Oh Captain, My Captain (or, Mr. Evans, Ms. Atwell, I made you some hats.)

I just can’t stop making nerdy knitted gifts for famous people.

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There are worse problems to have, I guess.

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Wizard World Comic Con came to New Orleans this past weekend, and I was so ridiculously excited to go and meet Captain America himself, Mr. Chris Evans, that I was practically vibrating. The Captain America franchise is, hands-down, the greatest part of the already great Marvel universe, at least to me, and I wanted to make sure that I showed my love in knitted form to Chris Evans.

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There were some mis-steps at first.

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But eventually I came up with something that I felt was ridiculously nerdy, yet classy enough to wear out in public like a normal person. Simply, wearing the Captain’s shield right up on top of your head.

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While staring down lovingly at your tiny Captain America Pop figurine, of course. No, it’s not creepy.

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See, he’s okay with it.

As the date neared, I realized that not only was this going to be a chance to meet Chris Evans, but that Ms. Hayley Atwell would also be there (In addition to nearly the entire Civil War cast, but I can only knit so many hats.) It was clear that my friend Bailee and I really needed to take advantage of this.

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So now, we needed 4 hats, and I decided that a Winter Soldier/Bucky colorway would be a great idea, too, just so that I could sneak around in the open and wear my fandom a little more subtly.

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I’ve decided to call this original hat design “Oh Captain, My Captain,” because, oh man, I’d follow that guy to the end of the line. Want the pattern? Yeah, you do, especially in an easily printable PDF, right? Here you go!

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Some notes about the pattern:

For the white section of the Captain America colorway, I had to use Brown Sheep Nature Spun Worsted since the LYS where I bought the rest of the yarn was unfortunately out of the white in Lamb’s Pride Worsted. Feel free to use whatever fantastic worsted-weight wool blend you’d like.

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The “Star Crown” section combines fair-isle and decreasing at the same time, just to make things extra spicy. The easiest way to ensure that your fair-isle floats don’t get pulled too tight in all that decreasing? Flip your work inside and let the floats run around the outside of the hat. Just don’t pay much attention to the shape of the star in that picture, it’s from an earlier version where the star looked way too much like a flower. Lovely, but not what I was going for.

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Check that float action. Nice.

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If you’re using Lamb’s Pride, or anything other super-saturated wool blend, make sure that you add vinegar to your blocking water to prevent color bleeding in those red/white stripey spots. Otherwise, you’ll be rocking a red, pink, and blue flag up there on your noggin. Lamb’s Pride gives you great suggestions on how to do this on their label, so do give it a look.

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—–

So. On the day of the con, we were so excited to get into the Captain America: Civil War panel that we lined up 3 hours early. It was worth it.

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Pretty good seats, right?

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It was hard to even handle how much awesomeness was up there. The Russo brothers, Anthony Mackie, Frank Grillo, Hayley Atwell, Jeremy Renner, and My Captain. I mean, Chris Evans.

And honestly, I know I’m being very silly and fangirly about Mr. Evans, but I really do admire the man. He’s a huge supporter of Children’s Hospitals, and you all know how much that means to me as a pediatric RN. He has been really up-front about his problems with anxiety, and powers through media events like this one because of how much he enjoys his fans. He has helped a lot of people with their own anxiety issues (including myself) just by being honest and giving people permission to talk about it, which is pretty remarkable, considering that he’s in some of the most highly publicized movies ever made. What a gentleman. He really does deserve to be a superhero.

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He also looks really nice in a grandpa cardigan. Just saying.

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Anthony Mackie, a New Orleans native (who received a ridiculous amount of applause on this fact alone) was the most charming man in the world.

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Hayley Atwell gave thoughtful and impassioned responses to questions, and we all fell in love with her all over again. And Jeremy Renner was a grumpy old man, in the best possible way.

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Bailee got an autograph with Hayley, and I wasn’t supposed to be taking pictures, but it was hard to resist.

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She was just so lovely! She and Bailee had an awesome chat about sharks while her assistant made angry eyes at me as I continued to ignore her.

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We got so much fun merch stuff, and now I have a Captain America pin, shirt, and poster to go along with my nerdy hat. I bought some Steve and Bucky Lego figures, too, while we were getting ourselves ready to meet Chris Evans. So freaking cute, even with that tiny machine gun.

Then, the moment of truth. We waited in line for about 30 minutes for our photo op, and once it started moving, I started panicking. The line was moving waaaaay too fast. It became clear that we would only be getting about 10 seconds in our picture, not nearly enough time to hand these wonderful people some hats and tell them how much they both mean to me.

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Luckily, I had the presence of mind to put the blog address inside all of the hats, so I basically could just throw them to them, which is sort of what ended up happening.

It was our turn, Bailee and I were both adorably wearing our Bucky versions of the hat, and I walked up and said, “I made you guys some hats!”

Chris Evans said, “Oh, cool!”

Hayley Atwell said, “Oh, I’m definitely going to wear this,” and tried to figure out how to get it on properly, but then the photographer was yelling at us to turn and smile.

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And then it was over. If you look way over in the far right-hand edge of the picture, you can see that Chris Evans is holding the hat, but unfortunately, not wearing it for the picture. Oh, and that hand holding the hat was definitely around my shoulders, and I don’t know if I’ve fully recovered from that quite yet.

We were smiling from ear to ear for at least an hour afterwards, rehashing the same 10 seconds over and over. Or maybe that was just me. If anything, I hope that the both of them take a little bit of time to click over here and see how much they are appreciated. To realize that someone enjoys their work so much that they are willing to speed-knit fair-isle with five-point decreasing just to show their love.

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Handknit love is the best kind of love, and I’ll never stop handing it out to those I appreciate and admire. Never.

Squares and Squares and Squares

Or maybe, more properly, Rectangles and Rectangles and Rectangles.

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Now, I have knitted a number of projects in the past with finicky finishing work. A Dale of Norway ski sweater, complete with terrifying steeks and zippers. Tiny toys, with hand-stitched felt eyes and itty-bitty ears. Duplicate stitched snowflakes for days on end. I could go on and on.

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However, now that I have completed a Warm Up America! Afghan…I feel as though I have summited some sort of insane mountain of mattress-stitch achievement.

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Let me step back and explain.

My brother got married back in September of last year, and in proper fashion, I told him and his wife that I would be happy to make them a new afghan for their house and their new life together. Knowing that my sister-in-law is partial to purple, I decided to go with something patchworky with greens and browns, too, to match their decor. However, all of this planning in my mind for the perfect blanket for them had to go on the back burner while I finished nursing school and then got a real-life job. What I originally thought would end up being a first anniversary present instead ended up being a Christmas present, a fact that I know is making all of the knitters nod their head in solidarity.

Projects like this seem so simple at first. You get pulled in to the allure of the patchwork square. It’s the same seductive pull that makes you start working on something that involves thousands of granny squares, not even thinking about how all of those squares are going to put themselves together.

You start thinking about what would be the perfect afghan and think back on the beautiful one you saw in the fantastic book Knitting for Peace, the Warm Up America! Afghan…8 different types of squares with simple stitch patterns, perfect for beginners or for some mindless knitting while you watch Jessica Jones on Netflix.

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You see all of those little squares and think, “Oh, it’ll take no time at all to make one of those! And they’ll be small, and portable! I can knit those anywhere! Gosh darn it, I am so smart. There’s no way this will backfire.”

You order up a whole boatload of Knit Picks Brava Worsted so that you can get started. You figure, “Oh, acrylic will be such a good choice for this. Easy to wash and take care of, tons of color options. Yes, this will be fantastic.” (Note: Knit Picks Brava is pretty fantastic, don’t get me wrong. However, acrylic will come back to bite you in the ass later, don’t you worry.)

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You start cranking out squares like it’s going out of style. (I know some people want to know the colors, so here we go: Alfalfa, Almond, Brindle, Cream, Dublin, Mulberry, Peapod, and Sienna, 3 skeins each.)

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You knit squares (rectangles, actually) at every opportunity, and since you are now working as a night-shift pediatric RN, you have lots of weird time alone at night to get to know these squares since you can’t force the entire house of Dan and cats to get onto your new bizarro schedule.

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The cats try their best to help. They are unsuccessful.

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You realize quickly that every single “square” of this pattern is completely different in terms of gauge, especially row gauge (which is something that knitters really don’t end up having to think about or compensate much for, which made it even more crazy-making), and that you have to do a fair amount of math to get each square to come out to roughly the same length.

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You take the time out of making squares to procrastinate a little and make a little chart to figure out just how many more squares you need to make after you are done procrastinating. You start kicking yourself for deciding that you were going to make the blanket a little bit larger than the pattern originally called for, mostly because when they provide 8 different stitch patterns but tell you to only make 49 squares, your brain explodes a little bit. 64 squares is much more pleasing to your psyche in terms of a finished project, but when you realize how many more squares you have left to go…you start to hate squares.

All of those beautiful patchwork blankets in your head start to taunt you and mock you for your hubris. You keep knitting until you just can’t knit any more, slogging your way through stupid, stupid, lovely garter stitch in the name of love for your family.

And when you finally finish…

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There is absolutely no relief at all. Now you have to join those squares together. Those squares whose sizes have seemingly absolutely nothing at all to do with one another, no matter how good your math or tension was.

That stack of lovely squares right there is a bit deceiving. The squares come of the needles looking a lot more like this:

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Now, if this was wool or cotton, our blocking situation would just be washing and laying things out, or perhaps a light iron. However, acrylic makes you work hard for the kind of squariness you desire. You dutifully haul out the steam iron and blocking wires and T-pins.

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Every square needs to be pinned out to match the 7″x9″ dimensions needed, some adopting this position easier than others. Then, (and don’t freak out), you use your steam iron to intentionally ruin your fabric.

It’s called “killing” acrylic, and usually it’s a terrible thing to accidentally do to a beloved article of clothing, melting the plastic in the yarn. However, in a controlled environment, the right amount of heat (as little as possible to make steam and staying away from actually touching the fabric) and dedication will coax those squares into flattening out their edges, opening up their stitch patterns, and fitting themselves into the straight edges and corners you need to sew them up without wanting to gouge your eyes out.

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You do this, 3 squares at a time, until everything is perfect and lovely and you are so done.

But, you are definitely nowhere near done. Now…the sewing.

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You lay out all of those squares, trying to make things pleasantly random, taking care not to let 2 of the same color or stitch patterns touch each other. (I did originally try to make each row and column have only one of each color or pattern, but it turned into an endless unwinnable sudoku game because I absolutely did not want to do diagonal stripes. I settled for each row having only 1 of each color, and then let the chips fall where they may for everything else, just to save my sanity.) You put off the inevitable sewing process just a little longer by taking moody, artful pictures of your little squares all lined up.

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Mattress stitching is your stitch of choice, of course, because you want everything to line up as nicely as possible. (You must go here and learn its ways right this second, if you don’t already know.) The pattern gives you very, very little guidance here, but joining the squares into columns actually goes really fast and easy, due to all of the squares being either 35 or 36 stitches wide. Sewing things up when they are actually the same exact size is quick and satisfying.

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Zipping up those seams feels pretty good.

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The vertical seams are not the same cakewalk. First things first, you have to pin out the seam between squares.

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Then, you sew up the sides using the ladders between the first and second stitches from the edge of the row, zig-zagging between the squares.

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But, as you remember from earlier, every single stitch pattern is a completely different length in terms of number of rows, so you’ve got to do some creative stitching.

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You watch your pins carefully, and try to see if they are leaning in one direction or another. In the above picture, the pin is leaning to the left, meaning that there’s more fabric up there to be incorporated into the seam. Therefore, you need to fit more of those rows into a smaller amount of rows on the bottom (picking up 2 ladders on the top and just 1 on the bottom) to ease everything in.

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When it goes right, it goes so right and you feel like a finishing genius. When it doesn’t, you think, “Eh, people don’t look at the corners anyway, right? I don’t need to take a picture of that one. Or that one. Or that one back there.”

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What corners? Low-angle photography makes corners not matter, right?

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Finish up the edges with 2 rows of single crochet, just to make those corners nice and neat, and then hit it again with a tiny blast of steam so that everything lays down nice.

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Then, take a breath and weave in all those ends.

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There are a lot, so it would be good for you to take some breaks between and do this as you go along as a relief from the sewing-up frustration.

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Wait. What frustration? It all melts away when you see that final finished project, exactly as you envisioned it in your head.

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Fields of green and brown and purple, looking like farmland from an airplane.

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Those slightly wonky edges and corners just don’t matter anymore, because it’s so perfect all of a sudden.

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You know that your brother and sister-in-law are going to absolutely love it, and all of the work is worth it. The endorphins kick in and shape the experience in such a way that you start to think, you know, I should make another one of those for Dan and I, as soon as I have some more free time.

But maybe in cotton next time.

Butterfly in the sky, I can go twice as high! (Reading Rainbow Scarf Updates)

It was a little over a week ago when I got on a plane to Los Angeles, with a super special scarf in tow. More on the details of the trip later, let’s get to the Reading Rainbow goodness.

20150919_140422The Reading Rainbow Live! event was held at YouTube Space LA, a new venue for video-makers and collaborators, located conveniently in the middle of a whole bunch of construction that throws off everyone’s GPS in a bad way. Our poor Uber driver was so confused trying to get us into the space, and I didn’t help things along by getting super carsick along the way.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, on my way to meet LeVar Burton, a childhood hero, I got so sick that I threw up in a paper bag inside our Uber car. Luckily, we were at a corner where I could run outside and compose myself like a decent human being (as well as take a little walk to throw away my…bag of vomit…I am still horrified at myself), but the stop-and-go traffic and the multiple winding turns around all that construction made my stomach flip. When we finally got there, most of us no worse for wear, they had little tents set up with water and snacks, and I was overjoyed to have a little time to calm down.

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They also gave us tiny LeVars to tag with our latest adventures in reading on Instagram. Cute.

20150919_143044All of my pictures from this are from behind 3 rows of seats, plus it wasn’t super bright in there, so do forgive any blurriness. While we waited for the event to start, we were treated to clips from older shows, plus an awesome auto-tuned song put together from old clips.

I am not ashamed to say that I was tearing up a little. There were colorful mats spread out all over the floor in front of the audience seating full of children, and it occurred to me that this might be the first time they were ever getting to experience Reading Rainbow and being in a room full of adults who love reading, and it made me a little emotional.

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Mark Wolfe, business partner and co-founder of RRKIDZ, started everything off by thanking the donors and telling them how successful the new Reading Rainbow app has been, as well as telling everyone about their new venture Skybrary, a huge collection of children’s books and video “field trips” (I never knew that’s what they called the live-actions parts. That’s adorable.) that are accessible from cloud storage to homes and classrooms all over the world. How cool. I wish there would have been something like that available when I was growing up, but then I doubt I would have ever come up for air if there were.

20150919_144648Then, Mr. Levardis Robert Martyn Burton, Jr. himself came out, to thunderous applause.

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He introduced two videos, the first being the old episode of Reading Rainbow where they visit the set of Star Trek: the Next Generation and get to see all of the behind-the-scenes action. The next one was the first “field trip” for the new series, all about the history of space travel and the MAVEN launch from the Kennedy Space Center.

Again, tears welled up. You guys, it was so good. And just like I remembered. Interesting facts, beautiful photography, all delivered with the skilled hands of master educators…people who know that the best way to get kids to learn is to not talk down to them or make things too simple. Just make it cool, and kids will follow.

After that, it was time for a story, which meant it was time for some celebrity storytellers.

20150919_145354Jonathan Frakes. If you didn’t have a crush on Riker, you’re just lying to yourself. Jennifer Hetrick (Vash, from TNG and Deep Space Nine) came out right after that, but I didn’t get a good picture of her.

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Armin Shimerman, the friendliest Ferengi you ever did see.

20150919_145512Jeri Ryan! So lovely.

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Michael Dorn, looking simultaneously exactly like and nothing at all like what I imagined under all of that Worf makeup.

20150919_145608Rosalind Chao, who I didn’t even know was involved with Star Trek at all, but I’ve seen the movie of The Joy Luck Club so many times that I don’t even care. Not pictured, Robert Picardo from Voyager because I was too short to ever see him over there on the side. Then, we got some video from someone who wished he could be there.

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Oh, Brent Spiner. Data was the best.

20150919_145840Oh wait.

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He came! Yay!

20150919_145951We were treated to a storytime featuring Miss Martin Is a Martian by Colleen Murray Fisher.

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20150919_150559They were all so fun and animated during the storytime, and the pages were projected onto the video screens so that everyone could see, not just the kids up front. It was such a wonderful idea. Then, we were treated to more videos from Star Trek cast members who wished they could attend.

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Like Marina Sirtis!

20150919_151111And Gates McFadden, who really might be one of the most adorable people on Earth. Did you know she was a choreographer for Jim Henson Productions? Yep, she choreographed the beautiful waltz from Labyrinth and the stylized movements from the warring tribes in The Dark Crystal. That is so freaking cool. Then, one last guest arrived before the next storytime.

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Kate Mulgrew! The applause was ridiculous.

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She helped the gang read Watch Out for Wolfgang by Paul Carrick, a very weird and fun Three Little Pigs-esque story with robots.

After storytime and more clapping (so much clapping), it was time for something they called Star Trek Trivia, but was basically a big game of Taboo with Star Trek terms. The casts split up into two teams to duke it out.

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There was a lot of wild gesturing and arm flailing. And cheating! Jonathan Frakes really just likes to yell out the answers when it isn’t his turn.

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It was a lot of fun to see how much they still remembered from their shows. Q&A came next, and Kate Mulgrew had two of the greatest answers to really wonderful questions from the audience.

20150919_152946When asked how to encourage children to read from an early age, she said to read in front of them and to them all the time. Kids pick up on these behaviors and imitate them, so the best way for your kids to start reading is to be a reader yourself. Much applause. Then, when asked to comment on her experiences being a role model for young girls who wanted to become scientists, she declared that it was the whole reason why she took the role in the first place. She wanted to inspire others to follow those dreams, and the people at the event who were affected by her performance were all the validation that she’d ever need for taking the job.

Damn, that woman is amazing.

And anyway, that’s it.

…..

Just kidding. We all want to know what happened with the scarf, right? At least, I hope we do.

After the event, they cleared us all out of the space in order to rearrange some things and get set up for pictures. Unfortunately, Brent Spine and Kate Mulgrew had to leave early, so they couldn’t stay for the pictures. Then, we got lined up again and they let groups in a few at a time. YouTube used its own official camera for the event, and each group got their photo taken and then was shuffled out of the space.

I panicked a little. I had the scarf wrapped up in my purse with my cute little handwritten note. I didn’t realize I was only going to have 20 seconds of time to explain myself before the line had to move again.

When we got up to the front, I walked up to LeVar Burton (yes, I just wrote that sentence, which is crazy) and opened up the wrapping for him, handing him the card and telling him that I made him a present. He was a little confused at first because I think he didn’t realize that I was talking to him. He looked back at me and said, “This is for me? Thank you so much! Why don’t we go ahead and take the picture?”

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He’s wearing it! And look at all of their adorable smiling faces, along with me, my brother, and my sister-in-law! Everyone is so good-looking!

As I started to walk away, his assistant stopped me and said, “Did you make this?” When I said yes, Jeri Ryan called out, “Wait, you made that? It’s beautiful!” My brain short-circuited and all I could do was smile and nod. I watched as LeVar put my card in his pocket, and his assistant grabbed the scarf and folded it up. She said, “I’ll be sure that it goes in his office. I can’t believe you made this!” Again, more smiling and nodding. I thanked her profusely, and then it was over. We were shuffled out into the daylight, me with a big giant grin on my face.

Now, that seems like a lot to handle for one day(hell, for the whole trip), but stay tuned for another post on my LA trip that involves a whole ridiculous amount of celebrities, an astroturf carpet, and holding it together in a new dress and high heels, which I am not known to do.

Mr. Burton, I made you a scarf.

I wanted to start this post by talking about Reading Rainbow, but it’s honestly a difficult thing to put into words.

20150916_100300I have always been a reader for as long as I can remember. A voracious reader. According to my mom, I started reading by myself at age 3, thanks to the greatest Little Golden book ever, The Monster at the End of This Book. I made my mom read that book to me over and over again every night until I had memorized the entire thing, and then I started reading it to her instead.

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In either first or second grade, my class participated in some sort of Newbery-sponsored reading contest where you could record all of the books that you read during the school year, and the person who read the most in the class got a special medal. Much to my parents’ chagrin, I used my Scholastic book order to go off on a crazy self-inflicted reading binge, finishing over 40 books that year. The next highest number in my class was 10. This was probably the first time that I have approached a challenge in this way, competing all by myself for an award that no one else really gives a crap about, but it was certainly not the last.

20150916_130532Whenever my brother and I got home from school, PBS was always the first thing on our minds. We would watch 3-2-1 Contact, Square One, and Reading Rainbow every single chance we got and revel in this world where the kids who liked math and science and reading were the norm. Reading Rainbow in particular was my favorite. I would write my own book summaries in the back of my school notebooks, hoping one day to deliver them professionally in the “You don’t have to take my word for it” section. I loved the extended storytimes where the book pages were animated on the screen and made the story come alive. And I especially loved it when LeVar Burton was on some sort of adventure that tied in with all of the featured books, like going to Space Camp or digging up dinosaur bones.

Last year, my brother and his wife told me that they were donating to the Kickstarter campaign to revive Reading Rainbow as an interactive app, and I thought that was a fantastic idea. Then, later, they told me that because of their donation, they were invited to go to a Reading Rainbow event in Los Angeles sometime this summer. Then, they told me that part of the cast of Star Trek: the Next Generation was going to be involved. Then, they asked me if I would like to go with them.

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Attentive readers will know where my brain went next. I decided that not only did I need to go to this event, but that I also needed to knit LeVar Burton a Reading Rainbow scarf. Because, of course.

20150912_18212320150914_170017 I wanted to make something reminiscent of the original Reading Rainbow logo (which I never noticed only has 5 colors in it! Did anyone else ever notice this?), so I headed down to McNeedles, an LYS that is becoming one of my favorite places to be, and told them my master plan. Not only were they on board, they helped me pick out exactly the bright, primary rainbow of colors that I wanted. Knitters understand these things.

20150915_172113It’s got a big color-blocked section on one side, with all of the accompanying ends to weave in. And then a big duplicate-stitched golden double-R on the other, like the original logo. 20150915_173703 I didn’t bother writing anything down for it, because if you can make a Harry Potter scarf like this one, you can just wing it and make it whatever size you want.

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This one is made out of Brown Sheep Lamb’s Pride Worsted and Nature Spun Worsted, with 50 stitches cast on in a tube and lots o’ blue fringe to close up the ends.

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Also, I’ve taken special steps to make sure that we don’t have another Jeff the Squirrel debacle, just in case.

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Cap definitely approves of the labeling. And the color scheme, too, I think. Primary red and blue all the way.

20150916_131047Here it is modeled by the lovely Michele, friend and coworker and extreme lover of books. She approves as well.

Now, I have absolutely no idea if this Reading Rainbow event will include any sort of Q&A or meet-and-greet or quick hand-shaking, but I do know that I’ve got to be more aggressive in getting this to Mr. Burton himself. So, I’m calling on you guys out there in Internetland. If you’ve got the means to let somebody know about this so that he knows about it, please do. Help me out. Take to the Twitters and Tumblrs and Facebooks and let LeVar Burton know how much you love him and appreciate him and let him know that one of us has a labor of love to give him at this event on Saturday the 19th.

Also, it would be great to make sure that I do not come across as the creepiest person ever.

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I’ll do my part, but I really need your help in making sure that this thing doesn’t end up in a trash can in some event hall after the show. I normally don’t ask for stuff like, but this one’s super important to me, guys.

I am so excited for Saturday that I can’t even come up with a good way to end this post. Oh man. Reading Rainbow is so awesome. Go watch it on Netflix right this second. You’ll be glad you did.

Little Lebowskis – Dark Chocolate White Russian Cupcakes

I appear to have acquired for myself a reputation for making boozy desserts. I have absolutely no idea how that could have possibly happened.

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My friend Samantha recently moved away from New Orleans to Chicago, and for her going-away party, I asked her if she’d like for me to bake anything. She said that she didn’t care what the baked good was, as long as it was filled with alcohol, preferably White Russian-flavored.

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I was prepared with a ridiculous amount of Kahlua, but, as usual, some research was in order. I was going to be bringing this dessert to a bar (appropriately enough, considering the contents), so it couldn’t be some sort of giant cake or frozen thing. Cupcakes seemed portable and appropriate. Clicking around brought me to the Collegiate Baker‘s Chocolate Kahlua Cake, a thing of beauty that absolutely begged to be modified into cupcakes.

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All of the elements were there: chocolate, Kahlua, and even more Kahlua.

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As for the cupcakes part, the only modification that I made was to divide the batter into liners in a cupcake pan (obviously), and baked them for a slightly longer period of time (about 33 minutes, as opposed to the 25 in the original recipe). I’m not sure if the longer time comes from a slightly taller cake or from the fact that my oven is a lying liar all the time, but things worked out nicely.

Just a note, you end up filling the cupcake liners slightly higher than you think you need to because these don’t rise very much at all. Just go a little bit higher than the standard 2/3rds, and you’ll be just fine. You’ll get 18 cupcakes, plus a tiny 1/2-sized 19th cupcake just for you to enjoy.

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This tiny half-cake ended up being super important to the process here. Dan and I split it when the cupcakes had cooled sufficiently, and we discovered that, although the chocolate and coffee liqueur flavor was pleasing (that’s too weak of a word…it was freaking dense and delicious), it was not what you’d call boozy really. It didn’t have that little bump of tang and flavor that I’ve come to associate with those types of desserts.

So, after the cakes were totally cooled, I went ahead and remedied that by poking a bunch of holes in the top of each cupcake…

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…and brushing them with straight Kahlua to soak in. Each one got a good, full brushful, plus some extra drops drizzled into those gorgeous cracks on top. I think I used slightly less than 1/2 cup for all 18 cakes.

Then, I let that soak in while I made the frosting.

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Southern Living’s White Russian Frosting, because you don’t mess with perfection.

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It’s ridiculous how good this stuff is. And a warning, you’ll end up with way too much for just cupcakes, unless you are some kind of champion cupcake decorator who knows how to pile that stuff up way high. I think that I probably only used about half of the recipe, and the other half is currently sitting in my refrigerator, calling to me softly every time I walk by.

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Now, I am intimidated by frosting cupcakes. But if you are a close reader, you are probably not surprised by this information. This time, however, I had the frosting mojo. I was on a roll, making perfect little spirals with perfect tiny curls on top.

Until.

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My frosting bag betrayed me. Split right up the side. And then at the tip while I attempted to salvage the existing frosting and rescue the tip. While I scrambled to rig up a Ziplock bag to save the entire operation and not lose the frosting mojo, Dan took some artistic shots.

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Dang. I’m still proud somehow.

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Back on track.

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I was even smiling, and you know that rarely happens in my kitchen.

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Then, for the finishing touch, everything got sprinkled with some bittersweet chocolate shavings. You could make some chocolate curls for yourself, or you could go with my cheating, hacky version and buy some super fancy hot chocolate from Williams-Sonoma and use that instead. It’s delicious sprinkled on top of ice cream, too.

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Hooray! I sent out the call on social media for friends to help me with the name for these, as I couldn’t think of anything that was remotely clever or didn’t sound exactly like every other cake on the Internet. There was so many funny and interesting suggestions, but what really stuck out was how many people mentioned The Big Lebowski and the Dude.

I kicked myself for not thinking of that first, and then used elements of a bunch of suggestions to come up with Little Lebowskis, after the urban achievers in the film. And proud we are of all of them. (Do it in your best Maude voice.)

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Sam became the keeper of the cupcakes once they appeared at the party, and her smile makes me think that I did a pretty good job.

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I know that the quality of these pictures is bad, but bars are dark and no one else in the world cares if you like to take pictures of your food.

Anyway, the first bite of these is super dark chocolate and sweet buttercream. Then, the Kahlua kicks in and warms everything up, and makes everyone make the same simultaneously surprised and satisfied face. I’m going to have to make them again to use up all that extra frosting.

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.

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.

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.

Squirrel Updates? Well…

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First things first. A boy, and a girl, and a squirrel went on a road trip from New Orleans to Austin.

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The squirrel, we’ll affectionately call him Jeff (because that is his name), was a little confused.

He didn’t know that he was being transported over to his new future owner, the amazingly funny Mr. Eddie Izzard.

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“Who’s this guy?”…he seemed to say. He was about to find out.

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My brother and his fiancée gave us a wonderful experience to celebrate my birthday this year: tickets to see Eddie Izzard’s new show, Force Majeure. Jeff was packed up into a lavender tote bag and carted off to the show, where he got a fantastic seat.

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The squirrel’s perspective might leave a little too much to the imagination. Here:

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Just imagine a fabulous man in a fancy suit, complete with top hat and umbrella standing right in front of that and being incredibly funny. That’s what it was like. (We are good little rule-abiding audience members, and we didn’t do any illegal picture-taking or recording during the show, so this is as good as it gets.) Make sure you add in the fact that I was smiling so hard that my face hurt. And clapping. And giggling like a lunatic. And really appreciating how many times the name Jeff got dropped.

Now, we need to back up just a little bit. Upon arriving at the venue, I made sure to find a responsible- and kind-looking usher-type security person so that I could ask them the best way to make sure that Jeff the Squirrel got to Eddie Izzard. All of the ladies I spoke to were extremely kind as I got sent higher and higher up the ladder of responsibility. My final conversation took place with a lovely woman who told us that he would be conducting a Q&A session in the lobby about 15 minutes after the show, and that she figured that the best time to see if I could get it to him would be then. We thanked her profusely and then walked into the theatre to enjoy the show.

And enjoy it we did. The man does not disappoint. He even threw out a bunch of callbacks to older bits, particularly lots of references to the Death Star Canteen (click it up for Lego interpretation hilarity), much to my happiness. He is, quite possibly, the only man in the world who can make a whole theatre full of people laugh while talking about human sacrifice. And for that, I adore him.

After the show ended, the audience began to travel to the lobby and condensed around the stairs, much to my chagrin because I am a very short person. Everyone was extremely eager to get photos and videos of the Q&A session, probably because documentation was not allowed during the actual show.

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I was a little bit closer than this (Dan stayed off to the side in order to avoid the crush), but when you are not much taller than five feet, it’s very hard to make yourself noticed, even if you have a squirrel.

I had done my best on the days preceding the show to alert Mr. Izzard to the fact that I would be bringing him a handmade gift to the Austin show, but I didn’t receive any response, not really to my surprise.

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I am aware that most famous people with social media, especially extremely busy touring comedians who are also training for a marathon and preparing for a political career (Seriously. He is amazing.) probably do not do much of this for themselves. Either that, or they might not think that I am all that amusing, but I’d rather not think about that too much. All the same, I was hoping that he got the message and that it might have been slightly memorable enough to get through.

Unfortunately, it did not. I attempted to hold up Jeff in his lavender tote bag at every opportunity for question-asking, but was not really noticed, as far as I could tell. After the session was over, he was out of there fairly quickly, and I found my way over to the same super nice security-lady that I had spoken to before. However, this time, she handed Jeff the Squirrel off to a rather unsmiling man with an official-looking security headset. Even though he assured me that he would definitely pass him along, I got the feeling that there was yet another man in Austin who was not terribly amused by me or my handknit-animal shenanigans.

So Jeff went off into the ether, and I, ridiculously, had not enclosed any information with him as to my name or the name of my blog.

I know. I am terrible at self-promotion, apparently. I did send out another message into the Internet and directly to Eddie Izzard about Jeff’s fate, but I have not yet received any sort of response.

Cue the sad trombone.

That’s not to say that the whole trip ended up on such a blah note. Dan and I had a really great time, mostly stuffing all of Austin’s various food offerings into our faces, if my iPhone photos are any indication.

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Mexican food.

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Italian food. (I am such a sucker for anything with a completely obvious label, especially if it’s edible.)

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Argentinian food.

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Ice cream food. (I just typed ‘ice cream good’ on accident. This is the truth. Amy’s double chocolate chip with Reese’s peanut butter cups. I didn’t want to leave this place.)

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And some of the most delicious sushi ever set in front of me.

Plus, I made rice pudding for my brother and his fiancée…

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And assisted in harvesting some okra, which are now sitting in my fridge, waiting for me to pickle them. I am so excited.

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Can we talk for a second about how beautiful okra flowers are? I had no idea. I want to fill my whole backyard with this stuff.

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I also received another amazing present, my very first manicure and deluxe pedicure experience, from my brother’s fiancée. I had only ever gotten a manicure once before, during my freshman year in college, and the lady doing it pretty much spent the entire time yelling at me about the state of my cuticles, so we’re just going to say that it doesn’t count. I had such a wonderful time being pampered, because it is certainly not something that I would ever have thought to do for myself. Anyone else in the healthcare field knows how much nursing can tear up your hands, and I felt (and still do even later!) super special and suddenly very ladylike. I took the opportunity to show it off and admire the teal against my newest pair of socks (details to come later).

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So? The final verdict? I can only hope that Jeff made it to his final destination safe and sound with Eddie Izzard. If not, I hope he ended up with someone who thought he was cute and will take care of him and that he didn’t get thrown in the trash. I’m going to try my best to not let the uncertainty get to me, because it was such a lovely trip and a wonderful present to receive.

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I will definitely not let any of this experience change my mind about knitting tiny animals for people who mean a great deal to me, especially if they are famous people. I am aware that it is a strange thing to do, but I feel that there are way weirder things to be known for on the Internet. I can only hope that they get to their owners eventually.

Maybe next time.

The Summer So Far? Ice Cream and Muffins!

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Hello there. It’s been a while. I’m afraid that I have been reveling a tiny bit too much in the fact that my semester ended and doing some things that I don’t get a lot of chances to do. Like what, you ask?

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Sitting near lakes during lovely sunsets.

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Having lunch dates with my love. (At Dat Dog, of course. Overloaded hot dogs and Barq’s in the bottle should be the opener for every summer vacation.)

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Knitting a little squirrel for Eddie Izzard. Like you do. (Pattern is the hilariously titled Knit One Squirrel Two, by Rabbit Hole Knits, a lovely little bit of knitting that turns out some very strangely shaped little items. Don’t those tiny squirrel leg/haunches look like drumsticks? And the squirrel body? I can’t even get into that.)

We’re going to see Mr. Izzard in Austin at the end of June as a special birthday treat from my brother and his fiancee. I’m still wondering exactly how I am going to manage to give him a squirrel as I do not have any idea as to whether he is into the whole autograph-and-shaking-hands-with-fans situation after his shows. Anyone have any ideas short of me going on Twitter and telling him that I really want him to have this tiny squirrel, no strings attached? I’m pretty sure that I will be sent to awkward-Twitter-stalker jail for that one.

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Eating frozen yogurt out of cups that depict some sort of crazy dystopian mountains-vomiting-rainbows insanity.

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Listening to the charming words of Mr. Kai Ryssdal, (in person!) everybody’s favorite sassy business radio host.

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Reading Infinite Jest and giggling when I see references to children’s pictures books and M*A*S*H throughout, although I don’t think David Foster Wallace much cared for the antics of Hawkeye and Trapper John (I almost wrote B.J., but I’m pretty sure he was only into the early seasons).

Playing this game with Trip almost every single morning. He crouches in the corner now and waits for me to wake up so that I can get that sunbeam-iPhone-reflection going for him.

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Watching awesome bands and eating crawfish with wonderful friends. (And the Ghostwood even has a new 7″ out called Empty Cosmic Gloom that you should purchase so that you can get your fix of New Orleans pop punk goodness.)

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Causing my right thumb to go numb by X-Acto-ing tiny stencils of popular movie symbology so that I could tattoo them on small children. I do weird things for work sometimes.

Speaking of…

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Dressing up as Ramona Flowers from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World for our Summer Reading Kickoff party at work, where we all dressed as our favorite characters from novels (graphic novels included) that were later turned into films. Dan is responsible for the amazing goggles and war-hammer, and yes, you should be jealous of that fact. This was the first time where I ever got so into a costume that I would consider this ‘cosplaying,’ and it’s weird to think that my first time cosplaying happened on the clock at Barnes & Noble. I had some fairly extreme wig + goggles + tights + combat boots anxiety, but had an awesome time nonetheless. Especially after the event was over and I spent 3 hours at the information desk helping people, being the only person inexplicably in a costume in the entire store. I’m sure I confused some people. Except the people in the graphic novels aisle. I’m pretty sure that I delighted them.

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Making Jeni’s Roasted Strawberry & Buttermilk Ice Cream, from her amazing first book, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home.

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I didn’t get to eat much of it, as it was contributed to a work potluck in the break room, but it was some delicious stuff.

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It was a reason to actually go out and buy buttermilk, something that I do not normally do, even if a recipe tells me to.

Now I am in the situation where I have an awful lot of buttermilk that is going to go bad soon if I don’t use it up (How can you tell if buttermilk has turned, by the way? This is an important question.), so some baking just had to be done. Loaves of banana bread were mixed up and baked, but I still had more left over, so I turned to another old favorite.

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Pinch My Salt‘s delicious Whole Wheat Orange Spice Muffins were a great way to get up early this morning to use up that buttermilk, plus make my whole house smell like oranges, which is always a plus.

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Just one swipe on that grater, and it’s all over for me. I love oranges. I need a more emphatic word than love, but my hands still smell like oranges, and I’m too distracted and enchanted too care.

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Just lovely.

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The oranges are zested and juiced, and then combined with whole wheat flour, flaxseed meal, and some wonderful warm spices.

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I always like this moment right before I whisk together my dry ingredients, when you can see all the different colors and textures. It’s like sand art, in the best sense of the word.

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The wet ingredients are not nearly so attractive unmixed. Or mixed, frankly.

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But chunks of walnut make an appearance as well. I like to keep the chunks fairly large just to make these muffins as rustic and homey as possible.

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I’m going to pretend that that’s also the reason why I don’t smooth out the tops of my muffins, but laziness is probably also a factor in that.

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But look at that gorgeous cracked top! It’s so worth it. The tops of these muffins are sweet and have just the right amount of crunch. The bottoms are moist and orangey and buttery and full of whole wheatiness.

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You can even pretend that they’re still healthy when you dump a bunch of butter on them and enjoy them with some tea on a Friday morning. I have made these muffins countless times, but this is probably the first time with actual honest-to-goodness buttermilk, not fakey whole milk and vinegar kitchen hacks.

There’s only one problem. Even with all of this hearty buttermilk-based baking, I still somehow have buttermilk in my refrigerator. Apparently in Louisiana people must be drinking this stuff, because I can’t think of any reason why I had to buy a whole liter of this stuff. What on Earth am I going to do?

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Oh dear. Summer has only just begun. Someone ask me to make them an ice cream cake, quick.