Friday, March 27, 2009

The Bread Experiment

I'm going to have a little experiment. I'm going to see if I can make bread for the family every week instead of buying a loaf each week at the grocery store. Why go to the trouble? Well, there are lots of good reasons, actually. For one thing, when you make your own bread, you get to control what goes into it. The other day, Jon happened to take a closer look at the ingredients on our current favorite bread, and discovered it had high fructose corn syrup in it - among other things. Well, just look for a brand that doesn't have that, you say? Sure! If you can find one. (Yes, I am sure there are some, but that's not my point).

Also, it's a little cheaper to make your own bread. But, the main reasons for me are that it tastes better, and it's fun! There's nothing like the feel of warm dough as you knead it and shape it - and the smell of baking bread wafting through the house is heavenly! Of course there's one other bonus - if you do it right, it just tastes better than store bought bread. And just think - Owen will be growing up on homemade bread! How many kids can say that these days?

Now, I have never made just plain old, everyday bread before. I have made rustic breads, pizza doughs, and quick breads (although those don't really count because they are a completely different process). So I will need to experiment with different recipes for a while until I find some family favorites.

Today, I chose to go with the Wheat Bread recipe in the "New Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook". You can't go wrong with Better Homes and Gardens when you want something basic. There's a reason why that book is in everybody's kitchen.

The recipe said you could either shape the dough into a loaf, or roll it jelly roll style before putting it in the loaf pan. Since it makes two loaves, I decided to roll one and shape the other, to see if it made any difference.

Then, after letting them have their second rise in the pans, I baked them and cooled them on racks. Jon got home just as they were cool enough to slice. As you can see, several slices were consumed before I had the presence of mind to take a picture of my finished bread.

It turned out very tasty. A bit small. I don't know if maybe I didn't get the temperature of the water quite right before adding it to the yeast/flour mixture, or if it's just because it has some whole wheat flour in it, which has a tendency not to fluff up as well. Next time I will use the candy thermometer instead of eyeballing it and testing the temp with my finger, just to make sure. As for rolling vs. shaping, the only thing I can tell you right now is that the shaped one seemed to conform to the pan better. The rolled one rose upwards, but didn't expand outwards enough to touch the sides of the pan. I haven't cut into both yet, so I can't tell you if there is any difference on the inside.

Despite being a little smaller than I expected, the bread sure is good! Dense, but not heavy. Moist, but not soggy. Very nice flavor overall.

I made Owen some grilled cheese with it for dinner. He enjoyed it until his teething pain got the better of him. Poor little guy! (I ate the rest.)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Cables and Sprouts

I am happy to say that I've finished the instep cable pattern (as well as the heel) on the first of the pair of Absinthe socks. I messed up on one row -- I twisted my cables the wrong way and didn't notice for about 20 rows -- but you can't tell unless you're looking for it, so I decided to bite back my perfectionist tendencies and leave it alone.

I love how the heel was done. It is a toe-up sock (my first toe-up sock, fyi), and I thought you could only do short-row heels with those. But this one actually incorporates a short-row/heel flap combination. I think it's the easiest and nicest looking heel I've ever done. For that matter, the toe has also got to be the nicest looking toe I've ever done - but not the easiest. The pain may be worth the gain with those, though, and they will probably get easier with practice.

Also, before I go, I have to show off my Arugula sprouts. Aren't they the cutest wittle teeny weeny t'ings? I could just eat them all up! And I will too - some day soon. Muwahahahaha!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Gardening Bug

I'm going to try my hand at vegetable gardening. I've never grown anything edible, and frankly, I'm a bit of a novice at growing non-edible things as well. But darnit, I live out in farm country, and although I don't have a farm, I feel like I should still be growing stuff. Besides, I have a yard in which to grow them now. Well, actually, I had a yard in the last house too, but it was about the size of a postage stamp and hopelessly overgrown with weeds to the point where, when it came time to sell, we had it professionally landscaped in the most low maintenance plan ever; lots of bark and rocks, plants in pots, and NO GRASS.

Now we have grass that Jon is delighting in mowing (although it took quite a beating with the heavy snows this winter), and plenty of space for bushes and flowers, and yes, a small victory garden. Yesterday I bought some seed packets for carrots, pumpkins, arugula, and beets (which I don't like, but Jon says is good practice because they are difficult to screw up). Yes, I know that it is not yet time to plant some of those, and I found out after getting home that it is not recommended to start carrots and beets indoors. Those will have to wait a few months. In a few weeks though, I can do some seed starts for the pumpkins and lettuce. I have seed starter containers and these interesting coconut plugs that you put in the containers, add water, and push the seeds into. I've never seen them before, but then again, I've never done indoor seed starting before. In fact, I think the only experience I really have with planting seeds are some marigolds that my mom and I planted when I was about 4 years old. When we moved later that year, we forgot them, and I was sad. Ah well.

Anyway, you will be hearing more about my bumbling adventures as a beginner gardener, no doubt. Any tips will be most welcome!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Needs Pepper

Last night, I finished the Patchwork Ball from Anna Maria Horner's book "Seams to Me: 24 New Reasons to Love Sewing". I love how it turned out. I hand-stitched the entire thing, as I think I may have mentioned in an earlier post, so I'm pretty darn proud of myself.

I gave it to Owen this morning. He grabbed it and said "Bah!" (ball). He seemed to really like it, but he thought it needed a little pepper:

Wednesday, I broke down and bought Moda's Hello Betty charm pack, which I have been eyeing at the local Ben Franklin every time I go in there. I'm going to use peices from it to make the pincushion/caddy from the same book. Squeeeee!

Monday, March 16, 2009

New on the Needles...

I did tell you that, given a little time, I would be knitting something again. Maybe it was the little bit of snow that came through my neighborhood again, or maybe it was just the fact that I can't seem to go very long without the feel of soft yarn wrapped around my fingers and smooth bamboo needles on my fingertips. Or, perhaps it was because the Spring issue of Knitty came out! I found a few things there that I would like to knit, but I was most excited about this!

I have always loved Art Nouveau, so I was thrilled to find a sock pattern that was inspired by it. I love the combination of cables and lace on the leg of the sock, which turn into an intricate cable panel along the instep. Gorgeous!

Here's what I have so far:

The yarn that I'm using is Berocco Comfort Sock in Southland (1813), which I happened to have laying around unused in my stash. Now, normally I prefer some natural fiber content in my yarns. It doesn't have to be 100% - I'm not a total yarn snob, just a little bit of one. But I do like the larger percentage to be wool or cotton or whatever. This yarn, however, is 50% nylon, 50% acrylic. It felt very nice in the store though. I also loved the colorway, and, best of all, it was cheap and therefore allowed me to justify buying just one more skein of sock yarn along with the two other more expensive skeins that I already had in my cart. A little extra convincing from my mom, who happened to be with me, and I went ahead and bought it. So far, I think I'm glad I did. I saw some mixed reviews on Ravelry about this yarn - some people loved it, some hated it. I will agree that it is a little splitty, but so is a lot of higher quality wool yarn out there. I'm actually finding it quite nice to work with. I'm also liking how the yarn is fairly smooth - I think it will cause the cables on this sock to stand out nicely. Another bonus: as it is not wool, it might be cool enough to wear in the Spring!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Winter or Spring?

Saturday morning, by all appearances, Spring had arrived. It was sunny, green things were starting to poke out of the dirt, and the thin, bare tree branches were growing little bumps on them that will surely soon be pink or white blossoms.

Sunday morning, there was this:

My poor little flowers, some of the first bulbs I have ever planted, are not having a very good time this week. Saturday evening through all of Monday, the Pacific Northwest experienced scattered snow showers. Monday was actually the worst at my house. It was fine most of the morning, which was nice because everyone was able to make it over to my house for Pasta Party II: Spinach Fettucine. Except for my mom, who was able to come to both, this party was for those who were unable to make it to the last one. I think everyone had a great time. I did, although Owen was making me a little hectic there when he was taking forever to go down for a nap. We did learn that spinach pasta dough requires a lot more finess than whole wheat pasta dough. It was very persnickety. We eventually figured it out though, and I think it turned out pretty well for a first try.

Soon after we finished eating, the snow picked up and everyone hightailed it out of here. They all left just in time, because it wasn't long before my street had about an inch on it. Three days later, it has finally melted everywhere except for the areas that don't get any sun. It has been below freezing at night and in the early morning, and then warming up to the mid 40's to upper 50's by the afternoon. Crazy.

It looks like my little guy is waking up from his nap, but before I go, here is how the patchwork ball has been coming along:

It would probably only take a day or two by machine, but I'm hand sewing it because, well, I'm crazy, I guess. Actually, I find hand piecing relaxing, and I have an easier time getting the pieces lined up accurately that way.

Okay, he's up! Gotta go!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Here it is!

I finally got a decent picture of my sweater during daylight hours.

If I look a little tired, it's because I am; the munchkin has not been sleeping well as of late, so of course, neither have I. Anyway, I also had to get the required picture of the back of the sweater, imitating the cover of the book that the pattern came from (as observed by many Ravelry project pages for the sweater) I didn't get it exact, but close enough:

I have more pictures of some of the little details on my Ravelry page (username houseywifey), if you happen to have an account.

It seems that when signs of spring begin to appear, I grow tired of my knitting and instead have the urge to sew. There's something so spring-like about working with fresh, clean-smelling cottons and a needle and thread. But, I did finally finish my Uptown Boot Socks from "Favorite Socks", using Lion Brand Sock-Ease, in Taffy:

Super, super comfy. I was nervous about that yarn when I bought it, but I loved the colorway. It felt a little scratchy, and it took a little getting used to when I first started to knit with it. But once I got going, I fell in love with it - and on my feet it isn't scratchy at all.

Now, if you can believe it, I don't have any projects on knitting needles, unless you want to count the lace doily that I started around Christmas time that has been hiding in my nightstand drawer ever since. It's okay, I'm sure I'll start another knitting project soon. Don't go feeling my forehead and calling the doctor or anything. Like I said, the sewing bug has got me. Here's what I've been working on:

Jon's quilt in UW Husky colors that I've been working on for, what, 6 or 7 years now? I'm not sure. I've lost track. I'm going to finish it this year though. I mean it.

And these pretty little shapes in repro 30's fabrics are the hexagons and pentagons that will make up a stuffed ball for Owen to kick around:

The pattern is in "Seams to Me: 24 New Reasons to Love Sewing," by Anna Maria Horner, a gorgeous book that I came across online and just had to have. I mostly bought it for the pin cushion/sewing notions caddy pattern, but it also has several other projects that I am just dying to make. You will probably be hearing a lot about the stuff in this book from me this spring and summer.