Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Baking News

We interrupt this knitting blog to wish a Happy 3rd Birthday to Washington and a Hap 37th Birthday to Ian.
Since we haven't yet installed our air conditioner (and when we do, it will only cool the master bedroom), we decided to try to have Washington's July 21 party outside. Now, when he was asked who he wanted at his party, his first answer was "My sister will be there" and, when pressed, he added that he wanted his big red plastic crawfish to attend. Nevertheless, since we hoped to catch up with friends and knew he'd be happy to see some other kids after a very low-key summer, we started telephoning some families. My biggest quandary, though, was how to get a homemade cake up the hill to Mount Prospect Park. I've made the kids' birthday cakes myself every year that we've been home to celebrate, and usually only have to carry them from the kitchen to the dining room. The solution: a cookie cake.

Since I couldn't find a round cookie sheet at Bed, Bath, & Beyond or our local equivalent, I got a round stone and spread (on wax paper) an entire batch of chocolate chip cookie dough on it in a circle. Brought it out, let it cool, and added a Toob of horses for decoration. I let Washington help with the placement, and quite a few more horses ended up in the "river" than I anticipated, but the kids liked it, and it tasted good.

For Ian, Washington got it into his head that Daddy should have a chocolate cake, which seemed to go well with the requested steak and potatoes birthday dinner, and, anyway, I was eager to try out the Devil's Food cake that Ruth Reichl describes making as a teenager in Tender at the Bone.
I have very vague memories of making a velet spice cake from the Joy of Cooking as a tween, but in general I make cakes with help from my friend Duncan Hines. I've always felt that there was too much at stake to risk a baking catastrophe, and though Joy doesn't usually steer me wrong, the intro to the cake baking section is incredibly intimidating. But Ruth Reichl, with her simple instructions and her confidence that anyone can cook as she does, gave me the confidence I needed. (I used her lamb recipe, her Brussels sprouts recipe, and even made her cheesecake all for our Easter dinner, and I make her spaghetti carbonara at least once a month, usually at Coco's request.)
The cake was a breeze, and the seven-minute icing was exactly as she described it, though if I had it to do over, I'd put a little more frosting between the layers. We had a brainwave to try to make it Ian's favorite color instead of plain white (he actually likes more of a hunter green, but we couldn't dump in the whole bottle of food coloring).

Everything went according to plan, until the decorating was almost done. I knew I didn't have much black icing left, so I started by writing "Daddy", then "Birthday." Full of confidence, I moved on to "Hap . . ." and couldn't go another letter.

We walked all the way to Flatbush in search of some more writing icing, but turned up empty, so we decided to make the best of it with some leftover orange.

Now, I know that icing that is squeezed out of an aerosol can cannot be natural or good for the environment or for those I am serving it to, but it is so much a part of my childhood memories, and so good, that I haven't been able to give it up. Now that the stores near me no longer carry it, though, I will look on this as an opportunity to find a healthier, or at least more natural, way to bake.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Things to make one feel better on a rainy day

Imagine the boy on the sofa with the exact opposite look on his face. Now fill in the details: his sister is off visiting her grandparents in a different state, he is without a playmate, and the rain is pouring down (like in that movie about the kids who had colonized Venus). Now imagine that two of my knitting buddies come over to sit and knit and watch my Lucy Neatby video and bring two two-year-olds and two seven-year-olds. Believe me, we all felt much better. Add to that this very simple, very sunshine-y baby sweater (a Debbie Bliss raglan funnel-neck), and a major finishing breakthrough that I was able to facilitate, and things were really looking up.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Hostess presents

We're back from our trip to Louisiana, so I can now reveal the ball-band dishcloth hostess presents I've been plugging away at since May. Done mostly in Peaches and Creme cotton (as recommended by Mason-Dixon), with a bit of Charlie Brown yellow and mitred-square rug red--truly a gift from our home to theirs.
The trip was wonderful, but more board-game playing than knitting occured. Coco is just at the age where that's becoming fun, especially a game with a very skimpy board but some other cool apparati called Catchphrase. Ian trounced me at Scrabble not once, but three times, but graciously let me keep trying until I won the last game. Only then did we discover that the letter Z had gone AWOL under the table all week. There were also a few table tennis matches, including one in which I discovered that holding a 37-pound child on your hip as you play is not as big an impediment as one would think. (Ian still won, preserving his undefeated record, and also went on to drive the Jet-Ski much more daringly than I.)
Anyway, a wonderful trip to visit wonderful people in a beautiful place, and as my godfather would say, we passed a good time.

Friday, July 6, 2007

So hard to say good-bye

What will I miss the most on our week-long vacation? Well, I may not have access to the Internet, but that can be refreshing for a short time. I'll miss going to karate, and taking the train and bus everywhere. But, by far the hardest thing to leave is this V-neck vest. It has gotten sooo exciting. First of all, I've used a whole ball of white and seem to be nearing the end of my second ball of burgundy, and second of all, it seems as if, now that I've started the steek--that's right! See below--almost every other row has an increase or a decrease.


The no-look knit shell from Interweave (proper name: Lutea Lace) is done, and I couldn't be happier. The short rows and lace shoulders absolutely flew, and because I knit from a cone (Peaches and Creme), I only had about six ends to weave in. Today will be its first outing, as I will wear it on the flight to Louisiana to see my godmother. I'll be giving her some hand-knit hostess presents that I haven't shown, so as not to ruin the surprise.

*Finished object

Monday, July 2, 2007


Finished the fourth (and I think, final) component of a hostess present on Friday afternoon, and was overjoyed to cast on for this baby hat. It was the idea of this hat that led to the extremely ill-considered and -executed denim hat, but now I had the pattern right in front of me, so what could go wrong? For starters: ran out of yarn before the end of the long-tail cast on. No problem, just a few stitches of cable cast on and no one need be the wiser. I'm ashamed to admit I do this sometimes, but 154 stitches is a lot. So I started on the garter stitch brim, still enjoying myself, and at row 3 came the first decreases. K9, K2tog around. Fun! I love decreasing! But when I got to the marker, I had four stitches leftover. Not a problem, I thought, I'll fudge this, too, with a couple of extra k2togs. Two more garter rounds, on fewer stitches, then another decrease row. As I'm purling around, I reconsider my pro-top down stance. Maybe I was wrong; fewer stitches after every decrease, ending with an elegant six stitches? Bottom-up hats are the bomb. But all of a sudden I get near the end of the second decrease row and I am short several stitches. Shocking! Well, I snapped this photo then had Coco help me rip it out, and I must say that none of this would have happened if I'd started with a nice small number of stitches.
Since then I have cast on again (cable all the way this time), and counting carefully, am about to finish the second decrease row (again). Good thing, too, since my other no-look knitting project is now in the yes, look stage.