Monday, June 28, 2010

Derailed by disasters

Alas, I am failing at keeping my crafty commitments. Life has just gotten in the way.  Not quite 2 weeks ago we had a major plumbing break in our apartment building, which led to a giant flood of sewage coating our bathroom for about 3 whole days before it was fully fixed. (Yuck does not begin to cover it.) No sooner did we get that cleaned up and Moose became ill.  The vet has diagnosed him with a bacterial infection (hmm...wonder where he could have picked that up from??) He is going to make a full recovery after a course of antibiotics, but the accompanying vomit and diahrrea with a semi-house trained dog has been less than fun. Needless to say, this has literally been a (pardon the french) shitty couple of weeks.  My heart is just not into my projects, and now thanks to the new veterinarian we visited, neither is my pocketbook. But things are looking up because Thursday is pay day and hopefully I'll get back on track for next week. I've got a sewing project I want to show's a nifty little roll up pouch to keep your knitting needles in. Very simple, but very functional. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Crafting the perfect cookie

The perfect cookie is by definition 1.) Chocolate Chip and 2.) Home made. While point 1 may be arguable to some folks (they'll still be wrong despite the arguing) you still can't beat point number 2. I happened to create a batch of lovely chocolate chip goodness yesterday, so I thought I'd share some of my tips for baking success.

Use the right tools. Invest in a good stand mixer. Nick gave me a very nice Kitchenaid stand mixer as a Christmas gift a few years ago. Before that I had always used a hand mixer and never wanted to upgrade-mostly because of the price of stand mixers, but the hand mixer had never let me down, so I just didn't see the point. The first batch of cookies I made after plugging the thing in, and I found out what I was missing. The dough blended much more evenly, which helped the cookies bake more evenly. The stand mixer has also improved the quality of the cakes I bake, as well as pizza dough.

Parchment paper is your friend. Line your baking sheets with it religiously. It keeps the cookies from sticking to the pan, helps prevent burnt bottoms, and makes clean-up a snap. You can also re-use the same sheet for the whole batch.

Make the rounds of dough as uniform in size as possible. Get yourself a mini ice cream scoop and use it. Scoop, run the tool along the inside of the mixing bowl to press the dough in and skim off the excess, drop into perfect rounds on the pan. It's clean and easy and all your cookies come out to be the same size.

Use the 2-1 rule. Have 2 baking pans for the cookies, but only put 1 in the oven at a time. Having only 1 pan in the center of the oven helps the cookies bake more evenly because the air isn't getting blocked by the second pan.  While one pan is in the oven, the second is either being loaded with more cookie dough or is cooling. More on this after the next tip...

Rotate the pan half-way through the baking time. If the recipe calls for the cookies to bake 12 minutes, turn the pan around at 6 minutes and continue baking.  That way, if your oven has any hot spots it has equally affected the entire batch.  Combining this with the 2-1 rule, here is the process I generally use when baking:

  • Set up the first pan with dough. Let it bake for half the alotted time.

  • Rotate the pan in the oven and set up the second pan with dough.

  • When it's time to take the first batch out of the oven, pull that out and reload with the second pan. Immediately remove the cookies to a cooling rack, or onto a section of countertop covered with a paper sack that has had the bottom cut out, so that it lays flat. The paper helps absorb any excess grease from the cookies and also helps pull away some of the heat. (See how I snuck an extra tip in there. Heh. Did ya?)

  • Reset the timer for the half-way mark on the rotation schedule. Let the pan that was just pulled out of the oven cool during this time.

  • When it's time to rotate the second pan, do so and then set up the original pan again for the next round of baking. Rinse and repeat until all the cookie dough has been used.

  • My final tip is this: Don't trust your timer. Use it as a guide, but watch how your cookies are baking.  Some times different types of pans will need different amounts of time in the oven. This is the case with the pans I have.  They're the same brand, but one set will need 10 minutes in the oven and the other goes closer to 14.  You don't want half of your cookies perfect and the other half to get charred. If they're looking a little crispy, or not quite done, adjust the baking time as necessary until you get a perfect golden brown. Also remember that the baking process will continue for another minute or so once they're pulled out of the oven.  It's better to pull them slightly early and you can pop them back in for another round if they need it after a little cooling time.

    Now go forth and bake!

    Monday, June 14, 2010


    No crafts this week.  Instead I've decided to use this weeks' post as a shameless plug for pet food.  Why? A.) Because it's my blog and well...I can. And B.) Because I've come to believe that this stuff has really made a difference, so I wanted to share all the goodness with you.

    Of course at this point I'm probably supposed to mention that I am not in any way being sponsored or paid by the makers of the product I'm going to review for you.  Also, I am not a veterinarian.  Please don't go swapping all your pet food just because I said so.  If you want to give it a try, fantastic! But you know your pets better than I do.  Use some good judgement and give them what they need. Now that's that's over with...

    A couple of months ago I stopped at my local Petco store.  They were having an event for natural pet foods where you could get free samples so I picked up a couple for Moose.  They sat in his food bin for probably another month before we even touched them since Nick and I aren't really into the whole organic/natural foods thing.  It's all a little too woo-woo for us, and we've both worked on a farm before where pesticide use was a common thing, so that doesn't bother us. In fact, we still maintain that fruits and vegetables are fruits and vegetables...they're just as nutritious whether they were sprayed or not.  So when we got the samples it was like, yeah. neat. they're organic. big deal. we'll take some since they're free. And so they sat.

    In addition to our dachshund Moose, we have 2 house cats, Whiskey and Ivan.  Whiskey is a large cat to begin with, but he was starting to look a little more portly than usual (and that's putting it nicely.) I was playing around with the new Wii Fit game that has the fun little option where you can weigh your pets.  I grabbed the fat cat and we hopped up on the board together. Wouldn't you know it, but that chubby fur ball weighs just over 17 pounds! I decided right then and there that he needed to go on a diet. Not ever really caring what he ate before, and just buying the cat food that was on sale, putting him on a diet required some research. So I turned to the internet. 

    Unfortunately it's been a while since I looked all of this up so I don't have specific websites to reference, but the gist of my research is as follows. I found an instructional page about reading pet food labels and how to compare them. (Don't worry...I checked more than one to cross reference the validity of the statements made on each page.) And then of course there was a section about the ingredients in pet food. I was appallled by what was allowed to pass for food products in some of those listings. Some weren't even food, but byproducts of manufacturing processes like making tires! Along with the ingredients on one page was a listing of some common pet ailments which can be caused by those ingredients or the preservatives that are added to make them last in dry pet food. Dandruff, itchy coat, upset tummy...hey Moose has some of those. His food is getting swapped too.

    That's when the comparing began.  I looked at the ingredients and nutritional analysis of over 30 different pet foods and finally decided that Wellness was the brand we were going to go with. All of my boys have been eating it for about 2 and a half months now. Moose is eating Wellness Core, which is grain-free and protein focused. The cats are eating Wellness Indoor Health.  I debated about starting them on the healthy weight formula, but Ivan is pretty much the opposite of Whiskey and he could stand to gain a few pounds, so I didn't want to take away ALL the calories.

    This food has made a HUGE difference in all of them. Most noticable is their coats.  All my boys are soft and shiny. When you pet them it feels like they have just been brushed out and Moose doesn't have dandruff or itchy hot spots any more. The second big difference is the lack of (forgive me if this is TMI) vomit on the living room floor.  With the old food, one or both cats would tend to throw up their breakfast at least twice a week.  We had always thought it was just because they ate it too fast, but now we know it was the food itself upsetting their stomach.  Neither of our cats have thrown up their food ONCE since we've started them on Wellness, not even during the trasition phase when we just started to swap them over to it. Also, because it's more nutritionally sound, they are better satisfied with the food. They tend to eat less at a sitting and don't come begging for more right after they've been fed.  Many times they still have food in their dish when I go to give them their evening portion. I haven't weighed Whiskey, but you can tell he's lost weight just by looking at him. That belly pooch beneath him is more loose skin than fatty flab now. Best of all though, our animals are getting along better because they feel better.  There's a lot less "fighting" since nobody is crabby about the food in thier bowl now.

    My only con to this stuff is that it is UNGODLY expensive.  But all of the pet foods with natural ingredients are.  I decided on Wellness because it was the most reasonably priced for the ingredients I wanted my boys to have. If you find coupons...LET ME KNOW! I am one of the biggest skeptics about new and "natural" things, but I can honestly say we are never going back to generic pet food again.  Seeing the changes that have come about in my pets just from swapping their food has convinced me it was the right decision and paying the nosebleed price is worth it for that fact alone. I'm also going to confess that it has made me wonder about those sprayed vegetables, and all the other processed items, that are in my food too.  It's one of those things where you start to think, "Could this allergy be from that ingredient? How much better would I feel if I went organic too?" I don't think Nick and I are ready to take that leap yet, but seeing my little fur babies happy on the new stuff has warmed my heart.

    So now I challenge you.  You don't have to switch to Wellness, or any other pet food for that matter.  But do this: Learn what's in your pet's food.  Where do the ingredients come from and how does it affect your buddie's body? What you find just might suprise you...

    Monday, June 7, 2010

    Victory and an unappreciative model

    Last week (or maybe it was 2 weeks ago...I don't remember) I told you I wanted to make my dog Moose this knitted sweater.

    3 days at the lake and I've finally done it. (Follow this link for the pattern.) I have to apologize in advance that my pictures are horrible.  I made the mistake of using the digital camera instead of the camera on my cell phone, so they turned up really dark. Also, while he is cute, Moose doesn't really understand how to sit still, even for treats.  I'm pretty sure he continues to wiggle even when he's sleeping, so everything looks a little fuzzy from the movement too.'s how it turned out.

    I think it turned out great despite a few flaws, and it is still very wearable. It also made for an excellent intermediate project because I learned a lot from it.  I now know how to do an increase, how to work in the round, how to make ribbing, and I've gotten a lot better at being able to read my knitting so I can tell right away when I make a mistake.  I also taught myself a couple of tricks for fixing those mistakes without ripping out rows and rows of stitching (even though I did have to do that once for this project...but there were no tears this time, so HUZZAH!)

    In addition to all the knitting stuff I learned, it also helped me figure out the fit that Moose needs for his sweaters, which is precisely the reason I need to make him one.  Because he's so broad chested and his body is so long, store bought sweaters and dog coats don't fit him properly. They either won't fit around his chest, or there's so much fabric around his front legs (because we had to get the next size up) that he trips over them. Here's an example:

    See the front part of the sweater where his tags are? (And yes, the little brat is sticking his tongue out at me.  He also does a lip curl trick that makes him look like Elvis.) This pattern is leaving about half of his chest exposed which is a bit troublesome in the winter when he's walking through snow deeper than he is. I can fix this if I knit a larger space between the top edge and the leg holes.  The pattern called for 4" of knitting, but I think 6" would be better for Moose.  Also, the length from the leg holes to the base of the sweater is perfect for his under-side but he's still got a good 3" or so along his back that needs to be covered.  If I were to cast off around the under-side of the sweater and continue back and forth along the top it would give him the coverage he needs. 

    I also know that I need to do better at binding off loosely.  The first time I tried there wasn't enough stretch to the bottom edge and it didn't fit around his chest.  Thankfully, I left a long enough tail on the yarn when I cut it that I just untied the knot and stretched it out along the knitting.  Now it fits just right, even if it does look a little funny on the underside.

    Moose is also smaller than what this pattern is designed for, so I made a few adjustments and prayed they'd be some where close.  It came out just how I needed it to, so it was a pretty good guess. Moose weighs about 9 pounds and is 11 and 1/2 inches long from his shoulders to the base of his tail if that helps you gauge the pattern for your dog. I used Lion Brand Cotton Ease yarn in taupe and with my alterations I used roughly half of a skein.  For the hooded section I used US size 9 straight needles, and for the body I used US size 10- 16" circulars. I knitted the hood section for 7", the body section in stockinette for 4" and the ribbing along the bottom for another 3".  Give it a try!  The trickiest part is the leg openings, but if I could manage them, so can you.  Good luck and let me know how it turns out!

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010

    More baking!

    This past weekend my boyfriend celebrated his 27th birthday.  Being the good girlfriend I am, I decided to make him a cake. It was 90 degrees in our apartment before turning the oven on, I was under threat of out-of-state relatives arriving at my door any second (with no prior plans of doing so), and I had never attempted to decorate with fondant, which was the planned design for the cake. Safe to say, things had the potential to go horribly wrong...but THEY DIDN'T! YAY!

    I used the Wilton Ready-to-Use white rolled fondant.  It was "okay" tasting, but you could definitely tell that it came from a box.  Now that I know how it's supposed to behave, I'll try making my own next time. It was super easy to use though.  I think I had a harder time trying to find counter space to roll it out than I did making the shapes I wanted.  As you can see in the photo I also had no problem coloring the fondant either. It works up like really stiff cookie dough.  You just punch out the shapes you need using cookie or fondant cutters and "glue" the pieces together using a little bit of water. It was fun.  You should try it too.