Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Perfect Baguette: Part II

The baguette-making continues. Yesterday I tried out another recipe for authentic French baguette from the book French Women Don't Get Fat. The author began making her own baguettes after moving to the US from Paris and being unable to find a decent baguette. I guess this is a more common problem than one thinks. She goes on to write how dead easy it is to make a good baguette, and that people have this mislead belief that bread-making is incredibly difficult hard work. Sounds good to me. I was hopeful that another French recipe would yield a tasty, crusty, chewy stick (and no, this was not a diet recipe).

The ingrediants were all purpose flour, active dry yeast, warm water, salt, and egg wash. I mixed the yeast with water this time (according to the recipe) and let it sit 10 minutes. Then it went into a bowl with the flour, salt and more warm water and yielded a gooey dough. My only complaint about the recipe at this point was that it called for "4-5 cups of all purpose flour" without any further explanation for how to decide the final quantity. I went with 4.5 cups.

I kneaded for about 20 minutes even though her recipe said 6-10 minutes (but by machine) and passed the windowpane test. Now, this is where I think I'm having some bread problems. After about an hour of rising, my dough was only slightly risen, definitely not doubled. I think I'm doing something wrong with the yeast, but then again, I was trying to follow the recipe.

Then I shaped the dough into baguette-like loaves and was pleased to see them cooperate somewhat on the second rising (remember last time they failed to rise whatsoever). I skipped the egg wash and just brushed with water, and used scissors for slashing - not so pretty, but at least they had slash marks. The actual baking was done at a lower temperature (450 F) than the first recipe I used and called for a pan of hot water to be placed next to the bread.

Overall, not a bad bread! It was lacking a bit in the golden colour and chewiness department, but was quite tasty and crusty even though it didn't look as nice as the first batch. This time I remembered to double my cookie sheets and grease them (thanks Hazel) so I wouldn't have burnt and stuck bottoms. I think next time I will put a little sugar in the yeast (4 people have now suggested this to me, who knew that this was common knowledge), bake it at a higher temperature, and use more spraying in the first few minutes in the oven.

Now if we can just hurry up and eat this batch so I can do batch #3! The good news is that we have lots of visitors coming in the next while, so they can help eat through all the trials (I am excited about their visit for other reasons too, but those are not relevant to this blog). I have been eating nutella baguettewiches for the past two days...yummy!

Happy Hallowe'en!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Amish Weekend

Back from our first road trip! The weather was fantastic and made for a beautiful autumny experience. On Saturday we visited the towns of Sugarcreek, Walnut Creek, and Bolivar and met some lovely people along the way. First we stopped by the Sugarcreek Artisan's Mercantile (and town gym) and received some suggestions for how to spend our day. We went to the Alpine Hills Museum and had an authentic Amish meal at Beachy's Restaurant. After, we took a tour of an old working Amish home and ate some delicious fry-pies..mmm. There was a newborn baby horse - apparently no one knew she had been pregnant! There were some cute donkeys, sheep, Shetland ponies and piggies too.

Some fabric from an Amish quilt shop:

Yesterday I stopped in Joann's to pick up a couple of supplies, and an hour later, walked out with some mini alphabet stamps, textile paint, 2 yds of muslin, a walking foot for my sewing machine, and some quilt batting. That store is so overwhelming. I wandered aimlessly around the quilting section thinking I'd like to buy some quilting cotton, but had to give up because I didn't know how much and what colours I wanted to buy. Even after one settles on a colour theme, there are endless prints and patterns to select from. My anxiety dissipated as soon as I left the area.

The stamps were inspired by Whispering Pine's wonderful crafts - her attention to detail is incredible and her projects are so professional and classic. Although I don't know what I'll be stamping just yet, having these stamps make me feel like I too, can create similar wonderfully detailed crafts. What's silly is that I already owned some alphabet stamps but sold them at my yard sale thinking I would never use them again. I was wrong. Every crafter needs a set of alphabet stamps.

As if I don't already have enough hobbies, I am going to give quilting (basic basic quilting, it may not even involve joining two different fabrics together) a whirl. The foot and quilt materials are for the coaster project from Joelle Hoverson's new Last Minute Patchwork & Quilted Gifts book.

Not sure when I'll get to start this though, as I'd like to finish a few more projects I started earlier (second apron, jacket, monkey socks. . . the list is embarassingly long). Happy crafting!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Crafty Update

Finally, the weekend! This weekend will be especially fun because it happens to be Road Trip #1. A while ago I purchased Neil Zurcher's Ohio Road Trips and have been wanting to do a little exploring. Starting with central-ish (I think) Ohio, we will be visiting the Tuscarawas region and stopping in Sugarcreek, Dover, Bolivar, and whereever else catches our eye. This entire area is also home to Ohio's largest Amish population, and producer of a ton of Swiss cheese. Should be very interesting.

Onto knitticraftiness: It has been a crafty few days so I've got a few photos to share. First off, I made yet another bear from LMKG - they are just so cute. You can never make too many of these. It still needs facial details, but it's almost done. I love its pudgy arms and legs. Gatsby was suspicious at first, but soon converted to a bear-cuddler:

What a helpful photography assistant. I think he's giving me a dirty look.

The jacket is slowly coming along. It has been abandoned many times for smaller, quicker knits, but I managed to start a sleeve...

I also baked a cake on Thursday, but was rather uninspired, and ended up just using the flower candies I had made last time. Actually, this cake went through several disasters including having to remove some ugly hot pink roses from the centre. That's why there is a large mound of purple in the middle - to hide the ugly mistake. The cake was unfortunately a bit of a mess on the inside (I broke both layers) too, so hopefully the taste makes up for the interior ugliness. It's a nice bright lemony cake inside...yum!

And I finished the crown of the Koolhaus Hat:

Have a good weekend!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Koolhaas Hat

This is a common thing that happens - I get sidetracked and start casting on for new projects, and soon end up with all these half-knitted objects lying everywhere around the house. But when I saw this cool hat designed by the talented Mr. Brooklyn Tweed, I couldn't resist making it. So last Friday I stopped by the Yarn Shop on Kenny Road and picked up a couple balls of worsted weight wool for this little side project (it's not quite done, but close enough):

Pattern: Koolhaas Hat
Source: Interweave Knits, Holiday Gifts 2007
Yarn: Reynolds Kids Play Time, a little more than 1 skein
Needles: US 7 and 8

Aside from knitting, I had dinner at Bluefish on Friday night, did a little shopping and stopped by Whole Foods on Saturday, and then checked out a punk band at Skully's - a loud and interesting night. This started us on the topic of making more of an effort to experience more arts and culture - including some day trips to explore Ohio's nearby towns!

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Perfect Baguette: Part I

Since we arrived in Columbus, D and I have been unable to find ourselves a decent baguette. Who knew it would be so difficult? They were everywhere in Toronto and we took them for granted. I would say my favourite baguette was from Ace Bakery - delicious golden crusty chewy goodness on the outside, chewy and bubbly on the inside, so good that you have to tear off a hunk and eat it before you get home. Yum.

I'm not a bread expert in any way (although I am sounding like a baguette snob, oh well) but there is a specific texture and taste that a good baguette is supposed to have. If you like reading about food, you should read Jeffrey Steingarten - he has a fun chapter about baguettes in one of his books (I can't remember which one, but his writing makes my mouth water for foods I have never even heard of. That's how good it is).

I've sampled several Columbus baguettes now and am getting the impression that the mid-west is not somewhere that likes anything other than soft, fluffy bread. Supermarkets sell something they like to call a 'french baguette' which is more like a long, glorified dinner roll (pale and undercooked, sad sad bread). Then we tried one from the North Market, which was better, but still not Ace. It was flavourful but too crusty and too fluffy. Then last week, I bought one from Whole Foods Market thinking it would be close to the real thing, but it was just a bit better than the first supermarket one. Maybe there is a delicious baguette in Columbus that we haven't found yet, and if you know of one please tell me. In the meantime, I got tired of searching and decided to taken it upon myself to learn how to make one. D's sister always raves about homemade bread, and last winter D's mom started making her own bread too. Obviously it is going to take many attempts to become good at baguette-making, so here is my little tribute to food journalism, in the manner of Steingarten, my food writing hero.

For my first attempt, I decide to follow a simple recipe from a little book by Peter Mayle and Gerard Auzet because I am convinced that a French baker's recipe is the way to go, and am sold by the secret little 'inside tips' they offer throughout (like spraying your oven with water to promote good crust). I gather all my ingrediants and supplies:

Already I have a problem. He claims they use half all-purpose and half bread flour in the book, but then the recipe only refers to all-purpose flour. Maybe he means that the APF is really a mix of APF/BF. But when I check another recipe it actually lists both flours. What to do? I end up going with the 50/50 mix because of all the talk about this in the first half of the book.

Then I add yeast to the flour and salt and slowly add warm water, all of which I mix by hand. My arms are already aching. This already seems suspicious since most instant yeasts are supposed to be added to water to 'proof' before being combined with the dry ingrediants, but I overlook this fact because a) surely a French baker knows what he's doing and b) I am trying to follow a recipe correctly for once (D accuses me of not following the recipe when it actually matters). I am scared my bread won't rise.

The doughy mess sits for 10 minutes on the counter and now requires me to knead it for 15-20 minutes until it passes the 'windowpane' test, which is when the dough has developed enough glutens that when stretched, it doesn't break and allows light to pass through. I am learning that making bread by hand is really tiring. But a good workout for the shoulders. Thirty minutes later, I still haven't passed the windowpane test and I'm ready to lie down. I knead for 5 more minutes and just barely get my windowpane. Phew. Now we wait for the dough to rise:

Does it look doubled in volume to you? I don't think it will get any bigger, but at least I know the yeast is doing something.

At this time, D calls and needs a ride home from school. This gives me just enough time to cut the dough into four and shape them into batards. Once I return from picking up D, they should be about doubled in size:

Uh oh. They didn't move, so I guess the yeast stopped working. Does bread get bigger in the oven? These are going to be very baby sized baguettes. I carry on with the next step in the instructions, which involves creasing and rolling the dough into 15" long sticks:

I let them sit for another 35 minutes for the last rise, during which time my baguettes sadly remain the same size. At least I am following the recipe. The next part is to brush them with water and slash them 4-5 times across the top - trickier than it sounds. My knife drags through the dough and cannot seem to make a gash. I try again and the dough is looking more mangled every time, so I leave it. Now for the fun part. I drip water into the oven to create a nice steam room for my baguette:

And here they are! They don't get any bigger in the oven and look much more like thick breadsticks, however they do taste quite authentically baguetty. And there is a nice crust (I think the water trick worked). Two stuck to the pan completely and only their tops could be saved, but the recipe didn't say to flour or oil the pans so I don't see that as being my fault.

See the nice big holes? D thought they tasted better than any baguette we'd bought in Columbus so far, so this is a promising start (he later admitted that when he saw the four uncooked batards he was worried they would come out like rocks). Other than the abnormally small size, lack of slash marks and sticking to the pan, this wasn't a bad first try. At least the texture and flavour were good, which is what this whole venture was about. Next time, I'm going to mix the yeast and water first to see what happens.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Recycled Baby Onesies

All summer I'd been spotting cute and cool baby onesies popping up all over craft land, including one shop that was selling onesies made of recycled vintage T-shirts. They had some awesome ones made from old band shirts like the Ramones and Smiths. Unfortunately I was never much of a band-shirt wearer, so my selection for fabric was a bit more limited. I tried to raid D's closet but didn't get any good haul.

Here's a recycled tee onesie I made for baby M, who is a super cutie pie (her parents are ex-McGillites). I bought a basic baby clothes pattern and modified the closure, and used ready-made bias tape for the trim. The most challenging part, actually, was putting in the snaps - I didn't realize I needed to reinforce them with interfacing since their sharp metal teeth would weaken the fabric, so hopefully it will survive a few wearings. Babies grow so fast anyhow, so I'm sure she won't be wearing it for long.

And here are two more I made in a fit of enthusiasm:

I really need to find some more awesome t-shirts.

Knitting is sloowwwwly progressing. I've had to stop because I developed some rather uncomfortable neck and jaw aches (I seem to have trouble relaxing when I knit), but the front panels of the jacket are done, the shoulders are seamed, collar is done and now I am knitting a sleeve. I have been having increasing bouts of uncertainty as to my yarn choice for this jacket, and have been very tempted to rip out the whole thing a few times already because it's too drapey and the yarn would have been better suited for something like the Hourglass Sweater pattern. Oh well, I'm so far along now, I might as well finish and then judge how it looks.

D gave a big talk at school today and it went well, so we are off to have a quick drink to celebrate!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Knitting away...

It's been a beautiful weekend here in Columbus. I love that it's perfect sweater weather right now. Fall is my favourite for colours too - you can wear more grey, black, browns and dark blue without being accused of being depressing.

D and I have been enjoying the local arts scene - we heard the Columbus Symphony perform Beethoven's 9th symphony (chorale) on Friday night. I haven't been to all that many symphonies, but I thought it was amazing. The conductor was so enthusiastic I thought he would fall off his podium at several points. The Ohio Theatre itself is a gorgeous old venue that's really worth a visit. Afterward, we went to the Elevator Brewery & Restaurant for drinks - also a great spot to check out. It's huge inside - you'd never guess looking in from the street.

Saturday was shopping day, which I always enjoy because of the new observations to be made about food products and how they're different from Toronto (e.g. enormous selection of instant potato products - including instant mashed sweet potatoes - as well as an entire aisle of frozen french fries and pizza). D enjoyed browsing the wine aisle and found a bottle of Ruffino Chianto for $7, which is usually sold for about $14 in Toronto. Yes, alcohol is cheap here. Good for hosting parties.

Inbetween all our socializing and errand running, I have managed to make progress on the khaki jacket. The back and right front piece are done, and I'm just staring the left front panel. I'm a bit worried about the amount of flare at the bottom - hopefully it won't be too floppy once it's seamed up. The other problem I noticed is that the double moss stitches seemed to be a tighter gauge than the stockinette portion (I was probably pulling too much) but maybe it will even out after blocking. I have seen some really nice versions out there like this one and this one - seeing theirs is a good kick in motivating me to hurry up on mine.

I also started another pair of socks...they will be more Monkeys:

Friday, October 12, 2007

Bunny and Bear

Yarn: Bernat Satin
Needles: US8
Pattern: Last Minute Knitted Gifts

Happy Weekend! This week flew by rather quickly and brought a major change in weather - wool sweaters, jackets and socks were needed. Wasn't I just eating turkey in a sundress 5 days ago?

Thanks for all the luck wished for my interview. It went well and I think they really liked me, so we'll wait and see. It's all dependent on whether I get licensure or not (a whole other story), but it was a good experience and good practice for my interviewing skills. I'm not sure the position is the best fit for me, but it's nice that someone was interested in my resume.

Last night and today were spent finishing the backs of the dining room chairs, so I won't post another entry about those. Let's just say that I'm happy with how they turned out and that burning my palm with hot glue was a minor sacrifice.

I'll leave you with another completed project for now until I have more new stuff to share. Here is bunny and bear from Last Minute Knitted Gifts (love this book). The bunny now lives with Owen, and bear is still looking for a home. I think I know who he will go to.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Fish Pie

Well, today was a completely unproductive craft day. But productive on the work front, which is a good thing. I left the house this morning with D and walked to Cup O' Joe to start my 'work day' - doing a little prepping for my interview. Admittedly it was quite a lot of fun and I realized that I am really looking forward to working again (seriously). The prepping was only supposed to take a couple hours at most, but ended up consuming my entire day because I had to research all these things that are different in Ohio than in Toronto, legislation and licensure-wise. I've got it mostly figure out, I think. I guess I'll find out tomorrow!

On that note, since there is no new progress to show, I am posting my fish pie. I made it a while ago and it was so cute (I realize this might sound quite awful, describing food that is shaped to look like the food inside as cute, but really, it is) I had to photograph it. The recipe is from the Foodnetwork. And I only made the fish part, not the sauce and potatoes. They look tasty though.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Happy Hostess Apron

Wow, two posts in two days! I suddenly have time on my hands again and I haven't even gone to my interview yet. I will prepare for it on Wednesday, which means today I can craft some more!
Last Friday I saw the cutest hostess apron in the Short North, and thought, what a great idea for my friend S, who was hosting Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday. It was made out of a thin cotton material, like quilting fabric, in two contrasting pattern/colours. It was also ridiculously priced considering it was really just a rectangle with a waistband attached to it. It did have a nifty tag that really sold me on the merits of a hostess apron.

So, as any handy crafter would do, I decided to make my own version of it. When I was picking up supplies for my upholstery class, I spotted some really cute, colourful prints and bought a half yard of each (I was tempted to get a several other prints but decided I should probably stick to one apron for now). I have been on a big orange and pink kick lately.

Pattern: None really - measurements taken from an apron I already had.
Fabric: Cotton canvas decorator fabric, 1/2 yard each (Braemore Designs)
Fabric Farm Interiors

I didn't take measurements when I was making this, so this is really more of a general guide.


Cut out a rectangle for main apron bit, wide enough so it wraps a little around your hips. Mine was about 27-28" I think. Hem the sides and bottom.

Cut out a 2-inch wide strip about 80" long of contrasting fabric for the waist and ties. I had to cut 3 strips of just over 26" and attach them all together. Fold in half, right sides together, and stitch a 1/2 inch seam around each end, leaving a big gap in the middle (about 27" or a little bigger than the width of your apron). Turn the ends right side out and iron the whole band flat. Now iron a 1/2 inch seam on the gap edges so you'll have a guide for the next part.

Then you attach the waist band like bias binding (here's an explanation)- match the right side of the band with the right side of the apron and stitch a 1/4 inch seam. Open it out and iron, then fold it so that the waist band wraps around the main apron. Then you do a 'stitch in the ditch' to attach the back of the band to the apron. I added a zig zag top stitch along the whole band and then attached a pocket (this may seem like a dumb comment but make sure the pocket is big enough for your hand).

You're done!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Minimalist Cardigan

Pattern: Minimalist Cardigan by Ruthie Nussbaum
Interweave Knits Fall 2007
Yarn: Plymouth Galway Worsted,3 skeins (~650 yds)
Needles: US 8

I finished this cardigan a couple weeks ago and am only getting around to posting it now. It's been far too hot to wear even a short-sleeved cardigan, much less a densely knit one. I really enjoyed knitting this one - well written instructions and simple moss stitch that can be done while watching last season's Desparate Housewives back to back.

I made this out of stash yarn, which meant only 650 yds, hence the lack of 3/4 sleeves (I tend to buy yarn without having a any sense of how much I should buy, or what I will use it for). I'm mostly happy with the fit, and the parts I'm not satisfied with are really my own doing. I think I should have used the suggested yarn or something finer (given that I am a tight tight knitter) or knit at a looser gauge (but that would have required major pattern recalculating) - my gauge was exactly as the pattern asked, but produced a fairly dense (and warm) fabric which causes the whole sweater to rise up and down when I lift my arms. Oh well. The collar was cleverly done - sewn up with a Kitchener stitch at the back of the neck. More projects to come!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Orange Swirl Weekend

Hello again! Did you miss me? No posts since Tuesday, and that's because I actually got busy the rest of the week. Most excitingly, I got called for my first Ohio job interview on Wednesday! It was a great morale booster, a small connection back to the professional world.

On the craft front, I've moved on to another project. Knitting took a back seat this week. After we arrived in Columbus I decided to recover the dining room chairs for a different look (we bought a modern-looking white couch which made the chairs look very out-of-place).

Our dining chairs are quite old, I am told, and have seen several owners in their life. Here is one of them before the chair makeover:

On Thursday and Friday, I spent time stripping the old fabric off and found some interesting things under all the staples:

Some interesting brown corduroy, some light green vinyl...

Some straw (!) and fleecy cottony padding held down with little nails.

I had my upholstery class this morning at Fabric Farm Interiors (dining room slip-seats). This class was a great introduction to simple upholstery. The instructor was incredibly helpful. It was fun, informative, but hard work! The instructor made it look super easy and when I got to practicing, it looked rather...lumpy. Timewise, I did not expect it to take me TWO HOURS to cover two chair seats. Lumpy ones at that. I'm handy, I'm crafty, what the heck? Anyhow, I managed to finish by noon. Lucky for me, the instructor had done my other two seats as class demos. And although the class was only for seats, he was kind enough to write out a step-by-step plan for how to deal with the chair backs too. Fantastic.

I didn't take any pictures during the upholstery class because I didn't want to look silly, so you'll have to live without seeing the new insides.

Anyhow, here is D attaching a seat:

The post-makeover chair. Isn't it pretty? There is something Klimt-esque about this fabric that I really like.

After my class, D and I went to the North Market to pick up some veggies and have a quick lunch. We spotted a fabulous Harvest Pumpkin vest (can you spot it?) in the veggie stand:

D says it made his day.

It's Canadian Thanksgiving on Monday, and in recent years D & I have always enjoyed delicious turkey-fest at his parents place. I think being away from Canada (yes, 6 hours over the border makes all the difference) has me more excited and needy about having a turkey dinner with friends (some sort of identity crisis thing according to D). Happily, we will be having yummy Thankgiving dinner at S & J's tomorrow: a Springfield, Ohio free-range bird with all the fixins. The only thing that is a bit disconcerting is the temperature - it's a humid 90 degrees here, and I'm wearing a sundress with 45 spf sunblock on in October. Something's just not right about that.

Happy turkey weekend!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Monkey Toes

Pattern: Monkey
Fleece Artist Sea Wool
Needles: US 2 (2.75 mm)

Hello! Not much crafting news to post about since the birthday cake, besides starting the left front panel of the khaki jacket. So, today I am sharing a sock project I finished earlier this year.

This is the now famous Monkey pattern by Cookie A. knit with Fleece Artist Sea Wool. Last time I was on Ravelry, about 1800 people had made these socks! I can see why - these were a fun and fast knit, and I loved loved loved knitting with this yarn. Fleece Artist makes the most beautiful handpainted yarns ever - rich gorgeous colours to oggle over. yum. I would buy a skein in every colour if I could. And they're Canadian (based in Nova Scotia) which makes them even better!