Cowl Before the Storm

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Attentive readers (there’s got to be at least one of you, right?) will know that I made some super plain, yet super awesome socks last summer out of Noro Taiyo, one of the more stunningly beautiful and weirdly rustic yarns out there. These socks have proven themselves to be hardwearing and more than game for sliding around on the kitchen floor while I’m making pancakes. I also recently made a lovely, delicate lace shawl out of Misti Alpaca, the softest, most wonderful stuff to ever hover near your face. It’s like sticking your face into a pile of baby rabbits. Or baby alpacas, I suppose.

These yarns couldn’t have less in common, except for the fact that they both involve shades of blue. Why not put them together?

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Hot damn.

Admit it, you did that in your head like Bruno Mars’s super hip entourage, didn’t you? Me too.

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Introducing, in all of its wooly, silky, alpaca-y glory, Cowl Before the Storm.

You guys know I love puns, so here’s the explanation. A friend of mine once dyed her hair a lovely shade of lilac, and another friend of hers said that it made her look like a beautiful storm cloud. Before I ever even put these yarns together, I could see exactly in my head the beauty that they’d create. I was totally not disappointed. They merged into a lovely, light fabric that is super soft, yet very warm and cozy. Something about the light blue alpaca tempered down the wild color variations of the Taiyo, turning it into a beautiful storm cloud of my own.

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Especially that bright turquoise bit right there. Gets me every time. In fact, when I was working on it, a co-worker told me that it looked like the sky right before a storm, hence the name.

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Want to make your own? Find two wildly disparate yarns, stick them together, and read on. (Or, go ahead and click here to get the easily printable version, complete with less pictures of my face!)

Cowl Before the Storm
a beautiful little storm cloud of your own…for your neck!

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This is a very simple lace project worked in the round, fantastic for lace beginners or for those who love to play with color and texture combinations. You end up using very little of each skein of yarn, so you can save this project for when you need to have some fun with leftovers from other projects. The Lacy Scallops pattern is adapted for knitting in the round from the fantastic stitch reference guide Big Book of Knitting Stitch Patterns published in 2005 by Sterling Publishing.

Yarn:
Noro Taiyo Sock Yarn (50% cotton, 17% wool, 17% polyamide, 16% silk blend, 462 yds. per skein)
Misti Alpaca Lace (100% baby alpaca, 437 yds. per skein)

Supplies:
US size 8 (5.0 mm) 16-inch circular needle
stitch marker (to mark beginning of round)
tapestry or yarn needle
scissors

Gauge:
approximately 5 sts per inch on US 8 (5.0 mm) needles in Lacy Scallop pattern (Gauge is not terribly important here, as long as you don’t end up with a cowl hanging to your knees. Unless that’s your style, then go right ahead.)

Pattern:
CO 108 sts with both strands of yarn held together on circular needle. Join into round, being careful not to twist. Knit 1 row.

Begin Lacy Scallops pattern (adapted from Big Book of Knitting Stitch Patterns):
Round 1: *k1, yo, k2, sl 1, k1, psso, k2tog, k2, yo* until end of round (12 repeats total)
Round 2: knit all sts
Round 3: *yo, k2, sl 1, k1, psso, k2tog, k2, yo, k1* until end of round
Round 4: knit all sts
Round 5: purl all sts
Round 6: knit all sts

Repeat Rounds 1-6 eight more times, for a total of 9 repeats, easily tracked by counting the purled rows.

Knit Rounds 1-4 once more.

Bind off all sts purlwise. Break yarn and weave in ends.

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Block lightly, enough to open up the pattern and smooth out the scallops on the edges, but not so much so as to stretch or distort the shape.

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If you’re totally awesome like me, this is how much yarn you’ll have left over. And you’ll feel pretty smug.

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You earned it.

RumChata Ribbon Ice Cream. Oh, and I graduated from nursing school.

So.

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Damn it, RumChata, I’ll get back to you in a second. Stop looking so delicious. (Or, as the lady at the liquor store told me, stop looking like a giant bottle of lotion.)

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On Thursday, I finally, after an insane three years of paper-writing, textbook-reading, note-taking, care plan-making, and IV-flushing, graduated from nursing school. Hooray for me!

Now, when I write about things on here, the attitude is usually “hooray for me” all the time, mostly because it’s a blog, and what other kind of attitude are you supposed to have when you are mostly writing about your own accomplishments in knitting and baking? (And cats. I do write about cats a lot.) It’s also written from that perspective because I often have a very hard time accepting compliments in the real world. Or thinking that my work is good enough in general. I often ride a very fine line of knowing that I am extremely capable when I work hard at something and also thinking that the world and everything I love will suddenly plummet to a firey descent of death if I don’t get an A on this damn paper.

It makes life weird.

Anyway, attitudes like that which generally make my day-to-day life anxiety-fraught (and the word ‘anxiety’ consistently makes it onto the most-frequently-used tags cloud at the bottom of the page, so are we really surprised?) made this moment that much sweeter.

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Yep, valedictorian. I just. I. I don’t even know. I was pretty sure that it was coming (except during one particularly harrowing afternoon when it looked like some sort of weird snafu of transfer credits, prerequisites, and weird university by-laws was going to make it not happen), especially because of my general desire to set unattainable goals, but I still don’t even know what to say. All I know is that I smiled from ear-to-ear for nearly 48 hours straight. Might be a record.

Now. Back to the ice cream.

A graduation party had been in the works for some time prior to all of this, mostly because I wanted to make sure that I could properly thank the people in my life who made the experience bearable with their kindness, warmth, and humor, with an entirely ridiculous amount of food and alcohol. When I was brainstorming desserts, my friend Brittany issued me a challenge. An ice cream challenge, which is probably the best kind. She suggested making alcoholic ice cream. RumChata ice cream, specifically.

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Hey there, you beautiful bottle. Glad you’re back.

If you’ve never partaken in the glory of a shot of RumChata, let me let their website describe it to you: “Rum and horchata had a lovechild, and it’s delicious.” Good copy.

It tastes like Cinnamon Toast Crunch. But with alcohol. And it is a fantastic addition to any graduation party, all on its own. But in ice cream? I found lots of fakey-type ice cream recipes online for it (like the coconut cream or bananas methods), but to make it a real custard-based ice cream, I had to get creative.

You see, RumChata is 27.5 proof alcohol, low on the general drinkability scale, but high when it comes to attempting to freeze something. Some research was definitely required to get everything to work out properly. Enter Ice Cream Happy Hour, a fabulous book by Valerie Lum and Jenise Addison and definitely required reading if you’re attempting to freeze anything that’s loaded with alcohol. Their method employs prepared gelatin and chilled alcohol incorporated at the end of the custard base chilling process, which is totally genius stuff right there. I also pulled together inspiration from the Pioneer Woman and Food.com in creating this cinnamony delight.

Here we go.

RumChata Ribbon Ice Cream
with a great deal of adapting and combining from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home, Ice Cream Happy Hour, the Pioneer Woman’s Cinnamon Ice Cream and Virginia’s Cinnamon Sauce

Ingredients:
Cinnamon Sauce Ribbon:
1 cup sugar
3 tbsp cornstarch
1 pinch salt
3 tsp cinnamon
3 cups water
1 tsp vanilla

RumChata Ice Cream Base:
2 cups whole milk
1 tbsp plus 1 tsp cornstarch
3 tbsp softened cream cheese
1/8 tsp sea salt
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
2 tbsp light corn syrup
2 cinnamon sticks
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 packet plain gelatin
1/3 cup water
3/4 cup chilled Rumchata liqueur

Directions:
Cinnamon Sauce Ribbon:

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Whisk all ingredients together, except for the vanilla, in a medium saucepan. Bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently.

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Remove from heat, stir in vanilla, and set aside to cool. (I let it sit out on the counter while I prepared the ice cream base and then refrigerated it until it was time to assemble the finished ice cream.) The sauce will thicken as it cools.

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RumChata Ice Cream Base:
This is all done using the Jeni’s method of ice cream making, which comes highly recommended by me and countless others. Please do go check out their website and support them in their awesome grand re-opening.

Mix two tbsp of the milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl to make a smooth slurry. Whisk the cream cheese and salt in a medium bowl until smooth. Fill a large bowl (a giant bowl) with ice and water in order to chill your ice cream base when ready.

Combine the remaining milk, the cream, sugar, corn syrup, and cinnamon sticks in a medium saucepan. Bring it to a rolling boil over medium-high heat, being sure to stir constantly to prevent scorching or boiling over, and boil for 4 minutes. (And be precise, people! Your ice cream is counting on you!)

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Remove from heat and gradually whisk in your cornstarch slurry mixture. Return to the heat and bring it back to a boil, still stirring, allowing it to cook and thicken up for about 1 minute. Fish out those cinnamon sticks and throw them away, unless you know something I don’t about what to do with them now.

Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese and beat until smooth. Add the ground cinnamon and mix until well-distributed.

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Pour the mixture into a 1-gallon Ziplock bag, seal it, and submerge it in your giant bowl of water and ice until it’s totally chilled, about 30 minutes.

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When the ice cream base is chilled, it’s time for alcohol! Put the 1/3 cup water in a small saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin evenly over it. Allow it about 2 minutes to properly absorb, and then cook the mixture over low heat for approximately 3 minutes, until it is clear and all the gelatin has completely dissolved. Remove from the heat and stir in the chilled RumChata, resisting the urge to take a big swig from the bottle as you do so.

Pour this new alcohol mixture into the Ziplock bag with the chilled ice cream base, and then give the bag a good massage to make sure that everything’s mixed up nice. Pour the whole thing (most easily accomplished by snipping off a corner of the bag and squeezing it out) into the frozen canister of your ice cream maker and process it until it’s thick and creamy, according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

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This can be very different for different machines, and with the alcohol content involved in this one, may be very different from your normal time. Usually, my KitchenAid ice cream maker attachment takes only about 30-35 minutes before the base is ready to freeze, but in this case, I let it go for 45 minutes before I realized it was just never going to be as lofty as it usually gets. Instead, I then poured it into a freezer container and stuck it in the coldest part of my freezer, taking it out to whisk it up every 30 minutes or so for the next 2 hours, at which point it had finally evolved into something I was more familiar with. Just keep an eye on it and have a little cinnamon-based faith. Even if it doesn’t get as beautiful as normal, it’ll turn out.

Pack your new ice cream into a storage container, layering the cinnamon sauce as you go.

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The recipe makes a boatload of sauce, so there’s plenty left over to warm up and put on top if you want when you’re serving it. Press a sheet of parchment paper firmly against the surface of the ice cream and seal with an airtight lid. Normally, ice cream only takes about 5-6 hours to cure in my freezer, but this one was best left in there for the course of 24 hours. Plan ahead for this ice cream deprivation.

When you’re ready, make sure you’ve got people crowded around and waiting, because even after all that effort, if you so much as look wrong at that ice cream when you take it out of the freezer, it will melt just to spite you. (But no, seriously, you don’t have to let it thaw or anything like you might normally. Just get to scooping and work fast.)

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Marvel in the fact that it actually worked! And then hurry up and scoop some more because you’ve got more people waiting.

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This is Brittany, the gauntlet-thrower for this entire experiment, and I think she was pleased.

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I think everyone was, as this was the scene five minutes after I started scooping.

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Luckily, I saved a tiny bit for myself at the end to enjoy. The ice cream itself was smooth and packed with warm cinnamon flavor, with a hint of that rum that reminds you that you are eating some ice cream only for grown-ups. The cinnamon sauce ribbon was slightly icy and grainy, but in the best way possible, giving the whole thing an interesting texture and more complex palate. It tasted like…Cinnamon Toast Crunch. With alcohol.

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Mission accomplished.

Azure Waves of Grain

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I haven’t gotten to knit much so far this year, mostly due to the fact that I am in my very last semester of nursing school, which entails a whole lot of paper- and journal-writing, preceptorship-ing, and NCLEX-reviewing. I actually graduate (YAY!) in the middle of May, and I am saddened to think that I will soon have to find new things to complain about, one of which, if you can judge me by what my priorities were during this last week of Spring Break, will certainly not be “not knitting.” I went on a rampage this past week and finished up a very fiddly and fancy-pants project that I’ve been working on for waaaay too long.

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I mean, look at all that lace! Miles and miles of lace-weight alpaca with perfectly lined-up columns of yarnovers. Looking at it all pinned out…I even impressed myself a little bit.

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The pattern is the simple and lovely Waves of Grain by Rosemary Hill, in the Fall 2008 issue of Knitty. In the pattern, she has these beautiful poetic musings about the amber waves of grain from “America the Beautiful,” but since I went with the blue and silver thing here, I think that Azure Waves of Grain is a delightful play on words. Just try to talk me out of a good pun. I dare you.

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With a project like this, where the lace itself is relatively simple and full of long runs of straight lines, blocking wires are a truly amazing thing.

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You can buy your own set here at KnitPicks, like I did. (Oh, and get those blocking mats, too, while you’re at it! They will also save your life over and over again.) You weave them carefully in and out of the yarnovers on the ends of the rows and pin them back, and voila!

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When it’s totally dry and you pull out those pins, you see these glorious super-straight rows that make you weep a little bit. For those unfamiliar with lace knitting, the piece that you end up with after the knitting is complete looks a bit like ramen noodles. No matter what kind of master knitter you are, the yarnovers are a million different sizes, the edges are wobbly, and everything is just a big mess.

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Blocking makes everything beautiful again. And blocking wires in particular prevent any weird scalloping or yanked-out corners and edges that destroy all of that hard work.

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This was also the very first time that I attempted knitting beads into anything, and this was definitely a good project to start with. In this particular pattern, the beads are not pre-strung onto the yarn, but they are threaded onto the individual stitch itself with a teeny-tiny crochet hook, right before the stitch is worked into the pattern.

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Toothless approves.

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I got these particular clear glass and silver-foil beads at Michael’s, and I waaaay overbought them, so someone needs to find me another project to use them up (or let me know if you have a dire need for them as well). Having the beads on the end of the shawl gives it a nice little weight and swing, plus the beads make a wonderful little clicking sound when you’re moving around with it.

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Lace in the sunlight always makes me weak in the knees.

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Now, I need to find an occasion to wear this, other than traipsing around the house and pretending that I am an International Woman of Mystery, but I think that it’ll be perfection for any sort of dressy occasion. And I’m graduating soon…hmm.

A Very Very Very Happy Pi Day 2015 to You! Chocolate and Cream and Berries? Oh My!

Any day that ends with the top news item on your Facebook feed being “mathematical constant celebrated” is definitely a good day. And any day that ends in pie. Especially this one.

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Pi Day is today! I always make it a point to celebrate the day. The greatest nerd holiday short of May the Fourth. (Anybody? You know who you are. Be proud in your nerd-ness.) I could tell it was coming up because there was a drastic increase in hits on the blog for my Strawberry Chocolate Oasis Pie, and if you are making it to celebrate today, I can’t think of anything that would make me happier.

I made a pie to celebrate yesterday, but waiting until today to post it keeps my nerd cred intact, yes? My reasons for making it yesterday? Because I had to hang out with some awesome sick children and give them medicine and take their vital signs for 12 hours today. That’s why.

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Anyway.

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This pie is not all that different from that previous glorious strawberry-chocolate wonder, mostly because I am bad at making up new things with any sort of confidence, but also because it’s really hard to go wrong with French silk and fresh fruit. And chocolate cinnamon graham cracker crust, of course.

But.

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Before we get to the recipe, I have a bone to pick with the (presumably) good people over at Baker’s. Now, I could already say something to you guys about the fact that these boxes used to contain 8 oz. of chocolate (double the chocolate!) for the same price, but I’m not going to harp on that. What I am going to say is that this is a box of lies.

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EASY BREAK BAR? LIES! Go back to those fantastic little individually-wrapped squares that caused me absolutely no shouting or anger. Please. There’s only so much I can take.

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Recipe now? Or, as I learned today from people from Germany looking for pie on my blog, rezept now? No problem.

Chocolate and Cream and Berries? Oh My!
totally awesome recipe name from my amazing friend Amanda, picked from an impressively insane list that also included suggestions that incorporated my own name made by some of the greatest people that have ever walked the Earth

with a tiny bit of assistance from Betty Crocker

Ingredients:
Chocolate Cinnamon Graham Cracker Crust:
1 1/2 cups finely crushed chocolate graham crackers (I used one sleeve, about 18 squares)
1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted
3 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

French Silk Pie Filling:
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
3 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate, melted and then cooled
3/4 cup egg substitute

6-8 oz. fresh raspberries, rinsed and sorted through to find the prettiest ones

Directions:
Crust:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir all ingredients together in a medium bowl until well-incorporated. Press mixture firmly against the bottom and sides of a 9″ deep-dish pie pan.

Bake for approximately 12 minutes. Allow to cool completely before filling.

Filling:
In medium bowl, beat sugar and butter with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla and cooled chocolate. Gradually add in egg substitute and beat on high speed until mixture is light and fluffy (about 3 minutes).

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Pour into pie crust and spread evenly. Refrigerate for about 15 minutes while you prep and sort your super pretty raspberries.

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It’s not completely necessary to wear an Eddie Izzard comedy tour shirt, but it helps.

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Place the raspberries (and press them in slightly) in a pleasing pattern on top of the pie, either going with the radius-inspired wheel-spoke pattern that we did, or something even more mathematically geeky. Or you could just buy an insane boatload of raspberries and cover the whole damn thing.

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There was a little bit of back-of-the-envelope deliberation involved over here.

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Chill pie for at least 2 hours, but not before ogling your work for what seems to be an excessive amount of time to anyone slightly normal.

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Good job, you.

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Combine remaining ingredients in chilled mixing bowl and whip cream on high speed until super fluffy and spreadable.

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Slice that pie up with a mind to keep each radius centered on each slice. You get to eat a food version of a mathematical measurement!  (Or just slice however you want. You have all that power here. You could eat the entire center out and leave the crust, if you want. It’s your Pi Day.) Drop a heaping dollop of whipped cream and a few scattered extra raspberries on top, and then enjoy!

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Enjoy what’s rest of Pie Day, you lovely people. I think I’m going to go make Dan cut me another slice.

Year-End Thankfulness and Awesomeness Round-Up (or…Thankful for Pie: Damn Fine Cherry Pie Super-Late Edition)

You guys. Like usual, I decided to use all my free time after finishing the semester forgetting that I had a blog to post things on. Whoops.

In order to make up for it, get ready for waaaay too much content.

This year has been for me, as well as for many others in my life, full of ups and downs, and to properly celebrate it (as well as make up for the fact that I completely forgot to do a Thanksgiving post this year, even though I had an exorbitant amount of pie pictures ready to go), I decided to go through all of my pictures from this year and pick out my favorite moments for which I am enormously thankful. Heavily featured? Awesome people and silly situations, plus knitting.

Don’t worry, there’s also pictures of pie. And ice cream. And a whole lot of me, which I normally shy away from, but why else have a blog if you aren’t going to at least take one entry to celebrate how awesome you are, even if you feel as though you make super weird faces in most pictures?

Here we go.

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I made my friend Bailee this giant labor of love early in the year, the sight of which prompted the following amazing text message:

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And can we talk a little bit more about Bailee?

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She moved back home to Mississippi at the beginning of summer, but she is still totally game to drive all the way back in order to sit with me in a movie theater for nine hours to watch all of The Hobbit trilogy.

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I miss her all the time. That girl’s a keeper.

Speaking of Mardi Gras…(I know that’s not right, but how else does one transition solely on photo content?)

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My friend Jonathan orchestrated a lovely surprise for his wife this year when she was riding in a Mardi Gras parade. We dutifully waited for her float in the place where we said we would, and then we ran as fast as we possibly could down the street in order to meet her float and scream at her and receive beads four more times.

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Needless to say, I think that Rebecca was delighted.

You know who else is delightful?

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These guys.

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Best (and probably most photogenic, for sure) cats ever.

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In March, I walked for MS with my spectacular nursing school friend Gaby, who is an inspiration to me in so many different ways. She is always there for me to roll my eyes with and knows that the best way to deal with the seriousness of the health care industry is to have an awesome time and not care at all about what anyone else thinks. She believes in the wisdom and comfort of good coffee, good wine, and pictures of Grumpy Cat, and I am so happy that she is my friend.

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In April, I made banana bread and talked a lot about ASMR right here on the blog, and the outpouring of love and appreciation that I got from friends and blog-buddies alike really knocked me out. I can’t even express how thankful I am for ASMR and all of the wonderful content-creators out there, like Heather Feather and Springbok ASMR and countless others. You guys are so freaking great.

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In May, I threw caution to the wind and wore a wig all day to dress up as Ramona Flowers. I am still proud of myself for not having a panic attack from so much wig and goggle anxiety.

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In June, I made this amazing frozen yogurt from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home, and then posted about it on Tumblr. Then, Jeni’s Ice Creams itself actually reblogged it and called it the “official flavor of summer,” and my mind got blown while I watched it get reblogged over a hundred times. I know that those are pretty piddly numbers for most seasoned Tumblr folk, but my brain exploded everywhere for a few hours when that happened. It was awesome.

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Later on that same day when I made that frozen yogurt, I went to my birthday party where lots of really pretty ladies thought it would be fun to grab my boobs. It was.

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And then, at June’s end, Dan and I went to visit my brother and his now-wife in Austin to see Eddie Izzard and give him this handknit squirrel. I’m pretty sure we all know how that went, but I still wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything else. I just hope that Jeff found a good home eventually.

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In July, I made a hat. I just think it’s really pretty.

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Then in August, another hat, plus a published pattern and the highest day ever for views here at jingersnaps. Brain exploded again, you guys. You have no idea how happy that stuff makes me. Someone actually made one of their own in that very first week (want to see? Ravelry link!), and it came out so cute. I was elated. Knitters are seriously the best.

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Oh, and in August, I got free ice cream on my snoball once for absolutely no reason. It was pretty great, too.

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In September, I discovered that I could knit rainbows.

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And my brother got married! I managed to wear makeup and a lovely dress and didn’t spill anything on myself, somehow.

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Plus, Dan and I took lots of picnics and bike rides in the park and along the lake. Can’t you just see the joy radiating from that beautiful man’s face? He loves a good tire swing.

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In October, I invented an extremely boozy cake that made a bunch of people really happy. And tipsy.

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I also met one of my idols, Ms. Joy Wilson from Joy the Baker, and gave her a homemade cat toy. Like you do.

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I actually attended a school function for once, but only because it required wearing a fancy dress and drinking wine in an aquarium. When else would we ever get that opportunity?

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Also in October, my wonderful friend Amanda from Colorado visited New Orleans with her husband, and we had the most amazing time. We managed to somehow visit a record store that was showcasing Mardi Gras Indian costumes when this happened:

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The artist himself actually put that on my head. My face pretty accurately reflects my feelings, both of excitement and of confusion as to how these uber-talented artists can wear these things and dance around the way that they do. Seriously, the headdress alone was nearly 40 pounds.

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We went on a trip through the Honey Island Swamp with them, and then later that same weekend…

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See anything familiar about that headdress? We saw that exact same guy, this time wearing his beautiful handmade costume and leading a second-line down Canal Street. Their time here was pretty astounding. It was like the New Orleans that the commercials make you think always exists, but rarely does outside of Mardi Gras. We saw live music, alligators, and graveyards, plus topped it all off with Sazeracs.

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Oh, and in October, I read a bedtime story to Darth Vader and a Stormtrooper. It was a busy month.

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In November, I met William Joyce! And what a delightful man he was. He really gives a good autograph.

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I feel like December was all about pie. Apple pie for Dan’s birthday. Cherry pie for a super-fun Twin Peaks HD viewing party. (Hence the ‘damn fine pie’ reference in the title.) French silk pie for Christmas, with no pictures unfortunately. Pie is always one of the things that I am thankful for, and this year made me realize just how much people like when you’re around if you can make a good pie.

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In December, actually just a few days ago, I got the opportunity to see Degas’ Little Dancer in person. Degas has been one of my favorite artists for as long as I can remember, and it was a privilege to see such a wonderful and influential part of art history.

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Now that I look at it all together in these fantastic little moments, 2014 was a wonderful year to look back on. Not only do I have some really amazing friends, but you guys reading this are a huge part of my joy, just in case you didn’t get it by now.

I am thankful for everyone reading and everyone crafting and everyone working hard to make things that people will love, regardless of what they are. You should all be so proud of yourselves for creating beautiful things and moments in other people’s lives. Thank you for a lovely year.

Elegant Deception with Joy the Baker’s Cinnamon Sugar and Dark Chocolate Croissants

On Saturday, I spent a ridiculous amount of time outside in a park in the cold, selling children’s books and running around and meeting authors with absolutely nothing knitted to present to them (I know. I’m ashamed of myself enough for everyone, don’t worry.) Then, I decided that the best thing to do (instead of sitting down with hot tea and studying and going to bed early, like a normal person would do) would be to spend my evening making chocolate-filled croissants to give to my co-workers at 7 am the next morning.

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I am full of great ideas. Especially if they involve egg wash and extreme amounts of cinnamon and sugar.

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It had already been a MONTH since I got Joy the Baker‘s new cookbook (and blogged all about how I made her a cat toy), and I still hadn’t made anything from it. I clearly need to sort out my priorities.

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There is an excellent recipe in Homemade Decadence that really embraces the title to me, the Cinnamon Sugar and Dark Chocolate Croissants. In this recipe, we can pretend that we are together enough in our lives to be able to whip up puff pastry at a moment’s notice, simply by purchasing boxes of puff pastry and defrosting them a few hours before we want to make croissants.  Such elegant deception.

I ran into a bit of a problem here, as the puff pastry did not want to defrost. Apparently, in addition to my oven being a lying liar and not being nearly as hot as it claims to be, my refrigerator must also be much, much colder than it should be. I let these puff pastry sheets defrost for 3 hours, and they still had ice crystals and folded creases that made them split into 3 sections, rather than the 4 that Joy wanted me to cut them into.

I felt personally responsible for the obstinance of these damn puff pastry sheets, as though I was letting Joy and the entire blogging and somehow Barnes & Noble family down by not being able to control the thawing time of butter and flour. It gets weird in my head sometimes.

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Life snapped back into focus, and I decided to roll with it and made a 3×3 sheet to get 18 slightly smaller croissants than the 4×2 sheet described. Well, smaller croissants are better than no croissants, as the time-worn saying goes.

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And aren’t they adorable?

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I swear that I wasn’t deliberately trying to flip off the camera in that one.

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Before and after. I really enjoyed how neat and tidy and efficient the pastry-rolling process made me feel.

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Basically, the idea here is that a layer of cinnamon and sugar is sandwiched between 2 sheets of flaky puff pastry, which are then cut into triangles and rolled around dark chocolate chunks to form a flaky, crunchy, sweet chocolate delivery device, perfect for adding to a breakfast buffet line. Cutting them out, rolling them up, and sprinkling them with cinnamon, sugar, and sea salt makes you feel super fancy, which is a big bonus in my book.

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Then, you put them into your lying, cheating oven and bake them until they are done (which in the real world is somewhere between 12-15 minutes, and in my kitchen topped out at 21-24…I need an oven thermometer for Christmas, you guys. It will prevent me from dismantling the thing with a screwdriver and malice in my heart).

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Look how cute they are!

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Flaky and brown and crisp on top. Dang, you fancy, mini-croissant.

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I had to sample one, of course. To make sure it was not burnt. It’s a chef’s thing.

(If you can place that movie quote, we need to hang out.)

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Lots of flaky layers and creamy chocolate inside. Hooray!

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Unfortunately, it was gone in seconds. Slightly longer, maybe, because I was taking pictures. To add to the pain, I wasn’t allowed to have anymore because they had to make an appearance at an event the next morning.

I’m definitely going to do this again, and maybe only make 4 giant croissants, filled with chocolate or almond paste. That would certainly be decadent, and I would go out of my way not to share with anybody. That would certainly be the mature thing to do. You should all go out and buy Homemade Decadence and do the same.

I met Joy the Baker and gave her an eggroll. True story.

On Tuesday, Joy the Baker had a book-signing here in New Orleans before she started on her book tour for her new offering, Homemade Decadence.

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No one who reads this blog, or reads any food- or baking-oriented blog (or maybe any blog ever) should be surprised to know that I have a fairly serious girl-blog-crush on Joy the Baker. Doesn’t everyone? She makes absolutely beautiful food, blogs about her mistakes, has a feisty orange cat, and rocks cool tattoos and glasses. She might be who I want to be when I grow up (and perhaps who my blog personality thinks that I actually am), even though she is only 1 year older than me. She just recently moved here in January, and I am so glad that she’s here in my hometown to enjoy the food and weirdness along with us, although I am extremely jealous of the amazing morning light she gets in her French Quarter kitchen.

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For her book-signing, I decided to continue my self-imposed tradition of bringing small knitted objects to famous people that I feel have influenced a part of who I am. Perhaps you might remember when I gave David Sedaris an owl? Or attempted to bring Eddie Izzard a squirrel? Well, this time I decided to bring Joy the Baker a present, but it was for her lovely orange cat, Tron-Cat, who makes the occasional appearance on her blog and whom I decided needed a little bit of knitted love.

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Unfortunately, I made this decision on early Tuesday morning, and then had to wait until I was finished with class, and forced myself to rush home as fast as possible to knit an eggroll. That’s right, an eggroll with catnip. The pattern is from the Spring 2003 issue of Knitty, Feline Dim Sum by Julie Falatko, and it is so freaking cute that I can’t stand it.

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I love how that picture of the wonton toy stuffed with catnip looks so illicit up there.

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I had previously used this pattern in 2004 to make some little toys for my brother’s cat, Chunky, and it was only about 5 minutes before she discovered how to bust open the eggroll and regale herself in catnip all over the floor. Slight adjustments had to be made.

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It’s only catnip! I promise!

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In order to keep things super secure in there, I first stitched down the flap as instructed, although I did it extremely crookedly for some reason. Let’s chalk it up to nerdy excitement and being pressed for time.

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Then I tacked down the corners of the top of the flap, just for good measure, running the yarn along the top for a few stitches…

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…then pulling it back down and tying it into a knot…

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…and finally threading the ends through the middle of the stuffing to hide them. I left all of the ends long inside there in order to prevent any accidental, or cat-rage influenced, unravellings.

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Then, it got a label and was photographed. Notice how I suddenly had the presence of mind to let the recipient of one of these gifts know my name and the name of my blog? After the Eddie-Izzard-and-Jeff-the-Squirrel debacle, I’m never not shamelessly self-promoting again. I managed to get everything done in 2 hours and 15 minutes, with just enough time to pick up Dan and head to the bookstore.

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I’m pretty sure that this is the moment when I said, “I have a present that I made for you, but it’s not only for you. It’s for your cat.” Notice the adorable confusion? This was the intended effect.

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She told me that I couldn’t possibly be for real, but she seemed delighted all the same.

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I know that I was.

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She was also super funny and adorable in person, just as I suspected. I managed to keep my fangirl-type tendencies in check as much as possible, and somehow didn’t embarrass myself or trip over my shoes the entire time. A triumph of the human spirit.

And can we talk about this amazing book? It’s got so much fantastic stuff in it (so many ice cream recipes!) that I haven’t even been able to properly absorb it yet. My winter break from school will certainly be filled with delicious things because of this wonderful lady. Joy, thanks so much for being lovely, too. Don’t ever stop making people happy. Good advice for everyone, really.

Drunken Pumpkin Bundt Cake – a tale of adventure, mishap, and Irish Cream

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I went to go and get a flu shot yesterday, and on the way home, I went to the grocery store and bought the following items:

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I didn’t need 3 whole cans of pumpkin, but they were on sale, and I was powerless to resist.

Since last week or so, probably since the calendar officially told us that fall was here, I have been daydreaming about a cake that incorporated 2 of my favorite things: pumpkin and cheap Irish cream liqueur.

I am aware that most people use Irish cream as a mixer in more elaborate cocktails or as a way to make their coffee more interesting, but, over the years, it has become my favorite drink all on its own. Just in a tiny glass with an ice cube? I have no idea why it’s so great, but it is. Irish cream is made with Irish whiskey, sugar (or honey), and cream, blended together into perfection. Its thick, silky texture makes it an easy substitute for milk in any cake recipe. And its warmth and slight hint of spice from the whiskey makes it, in my opinion, a great pairing for the cinnamon, ginger, and cloves inherent in pumpkin baking.

Putting them together makes so much sense to me that I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t thought of it before. Or really, that no one appeared to have. I found a whole ton of recipes involving combining pumpkin and rum in cake-y form, but nothing with delicious, wonderful Irish cream. This needed to be fixed.

In my kitchen, it’s not fall until…

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…now.

I went to Betty for inspiration and a basic yellow cake recipe, and then just experimented from there. There was a tiny bit of heartbreak along the way (ooooh, spooky foreshadowing!), but everything turned out amazing in the end.

Ready?

Drunken Pumpkin Bundt Cake
adapted from Betty Crocker‘s Starlight Yellow Cake and inspired by the glories of fall, in general

Ingredients:
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 1/4 cups Irish cream liqueur (plus about 1/4 cup extra for brushing)
3 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
powdered sugar, for dusting

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Thoroughly grease and flour the bundt pan of your choice.

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Seriously, do this thoroughly. (More foreshadowing, I know. Bum bum buuuuuuuuummmmm!)

In large bowl, put all ingredients, except for powdered sugar, and beat together on low speed for about 30 seconds, and then at high speed (or only halfway if you’re using a KitchenAid mixer, like me, because high speed would probably send pumpkin splattering all across yourself and your kitchen) for about 3 minutes.

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Pour batter into prepared pan.

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Admire the lovely orange color and the amazing smell for just a second before you pop it into the oven. While baking, that heavenly smell will only intensify. Your kitchen will smell like hot toddies and pumpkin pie. You will suddenly decide that you are the smartest person on the planet. Or maybe that was just me. I do tend to get a little bit cocky before the fall. BUM BUM BUUUUMMMMM!

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Now, here’s where things went a bit awry. I baked my bundt until a toothpick came out clean (about 50 minutes), which is usually the standard. However, this resulted in a cake that was just a little too…delicate for the rigors of being a stand-alone bundt. It’s super moist and delicious, and I wouldn’t recommend changing anything about the ingredients, but just increase the baking time in order to get a thicker, tougher crust on there that will prevent this type of tragedy.

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After I waited the normal 15-20 minutes to release the cake from the bundt pan, I made sure to run a butter knife along the edge, and flipped it over. And about a third of the top of the cake decided to stay in the pan. (It’s okay to gasp a little. I’m pretty sure that I did, too.)

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A few years ago, this would have probably made me cry a little. However, I decided that I am a grown woman, and instead, I got to work with a butter knife, making strategic cuts and delicately prying that cake top out of the pan and placing it in its correct place. I was determined to photograph and eat this goddamn delicious cake, and nothing was going to stop me.

Thinking back on it, I’m pretty sure that lengthening the baking time to least an hour (as long as nothing was scorching) and then waiting a little longer before attempting to get the cake out of the pan would probably solve all of these problems. I’ll definitely be making this one again soon, so I’ll be sure to report back.

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Then, I left the cake alone to cool properly (and hopefully decide to fuse together a bit) and made a salad. This is not required, but highly recommended.

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After the cake was fully cool, I poked it all over with a toothpick, steering clear of the Franken-cake pieced-together sections for fear of further damage.

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Then, I brushed a little extra Irish cream over the top, letting it sink into the top layer of cake. It was probably just a bit less than 1/4 cup, but who keeps track of these things? Just keep going until the top crust is saturated. Then, let the cake sit for just a little while longer, like about 30-45 minutes.

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That Irish cream layer will soak in and harden a little bit, giving the cake a sort of “shellacked” outer layer. Ideally, it won’t be sticky or too moist, just sort of thick and glossy.

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Now, sprinkle the top with a thin layer of powdered sugar. I debated going crazy and concocting some sort of Irish cream icing or frosting, but this cake is so moist and flavorful that you really don’t want to overpower it.

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And you’re done!

Slice into that glorious cake and take a bite. I’ll wait.

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It’s so good, right? It tastes like warm pumpkin pie, like whiskey and spices on a cold day. Dan took one bite and said, “I think I’m going to get drunk.” Hence the name: Drunken Pumpkin Bundt Cake.

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Go out and make one (and just keep it in the oven a little longer than I did) in order to bring instant pumpkin spice sass to any party or just to warm up a chilly fall night. You will be glad that you did.

Knitting Magic – the Rainbow Honey Cowl

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As part of my birthday present this year, in addition to an awesome new knitting bag that looks like a Red Cross medical supply kit, a copy of John Waters’ new book Carsick, and a birthday cake covered in bees, Dan got me one of the most beautiful skeins of yarn in history.

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Mountain Colors Twizzle in Bitter Root Rainbow. Oh, you thought I had a picture of the whole thing? Well, I got way too excited to wind it up when I found a good project for it, so…oops. I do have some lovely on-the-swift shots, though.

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That color gradation makes me weak in the knees still. The entirety of the Bitter Root Rainbow colorway cycles through the rainbow, with some extra stops in reds and magentas, all in one loop of the skein. It makes for a heartbreakingly beautiful skein, but (as all knitters have encountered) what looks strikingly beautiful in the skein does not necessarily translate to the knitted object. You could have the most gorgeous colorway in the world, but, unless it’s self-striping, the wrong stitch count in the garment will turn out something that looks like clown vomit.

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Not to say that the wound ball itself looked like clown vomit, per se, but it was starting to make me a little bit worried. It looked more like a bag of candy than a vibrant saturated rainbow. My initial zeal to cast on right away was dampened.

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I needn’t have worried.

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Some sort of magic twist of fate inherent in the 110 stitches and slip-stitch honeycomb pattern of the brilliant Honey Cowl by Atonia Shankland for MadelineTosh ended up slowly stacking the colors on top of each other, creating a slowly rotating rainbow of slipped stitches that floated on top of a more rapidly-changing background. A Rainbow Honey Cowl emerged.

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There is no way that I could have possibly planned that insanity right there. Rainbow flashing all the way through? It’s freaking amazing. And see how it seems like it’s getting shorter with each rotation? That makes absolutely no sense at all, but it’s fascinating.

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I seriously couldn’t stop staring at it while I was working on it, terrified that it might suddenly stop doing the awesome thing that it was doing and revert to a more vomit-like state.

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Nope, just plain lovely the whole way through.

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Even the seam side looked cool. I particularly like what those reds, purples, blues, and yellows are doing down there near the bottom. I cannot possibly take any credit for how beautiful this thing came out. It was just dumb luck, really, but I will be more than happy to accept compliments galore when I start wearing it out this fall.

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It even looks great when it rolls and flips inside-out on the back! I appreciate that fact immensely, given the fact that my neck is not terribly long, and I have the tendency to shrink down and bury myself in the neckline of my scarves and coats.

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I have yet to own a cowl, but after this photo-taking session, I can certainly understand the appeal. It’s the warmth of a scarf without all of the ends or fringe to contend with. It turns any shirt or jacket into a turtleneck experience. And the rainbow in this adds a lovely bright pop of color to anything. Since I tend to wear gray and blue most of the time (probably 95% percent of the time…I am wearing a gray t-shirt and jeans as I type), this can be a really fun way for me to pretend like I am being adventurous and bold, without risking any sort of fashion faux pas, or having to actually be adventurous enough to buy clothes that have real colors in them.

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Cooler temperatures cannot get here soon enough (and I say this with experience after having worn the thing for an hour and a half in New Orleans 85-degree weather to get the pictures). I can’t wait to wear my rainbow.

Pickled Okra & Roasted Peanuts? Don’t mind if I do.

My friend Gaby recently made the mistake of making me interested in something.

She told me about a lovely farmers’ market and farm located right in the middle of New Orleans called Hollygrove Market & Farm, and they have a weekly “box” (spoilers: it’s actually a bag.) of amazing farm-fresh vegetables, fruits, and other glorious food items that come from all kinds of wonderful backyard and independent farms in Louisiana and southern Mississippi, and it’s only $25. How awesome is that? It is remarkable that after living 6 years in Colorado, I somehow never got in on a CSA-subscription, but know that I have been enlightened as to Hollygrove’s existence, things are a-changin’.

Part of what’s great about Hollygrove is that they put up on their website what’s going to be in the “box” each week, so that you can choose if you want to get in on that or not. Right now I am kicking myself for not going this week because homemade organic blueberry jam was involved. And sweet potatoes! Sigh.

Anyway.

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Since I started making Hollygrove a part of my grocery considerations, I have received some treasures (like this amazing okra that has no business being so beautifully green) that needed some extra prep work, with awesome results. Working from a CSA-style box makes you change the way you think about cooking. It makes you want to eat seasonally all the time. It makes you want to go put your own hands in the dirt for a while. And it makes you wonder how hard it would be to make things that most normal people usually buy.

Enter pickled okra.

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People from the South go crazy for pickled okra. Every single person that I talked to about the possibility of pickled okra proclaimed their undying love for pickled okra right there on the spot. Even Dan enjoys pickled okra, and that’s saying something.

The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking really helped me out on this one with this super easy recipe for refrigerator pickled okra. For those not in the know (and you’re looking at food blogs on the Internet, so how could this be?) refrigerator pickling is a quick-pickling method that doesn’t involve lengthy boiling periods for brine-making, sealing, and sterilization, since the contents are usually much, much smaller and meant to be consumed within a month or slightly longer. These types of things are especially appealing if you only have enough okra to fill one quart jar (about a pound) and the grocery stores in your area would look at you sideways if you asked them where they kept the wide-mouth funnels.

Directions were followed, with the one exception that I put a few peppercorns into the mix instead of hot peppers, because I have come to terms with just not being badass enough for that. And then the waiting ensued. You have to wait to eat these for at least two weeks, otherwise your okra will somehow be both fibrous and slimy, a disgusting combination. But, if you diligently wait the two weeks?

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You will be rewarded.

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And then you will eat a whole bunch and brag to everyone on Facebook and Instagram that you did something that countless millions of other people have done before you, but oh my god it doesn’t matter because pickling is a miracle.

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These are sour and crunchy and amazing, with little seeds that pop in your mouth. You will probably never ever buy a jar of pickled okra again.

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In fact, you’ll now be looking for more opportunities to spend an inordinately long period of time hand-crafting something that any other person would have used a 2-for-1 coupon for.

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Like roasting your own peanuts!

The next time I got the “box,” Hollygrove had included a pound of green peanuts. What on earth are green peanuts, you ask? Oh wait, you already knew? Well, I had no idea and needed some assistance. Avalon Acres helped me out. Green peanuts are basically totally raw, straight from the ground, chock full of water and ready for boiling or roasting.

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Something that they don’t tell you is that peeling green peanuts is not a walk in the park. Peeling this one pound of peanuts took me at least half of a game of Scrabble. Good thing I had coffee to aid me.

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The peeled peanuts were soaked (floated, really) in some salt water…

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…dried off and coated in salt and pepper…

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…and then roasted for waaaaaay longer than the recipe told me to. I’m thinking that I probably need to get my oven checked out now, since I had a very similar problem roasting pumpkin seeds last year. The recipe claims that 20 minutes at 350 degrees should be enough, but we went more than double that time before anything looked vaguely roasted.

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Good news, though. They were delicious.

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Normally, the little papery inner shells of peanuts give me the heebie-jeebies, and I always am careful to peel them aside if eating roasted peanuts. On these? They were the best part! Every bit was super crunchy and smokey, and they only lasted about 48 hours.

My desire for making common household condiments and appetizer-type things has only intensified. I think I need to rush into this headlong and make my own ketchup now. Who’s with me?