30 December 2011

Things I have knit recently - Christmas 2011 edition

Actually, most of these items are not holiday gifts.  But my needles and hooks have been busy since I returned from New Zealand.
First, there are all the chemo caps.  The receipient of the lacy peach one from the October batch was very grateful, so I was happy to finish this one for her:

It is a Red Heart pattern (I skipped the ribbing) using an odd skein of Deborah Norville yarn that I picked up thinking I would use it to make doll clothes for one of my nieces' American Girl dolls.  This seemed more important, and I have been told that the recipient really loves it.

Then my mother's godcousin (their parents were godparents to each other's children) had chemo and lost her hair mid-December, and my mother asked, pretty please?  So I whipped up these:

The multi one is the same spiral rib pattern that I often use, in Caron Simply Soft Paints, colour "Oceana".  I knit it over my Christmas trip, so the hat was finished for my mother to take home and deliver.  The other is a pattern I've wanted to try from New England Knits out of a ball of Red Heart Soft.  It went very fast.  I didn't use the pattern stitch on the top because after an inch, I was concerned it was rough, so I frogged and went back to 2x2 ribbing.  It looks pointy on top, but that smoothes out nicely when the hat is worn:

I had fun looking for the buttons and really like the pair I found at Joann's.

I thought I was done, but when I went to my dentist's office on Wednesday for a teeth cleaning I found out that he has been having chemo, when the hygenist mentioned that "he lost hair in this cycle."  Since I always knit in the chair (calming!) when the dentist came in to check my results he joked that I should make a hat for him.  Sure, I said, what colour?  "Surprise me."  I tried a dark red I had leftover from the Red Scarf Project, didn't like it, then remembered that I have some of the new Lion Brand Tweed Stripes that I thought would be a scarf and didn't want to cooperate.  I dug it out of the charity bin, whipped up a simple ribbed hat, same spiraled top as I used on the aqua cap above, and dropped it off the next day between meetings.  He doesn't work most Fridays so I had to do this quickly.  I was rushing so much I forgot to take a picture!

I did make a number of non-chemo items.  I always do a few for the Red Scarf Project.  This year I had time to do only two:
The one on the left is Jo-ann Sensations Rainbow Boucle, simple crochet pattern.  I have enough left for at least one scarf for next year.  The one on the right is also crocheted, of Caron Simply Soft Paints in "Sunset".

I'd been putting off the next project, which is part of a "Crafter's Pay It Forward" meme on Facebook.  Early in the year, we started posting and the first five people who responded were supposed to get something crafty from you.  I had only three people who responded on mine!  Silly people who skipped me.  I am still waiting for my friend Ches to send a tracing of her hand so that I can knit gloves for her.  The recipients are not supposed to know what they are getting, but Ches is very into gloves so that's a natural for her.  The second is my incredibly crafty friend Eina but I did finally think of something for her, I just have to see her because I didn't take it to our group's holiday party.  The gifts are supposed to be delivered before the end of the year, I'll count it.

The third is my friend Jenna, who was trying to learn to crochet so that she could make something called a "Sweet Pea Shawl" from SnB Happy Hooker.  Jenna was not enjoying it.  She asked me for help, which I gave, but for a beginner, it was frustrating.  We joked that Jenna should just have me do the shawl as her pay-it-forward, and the next thing I knew, Jenna handed me the bag of yarn (Stitch Nation Bamboo Ewe in "Snapdragon") and pattern.

When I realized that her birthday was coming, I finally made the shawl:

It went fast, and was easier to follow the pattern than I thought.

I also knit a stole for my grandmother for Chanukah/Christmas, which she had requested.  Forgot to get a picture of it, I used a scarf pattern and knit in Red Heart Fiesta in "Wheat."  Usually I wrap the gift and leave it when we visit for Thanksgiving.  After the weather got cooler there, I kept hearing how my grandmother loved wearing the vests I usually give her, how they cause a stir in the building where she lives, people cannot believe I make them, etc.  So since I had some yarn waiting (I'd planned to make the usual vest until my grandmother requested the stole) I whipped up a simple vest:

My parents will deliver it when they stop to visit over New Year's weekend.  The yarn is a no-name endlot and I have enough for another vest, I think!  Pattern is just a tube to the armholes, graft the shoulders, add borders - really nothing to it.  My grandmother loves the style.

Next up for charity items will be a few scarves for the Special Olympics project, using up leftover solid red yarn that I didn't get to use for the Red Scarf project, because I ran out of time.  But first, my "week of selfish knitting" when I concentrate on making something for ME:

This is a shawl-to-be out of a hank of Brooks Farm's "Duet" yarn.  Not sure of the colourway, it may be "Bonnie", it was an odd hank I bought on sale at last year's DFW Fiber Fest.  It feels very silky.  Just shows that I can indeed make something out of other than mass-market washable acrylic yarns!  I wound the hank on Christmas Day and cast on the next morning.  That shows what it looked like on Tuesday.  I have knit on it all week (except for the dentist's chemo cap) and it's bigger although it's at the awful point when it doesn't seem to grow and the ball doesn't seem to shrink no matter how much I knit!

At least there's a long weekend ahead of me........

18 December 2011

Penguins, Santas, and Black Bun for Hogmanay

I have been traveling madly (mostly on business) so my usual holiday cooking is well behind time.  In fact, when I go to a party this Wednesday, instead of my usual baked goodies I might be taking either Penguins or Santas.  I just learned about the latter from a friend's link on Facebook, and while they are easy enough to make I'd probably use currants instead of chocolate chips for the eyes.

The Penguins became a tradition in my family many years ago when I made them as a pre-dinner snack one Thanksgiving.  Since we now go to my grandmother's for Thanksgiving, and all is catered (the best thing my grandmother learned to make for supper was reservations), we now make these at Christmas.  The recipe was in a magazine a long time ago, but of course now you can find a lot of variations on the Interwebs.  In our family, they are just olives, carrot (fresh, not pickled, as some recipes have), and cream cheese.

(Picture added - very cute, very popular, VERY yummy!)

One thing that I should have prepared before now, so it would have a nice "cure," is my fruitcake.  This is not the weird, sugary, nuts-and-candied-fruit item so prevalent now, that're more candy than cake and tends to include something I've always called "that weird pickled green thing" and have learned is either angelica or coloured pineapple.  Neither of which is quite "fruit" in my mind, and I think the things are entirely too lacking in the "cake" element as well.

Many years ago when a beloved adopted uncle and aunt held Scottish First Footing parties, and I would travel up to Milwaukee for the night (and much of the next day), I decided to take something to add to the groaning board.  I can't remember how I decided to make Black Bun except that the recipe is in one of the cookbooks I bought when living in England, and it's Scottish and for New Year's!  But I wasn't confident in my pastry-making skills at the time, and dubious about baking a cake inside a pastry case.  So I skipped that part and just made the filling and told people it was Scottish Fruit Cake.

Some avoided it on principle, but I wheedled several into trying it with promises that it really included just FRUIT and CAKE and "no weird pickled green things."  All declared it quite yummy, and I get asked for the recipe.  So here it is, approximately, since I tend to adjust the fruit to what I have on hand or can find easily, and the liquid to what I think the recipients will enjoy.

If you want to do this really traditionally, you can look up a recipe for the details.  To make the pastry case, follow a basic two-crust piecrust recipe, and add about a half-teaspoon of baking powder, to make it a little flakier.  Roll out about 2/3 of it to line a deep casserole, a loaf pan, or some other deep baking tin, and keep the rest to make the lid later.

To make mine:
About six cups of chopped (see Step 1) dark dried fruit:  raisins, currants, prunes, figs, dates, etc. 
1.5 cups flour (if you want to go gluten-free, substitute GF baking mix)
1/3 cup soft brown sugar (light or dark doesn't matter)
Spices:  allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves.  Adjust to taste, about 2 tsp total, up to 1 T.
    NOTE:  It's better to go heavier on allspice or cloves and lighter on the cinnamon and nutmeg.
One-half teaspoon bakng powder.
One tablespoon brandy or orange juice or cider.  (If you are soaking the fruit, up to a 1/4 cup.)
One large egg.

1.  Chop the largest into pieces about the size of the smallest.  So the prunes and figs and dates get cut into pieces about as big as raisins and currants.  Do not use yellow raisins (sultanas) for this.  They are very good for snacking (especially mixed with toasted, salted pecans) and wasted in this recipe.  Be sure you take out any stones/pits and hard stem bits when you chop everything.  The finished amount should be six cups, be generous rather than scanty.

1a.  If the fruit is very dry, soak it in a bit of the liquid for a few hours or overnight.

2.  Start the oven at 325F/160C/Gas Mark 3.  If you are using the pastry case, make sure it is ready.  If you aren't, as I don't, just butter (or oil, or use spray-on stuff) the pan.  Flouring on top of the buttering is optional.  You can also line the pan with paper and butter the paper.  Some people just put paper (parchment or waxed) in the bottom of the pan.  My pans seem to release easily so I don't need to do the extra steps, but do them if you do, especially as this is a sticky cake.

3.  Stir the sugar into the fruit.  Mix the flour, spices, and baking powder together (stir or sift) and add to the fruit.  Mix the egg and liquid together and add to the bowl.  If you used the liquid to soak the fruit, REMEMBER THAT and don't add more, or the cake will be soggy.

4.  Now stir together until everything is well mixed.  The batter should be very dark and lumpy.

5.  Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, cover with a piece of foil, and put it into the preheated oven.  If you are using the pastry case, be sure to roll out the lid and fit it on top and seal the edges of the pastry before you put it into the oven.  You can use scraps to make additional decorations if you like, and if you want to be really fancy brush with a bit of egg wash (beaten egg thinned with water) if you like.  For really, really fancy, tint some bits of the egg wash with food colouring and paint the design, or paint a picture or message on the pastry top.

6.  BAKE for 2.5-3 hours.  Something like that.  Just go away and watch a holiday movie or something, then check.  At some point you might want to remove the foil so the cake (or pastry) can brown.  Alternatively, add the foil after about 45 minutes of baking.  Because of the sugar and fat content, the cake or pastry can burn before the cake cooks all the way through, thus you need to use the foil.  Test the cake to make sure it's cooked all the way through.  Ovens and the size and shape of the cake can affect how long it will take to bake.

When the cake is baked through, take it out of the oven and put the pan on a rack to cool.  If you did not use a pastry case, unmould the cake after about ten minutes and let it cool.  If you did use a case, leave it a bit longer before you take it out to cool.  When thoroughly cold, wrap the cake tightly and tuck it away until Hogmanay.  If you did not use the pastry case, you can brush it every so often with brandy or rum or bourbon or whatever you like to make it more alcoholic.  I don't do this.

When serving, cut thin slices.  You don't need to ice this, but you can do the traditional almond paste coat and royal icing on top if you want to get fancy.  I don't bother, as I like the taste "as-is".