Friday, September 30, 2011

Blackberry Jam Cake

So what should you do with all those blackberries you picked and stored away? Make jam? That's a thought. But that's a lot of jam to go through. Although, if I had actually been lucky enough to find time to pick blackberries, I would have my freezer full of whole blackberries and freezer jam! Here's an idea to use up some of that jam - or you can just do what I did and buy a jar of blackberry jam for this made from scratch Blackberry Jam Cake.

The day wrote down the Buttermilk Pecan Pie recipe from P. Allen Smith's Garden Home show, I also rushed to copy this recipe (it's not easy to write down a recipe while watching a cooking show). As soon as I heard "old fashioned Blackberry Jam Cake" I knew I had to try it. Allen Smith described it as a "delicious coarse country cake". The Blackberry Jam Cake recipe is below, but you can get a printable copy at the P. Allen Smith website.

I just have to say, remember to add ALL the ingredients. The first time I made this (yesterday) it smelled WONDERFUL - almost like gingerbread. In fact, The Boy is the one that asked if I was making gingerbread because the whole house smelled like it. But while the cake was cooling on the rack, I looked down at the recipe again and realized I had forgotten to add the sugar!!! Mr. LH said it might taste more like bread, but with 2 CUPS OF BROWN SUGAR missing, I doubted it. It wasn't a "spit it out your mouth" kind of cake, but it sure didn't taste like anything I wanted to serve. So first thing this morning, I got the additional ingredients I needed to make the cake again WITH THE SUGAR.

Blackberry Jam Cake
From P. Allen Smith’s Garden Home

1/2 tsp. salt
4 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. cinnamon, ground
2 tsp. nutmeg, ground
1 cup raisins
2 tsp. nutmeg, ground
6 eggs, room temperature
2 cups dark brown sugar, packed
1 cup black walnuts, chopped
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, salted, softened
2 cups blackberry jam, room temperature
2 cups buttermilk, room temperature

1 tube pan or large bundt pan

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter and flower a large tube pan or bundt pan, or use a flour-based baking spray such as Baker's Joy. Set the pan aside.

Separate the eggs, putting the yolks and whites in different mixing bowls. I another large bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. In a small bowl, mix ½ cup of the flour mixture with the black walnuts and raisins.

Add the brown sugar, butter, and blackberry jam to the egg yolks, and stir together thoroughly. Stir in the buttermilk. Add the flour mixture.

Beat the egg whites until they turn white but are loose and runny, not too "airy." Fold the egg whites into the batter. Then mix the nuts and raisins, blending only enough so that they are equally distributed in the batter.

Pour the batter into the tube pan and bake for 1 ½ to 2 hours. When a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, it's done.

Remove the pan from the oven and let the cake cool for about 10 minutes in the pan. Then loosen the cake from the sides of the pan by running a knife around the edge. Invert a cake plate over the pan, and invert the tow together. Lift off the tube pan.

Slice and serve. (And enjoy! It's YUMMY!)

Mmmm! You can see the walnuts and raisins...
P. Allen smith drizzles an easy Caramel Icing over his (and one of these days, maybe for the holidays, I'll try it), but I just dusted mine with powdered sugar.

Personal Notes:
I greased and floured the pan the first time and used the flour based baking spray the 2nd time. Both worked well and neither of the cakes stuck to the pan.

The first time I made this cake, I put it all into my Bundt Pan. I wasn't sure if it would be big enough and the cake did rise high above the rim. It also baked for the full 1 1/2 hours.

sugar-less cake after baking
The second time I made this, since I actually PUT IN THE SUGAR (sigh), I had more batter. I decided to play it safe. Instead of loading it all into my Bundt pan and hoping it wouldn't spill over, I put some of the batter in my mini bundt pans (about 2/3 cup of batter for each of the 6 cavities and a 42 minute baking time) and the rest in my large bundt pan (1hr. 10 min. baking time). If you don't have mini bundt pans and only a normal sized bundt pan (instead of an extra large one) like me (I don't think I've even seen one larger than mine available anywhere anyway), you can put all your batter in a tube pan since they are very large. You just won't have the decorative top as you would with the bundt pan.

The second batch (with the sugar included) did not rise like the first batch and the top looked "moist". I did make this recipe as instructed without taking into account the higher altitude. Next time I make it, I'll start adjusting the ingredients. Maybe all it needs is a couple tablespoons of flour.

Cake WITH sugar after baking
I loved the mini cakes...perfect for two people to share. I sent a couple to one of the neighborhood moms down the street.

Just as a side note, Mr. LH thought the sugarless cake was good and took a piece to work. What a sweetie :) In fact, I'm going to slice up the whole thing and stick it in the freezer for him to take to work. I wouldn't be surprised if it just hits the trash can as soon as he gets to work.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Slouchy Hat

Up to this point, my crochet experience only included washcloths, stuffed toys, and afghans. And actually, since I've only been back at it since August, that's not too bad.  But after seeing this great slouchy hat, I knew I had to branch out, try something different and find a hat to make.

Last weekend, I made this one from a pattern I found on Ravelry. I was working with what yarn I had on hand and although I wasn't particularly wanting a purple hat (though it is one of my favorite colors), I thought The Girl might appreciate one. I had a lot of purple available...

Of course, I had to make one for myself, too. I scrounged up a couple different yarns, changed the pattern around a wee bit and managed to create one of my very own.

We'll have to get The Girl used to using the camera so she can take these photos :)

And now that I've discovered the treasure trove of patterns that Ravelry has to offer, there's no telling what I'll find next! (Though I have had my eye on a snood to go with my Renn Fest costume)

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Backyard Camping

Since it was officially Fall, Mr. LH and the "Pickles" decided it was a good weekend to camp in the back yard. They had enjoyed a backyard camp-out earlier in the year in their smaller tent, but this time The "Pickles" (with Daddy's help, of course) set up the big tent under a brilliant sky.

Since we've had several backyard camp-outs in the past in North Carolina and at least one cub scout camping trip in the past, The Boy has become pretty good at setting up a tent.

But The Girl was quite the little helper as well, taking her job as "tent stake pounder" quite seriously.

Night temperatures have been dipping into the low 50's recently, but they announced the next morning that they slept soundly snuggled deep in their sleeping bags.

One of these days we might actually leave home to go camping...but not too soon. I have a thing against finding bears in my campsite.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Vanna's Choice Warm Up America Crochet Afghan

By September 13th, my afghan was really starting to come together. I was still looking for one final color of yarn in town and thought I'd have to order it online if I didn't find it soon. I had already started to stitch together the 7" x 9" blocks I had completed.

On Sunday the 18th, I checked out yet another craft store and found the silver blue yarn that had been so difficult to locate. The remaining 8 blocks were completed by Monday evening and everything was assembled Tuesday.

With the borders finally being added on, the afghan really started to look finished. Mr. LH was working late and I wanted to complete it before he got home. As soon as it was done, The Girl wanted to "try it out".

She said it was very cozy...

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Morning Walk

The Girl and I usually walk to her school in the mornings. If we're having the unusual rainy morning, I'll drive her to school, but otherwise, even in the snow, we'll walk.

Our favorite path is one we didn't discover until late the previous school year. It's a green way and unlike others that have been left to native grasses and flowers, this one is full of aspens and apple trees and thick green grass...

...though you do spot the occasional dandelion patch. The Girl does her part to keep the dandelion population thriving.

There is even a small playground on the way to the school. The Girl will often run ahead of me so she has time for a quick swing or a trip down the slide before we continue on.

This is a popular place for dog-walking and we've spotted several squirrels and even a pair of mallard ducks here. We would love to find a house that backs up to one of these beautiful, peaceful green ways.

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Buttermilk Pecan Pie

I love watching P. Allen Smith on Create TV (we don't have cable or satellite so Create TV is like my Food Network and HGTV rolled into one). When I saw the recipes he was making in this particular episode, I immediately ran for a notepad to write them down - Buttermilk Pecan Pie and Blackberry Jam Cake, both requiring buttermilk and both sounding delicious!

Buttermilk Pecan Pie
Recipe from P. Allen Smith's Garden Home
Note: I searched the P. Allen Smith website for the Buttermilk Pecan Pie recipe but couldn't find it. I wrote the recipe down from the show just as it is written below. If you plan to make this, please see the notes following the recipe.

1 stick melted butter
1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 c. buttermilk
1/4 c. flour
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
1 uncooked pie shell (I used a homemade 9" deep dish)
1 c. toasted pecans, coarsely crushed (mine were toasted with a coating of corn syrup and brown sugar)

With an electric mixer or whisk, mix together butter, sugar, buttermilk and flour. Add eggs, vanilla and salt and continue to mix together. pour into prepared pie shell. Evenly sprinkle toasted pecans on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes.

Recipe notes:
  1. P. Allen Smith just mentioned his pecans were toasted with corn syrup and sugar (he didn't specify what kind of sugar). He didn't give a recipe for it. I mixed about 1/4 cup of light corn syrup with approximately 3 Tbs of brown sugar, stirred in the pecans (before they were crushed), and spread the pecans on a foil lined cookie sheet. I placed them in the middle of a 275 degree oven for about 10-15 minutes. I didn't keep track of the time, but when I noticed the coating was a golden bubbly goo around the pecans and the smell of toasted nuts filled the kitchen, I removed them to cool completely. I placed them in a zip top bag and pounded them with a rolling pin before sprinkling them on the pie.
  2. P. Allen Smith is in Arkansas. I am in Colorado. I have never made a custard pie in Colorado so I don't know if the altitude affects them at all. After baking the pie for the specified 50 minutes, I noticed the middle was still pretty liquid-y. Even after letting the pie cool completely, the middle had not set. I re-heated the oven and baked it in 2 more 10 minute spurts (for a total baking time of  1 hr. 10 min.). This still did not help set the middle. The pie was cooked completely and it tasted fantastic (enough to make sure this pie is part of every Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner from now on), but I'm going to try this recipe again using an additional egg and/or more flour. I do want to note that the P. Allen Smith website, while missing the Buttermilk Pecan Pie recipe, has a Buttermilk Pie recipe that has a very similar filling but has even less flour.

The softness of the middle was only a cosmetic issue and didn't stop us from eating every bite of this delicious pie! The Blackberry Jam Cake is next in line to be tried. I have to use up the rest of the buttermilk!

11/25/2011 Update: I made this recipe for Thanksgiving and added an additional egg and 1 Tbs. flour. I only needed to bake it for 60 minutes. The resulting pie was MUCH more solid and didn't seem to affect the taste at all. The top was a lot browner, though. Will said he didn't mind the goopy-ness of the first version. It was something to "sop up" with his pie crust but we agreed that if we were making it for others, we would definitely make the modified version if only to make the pie easier to serve.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Change Of Seasons

Mr. LH and I often joke about there apparently being only 2 seasons here, Winter and Summer. Although it's only September (and still technically Summer), the mountains got a fresh coating of snow on them.

It was really neat to see the peaks rising above the clouds, too.

Unfortunately, the best view was on the way to take The Boy to school this morning and I didn't have my camera available so these are taken from the 2nd story window of the house.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Internet-Free Weekend Beginning With A Birthday

By no choice of ours, we had an internet-free weekend. Our DSL went out Thursday night and Friday morning, after unplugging and re-plugging everything the router we lease from the phone company started to make an awful noise. We've had a lot of problems with our phone though I really think it mainly from the wiring in the house and not our service from Qwest (now Century Link). Although, the modem was being leased and it was probably refurbished equipment. We had the phone company send out another one – only with it being the weekend, we wouldn’t get it until Monday afternoon. No internet for almost 4 full days…

Luckily, we were kept busy with The Girl’s birthday Friday. I stopped by the craft store while the “Pickles” were at school so I could work on my afghan project over the weekend. Then picked up some balloons for The Girl (although we weren't having a full-blown party, she asked if we would still have balloons). I had made her ferret birthday cake the day before... all that was left were the dinner preparations. The "Pickles" both requested lasagna since the weather cooled down enough for us to use the oven without roasting everyone out of the house.

The Girl wanted to open one birthday present early and I told her she could “just as soon as Daddy gets home”. Right about the time Mr. LH walked in, her neighborhood friends rang the doorbell and sang “Happy Birthday” to her. That meant hey got to be with her when she chose her early present. The Boy told her the smallest presents are usually the best but she’s still at the age where size matters – she chose the biggest present. No matter, it was the ferret I had crocheted for her.

And the smallest present? A pair of silver and lapis ferret earrings. The Boy was right...but then, so was she.

Elder Boy and his girlfriend drove in from Fort Collins to help us celebrate. Though they couldn't make it in time for dinner, The Girl decided to wait for Elder Boy before she opened her presents and blew out her candles. She also brought Coco (her Webkins ferret) and her new Jack Skellington to join in the festivities.

We had considered going to the park for a picnic on Saturday but wound up spending a good portion of the afternoon at the Aurora Central Library. It was the first visit there for the “Pickles”. The Girl found a book about Ferrets and another about other animals. I took The Boy to look for Rube Goldburg’s Inventions which he started reading right away.

We did take advantage of the library's WiFi and sent out a couple emails informing people to call if they needed to reach us.

Back at home, on Saturday and Sunday, I continued to crochet on my afghan

… and Mr. LH read a book he had been meaning to get around to but never seemed to have the time for (he finished the whole book over the weekend). I called and had a long chat with my mom, too.

Of course there were things that needed to be done online, but without internet access, we really had no choice but to wait. And that was fine. People had been notified of the situation and the phones were still working. The "Pickles" watched movies and played board games, cards and lego or ran around outside with their friends. The lack of internet service really didn't have an effect on them at all. However for Mr. LH and I, not being constantly connected to the outside world was, as he put it, "very liberating".

By Monday afternoon, we had our new equipment delivered, installed and working properly. It was back to business as usual.

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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Happy Zombie

I mentioned previously The Boy’s request to make a “regular garden variety zombie” from his Nintendo DS game, Plants vs. Zombies. He wanted it "complete with the cone".

They look like a happy bunch, don't they?

I started the zombie on September 5th, Labor Day (The Boy even helped me pick out the yarn colors) almost as soon as Jack Skellington was completed. By Tuesday, I had the head, face and torso finished (those were the hardest parts so I wanted to get the done as quickly as possible). My fingers were so cramped from the tight stitches that I switched to another project, a multi-colored 49 block Warm Up America afghan from Vanna’s Choice Color It Beautiful Afghans.

I had previously borrowed the book from the library and later used my 40% off coupon at Joann’s Fabrics to purchase it. I fell in love with the photo of the Warm Up America afghan and knew I had to make it.

I told Will once that if I could make a washcloth (which was the ONLY thing I had ever crocheted up until a few weeks ago) then I could make an afghan. So I set out to prove it.

I finished 8 of the 49 blocks that day and started back on the zombie Wednesday. The Boy would come home and find a new piece of the Zombie completed...a couple arms in place, one leg, etc.

On Friday, I was done.

He looks a bit happier than the zombie pack on the video game box.

I even managed to fashion a crocheted cone for the zombie to wear on his requested. The Boy was having a bad day from school but as soon as he walked in the door and saw his cone-topped zombie waiting for him (though a bit early for his birthday), his mood brightened tremendously.

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Monday, September 5, 2011

Jack Skellington - In The...Uh...Yarn

After completing several small amigurumi projects, The Boy said, “Since you’re so good at that, you can make me something for my birthday!” Then he produced his Nintendo DS game, Plants vs. Zombies. Heh.

Well, I hand not yet tried to make the boy pattern in my Complete Idiot’s Guide To Amigurumi book, and I didn't have the right color green for zombie skin. But since The Boy’s birthday wasn't until December, I didn't worry about it.

I DID have white and black yarn, so I pulled out that boy pattern and started modifying it to make Jack Skellington (from The Nightmare Before Christmas). I needed practice for the zombie, didn’t I?

I didn't have to change too much. Since Jack is so tall, I lengthened the arms by 4 rows and the legs by 8 rows. I also used felt eyes instead of safety eyes and alternated black and white on the torso to create the “suit”. The Girl (who loves The Nightmare Before Christmas) was thrilled!

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Friday, September 2, 2011

The Birth Of (Yet Another) New Hobby

As I write this, I can imagine Mr. LH letting out a groan. I have another hobby. It all started when I was searching online for ideas for a ferret cake for The Girl’s birthday. I Googled “Ferret Shaped Cake” and searched through all the images. There weren't many ferret shaped cakes out there and frankly, most of what I found had to do with cakes you make for ferrets. But in the pages of ferret pictures that came up, I found an image for an eBay listing, long expired, of the most adorable stuffed ferret made from mohair yarn by June Gilbank at The listing mentioned an amigurumi ferret crochet pattern available for sale so I immediately investigated.

I knew this ferret would be loved by The Girl so I bought the downloadable pattern for $5. I had not picked up a crochet hook in about 5 years and even then, I was only crocheting washcloths. I also had never (ever) learned how to read a pattern. So here I was with a great pattern and no experience on how to create it.

Amigurumi is the Japanese craft of knit or crocheted stuffed toys. June Gilbank had authored a book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Amigurumi. Since all the books from her website were sold out (autographed copies), I headed to elsewhere to find a copy and read reviews (by the way - VERY positive reviews). I happened to have yarn lying around the house, but the 2 crochet needles I owned were AWOL (The Girl had a habit of playing with them and not returning them) so while I was purchasing the Amigurumi book, I also added a set of crochet hooks to my shopping cart. Already this new hobby I had yet to start was costing me.

A week and a half later, my package arrived. I didn't want to start immediately on the ferret, partially because I needed to learn the craft and practice a bit before diving into my main project, but especially since it was Friday and The Girl would be home all weekend watching me. I couldn't have her asking what I was making! I began at the beginning. I read through the basic instructions and started on the easiest of the 4 patterns provided, the hamster.

 The first one I made looked more like the size of a mouse so I called it quits on that one, added a tail and gave it to The Girl as a pet for her beloved Webkins ferret, Coco. The second one looked too long. It would have helped if I had read the pattern correctly. I wound up crocheting too many rows. Then I realized I was doing my stitches wrong (It HAD been several years since I had crocheted anything). I started on another one. This one actually turned out looking decent. Then I switched up to a fun colored cotton yarn and made another one. This one looked the most “hamster-like” in shape but of course the blue and purple yarn definitely didn't help its “real-ness”. Still, I went ahead and added the ears and gave it to The Girl. The funny thing is, she sat watching me stitch one up and said “Wow Mama, you could probably make a ferret like that, too!”

I had purchased bamboo fiber yarn for the ferret because it was so silky soft to the touch. It was great to work with and I attempted to make a 2-colored hamster with it to practice changing colors (the ferrets The Girl likes the most are sable with the face mask so I’d have to change colors in the head portion of the pattern). After she was in bed, I tried out the ferret pattern. While the “fur” was soft and fuzzy, the stitches could still be easily seen. This is normal, but the completed ferrets on the Planet June website had their stitches more camouflaged giving them a more realistic appearance. I checked to see what type of yarn was used for those ferrets – Patons Divine in Soft Earth and Deep Earth. I finished the ferrets I had been working on (one brown and one cream) but made sure to pick up some Patons Divine yarn at the craft store to start once again.

Not knowing how long it would take me to pick up the craft and finish a project, I had originally intended to have it done by Christmas. Here it was, only a few days after starting, and I had completed 2 ferrets already. My new goal was The Girl’s birthday – 2 ½ weeks away. The work was going so quickly that I could relax and take my time with it and still have it finished in time.

During the day, I would work on various other projects - a mushroom, also from the The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Amigurumi...

...and Sackboy from the PSP game Little Big Planet for Elder Boy. I'll try Sackboy again later with a cotton yarn. This one just did not turn out quite right...more like a mutated King Kong...

and at night, I’d pull out the ferret pattern and work on those pieces.

One week shy of The Girl’s birthday, I had the ferret completed and hidden away. She’s going to love it!

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

An Unexpected Pick-Me-Up

I have been pretty slack in getting my oil changed since we move to Colorado. Part of the issue was not knowing where to go. There is a Grease Monkey half a mile from the house as well as another place right across from the street from them but I had never dealt with (or even heard of) these businesses. They were not the familiar businesses from North Carolina.

I finally forced myself to go one morning to get my oil changed at Grease Monkey. I was able to be served immediately and the staff, mainly a gentleman named Mike, was very friendly. It had been so long since my last oil change that they came out to ask me how long it had been. The dipstick showed no oil at all!

Yes, they did try to up-sell, as a business is expected to do, but they were very polite and very quick. Upon leaving a short 20 minutes later, Mike asked, “Did I tell you about the flower?”

Flower? What Flower?

Apparently, they leave a flower on the dashboard for their female customers but they inform you so you don’t think they’re asking for a date…

It did bring a smile to my face.

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