Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Last day of 2013...

...our tree is ready to bid goodbye to 2013 and welcome the new year:

New Year's Eve 2013 tree

I have some champagne chilling and most of the fixings for tomorrow's Hoppin' John.  I need to make a quick grocery run for tonight's dinner once I figure out what we're having! After all the baking and Christmas celebrations, cooking is the last thing I want to do.

I'm trying to finish a couple of things before midnight (go ahead...laugh). I have a bobbin full of Cazadero Mist singles ready to ply and 2 or 3 edging repeats to finish on the Southern Skies shawl. I suppose I can't really declare the shawl done until I block it. I'm not sure I have enough time for that!

I wish you all a very Happy New Year! See you on the flip-side...

Friday, December 27, 2013

last Eye Candy Friday of 2013...

...today's sunrise:

Sunrise 12/27/13

and some paperwhite narcissus:

Paperwhite narcissus 2

and another:

Paperwhite narcissus

Up this weekend: Today, I'm buying the boxes for mailing the goodies and presents to my out-of-town friends and relatives. It will take me several hours to wrap the cookies and biscotti so they will survive the gentle handing of USPS. LOL!

The Husband is delivering the goodies to our Sacramento-area family on Saturday. I'll prep those for the 2-hour car trip. They don't need quite as much prep as those being mailed, but I won't be going with them. I'll give them a little extra cushioning just to be safe.

Once I mail everything, I'm swapping over to craft-mode. My studio needs a little help as that was wrapping-central, but it won't take long to get it back in order. The a little spinning, a little cross stitch, a little...

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Happy Boxing Day...

...with the flurry of activity around here, I didn't get a chance to post until now.

I finished all of the goodies by Sunday and started packaging Sunday afternoon. I got the cookies and biscotti done, but had to wait until Monday to package everything else. I've separated the stuff that needs to be mailed and that will be tomorrow's task...I need to buy boxes first.

The final goodie total:
  • Bark: 9 pounds
  • Biscotti: 661
  • Breads and fruitcakes: 30 mini-loaves and 10 medium loaves
  • Cookies: 815
  • Spicy nuts: 3 pounds
  • Sugared nuts: 12 pounds
After that, I cleaned the house and moved into Christmas Eve dinner preparations. I made the last grocery run as early as I could on Tuesday (but still not early enough...what a zoo!), while the Husband went out to get the seafood for the Cioppino.

I made a coconut flan for dessert that turned out pretty well. I think next time I might chop the coconut separately and then adding it to the liquid mixture. The recipe calls for blending it all together, resulting in a texture that was not a smooth as I wanted it to be. It tasted great, though.

Coconut flan

Christmas Eve dinner was great, but I pretty much crashed after everyone left.

Christmas morning was calm...we enjoyed our coffee, while the Daughter enjoyed the chocolate atole I made for her (Mexican chocolate champurrado). Stockings were first

Santa's been here!

And then the presents

Christmas tree 2013

Sombra hung around the tree, waiting for something to happen.

Waiting for Christmas to start

Santa was very good to me and brought me the Traveling Lazy Kate from Nancy's Notions, the book "Fosse," and a gift certificate from A Verb For Keeping Warm!

I made Eggs Benedict for brunch:

Eggs Benedict for brunch

We pretty much just hung out, investigating our new acquisitions. The Husband set up his new backpacking tent in the back yard and I started reading my new book. Mostly, though, I was knitting the Husbands new wool hat--one of his Christmas gifts. I stopped trying to be stealthy as his head is too big and I needed to try it on him several times to make sure it would fit properly.

It was a good day!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Eye Candy Friday, Christmas-goodie style...

...having successfully delivered goodie bags to my co-workers, I can take a small breather to get some pictures. Ready?

Polar bear sugar cookie:

Polar Bear sugar cookie

Sheep! sugar cookie:

Sheep sugar cookie

Horse chocolate sugar cookie:

Horse chocolate sugar cookie

You'll notice that these cookies are very simple in the decoration department. That's one way that I keep my sanity when I make 500+ cookies. :)

Gingerbread cookie:

Gingerbread cookies

This is the result of Plan B. Although I followed the recipe closely, the dough was way too dry to form a ball, much less be rolled out so I could use my gingerbread man cutter. Instead, I made one-inch balls, rolled them in sugar crystals, and flattened them with a glass. BTW, this was the second Gingerbread-FAIL I had this season. Time for some new recipes!

Grand Marnier Pecans are a staple in the goodie bags:

Grand Marnier Pecans

And new this year, Salted Caramel Bark:

Salted Caramel Bark

I need to rework the recipe a bit because there was no way to break the bark. I think cutting it with a knife would have been easier, or mixing the caramel in a bit more.

Goodie total to date:
  • Bark: 2.25 pounds
  • Biscotti: 661
  • Breads and fruitcakes: 30 mini-loaves and 10 medium loaves
  • Cookies: 815
  • Sugared nuts: 5.9 pounds
Still to do: the rest of the chocolate bark and the spicy nuts.

Up this weekend: Tomorrow marks the beginning of my vacation! Yay! I'll be busy for a bit, though

I'll finish making the goodies and start packaging things. The goal is to get everything goodie-related completed and packaged by 12/24.

Also on my agenda is wrapping presents, cleaning the house, and finishing knitting my Christmas gifts!

Yeah, I did say vacation...at least I won't be doing work-work!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

WIP-it Wednesday roll call...

...sorry, no pictures as I haven't had time to take any!

My long-standing WIPs have had no play this month and probably won't get any until after Christmas! I need to concentrate on the gift knitting when I finally get some craft time!

 WIPs in rotation:

  1. Mediterranean Mermaid (cross stitch):
    Still working on the hair.
  2. The Night is Purple and Full of Stars (Southern Skies) shawl [Ravelry]:
    Stitching edging repeat number 41 of 58.
  3. Carbonized Zombie socks [Ravelry]
    Working the instep decreases
  4. Stealth project for a friend's Christmas present (knitting)
  5. Make Mine Gray hat for the Husband [Ravelry]

Waiting to be rotated in:
  1. Anasazi by Susan Portra (needlepoint)
  2. Cazadero Mist handspun  [Ravelry
  3. Celaeno Shawl (knitting) [Ravelry]
  4. Halloween Phat Fiber samples (spinning) [Ravelry]
  5. Hive cross stitch (see above)
  6. Love Scissor fob (cross stitch)
  1. Going Snow Global quilt (quilting)
  2. Peacock Pomatomus socks (knitting) [Ravelry]
  3. Peacock Majesty by Just Nan (cross stitch)
  4. Seaweed Cardigan (knitting) [Ravelry
WIPs To Be:
  • A wall hanging (weaving) using the natural color handspun I did last summer
  • A peacock or mermaid quilt for me.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Random Tuesday...

...as I rapidly run out of spare time.

The weekend report: 661 biscotti baked; one cookie dough made and chilling in the refrigerator, spread chocolate on 75% of the biscotti (we keep some plain), and frosted the sugar cookies. The snowflake cookies got their base coat (stage 1 of 3). BTW, the repaired mixer did great...no need for the back-up mixer! Hooray!

I also got most of the decorating done. The only thing left to decorate is the Star Trek tree.

Still to do: the chocolate bark, the macadamia fudge, the chile-chocolate truffles, and the chile-lime nuts. And then there's all the packaging. There's light at the end of the tunnel, though. My last day at work for the year is Friday and I'll have the 21st through the 23rd to finish and package things up. I just need to worry about the gifts for our coworkers this week.

With having so much to do, it doesn't help when I feel sick. I think something I ate yesterday did not agree with my highly-charged body and I felt a little sick last night.  I managed to power through stage 2 of the snowflake cookie decoration and bake the last batch of cookie dough on the refrigerator. Then I crashed on the couch and tried to shake off the upset stomach and chills. This morning I was better, but I skipped the gym just to give my body a little more rest.  I'll get back to it tomorrow.

I need to do a little shopping for stocking stuffers, but I've gotten all the big gifts. (Thank you, online shopping!) I'm a little worried about the knitted gifts I'm making. My yarn order from Alpaca Direct for one of the gifts was delayed by USPS and just arrived today. Alpaca Direct shipped it by priority mail on the 6th...11 days doesn't sound like priority mail to me!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Eye Candy Friday-the-13th...

...and we're getting closer to Christmas!

Today's eye candy is Christmas decorations, I bought a few things from Pier One that caught my eye when I was buying candles for Thanksgiving. I love peacocks and the colors normally associated with them ...turquoise, blues, and greens. I found a peacock ornament and some sequined ornaments that had to come home with me. The tail of the peacock ornament:

Peacock feather

a bowl of gorgeous colors:

Sequined ornaments in a crystal bowl

and a close-up of one sequined ball:

Sequined ornament

I've been spending my evenings decorating the house. The only things left to are to put up the nativity set and decorate the Star Trek tree. The main Christmas tree can always use more ornaments, but if I don;t add any more, it's good as it is. I'm way ahead of where I'm normally at for the 13th. Now if I could only get my Christmas letter written!

Up this weekend: tomorrow is biscotti day! We'll see whether the mixer's new gear holds up to the 7 types of biscotti that I have planned. I have a backup mixer, just in case so I feel more confident about giving the new gear a true test. 

Sunday is icing and chocolate day. I'll ice the sugar cookie cutouts and put chocolate on the biscotti. If there's time, I'll make one of the cookie batches I had to skip last Sunday.

I'm on track to get the first batch of goodie bags ready for the 20th...thank goodness!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

My mixer is fixed!

...at least, we think it is. Here's what the old and new gears look like:

KitchenAid gear replacement

I did a trial run of gingerbread loaves last night and the mixer worked fine for that. I'm a little gun-shy about resuming my normal, double-batch ways, but I really don't have time to do much else!  Just in case, I've researched local stores for prices and availability for a new mixer...no time to wait for one to be shipped from Amazon. I hope this new gear fixes the problem as I have no desire to see my loom savings account  to go towards a new mixer.

Anyway while we waited for the part to arrive, I started decorating the house for Christmas. The tree is about 75% decorated:

Christmas Tree in progress

I'm still unpacking the decorations that go on the buffet and various tables. And  I haven't touched the Star Trek tree yet.

Christmas is my biggest WIP right now!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Christmas Baking: The good, the bad, and the ugly...

...the weekend had all three elements, in varying order.

Saturday started great. We bought our Christmas tree and got it set up in the house. I did a quick run to Trader Joe's to get pistachios and eggs. Then it was time for baking!

I made the fruitcake batter sans fruit in the mixer. Because I make so much fruitcake, there's no way the KitchenAid mixer can hold everything, so I always finish it in my giant mixing bowl.  I used mini-bundt pans, some larger paper bundt pans I found at Cost Plus, and a mini rose cake pan.
  • The good: The paper bundt pans worked great plus I don't have to unmold them!
  • The bad: The mini-bundt and rose pans are a giant P.I.T.A. when it comes to unmolding the fruitcakes (or any cakes). It took a good 30 minutes to get them out of the pans. Ugh!
  • The ugly: the fruitcakes in the rose pan were way to dark...not suitable for gift-giving. Scratch 6.
The rest of the day went well. My goal was to make all of the dough that had to be refrigerated and I met that goal, plus I baked another cookie!
  • The good: Made 7 doughs in preparation for Sunday.
  • The good: Baked the Cherry Kisses cookie; yield 40
On Sunday, we did a little house cleaning and I made a quick grocery run for dinner ingredients and other items. Then it was back to baking.

It's been colder than normal the last couple of weeks, so I was not totally surprised that the butter wasn't as soft as it should be after being on the counter for over an hour. I made the spritz dough, which was stiffer than normal. As I added the food coloring (last step), my mixer stopped beating. Hmmm. I removed the bowl and beater, and turned on the mixer. It was spinning just fine. Maybe the dough was just too cold. I finished adding the color by hand and baked the spritz.

Aunt Linda arrived after lunch. She started slicing and baking the refrigerated cookies, while I started the dough for Polvorones. After a couple of half-hearted beats, my mixer stopped again. Uh, oh. The beater would go around if there was nothing in the bowl, but as soon as there was any resistance, it stopped. Crap! It's dead, Jim!

I used my food processor to cream the butter and sugar for the Polvorones and finished the rest by hand. Linda, in the meantime, was cranking on the refrigerated dough. She did great. I turned my attention to making the sugared nuts, which do not require a mixer.
  • The good: Between the two of us, we baked 9 types of cookies on Sunday; yield 720.
  • The good: I made 13 cups of Grand Marnier Pecans and 14 cups of Amaretto Walnuts
  • The good: We tried a new cookie, Matcha Almond, that turned out much better than last year's failed Green Tea cookies.
  • The bad: I did not make two additional cookies that were on the To Do list.
  • The WAY UGLY: My workhorse mixer is on the injured list and I still have to make the biscotti! Sigh...
I told the Husband that we needed to find a repair place for my mixer. It's just too expensive to get a new mixer. Fortunately, the Daughter has a KitchenAid she can lend me, so it looks like biscotti day will still happen next Saturday.

The Husband read up on KitchenAid repair and found an excellent YouTube video that described how to diagnose the problem and hoe w to make the repairs.. It's looked pretty straight-forward, so he took the mixer apart yesterday and found the problem:

Chewed-up gear from my KitchenAid mixer

Yeah, gears aren't supposed to look like that! The replacement part is on the way.  When it arrives, he'll put everything back together. We're hoping that the problem will be fixed then. Keep your fingers crossed!

Friday, December 06, 2013

Mum's the word for Eye Candy Friday...

...chrysanthemum, that is. The mums are holding their own in the cold weather and the mums in my Thanksgiving flower arrangement are still looking good.

Yellow mum:

Yellow mum

Orange mum:

Orange mum

Mum in flower arrangement:

Thanksgiving flower arrangement

and a distinctly un-mum purple flower:

Braving the cold

Up this weekend: Baking!!!  After we get our Christmas tree tomorrow morning, the cookie baking begins. I need to make all of the chilled doughs first so they can spend overnight in the refrigerator.  Then I'll bake the fruitcakes and get them into the freezer. Then, I'll start the cookies that don't need to be chilled, like the spritz and the cherry kisses.

On Sunday, Aunt Linda will come over to help with the refrigerator cookies and I'll work on some of the others. The goal is to get as many of the 11 cookie types baked this weekend. Next weekend will devoted to baking the biscotti, icing the cookies and putting chocolate on the biscotti, and making the chocolate bark and truffles.

It will be a full weekend!

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

WIP-it Wednesday...

...in which the major WIPs are baked goods! At least  I've started  started my Christmas baking!

I baked the pumpkin bread on Monday and baked the lemon bread on Tuesday. I think those are the only things I can really make until the weekend. The fruitcakes take a long time to bake and I make 24 mini cakes--they won't all fit in the oven at the same time.  I simply don't have enough time to bake two batches after I get home at 7pm. It's going to be a busy baking weekend.

My kitchen is now in cookie mode: I have moved in the extra table, covered it in foil, and then placed cooling racks on top of that. I managed to clear out half of the freezer, which I have no filled with the pumpkin and lemon breads. I need to clear out more room for the fruitcakes. We're about done with Thanksgiving leftovers, so I can clear the refrigerator shelves in preparation for cookie doughs and chocolate.

On the craft front, I was able to make some progress on the mermaid. She now has a face and I'm back to stitching her hair.

The Carbonized Zombie Socks are progressing nicely, I knit in the car on the way back from the Christmas tree farm on Friday and then worked on them in the evenings. I finished the heel flaps and turned the heels. I'm now working on the instep decreases:

Carbonized Zombie Socks, as of 12/3/13

Somewhere in this madness, I need to carve out time to get our Christmas tree and decorate the house.  And then there are Christmas cards to address...and present shopping...and...

Monday, December 02, 2013

Hello, December...

...I'm not quite ready for you yet!

The blog was not high on my priority list last week...sorry about that.  With  all of Wednesday spent cooking, all of Thursday devoted to Thanksgiving, and Friday spent with friends and family at the Christmas Tree Farm, the last thing I want to do on Saturday was spend a lot of time on the computer.

Pictures were also secondary, but I did get a picture of my Thanksgiving table before everyone arrived:

Thanksgiving table

We had a total of 13 around the table. It was a lovely Thanksgiving and we really enjoyed having new guests. There was too much food (as usual) and not enough time to spend with everyone. But everyone had a good time!

We continue to reorganize things in the house. I finally let go of some glassware that we've been storing and have not used in years. I swear, I have no idea why I wanted to keep wedding gifts that my ex and I received...out of sight, out of mind!  But they're out of here!

We replaced our butcher block island with a large rolling cart...our only Black Friday purchase. The Husband pretty much hated the butcher block, mostly because the shelves below the work surface gathered so much dust and never looked tidy. We were ready to have something more mobile--I can move the new cart all by myself.  It has enclosed shelves and two drawers, which allow me to have all of my measuring cups and spoons in one location.  When you have 5 sets of measuring cups and 4 sets of measuring spoons, it's a challenge to find one location to hold them all!

I did the first ingredient runs on Saturday and Sunday. I did a Smart and Final run for flour, sugar, and semi-sweet chocolate chips; a Trader Joe's run for nuts, butter, dried fruit, and white chocolate chips; and a Safeway run for cocoa powder, eggs, and dark chocolate chips. (Well, these were the main ingredients from each store...)

I'm already behind on the baking as I didn't make anything yesterday. I just didn't have the energy (or space in the trash) to empty the freezer. And I need the freezer space for the fruitcakes and breads.

Guess I'll be busy during the week...

November 2013 recap...

...in which not a lot of "done" happened.

  • 11/17 Verdant art yarn (spinning) [Ravelry]
    Art rolags (3.7 oz) from The Yarn Wench;
    Auto-wrapped with gold DMC thread;
    core-spun with Aunt Lydia crochet thread in blue-green; Bulky weight
  • Books:
    1. Archangels Legion , Nalini Singh
    2. Dark Witch, Nora Roberts
    3. Unfinished Business, Nora Roberts
    4. Dead Witch Walking, Kim Harrison
    5. Some Girls Bite, Chloe Neill
    6. Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder, Joanne Fluke
    7. A Touch of Dead, Charlaine Harris
    8. Devils Food Cake Murder, Joanne Fluke
  • 11/17 Cazadero Mist (4 oz) from Royale Hare [Ravelry]
Worked on:
  • Be a Witch by Shepherd's Bush (cross stitch)
  • The Night is Purple and Full of Stars (Southern Skies) shawl (knitting) [Ravelry]
  • Love scissor fob by Shepherd's Bush (cross stitch)
  • Mediterranean Mermaid by Mirabilia, originally started 11/6/11; restarted 9/1/13 (cross stitch)
  • Carbonized Zombie Socks (knitting) [Ravelry]

Works In Progress, did not work on:
  1. Anasazi by Susan Portra (needlepoint)
  2. Celaeno Shawl (knitting) [Ravelry]
  3. Halloween Phat Fiber samples (spinning) [Ravelry]

IDJ (It's Dead, Jim)
  1. Watercolour Cats
  2. Watercolour Lighthouses

  1. Going Snow Global quilt (quilting)
  2. Peacock Pomatomus socks (knitting) [Ravelry]
  3. Peacock Majesty by Just Nan (cross stitch)
  4. Seaweed Cardigan (knitting) [Ravelry

WIPs To Be:
  • A wall hanging (weaving) using the natural color handspun I did last summer
  • A peacock or mermaid quilt for me. 

Eye Candy Friday...

...and rolling into a long baking weekend. I'm completely loving the skies and clouds. 11/30/18: 12/5/18: Today was a co-w...