Friday, February 27, 2009

Best Cookies Ever!

I'm allergic to dairy (cows milk) and soy, so eating prepared food is pretty much out of the question. This has forced me to become a good cook and food scientist as I seek out and refine ways to make the foods I crave in a manner that won't make me ill. From time to time I may share these recipes with you, since I doubt I am the only person looking for these culinary answers.

I discovered my allergy when I was 27 after sufferering from some odd and seemingly unrelated symptoms for about 10 years, but I'll leave that story for another day. So, its been almost a decade of the challenge of cooking dairy and soy free and I think I have come up with some good recipes in the meantime.

Case in point. My recipe for:

Everything From Chips to Nuts Cookies

1/2 cup smart balance light margerine
1/2 cup spectrum organic all vegetalbe shortening (palm shortening)
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 cup old fashioned oats
1/2 cup almond meal (or flax meal if you prefer)
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp real maple extract
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup raw macadamia nuts, chopped
1 cup pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit. Cream margerine, shortening and sugars, then add eggs, maple flavor, salt and baking powder. Toss in the flour, oats, almond meal, coconut, nuts and choco chips and mix well. Bake heaping tablespoons of dough on parchment covered baking sheets for 13-15 minutes. Great warm from the oven while the chocolate is still gooey and for as long as they last.

These are crispy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside, packed with nuts and buttery, warm flavors. YES, I said buttery! Actually, the smart balance tastes more buttery than I remember butter tasting, though it has been a long time. And that, along with the brown sugar, maple extract, coconut, salt and almond meal converge to bring warm, caramel notes that could only be described as buttery.

The macadamia nuts are a bit over the top. They are expensive, but they add such a satisfying crunch to the cookie. The pecans play a background roll here, but could win the oscar for supporting actor. Kosher salt is awesome in cookies--the larger flakes make little pockets of salt that your mouth seems to discover and savor--so sophisticated! And why almond meal? Good question. There are several reasons. It adds to the nutty character of the cookie, it gives richness to baked goods when you use it to replace some flour, it adds nutrition (almonds are a powerhouse of nutrition) and it also helps (along with the oats, coconut and other nuts--think fiber, protein, fat) to lower the glycemic index of the cookie. That means that you won't feel quite so much of a sugar rush and then sugar crash after eating a few. I hate sugar hangovers!

These are big cookies with big flavor. They are rocky and dense and a terrible temptation. Should you be lucky enough to NOT be allergic to milk or soy, you could easily use the recipe using conventional fats and I beleive they would be just as good as mine. I can easily say though, that after a lifetime of baking chocolate chip cookies, and most of that time baking with butter, that these are the best cookies I have ever made, bar none.

Monday, February 16, 2009

A good use of a college degree. . .

Pattern: "Swifty" from Mason-Dixon Knitting Outside the Lines
by Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne
Yarn: Lilly Sugar and Cream
Needles: Size 7 Addi Turbos
I really don't know why. I just had to try this pattern in the new Mason-Dixon book. It just seemed so cheerful and useful and fun that I just couldn't help myself. I had a cone of Lilly Sugar and cream in white in the stash and I happened across the pink and green when browsing thru JoAnn's recently on a button-finding mission. It took about two days on and off to make.
So, after I took these lovely pics, I gave it a test drive. My verdict? It doesn't glide like the swiffer pads, but I can put MY choice of non-toxic cleaners on it--or just hot water will do in most cases. I heard a rumor that the swiffer pads contain chemicals that are bad for children and pets and I don't really like being forced to buy their products if I don't want to. This is a very viable alternative, if you like the simplicity of a swiffer vs. the traditional mop.
Personally, I hate mopping but really should do it more often than I do now--my 8-month-old will be crawling soon and there are two dogs, a cat and three other people living in the house. Things just get messy in no time at all. I can see this being used a couple of times a week and just tossed in with the next load of towels. Tres green! Which I love! And did I mention, its cheerful? Though less so, once it is covered in grunge!
I really should make another one to use when the first one is dirty. I had so much fun making this that I'm considering using the leftovers to make some dishcloths, something I wouldn't have considered before, but sounds like fun now. I might just start mopping more than once every few weeks (yikes, did I just admit to that!!!!!--I do vaccuum all areas almost every day!)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Finished Objects!

After reading knitting blogs for years, it seems so exciting to say for myself--I have FO pictures to share!

Pattern: My own generic top down hat, improvised, but loosely based on/inspired by Thorpe by Kirsten Kapur (ravelry)
Yarn: An unknown dk weight superwash in off-white and a Louet fingering weight superwash soft green held together to make approximately Aran weight. Both were scraps from the stash.
Needles: Size 7 US bamboo double points
Started and Finished: over two days sometime in Dec 08.

I didn't care for the crochet border in a contrast color, so I left that out. To me, it looked sloppy just because that is how crocheting into knitting looks to me. I thought it looked cleaner without. I also did short i-cord ties instead of the braided ties they used on Thorpe. Knitting top down made it possible to leave stitches live for the ear flaps and then I just transitioned into i-cord when I got down to three stitches.

I almost always put ear flaps on hats. I love the way they look and they are so toasty warm. Usually I figure around 40% of the stitches are for the front of the face and then I divide the remaining stitches roughly into thirds--1/3 for each ear flap and 1/3 for the back (or a little more depending on how it looks to me).

I've developed my own techniques for ear flaps on fair isle or other hats with hems. I don't usually do ribbing on hats. Usually when I make the hem, I use waste yarn on the ear flap stitches on the turning row then I have two rows of stitches to pick up to make the ear flap double thick--makes it warmer and keeps it from curling. Looks very neat and tidy too. I'll try to take some pictures of my son's snowflake hat to show soon.

Interestingly, I was fairly certain both yarns were superwash. That they may have been, but probably not super-dry. They got tossed into the laundry with all of the other baby things* and the hat came out significantly smaller and denser. This necessitated making a second hat which I did just a few days ago. No pattern was used for that one either, I just winged it, comparing notes with the first one. I made the second one larger with wider and longer earflaps. He doesn't like wearing it either, but it is always handy for that quick trip in and out of a store or something. His little bald head needs something during even those quick excursions.

*Note to those knitting for babies. If even this hard-core, wool-adoring knitter can make such a mistake--so will the families you are knitting for!

Pattern: Tomten Jacket by Elizabeth Zimmerman (ravelry)

From: Knitting Without Tears/ The Opinionated Knitter

Yarn: 100% Wool--worsted scraps leftover from other projects for him, mostly cascade 220, but some brown sheep, some elann worsted and some knit picks worsted.

Needles: Size 7 addi turbos

Started and Finished: About three weeks, Fall 08

Harry said he wanted a warm sweater and I had been dying to make the tomten for some time. I was trying to be thrifty because at the time we were paying two mortgages and he said he wanted it to be blue and red and I just looked at the huge pile of blue and red scrap yarn and thought to myself, I might just be able to make this work!

I remembered reading--I think in Sally Melville's the Knit Stitch--about using three colors for stripes and how at the end of each row the next color would be waiting for you there. So, I divided the reds and blues into piles of light, medium and dark and started the pattern which I made a bit larger because my son is 5. I just followed the math proportions that she used, but started with more stitches. I originally wanted to do a hood, but there just wasn't enough red yarn left for that. Then I finished it up with applied i-cord all the way around--to which I sewed a red zipper that Harry picked out with me.

The whole time I was knitting I just wasn't sure if I liked it, but I kept going anyway. Once it was done and he tried it on and I wasn't looking at it from 12 inches away, but several feet away, I loved it! The single color striping is vibrant and very striking. It looks corrugated or something. He leaves this sweater lying around all the time and I don't mind because just the sight of it makes my heart sing. I'm so proud of this sweater. It is one of the best things I've ever knitted. And it fits him perfectly. Hopefully it will fit this spring as well. Then, little brother will inherit it and I'll get to use it again.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

And thus I begin. . .

A blog. About stuff. My knitting, my life. Whatever I'm thinking about, I guess.

I just have to say all the really clever blog names I could think of were already taken! Here are just a few of the names I brainstormed:



From Soup to Knits


Split Stitches

Spit Splice


Make One

Thru the Back Loop

Slipped Stitches

Taken, taken and ummmmmmmmmm, taken. At first I just googled the names I liked to see if blogs came up, which eliminated quite a few of my good ideas very quickly. I had high hopes for Grafted and Spit Splice and Tink when nothing showed up in google. Blogger, however, would not allow it. Someone else must have gotten there first whether they have an active blog or not, I suppose. Darning in Ends is pretty good too. Sounds relaxed, well-rounded, like I have things well-in-hand. I was hoping for something edgier. But maybe I'm not really all that edgie after all.

Ironically, I rarely darn in many ends. My preference is to spit splice wherever possible or to weave in ends as I go. These techniques are more fun, more clever and less drudgery. And that, is how I have always liked to do things. The more clever way. Not trying to look smart or be a fancy pants. Just like learning new things and trying different ways to see what suits me best.

So, there is is. My first ever blog post. Begun. Not with a bang, but a whimper. Or, actually, I'd call it a minor whine.