Na na na na na na na na Bat Pie!

Tonight I’m off to another friend’s birthday celebration, and I think it’s safe for me to write about his gift since so far as I can tell he doesn’t read my blog. At least, he seemed genuinely surprised when I asked him if he’d like a pie for his birthday and, if so, what kind is his favourite. He did say that fruit pies, especially strawberry-raspberry-blueberry or strawberry-rhubarb were his top-ranked. However, rhubarb is almost impossible to get this time of year (although knowing this now, I’ll freeze some in advance next year when it comes in season). And red fruits just didn’t seem dark enough for what I had in mind.

You see, my friend is a huge Batman fan, and I wanted to make him something appropriate to his fandom. After all, as LEGO Batman says, Batman “only works in black, and sometimes very, very dark grey” — although I’d go so far as to say that Adam West’s cowl was a deep purple or blue, depending on the lighting. Since I didn’t want to add food colouring to the filling, so I went with blackberry-blueberry. As usual, I used the Purity Pastry recipe from page 73 of The All-New Purity Cook Book (Elizabeth Driver, 2001). As my father and his mother before him taught me, I made the crust using lard instead of vegetable shortening, which I’ve always been told makes the crust flakier. The filling was 3 1/2 cups of blackberries, 2 1/2 cups of blueberries, 1 cup of sugar, 3 Tbsp corn starch, and 1 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice.

At first I thought I might make the top crust with a large cutout so that it looked like the Bat Signal, but a friend had linked to a recipe for Rustic Cast Iron Skillet Peach Pie on social media, and I really liked how they’d made their top crust. I thought that cookie-cutter cutouts would look a bit like a cloud of bats against a night sky, which is an image used repeatedly in Batman media. Of course, the fruit filling isn’t totally flat and the bats warped a bit during baking, so they look their most bat-like from directly above. It’s a really simple technique and can be achieved using any shape of cookie cutter, although I have a feeling that the simpler the shape, the more recognizable it will be when cooked. I do have a feeling that I’ll be using this technique in the future to customize my pies. If you don’t like making crust from scratch, I see no reason why it wouldn’t work equally well with store-bought dough.

A Piece of Pie

Recently, my husband and I were playing Borderlands 2 online with another couple who are good friends of ours. At one point I had to take a brief AFK break to take a pie out of the oven, causing our friends to jokingly lament that they didn’t have pie too. At that time, their birthdays were swiftly approaching, so I promised them that I’d make them pies for their birthday. Well, their joint birthday celebration (their birthdays are only a couple of days apart) was this past Friday, so on Thursday night I had to make their pies.

I decided to make two totally different kinds of pies, and I started with a lemon meringue. I used the crust recipe from page 73 of The All-New Purity Cook Book (Elizabeth Driver, 2001), the filling from page 687 of the Joy of Cooking (Rombauer & Becker, 2006 edition), and Soft Meringue Topping #1 on page 798 of the Joy of Cooking. I’ll confess right now that I had never made lemon meringue pie before, even though I quite like it. I’d only tried a meringue once before and that failed spectacularly. I don’t know what I did, but no matter how hard I whipped it, the meringue never formed peaks at all, it just stayed runny. I was really worried that it wouldn’t turn out right.


Photo by Karen Turnbull.

In the end, I’m quite proud of my first lemon meringue pie, even though I singed the topping a bit. I have got to remember that my oven heats unevenly and that I need to check on my baked goods more often. I mean, I set a timer for the minimum time recommended and then checked it with five minutes to go, and it was still a rather dark brown (I was aiming for a toasted gold). If I’d left it in five minutes longer, it would have been burnt. Luckily, the colour was only on the surface, and my friends said it tasted just fine. They served it up to their gaming group when playing D&D on Sunday night, and everyone liked it, even one person who generally doesn’t like lemon meringue. I’m wondering if that’s because I used fresh lemons and lemon zest when I made the filling from scratch, instead of using canned filling.

For the second pie I went with a fruit-filled pie, which something I’ve done successfully a million times before, just in case. I mean, given the disaster with the bitter pumpkin pie at Christmas, experience doesn’t always mean mistake-free. But I’m fairly confident that it will taste fine (especially since you can honestly completely omit sugar in most fruit pies and it’ll still be palatable). For kicks, I rolled the top crust using a laser-engraved rolling pin that I received as a gift a while back. It features the hazard symbols for poison, ionizing radiation, high voltage, and biological hazards. Something tickles me about using this on food.

What with a fruit pie crust never baking flat, it’s hard to see the design, but it is there. I also vented the crust using a 8-Piece Pie Divider for the first time, which was a gift from another friend. It is honestly the weirdest-looking gadget in my kitchen, but it works quite well. The recipe for apple-strawberry pie that I used can actually be found on the back of its packaging box — although I did use the same Purity Pastry crust for both pies, since it’s just easier to whip up one big batch instead of multiple small ones. I used leftovers of that crust, along with some extra fruit from the fridge, to make the fruit tarts that night as well.

Honestly, I’m kind of hoping that this baking-as-a-birthday-gift idea becomes a regular thing. As my friends and I get older, I find it harder to shop for presents, since I know the things that they really want is way out of my budget, and we all have more clutter than we really need. But food is a necessity of life. And just maybe on our birthdays we deserve to be able to elevate a basic need to something a little more special.

Smelly Socks Pattern

Way back when Thing 1 was only three years old and not reading by herself yet, her favourite book for quite some time was Smelly Socks by Robert Munsch (2004). I must have read that book to her a thousand times. I was raised on Munsch classics like The Paper Bag Princess Love You Forever, so I didn’t really mind.

Smelly Socks tells the tale of a girl named Tina who begs her grandfather to take her across the river to a big sock store to buy some fancy socks. She finds herself the perfect pair of red, yellow and green socks, and she cries, “Socks! Socks! Wonderful socks! I am NEVER going to take them off!” Of course, the longer Tina wears the socks, the smellier they get, until her friends get fed up and drag
her down to the river to give those socks a good washing.

Thing 1 wanted Smelly Socks of her very own, so I just had to knit her some. (You can see the titular socks on the cover of the the book.) Over the years, those socks were worn by both of the girls, and they still never wore out! Since they’re much too small for either kiddo any more, they’re currently stored in a box of keepsakes. I thought I would share my old pattern for the socks so that other people can make keepsakes of their own.

Smelly Socks
Preschooler size; approximately children’s size 8 CDN/US

Materials:
– one ball Mandarin Petit in Yellow 2004 OR Goldenrod 2315
– one ball Mandarin Petit in Cardinal 4418
– one ball Mandarin Petit in Green 8017
– one set of 3.25mm (US 3, UK 10) circular knitting needles in a length comfortable for the magic loop method (I prefer 120cm/47″ or longer)

Each ball of Mandarin Petit is by Sandnes Garn of Norway is 100 % Egyptian 4ply cotton, weighs 50g (1.764oz), measures 180m (196.85’), and is machine-washable (air dry flat). A different yarn of the same gauge may be substituted to yield the same results.

Gauge:
– 16 stitches and 20 rows in stockinette stitch = 5cm x 5cm (2″ x 2″) square on 3.25mm (US 3, UK 10) needles

Instructions:

Cast On:

– Using the YELLOW yarn and the magic cast-on for toe-up socks technique, cast on 24 stitches divided onto two needles (12 stitches per needle).
– Knit one round. Warning: Using the magic cast-on, the cast-on loops on your second needle will be twisted. To untwist, knit the stitches on this needle through the back of the loops on the first round only.

Shape toe:
– Round 1: On each needle, K1, M1, K to within last stitch on the needle, M1, K1.
– Round 2: Knit
– Repeat these two rounds until there are 40 stitches on your needles (divided 20-20).

Make instep:

– Knit every stitch in the round until sock measures 11cm from cast-on edge to end
to the last knit stitch.

Arrange heel stitches:

– Knit across 1st needle. The heel will be turned on the 20 stitches of the 2nd needle.

Set up short row heel:

– 1st row: (RS) K19. Move working yarn as if to purl. Slip 1. Turn.
– 2nd row: (WS) Slip 1. This will wrap the yarn around the first, slipped stitch. P18. Move working yarn as if to knit (“wrap”). Slip 1. Turn.
– 3rd row: (RS) Slip 1. K17. Wrap. Turn.
– 4th row: (WS) Slip 1. P16. Wrap. Turn.
– 5th row: (RS) Slip 1. K15. Wrap. Turn.
– 6th row: (WS) Slip 1. P14. Wrap. Turn.
– 7th row: (RS) Slip 1. K13. Wrap. Turn.
– 8th row: (WS) Slip 1. P12. Wrap. Turn.
– 9th row: (RS) Slip 1. K11. Wrap. Turn.
– 10th row: (WS) Slip 1. P10. Wrap. Turn.
– 11th row: (RS) Slip 1. K9. Wrap. Turn.
– 12th row: (WS) Slip 1. P8. Wrap. Turn.

This should yield 6 wrapped stitches, 8 “live” (unwrapped) stitches, and 6 more wrapped stitches, for a total of 20 stitches on the 2nd needle.

Turn short row heel:

– 1st row: (RS) K8. Pick up (PU) the wrap and next stitch and knit them together. Wrap the next stitch so that it now has two wraps. Turn.
– 2nd row: (WS) SL1 (double-wrapped) stitch. P9. PU wrap and next stitch and purl them together. Wrap the next stitch so that it now has two wraps. Turn.
– 3rd row: (RS) SL1 (double-wrapped) stitch. K10. Pick up (PU) the wrap and next stitch and knit them together. Wrap the next stitch so that it now has two wraps. Turn.
– 4th row: (WS) SL1 (double-wrapped) stitch. P11. PU wrap and next stitch and purl them together. Wrap the next stitch so that it now has two wraps. Turn.
– 5th row: (RS) SL1 (double-wrapped) stitch. K12. Pick up (PU) the wrap and next stitch and knit them together. Wrap the next stitch so that it now has two wraps. Turn.
– 6th row: (WS) SL1 (double-wrapped) stitch. P13. PU wrap and next stitch and purl them together. Wrap the next stitch so that it now has two wraps. Turn.
– 7th row: (RS) SL1 (double-wrapped) stitch. K14. Pick up (PU) the wrap and next stitch and knit them together. Wrap the next stitch so that it now has two wraps. Turn.
– 8th row: (WS) SL1 (double-wrapped) stitch. P15. PU wrap and next stitch and purl them together. Wrap the next stitch so that it now has two wraps. Turn.
– 9th row: (RS) SL1 (double-wrapped) stitch. K16. Pick up (PU) the wrap and next stitch and knit them together. Wrap the next stitch so that it now has two wraps. Turn.
– 10th row: (WS) SL1 (double-wrapped) stitch. P17. PU wrap and next stitch and purl them together. Wrap the next stitch so that it now has two wraps. Turn.
– 11th row: (RS) SL1 (double-wrapped) stitch. K18. Turn.
– 12th row: (WS) SL1 (double-wrapped) stitch. P19. Turn.
– 13th row: (RS) K20. Pick up one stitch from the gap between Needle 1 and Needle 2.

Set up body of leg:

– Return to knittng in the round.
– 1st round:
– 1st needle: Pick up 1 stitch from the gap between Needle 2 and Needle 1. K20. Pick up a stitch from the gap between Needle 1 and Needle 2. (22 stitches on Needle 1.)
– 2nd needle: Pick up 1 stitch from the gap between Needle 1 and Needle 2. K10. Switch to GREEN yarn. K9. K2 tog. (21 stitches on Needle 2.)
– 2nd round (you are now using GREEN yarn):
– 1st needle: K2 tog. K18. K2 tog. (20 stitches on Needle 1.)
– 2nd needle: K2 tog. K19. (20 stitches on Needle 2.)

Knit body of leg:
– K2, P2 on each needle until green stripe measures 3.5cm (1.4″) high. Switch to RED yarn.
– K2, P2 on each needle until red stripe measures 3.5cm (1.4″) high. Switch to YELLOW yarn.
– K2, P2 on each needle until yellow stripe measures 3.5cm (1.4″) high. Switch to GREEN yarn.
– K2, P2 on each needle until green stripe measures 3.5cm (1.4″) high. Switch to RED yarn.
– K2, P2 on each needle until green stripe measures 3.5cm (1.4″) high. Cast of loosely, or using a stretchy bind-off.

Repeat pattern in full to yield a second sock. Voila!

As usual, should you note any errata in this pattern, please let me know so that I can fix it. I don’t exactly have a bevvy of test knitters to help me catch mistakes.

Crumpets and Tea

Back in my old blog I posted all kinds of patterns I had designed, and I’ve been trying to slowly re-post them on this blog so that they can go back into circulation. So here’s en embroidery pattern that I designed back in 2014:

I would have taken new and better pictures, but I gave them away as gifts ages ago!

My younger brother is a huge fan of the 1995 movie Tank Girl. I mean, I loved that movie, but his fandom by far surpasses mine. I am all in favour of sarcastic embroidery, especially when it can be combined with practical objects. (This idea of pretty and practical is not new to me.) It’s not very often that I get a chance to embroider something for my brother –- he’s not generally a huge fan of embroidered items in general, and is often difficult to find gifts for. So for his birthday in 2014 I made him Tank Girl kitchen towels. The quotes are all from the interrogation scene.

These are commercially-made, 100% cotton tea towels (labeled as “premium flour sack tea towels” by Cantina), which I bought at $12.99 for a four-pack at Home Outfitters. They are 61cm X 91cm. I don’t think those specific ones in specific are available any more, but it’s possible to find something similar with a quick Internet search. Each towel that embroidered is actually two: one for the front, and another sewn onto the back to cover the wrong side of the embroidery. I chose the stitching colours of brown and brick red based on my brother’s preferences, trying to be fairly neutral so as to match his kitchen decor.

I also cross-stitched a coordinating fingertip towel for his bathroom, starting with a towel with an Aida fabric panel built in. They are available at most crafting supply stores (or online), and generally cost around $5.00.

So here are the patterns:


Click through for extremely large versions of these images which you can print to scale.

For the tea towels, I ran them through the washer and dryer a couple of times to shrink the fabric. I learned the hard way years ago to do this as it keeps the design from shrinking at a different speed than the stitching — which really sucks when you spent this much time working on something! It’s not as big of a deal with a mounted piece, but something like a towel is going to be washed over and over again. To transfer the pattern onto fabric, I printed them out to the proper scale to fit on my towels, then set the design underneath the fabric and used an embroidery transfer pen with the kind of ink that disappears when you wet it to trace the pattern onto the fabric. Then when I was done stitching, I just washed out the pen marks.

The cross-stitch pattern was transferred via the standard counting method instead of inking in the pattern first. I won’t go into the details of how to do counted cross-stitch here, but there are loads of resources online to teach you how, including a bunch of YouTube videos if you’re a visual learner like me.

You’re welcome to use these patterns I designed for personal, educational, or small business use! And if you do, please send me a picture. I’d love to see your work.

Christmas Gifts

I received some absolutely lovely Christmas gifts this year from friends, family, and Santa Claus. Some of the gifts would likely be of interest to other crafty- and foodie-types. My brother gave me one of those fantastic crocheted knight helmet hats and the previously-mentioned Jamie Oliver 5 Ingredients Quick & Easy Food cookbook (Jamie Oliver, 2017). My husband gave me a copy of How to Cook Indian by Sanjeev Kapoor (2011). Santa brought me some lovely worsted-weight variegated yarn, which I am currently turning into a hat. My parents bought me a funny (and very accurate) Procrasti-knitter T-shirt from White Owl Crochet.

But I do have a weakness for handmade items that combine practicality with beauty, and this year my parents picked out some absolutely lovely pieces for me. The first is a pair of wine tumbler/tea bowls from Greig Pottery. The one on the right is patterned with lupins, which is a flower that I first fell in love with on a trip to Newfoundland with my mom about eight years back. In shape and size, these vessels remind me of Japanese teacups, although they are intended for both hot and cold beverages (so far as I know, you’d never have a cold beverage in this kind of cup in Japan). They fit comfortably in my hand and the little indents — one on either side — are perfectly placed for my thumb and forefinger. As a bonus, they’re both microwave and dishwasher safe. I can’t wait to use them, possibly for some rum and eggnog before the season is over.

Mom and Dad also gave me this gorgeous two-tone rosewood & mango wood yarn bowl from Knitpicks. They actually gave me two hand-potted yarn bowls (in different sizes, for different-sized balls of yarn) last year for Christmas, but my kids managed to smash both of them on the same day. Needless to say, I was not amused, as the bowls sat on the table in the living room where the kids aren’t supposed to be playing in the first place. I was very vocal (possibly too vocal) about how much I missed the old bowls, so Mom actually hopped onto the Internet and ordered me a new one — one that, it should be noted, should be much more difficult to smash. Touch wood. I love the glassy-smooth finish of the wood; when I got the bowl, I couldn’t stop running my hands over it. I was especially proud of my mother for ordering it for me, since she had never before shopped online on her own, usually getting my brother or I to order things for her. I don’t see an Amazon Prime account in her future, but I like that Mom is now able to put aside her worries about online shopping, at least for items that she can’t get in town.

I want to take this opportunity to say a sincere thank-you for all of my gifts this holiday season. Although, as Garfield points out in the Christmas special that we watch every year, it’s not the giving, it’s not the getting, it’s the loving.

Cat-Proof Tree

A friend of mine, who owns three very mischievous cats, posted a link to a Facebook post about Genius People Who Found A Way To Protect Their Christmas Trees From Asshole Cats And Dogs back in November, and it gave me some ideas. Specifically, the picture of the little tree in the gigantic lantern.

You see, I’d salvaged this 3.5-foot-or-so decorative lantern a while back and, although I’d filled it with orange lights as a Halloween decoration, I didn’t have any real idea what I wanted to do with it once the holiday was over. I’d thought I might spray paint silhouettes on the inside and turn it into a permanent addition to my Halloween decoration collection, but I didn’t have any concrete plans. However, I thought that my friends might like a tree that their cats couldn’t destroy, so I started working on the lantern.

The lantern had been discarded for a reason; it needed repair. It required a good cleaning, some glue in spots and a couple of coats of paint, not to mention some new hardware. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find matching replacement hardware, so the rusty stuff was just going to have to do. I also had to find a short enough tree and some small embellishments (which I kept to a neutral white and silver motif to hopefully go with the decor on any floor of their house, and any decorations they would want to add).

I was quite happy with the final product, which looked nice in a lit room…

…but really was at its best in low to no light.


Photo by Karen Turnbull.

My friends seem to be quite happy with their Christmas gift. Although the cats were quite interested at first, the fact that they couldn’t reach the branches, lights, or ornaments meant that they lost interest pretty quickly — which was perfect. The tree in the lantern is pretty heavy, so the cats can’t knock it over. And as a bonus, the tree doesn’t even have to be taken down after the Christmas season is over unless my friends want to use the lantern for something else. A plastic garbage bag over the top would keep the whole thing dust-free in storage until they want to use it next year.

I really liked how my Christmas tree in a lantern turned out. A bit of Googling has made me realize that lanterns are great for protecting all kinds of decorations from pets and young children. I’ve seen them filled with glass balls, tiny dioramas, seasonal knickknacks, paper or painted silhouettes (usually with frosted glass), greenery arrangements, and live plants. I have so many ideas now that I think I’ll be keeping my eye out for more lanterns to salvage and decorate.

Holiday Sweets

It seems like I have spent most of the last few days either cooking or driving around town to deliver Christmas presents, with a bit of housecleaning and last-minute decorating mixed in. On one of those gift deliveries, I received my very first gift of the season!

That’s three types of homemade fudge, all cooked up by my friend and her daughter, and then wrapped prettily. Thing 1 and Thing 2 keep asking me to share, but I have selfishly been hoarding it all for myself. (They’ve been on the receiving end of many other treats, so I don’t feel too bad.) I have a weakness for fudge.

One of Thing 2’s Sparks leaders has organized gifts to bring to one of the local retirement homes. Parent volunteers baked cookies and squares, which the leader will package into gift bags. One of the baked goods that I contributed was mini lemon cupcakes, which is actually just IKEA Muffinsmix Citron baked into tiny IKEA Snodriva paper liners (now discontinued). Is it a bad thing that I don’t always make things from scratch?

I did bake these Fudgy Pumpkin Coffee Brownies (page 222, Purely Pumpkin by Allison Day (2016)) completely from scratch, though. These also went to the retirement home gift bags. I used some of the Halloween pumpkin that I’d roasted, too! I really liked how moist these brownies ended up, courtesy of the pumpkin puree inside. I successfully substituted equal amounts of whole wheat flour for einkorn wheat, which I couldn’t find around here (and honestly had never heard of until I read this recipe). I did use a dairy-free chocolate chip, but I think I may go for a standard kind next time — I hear that they’re even making a dark chocolate chip now that’s available in most grocery stores.