Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I have to confess, I haven't been feeling particularly inspired lately, but I know that one thing that tends to perk me up when I'm feeling doldrum-y and lackluster is to revisit topics and projects that I would usually get excited about, like...

I love the natural history of the Victorian era, that attitude of exploration and sense of wonder at just what the hell is out there in the world. And I love the cabinet of curiosity-style quasi-organization — sea urchins spines next to volcano dust! — exhibited in this collection of microscope slides.

I love natural history in general, learning about something in the world I never knew existed, like this totally bananas Stone Forest in Madagascar. (sidenote: why am I not going on scientific expeditions to Madagascar? as always, I blame you.)
And I am completely head over heels for regions of the world no one knows much about, where new species are discovered all the time (I'm looking at you, Greater Mekong region of southeast Asia!), so reading about the lemurs and geckos and insects that have adapted to live in this landscape really gets my nerd on.

Plain frozen yogurt (a container of drained tart yogurt, 1/4 c. sugar, slug of vanilla, run through ice cream maker), shown here drizzled with pomegranate molasses

Smitten Kitchen's mushroom bourguinon over egg noodles, which was really delicious. This might be my new go-to dinner during cool weather for non-fancy company who don't eat a ton of meat but are okay with beef broth. Actually, that description could work for pretty much anyone I ever cook for, but I'm already planning to make this in early April for a good friend who will be coming back to New York after having been in Bangladesh for a couple of months (presumably) not eating delicious French-style mushroom stew. I think the only change I made to Deb's recipe was to use a mixture of portobello and crimini mushrooms and to add the pearl onions right at the beginning so they braised in the wine/broth mixture. Also, I didn't reserve the mushroom stems for another use; I chopped 'em up fine and tossed 'em in with the carrots. And I used about twice as much broth as the recipe called for because I like a lot of broth, so it doesn't sit on top of the noodles the way hers did. This is what passes for following recipes exactly where I come from.

These outstanding glazed maple cookies. I'm amazed that I didn't eat all of the dough before I got any of them baked, since I kept pinching off a bit every time I glanced at the bowl. I actually did follow this recipe exactly, other than flattening the cookie balls with my palm instead of a glass. Edited to add: The second time I made these, I made a couple of changes that worked really well. First, I baked them for 9 minutes instead of 12-14, at which point they still looked raw on top, but were golden on the bottom and perfect once they cooled. Also, when reducing the syrup for the glaze, I added a bit of heavy cream (maybe a few tablespoons?) and cooked it until it was the consistency of honey. It ended up being much more like caramel, texture-wise — smooth and glossy and, well, creamy — instead of the original, thinner glaze. It was less than ideal for transporting them, since so much of the glaze came off on the parchment paper between layers, but no one seemed to mind.

Fresh sauerkraut
I'm using the directions from here, as well as the advice of a recent acquaintance who's a preservation and fermentation expert, and experimenting with fermenting my own sauerkraut. It's been going for about a week now. I tasted it a few days ago and it had started getting a little tangy already. I don't like dill, so I have caraway seeds, cloves and junipers berries in there.

I didn't make it myself, but this bowl of cheddar grits with roasted root vegetables and a deep-fried soft-cooked egg deserves a moment in the sun. (from Bark)

...Making Stuff
I finally finished those damn gloves. They're gorgeous, but the knitting was so fiddly and annoying that I don't think I'll be able to full embrace them until next year.

I finished the Cardigan of My Dreams, but it needs a belt, so am holding off on taking a modeled photo until I finish that. I'm pretty happy with it, especially with the fit through the shoulders and back. I need to remember to be careful about the width of the upper back going forward — narrowing it by a few inches did wonders for getting a good fit.

Late winter/early spring is the time of year when I always start thinking about sewing and bemoaning my lack of skill and making half-assed attempts and getting frustrated, but I really do think I may make some progress this time. I attempted a muslin of this Built by Wendy dress, but it didn't fit (good through the waist, but too tight at the hips and shoulders), so I traced off the pattern again, combining two sizes. I have a couple of Betsy Ross skirt patterns that I would actually feel fine working up without a muslin — I'm perfectly comfortable with darts and interfacing — but I will have to conquer my nemesis the zipper [shakes fist]. And my other nemesis, being different sizes in my different parts.

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