Summer in Review

Since we’re approaching the Fall Equinox and since it’s been a long time since I updated my blog, I thought it might be a nice idea to do a quick review of all the things I made over the summer. I’ve been a bit overloaded with work since the beginning of the year, and that continued straight through the summer unfortunately. So I don’t feel like I got as much accomplished in the craft room, both because I was limited on time and feeling pretty burned out and uninspired. The fall semester is still loaded up with more work than I’d like and I don’t feel like I’ve been able to get the kind of break I really need yet this year. But towards the end of summer, I finally realized that I wasn’t managing my stress level well and have been making efforts to walk myself back from the point of burn out. And the result is that I am feeling more inspired, getting more knitting and sewing done, and probably just being generally more pleasant to be around. Lol.

Sewing

I started my summer sewing with a few projects for Jude—a beach robe, a cute banana print camp shirt, and a pair of shorts to go with the shirt. I even managed to blog all of those projects! Jude went through a growth spurt around his second birthday in August, so the banana shirt doesn’t fit anymore, but he got quite a few wears out of it before it was too small. The shorts are still in rotation, which is good since our daily temperatures are still regularly in the 80-90 degree range. And the beach robe has been super handy throughout the summer and should still fit next summer as well.

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I also managed to make a few things for myself, starting with a few pairs of pajama pants for myself. I’ve been wanting to find a tried-and-trued pj pant pattern for myself that fit fairly easily without needing a ton of adjustments. The patterns I’ve tried in the past have been those unisex patterns that the Big 4 pattern companies release regularly, but they never work well for my body. But then patterns that get rave reviews and have the kind of fit and details that I like (I’m thinking of the Closet Case Patterns Carolyn PJs here) often don’t come in my size. So I decided to try the Loungewear PJ Pant pattern from Style Arc and it’s a total winner. It’s fits great—no alterations needed at all for me. It has a single back pocket, which is perfect because I get annoyed by the bulk of inseam pockets but still want someplace to stash my phone. I didn’t take any pictures of the two pairs that I made, but I used a linen-cotton blend for the first and a cotton voile for the second. I ditched the pattern instructions for waistband for the second pair and made a classic waistband casing he second pair are basically my dream pair of summer pajama pants. I highly recommend this pattern, and I’m planning to use it to make myself a flannel pj set in the fall so I’ll make sure to get photos next time!

Chambray Kalle Shirt

I also made myself a Kalle shirt using some chambray I’ve had in my stash for a long time and finished it just in time to wear it for the first day of fall classes. This project felt like such a victory. I have felt so intimated by the idea of fitting and sewing a shirt like this, and my attempt at sewing the Willamette last summer didn’t work out so well. But I love this shirt, and I can’t wait to make another version or two next summer. I’m planning to get some better pictures of this so that I can write up a full post with all of my project details.

Knitting

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I’ve been in a massive knitting funk this year—I just haven’t had any inspiration or motivation at all and a lot of the things that I made in the first part of the year just didn’t turn out to my standards. But starting in July or August, I got motivated to pick my needles back up again. I finished a pair of socks using the Rye Light pattern from TinCan Knits. I know I bought this yarn in December from my LYS, but I didn’t record it on Ravelry and then promptly lost the ball band so I have no idea what it is. I also finished all of the knitting on the Chicane Sweater by Cookie A using a soft black yarn that has been in my stash for a long time. I still need to block it and sew in the zipper, but I’ll write up a full post about that project once it’s completely done. And finally, I knit up the Little Dino pattern from Susan B. Anderson. I’m not planning to create a separate post for that project, but I got the pattern and yarn as part of a kit from Barrett Wool Co and it was a delightful knitting experience. I have such a weakness for her toy kits—the temptation to buy every one she releases is intense!

Other Things

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Jude turned 2 this August, so of course I made him another birthday cake. He is absolutely fascinated by garbage and recycling—he loves to throw things away, to sort recycling, take the trash to the curb, watch the garbage collectors dump it in the trucks, pretend to be a garbage collector, find the trash and recycling containers at every place we visit, etc. So obviously his cake had to be trash-themed. Unfortunately, the confetti cake recipe I tried did not work out at all (it end up with a texture more like a cookie than a cake) so I ended up using a Funfetti box mix, which was perfectly delicious and Jude was very excited about his cake.

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I also finally finished up a cross-stitch project that I started before Jude was even born. My left wrist is prone to bouts of pain from certain repetitive activities. Regular knitting doesn’t bother it, but it shows up if I crochet or cross-stitch or do two-fisted colorwork knitting. So I don’t usually have a lot of motivation to do needlework but I decided to pick this up and risk the pain because I finally got moved into a private office on my campus and I wanted to be able to hang this on my office wall. Totally worth it! The pattern is from Satsuma Street.

So that’s the full review of my summer making. I’ve got a long list of fall projects I’d like to make, and I’ve even managed to cross a few items off the list already. I’m planning to start posting here more regularly—I just need to tackle the problem of getting photos. I was setting up a tripod and using a camera remote previously but it’s just too time-consuming and cumbersome to work anymore. I think I either need to rope Aidan into taking pictures for me or get a remote and tripod that will work with the camera on my phone so I can easily take pictures in my office where the lighting is better. We’ll see what happens!

Playdate Cardigan

I’m making an effort to get caught up on blogging past projects, which means going way back to a project that I finished nearly a year ago and that Jude has already outgrown. I’m certainly glad I didn’t wait to put it on him before it got blogged.

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I started this little cardigan the week before Jude was born and finished it up around the time that he turned a month old. The pattern is the Playdate Cardigan from Tin Can Knits, which is part of their Max & Bodhi’s Wardrobe Collection. It’s a basic little v-neck cardigan with drop sleeves and pockets that is available in their full “baby to big” size range—so from 0-3 months all the way up to a 59” chest. I made the 6-12 months size, which I knit using a single skein of Madeline Tosh Twist Light in the Artic colorway.

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I don’t recall making any significant changes to the pattern. I’m pretty sure that I knit it according to the instructions for the size without making any changes to the sleeve or body length. I do recall being very skeptical that I would like putting this cardigan on Jude and feeling pretty certain that he wasn’t going to get much wear out of it. My primary reservation was related to the pattern gauge.

It might just be an effect of being a frequent sock knitter who is used to knitting fingering weight yarn at a gauge of 8-9 stitches per inch, but knitting a fingering weight yarn at 6 stitches per inch (the gauge called for by the pattern) just feels overly loose and airy to me. And because of this, I didn’t feel like the sweater would be warm enough for Jude during fall and winter. And I was also worried that the loose gauge would make the resulting sweater look sloppy.

Of course, once it was blocked it DID NOT look sloppy at all—it turned really well. And Jude actually did get a lot of wear out of it. I started putting him in it with the sleeves cuffed when he was just a few months old and he was wearing it until he was stretching out the buttons this spring. So I’m glad I was wrong. This lightweight cardigan turned out to be very versatile through fall, winter, and spring and, of course, he looked very cute in it.

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I still don’t really like knitting a fingering weight yarn at fewer than ~7 stitches per inch. I think I really just prefer the feeling of creating a denser fabric. If I made this again, I might seriously consider subbing in a sport weight yarn for a more comfortable knitting experience, but I think that might just be an idiosyncratic preference.

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To really highlight how behind I am on getting projects posted to the blog, Jude turned one a couple of weeks ago, which means I got to bake and decorate his first birthday cake! I made the Monkey Cake recipe from Smitten Kitchen. I filled the cake with the fudgy buttercream from the recipe and used a standard vanilla buttercream for frosting and decorating the rest of the cake. I also ordered a whole pound of banana candies in the name of fulfilling my creative vision for this cake, because I am nothing if not ridiculous. Of course, the only thing that matters is that he liked it. And he did. 🙂

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Peanut Butter Pie

It took me a year to get around to posting about the Lemon Angel Food Cake that I made Aidan for his last birthday. This year, I’m really upping my game and posting about his birthday treat from this year a mere 10 days after the fact. I am on the ball.

This year, Aidan requested a peanut butter pie, which is significantly easier to make than last year’s angel food cake. Peanut butter pie is the kind of thing that is very accessible even for the non-baker. If you use a pre-made crust, then the only thing you need to do is mix together the ingredients for the filling and let the pie set—no baking required at all. The only important thing to remember when it comes to peanut butter pie is that you can’t use natural peanut butter. You have to use the super creamy, sweetened stuff that you’d spread on super soft white bread. We’re making dessert here.

Peanut Butter Pie via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

The trickiest thing about making this particular recipe is that you make your own whipped cream to fold into the filling at the very end (just to make it a bit lighter in texture). But making whipped cream isn’t difficult—it just takes some time. You can make your life a little easier by chilling your bowl and beaters ahead of time and by making sure that your cream is nice and cold. Really, I highly recommend making your own whipped cream whenever you can, not because I am a whipped cream snob, but because it is a fantastic party trick. Based on my own carefully collected scientific data, pulling out homemade whipped cream to top whatever pie/cake/dessert-ish thing you’ve made for your friends will increase positive reactions and praise by a minimum of 83%. People will act like you are Julia Child come back to bless the people with the gift of good food. And all the while you (and your more whipped-cream savvy friends) will know that you just threw that shit in the mixer and let it go for a few minutes while you sipped a cup of coffee.

Peanut Butter Pie via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

For the filling, I used a recipe from the most recent issue of Food Network Magazine because it was close by and seemed very similar to recipes I’ve used in the past. The original recipe calls for a graham cracker crust and for melting chocolate chips and spreading the melted chocolate on the bottom of the pie crust. At Aidan’s request, I substituted an Oreo crust and then decided to spread some fudge sauce on the bottom of the crust. Before serving the pie, I topped it with some chopped cocktail peanuts and drizzled some more fudge sauce over the top. The end result was excellent and very rich—a great way to celebrate the birth of my favorite person.

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Peanut Butter Pie (adapted from Nov. 2013 issue of Food Network Magazine)

  • 24 Oreos
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 jar of fudge sauce (not chocolate syrup)
  • 1/4 c heavy cream
  • 1 c creamy peanut butter (not natural peanut butter)
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/3 c whole milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 c confectioners’ sugar
  • Optional: Chopped cocktail peanuts for topping

Directions:

  1. To make the crust, preheat oven to 350F. Place Oreos in food processor and pulse until you have fine crumbs and the cream filling has completely disappeared into the cookie crumbs. Melt the butter and drizzle over the cookie crumbs. Mix until the crumbs are evenly coated with butter. Dump the crumb mixture into a pie plate and use your fingers or the back of a spoon to evenly press the mixture into the bottom and up the sides of the pie plate. Bake  for 6-7 minutes. Allow pie crust to cool on a wire rack.
  2. Warm the fudge sauce up enough so that it has a spreadable consistency. Spread a thin layer of fudge sauce on the bottom of pie crust. Allow the pie crust to continue to cool as you make the filling.
  3. Using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the heavy cream until soft peaks form. (This will be easier if the cream is very cold and the bowl and beaters are chilled ahead of time.) Place whipped cream in the refrigerator until you are ready to add it to the filling.
  4. Beat the cream cheese, peanut butter, milk, and vanilla together until smooth. Add the confectioners’ sugar 1/4 c at a time and mix on low until incorporated after every addition.
  5. Fold half of the whipped cream into the peanut butter mixture until incorporated. Repeat with the second half of the whipped cream. Spoon the filling into the cooled pie crust, smooth the top of the pie, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set (at least 3 hours). Optional: Top pie with chopped peanuts and drizzle additional fudge sauce over the top of the pie before serving.

Lemon Angel Food Cake

Last year for his birthday, Aidan requested an angel food cake. This wasn’t actually the first time he made the request, but I managed to talk him out of it in past years, partly because angel food cake seemed boring and bland to me and partly because I was kind of intimidated by the prospect of making the cake. As a rule, anything that involves beating egg whites to various states of stiffness makes me extremely nervous. When I’m dealing with egg whites, I feel like I’m constantly standing on the edge of failure, and I am not a thrill-seeker. Still, Aidan was pretty insistent about angel food being the only kind of cake he wanted, so I got to work.

My first big decision involved buying a pan, which proved to be more complicated than I would have liked. See, angel food is one of those things that bakers seem to have very strong opinions about. And by strong, I mean that there are many angel food enthusiasts who have very specific ideas about the equipment and process one should use to make angel food and who are equally certain that deviating from these methods will result in a really crappy cake. The strongest of this contingent’s opinions revolve around the choice of a pan and the consensus seems to be that the ideal pan should be non-stick, slightly abused/well-loved from years of use, and have a releasable bottom. Basically, if you spend enough time reading about angel food cake best-practices, you will probably walk away from your research feeling like if you haven’t been fortunate enough to inherit a pan from your great-grandmother, you’re screwed.

Nordic Ware Angel Food Cake Pan, via Target.com

The only pan I could find – Nordic Ware Angel Food Cake Pan, via Target.com

The argument behind this ideal pan is that an abrasive surface on the sides of the pan will allow the cake to “climb” higher while baking, resulting in a lofty cake and tender crumb. This makes good sense to me, but the material reality of the situation was that the only pan I could find locally was a non-stick, single-piece tube pan. I thought pretty seriously about ordering a more ideal pan for upwards of $40 and then remembered that I am a broke grad student. So I decided that my cake would have to be motivated enough to climb non-stick pan walls. Having a releasable bottom still would have been preferable, but in lieu of that feature, I put a piece of buttered parchment paper at the bottom of the pan. (I can’t locate an exact source, but I’m pretty sure Martha Stewart told me this was an acceptable thing to do.) Once I ran a knife around the edges of the cooled cake, the parchment paper allowed the cake to slide right out of the pan without and problems and the finished cake seemed plenty lofty and light.

My second big decision was to use Ina Garten’s Lemon Angel Food Cake recipe because I generally trust Ina in high-stakes baking situations. The recipe was a very, very good decision and I would highly recommend it. The cake gets it’s lemony flavor from the addition of lemon zest, but I think you could just leave the zest out for a very good traditional angel food cake. Because I was nervous about the cake turning out, I was especially meticulous about following the recipe instructions. If it said to sift something together over and over, I did it. If it said to add something in half-cup increments, you better believe I measured that shit. If it said to beat something for a minute, I timed it. I don’t actually have a sifter, so I sifted everything by passing it through a fine-mesh strainer, which worked out really well. I’m not kidding when I say dealing with egg whites makes me nervous. But my care was rewarded. The resulting cake was awesome. The crumb was just right and the cake had great flavor—I couldn’t believe that I remembered angel food cake as boring and bland. Most importantly, Aidan was pleased. We ended up sharing this cake with four other friends and it received rave reviews from each one.

Half an angel food cake

I also made up a lemon honey yogurt sauce from this Giada de Laurentis recipe to go with the cake—I left it on the side and let people add it if they wanted it. Honestly, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the sauce. The sauce itself was perfectly good but it reminded me of something you might put on top of pancakes or waffles, and I really didn’t think the cake needed anything else. However, everyone else (including Aidan) really liked the sauce and eagerly drizzled it over their cake slices. So when I make this again, I’d probably consider making the sauce as well to have on hand as an option for people.

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Lemon Angel Food Cake (from Ina Garten, original recipe available on Food Network)

  • 2 c sifted superfine sugar, divided
  • 1 1/3 c sifted cake flour
  • 1 1/2 c egg whites (10 to 12 eggs), at room temperature
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 tsp lemon zest (from 2 lemons)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F degrees.
  2. Sift 1/2 c of the sugar together with the flour. Sift the mixture 3 more times.
  3. Beat the egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar in an electric mixer using a whisk attachment. Beat on high speed until medium-firm peaks form. Reduce mixer speed to medium and add remaining 1 1/2 c of sugar by sprinkling it over the egg whites. Continue whisking until the mixture is thick and shiny. Add in vanilla and lemon zest and continue whisking for another minute or so until the mixture is very thick.
  4. Sift a quarter of the flour mixture over the egg white mixture and use a rubber spatula to fold it into the mixture. Continue this process, adding a fourth of the mixture each time, until the flour mixture has been completely incorporated.
  5. Pour the batter evenly into a 10” tube pan (ungreased) and bake for 35 to 40 minutes. It will spring back to the touch when finished baking. Take it out of the oven and invert the cake pan on a cooling rack until completely cool. When cool, gently run a knife around the edge of the cake to help release it from the pan.

Lemon Honey Yogurt Sauce (from Giada deLaurentis, original recipe available on Food Network)

  • 1 c plain yogurt
  • 1/4 c honey
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

Directions: Whisk ingredients together until smooth. Drizzle over slices of cake before serving.

Chocolate Peanut Butter (Birthday!) Cake

It got so busy around here, I lost my head. Frankly, I’m still not sure that I’ve been able to get the damn thing back on straight. The good news is that amidst all the crazy, I managed to find time to have a little get-together to celebrate my birthday a few weeks back. As a gift to myself, I made dinner and cake for my grad school cohort. They are a fantastic group and all pitched in to buy me this gift:

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So much gorgeous yarn!

As part of my hella-broke lifestyle, I have only been buying yarn on the cheap for about two years now, which means basic discounted wool that is always purchased for a very specific purpose. All of these super-soft, beautiful skeins are things that I would not allow myself to buy at the moment. But now I have the luxury of getting to try them all out. It’s badass. And after spending nearly four months without picking up my knitting, this is just the kind of thing that I needed to get me inspired again. Thanks, friends!

As part of my birthday get-together, I made my own cake. This, of course, flies in the face of conventional birthday wisdom which says that someone should make (or buy) a cake for you. I have no place in my life for conventional wisdom. Why wouldn’t I seize the opportunity to make myself the World’s Most Decadent Cake on a day that demands decadent cakes, especially if, you know, I really like to make cakes? Aidan suggested that it makes it seem as though other people (like him) could not make a cake that was good enough for my tastes. For the record, I would like to say that this is absolutely not true. I have never met a cake I didn’t like. I do not discriminate against cakes of box-mix or bakery origin. I believe that all cakes are meant to be enjoyed. And if you bring me a cake and I already have one made? Then we will rejoice together in the sheer deliciousness of our double-cake bounty.

That said, this recipe is getting filed away under “EPIC.” Dense chocolate cake + peanut butter cream cheese frosting + chocolate peanut butter ganache = divine. Aidan described it first as evil because “it’s so good you just keep eating it until it makes you sick” and then later as chocolate cake sandwiched between layers of peanut butter chocolate fudge. I call it the best birthday gift I have ever given myself.

chocolate peanut butter cake

It is admittedly a little homely, what with it’s gloppy chocolate glaze. But this cake does not need the pretense of decorations or fance. This cake is a scrappy boxer waiting to deliver a knock out blow. This cake is contending for a starring role in The Cake in the House.

Jokes.com
Janeane Garofalo – The Cake in the House
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Jokes Joke of the Day Funny Jokes

I followed the recipe as is, with the small exception of making a double layer, rather than triple layer, cake. The cake batter is actually a one-bowl recipe that does not call for the use of an electric mixer. Relying on a whisk alone can make the actual mixing of the batter a bit hairy. You can think of it more optimistically as a fantastic upper arm workout. Or whip out the mixer. Whatever. Deb at Smitten Kitchen recommended freezing the cake layers for easier construction and frosting of the cake. I wrapped my cake layers in plastic wrap, put them in freezer bags, and let them freeze overnight before putting the cake together. It came together in a breeze. Per her recommendations, I also froze the frosted cake for about an hour before making and pouring on the peanut butter chocolate glaze. The cake was still a little cold when we cut into a few hours later, but that certainly didn’t affect its deliciousness.

So, in conclusion, I emphatically encourage you to make this cake. And then promptly invite me over.

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Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake (Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, where it was adapted from Sky High: Irresistible Triple -Layer Cakes)

  • 2 c all purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 c sugar
  • 3/4 c unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s Special Dark)
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 c sour cream
  • 1 1/2 c water
  • 2 tbsp distilled white vinegar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the sides and bottom of 3 8″ round cake pans (I used 2 9″ pans instead). Cut circles of parchment paper to lay on the bottom of each pan. Butter the parchment.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Add the oil and sour cream and whisk until blended. Gradually beat in the water. Beat in the vinegar and vanilla. Beat in the eggs until well blended, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Divide the batter among the prepared cake pans.
  3. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool in the pans for 20 minutes, then invert onto wire racks and remove the parchment paper. Let the cakes cool completely.
  4. To make assembling and frosting the cake easier, freeze the cake layers for at least 30 minutes.

Peanut Butter Frosting:

  • 10 oz cream cheese
  • 1 stick unsalted butter at room temp
  • 5 c powdered sugar
  • 2/3 c creamy peanut butter
  1. With an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy. Gradually add the sugar a cup at a time, beating until blended after each addition. Continue to beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.
  2. Add the peanut butter and beat until well blended.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Glaze:

  • 8 oz semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 3 tbsp creamy peanut butter
  • 2 tbsp light corn syrup
  • 1/2 c half-and-half
  1. In a double boiler, combine the chocolate, peanut butter, and corn syrup. Whisk until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.
  2. Remove from the heat and whisk in the half-and-half, beating until smooth. Use while still warm.