I riiiiiiped out clue No. 1 and set my yarn aside to ponder my circumstances.

I considered and rejected finding a new pattern utilizing all 4 skeins.  I had been sufficiently turned off by the combination to preclude that.  But I had invested a sum of money and needed somehow to make all this yarn work for me. There were two skeins that I viewed as more challenging to repurpose because of their solid high contrast colors (black and lavender) and also paradoxically because they were rather hum drum on their own.  They just didn't excite me to knit them.  So I went in search of a pattern that worked well with high contrast color yarn and found this stunning pattern by Sarah Raasch.  Which converted my problem yarns into a favorite accessory!  And now I find my circumstances are much happier.  If only all problem circumstances were so easily solved.

Particulars:  Invaders of the Heart designed by Sarah Raasch, knitwear designer and indie yarn dyer known as Orange Jelly Fish Dreams; US 7 needles; 1 skein each of the following: Madelinetosh (tosh sock, Onyx colorway); The Lemonade Shop (simple sock, Grape Stain colorway with speckles. Incidentally while I ordered a strongly speckled "toxic") skein I think what I received was a pretty mild speckled skein and I'm not sure if that was a mistake or a matter of perspective; Colinette (Parisienne, Marble colorway).  I made no modifications whatsoever.  This was an extremely well written pattern that was a pleasure to knit.  I also picked up a new skill with this pattern which is the German Short Row method (which is recommended although not required to do the pattern).  I will never go back to the regular wrap and turn method.  If you are interested here's a link to a video (on youtube) demonstrating German Short Rows.  I can't recommend strongly enough that you add this skill to your knitting repertoire as it will make knitting short rows much faster and easier without requiring stitch markers to slow you down.

Lastly you might recognize the Colinette yarn (it's the shear light purple) that I also used in this recently finished shawl which was my own creation using a mash up of two patterns.  I knit at least one shawl a winter using this yarn (the silk/mohair blend) because it's light as a feather and yet warm and comes in gorgeous sheer colors. Shawls made in this yarn are my absolute favorite pieces to wear.

Old Fashioned Chocolate Cupcakes

I can't stop eating cake these days.  I don't know why but that's all I want to eat.  Maybe it's all the contentiousness that seems to be everywhere but for whatever reason I need cake.  And lots of it. And I had a taste for an old fashion chocolate cake like the ones I had as a kid on my birthday. Something that I've found surprisingly elusive to recreate as an adult.  Until I found this wonderful chocolate sponge cake recipe from a French website - Let Them Eat Cake.  Just kidding.  It took me a while to retrace this recipe on the web and what it actually was was a British recipe on Allrecipes which means I had to tweak it a bit to adapt to American ingredients.  I loved these cupcakes and I hope you will too!

Recipe Adapted from Allrecipes, Always Perfect Chocolate Sponge Cake ~

Chocolate Cupcakes Recipe ~
Yield: 12 cup cakes

Cupcake Ingredients:

3 eggs at room temperature (197g - including shells)
197g white granular sugar - extra fine for baking
197g salted butter
142g (197g-55g = 142g) all purpose flour or pastry flour (I used pastry flour)
55g cocoa powder (I used dutch process cocoa from Penzey's Spices)
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt, plus a pinch
1/4 cup heaping semi-sweet chocolate chips

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting  ~

50g sweetened dark chocolate (I used a Belgium chocolate)
100g salted butter - room temperature
200g confectionery sugar
1 tps. vanilla
2 tps. whole milk
Chopped walnuts (optional garnish)


1.  Preheat oven to 340 degrees Fahrenheit and add liners to cupcake pan.

Caveat: this cake is made following the methodology that is well set out in the original recipe. For convenience I've set out the directions using my ingredients.  But, if your eggs weigh a different amount than 197g then you can easily adjust the recipe to whatever weight they come to as explained in the original recipe link.

2.  Combine butter and sugar in a bowl and beat until light and fluffy.

3.  Add eggs 1 at a time to the butter mixture as follows:  Slow your mixer down to the lowest speed. It is important at this stage not to whip the eggs (you don't want the eggs to become like a souffle that will rise and fall).  Just let the mixer slowly incorporate the egg and be patient.  Scrap the bowl sides often.  Do this with each of the 3 eggs (the last egg will take the longest to incorporate).

4.  Sift together the flour, cocoa, salt, and baking powder and add to your bowl with the butter, sugar and eggs.  Start your mixer slowly to avoid flour flying out and slowly increase the speed to beat well and add air to the batter which will help make it light.

5.  Quickly stir in the chocolate chips and scoop batter into cupcake liners.

6.  Bake cupcakes 24 minutes or until a tester comes away clean.  Cool to room temperature before frosting.

To Make Buttercream Frosting ~


1.  Melt dark chocolate and allow to cool to room temperature.  I melted my chocolate in the micro wave - a method that is detailed in Banana Chocolate Espresso Swirl Muffins (these are fantastic, by the by).

2.  Beat butter with the confectionery sugar until light and fluffy.  Fold in (cooled) melted chocolate and vanilla.  Add 2 tsp. milk or enough milk to create a spreadable consistency.

3.  Garnish with chopped walnuts, if you wish.

Until next time, be well and love well and may you make your circumstances the very best they can be!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Cinnamon Coffee Cake Recipe and My Favorite Coffee Beans

I'm a homebody at heart.  I love being at home and can go days on end without leaving my home other than to go for hikes with Simcha.  One of the things that makes being at home enjoyable for me is having freshly baked breads, cookies, and cakes to eat and that's one reason that I bake as much as I do.  It has literally been years since I bought a loaf of bread from a store or bakery and the same for cookies and sweets.  About the only time I'll eat something store bought is when I'm on vacation or happen to be in a coffee shop. And when I do I'm often disappointed.  It's either heavy (usually because its "gluten free") too sweet, or lacking in flavor.  I think I might be spoiled because when I bake I use the very best tasting ingredients like European butter, Belgium chocolate, and that makes a difference to taste.  But obviously there are exceptions and one bakery in Los Angeles that I highly recommend is Republique (in West Los Angeles on La Brea). You simply can't go wrong with anything you order there!  And I'm sure there are others but as I mentioned at the start I'm a homebody and don't get out much.

Since winter is a time when many people are at home whether they are homebodies or not I am sharing a recipe for a lovely rich and moist Cinnamon Coffee Cake that's easy to make and calls for ingredients that you are likely to have on hand.  I would describe it as having a texture similar to a carrot cake and it's wonderful with a cup of coffee or warm with a scoop of ice cream.  I love that it stays fresh for days (and is actually better the second day) and can be left sitting out on the counter. There's something very inviting about walking into your kitchen and seeing a coffee cake sitting there waiting for you.  I've made this many times over the years and hope you find the recipe as reliable and enjoyable as I do.

Cinnamon Coffee Cake Recipe ~ 8" round cake


2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon (divided into 1 1/2 tsp. and 1/2 tsp.)
1 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 vegetable oil (light tasting such as safflower or canola)
1 cup walnuts - finely chopped
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 egg - beaten
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk (to convert 1 cup regular milk to buttermilk simply substitute 1 Tbs of the milk for either lemon juice or white vinegar, stir and let sit for 5 minutes before using)


1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Prepare 8" round deep cake pan.  You can either use a spring form cake pan or lightly grease a cake pan with butter and coat with flour.  Alternatively you can use an 9" x 13" pan and adjust the baking time.
3. In a large mixing bowl combine: flour, salt, 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, both sugars, and oil.  Remove 3/4 cup of this mixture and in a small bowl add this to the walnuts and the remaining 1/2 tps. cinnamon. Set this walnut mixture aside.
4.  To the original large bowl of flour mixture add the baking soda, baking powder, egg, vanilla, and buttermilk.  Mix until well combined.
5.  If using a round cake pan (deep) pour 1/2 of batter into cake pan and cover with a 1/2 of walnut mixture. Pour the remaining batter on top of the walnut mixture and top with the remaining walnut mixture.  If you are using a 9x13 sheet pan pour a layer of mixture and top with walnut mixture.
6.  Bake cake for 60 to 65 minutes or until cake tester comes away clean.  Allow round cake to cool for 10 minutes before turning onto a wire rack to finish cooling.  If using sheet pan allow to cool completely before cutting into squares and removing.

My Favorite Coffee Beans ~

Because coffee cake goes so well with a cup of coffee I thought I would share my favorite method of making coffee and the beans that I use for a great home brew.

As a preface I used to be a huge fan of barista coffees and went out of my way to visit coffee shops for my favorite fix which typically was a cappuccino in a large frothy mug.  But somehow over time I became plain coffee drinker.  I simply realized one day that there's something about the rich flavor and pure taste of coffee that gets lost in all the cream and froth and cinnamon sprinkles.  And a plain cup of coffee has a lot less cholesterol and calories too so there is that as well.  But with a plain cup of coffee the quality of the bean and preparation process becomes much more important as the flavor and body is everything.

For years I used a French Press to make my coffee at home.  But inevitably they would crack, or the wire filter would come apart or in some fashion die and while it made a nice cup of coffee it wasn't a great cup of coffee.  So after tossing yet another french press I looked for a better mouse trap and found one!  It's the AeroPress coffee method and for years I've been a fan.  In fact as soon as I had my first cup I knew this was the end of the road for me.  If you've not heard of or tried this method it's pretty inexpensive to try and I think you'll be hooked.  Now all that's left is your choice of beans....

My Top 5 Favorite Coffee Beans

1.  Intelligentsia - El Diable Dark Roast Blend.  A blend of coffees, changes seasonally.  Celebrates the savory side of coffees highlighted by carmalized sugars, molasses and chocolate flavors.  This is my go to daily brew.

2.  Christopher Bean - Irish Cream.  It's one of their most popular flavors and uses 100% Arabica beans.  I don't drink a lot of flavored coffees but once a week or so I'll go for a cup of this.

3.  Blue Horse - 100 % Kona - dark roast.  Shade grown, hand picked, and sun-dried.  This coffee has a rich, full aroma with low acidity and low caffeine.  It's very expensive but it's nice to have this on hand and I like to offer it to company after dinner with their dessert.  I drink this Kona on Saturday mornings.  With my feet up.  Surfing social media and reading the news.

4.  Stumptown - Trapper Cream Decaf (using Swiss water method).  This has a wonderful buttery flavor combining the sweetness of raisins and caramel.    Stumptown is a local Los Angeles coffee roaster and their most popular blend is Hair Blender (notes of cherry, toffee and fudge) named for the original location that was housed in a "hair" parlor. This is typical "insider" LA humor.  And despite the quirky name it does make a great cup of coffee.

5.  Raven's Brew.  Wicked Wolf - dark roast.  I discovered this coffee on our trip to Alaska and remember loving it.  I've also given it as a gift and it was well received.  I added it to my list because it's a regional coffee that is probably unfamiliar to you.

You might notice that I generally select dark roasted coffees and that is because the dark roasts tend to have less of a caffeine kick.  Most of the coffees listed can be found on  I gave the links to the individual websites because that's where you will get the best description of the coffee and choices.

Incidentally the beautiful mugs in these pictures are made by Wild Child Clayworks on Etsy. I have several of their pieces including a pie plate that I love.  They do beautiful work.

Until next time be well, love well and this winter enjoy your time indoors, perhaps with a slice of coffee cake, a great cup of coffee and your feet up!