Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Chocolate Craving

Although I am very veggie conscious and try to creatively cram as much vegetable matter in my food as possible, there are moments when broccoli is not simply not enough. I was desperately craving chocolate the other day, but the only chocolate I had was nestle cocoa powder, and all of the stores had closed in my desolate area of Brooklyn. Taking inspiration from a blog posting, I checked out their link to Epicurious and found that I had the ingredients they listed, although my chosen brand of cocoa powder was far from luxurious! The recipe is below:

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar (I used brown sugar - it was the only kind I had)
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process) (I don't know if Nestle Cocoa Powder is natural or dutch-process - probably neither!)
1/4 teaspoon salt (I didn't put in that much - just a couple turns on my salt mill)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cold large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup walnut or pecan pieces (It's optional, and so I didn't use)
8-inch square baking pan

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.

Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth and hot enough that you want to remove your finger fairly quickly after dipping it in to test. Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not hot.

Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula.

Stir in the nuts, if using. Spread evenly in the lined pan.

Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool completely on a rack.

Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 or 25 squares.

The result? Very chocolate-y and dense! The batter before adding in the eggs smelled so so good - it was extremely tempting to scrap the whole project, add milk to the recipe and have hot chocolate instead. But then again, there's the guilt of knowing that you are drinking liquid butter and sugar. Mmm... something to consider when it gets colder out!

Monday, September 29, 2008

A Brooklyn Find - Anwaar

For the past month or so, I have been on a mission (an obsession, really) to start making my own beauty products, specifically lip balm and deodorant. While I am pretty happy with the results of my lip balm, I ran into a little glitch with the deodorant this past week. Apparently I have a sensitivity to orange essential oil, so while it was a very effective disinfecting agent, zapping away bacteria and nasty smells, it was a little too acidic for daily use, and my body could only tolerate it for about a month. I then decided to make a small batch without any kind of fragrance as an emergency measure. My skin problems were solved like magic, but by the end of the day I smelled like the dirty hippie that I am. Ew~! I had to go back to the drawing board, and was researching for fragrances that are gentle enough to put directly onto skin. I love citrus smells, but they all warned about possible skin irritation. Flowery fragrances seemed good, but were so expensive! I was about to give up when I came across a line of shops in downtown Brooklyn, between Atlantic Avenue and my emergency knitting supply store. All of them seemed to have similar items - sticks of incense, rows and rows of essential oils, buckets of various butters - I was in heaven, the answer to my dilemma had appeared! The store I went into was called Anwaar, and it was a little intimidating at first - while it wasn't overly crowded, the customers and staff all seemed to know each other very well, and I felt a little intrusive... Nonetheless, the man there was very helpful and kind to me, and I got a 0.5 ounce bottle of Jasmine oil for $3, and a big tub of shea butter for $3 as well - a find! Not only was the butter cheaper by weight, is was a lot better than the one I got online - this butter was unrefined, meaning that it was chunkier and more yellow, but it had a really good smell to it that the refined butter didn't have. So now, the making of deodorant 2.0 begins...

Friday, September 26, 2008

Sobacha, or Buckwheat Tea

Although I love coffee as much as the next person (especially Cafe Bustelo and Cafe Britt), I am a tea girl at heart. I have a tea stash that is equal to my yarn stash, so much so that I have one shelf in the kitchen that is exclusively dedicated to feeding this obsession. Darjeeling and hojicha (roasted green tea) are my two favorites, but I think I have to add sobacha, or buckwheat tea to the list, thanks in large part to my mother and her evil care packages! She is a self-confessed food and drink evangelist, and when it strikes her fancy, will send me 5 lbs worth of whatever she loves at that moment. This tea happens to be it for now, and as for the taste? It is reminiscent of genmaicha, which is a blend of green tea and roasted/puffed rice, minus the green tea... The most American comparison I can make is that it resembles the taste of popcorn, which I think puts off a lot of people who are used to drinking the "normal" teas, which are made of leaves and have more of an herbal flavor. I however, became an instant convert as it reminds me of all the rice crackers I ate with my grandmother at her house during the summers of my childhood. I tried looking for a bag of the tea in the city the other day - I don't think it has caught on as of yet, but if one ever finds some, it's worth a sip! Just be warned that this tea takes awhile to steep, and that it will always have a yellow to light amber color that will never turn dark like most teas. You know it's done when the smell infuses the entire kitchen!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Kill the Boredom

Just heard about this really fun web-feature from a friend of mine (who got the idea from someone's blog, so apologies that I can't link the site to give them the proper recognition they deserve...) - click here and you can upload public photos posted on Flickr to make your own mosaic, as well as see some beautiful photography. To get the images, I put in the following key words in the Flickr search engine (going left to right, then down the row):

1. First Name
2. Last Name
3. Favorite Color
4. Name of Street Where You Were Born
5. Name of High School
6. Celebrity Crush
7. Name of First Pet
8. Dream Vacation Spot
9. Favorite Food
10. Lucky Number
11. What You Value Most in Life
12. What You Want to Be When You (Finally) Grow Up
13. Favorite Weather
14. Favorite Spice or Fragrance
15. City or Town You Currently Live In
16. One Word to Describe You

Fun~! What was most interesting were the images that came up when you put your selected words into the search engine - some images popped up that I never would have expected, which made it all the more interesting.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Platinum #2 is done!

I just finished my second platinum sweater from KnitScene - a Christmas present for my mom, I think... Since comfort trumps all in my mom's book, I chose a yarn that was very soft to the touch. I used Louisa Harding's Grace, which is a blend of silk and wool, purchased at my favorite NYC knitting store, Brooklyn General - and it feels incredible! The only concern I have about the yarn is the pill factor, and there were some strange patches throughout because the yarn is a little lumpy in places. I suppose it adds to the charm, or that's what I tell myself anyway... And maybe my head is getting a little big? Embarrassingly enough, I had some difficulty fitting my head through the neck - I have to figure out a looser bind-off technique! For the sleeves, I picked up stitches and did short rows, a lesson that I learned in my previous project, the Starsky. Currently I have about 5 projects lined up - with Sheep and Wool coming up, as well as the cold weather and holiday season, the pressure is on!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Dewey Color System (Occupational Personality Test)

Although I don't take too much stock in personality tests, I always find them fun to do. I just read about a test on MSN called the Dewey Color System, and if you go to their site, you can take a quick test to determine what occupation you should be in, depending on what colors you prefer. The test took less than five minutes (how scientifically valid this test is remains questionable). Given my two categories of occupations, being an Owner of a Knitting Store/Cafe may be on the horizon, no? Wishful thinking perhaps? See below:

Best Occupational Category: You're a CREATOR

Key Words:Nonconforming, Impulsive, Expressive, Romantic (Hah! I don't know about that...), Intuitive, Sensitive, and Emotional

These original types place a high value on aesthetic qualities and have a great need for self-expression. They enjoy working independently (Yes!), being creative (Double yes!), using their imagination, and constantly learning something new (Triple yes!). Fields of interest are art, drama, music, and writing or places where they can express, assemble, or implement creative ideas.

Suggested careers are Advertising Executive, Architect, Web Designer, Creative Director, Public Relations, Fine or Commercial Artist, Interior Decorator, Lawyer, Librarian, Musician, Reporter, Art Teacher, Broadcaster, Technical Writer, English Teacher, Architect, Photographer, Medical Illustrator, Corporate Trainer, Author, Editor, Landscape Architect, Exhibit Builder, and Package Designer. (What about lip balm and deodorant maker? Or full-time knitter?)

Consider workplaces where you can create and improve beauty and aesthetic qualities. Unstructured, flexible organizations that allow self-expression work best with your free-spirited nature. Suggested Creator workplaces are advertising, public relations, and interior decorating firms; artistic studios, theaters and concert halls; institutions that teach crafts, universities, music, and dance schools. Other workplaces to consider are art institutes, museums, libraries, and galleries.

2nd Best Occupational Category: You're a PERSUADER

Key Words:Witty, Competitive, Sociable, Talkative, Ambitious, Argumentative, and Aggressive

These enterprising types sell, persuade, and lead others. Positions of leadership, power, and status are usually their ultimate goal. (That sounds evil - am I evil?) Persuasive people like to take financial and interpersonal risks and to participate in competitive activities. They enjoy working with others inside organizations to accomplish goals and achieve economic success.

I think it described me pretty well, given that it was such as short test. I will be interested in getting feedback from others who took a gander at it- what did you all think?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Knitting/Pranking Fun at Shea Stadium

Although I love playing sports, I'm not much of a sports spectator. So when my boyfriend's two uncles came to NYC this weekend to see the Mets (in Queens) and the Yankees (in the Bronx), I was dreading the obligatory outing, making sure to bring plenty of knitting to keep me sane during the long inning stretches. One must note that this season is somewhat significant, as it will be the last time the two teams will be playing in their old stadiums, because each team has simultaneously built new stadiums that will be unveiled in the upcoming season. (If you see the pic on left, the old and new Mets stadiums are built right next to each other... ugh... Personally, I think it's a waste of space, resources, and money to build new stadiums when the old ones were perfectly adequate, but for one reason or another, people are very excited about it, so I won't say much more!)

Just as my luck would have it, our game on Saturday ended up being a doubleheader, because the game from the night before was rained out. There were some good outcomes: I finished a belt for my recently completed Starsky because I couldn't make up my mind about closures. I casted on 12 stitches, and on the right side, K1, P2, K2, P2, K2, P2, K1 and did the reverse for the wrong side. Although I didn't measure, I think it ended up being a little over 48 inches. So an immediate decision about closures can be postponed for a little bit longer...

I also got another gift at Shea Stadium in the form of amusement when in the middle of the second game, a drunken and passed out spectator became the object of ridicule for many. The incident amazingly enough was chronicled on YouTube - in essence, the guy was so out of it that he was oblivious to people stacking beer cups on his head. Yes, it's very juvenile and reminiscent of the antics of college frat boys, but after enduring nearly 5 hours of baseball watching, listening to baseball talk, and staunchly defending how appropriate knitting is to the occasion, I was very happy for the distraction! While we weren't sitting directly on the field, we got a pretty good bird's eye view of the whole incident. The first pic is when we first started noticing that people were cheering for something other than the players on the field, and that there was a strange clump of people in one particular spot. The second picture is a close-up of what was happening when we figured out what was going on - clearly, you can see the stack of beer cups, as well as the poor victim's well-shaved head. Is this entertainment-worthy enough to blog about? Probably not. I have learned however, that everything is relative. In this case, the incident was a welcome alternative to watching the game. Sorry baseball lovers!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Angel Babies!

Although I am not wildy crazy about fish (I prefer the furry, 4 legged type of pets), my boyfriend is fish crazy - he has an 80 gallon tank in our apartment, plus a 20 gallon "hospital" tank to sequester the sickies. I heard the bad news that we may have to get another tank, because the hospital tank became a love nest turned fish fry nursery, as two of the Angelfish had babies! Hundreds of them! This was after about the 10th try - at first, the parent fish would confuse the eggs with food and eat them all; then there were water issues and they died off, etc. It's too complicated/geeky for me to understand and explain - I am sure he thinks I am the same way with knitting, hehe. It's been about two weeks since they have hatched, and so far, so good. It takes about 6-8 weeks for the little speckles to actually look like respectable mini-angels. So right now it's too early to tell whether my boyfriend can quit his day job and be a full-time fish peddler - we'll see what happens.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Starsky Is Done!

I started this sweater during one of the hottest days in July - I got the pattern off of knitty, after seeing so many beautifully crafted projects on ravelry. The pattern gave me a chance to learn some new techniques, including short rows, as well as perfect my seaming, which is not my strength! The pattern was not too hard to follow. The only problem I had was the collar, which I had to re-do twice, because the pattern didn't specify a number of stitches to pick up - the first time I didn't pick up enough, and my sweater turned out looking oddly shrunken. On my second try, I casted on 119 stitches on each side for a total of 238 for the ribbing. I may have been able to get away with doing a bit less, but I think it turned out OK. The only pattern modifications I made were to do the wraps every 4 rows, and to pick up the stitches for the sleeve instead of knitting them separately and sewing them in.

Currently I am experimenting with different types of closures. I added buttonholes but I placed them too low so it's not the most figure flattering when I actually sewed them in. The upside is that I went to M & J Trim for the first time (For NYCers, it's on 6th Ave between 37th and 38th). Let's just say that it was both a blessing and a curse to find out about that store. The area was also more crowded than usual, as it was fashion week in Bryant Park, and there were a lot of photographers and people milling around the tents on 42nd street. Although I looked briefly, there were no celebrity sightings for me, not that I am good at that kind of stuff - I apparently bumped Cynthia Nixon (of Sex and the City) when she was blocking the doorway of my favorite housewares store about a month ago and didn't even notice. My more tactful other half pointed this out after he stopped laughing at me. In my defense, there was only one door, and she was talking to someone on the street for over a minute, which is an hour by NYC standards! I also didn't really bump her - I just ducked under her very skinny arm to get into the store, not shoved her out of the way as my boyfriend likes to gleefully suggest to others. Also, I was ultra focused on looking at a great art-deco pitcher that was displayed at the very back of the room. Just sayin...

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Okonomiaki (a.k.a. the Japanese Pizza)

Living in such a culinary melting pot, I tend to tread uncharted food territories whenever I go out, gravitating away from the tried and true foods that have been staples in my Midwestern childhood (take-out Chinese, Japanese, pizza/Italian, and American come to mind). But lately I have been a bit nostalgic for my mom's cooking, and when my boyfriend came back from his home state of Maine bearing vegetables from his parent's garden, he suggested that I make Okonomiaki with his mother's head of cabbage (yes, he actually carried it on the bus - how sweet!). For those of you who don't know what Okonomiaki is, it resembles a scallion pancake (found in most Chinese restaurants), except instead of scallions, the main ingredient is very finely chopped up cabbage and a protein of some kind (I prefer pork.... mmm.... piggies...). When asking about the origins of the food, my mom says it was a Japanese post-war-I-have-no-food-so-I-am-going-to-make-the-best-of-it cuisine, which is a good an answer as any, although I am sure she made it up just to stop my incessant questioning. To make it, I used the following ingredients:

- All purpose flour
- Water
- One Egg
- One head of very small cabbage, finely, finely chopped (Japanese cabbage prefered)
- Lots of Katsuobushi (also known as shaved Bonito, which is a type of fish that has been dried and then shaved into small slivers, pictured left) - I used a big handful to put into the batter.
- Tonkatsu Sauce (a vegetable/fruit sauce - like Worcestershire, but thicker, on the right)
- Lean pork, sliced and chopped in tiny chunks
- A smidgen of potato starch
All of the ingredients are not measured, but thrown in randomly (with exception of the tonkatsu sauce) - if there is interest, I can definitely measure out the ingredients, although I think the ingredients and recipe should vary with each person, as the name Okonomiaki directly translates into the phrase "as you like it." The rule of thumb is to make sure the batter is thin, almost runny, and that the cabbage should overwhelm the rest of the ingredients. Once the batter is done, all you have to do is just cook it! Put some oil in a pan over medium heat, pour out a thin layer of batter, cover it, and flip it when the edges start to brown:
Then let the other side cook for the same amount of time - you'll know it's done when it doesn't fall apart, and the batter is not gooey. Once you are certain that the meat has cooked through and that the batter has browned to your satisfaction, transfer it back onto a plate, top with Tonkatsu sauce, and add some more shaved bonito for good measure!
Happy Eating!
Edit: For those of you who want to try the real thing before making it, a great place to go in NYC is Otafuku in the East Village. It's a bit of a dive, and it's for take-out only, but it's one of the best places for Okonomiaki that I've had in the city.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Poconos for Labor Day

Being a country girl and traveler at heart, I was itching to get away from NYC during the labor day weekend. My attempts to find good deals on airfare didn't go as planned - I had underestimated the reports of increased prices on tickets. Therefore, my optimism and resistance to spending gobs of money hindered my ambitions. When I was about to throw in the towel, my boyfriend very practically suggested the Poconos as an alternative. Although I was quick to scoff, (the Poconos is a well-known winter ski destination) I finally caved in after realizing that we would have to bus it to any place we would end up going. Despite my initial snobbishness (I wanted to get out of the country, after all), the trip turned out quite well. We stayed at the Mountaintop Lodge, a quaint little bed and breakfast, adjacent to the Lake Naomi Club (which is every bit as chi-chi as the name suggests). The views from the lake were nice:

The bed and breakfast had access to club amenities, so we rented kayaks for a couple of hours and paddled around (excuse my obese, flat-footed feet, only useful for competitive gymnastics, although I am happy to say I hardly ever fell off the beam):
We also toured around the town a bit in our rental car, which we got after being convinced by the innkeeper that this was NOT New York, and we cannot just walk around where we please, and no, there is no public transportation (how easily we forget)! We also attended the area's annual garlic festival, and saw The Niagara of Pennsylvania in the town of Bushkill:I was so impressed with this tree! It seems near impossible to get nutrients from where it is living, but it seems to be doing just fine...
So all in all, it was a good trip. We got some good garlic vinegar at the festival, indulged in frivolous spending via antique shops and outlet malls, and got to inhale good clean mountain air. For a ski fanatic such as myself, it will definitely be worth another trip to explore the slopes. As a summer getaway, it's a laid-back place to hang out, go hiking, and eat a lot of food.