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.

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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.