Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Socktober! Fall Socks and Favorite Fall Cookie ~

It's Socktober and time to step up the sock game!  And I have done that.  Not only have I just finished a new pair of socks for Steve (using a free pattern called Fairy Maiden - shhhh it's best he not hear that) and I have two new pairs of socks for myself that I think are perfection for fall. And if this dang heat wave would finally end I could actually start wearing them.  


My first pair are the Hazelnut Socks from The Handmade Sock Society (original season) using gorgeous yarn dyed by Qing Fiber in her supersoft sock yarn (80% merino, 10% cashmere, 10% nylon).  They feel delicious on and I love how the pattern "pops" despite the wildly variegated colorway.  I will add a caveat that this is a very soft yarn and probably best suited to shawls (I used it to knit my Marley Shawl).  But with that in mind I will probably use these as "house socks."

My second pair of fall socks (pictured below) also hails from The Handmade Sock Society, but from the second season.  It's the Shell Cottage pattern paired with Woolberry Fiber Co. sock yarn.  There's actually a third year of the Handmade Sock Society that I didn't join; but now I'm sorry after sneaking a peak at the patterns.  Le sigh.  This is a workhorse yarn and these socks should wear well.  I used Berry Sock yarn (80% bluefaced leicester/ 20% nylon) and while it's not the softest yarn to work with it knit up beautifully and feels wonderful on. I'd definitely use this yarn again.

Heat wave or not fall is here and I am doing my best to enjoy the season.  I am baking, knitting, and enjoying scented candles (Cider Lane and Marshmallow Fireside by Bath and Body Works smell amazing).  And I'm spending a lot of time on my new hobby which is learning to draw and use watercolor paints!  No I'm not ready to share my "art" but I am pleased with my progress....  Since I couldn't even draw a circle before I began the bar is pretty low.  But if you are looking for something creative to do at home and have never taken an art class I really think you should consider learning to draw (which is a foundational skill for painting, etc).  I am using a book (Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain - I recommend getting the workbook that has the viewfinder in the back) and I also purchased a year membership to The Virtual Instructor which has a lot of classes on all types of art.  I began with The Secrets to Drawing and have moved on to 25 Days to Better Drawing. These classes seem very left brain oriented in approach.  Which is good because between the book and the classes I'm covering both halves of my brain which can only be a good thing.  I also have a paper fetish and drawing paper is wonderful to work on. Just saying.  

And just for fun I made Smores!  Since we can't have open fires in Southern California (due to wildfire risk) I simply used skewers and toasted my marshmallows over an open flame on my stove.  But if aren't in a fire danger area you could easily line a terracotta pot with foil and add a few briquettes and have the perfect marshmallow toasting situation in minutes.  Then all you need are graham crackers, thin chocolate bars, and marshmallows. Sounds like a perfect Halloween party treat!

Chocolate Hazelnut Shortbread Cookies 

Baking of course is a huge part of the fall season and there are so many recipes that I love but I've chosen to share my absolutely favorite fall cookie.  Bar none.  It has toasted hazelnuts and is dipped in bittersweet chocolate, need I say more?  The original recipe was shared in Bake From Scratch magazine (Holiday Cookies, special issue 2017) by Laura Kasavan (Tutti-Dolci) and I've adapted it slightly with a few time saving hacks and eliminating some of  the bitterness from the hazelnuts by removing their skins.  I find it helpful to do some prep a day ahead (i.e. toast, deskin, and chop the hazelnuts and measure all ingredients).  Then on baking day you can have these cookies finished in a couple of hours.  Certainly in time for afternoon tea.  


Chocolate Hazelnut Shortbread Cookies 

~ yield ~ 24 cookies


 1 cup (113 grams) toasted, skinned, and chopped hazelnuts, divided

2/3 cup (133 grams) plus 2 tablespoons (24 grams) granulated sugar, divided (I use extra fine baking sugar)

3/4 cup (170 grams) unsalted butter, softened

1 Tablespoon (15 grams) hazelnut liquer (I use Frangelico)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)

1/8 teaspoon table salt

1 3/4 cups (219 grams) all-purpose flour

8 ounces (225 grams) semisweet chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli chips)

Garnish: turbinado sugar or any crystal sugar


1.  I like to toast the hazelnuts and remove their skins the day prior to baking the cookies.  Toast hazelnuts at 350 degrees (Fahrenheit ) for 10 to 15 minutes (stirring several times) or until skins begin to crack and peal.  Turn nuts out onto a rough dishcloth and cover for a minute to allow nuts to steam.  Then twist the dishcloth into a ball around the nuts and rigorously rub them together.  Agitate nuts until most of the skins have fallen off.  Discard skin and chop nuts.  You will use 1/2 cup in the dough and 1/2 cup for the garnish.

2.  Add 1/2 cup (56.5 grams) toasted hazelnuts and 2/3 cup sugar to a food processor (or if you don't have a food processor use a blender, etc.).  Pulse until finely ground and well combined.

3.  In a stand mixer (using the paddle attachment) beat butter with hazelnut/sugar mixture at medium speed (3 to 4 minutes) or until creamy, scraping the bowl several times. With mixer on medium-low speed, add hazelnut liqueur, vanilla, and salt beating until well combined.   Remove bowl from stand mixer.

4.  Using a spoon stir in flour until just incorporated.  Turn dough out onto a very lightly floured board (or on top of parchment paper).  Divide dough in half and roll each half into a log (roughly 6.5 inches long) and wrap each log with plastic wrap.  Place wrapped log into the refrigerator for 20 minutes. When you place logs in refrigerator preheat oven to 350 degrees (Fahrenheit).

5.  Prepare two baking sheets by lining with parchment paper.  Remove one of the logs and on a lightly floured or parchment lined surface cut evenly into 12 pieces.  Then using a lightly floured rolling pin flatten each disk into a round cookie shape.  Place cookies onto parchment lined baking sheet and dust with with remaining 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar.  Repeat process with second log.  Then place both sheets of cookies back in the refrigerator for another 20 minutes.    

6.  After refrigeration, bake until cookies are lightly golden and tops and edges are set, 14 to 16 minutes (rotating pans after 8 minutes).  Let cool on pans for 5 minutes then transfer to rack to cool completely.

7.  While cookies are cooling melt chocolate.  Using a small microwave safe bowl heat chocolate in 20 second spurts (stirring well after each 20 second interval).  When almost all the chips have melted simply let the heat of the already melted chocolate complete the melting process (chocolate scorches easily so you don't want to over heat).  Set aside until cookies have cooled completely.

8.  To apply chocolate garnish lay several sheets of parchment paper on a flat surface.  Gather your melted chocolate, remaining 1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts, and turbinado sugar.  Working with one cookie at a time dip 1/2 of cookie into chocolate and then sprinkle with nuts and sugar.  Allow chocolate to set before moving cookies.  If the heat/humidity is too high for your chocolate to set you can place cookies on a baking sheet in the refrigerator for a short period to set chocolate.  These keep well in an airtight tin for several days or can be frozen. 


Pandemic Living ~

During the pandemic we are finding ourselves outside enjoying our garden more than ever.  But we never seemed to have many birds visit, despite having a bird feeder and suet cake dispenser.  Thinking about it I realized this was primarily because the blue jays were very aggressive and territorial driving off smaller birds.  So I changed tactics and began scattering bird seed on the ground over a wide area and also adding songbird seed into the bulk seed I buy.  Low and behold we now have lots of beautiful birds visiting and I couldn't be more thrilled to hear them happily tweeting and chirping away.  We have coveys of quail, bevies of doves (both ground feeders) along with a wide variety of small birds including the occasional robin and pretty songbird (that prefer using the bird feeder).  We're practically a bird sanctuary! And of course there are still the pesky pretty blue jays that feed on the ground, suet cake (their favorite) and the birdfeeder.  But now there is too much territory for them to control so at least the other birds have a chance too.  

With the heat and all the fires it's more important than ever to consider the wildlife, especially in California.  We have several water sources available for birds and the larger animals that call these mountains home or are simply migrating through.

Until next time be well and love well and stay safe in this pandemic.  If you are looking for a quick and delicious fall baking treats you can't go wrong with my Pumpkin Bread with Walnut Topping ~  or Cranberry Swirl Coffee Cake (not too sweet and perfect for morning coffee).  I've already made both this season!

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Marley Shawl and Paper Mache Crafting

We've had an exceptionally nice summer this year in Southern California.  The temperatures are mild, the evenings are cool, and there are a few foggy days tossed in the mix.  Around this time of year (late July) there is always a pregnant pause when it feels like the warm days of summer will last forever.  And if the weather would stay like this I wouldn't mind one bit.  But summer won't last and change is coming.  And no one knows that better than retailers who roll out fall fashions almost before the 4th of July fireworks have faded into the night sky.  And that's okay with me because around about now I like to start thinking ahead to my fall projects.    

If you want to be wearing a new fabulously cozy shawl in a couple of months then you need to choose your project and get started now.  And I think the Marley shawl would be a great choice for this fall, winter and beyond because of the brioche stitch and the wonderfully squishy fabric it creates.

Another reason to love the brioche stitch is that it's a great way to convert an impulse purchase of shocking pink yarn into something actually wearable.  In public!  That's an under appreciated aspect of the brioche stitch.  How it magically tones down a bright yarn when paired with a neutral color.  This is important for anyone with a propensity for choosing bright and garish colors.  Like me!  I've always been drawn to bright colorful colors.  Anecdotally, for illustrative purposes, when I was a mere tadpole my grandmother taught me to crochet.  She turned me loose in a thrift store with the instructions to pick two colors of yarn.  I chose bright purple and bright yellow.  I proceeded to crocheted a blanket at a speed that left the grownups astonished.  A blanket that my mother, bless her heart, gifted to the family dog explaining that the colors did not go with my bedspread.   Thus ended my passion for crochet.  By not my love of garish colors.

To show the "neutralizing" effect of the brioche stitch I have pictures showing both the neutral and the bright sides dominant.  In the picture above I am wearing it with the grey neutral dominant and in the picture below the bright pink is dominant.  But the real beauty of brioche is showcased when both sides are mingled as shown in the very top picture.  Your choice how you want to wear it my friend.

Learning the brioche stitch does take some effort.  But like riding a bicycle once learned you will have a skill for life that will bring endless pleasure.  For a beginner I highly recommend Nancy Marchant's online class, Explorations in Brioche Knitting.  She's a little hard to understand at first but if you slow the video down you can see the stitch formation better and once you understand that the rest is easy. Youtube has some great free tutorials too.

Particulars:  Marley Shawl designed by Andrea Mowry; US 4 circular needles; 2 skeins each Ella Rae Merino - DK (neutral color) and 2 skeins Qing Fibre Supersoft Sock (Miss Bim colorway).  My only modification was to knit a much narrower border as I thought my shawl was large enough without adding a bulky border.  Other designs I've knit by this designer include her Comfort Fade Cardi (where coincidentally I also made the border much more narrow).  My Comfort Fade Cardi is in this post Sweater Weather and Gnome Spotting.  Both Marley and the Comfort Fade Cardi are very wearable and make great wardrobe additions.  And as I had plenty of  leftover yarn from my Marley Shawl I knit myself a pair of basic socks with the remaining, you guessed it, pink yarn!

For additional brioche projects, see Parlour and Texture Time Shawls.

Pandemic Living 

The powers that be have advised us to learn a new hobby with all the time we  are spending at home "being safe."  Obviously they weren't aware of the state of my housekeeping.  Because initially all of my free time was spent reclaiming my house, cupboards and closets from years of benign neglect and don't even get me started on the chore it was to organize my recipes (a project that is still ongoing).  But after a mere six (6) months I am happy to report that I have advanced to the stage of learning a new hobby!  And I am happy to report that I have not one but two new hobbies, both of which I really enjoy and only one of which am I talking about in this post.

In this post I'm talking about crafting with paper mache.  I had lots of fun making these wee paper mache gnomes.  It's fascinating to me what you can make simply using bits of scrap papers, liquid starch, and craft acrylic paint.  I'll never toss out the cardboard center of a toilet roll again without pausing and reflecting on it's potential uses.  But I digress.  To learn to make these gnomes I went to a pro.  Knowing absolutely nothing about paper mache I went in search of a kit and was very happy to find the Gnome Head Paper Mache Starter kit put together by a "paper mache artist."   And the gnome pictured above is the first gnome I made using that kit and I couldn't be more happy with it.

My second project was this little June Bug.  I made him more or less with the supplies that came in my kit.  But I added antennas that I made out of soft wire (that came wrapped around the electric cord of my new vacuum) that I formed with small wire pliers and inserted deep into the paper mache while it was still soft.  I then used both glue and liquid starch to secure in place.   His facial features I made from bits of my own paper mache mulch (made with a combination of glossy magazine paper and blue craft paper agitated with water) combined with liquid starch as needed.  His "head form" and the napkin I used to make his hat (as well as the paper mache technique I used) came from the kit.  I painted him with craft acrylic paints that I had leftover from painting a birdhouse and/or other crafting projects.  For his glossy finish I coated him with Mod Podge (typically used to decoupage).  I am so pleased with him that I plan on making a whole series of insect gnomes, along with Christmas ornaments, and any other whimsical flights of fancy that may come to me.

If you are interested in learning paper mache (and who wouldn't be?) I recommend going on Youtube and searching for free tutorials and seeing which of the paper mache artists has a style that appeals to you.  There are tons of artists but I really like Rozani Designs Masquerade (who I bought my kit from) and she has a lot of free tutorials on making gnomes, dragons, and other animals.   Whether you have kids or still are a kid at heart (like me) you will find crafting with paper mache a fun creative hobby regardless of whether or not you are in a pandemic lockdown.

Farewell and until next time be well, love well, and be safe at home.  On the plus side I've found that staying at home has slowed the place of my life to a crawl and allowed me the leisure and luxury of time to relax and be more in touch with myself and my thoughts.  I've also been reading substantive books like I haven't had the time to do in years (possibly decades) and, as a christian, I am finding The Benedict Option- a strategy for Christians in a Post Christian Nation an interesting and timely read.  That being said I think anyone from any religion, or an agnostic point of view, will find it an enlightening examination of world history, religion, and politics and how we have arrived at the place we are today.  Of course during this time it's also important to relish simple pleasures like these delicious almond and chocolate biscotti made using a recipe from Sally's Baking Addition.

The beautiful pottery mug pictured above is made by WildChildClayWorks (on Etsy) and I simply adore using it.  It doesn't have a handle instead the mug walls are very thick and it has a buttery soft glaze making it a very delicious way to savor a cup of coffee ~

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Sweet Tweedy Mitts and Tracy's Princess Cupcakes

There's nothing terribly interesting about these mitts, save for one thing.  I'm oddly compelled to knit them.  Again and again.  I have knit these mitts four (4) times which is surprising because typically I knit a pattern once and then pretty much move on and lose interest in knitting it again.  And yet.  There is something about this pattern paired with these two yarns that renders it a deeply satisfying, soothing and thoroughly enjoyable knitting experience for me.  And the mitts ain't too bad either.

I've always maintained the key critical factor to a successful knit is to match the right yarn to the pattern and these mitts are a perfect example of that axiom.  When you do that you can take a relatively simple pattern and elevate it to something special.  Which is the case with these mitts.  I can't think of a simpler pattern.  Basically it's a tube with no shaping except a thumb hole.  And yet.  There is a brilliance to the design in its very simplicity, functionality and how well these yarns work together. And the brilliance should be no surprise as it's designed by Anne Hanson (Knitspot) who paired it with one of her rustic in-house yarns and a hand painted variegated yarn. And it all works together beautifully.   These aren't fancy "date night" mitts, but they will be well worn and loved, especially on cold morning hikes!    

To be honest I didn't care for the original contrasting color that came with this project (a manly orangy/gold).  And yet.  I loved knitting them and Steve happily swooped them up hot off the needles.  But I knew I had to have my own pair after having tried them on.  So the next pair I knit thinking they would be for me so I chose a pretty contrasting yarn from stash  And yet.  There was something about that pair that I couldn't put my finger on that I didn't like as well.  So I gave them away.  And I might have stopped there but for the fact that the recipient of those mitts loved them so much they requested another pair.  For this pair I bought the same variegated yarn chosen by the designer but in a colorway that appealed to me.  And when I finished that pair I knew that the only yarn to use with this pattern were those that it was designed for.  For my 4th (and definitely not final) pair I switched to a light main color (of the original yarn) paired with a blue variegated color (of the original yarn) and I love love love this pair.  And I'm keeping them.

As I suspect the foregoing might be probably was confusing to read the bottom line is that the designer's choice of yarn is what makes this pattern work so well.  The rustic solid yarn has both strength and memory to provide excellent structure while the variegated yarn knits up in a beautifully tweedy way.  Call me impressed.

Particulars:  Sweet Tweed Mitts, designed by Anne Hanson (Knitspot), US 1 DBN, 1 skein Bare Naked Wools, Stone Soup Fingering (blend of 80% rambouillet, columbia, lincoln, churro; 15% alpaca and llama, 5% combination of tencel, bamboo, silk and bison) ~ colors shown in both River Rock (dark) and Marble (light) paired with 1 skein Lorna's Laces, Shepherd Sock, multi, (colorway Crater Lake ).  I made the medium size with no modifications whatsoever.  I don't recommend substituting yarn in this pattern (as discussed above) but if you do I would only substitute the contracting color.  The main color - stone soup fingering - has great memory, spring, and stitch definition which these mitts need.  It is a rustic yarn that does soften when washed.

To see additional Anne Hanson (Knitspot) projects see Hectare (a cowl) and my gorgeous Longshadows scarf.   

Tracy's Princess Cupcakes ~

This cupcake recipe is shared with permission from Tracy who used to write the blog Pink Purl.  It's no longer available online as Tracy's blog has sadly disappeared into the black hole of the blogoverse.  But fortunately I had an old copy!  It wasn't easy but I tracked Tracy down on Instagram where she now shares her inspiration, recipes and creativity.  She was amused and astonished that I still had a copy of her cupcake recipe and gladly gave me permission to share it!   She is still knitting but is vegan now and shares lots of delicious vegetarian recipes.  I encourage you to follow her (Simple Gifts Pictured) as she'll uplift you and keep you health too.  It always makes me a little sad when think back at all the wonderful blogs that have disappeared.  Once upon a time there was a knitting renaissance fueled by the ascendance of knitting blogs and the bloggers who created a community unto themselves.  A few remain but that community has shattered, fragmented and forever been changed by new platforms, changing times, and changing needs.  But I still remember when

I wanted to share this recipe because it's very easy to make and a quick fix for a cupcake craving.  A simple pleasure in trying times.  I  hope you enjoy them as much as I do.  Without further ado, here's Tracy's recipe:

Princess Cupcakes with Dreamy Cream Frosting

Yield ~ 12  cupcakes

1 112 cups all purpose flour
 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup white granulated sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk (see Note 1)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Note 1.  I generally buy buttermilk but recently I read that buttermilk you create with lemon juice and whole milk actually performs better in baking.  Your choice.

Preheat oven to 200 C/400 F.  Line a 12-cup muffin baking pan with paper liners, and set aside.  In large mixing bowl sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Gradually beat in the butter into the flour mixture using an electric mixer.  Beat until you have a mixture that resembles coarse bits of sand.  Gradually beat in the sugar.  Beat in the eggs one at a time.  Add the vanilla and buttermilk.  Beat until just blended, do not over beat.  Spoon the batter into the prepared muffins pan, filling each cupcakes paper 2/3 full.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, until cupcake tops are slightly golden, and a toothpick test in center of cakes comes out clean.  Cool cakes completely on a wire rack before frosting.

Dreamy Cream Frosting ~ makes enough to frost 12 cupcakes (with plenty left over) or a one 2-layer cake, about 2 cups frosting.

1/3 cups (76g) unsalted butter, softened 
3 1/2 cups confectioner's/icing sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch salt
3-4 tablespoons milk
food coloring and decorations, as desired

With an electric mixer, mix together the butter, vanilla and salt until creamy and fluffy.  Gradually beat in the sugar, beating well after each addition.  Mix in enough milk to make the frosting a desirable, spreadable, smooth consistency.  Color frosting and decorate cakes as you wish.

For the cupcakes pictured in this post I skipped the vanilla extract and instead added 2 tablespoons strawberry jam and only used 2 tablespoons milk to achieve the consistency I wished.  I did not add any food coloring but decorated with sprinkles.

This is a knitting blog and I try and stay on topic but I do not exist in a vacuum and I want to address the protests taking place here in the United States.  There are two sides to every issue and certainly there are wonderful police officers just as they are bad actors within every profession, ethnicity, and walk of life.  But to watch the murder of George Floyd cries out for more than past promises of reform.  While abolishing the police is a bridge too far for me there are things that can and have to be done such as creating independent community oversight boards to hear and judge excessive force complaints; appoint private attorney generals to file criminal charges when appropriate; make wearing body cameras mandatory; eliminate choking or choke holds of any type; and fund programs that build bridges between the police and the community they serve.  What I am not in favor of is race being used to divide or define us as a nation.  We are one nation of people under G-d and our strength is from our melting pot culture.  But we have to do a better job at providing education and opportunities for the underprivileged and low income who are primarily of color.  It is unjust and inequitable for generations of families to live in poverty with no path out and a good education is the best way out of poverty.  I have always focused my charitable giving on organizations overseas that provide education and healthcare for children.  But now I see that there is a need here in the United States as well.  I encourage everyone to research and find a charity in the U.S. that speaks to them and this issue.  Let's make George Floyd's murder a permanent reminder that we all have a moral responsibility to speak up against and eliminate inequality wherever we find it. 

Until next time be well, love well and treat others as you would have them treat you. And maybe add a little sweetness to the world while you're at it by sharing some cupcakes or surprising someone with mitts.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Show Me the Bread ~ Bialys and Sourdough

I want to share a bread post during this pandemic as I know many of you are baking.  I know this because there is no flour or yeast to be found in any store and presumably there is a lot of baking going on.  Social media bears this out as pictures of homemade goodies abound.  I too have flour and yeast because I live in a perpetual state of emergency readiness.  Otherwise I would have been one of those wandering the grocery aisles bewildered by the absence of staples.  I've always kept a well stocked larder partly due to our remote location and partly due to years of California's  vigilant commercial reminders to be always earthquake ready.  They got the emergency wrong but it still turns out to have been good advice.

It's Springtime and vidalia onions are in season and therefore no better time to share a recipe for bialys.  Never heard of a bialy?  Then you probably have never been to a New York City Jewish Deli.  It's similar to a bagel but it's baked and more squat with an onion topping.  Trust me this tastes better than it sounds.  I absolutely love them and bake several batches every Spring.

The recipe I'm sharing was originally published in Saveur magazine.  It was adapted from Mimi Sheraton's book The Bialy Eaters (Broadway Books, 2002) and was pulled off line for some reason.  I've tried to remain true to the recipe as shared but I had to make a few adaptions for it to work for me.  So this is my adaption of the adaption and I hope you will enjoy them as much as I do.  If you ever get to New York City make sure you hunt down a deli that sells bialys. You'll be glad you did.

Bialy Recipe

Yield ~ 16 ~

1/3 cup olive oil
1 small vidalia onion, minced
2 Tbs. coarse bread crumbs, toasted
7 grams (1 package) active yeast or 1/2 oz fresh yeast
3 cups cool water (note: original recipe called for ice water and fresh yeast)
5 3/4 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting (I recommend Bob's Red Mill Artisan Bread Flour)
2 Tbs. kosher salt
3 Tbs. poppy seeds


1.  First read over the instructions in entirety as this is not your typical bread recipe.  There are two kneading stages for this dough and two options for baking, one using a sheet pan covering and one simply using baking sheets.  I recommend using the sheet pan covering option as it will result in a crispy crust.

2.  Prepare onion mixture.  Heat oil in a skillet and add onion.  Saute over low heat until onion is soft and translucent, 12 - 14 minutes.  Stir in bread crumbs, set aside to cool.

3.  Stir 1/2 cup cool (or iced) water and the yeast (either fresh or active) in a bowl until smooth and the yeast is dissolved.  Add remaining 2 1/2 cups cool (or iced) water.  Set aside.   In a stand mixer with hook attached combined bread flour and salt.  With the motor running slowly add the yeast mixture (I generally have a very wet and sticky mixture by the time I have added 2 1/2 cups  and skip adding the last 1/2 cup).  After adding the yeast mixture turn up the speed to medium-high and kneed until smooth but still still sticky, approximately 4 to 5 minutes.  Don't worry if there are some lumps they will break down during the second kneading stage.  NOTE:  As a time saving hack I use a food processor to add the water/yeast mixture to the flour/salt mixture by drizzling in through the top opening while the machine is running.  Once I have added 2 1/2 cups water/yeast I stop the machine and transfer the mixture to my stand mixture and proceed to the kneading stage as described above.

4.  Place dough in a bowl and cover with a damp cloth.  Set aside in warm place until double in bulk, approximately 1.5 to 2 hours.  If I'm using an Air Fryer "proofing" function I generally find it is ready after proofing for 110 minutes at 90 degrees.

5.  Return dough to mixer with hook and kneed for 10 minutes.  All lumps must be gone and if you still have lumps after 10 minutes continue kneading by hand until all lumps are gone (or I simply reach into the bowl and using my fingers work the lumps until they disappear).  This is a very wet dough and will stick to the bowl sides.  If you knead by hand add as little flour as possible.  Cover and set aside in a bowl until doubled in bulk, approximately 60 minutes.

6.  Preheat oven to 450 degrees and line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper.   Place a pizza stone on lowest shelf in oven.  Divide dough into 16 pieces and with well floured hands roll into balls (these will not form tight balls as the dough is too wet and lax for that.  You will find this dough is different and behaves differently than other breads and don't expect it to have the form or texture of, for example, a bagel or pizza dough).   Place 5 or 6 balls (1 inch apart) on each parchment lined baking sheet.  Remember you will want them close enough that they will fit under a sheet pan cover, if you choose to bake them that way which I highly recommend.  Cover with floured cloths and let rise until slightly puffy, approximately 45 minutes.

7.  Wet the bottom of a small glass or jar (approximately 3 inches in diameter) and press into the center of each ball and twist to create a flat thin center with a puffy rim.  Using your finger lightly apply a small amount of water to rims.  Sprinkle surface with a few poppy seeds and add 1 or 2 teaspoons onion mixture to the center and a tiny bit around the edges.  Resist the temptation to add more onion mix as over filling will cause the center to rise up like a knot.

8.  You will bake the bialys in batches.  If you want to create a dutch oven effect, cover tray of bialys with a 9x13 sheet pan turned upside.  Place tray of bialys (covered by sheet pan) on the pizza stone and set a heavy cast-iron pan (or brick, etc.) on top of the sheet pan to weigh it down and trap heat.  Bake for 10 minutes.  Remove the sheet pan covering and move the tray of bialys to the middle rack and bake until well browned, approximately 6 to 8 minutes (total cooking time 16 to 18 minutes).  Note:  the original recipe does not call for baking bialys under a sheet pan I found that tip online and I find it creates a nice crust.  But you don't have to use the sheet pan to cover the bialys and can simply follow the baking instructions omitting the sheet pan covering.  If you skip the sheet pan covering you can get by with using just 2 baking sheets (8 bialys per sheet).

Bialys are wonderful freshly baked and still warm from the oven but they also freeze well.  To reheat I zap them in the microwave for 30 seconds and toast for a couple of minutes in a toaster oven.  I personally don't add any topping (such as cream cheese, etc.) as I would with a bagel.

Pictured above is a typical breakfast for me.  I love Coach's Oats topped with fruit and walnuts, Japanese green tea (in particular, DavidsTea Gyokuro Yamashiro), a slice of my homemade sourdough bread and I like to have another type of breakfast bread such as a bialy as well.  This is a substantial repast and needless to say I have no need or desire to snack mid-morning.  I adhere to the philosophy of breakfast like a queen, lunch like a princess and dine like a pauper!  At least in a caloric/carb sense.  That is if you ignore my lunchtime baked treat. 

A Word or Two About Sourdough

There is currently a tremendous interest in sourdough.  But a sourdough adventure requires a multitude of things not necessarily on hand including wild yeast, bread proofing baskets (brotform), lame (for scoring), dutch oven (for crust) and a process that is well beyond the scope of my humble blog.   If you are interested in sourdough I recommend the recipe in Tartine Bread and getting a jump start on your wild yeast by buying King Arthur Flour's Classic Fresh Sourdough Starter.  Years ago I attempted to create my own wild yeast via a petri dish until I had the epiphany that it was crazy to try and improve on King Arthur's hundred year old starter that had obviously stood the test of time.  I do keep dual starters - one fed by the Tartine Bread method and the other following King Arthur Flour's method.  I do this as it gives me flexibility with different types of recipes and also ensures that if one starter goes bad or spills, etc. that I have another to begin again with.

I love huge door stopper slices of sourdough and my favorite toppings include butter and honey; olive oil and Zaatar (make middle east style bruschetta by adding feta cheese on top); olive oil and dukkah; and last but not least, butter and seville orange marmalade.  Sourdough isn't just for breakfast though.  It's also fantastic with a bowl of soup, toasted hard and drenched in olive oil.

Homemade bread is one of my favorite foods and I never cease to be amazed at the amazing results you can achieve in your own kitchen.  I hope you will embark on a life long love affair as I have.  If you are new to bread baking and want a try a simple yeast bread recipe I recommend trying my classic dinner rolls.

Just a quick word on the pandemic before closing.  Each of us are having to make changes in our priorities and we are recognizing that the actions we take impact others and the planet.  It is my hope this will lead to positive and lasting changes in society and how we treat each other.  If it does the world will be a better place to live.  Something good coming from something that is bad.  Until next time be well and stay safe and keep baking, it's something wonderful that you can share.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Spring Zweig Sweater and Chicken Vegetable Instapot Recipe

This is a knitting blog and, as always, I have a project to share.  But first I want to talk about the COVID-19 crisis and how anxious and worried I am for our neighbors, community, world and of course our family.  I wish everyone could stay home and avoid exposure to the virus but I know there are those who perform essential roles in providing healthcare, food, supplies, and leadership and my thanks and prayers are with each of you and your families.

I think it will be many months before a vaccine is widely available.  Those of us who are older, have underlying health conditions or family in those risk categories will likely have to take precautions for longer than others.  This means staying at home and not leaving for any reason and that can be isolating and lonely.  But there are things you can do to stay connected and be part of your community.  For example I have joined a group on Facebook (Milk Street Community) that shares recipes and tips and our Temple (Makom LA) has a variety of live services streamed on Facebook as well.  Both are welcoming and friendly communities.  Other options include having a virtual happy hour on Zoom and other creative uses of social media platforms.  Look around and find those that interest you and join in.  This is also a good time to touch base with friends and family and rebuild relationships that have drifted apart.  And of course you should absolutely keep knitting!

In this post I am wearing the very popular Zweig Sweater designed by Caitlin Hunter.  It's a unique design that combines texture, lace, and colorwork and yet still manages to be an easy and straight forward knit.  That's the magic of Caitlin's patterns - they look a more complicated than they are.  I chose to use Spring colors as I don't have many sweaters for that season as Spring in Southern California feels like summer anywhere else.  Ironically it's really cold this Spring but as we are confined to home I'll just have to sashay about the house in my new sweater.  That's okay because next year I may break down and wear this in the Winter as well and make it a two season sweater!

My mother would laugh at that as she is always telling me I am too rigid and I need to be more flexible.  But I like each season to shine for it's own special reasons and I resist crossing over seasons in clothing or food.  Spring is a time for lemon flavored baking, pink flowers, Easter baskets, enjoying the sound of birds singing, baby lambs, longer days and rediscovering the miracle of regrowth and renewal. I'd love to hear what makes your heart sing about Spring.   

I won't go into my tips for colorwork or how to achieve a custom fit for a sweater because I have shared those tips in previous posts.  My tips for knitting a sweater are in the post Knitting a Sweater and Tips to Achieve a Custom Fit and my colorwork tips are in the Hebe hat post (an Alice Staremore design) and to be honest I think there are now a number of Youtube videos that would probably make great free tutorials for colorwork.  But I still stand by my advice to practice, practice, and practice more on a swatch holding two strands in your hand and get very used to knitting that way before you embark on your first project.

Particulars:  Zweig Sweater, designed by Caitlin Hunter (Boyland Knitworks); yarn by A Homespun House (merino/cashmere blend).  This was a very easy sweater to knit.  I made the smallest size (XS) and made no modifications.  I chose the amethyst color and Molly (the dyer behind A Homespun House) helped me pick the contrasting color of stardust and I think that was the perfect choice. 

Other patterns that I've knit by Caitlin Hunter are her Kobuk hat and Sunset Highway Sweater.  I love all her designs and I'm sure I'll be knitting more.  Other projects knit using a homespun house yarn include the beautiful shawl in my last post and All the Angles, a shawl designed by Stephen West that I have yet to photograph.

Before I switch gears to cooking I have just realized that I am approaching my 13th Blogiversary.  That's a long time.  My very first post Welcome to Mr. Puffy and Claudia's Blog! was back on May 5, 2007.  I want to thank you for reading along on this journey and for the comments and private notes that I've received.  I'm glad that I embarked on this journey and I know there are many more projects and recipes that I want to share and I hope you will following along with me and find some inspiration along the way.  

Instant Pot ~ Chicken Vegetable Soup ~

Steve and I have been practicing self isolation long before it became popular.  Largely a result of living in the mountains and working long hours at home.  And when you spend a lot of time at home your meal repertoire gets to be pretty large by sheer necessity.  I know many of you are not used to cooking meals at home and the COVID-19 crisis is making you consider how exactly do you stretch that chicken or use up bags of legumes.  So I thought this would be a good time to share a recipe that will help on both accounts.

A quick word about the Instant Pot (pressure cooker).  No you don't need one to make this recipe.  You can simply cook the chicken and legumes on your stove top and adjust the cooking time.  However I think you'll have to cook it long and slow at a low heat to achieve the same texture and melding of flavors.  

I'm obviously a fan of the Instant Pot and this is how it happened.  One day Steve came into the house calling "I have a gift for you."  I was very excited..... until I saw it was a cooking implement.  To say I was underwhelmed is an understatement.  Then I used it.  Now I laughingly say Best. Gift. Ever!  It does take a few times to get comfortable using it and you do have to be careful that you don't overcook things (I found the recipes included waaaaay overstated the cooking time).  But it's worth the effort and now I use mine weekly to make a stew or soup for the weekend.  They are sold everywhere including Amazon, etc.  I have the 6-quart size which is the most popular. 

Chicken Vegetable Soup - Instant Pot Recipe


1 whole chicken (approximately 4 lbs.), skin removed
1 cup mixed legumes (i.e.split peas, barley, red lentils, and maybe small pasta pieces).  I like Bob's Red Mill vegi soup mix which is a mix of all these.  No pre-soaking required.
1 stock cube - I use Rapunzel vegetable bouillon (low sodium) Ralph's grocery store sells this brand
Assortment sliced/diced vegetables  (zucchini, carrots, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, red peppers, sweet onion, and small cherry tomatoes)  These should be cut pretty thick or they will dry out during the roasting process.
2 Tbs. Olive oil
1/4 tsp. dried oregano (optional)
Salt to taste


1.  About 1.5 or 2 hrs before you want to eat wash and remove skin from the chicken and cut off all fat.  Place the skinned chicken in an instant pot.  Add 1 cup or desired amount of legumes, salt, and stock (I use 1 cube) and water sufficient to cover chicken by approximately 2 inches.  Set instant pot on "poultry" setting and adjust cook time to 7 minutes.  After the timer goes off leave the chicken in the instant pot for roughly another half hour to allow it to continue cooking in the hot liquid.  Open and remove chicken from liquid at this point and check that it is cooked though.  If it is, set it aside to cool.  Close the instant pot until vegetables are ready to add.

N.B. I find the 7 minutes plenty of time to thoroughly cook a chicken but it never hurts to double check and should you need to cook it longer you can always place the chicken back into the hot liquid and allow it to continue cooking until you are satisfied that it is cooked through.    

2.  In the meantime preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Toss mixed vegetables in olive oil and salt to taste.  Spread out on a foil covered tray and bake for approximately 40 to 60 minutes or until tender and the edges have started to brown.  Cooking time is an estimate.  You need to check and see how fast the vegetables are cooking because If you slice the veggies too thin they will cook faster and you risk they shrivel up to nothing.   When they are ready remove them from the oven and fold the foil over to tent vegetables (keep warm) and set aside until ready to use.

3.  About 5 minutes before you want to eat shred the white meat and remove all bones (I typically don't use the dark/thigh meat but that is your choice).  Set shredded chicken meat aside.

4.  Add 50 to 75% of cooked vegetables to the hot liquid in your instant pot and using a hand immersion bender or any type of blender pulse a few times to break up the vegetables and legumes to make a chunky rich broth.

5.  Taste broth and adjust seasoning (add salt, oregano) as desired.

6.  Add shredded chicken and remaining 25% vegetables to the instant pot and you are finished!

We often eat an Instant Pot soup/stew with a side salad and bread.  The bread pictured above is a Turkish flatbread that I made following this Youtube video.  It's wonderful to scoop up dips and soup.  If you are simply going to eat it on it's own then I suggest you increase the salt.

Until next time stay home, stay safe and may all of you and your loved ones find ways to stay connected during this stressful time.  In the sage words of my mother "this too shall pass" and we will get through this together. 


Sunday, February 16, 2020

Fashion's Warm and Fuzzy Trend and the Life and Misadventures of Simcha

For whatever reason you can draw your own conclusions clothing trends have sharply veered toward the soft and fuzzy. It's as if collectively we need to cocoon ourselves and be comforted as we traverse the landscape of our daily lives.  At least that's how it seems here in Southern California where you can't walk into any clothing store without noticing all the plush and fuzzy jackets and hoodies this winter.  And it must be the same everywhere because Knitwear designers have taken note of the trend and have embraced the very warm and fuzzy "kid mohair/silk" with cultist devotion.  Never have I seen so many new designs for sweaters, hats and shawls incorporating kid mohair/silk.  But to truly get that "on trend" fuzzy fabric you can't just "incorporate" kid mohair/silk.  You have to go all in.  Go big or go home.  Double down.  And that's exactly what this shawl does.  It doubles down and is knit with kid mohair/silk held doubled yes doubled throughout and wow what a super trendy and super fuzzy shawl it is.  Trust me wearing this you will be the object of envy of anyone close enough to pet you.  You better hope no creepy entitled politicians are lurking nearby.

The pattern itself is brilliant in it's simplicity.  While there is a lace design that gives it an ephemeral quality there are panels of garter stitch that give it needed density and structure.  There's 150g of kid mohair/silk used in the design.  That's 1,475 yards and that's a whole lotta kid mohair/silk.  The reason that the shawl is not overwhelmingly large is, as I mentioned above, that you hold the yarn doubled throughout. The finished size is just perfect to wear over a sweater for an evening out or on a cold day.  And leave the jacket at home cuz you won't be needing it.  

Over the years I've knit a lot of fingering weight shawls.  But I have to confess that knitting shawls with fingering weight yarn just isn't doing it for me any more.  I still knit a lot of socks and sweaters with sock yarn but not shawls.  I've also discovered that while they look pretty I don't really enjoy wearing sock weight shawls.  They aren't really that warm and some part of my anatomy is usually exposed.  But large shawls that are warm, soft and fuzzy are calling to me.  And this one is perfection.

PARTICULARS: Sinja designed by Katrin Schubert (German knitwear designer); US 6 needles; 3 skeins (150g) A Homespun House, Kid Mohair/Silk, colorway Velvet, (50g / 492 yrds per skein).  No modifications whatsoever.  I had 9g left over.  

N.B. I can't even pretend with a straight face that this is my first foray with kid mohair/silk.  Way back in 2007 I posted my beautiful lacy Dove shawl.  But this is the first time that I've used it held doubled throughout.  While my Texture Time shawl knit designed by Stephen West incorporates melted baby suri (which is similar to holding kid mohair/silk doubled) it is used as an accent and not the main yarn.  But I do love it and am tempting to knit more of his designs that incorporate melted baby suri including his Wonky Starfish shawl, Suriously Holey Shawl, Flying Foxtail Shawl, and Hiberknitting Cowl

To see other projects that either use or incorporate kid mohair/silk see Birch Shawl, Silver Birch Hat, Kobuk Hat, Calm Sweater, Willow Wrap, Anisette Stole, Trieste Shawl, Personal PatternBella Mittens and a personal favorite The Fleur Wrap.   

The  Life and Misadventures of Simcha ~

I haven't shared much about Simcha the last few years.  Yes he's mellowed with time but rest assured he still oozes personality, intensity, and gamesmanship.   Including his intimidating deadeye stare that I managed to capture above.  If he had lived in days of the Old West he would have been a gunslinger.  On the right side of the law, of course.  More of a Sheriff.  "The sheriff" is actually one of his nicknames because he likes everyone to get along and behave - including Steve and myself!  And let me assure you that Steve is a big misbehavior. Snicker.  While some might find his deadeye stare intimidating that's only because they don't know that he has a heart of gold.

Until next time be well, love well and before winter slips away try adding some warmth and fuzziness into your life!  If you are looking for an instant fix of fuzz here's my totally unsolicited and unpaid plug for a product that Steve and I love (I should clarify that for any product mentioned on the blog it is always unpaid and unsolicited unless stated otherwise).  In any event the product is ~ ta dah ~ Malden Mills Polar Fleece sheets.  Starting last year Steve refused to switch back to regular sheets in the summer so we now use them year round.  Nuff said.  A ton of retail stores carry them but I buy them on QVC.