Toasted Coconut Brownie Ice Cream. Need I say more?

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There were a few days last week when it really felt like spring here in New Orleans. Dare I even say summer? All I know is that I saw a lot of shorts and sandals for a little while, which got me thinking of ice cream. Honestly, it doesn’t take much to get me thinking of ice cream.

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The day that I ended up making ice cream, however, ended up being the day when a cold front swept through, dumping tons of freezing rain on all of those people in their shorts and sandals. I chose to soldier on, ignoring the weather and rejoicing in my tiny amount of free time.

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I ended up taking my own advice and toasting up some coconut to go into my coconut milk base. It was definitely the right way to go.

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I had made some brownies (the always delicious Moosewood Fudge Brownies, this time without the chocolate chips and with pecans instead of walnuts because there were no walnuts to be found in my house) earlier that week, and the last two brownies were just sitting there on the counter, feeling lonely. What else could I do but chop them up and throw them in there? It was just the right thing to do. Toasted Coconut Brownie Ice Cream. I just couldn’t resist.

Toasted Coconut Brownie Ice Cream
adapted from the Hungry Mouse‘s 3-Ingredient Coconut Ice Cream

Ingredients:
2 13 oz. cans of coconut milk (for some reason, the only ones I could find this time were 13.5 oz. each, but I don’t think it caused any problems)
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup shredded sweetened coconut (or unsweetened, or flaked, whatever you want)
2 1/2 leftover brownies (Whatever your favorite brownie recipe is. You already know mine. I usually cut up my 8×8 baking dish into 9 pieces, so each square of brownie is somewhere around 2.5″ square.)

Directions:
Toast your coconut by spreading it in a thin layer on a baking sheet and putting it into a preheated 350 degree oven for 5-10 minutes. Be sure to watch it closely and stir it often, because it browns up really quick. I only needed 5 1/2 minutes. Chop up 2 of your brownies into little brownie cubes, and then leave the 1/2 brownie to the side for crumbling.

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Dump your coconut milk (being sure to avoid spraying coconut milk all over yourself and the kitchen counter, like I did), sugar, and vanilla into a large food processor.

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Doesn’t that look a little bit like miso soup? It’s weird. Blend things up until they appear more presentable.

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Pour your coconut milk base into your prepared ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. You’ll only have to process it for about 30-40 minutes total.

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Add the toasted coconut and crumble up that remaining 1/2 brownie piece into the ice cream base when you only have 10-15 minutes left to go on the processing so that they are well-distributed.

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While you’re waiting for the rest of the spinning time, put some brownie cubes in your waiting ice cream container. This is how Jeni makes her delicious chunky ice creams, so we are taking a page from her. She is a genius.

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When the ice cream is done spinning up, pour a little bit over those brownie pieces, and then put some more brownies on top.

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Repeat.

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Until there’s no more brownies or ice cream. I made sure to cover the entire thing with a layer of the coconut ice cream base so that the brownies were totally submerged, just to avoid those brownie chunks drying out. Cover the top of the ice cream with a piece of parchment paper and then put on that airtight lid. Allow the ice cream to freeze for at least 8 hours, but overnight is best.

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We did end up trying some that night, after 8 hours of freezing, and there was still a bit of graininess to the texture. However, this had completely disappeared by the next day. It’s definitely worth the wait.

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The sweetest of the coconut and the richness of the brownies and pecans work really well together, I believe. Dan declared this the best ice cream I’ve made so far. That’s saying something.

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Now if only the weather would cooperate.

Unexpected Comfort – Banana Bread and ASMR

We all find comfort in different places.

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Sometimes these places are easy to find. Sometimes all it takes is pulling out some frozen bananas that you have cleverly hoarded for this very occasion…

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…and letting them sit on your kitchen counter until they look really, really disgusting.

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Yep, totally gross. Ready to go.

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Still gross.

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Now we’re getting somewhere. You mash up those bananas and mix them up with various other kitchen items like butter and sugar…

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…eggs (to make it totally awesome and neon yellow)

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…vanilla and buttermilk…

(And let’s be honest, no one ever has buttermilk in their house. Just mix up a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with whole milk and pretend that you are on top of your life enough to have fresh buttermilk at all times.)

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…flour (both all-purpose and whole wheat, just so we can pretend it’s healthy), baking soda, and a little bit of salt.

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Grease up two loaf pans, and be pleased with just how clever you are by saving all of your butter wrappers for this specific purpose.

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And then realize that your house might have a bit of a butter problem, because this box of butter wrappers isn’t running out any time soon.

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Sprinkle those future banana breads with some oats, just so that we can pretend that they are healthy some more. Stick them in the oven and let that banana scent reassure you that the comfort is coming soon, especially on a rainy and cold day in the middle of April in New Orleans, which makes absolutely no sense at all.

Now, while that bakes, we’re going to take a little break to talk about comfort coming from totally unexpected places. About a year ago, I was listening to This American Life in my car, and I had a moment of such surreality that I had to pull over to finish listening to the show. It was an episode called “Tribes” (you can listen to it here), and the segment named “A Tribe Called Rest” pulled me out of my usual passive listening state and blew my damn mind.

Done listening to it yet? Good. As a middle-schooler, I loved watching painting shows on PBS more than anything else in the world. Bob Ross was an utter joy for me. His calm and lovely demeanor, combined with the scratchy sounds his paintbrushes made when he was tapping out some happy clouds, would give me the chills every single time. I would feel tingles run down the base of my skull into my neck, and for some reason in the backs of my knees, just hearing him talk. There was another woman I used to love as well, who wore lots of turquoise rings and painted her acrylics with lots of different weird mediums mixed in, like sand and other crazy textures. The sound of her palette knife scratching in those artfully rendered sand dunes, and her rings clicking together…I have the feeling that if you would’ve have walked by my room when I was watching this, you would have seen tiny-Jinger, sitting completely still on the very edge of her bed, eyes tilted up to the screen and glazed over with quiet joy. I was so into this that when I went to high school and the times for these shows changed, I set up my VCR to record them for me while I was at school, so that I didn’t have to miss them and their head-tingling goodness.

It’s probably getting a little awkward in here, so let’s check on that banana bread.

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Looking good. Right on track.

I started watching QVC and HSN soon after that, rigging up my old push-button TV with the UHF dial to catch the jewelry shows whenever I could. There was just something about the quiet reverence with which these people displayed and measured earrings with their tiny rulers that would keep me entranced for hours. My favorite memories of summer camp involve sitting in a circle and playing tracing games (where another person traces words on your back or sings a little song that involves tickling and trying to give the other person the chills…you ladies know exactly what I talking about) or braiding each other’s hair. I love going to get my hair cut, not because I care anything about the state of my hair usually, but because the tiny scissor sounds and personal attention give me tingles the entire time. I’m always a little let down when it’s over. My favorite movie scenes involve those of quiet intensity, where the person on screen is performing some sort of delicate or complicated task, and we get to watch it quietly.

Need examples?

 

 

Confused yet? If you didn’t listen to the episode, you might not realize that my life almost exactly parallels the one of the producer, Andrea Seigel, author and screenwriter and general all-around interesting lady. She too was entranced by painting shows and the Home Shopping Network, and goes in pursuit of attaining more “triggers” via YouTube, finding out that she loves watching makeup tutorials. I did the same exact thing. She had no idea that there was a whole community of people dedicated to this phenomenon, and neither did I. Turns out, it has a name. ASMR. Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. And it’s simultaneously awesome and really, really weird.

Immediately upon getting home that day from listening to that This American Life episode, I went in search of these ASMR videos and fell down a crazy YouTube rabbit hole (like everyone does) of people just like me. People speaking quietly and intently while folding napkins. Or leafing through books. Or practicing calligraphy. Or decoupaging coasters. Or pretty much anything else that you can think of. I discovered that, while I do not like going to the dentist in general, I absolutely cannot get enough of someone pretending to be my dental hygienist, speaking to me quietly and executing a complex series of maneuvers to make it sound like they are realistically cleaning my teeth. It sounds bizarre, I know, but these videos bring me comfort in a way that very other few things do.

I have always had an overactive brain. I would never claim that it was out of control in any way, but I have a very difficult time not hearing and internally commenting on everything that is going on around me. At night, I usually have to make myself fall asleep (I have come to think of it as “turning off my brain”) by reading until I find myself asleep with my face in my book somehow. I have a never-ending string of useless trivia winding itself around at all times of day, and most people have no idea unless they try to tell me something that I just know is incorrect, and it takes more self-awareness than I usually have to keep my mouth shut.

I tend to do everything fast. I tend to speed-read, not the skimming of information just to get the gist of something, but just reading incredibly fast, so much that I cannot share reading materials. I type fairly fast. I work out math in my head quickly. I usually only have to hear something once to remember it for far longer than I ever will need to. This type of ridiculous way of thinking usually doesn’t do much harm except in making me look like a smart-ass, but I really can’t help it. Baking and knitting are seriously some of the only things that I can do at a reasonable speed (and some people who watch me knit even accuse me of stitching too quickly), and they tend to bring me comfort in that fact that they remind me that I am physically capable of slowing down sometimes, and that when I do, good things usually happen.

Speaking of baking…

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Done! Let’s let them cool down a bit before we slice them up.

Even though I am not the type of person who dives obsessively into fandoms (yet), I have found another tremendous source of comfort in this community and this (it sounds weird to say it) way of life. ASMR is not just about sitting in front of the computer, listening to people make clicking noises (although, let’s be honest, that’s a lot of it). It’s also about slowing down and appreciating simple activities. It’s about finding pleasure in small things. It’s about breaking down a task that brings you joy and making it last as long as possible. It’s about treating yourself delicately and kindly. It’s about taking care of your brain.

Let me let Heather Feather, one of the greatest people making these videos, break it down for you:

That video right there has helped me to…not to fall asleep really, but to turn off the part of my brain that keeps me from relaxing like a normal person on more than one occasion. It’s fairly goofy, but it’s also kind and sweet and full of amazing creativity. Just like the rest of the ASMR community.

I didn’t think that I would ever post about this, or really ever tell anyone other than Dan, but last week, one of my clinical instructors apparently listened to the same episode of This American Life that I did and came away with a slightly different opinion on the matter. I’m not saying that what she said was…insulting, but she told our clinical group about ASMR in a way that started with something like, “You wouldn’t believe what some people do for stress relief. I heard something on the radio the other day about this weird thing where people like to listen to clicking sounds and people talking quietly on the computer, and that’s how they relax. Isn’t that bizarre?” Not exactly the most ringing endorsement. I took a cue from my totally amazing friends, both online and in real life, and decided to take control of the situation and love the things that I love out loud and not feel weird or shamed by it. I said, “Yeah, that’s ASMR, and I have it.” And I proceeded to relate much of what I have already typed to 7 pairs of very bewildered eyes. And it felt great. Not just owning up to it and defending something I love, but how I surprised myself in disclosing such information to a group of people that I have not known for very long.

Let’s slice up that bread, okay? It’s waited long enough.

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Want the recipe? Here we go.

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Simple Comfort Banana Bread
adapted from Ms. Betty‘s recipe, of course

Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup butter, softened (plus, don’t forget those butter wrappers for greasing up your loaf pans!)
4 large eggs
3 cups mashed overripe bananas (about 6 from the freezer, where everyone who can’t eat a whole bunch of bananas before they turn brown should be throwing them, right?)
1 cup buttermilk (again, who are we kidding with this? 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar plus enough whole milk to equal 1 cup works just fine)
2 tsp. vanilla
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. salt
old-fashioned oats, for sprinkling

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make sure that the oven rack is positioned so that the tops of the loaves are around the center of the oven, to ensure even heat distribution. Grease up your two loaf pans with your butter wrappers.

Mix softened butter and sugar together until well-mixed and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and blend until well-mixed. Add the bananas, vanilla, and buttermilk all at once and mix until smooth. Then dump in both flours, the baking soda, and the salt and mix until just moistened.

Divide the batter evenly into your two loaf pans, and then sprinkle the tops with the oats. Bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow the loaves to cool on a wire rack for about 30 minutes to an hour before attempting to take them out of the pans. Run a butterknife along the outer edges first to ensure that the loaves are sufficiently loosened from the pan before flipping them out. Then, wait until they are fully cooled, at least 2 more hours, before slicing them up.

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You will make a mess.

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I usually slice these up into 12 pieces each, wrap them up in aluminum foil, and put them in the freezer so that they are ready for breakfast and lunch emergencies whenever.

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If you take one out of the freezer before you drive to school, it will be defrosted and perfect when you pull it out of your bag for lunch. It will make everyone jealous.

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So, why combine ASMR and banana bread?

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Maybe it’s just that I’m constantly reminded how much I need to slow down and enjoy life. That the best things in this world are the ones that we take the time to craft for ourselves and truly appreciate. That we all need to take a break and relax, and whether that involves sitting down to enjoy a slice of banana bread with a cup of tea or putting on your headphones to enjoy the fact that someone cared so much about you and your weird loves that they pretended to be your dentist or your spa technician or your travel agent or whatever…it’s your thing.

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that it’s dumb. It’s totally awesome, and so are you.

Mischief Managed

There is a special kind of joy in making something that you know that someone is going to love.

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My friend Bailee (introduced earlier on the blog by taking some super awesome pictures while I made pie) is the biggest Harry Potter fan that I have met. Possibly the biggest one ever.

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Those in the know now know that she is not messing around.

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She loves all of the best things in all of the best ways. I’m talking about that kind of unabashed, un-self-conscious, super-hardcore-fan love that gives artists a reason for making more beautiful art. She loves things out loud, and makes sure that everyone else knows about all of the awesome things that they might have missed out on because they were too busy trying to look cool and pretend that they wouldn’t really rather spend any day of their lives drinking wine and watching Sherlock instead of anything else.

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What do you give to someone like that?

Well, first, you know that accuracy is key. You do some research and you find the Harry Potter scarf pattern to end all Harry Potter scarf patterns, Atypically Knit’s Prisoner of Azkaban scarf.

This thing is a beast. 521 rounds of pure stripy stockinette wooliness. Plus casting on, then binding off. And weaving in all those ends!

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Not to mention all that fringe.

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This thing is an undertaking that is only worthy of the most deserving. Those people who will indulge you on your Tom Hiddleston obsession. Those people who will always take the time to listen to your problems and give you their respect by telling you theirs. Those people who know how to rock a crazy woolen scarf in New Orleans weather.

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Which sometimes means wearing it right next to a stone lion right where Brad Pitt sat on a park bench in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, even if only the photographer loves that movie.

Down to brass tacks, then we’ll get back to the modeling, I promise.

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This was stitched up over countless hours in Brown Sheep’s Nature Spun Worsted (link is to Paradise Fibers, where I ordered this yarn and had a lovely yarn shopping experience, in general), a fantastic workhorse worsted wool, perfect for projects that need to look absolutely perfect and last for a good long time. It’s got some fantastic stitch definition, something you don’t often see in the 100% wool universe.

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I went with the colors Blue Knight and Gray Heather, trying to get the most accurate Ravenclaw scarf that I could. There’s plenty more suggestions for yarn types and colors in the pattern, but I think that these in particular look beautiful together.

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And can we talk about that fringe?

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I know that fringe can be a major pain sometimes, especially after you’ve done so much knitting and yet you are still not done. In order to get this fringe looking its best, I flat-blocked the whole scarf first, being sure to keep the stripe jog along one side seam. After it was dry, I attached the fringe one tiny bundle at a time to the open ends of the scarf, closing them up by working through both sides of the fabric. I feel like this left a much cleaner seam that would have resulted if I had chosen to sew things up first.  Then the fringe got steam-pressed and trimmed up a bit, just to make things more evened-out, but not too severe.

Back to the modeling? Yes!

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Mardi Gras is actually the perfect time of year for scarves, because the New Orleans weather just cannot figure itself out. It can be simultaneously windy, sunny, and freezing, all during the same 3 hours that you are standing and waiting for a parade. This scarf actually made its first official public appearance while Bailee, Dan, and I went to Nyx, Bailee’s first ever Mardi Gras parade.

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It works well as a babushka, whenever needed.

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But, in all actuality, and I am quoting here, you could wrap it around your entire head and still have enough left to keep your neck warm.

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(I know that I just heard collective groans from Gryffindors everywhere. There are just no stone ravens out here, I swear.)

It’s huge and warm and ridiculous, with just enough class to go everywhere. Just more reasons why everyone needs to have an excessively long double-sided woolen scarf.

But not this one. It’s already taken.  And loved.

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If Life Gives You Lemons, Make Arnold Palmers

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As soon as the weather starts to seem even the slightest bit warmer, my thoughts tend to drift to lemons.

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(Want to know the best part about using your phone to take kitchen pictures because your boyfriend left the camera in his truck and then left for work? You have no idea how out-of-focus they are until you are all done! Hooray! Sorry, guys.)

When I was a child, I hated anything lemon-flavored. Lemon bars? Lemonade? I wanted nothing to do with it. Yellow candies of all kinds were not to be trusted (I’m looking at you, yellow Starburst).

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I was obviously deranged. Now, in my dotage, I have realized that lemons are the most delicious things that you can get from a tree. You can dress them up and make them super sweet and fancy when you add butter and sugar, or you can leave them in their tangy, sour perfection with just the addition of some black iced tea. That’s right! We’re making lemon cookies and Arnold Palmers today because the heater hasn’t had to come on in at least two weeks, and it’s going to be such a fabulous lemony kick to the face that you will definitely be thanking me later.

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The lemon cookie recipe comes courtesy of the always-delightful Jeannette at everybody likes sandwiches. I remember reading it when it first was published in 2007 and heading out to the store to buy lemons that very moment. Since then, I have made them more times than I can count, even once sending them cross-country to sit in for me during a game of D&D.

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See? Hipster food-blog-follower cred! I seriously wrote it down on an index card (!), back when her blog was still at BlogSpot. How very quaint of me and my purple Sharpie. This was before Pinterest, people, when I wrote everything down or spent long hours with my printer and bookmarks, making huge Word documents of dessert recipes that needed printing. Want to see the rest? Here you go.

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These cookies are obviously something special, otherwise that little index card would not still be in my recipe binder. When you make them, they are little balls of bright, tangy dough, rolled in sugar.

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Just look at how cute that is! They taste buttery and lemony and almost floral, without feeling like you’re eating a plant. They are crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside, absolute perfection with a quick dip in some cold milk.

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Yum.

Now, what if we want something that preserves more of that natural lemon essence? That super tart feeling that you’re getting in your mouth right now just thinking about lemons? We make Arnold Palmers!

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I’m aware that most people refer to this as Lemonade Iced Tea, but once I learned that a professional golfer claimed that he invented the concoction, I just can’t bring myself to call it anything else. First, we brew up the tea.

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Then we get mesmerized by the process of tea steeping. Don’t pretend it isn’t interesting to watch. (I even made a little video of it, if you can ignore the sweet strains of Despicable Me playing in the background.) Oh, heat conduction. You make pretty things happen in water.

While we wait for our tea to cool, we have to juice up some lemons. We’re looking for 1 1/4 cups of delicious lemon juice, which is about 6-7 lemons usually, depending on how large they are.

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Close enough.

Then we make simple syrup, which is essentially just combining equal parts of sugar and water together over heat.

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Until it’s super clear and bubbly.

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All of these things get dumped together into the appropriate receptacles and topped off with enough ice to make yourself about 2 gallons of sweet, tangy, summery deliciousness. And when I say ‘tangy,’ I mean it. That first sip is a game-changer. Feel free to add a little more sugar if you don’t roll that way.

Arnold Palmers
or just Lemonade Iced Tea, if you aren’t whimsical enough

Ingredients:
4 bags of black tea
6-7 lemons (enough to make about 1 1/4 cups of juice)
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
lots of ice

Directions:
Steep 4 bags of black tea in approximately 2 liters of boiling water. Don’t worry if you end up staring at it for a little while. It’s totally normal.

Juice your lemons and set the juice aside. Prepare simple syrup by combining sugar and water over medium-high heat until the sugar has completely dissolved, and the mixture is clear and starting to boil. Discard the tea bags, and combine the tea, lemon juice, and simple syrup together in a heatproof 2-gallon (or two 1-gallon) beverage container(s). Things will be super hot and boiling, so be careful. Top off the mixture with plenty of ice in order to get it up to the 2-gallon mark. Enjoy the cracking sounds that ice makes when it hits all that super hot tea. I know that I do.  Stick that stuff in the refrigerator until you’re ready.

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Drink up a big tall glass and eat yourself some lemon cookies. You’re almost done with February. You deserve it.

Friendship + Apples + Almost Famous = Love

I had a test yesterday, but it was hard to concentrate because all I could think about was getting home so that I could make pie.

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After submitting my last answer, I got in the car and flew to the grocery store, where they rewarded me with a free flower and a smile. Hooray for Valentine’s Day!

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Trip doesn’t understand yet that flowers are not to be eaten.

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Dan and I have a bit of a running joke in our house, where if I ever express uncertainty as to what to make, or claim that I am bored during the day, he tells me to make an apple pie for him. No matter what day it is or what occasion might be coming up, you can be sure that Dan wants apple pie. What better day than Valentine’s Day to finally indulge him and make him up a pie? Betty helped out.

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Also, what better day than to hang out with your totally awesome friend Bailee, who will take awesome action shots of the whole pie-making process? None.

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Action!

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(Oh, Bailee, please forgive me for posting this picture, but you cannot possibly understand how much I love it.)

Not only did we make pie, but we also completely embraced our Palentine’s Day, watching Attack the Block, my new favorite British sci-fi action movie (not a packed genre, I know), eating carrots and hummus in an attempt to be healthy before the rest of the day’s festivities, and laughing more than seems healthy at my failed attempts at crust.

Yep, you read that right. There was some spectacular crust failure going on, either from too warm temperatures or too much shortening. Knowing me, probably both. The poor crust was somehow both sticky and crumbly, and just would not get off the countertop and into a pie plate without me losing my mind. Solution?

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Hearts! We broke out the cookie cutters and got to improvising. My original idea was for them to turn out something like this, but we all know that Pinterest can be a real danger zone when it comes to overestimating your own abilities. That said, I think that things looked pretty cute once we got rolling.

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Cute!

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We attracted some attention.

If you noticed earlier, there were two apple pies on my counter. One of these was going to one of Dan’s coworkers, a super nice man named Mike who unfortunately lost his wife this past fall. We wanted to brighten his day by including him in our baked goods rotation for Valentine’s Day, but I wasn’t too sure about the hearts. Solution #2?

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Stars!

Can you tell that Bailee is ridiculously taller than me? It makes these shots that I normally have to stand on a chair to get seem super simple. Anyone else think that she should come and do blog photos all the time? Me too.

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Super messy doughy countertop.

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But look at those pies! Everything got a light eggwash and a sprinkling of sugar before going into the oven.

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The shapes kind of…melted into the apples a bit, so they lost their definition, but I still think that they came out really festive.

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And then you don’t need to say that love is the secret ingredient, because it’s right there on the top, in full view. Love in sugary buttered form.

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I’m sure that no one will be shocked to hear that Dan and I each ate a piece of it before going out for Valentine’s Day dinner.

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It just seemed like the right thing to do.  Even with all the crust failure, it still tasted amazing.  Warm and cinnamon-y and perfect.

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Gifts were exchanged. I got Dan the adorable Zombie in Love, illustrated by one of Dan’s favorite artists, Scott Campbell. He got me one of the original double-sided placards from when Almost Famous came out in theaters.

This is more than just a poster, really. I don’t believe that I have ever told this story before on the blog, so let me tell you about the day that Dan and I met. In 2006, I used to play D&D with a couple of people that Dan lived with. One day, we decided to go over to their house to play a minifigure-type game, and Dan was there, getting ready to watch a movie. He put in Almost Famous, which I had also never seen, and I asked if I could watch it with him. He said that would be great and asked me if I wanted a drink. For the next two hours, he kept asking me questions about the movie and the music, so much that I originally thought that he wasn’t really paying much attention to the movie for some reason. He later told me that he was doing this intentionally to get me to talk to him.

Cue the “awwww.”

About a week later, he showed up at a piano bar when my friends and I went out, and we spent our time together making origami napkin animals and flowers at the end of the table. We started dating a week later and have been inseparable ever since. Ever since that night, Almost Famous has been our movie. We even plan to name our first child (if FutureBaby ever becomes a reality) William, because William Miller is the name of the main character. Yes, we are dorks. But it means a lot. Hearing that Philip Seymour Hoffman died a few weeks ago really hit me where it hurts because he is responsible for one of the most wonderful moments in that movie. In movies period, really.

Sigh. I’m getting sad about it again just writing about it. Let’s look at a picture of a tiny owl instead.

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He also got me a tiny owl. It’s pretty great.

After the pie, we got ourselves all fancied up…

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…and went to one of my favorite places.

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Tujague’s is a New Orleans institution. It’s super old, and super dedicated to doing things the way they’ve always done them. An oak bar that’s over a hundred years old with cloudy glass, cracked terrazzo tile, white tablecloths, and prix fixe. It’s one of my favorite places.

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Then there was a lovely walk in the French Quarter, just to round out the evening. There would have been coffee at Café du Monde, if we felt as though there was any more rooms in our stomachs, thanks to crawfish gnocchi, corn and crab chowder, amazing steak and shrimp, and caramel cheesecake. And the apple pie we ate before we left, of course.

But, hey! It was Valentine’s Day! We’re allowed to be ridiculous and share our love of food along with our love of each other, right?

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Thanks so much to Bailee for her awesome pictures and fabulous company on this very lovely of Pal/Valentine’s days! I hope that all of you had a wonderful time yourselves and got to spend some quality time with the people and things that you love, like I did.

Oh, and I love you guys, too. Don’t forget that.

Dan made a scarf. And then he made it look cool.

I have no idea how long ago it was now, at least 4 years ago probably, but one day Dan decided that he wanted for me to cast on some stitches for him so that he could make a scarf. He had been attending my knitting-and-socializing-while-eating-ice-cream-and-sandwiches group every week for months without a project of his own, and since he had already been taught how to knit, and could surely be taught how to purl, then he could definitely make himself a scarf.

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On Tuesday, that scarf officially became a reality.

During this past week, New Orleans…shut down. There was snow and ice in the forecast, and we apparently have absolutely no idea how to handle such things, so we were stuck inside with just our cats, our Scrabble board, our extensive collection of ridiculous movies, and our knitting to entertain us for two whole days.

I don’t know how we survived.

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(Look at that lovely even tension! Can any of us say that our first scarves looked anything as nice as this? I certainly can’t, that’s for sure.)

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In true Dan fashion, he just took whatever random balls of yarn I had left over from a project and made them into something effortlessly cool. Remember his freehand pumpkin masterpiece? It was something like that, just spread out over several years’ time.  He doesn’t really ever have a plan, and he doesn’t really ever care. He just makes cool stuff. Those of us who have to try really hard to be cool (and fail most of the time) will always be in awe of this talent.

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He decided that it should be 1×1 ribbing.  I taught him how to purl.  He decided at some point that it should have some big color block stripes. Just on the side. For no good reason.  We made it happen.

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And it’s genius. It reminds me of racing stripes in the best way possible.

We took the scarf out today in the now mid-60 degree weather (it makes absolutely no sense to me how 62 degrees is possible two days after 20 degrees, but thinking about it too hard will make my brain hurt), and pretended that it was cold enough to wear.

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I think I’ll call this one, “Dan with Bird House.” He’s such a great model.

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No, seriously, he really is. And I can tell that he’s really pleased with his work (even though, let’s all be fair, this is about 3% Jinger since I did cast on, bind off, and block this for him, plus teach him how to knit in the first place…maybe let’s even call it 5%), even though he’d never admit it.

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He just looks super cool.

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And helps the rest of us look cool by default.

Good job, babe. I’m proud of you. Now make me one, or I’m going to steal it.

Baxter the Bunny, a new super-squishable friend.

I promised some bunny action last time, didn’t I?

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Here’s Baxter!

My brother’s girlfriend, now fiancée, Kim, had expressed a desire in getting a stuffed bunny ever since she saw the infamous David Sedaris owl. I figured that Christmas-time was probably the perfect time to make that happen, but when I was searching for patterns, I had a hard time finding something small and squishable, yet full of potential personality. Nothing had that perfect proportion like the original owl pattern did of fatness and plumpness, while still having enough room for an expressive face, although some things came really close.

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Enter Big Cuddly Bunny by one of the all-time greatest knitting sites ever, the Purl Bee. Purl Soho’s blend of whimsy, retro style, and good old-fashioned solid crafting is always right on point. Their giant crazy bunny was going to work just fine, but he just needed to be miniaturized.

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Here are my pattern changes, so that you can make your own tinier, yet still super cuddly, version for yourself. BIG GIANT NOTE HERE: I am not claiming the genius of the Purl Bee to be my own. I am only posting my pattern modifications for this particular project. Please go visit them to get the original pattern if you wish to partake in the bunniness.

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Trip wishes that he could, but being without thumbs makes the knitting kind of difficult. He’ll just settle for biting everything instead.

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First off, our materials are obviously slightly different. I used Cascade Yarns Ecological Wool, color 8085, the leftovers from my totally awesome, yet seldom used (because I just know that the cats will eat it somehow), Hemlock Ring Blanket. Way less than one skein’s worth, obviously. I used double-pointed US 7 needles as well. And you’ll need some black and white felt for Baxter’s quizzical expression, along with white and black sewing thread.  The gauge is somewhere along the lines of 4.5-5 sts per inch, but the main goal is just to get a sturdy fabric that won’t stretch out of control when stuffed.

Now for the real changes.

During the “THE BOTTOM” section, change Round 13 to *P6, kfb, repeat from * to end of round. (64 sts)
Then, go on to Round 14: Purl.
Round 15: *P7, kfb, repeat from * to end of round. (72 sts)
Purl 6 rounds.

Changes to “THE BODY”?
First, start by knitting 35 rounds.
Round 36: *K7, k2tog, repeat from * to end of round. (64 sts)
Rounds 37 & 38: Knit.
Round 39: *K6, k2tog, repeat from * to end of round. (56 sts)
Rounds 40 & 41: Knit.
Round 42: *K5, k2tog, repeat from * to end of round. (48 sts)
Rounds 43 & 44: Knit.
Round 45: *K4, k2tog, repeat from * to end of round. (40 sts)
Rounds 46 & 47: Knit.

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Follow the rest of the finishing steps detailed here, except you obviously won’t need a whole bag of stuffing. Just stuff your bunny up plump as you can. You’ll be able to add in the last bits of fluff before you close him up, so don’t worry if you can’t get it all in there right now.

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No changes to “THE BUNNY’S LEFT EAR.” Just do that all as written.

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The only change for “THE BUNNY’S RIGHT EAR” takes place when you are reorienting your stitches to get to the second ear. Since we ended up with more stitches at the top than the original pattern, you’re going to have 10 stitches between the ears on either side of the top of the bunny’s head, meaning that a total of 20 sts are not being used to make the ears. Just knit the ear as stated, making sure that you have left the proper amount of stitches in the middle to close up the bunny’s head, and only using 10 sts to make the ear.

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Make perfect sense? It will when you have it in front of you. I promise.

After making your second ear, go ahead and top off your bunny with the last amounts of stuffing and kitchener him closed. I did not do any duplicate stitching for the ears, because I didn’t feel as though Baxter was in a particularly cutesy mood. He’s more of a sedate, cool, woodsy bunny, even though he does look a little anxious.

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After that, cut out all your felt pieces and sew them on with gusto, just like you did with your owl and carrot. Didn’t make those? Just take tiny stitches, and be sure to hide all of your knots on the inside of your work. I find that stitching the pupils onto the eyes first makes things a lot easier. Make sure his teeth are slightly crooked, and you’re all good to go!

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Wait! Don’t forget to make the pom-pom tail! I bought my very first pom-pom maker for this, and I have to say, it was an extremely enjoyable experience. Something about that fat, plump pom-pom is very satisfying, especially since I have only been able to turn out limp, floppy ones in the past. The thing I am getting at here is — go and buy a pom-pom maker right now. Even if you don’t use it much, it will make your life better.

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And you will make someone else’s life better when they receive their new squishy friend.  Now, go make a bunny and make somebody happy.

Chocolate and Orange, Together Forever – Doctored Up Chocolate Orange Bundt Cake

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Beautiful chocolate and orange above the fold? Do I have your attention? Good.

There is a well-established precedent here on this blog that I believe that chocolate + orange = holidays. Therefore, Christmas dinner this year required for me to get up early to make a decadent chocolate and orange treat for everyone to enjoy after the long day’s festivities.

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Cue Joy the Baker‘s Chocolate Orange Bundt Cake. (By the by, the photos here were taken by multiple people, none of which were me, on various phones and cameras whilst I flitted about the kitchen wearing an owl apron and a super serious face.)

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This cake, by itself, is pretty damn delicious, but this was Christmas, dammit. Game had to be stepped up. First addition? I poked holes all over the beautiful finished and cooled cake and brushed fresh squeezed orange juice (from the lonely little orange that you zest and then ignore to make the cake) all over the cake, letting it soak in.

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See? Super serious business here.

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If you’ve got tiny bits of orange pulp all over the outside of your cake, you’re doing everything right. In life and in baking.

Second addition? Get out your favorite chocolate ganache recipe. Don’t have one? Betty does, and it’s pretty great.

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Pour it all over that cooled orange-drenched cake (with aluminum foil cake stand protectors, of course), and then admire it for a second.

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Then spread things out a bit with a spatula. Did you start to smile? Stop that. Baking is a serious business.

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Lovely.

Now, we haven’t even eaten dinner yet, so we can’t dig into this cake. Besides, ganache (which WordPress doesn’t believe is a real word, by the way) needs to set, which is a cruel, but necessary, step. What do we do while we’re in that weird between-time when we can’t eat dinner or dessert yet?

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Well, in my family, you make more dessert, apparently.

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Super basic roll-out sugar cookies, again from Lady Betty.  Cookie cutters from my awesome friends Brittany and Michele made their inaugural sugar cookie appearance.

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You may think that bunnies don’t belong on a Christmas cookie plate. You are wrong.

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I don’t know why I wanted to include this one, but I really like this picture somehow. I feel as though those cookies are cowering in fear from my threatening cookie-eating presence. They are right to fear.

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After dinner, all kinds of royal icing happened.

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Again, no smiling allowed. Decorating sugar cookies with icing, candies, and sprinkles requires extreme concentration from all involved.

We made approximately 800,000 cookies. Here are a few highlights.

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The kitchen counter got a little crowded.

After all that hard work decorating, it was time for cake!

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It was worth the wait.

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I feel like this would be even better in mini-Bundt size, where you can get an even more favorable ganache-to-cake ratio. It’s all about the balance between the floral, tangy orange and the creamy semisweet chocolate. And then overloading it with a whole bunch more chocolate.

Year-end roundup is not over yet! Remember when I said something about bunnies being involved? Those cookie cutters didn’t count. We’ve got way more bunny goodness coming up. I am still excited about it, and it’s already over. That’s saying something.

Preventing Cold Feet in the New Year

I ended up knitting a whole bunch of things for various people to put on their feet at the end of the year. I’m not sure how it turned out that way, but these things tend to come in waves.

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First up, my brother didn’t know that he needed handknit socks named after a famous mathematician, but he did.

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These are from the always fabulous Cookie A., sock designer extraordinaire. I have made many of her sock patterns in the past (Ravelry links all, of course), and they are always the perfect combination of technically complicated, fun to knit, and just a little bit nerdy.

These ones in particular, Cauchy, are from her fantastic book Sock Innovation, and they are named after Augustin Louis Cauchy, a French mathematician responsible for the Cauchy-Schwarz Inequality. Therefore, they are covered in tiny stretchy inequality symbols.

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See? Math! In your socks!

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Seeing as my brother and I are math-and-science-minded people, I figured he’d enjoy them.

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I may have upped the geekiness quotient by knitting them out of Berroco Sox in the colorway called Watson. My science brain is still feeling so clever.

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I think he liked them, if his willingness to be a sock model for my silly knitting photo shoot was any indication.

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He’s a pro already.

Next up? Well, Dan needed some socks, too. Some super secret ones.

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I knitted up Longitudinal from Knitty after falling in love with its stripey cleverness.

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You knit your lengthwise stripes on a long circular needle, doing a bit of a modified-magic-loop-technique-sort-of-thing. After a minor setback while learning the cast-on method prescribed, I was off and running.

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I am a sucker for some good squishy garter stitch, and the stripes make it even better. The yarn is Knit One Crochet Too’s Ty-Dy Wool, and although it is a tiny bit splitty, it made for some lovely stripes. I’m a big fan of how slightly imperfect they are.

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Dan is calling them his lizard socks. I like it.

Two warnings, though, before you embark on your lengthwise sock journey yourself. #1? These socks tend to slouch a bit at the ankles. I think it just might be the way of the lengthwise sock, unless you deliberately knit them slightly small to stretch. #2? That Kitchener stitch bind off all the way up the leg to finish? I don’t think that I have ever had such angry thoughts about my knitting as when I was completing that. Usually Kitchener doesn’t bother me one bit, but this is garter-style Kitchener, for what feels like several hundred stitches. It is super easy to get mixed up and skip a step, so just buckle it down, pour yourself a drink, and pay attention. You’ll get through it, you just won’t like it while it’s happening.

Last up? Some plush purple goodness.

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Purple Mukluks for Dan’s mom from Knitting Pure & Simple. (It’s pattern #116, if you’re so inclined. You should be.)

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Knit up in Cascade Pacific Chunky, one of the loveliest wool and acrylic blends out there. Super soft and shiny with gorgeous saturated color. Yum.

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The mukluk shape is created by some very clever short-rowing in the instep. I have used the word clever a great many times during this post. I may need a thesaurus.

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Check out that grafting action.

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I obviously didn’t have to be coaxed to model these ones off. I’m excited to put them in the mail for her soon. She definitely deserves some squishy woolly comfort for the rest of the chilly New Hampshire winter.

If you think that’s the end of my year-end making-of-things, do not fret! I promise that there’s more baking and knitting to come, which may or may not involve chocolate, oranges, and bunnies. I’ll let your imagination work out the rest.

My mom’s baked macaroni and cheese is better than yours. Or your mom’s.

My mother recently became bionic.

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Meaning that she got a total knee replacement last week, and despite recovering nicely, did not feel up to the hours of standing required to make Thanksgiving dinner.

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As you already know, I am always game to make dessert and cranberry sauce, because these are usually my favorite parts of the meal. Dan and my dad also got in on the cooking this time, being responsible for the meat and side dish portions this year.

However, when I said two seconds ago that dessert and cranberry sauce are my favorite things? I was lying. My mom’s baked macaroni and cheese is my favorite dish in the entire world. I know it doesn’t have chocolate or cranberries or pumpkin or pie crust in it, which is usually all I write about, but trust me when I say that this stuff is fantastic. It is simultaneously sweet and savory, eggy and cheesy, creamy and crunchy…it’s perfection in a casserole dish. And now I had the honor of making it, listening intently and making notes on a Post-It while my mom dictated the next step to me from the kitchen table.

Want to make it, too? Of course you do! That would be pretty terrible to give it such a big intro and then say it would remain a mystery, right? Right. However, here’s a caveat before we really get started. We are from New Orleans, and in New Orleans, we don’t measure while we’re cooking, so getting the measurements nailed down on this thing was a bit of a guessing game. (Note that I didn’t say that we don’t measure while we’re baking. That would just be utter craziness.) I think that what we came up with was pretty damn near perfect, but depending on your oven, your humidity, the phase of the moon, and whether a black cat crossed your path, you may want to shift your proportions a little bit.

Let’s go.

Jinger’s Mom’s Baked Macaroni & Cheese
the only macaroni and cheese that you will ever need to know how to make ever again

Ingredients:
1 package of long macaroni noodles (My mom insists on Luxury, a local brand that’s pretty delicious, but you can use whatever you’d like.)
salt & olive oil (for your pasta water)
4 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup milk
1 1/4 lb. shredded cheddar cheese (She actually told me 1 lb. and then a little bit more, so this is a big guess as to how much we used. Using too much cheese would be a big non-issue, really.)

Directions:
First step? Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Boil up a whole bunch of water in a huge pot, making sure to salt the water and add a little bit of olive oil to keep the noodles from sticking together. Don’t skip this, because the noodles are going to sit by their lonesome for a while after this, and you really can’t have stickiness there.

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After the pasta’s done (and we mean DONE done, as in fully softened but not falling apart, as my mother informed me that she doesn’t believe in al dente), drain it and place it in your favorite casserole dish. I believe the one that we used is a 4-quart one, but I generally have no idea as to these things.

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While the pasta is cooling off a bit, beat your eggs lightly in a medium-sized bowl. Then, add your sugar.

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Eggs + sugar = macaroni magic.

Whisk it up good. Add your milk and whisk some more.

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Then pour it on top of those patiently waiting noodles, and mix it up as gently as possible. You want those long macaroni noodles to stay long, right?

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Nice. Now, dump about half of your cheese (a little bit more than that, really) on top.

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And mix it in.

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And try not to get frustrated if the cheese is a little clumped up in there. She assured me that this was perfectly normal, even though Dan and my dad were making fun of me for my clumpy cheese.

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After it’s all mixed up, put the rest of your shredded cheese on top, making it nice and even, and making sure those edges and corners get covered, because those are the very best part!

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Strike a pose to commemorate the occasion.

Then put your beautiful cheesy goodness into that preheated oven for 1 hour. Try to be patient. I know it’s hard.

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Then pull it out and admire its majesty.

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Remember what I said about the edges being the best part? Proof! My mom and I always immediately go for the corners to get as much crispy cheesy topping as possible.

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Eat it all up and be thankful that my mom told me how to make this so that I could tell you. Make it for your family and friends. Spread the sweet, eggy, cheesy goodness across the globe.