Monday, June 25, 2012

Midwest's Fiber and Folk Art Show

Look at all the pretty colors!

 If the corn is almost knee high, then it's time for the Midwest Fiber and Folk Art Show! This is my second year attending the fair and it's always a treat to see the vendors and learn something new. Last year I was fascinated by spinning, but it seemed like every booth that I went to that had drop spindles was too crowded or had no instructors willing to teach. Lucky for me, the first booth I stopped by was the Hollow Tree Spinners Guild where I received wonderful instructions on how to use a drop spindle. I got to stay and spin at the booth for over 30 minutes (about when I was confident that I could remember what the heck I was doing to continue at home).

 Above is my second attempt at making yarn from wool and the ball of yarn is my first attempt. The Guild not only gave lessons, but for $5 I got a spindle and two large hunks of wool roving. I picked out the lovely chartreuse above and a browny/ruddy/green as well. Personally, I am fine with having my yarn be a little thick and thin and uneven. If you want mass produced uniformity go to Walmart, if you want something one of a kind, make it yourself. Speaking of, how cool is it that you can make your own yarn and then knit something? I was told you only need 150 yards to make a hat. Guess I better get spinning....

Just some of the cool things at
Nifty Thrifty Dry Goods Booth

 My favorite booth is the same as last year's, Nifty Thrifty Dry Goods. Looking through their booth is like digging through your Grandmother's sewing bin (if your Grandma was super cool and kept little bits of everything). The cool things is everything is color coordinated. The greens had little frog buttons and leaves, yellow had cute bumble bee trim and black and white hat these super cute flapper/swimmer buttons.
Bees and Elephants and Leaves, Oh My!
 These would be perfect accents on a dress or as one of our friends is making, a beaded bracelet. Very 20's Great Gatsby!

The tiniest knitting needles every!
     If I could own now vintage item, price be damned, it would have to be a beaded handbag. Since most of them run in the hundreds of dollars, it was great to see Nancy Allison's booth of knit beaded handbags. You could buy them already made, but liking a challenge, I bought a kit......last year....and I've opened it, looked at the needles and decided that a day with more patience was required. This year, I will knit it!!! Or, next year I'll bring the kit to the show with me and have Nancy help me out some more.
   I also stepped by Esther's Place to make a felted flower pin. Last year I bought one of their cookie cutter felting kits, so much fun. There's something so relaxing about needle felting, maybe it's because every time I stab the needle into the felt I think, take that stupid insurance/mechanic/rude person that cut me off in traffic....I think this year I'm going to try to felt on silk and burlap, just to shake things up.

Could have taken one of this fluffy
guys home...

There was quilting, looming, dyeing, basket weaving, spinning wheel spinning, raw yarn, Alpaca races, bunny hugging, live music and so many things to cram into a weekend. Maybe by next year I'll have made enough yarn to make a hat, or if nothing else a pot holder.....

Saturday, June 23, 2012

An Update from the Garden

     My garden is in a sad state, or will be if we don't get any rain soon. The papers are all printed with "Lack or Rain My Lead to Drought"....*Really* papers? You mean lack of rain doesn't lead to puppies and rainbows??? Anyone can tell you that there's a drought going on, the plants are withering, the grass is brown and crunchy and my carrots are not growing! Hopefully rain will come tonight, if not, well, at least I have documentation that I did grow something this year...

Summer Squash

Peas-in-a-Pot-I love these peas! You can grow them
in an eight inch pot and they don't creep.

Nothing beats freshly shucked peas.

The big dilemma...Eat the blossom or let it become
a squash??? 

Look at those tiny squash (squashes?) starting to grow!

My radishes demand rain!

Soon, soon I will have lots of cucumbers! Cucumber salad,
Cucumber drinks, Cucumber soup....

This flower is going to grow up to be a Fairy Tale Eggplant.

Oooooo! A tiny tomato! Go tomato! Go!!!

How's everyone else's garden doing?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Summer Reading List

    Yesterday started the "official" start of summer reading, the library kicked off its' Summer Reading Program.  Lately, I've decided that I should have a theme to my summer reading list, regardless of what theme the library is following.
   Last year I read only "noir" books; Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Maltese Flacon, Mildred Pierce, Strangers on A Train and so on.....Something about the patter in the dialogue just sizzled and that can never be captured on the big screen.
   This year, I decided that the circus would lend itself a good theme for summer reading. The first book I picked out (and just finished reading) was "The Night Circus" by Erin Morgenstern. Here the circus serves as a luscious backdrop to a game of magic and illusion. The players have been bound to each other for ages; yet they don't fully comprehend the rules or the magnitude of the stakes involved. The Midnight Dinners alone are well worth the read and make me long for such a dining experience. A circus that is only open at night might make you think evil clowns or other sinister characters, but there are none, save for a few people that could be quite at home in any of Edward Gorey's stories. 
   Also on my list is a rereading of Ray Bradbury's "Something Wicked This Way Comes", my favorite of Bradbury's books. Here the circus does take on a sinister edge, where anything can be bought for a price. Mr. Dark's promise of fulfilling our deepest desires always come with a catch. Mostly, I like how the boys are changed throughout the book.. There is always an event that you can point to in your life that transformed you from a child into an adult. Sometimes we don't realize the transformation when it happens, other times it is crystalized in our minds forever.
   Keeping with a sinister circus I have "Johannes Cabal the Necromancer" by Jonathan L Howard. In order to get his soul back from the Devil, Johannes must get 100 people to sign over their souls and he only has one year. With the help of his vampire brother and a traveling circus (provided by Satan) Johannes must try and save his soul by damning others. From the couple of pages I have already read, Hell seems to pride itself on a person filling out many, many forms and not giving you the courtesy of erasing anything (I always knew Hell would be like the DMV).
   Last on my list (it's short now, any suggestions would be appreciated) is "Geek Love" by Katherine Dunn. A carnival family decides to get more bang for their buck by creating their own freak show. I have heard nothing by great things about this book and I always forget to grab it while I'm at the library.
   I have a lot of other books in consideration for my circus list: Carter Beats the Devil, Water for Elephants, The Prestige, The Circus in Winter, Secret Heart, Roustabout, Wonder When You'll Miss Me, Dixiana Moon, Ascension, The Final Confession of Mabel Stark, Dark Carnival, Pilo Family Circus and Circus of Fear.....Did I miss any books???

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Eat your vegetables and have your cake too

  There are tons of books on the market right now on how to fool your kids into eating vegetables. When did this happen? Gone are the days of finishing your plate and now we have hidden vegetables in cookies, cakes, pasta sauces and fruit juice. Why do we need to hide produce? I love freshly picked vegetables; maybe that's the problem. All those sad wilted veg's at the mega market leaking they're flavor and nutritional goodness by the second.
   That's partly why I grow my own (well, as much as the constraints of my backyard and the wildlife let me) and this year is (fingers crossed) going to be good. The eggplant are nibble free, I spy some blossoms on my squash (I think I over planted, anyone know some good summer squash recipes?), there's a tiny green tomato on one of the 4 varieties I have, the radishes are almost ready to be picked, the carrots leafy tops are slowly poking out and my peas are starting to curly-cu their way around the pots I planted them in. What I don't have in the garden I try and buy from the farmer's market and this past week it was a lovely bushel of beets.
   Now, I know beets aren't everyone's cup of tea (some people think they tasty to "earthy" or "like dirt") but I couldn't resist. Most beet recipes require an initial roasting and then the transformation into whatever salad (the beet world is overrun with beet and goat cheese salad recipes), veggie mash, etc. I felt like something different and I've had Nigel Slater's "Chocolate-Beet Cake" recipe ever since I read his book, "Tender, A Cook and His Vegetable Patch". I did a review some time ago, if you feel like looking through the archives here.
   Adding veggies into the baking world is nothing new, zucchini makes great breads and cookies and who could forget the good stand by of carrot cake and cream cheese frosting? I have tried many a chocolate beet cake recipe, always searching for the perfect balance of chocolate to beet (some cakes just taste like spongy beets...ewww....) and Nigel's recipe has it. His recipe lists ingredients by weight and measurement, but I stuck with weight when I could just in case something went wrong with the editor's metric conversions. The cake is delicious, spongy on the outside, gooey molten in the center. If you make it and then put it in the fridge, I recommend taking the cake out an hour before serving it so the center can warm up and become gooey again. Nigel suggests serving with creme fraiche and poppy seeds for a, "nod to the sour cream so close to the beet's Eastern European heart", but I think most Americans would prefer a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The cake does need some form of cream to cut through the chocolate.
  Another word of warning, this dish (like most I make) makes a TON of dishes and uses a lot of kitchen equipment, its sooo worth it though!

So, without further waiting.....

An extremely moist chocolate-beet cake with creme fraiche and poppy seeds

enough for 8 as a dessert (if you had giant pieces of cake...)

beets-8 ounces (250g)
fine dark chocolate (70 percent cocoa solids) (I used Valhalla 72%)- 7 ounces (200g)
hot espresso (I used instant)- 4 tablespoons
butter ( I used salted)- 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (200g)
all purpose flout (King Arthur is the best)- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (135 g)
baking powder- a heaping teaspoon
good quality cocoa powder (I used Penzey's brand with a high butterfat)- 3 tablespoons
eggs- 5
superfine sugar- scant cup (190 g)
creme fraiche and poppy seeds to serve

 Cook the beets, whole and unpeeled in boiling unsalted water. Depending on their size, they will be tender when pierced with the tip of a knife within 30 to 40 minutes. Drain them, let them cool under running water, then peel them, slice of the roots and stems. This can be done a day or two ahead of time and the beets can be cooled in the fridge.
  Lightly butter an 8 inch (20cm) springform cake pan and line the bottom with a round of parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C).
   In a food processor (I used a ninja slicer) blend the beets until the form a coarse puree. Set aside.
   Break the chocolate up into small pieces and place them in a bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Do not stir!
I love these "vintage" Pyrex bowls!

When the chocolate looks almost melted, pour the hot espresso over and stir once. Cut the butter into small pieces- the smaller the better-and add them to the melted chocolate. Push the butter under the surface of the chocolate with a wooden spoon (as best you can) and let soften.
  Sift together the flour, baking powder and cocoa (I did this step after I processed the beets). Separate the eggs, putting the whites in a large mixing bowl. Stir the yolks together.
   Now working quickly, yet gently, remove the bowl of chocolate from the heat and stir until the butter has melted into the chocolate. Let is sit for a few minutes (during the waiting work on the whites), then stir in the egg yolks. Do this quickly, mixing firmly and evenly so the eggs blend into the mixture. Fold in the beets. Whisk the eggs whites until stiff, then fold in the sugar. Firmly, but gently, fold the beaten egg whites and sugar into the chocolate mixture. the key to folding in is to make figure 8 movements. Do not over fold though....Lastly, fold in the cocoa and flour. *whew* see why I don't have a lot of pictures? This is some quick working...
   Transfer quickly to the prepared pan, put in the oven and decrease the temp. to 325 F (160 C). Bake for 40 minutes. The rim of the cake should feel spongy and solid white the inner part should still wobble a little if the pan is gently shaken.
   Set the cake aside to cool. After an hour, loosen the sides with a thin icing spatula. Once the cake is completely cooled off, then remove it from the springform pan.
  Slice, serve with creme fraiche and poppy seeds (blue preferably).

The cake cooling off
Delicious, fudgey and maybe helped by some walnuts next time....

Happy Baking!