Monday, June 29, 2009

M is for...

Monday, and marshmallows!

There's something sad about the ordinary supermarket marshmallow, laying lumpily in its undignified plastic bag on a grocery store shelf, small or large, perhaps cut into odd shapes or colors. Light, sweet, and very nearly tasteless, all the bag can advertise is 'A Fat Free Candy!' as if that was going to be your main motivation to buy it in the first place. S'mores, rice krispy treats, and rocky road ice cream all depend on the marshmallow, but how many of us just eat marshmallows plain? I think most of us, with the experience of adulthood, have moved on to more sophisticated pleasures.

But recent experience at The Dairy Godmother has suggested that there's a bit more to marshmallows than sugar-flavored air. With the aid of last July's Bon Appetit magazine, I whipped up my own batch. (You'll find that searching for more recipes online brings up very similar, or identical, formulae). Some recipes include egg white, but this one works just fine without.

Marshmallow making

Homemade Marshmallows

nonstick cooking spray
1 C cold water, divided
3 1/4-oz envelopes unflavored gelatin
2 C sugar
2/3 C light corn syrup
1/4 t salt
2 t vanilla extract
1/2 C potato starch
1/2 C powdered sugar

Line 13x9 pan with foil. Coat foil evenly with cooking spray.

Pour 1/2 C cold water into bowl of mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Sprinkle gelatin over water and let stand until gelatin softens and absorbs water, at least 15 minutes.

Marshmallow making
Mmm, squishy.

Combine 2 cups sugar, corn syrup, salt, and remaining 1/2 C water in heavy medium saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves, brushing down sides of pan with wet pastry brush.

Marshmallow making
At this point, the syrup is still a little cloudy.

Attach candy thermometer to side of pan. Increase heat and bring syrup to a boil. Boil, without stirring, until syrup reaches 240dF, about 8 minutes.

(This is where precision comes in. My candy thermometer apparently was made for use with bigger batches of syrup, and didn't read accurately in this small amount. Get out a real cookbook and read their description of old-fashioned candy making, where you test the readiness of sugar syrup by dropping a small amount into a glass of ice water. 240dF is the 'soft ball' stage. Don't do what I did the first time and rely only on the thermometer! I burned the syrup, making a horrible mess.)

With mixer running at low speed, slowly pour hot syrup into gelatin in a thin stream down the side of the bowl (avoid pouring onto the whisk, as it might splash).

Marshmallow making
The syrup is still boiling - be careful!

Gradually increase speed to high and beat until mixture is very thick and stiff, about 15 minutes. Add vanilla and beat to blend, about 30 seconds longer.

Marshmallow making
At first the mixture doesn't look like much....

Marshmallow making
But soon it is brilliant white and fills the whole bowl! With the power of a KitchenAid on its highest setting, it probably needed less than 10 minutes, but we wanted to be very sure.

Scrape into foil-lined pan and smooth top. Let stand uncovered at room temperature until firm, about 4 hours.

Marshmallow making
(Obviously this isn't a 13x9 pan. The other half immediately went into rice krispy treats.)

Sift together potato starch and powdered sugar. Sift generous amount onto work surface, making a slightly larger than 13x9 rectangle. Turn marshmallow slab onto powder. Peel off foil. Sift more powder onto the slab. Coat large sharp knife (or cookie cutters) with nonstick cooking spray. Cut marshmallows into squares or other desired shapes. Toss with more starch-sugar mix to coat. Transfer marshmallows to a rack, shaking off excess powder.

Marshmallow making
Supposedly they'll keep for up to 2 weeks in an airtight container. I don't think they'll last that long.

Homemade marshmallows have a lot more flavor and character than the sad lumps in the supermarket. I'm looking forward to some s'mores... maybe coating these in a bit of dark chocolate... maybe even rocky road ice cream (oh wait, we just made 3 flavors of ice cream this weekend, oops). And next time - there will be a next time! How about lemon or orange?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Shhhhh...

I have to whisper.

Or is that I have to Whisper?

I've seen a few too many of these gorgeous little laceweight cardigans going around to resist making my own.

I received some gorgeous Misti International Hand Paint Lace last year and this is going to be a great use of it. 100g of alpaca is going to make the lightest warmest little sweater, I think.
Misti Alpaca Lace

And just like everybody else, I realized #7 needles weren't going to work for the body. I should have just paid attention to my mom and went straight to #5s, but no, I had to knit 4" on #6s before I realized my error. Now I've ripped the whole thing out and re-started. On #5s. Has ANYBODY out there made this silly thing on #7s?
Whisper

Unfortunately now that I've recovered my lost ground, Whisper is going to have to stay at the bottom of the stack while I slog through my sample knitting.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

In lieu of knitting

And when you can't post photos of knitting... post photos of flowers!

I've been doing some work on my patio, putting in some more flowers and herbs and veggies for the summer.

I already have one tiny tomato!
Tiny tomato!

While I'm not a big fan of petunias (the smell, the stickyness, the ubiquity) I fed these little guys lots of Osmocote and they are really taking off. I'm starting to love them, and they're going to be ginormous.
Petunias
(My camera can't figure out magenta for any reason! Terrible.)

I wish I knew the name of my one daylily. It amazes me that it overwinters in my container, and I'm so happy to see these huge 6" blossoms.
Daylily

Last but not least, I found a castor bean. Someone was selling seedlings at the Farmer's Market, and I just couldn't resist. So I potted him up and he is growing like a weed! This is the sort of thing that wants a time-lapse video taken, but I'm a bit too lazy for that. Any bets on how big he'll get this summer and whether I'll need to repot him? (When I started seeds myself, the packet said 4-15' height...)
Castor bean

It's going to be my very own little jungle out back. Excellent.

Monday, June 22, 2009

When in doubt...

...post photos of yarn.

I got the yarn for my next set of commissions, and while I can't say more about what all these different yarns will become, I can still show them off.

Two heathered shades of Cascade Lana d'Oro:
Cascade Lana d'Oro
This is another well-made yarn from Cascade, which is 50% superfine alpaca and 50% wool. Nice and soft and WARM!

Three full bags of Cascade 220:
Cascade 220
Yes, the workhorse, but in gorgeous saturated colors.

and last but not least a whole collection of Koigu KPPPM and KPM:
Koigu KPPPM
I've never had this much Koigu to pretend to call my own at any one time! Please forgive me, I'm going to go give it a squeeze again.

I guess it's back to work - I'm on deadline now!

Friday, June 19, 2009

What I did on my summer vacation

Unwittingly followed Elizabeth Zimmermann's directive and knit a lace shawl, of course!

After unsuccessfully trying to knit socks out of some lovely Jojoland Melody superwash (a little too thin, not quite bouncy enough), I decided it would be better suited for lace. Enter the popular Aeolian Shawl.

Aeolian Shawl

Begun on the plane, June 8; finished before I had to get back on the plane, June 16. This of course is the small version - the big one is even more spectacular but I have no idea where I'd wear a big shawl these days. A little one makes a great scarf.

I was overconfident that I had enough yarn and began to knit looser and looser through the edging section. Of course I ran out of yarn on the bindoff but was able to make a last minute substitution. It's not perfect, but it'll do.

I decided against adding beads to this design; I don't think I'm much of a fan of beads in knitting generally. The nupps were pretty straightforward after I figured out exactly how to work them, but I did miss a loop on one and had to sew it back down (not so much fun).

The 'on-the-lamp' shot:
Aeolian Shawl

And some close-ups:
Aeolian Shawl

The edging is what really makes this design shine - the strong geometric zig-zag and the exuberance of the floral ruffle design together have a big, big impact.

Aeolian Shawl

I may need more little triangles in my life - the Swallowtail Shawl (from IK) has been on my list for a while too. But I think Whisper is next. I've seen too many nice ones not to follow suit, and I have just the thing for it.

Friday, June 05, 2009

My new favorite sweater

February Lady Sweater

The February Lady Sweater sat for weeks in my knitting basket, pathetic and sleeveless, as I struggled to finish sample knitting work (you know, the kind with deadlines that come all too soon). And then one day I decided I'd had enough. No more waiting. How long could a couple of sleeves - shortish ones in worsted weight and lace, at that - really take? And just like that, it was done.

February Lady Sweater

(Talk about struggling. Next time I'm recruiting some help for the photos.)

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Potential

Sometimes, when the sweater you're knitting is ugly, or doesn't fit, or is somehow full of mistakes... sometimes you just have to rip the whole damn thing out, toss the yarn in a box, and wait for a while to start over. What was once a failed endeavor becomes an opportunity. Disappointment gets turned back into potential.

Suffice to say I've been gone for a while, doing a lot of metaphorical ripping and re-potentializing (is that a word? Probably not. Who cares.) I've been enjoying the hospitality and company of family and old friends. I've been knitting and gardening up a storm. And now I'm back to a point where I want to blog again.

So here I am! Enough with the serious business and let's talk about knitting.

New Project

See what I mean about ripping and re-doing? That used to be the bedjacket. Now it will become something new, of my own invention.

Soon I'll be hoping to show off more of what I've been doing the past few months. Although much of it has been super-secret sample knitting, some of those things (from a year or more ago!) have finally become public and I'm excited to share them with you.