Saturday, August 8, 2015

A Doubtful Guest

So this thing showed up on my porch chair. I invited it in.

It seemed harmless enough...

But then,
it just made itself right at home.

Really at home. It has no manners at all.


 Its a nosy parker,

fancies itself a literary critic,

and is a total couch hog.

David gave it a comeuppance.


 But they have since made up their differences.

Which is good, because it looks as if it means to stay for quite a while.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Pineapple Cake!

I had some leftover pineapple slices, so I decided to make an upside down cake. I don't know anything else to do with a pineapple. You will need a spring form pan.

1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
2 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups greek yogurt

some pineapple slices
brown sugar
a dab of butter

Pre heat the oven to 350.

Beat the butter, sugar, and vanilla until light colored and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Put all the dry ingredients in a sifter, and add one half at a time to the batter, alternating with yogurt.  Mix thoroughly after each addition.

Assemble your pan, then put about 1/3 cup of brown sugar and a dab of butter in it. Add a couple teaspoons of water. Turn a burner on medium, and then carefully melt the butter & sugar together, stirring to prevent burning. When the sugar is mostly melted, remove from heat and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan.

Cover the sugar with a layer of pineapple slices then pour in the batter. Gently thump the pan on the counter a couple times to shake out any big air bubbles. Place the pan on a cookie sheet, because it will leak. Bake for an hour and a half, approximately.

1. Yes, it really did take me 90 minutes to cook this. I turned the pan around once in the middle because my oven pretty much sucks.
2. The original recipe is for a sour cream coffee cake. So you could use that instead, but greek yogurt sure did the trick.
3. Maybe this is what I needed to use those plums for. I bet it would be delicious.
4. I used fresh pineapple, but I'm sure canned would be just as good.
5. I also didn't have any maraschino cherries, which I think are very important to a pineapple upside down cake. It just isn't the same without them.

I have no idea how people managed to make cakes before the invention of electric mixers. I paid 6$ for a used one at goodwill. It's a piece of crap, but it has made a batch of Mexican wedding cookies, a tart crust, and this cake this month and it was worth every one of those 600 pennies. This cake wouldn't have been half as good without it, because inflating the batter with minute air bubbles is one of the things that makes a proper cake.

This isn't perfect, but it's still very good cake. It stayed moist even after an hour and a half in the oven, and is neither too rich nor too rubbery. If you hate maraschino cherries though, at least have some ice cream with it.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

More about knitting


I'm not a serious knitter, by which I mean that I haven't been knitting since I was a wee sprat, and I spend less time making actual things than just dinking around. I've only been doing it regularly for about 5 years, or less. This means that I am still discovering things about knitting that are interesting.

For instance, I don't think about knitting the way people who design knitting patterns do- 'make 1 increase every 3 rows for 6 inches, then bind off 6 stitches using smaller needles...' I usually think something like 'well, I think I just gradually make it bigger starting here, and when it's long enough, I'll stop.' That kind of thing works fine for making simple shapes without any fancy textures, but for something more complex I'm still in the woods.

Therefore, swatches. I got the Barbara Walker stitch dictionary about the same time as I found a bag of mini skeins at goodwill. They're the perfect size for swatches: they're small enough that by the time I decide the yarn is too prickly, or the pattern is just stupid, I'm done anyway. I've learned some things about the nature of knitting this way:

Merino yarn really is a amazing as everyone says it is. It's lightweight, cushy, springy but not to springy, holds its shape well, and and looks a little glossy when worked up.

Fancy textures just look like crap when knitted in variegated yarn. No matter how beautiful that striped yarn looks with its 5 different colors in a ball, it will knit up a splotchy, uneven, formless mess. And you will not be able to see that fancy stitch clearly. Just don't even bother.

The most interesting thing that I've realized is that knitting has syntax. That is, patterns cannot be knitted backwards. In one sense, well duh. But it's why they don't reverse that is cool. Think of it this way- since knitting is basically just rows of loops going through other loops, it ought to work just as well if you go from the top to the bottom as from the bottom up, right? Not really. It works for plain knitting, because every row has exactly the same number of loops, and each loop stays in the same relationship to the other loops for the whole way. But if you knit a pattern, you change the relationship of each loop not only to the loops next to it, but in relation to the row before and the row after it! I'm sure experienced knitters would roll their eyes at me here. Whatever. The idea was a new one to me.

I tried to reverse the order of a particularly complex and beautiful pattern because I wanted a sweater knitted from the top down rather than bottom up. Did not go well. I never did manage to approximate anything like the original pattern, because I couldn't figure out the increases and decreases. On the other hand I gained an appreciation if swatching. Those are my swatches up there. I have a whole bag of them and they look like quilt pieces so maybe someday I'll make a very strange and off-putting cushion cover out of them.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Plum Tart

This is the third or fourth time I've used this crust recipe, and I've been trying to figure out if there's any reason not to use powdered sugar instead of regular. I don't think there is, but so far I haven't tried it.

These plums were growing in the yard of the vacant house next door to my sister. They're pretty good plums for cooking, not too sweet or too juicy. I made the crust as for for the jam tart pretty much exactly, but then put in a layer of sliced plums instead of jam, sprinkled a spoon or two of sugar on them, and skipped the marzipan.

I should have cooked it for a few more minutes, but the plums came out perfect. They got soft but not mushy, and were the perfect balance of sweet and tart. A little plum juice ran out and made the crumbs slightly fruity and cakey, and the almonds gave it crunch. I might have to get some more plums from the abandoned house before they all fall off the tree.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Things I Do for Love


I hate macaroni salad. I hate the squishy, stiff texture of the noodles, I hate the slimy miracle whip based sweet/sour/sickening yellow substance that glops around them. I hate the pickle bits that are sometimes mixed in. It manages to be both indescribably bland and utterly offensive. It is the cuisine of middle America at its nadir.

I have never made macaroni salad in my life. Until today.

David has a paradoxical love of macaroni salad. He dislikes mayonnaise on sandwiches, and I can't figure out why he likes it on cold noodles. But he was out of town this week, and I missed him,and he asked me to make some macaroni salad. So I said ok. I asked him what he likes in his macaroni salad. He said

'Little pieces of carrot. And pepper. And things.'

So there you have it.

Boil a cup of macaroni in salty water. Cook them a little softer than you would if you were going to eat them like spaghetti. When they're done, rinse them under cold water until they are quite cool.

Cut up 1 small carrot and 2 small ribs of celery into 1/4" dice. Mince a few leaves of parsley, and half a green onion. Put everything in a large bowl and add a large scoop of mayo and a tablespoon of the best quality coarse-ground dijon mustard you can find. Add plenty of coarse black pepper and stir it up.

Chill it for a while. Pour yourself a drink and feed the macaroni to your boyfriend. Secretly enjoy eating a serving yourself.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


I made some little elephants. The pattern is by Ysolda Teague, and the directions are just delightful to use. I used smaller yarn than called for, and smaller needles, but other than that I pretty much followed the directions exactly for the first elephant, and only made the ears different for the second, smaller one.

The bigger one looks pretty much like an elephant, so I added a tail, which the directions don't call for. I also didn't have enough yarn to make a whole elephant in gray, so I switched to red for the body so he looks like he's wearing a little onesie. I added a butt flap to complete the impression. He's stuffed with Poly fill. This makes him quite lightweight, and very squishy, which is nice, but his arms and legs are a bit stiff or something.

I made the next one on even smaller needles, but with the same yarn, resulting in a much denser knitted fabric. Partly I just thought the miniaturization would be cute, and partly I wanted to fill it with beans and thus needed to make sure the knitting was tight enough that the beans wouldn't work their way out. That aspect was perfectly successful: the beans gave it a nice weight and the arms and legs are appealingly floppy, and slightly poseable. On the other hand, the ears turned out a little unexpectedly. I think they look more elfin than elephantine. I like the construction of the alternate ears; they are flatter at the edges than the originals, but the proportions are a bit whimsical. I now have a strange little house gnome rather than an elephant. I think it needs a tail, but I'm not sure what kind, I'll have to think about it.

Here are more pictures.

Saturday, June 21, 2014


I always have to say it like Timmy from the Simpsons says Timmy!


It looks boring as hell. I can't remember what made me look up a recipe, and once I made some I didn't even want to take a picture of it. It has such a loyal following that I thought well whattahell, it can't be all that great.

But it kinda is. It's like if a Kit Kat bar was really as good as the TV ads say it is. But more like the graham cracker pie crust of the gods. With chocolate. It's definitely not cake, or a cookie, and you wouldn't say it was candy either.

8 oz TJ's lemon wafer cookies, the ones with chocolate drizzles
1/3 cup yellow raisins, optional. If you do without, add another handful of cookies.
1/3 cup butter
4 T cocoa powder
3 T syrup
2 T sugar

about 4 or 5 oz of chocolate

Smash up the cookies. Don't totally powder them, there ought to be a few pea-sized bits left. Add the cocoa powder and raisins.

In a small sauce pan, heat the butter, sugar, & syrup. Bring to a gentle boil for about 5 minutes, then pour over the rest of the ingredients. Toss everything together until thoroughly combined, then press the mix into a cake pan. Melt the chocolate. Pour it over the mix and swirl the pan around to create an even layer on top. Cool the tiffin in the fridge, then break or cut it into candy bar sized pieces.


1. Traditionally, you are supposed to use a mild, dry, not very rich cookie for this. But i really like those lemon things.
2. Also, authentic recipes will call for 'golden syrup' which I think is very similar to pancake syrup, but I've never had any so I don't know. I used some scandinavian baking syrup I got at ikea.
3. Lastly, the recipe I based this on called for half dark and half milk chocolate, melted and mixed together. So I just used semi sweet baking chips.

Dang this stuff was good. The lemon cookies are very crispy, but not hard, and the raisins make little tart, chewy fruity spots that bring out the lemon flavor. I used only one kind of chocolate, but it now occurs to me that if I had used half dark and half milk chocolate, I could have given it a marbled top instead of mixing the two together. It would have looked fancier, and maybe I'd have taken a picture.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Improved Tamales

The first time I made tamales, I fell into the trap of thinking that it had to be difficult to make them, because they are delicious, and mysterious, and somewhat exotic to me. In hindsight, this was a pretty silly thing to assume, because like all really good comfort food, tamales are what poor people with few resources in terms of time or equipment make to feed themselves with. I'm sure the procedure outlined in my first attempt is just fine, if you want to make things hard on yourself, but this is easier, and comes out better. You do not need a mixer, just a big bowl and a spoon or spatula. You don't need to whip the shortening first, and then add little bits of this and little bits of that, just whack it all together. And for crying out loud, just use baking powder. No one in their right mind is going to turn their nose up at your tamale because it is too fluffy and delicious!

Start by putting half a package of corn husks in very hot water to soak. Weight them down with something so they stay submerged. This will make 10 to 15 tamales depending on how big you want them.

Then take

3 1/2 cups masa for tamales
2 1/2 cups nearly boiling water

Mix these 2 ingredients thoroughly, until the masa is evenly moistened. Cover and set aside for about 45 minutes to hydrate while you assemble whatever you want to put inside them. I used little sticks of cheddar and a half jar of roasted green peppers that was in the freezer. When you're ready to assemble things you will need:

More warm water
1 Tablespoon baking powder
2/3 cups shortening- I used about half butter and half bacon fat.
Aluminum foil

Break up the hydrated masa and mix in the shortening and baking powder.. A wooden spoon or something else firm is good for this. When the shortening is well incorporated, gradually add enough water to give the mix a soft play-doh consistency. Salt to taste.

Take about half a cup of dough and squish it onto the center of a corn husk. Form it into a square about 4" across and put few bits of filling down the center. Roll the whole business up, fold over the narrow end of the husk and leave the other end open. Tear a off rectangle of aluminum foil and firmly wrap the tamale with it.

To cook, fill a stock pot or other deep cooking vessel with about 4" of water. Put the tamales in the pot so that the open ends of the tamales are pointing upwards. Boil for about 45 minutes or until the cheese explodes out of the wrapper and makes a mess.


1. Remember to keep track of which end is the open end of the tamale! I folded the foil wrappers so the ends were easily distinguishable.
2. Use fresh masa. Mine was rather old, and while the texture is great, the taste is a little disappointing.
3. You can use any type of shortening, even cooking oil, I bet.
4. Likewise, you could use stock instead of water. I was just trying to keep things simple.
5. Use enough salt. Tamales don't even have to have fillings, it's really about the steamed masa, so make sure that stuff is well seasoned.
6. Try to keep the filings well encased in the masa. Tamales expand significantly during cooking, which puts a lot of pressure on the insides. 

Expansion is why you leave one end of the tamale open in the first place. If you wrap the whole thing up as tight as possible, you're just setting yourself up to have the husks rupture and make a giant gloppy mess in the cooking pot. It's better to leave one end open to give it a little extra room at the outset. Foil wrapping helps too. It eliminates the need to use little strings to tie up the husks, and keeps excess water out of the tamales while they're boiling.

This recipe is so much simpler than the previous one that I am again considering making my own tamales regularly.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Jam Tart


The filling is just a layer of store bought jam, so there's nothing amazing about that, but the crust is quite remarkable.

3/4 cups butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups flour (about 200 grams)
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
sliced almonds

optional: 1/3 cup marzipan

Pre heat the oven to 350.

Cream the butter & sugar with the salt & almond extract until the mixture is fluffy and light colored and the sugar grains are dissolved. Gently mix in the flour. Put 1/2 cup of the dough in a bowl in the freezer to stiffen up. Press the rest of the pastry into a tart pan; be sure to make the crust as even a thickness as possible. Spread a thin layer of jam over the crust. Take the reserved crust out of the freezer. If you're using marzipan, use a pastry cutter to combine it slightly with the reserved dough. Break the mixture into crumbs and sprinkle it over the jam, then add a few almond slices. Bake until the crust is lightly browned, 40 to 50 minutes.

1. I over cooked mine. I didn't want it as brown as the picture. It was also a smidge tough.
2. The original recipe says to use a 9" pan. Mine is bigger than that, which is why I decided to use a little marzipan in the topping to spread it out a little.
3. Real butter. Not margarine. Not shortening.
4. Do not skimp during the part about 'cream butter & sugar until fluffy'. This is all-important!
5. I used blackberry jam, but I bet it would be really good with marmalade, or figs, or plum jam.

This crust is both amazing and very strange. Essentially what you do is make a buttercream frosting, then mix in enough flour to make a kind of heavy spackle which you then coat the inside of your pan with. Conventional pastry has a tendency to shrink and toughen when it is cooked, but this stuff does not shrink, and at least when it isn't overcooked, stays tender and shortbready. I suspect that the reason for the lack of shrinkage is the fact that when you cream the butter & sugar, what you're doing is whipping minute bubbles into the fat. It takes quite a long time if you do this by hand, but the result is unlike anything else. The air bubbles expand in the oven, and since there is no added liquid in the recipe to evaporate out and cause shrinking, the crust retains its size and shape as it solidifies.

I used this crust recipe for a quarkkuchen a little later, with a little vanilla and lemon zest, and it was fantastic.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Chocolate Cheese Cake


Jej mades a mighty delicious chocolate cheesecake. This is not exactly the recipe she used, because she has an even harder time following a recipe than I do, but we started with the same source material, and I added cocoa powder the same as she did. You will need a springform baking pan.

Pre heat the oven to 325.


2 cups peanut butter cookie crumbs
1/4 cup butter

Grind the cookies to a powder and put them in a microwavable bowl with the butter. Zap it for about 30 seconds, then mix the butter and crumbs thoroughly.  Press the mixture into the bottom of your pan and up the sides about an inch. Set aside.


2, 8-oz things of cream cheese
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 cups greek yogurt
1/4 cup cocoa powder
teaspoon vanilla extract

If you have a food processor that is big enough to do the whole recipe at once, put everything in it and process it until it's smooth. (I don't have such a thing, but I do have a blender, which worked but was not too happy about it. ) Pour the filling into the crust and bake for an hour. See note #1! It will be still a little jiggly when it comes out of the oven, that's ok. Let it cool at room temperature for an hour, then stick it in the fridge over night and it will set up.

1. My oven is known to cook very unevenly. To compensate for this, I baked mine for 25 minutes, turned it around, and baked it for another 25 minutes. Remember, every time you open the oven, your cooking time increases by a few minutes so take that into account if you need to do the same.
2. Heating the cookie crumbs as well as the butter softens the crumbs. You need less butter to hold them together than you would if you were using crackers because cookies already have a high fat content.
3. Use full fat yogurt if you can get it. The original recipe calls for sour cream, so stop worrying about the fat content. It's a cheesecake for crissakes.

So why do I keep putting greek yogurt in things if I'm not worried about the fat content? Because sour cream is not a multi-tasking ingredient. I make my own yogurt because it's cheap that way, so that's always what there is in the fridge. In most recipes, you can use greek yogurt and sour cream interchangeably, but I can't eat a bowl of sour cream and cereal for my breakfast. Blerg. Yogurt is more tart than sour cream (which I like), and you have to be careful adding it to hot dishes because it can curdle, but mostly it's easier for me to use that than planning ahead and buying a whole other thing that doesn't go in anything else. I'm lazy, basically.