Monday, June 30, 2008

I've been knitting...

I know it's been a while since yarn appeared here, but I have been knitting! With this past weekend being Comfest (our first one, and yes, it lived up to the hype), I fit in a little bit of knitting time in the park.

This is my third pair of Pomatomus socks, in Fleece Artist Nova sock yarn, which you have seen before (I have been ultra indecisive about what pattern to knit and kept ripping it out - it's been a few inches of Monkeys, Jaywalkers...) Finally, it was Pomatomus again..I just love this pattern! It's so fun to and interesting to knit. It looks complicated, but it's actually fairly easy to memorize big chunks of the pattern so you can keep knitting without referring back to the chart all the time. Hmm. Now that I think of it, I probably chose this pattern unconsciously to prove to myself that I wasn't really chart-dumb.

Let me tell you about Elspeth. She is a pretty little shrug by Rowan, and would have looked lovely worn with summer dresses, and so...a perfect vacation project. Little did I know what a beast of a knit this was. Turns out, I couldn't even get past the third row, and row 1 & 2 were just stockinette! I was always a stitch short, no matter how many times I cast on and carefully counted. I had to abandon it, glaring at it a few times a week, knowing that it was just sitting there in my suitcase. When I returned, a google search revealed that zillions of other knitters have also had major problems with Elspeth. Hah! Not so dumb after all. But, most people seem to have gotten at least past row 3. So, until I feel motivated enough to conquer this little monster, it's going to go back to the stash.

Aside from Comfesting this past weekend, I went craft shopping with Z.Knits and picked up some cute quilting fabric for a secret project, and some keychain rings for doodads I'm making in jewelry class. We did a little shopping at Trader Joe's and bought these pretty pink peonies. Then, just for fun, we re-arranged the whole living room. I like it better than the old set up, and have been spending more time sitting by the window. Gatsby is now fighting me for the best spot in the room.

Today I spent most of the afternoon standing by the stove, poaching these little gnocchi guys. I've been cooking quite a bit this week - roast chicken, stock-making, gnocchi-making. Originally, I borrowed the Thomas Keller Bouchon cookbook from the library just to admire the pretty pictures, but decided I felt brave enough to try cooking a few things from it. The simple roast chicken (very, very good) was made with just salt, pepper, and oil. Then today I made the herbed gnocchi recipe, which resulted in a shocking 320 pieces (that's 180 pieces more than the recipe stated - something clearly went wrong) of fluffy gnocchi that will probably be feeding us into the winter. They were very tasty, especially after you brown them in butter and serve them with fresh herbs and sauteed veggies.

What's in store this week: Watching more Michael Palin. Making keychains. Doing pottery. Helping with my first wedding cake. Cooking out of the Bouchon cookbook. And celebrating my first fourth of July.

Friday, June 27, 2008


It really is as romantic as everyone says - bridges overlooking the canals, gondolas, old cathedrals, public squares, outdoor cafes and restaurants and gelato stands do their best to charm you as you sigh with pleasure. I'd been expecting the worst tourist trap of all time, and that our stopover really was just to see what all the fuss was about, but I found myself wanting to stay longer.

What surprised me most was how unbelievably different Venice was from where we just were. It's a small enough city that you can get around on foot easily, which made it ideal for our very brief stay. D and I spent exactly 1 day in Venice, far too short, but our budget wouldn't really have allowed us to stay much longer (a not-very-fancy hotel will run you at least $200/night). We stayed at the Hotel Atlantide, close to the train station, so that we wouldn't spend too much of our precious little time dragging our suitcases across the city. The hotel was nothing special, just a good basic room with clean sheets and everything you really need, but I would steer clear of the buffet breakfast - probably the worst we'd eaten in Europe. What was funny was that just last night we were watching Michael Palin's Around the World in 80 days and noticed that he stayed at exactly the same place! What a coincidence.

Wandering through the narrow streets

We walked through the narrow streets and wound our way down through the Rialto Market to the Piazza San Marco, mostly just taking in the views of the hundreds of canals, boats and bridges along the way.

Pasta coloured with squid ink, beet juice, saffron and other things. I bet only tourists buy these, but they were still fun and pretty to look at.

Rialto bridge and market area

Piazza San Marco was lovely, but as expected, an absolute tourist zoo, with the most English we'd heard being spoken our whole trip thus far. The tourist thing to do appeared to be posing with the pigeons eating out of your hands, but to me it looked like they were going to be eaten alive (the little kiddies looked scared). That, or dressing your small children in the striped gondolier souvenier t-shirt and straw hat and then making them pose with the pigeons. Luckily, I limited my tourist shopping to some Murano glass trinkets.

Basilica San Marco

Side of Doge's Palace (I think)

Cafe in the square

We had some very nice food in Venice, much to my surprise, because I'd heard and read a lot about places offering 'fixed tourist menus' and was worried we might not be able to escape it. When you wander about 15 minutes away from the train station though, you start finding some delicious places to eat. What made it a challenge, however, was that the menus ceased to have any English on them and we had to rely on an awkward combination of pointing, a bit of Italian, English, even French, and pointing and nodding. It all worked out in the end.

Can you believe these are marzipan fruit?

Spaghetti al Nero di Seppia

We had a great dinner at a little place called the Trattoria Allantica Mola, following suit with other diners by ordering the squid ink pasta with chunks of tender squid,a Venetian specialty (later I found out it was cuttlefish, which is similar). We sort of accidentally ordered the grilled fish of the day, without any idea what is was, how it would arrive, how big it was, or how much it cost (D had also just accidentally ordered a whole bottle of red when he said, 'vino rosso per favore', so perhaps this contributed to our ordering enthusiasm). Lucky for us, the fish was an exciting surprise, and absolutely delicious. I think I was most thrilled with watching it fileted tableside, so neat! There were four fishies on the platter, along with some grilled scampi:

Speedy filet and deboning work.

Sadly, we never found out what we were eating, but it was delicious, and at that point we'd shared a whole bottle of wine, so it was lost on us to bother asking any questions we may later have been glad to have asked. We were pretty happy.

I leave you with my favourite sneaky shot of Venice:

'A mullet so fine the man next to him appears to have fainted' - D

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A is for Anniversary and Alana's

D & J looking all cute-like: Photo by Digital Imprints

That's me and D, three years ago! I'd forgotten how much I loved our wedding photos until I dug this one up just now. I was able to identify bokeh in their shots, a word I learned today from Ms. Z's awesome series on the basics of photography. It's really well-written, funny, and she has tons of photos to help you understand the world of f-stops, aperture and depth of field. And she knits real well too! I still don't own a DSLR, but it makes me want one badly. Oops, I'm way off track...

Our anniversary was yesterday, but I wanted to write a quick little something about how fabulous our dinner was at Alana's: IT WAS FABULOUS! It made me wish we'd gone as soon as we moved to Columbus so that we'd have had more opportunities to enjoy her food. It's a warm, inviting, completely unpretentious place where the menu changes daily depending on what's fresh that day. Alana was there, passing around tiny little strawberries filled with goat cheese, drizzled with real balsamic vinegar. D & I waffled over what to order and eventually conceded that we would just have to keep coming back until we tried everything (but later realized this would be impossible, since the menu keeps changing). We ordered the asparagus with over-easy duck egg sprinkled with parmesan, a tomatillo gazpacho with fried soft shell crab, orrecchiete pasta with fresh peas, mint and prosciutto, and spaghetti puttanesca with shrimp and lump crab. Everything was fantastic, and served simply. That duck egg was seriously the most delicious egg I've ever eaten. And the fresh peas! I don't think I've had fresh peas in a restaurant before. The dessert menu was equally hard to choose from, featuring lots of Jeni's ice cream and local Ohio strawberries: we chose the goat's cheese cheesecake with peppered Ohio strawberries, and plum hazelnut crisp with salty caramel ice cream. Mmmm. So, so good. I think it was my most favourite meal in Columbus to date.

Somehow this blog has turned into something of a 'look what I ate today!' venue as well. If you came looking for a knitting post, don't worry, I'll have something to show soon. I started another pair of Pomatomus socks using some lovely Fleece Artist yarn. Seriously the best pattern ever written.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Milan, Italy

When in Italy, eat gelato. As much as you can, because it's that good. Gelato, which contains about 50% less milkfat than North American ice creams, has a dense, rich taste. It's intensely fruity, flavourful and smooth, and it's good at pretty much any counter. When we crossed the border, eating gelato replaced my daily eating of pastries. I was thinking of writing a little blurb about frozen desserts, but there is such a vast literature on the subject that I didn't know where to start to give it any sort of justice. Let's just look at the yummy picture and I'll tell you what we did in Milan.

Strawberry & Tiramisu

We hadn't planned our trip around truly experiencing Italy, instead using a few days as an opportunity to stop in two famous cities en route to Croatia. It was too short, but still worthwhile - we'd love to visit again, next time for a longer stay. From Paris, we took the overnight train (a gruesome experience if you're in the bottom bunk of a 6-person sleeper) and stayed at Hotel Berna, which seemed very upscale compared to our stays in Paris and Venice. Our day started bright and early:

Two days in Milan meant limited time to see the sights, so we started at the Duomo, a massive gothic cathedral that took four centuries to build. It was about 7am, and nothing was open yet, except a McCafe, so we stopped in to have a cappuccino (D was appalled that our first coffee in Italy was at McDonald's, but even he'll admit to being impressed - a real coffee bar that made real coffee beverages. No egg McMuffins to be spotted anywhere). We did eventually have coffee somewhere a bit more impressive.

We explored the beautiful, museum-like outdoor shopping arcades that were home to all the famous fashion houses. It seemed a bit surreal. The fashion in Milan was quite different than in Paris - much flashier, Versace-ish style looks, and many more high-heeled women.

Too cute. How much is it?

Plenty of cute little Smart cars, this one with a flower motif

Large groups of expensively-dressed tourists roamed the shops, buying up tons of Vuitton and Armani. How people afford to cloth themselves in fully designer fashion, I'll never quite understand. That said, we did have fun window shopping, marveling at the outrageously expensive items.

At 5pm, most bars begin serving complimentary tapas with drinks. Some places even go so far as setting up a whole buffet of crostini, pastas, pizzas, brushetta, grilled vegetables, sliced meat and cheeses and more. An inexpensive way to eat if you're traveling on a budget. We greedily fit in another meal though, late in the evening. We gobbled up some excellent spaghetti carbonara (the real thing with eggs, parma and cheese, no cream), gnocchi in a rose sauce, simply grilled fish with lemon, and Milanese cutlet (pretty much wienerschnitzel). Strangely, a group of tourists from Cleveland also happened to be eating in the restaurant, complaining a little too loudly, 'This isn't like any carbonara I've ever had at home!' Good grief, you're not at home, you're in Italy. Whose dish do you think is more authentic? I felt embarassed. We pretended not to speak English.

Next stop: Venice

I should mention that it rained pretty much the entire time we were in Milan, which put a bit of a damper on the tourist mood and resulted in far less pictures (we stayed in Venice only one day but it looks like we were there for far longer than that). People seemed surprised when we told them we chose Milan, I guess because it is quite industrial and not as romantic as Rome or Florence. But it made the most sense for us, as it connected easily to Venice and then Croatia. Annoying tourists aside, Milan was fun - I wish we'd had another few more days there. Next city, Venice!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Jenny Attempts More Breadbaking

Mr. Toast braces himself for a bumpy ride

Look, I've got progress bars! I'd wanted to add them for a while now, but didn't know how. Thanks to The Moebius Sock for sending me these instructions - thanks Ellen! I'd better start some new projects so I'll have something to update.

I was sad to leave behind all that delicious bread in Paris, and came back with a renewed interest in home bread-baking. Thinking that baguettes were a bit out of my league at the moment, I decided to make something called 'White Bread 101' from the King Arthur baking book - it is hopefully healthier than Wonder bread, and D needs something for his sandwiches anyway. Then I remembered why I'd been putting off trying this recipe. Who has potato flour and dry milk lying around the house? Dry milk appears everywhere in this book, so hopefully I'll make my way through a shoe-box sized container, which happened be the smallest size they had. Looks like I'll be making a lot of white bread and its variations.

Mr. Toast's cousins

Ever since my first no-rise experience with old yeast, I get super excited whenever the yeast kicks in. D will attest to my running about the kitchen yelling, "It's rising, it's actually rising!" Anyhow, the bread was a little dense on the bottom, and I'm assuming it was because my loaf was too big for the pan and it fell on itself. Otherwise, a yummy sandwich loaf. I'll reduce some of the sugar next time, and figure out something with the pan size. It became some french toast the next day:

Of course, haveing successfully baked White Bread 101, the baguette seemed less threatening. Yes, I am impatient. But a minimal-kneading baguette recipe is hard to resist! This one was also from the King Arthur book, and required a poolish to be made and later incorporated into the dough. I have never made a starter before so it was quite fun. After mixing, the dough itself just sat there and rose for a lonnnnnnggg time, and I folded it over onto itself a few times to help it develop glutens. Hmm. If you recall from my first baguette experience, I was kneading forever and ever, trying to get my gluten windowpane. Very odd instructions indeed. Would it work?

Sort of. It created an interesting chewy texture inside, but definitely different then the kind I'd munched on in France. I think I sprayed too much water on it, so the crust turned out a little ugly and dull, and beige-looking. For a minimal-work recipe it wasn't so bad, especially considering I was baking it at 11pm, and feelings of tiredness and could-care-less-at-this-point were kicking in (I didn't know if I could stick it in the fridge and wait 'til the next day.) Tomorrow I will send it to school with D in the form of a sandwich.

I'm only a little big ugly, but I taste good. Eat me.

The other fun part of tomorrow is that we'll be having dinner at Alana's Food & Wine, which I am so looking forward to. I've read endless great reviews about her restaurant and how amazing the food is...more on that to come!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Paris, we miss you already...

View from our room

We're back in Columbus! Actually, we've been back for almost a week now. I've missed blogging - I think this is the longest I've gone without posting something. We've been having fun catching up with old friends, meeting new friends, and getting back into our routine. Jewelry class was on Wednesday, where I gave my copper bracelet some final buffing (I love shiny things) and started my second project. Devon and her husband were in town (soon to be neighbours!) and we all had dinner together at Spagio Cellars , and then on Friday I stopped by the Pearl Alley farmer's market for the first time this week, which was great and oh-so-close - literally just down the street. Then Saturday, we lounged poolside at Jay and Sonja's. Such a hard life, I know.

I have other exciting news too! If you remember, just before I left, I was hired as a freelance cake decorator. I have yet to do any work for the owner, but much has happened during my absence. She is planning to move into a new location, building it up from scratch, and wants my help on a more regular basis - hopefully full time in the fall. The only downside is that I'll be moving in a short 5 months, and there will probably be many delays, so who knows what will actually happen. Anyhow, it's a great opportunity and I'm pretty thrilled about seeing how a bakery gets set up. Even if the store takes a while to set up, she's got some wedding cake work for me in July - there are 3 weddings that I'll be helping out with, and I'll also likely be going back to the other bakery at some point. Hmm, at this rate, I may never go back to land of psychology.

Meet Mr. Domo, a monster, and also a USB flashdrive

Ok, enough with updates. The other reason for my blogging delay is that every time I think about posting, I become completely indecisive about what I should include (a.k.a., Too Many Vacation Photos). So, after much procrastination, I think I'll just show you some photos we took during the first leg of our trip, which was spent in Paris, and save Italy and Croatia for another day.

Canneles at the Marche Bastille on a Sunday

It was our second time in Paris, and I like to think that we are developing a bit of a routine, which we'll build on in future trips, revisiting our favourites and continuing to discover new things. You may notice that most of the pictures are of pastries, picnicking, drinking coffee and sitting around in gardens...we must look incredibly lazy. But really, it's not laziness, it's just a more balanced and relaxed way of life. No one in Paris brings their laptop to the cafe. People aren't checking their blackberries or texting each other every second. There are so many people out in the gardens at lunch that I'm certain they don't eat lousy microwaved lunches at their desk. When was the last time you ate your lunch at the park? If you are going to spend time in Paris, then I say do as the locals would.

Exotic looking cheese

On our first trip, people thought we were crazy not to go up the Eiffel Tower, go inside the Louvre, or visit Versailles, but the thought of battling the herds of tourists really didn't appeal to me. So, this time, we only did a little bit of touristy stuff, and spent the rest of the time relaxing, enjoying the delicious food and beautiful public spaces, and walking about the city.

Rainy day at the Louvre

Why I dislike visiting tourist attractions: Hoards of tourists crowded in front of the Mona Lisa

Jardin du Luxembourg

Public bicycles you can rent by the hour & drop off at any of a multitude of locations

Lunchtime formules come with a sandwich, drink, and dessert: Apricot tart

Eating, eating, everywhere eating: Falafel sandwiches on Rue des Rosiers in the Marais

The obligatory Eiffel Tower photo

Monday, June 9, 2008

Copper Bracelet

Zdravo!! We've made it to Opatija, Croatia, the last bit of our trip. It's beautiful, sunny and beachy here.... totally different than Milan and Venice. I'll save trip pics for after we get home. It has been a relaxing day (a very welcoming change after 3 days of hopping on and off buses and trains hoping we are on the right one). D went off to his conference today, and I spent the day wandering around town, swimming, napping and reading. And blogging! It's been harder to blog than I expected, and a lot of the little internet cafes don't let you upload things from USB ports, but at least I can keep in touch somewhat.

Surprised to see a crafting post? I uploaded these images before I left so I'd have something to blog about in case I couldn't post new pics. So, here is my mostly finished copper bracelet...looking much better than I could have ever expected!! With one class left before our trip, I was pretty determined to get a lot done in that afternoon, and it was a nice surprise to discover that that finishing steps were much quicker to complete than the sawing and filing.

After filing each piece, I sanded it and then hammered each one into a dome shape to make slightly curved, following by some hand polishing with something I can't recall the name of at the moment. I could have polished it to a higher shine but being impatient, I left it as is. Maybe I'll do a little more polishing when I get back, but as it is I'm happy with how it looks!

Yay! It doesn't look like poo!

Connected with an extra long tab

We begin our trek back to Paris on the 11th. In hindsight, it was a rather stupid decision to travel home this way, as sleeping overnight on the train in second class is not all that glamourous or comfortable. Followed by a 7'hr flight. Lots to talk about under the heading of: Things we Learned about Traveling. Have a great rest of week, and talk to you all soon!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

En Paris!

Salut, everyone! We hope you are all doing well. It's the first time we've stopped in an internet cafe since we arrived, so I wanted to give a little update.

The most common daily activity

We have been happily roaming about Paris since last Wednesday, attempting to pose as Parisiennes, drinking our cafes and eating our croissants with laissez-faire attitude and discretely photographing the delicious goodies to blog about later. Our hotel is perfectly lovely, a little building located near Place de la Republique. Unfortunately, right before we left Toronto, D and I both managed to catch the same evil cold that has left us sounding awful (hack hack) and constantly tired. Despite being sick, it's hard to be grumpy in Paris. We went to a pharmacie to ask for some cough syrup in our rusty involved a lot of gesticulating and pointing, but we were successful.

Most mornings we get up, get breakfast from the local boulangerie/patisserie (there are at least 3 on each block) and walk about the city. The weather has been fantastic too - warm and sunny with a cool breeze. We have done quite a bit of picnicking at the Jardin du Luxembourg, Place des Vosges, and Jardin des Plantes. The last few days we've explored the Marais and Bastille areas, the Latin Quarter and St. Germain, and walked along the Seine to see Notre Dame de Grace and Hotel de Ville.

It goes without saying that eating has been the primary focus of our daily we went to the marche Bastille which was incredible!! I would love to live somewhere like this where one can buy fresh seafood, meats, produce, flowers, and just about any kind of gourmet and ethnic prepared food you could imagine. And I have also been scoping out the famous bakeries of's Poilane:

Hungry people at Poilane

Beautiful pastries at Dalloyeur in Galeries Lafayette

Flowers at Marche Bastille

Parading my Shetland Triangle about the town, here at the Musee du Carnavalet

We have two more days here and will hopefully have enough of our energy back to tackle the tourist circuit including the Louvre, Champs d'Elysees and everything else in that general vicinity. I also have plans to visit a yarn shop and kitchenware store! No knitting news lately, as I have been busy whizzing my way through Ruth Reichl's first two books - if only I had brought more! They are so good!! (thanks Devon)

Tuesday night we leave for Milan and then Venice. This time, we will be extra sure to get on the train on the right day :) A bientot!