BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Crazy Kiwis

As deadlines loom and reviews pile up, the oven as been eerily quiet and cold. My ideas for new recipes continue to accumulate and grow by the day like overgrown weeds, and yet I don’t have a minute to cut it down to size. Luckily, it seems that there’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel, and the manuscript is just over a week away from the printer. Everyone needs to take a break every now and then, so with the finish line now in sight, I figured it was only fair to dive into some of the luscious summer produce I had been spying at the market and make it into a suitable decadent dessert. Although my wish list for exotic and unusual fruit could fill a novel, I settled upon the first rare delicacy I could find: Kiwis.

True, they are certainly not unheard of or quite so esoteric these days, but it’s still hard for me to hunt them down locally. Having had such little experience with them, I figured something fairly basic would be a good place to start, so a simply kiwi tart it was. Out came the sturdy ceramic tart pan and I wasted no time prepping the fruits. Slicing carefully and admiring their lurid green flesh, flecked with the deep black seeds, the world around me disappeared. The sound of the knife filled my head, cleaving smoothly through the firm fruit, tapping quietly and rhythmically like a metronome as it hit the cutting board. Each cut slice glistened with juice, seeming to sparkle in the light, and I could only feel what a wondrous thing it was to be back in the kitchen again. Losing myself in the moment so completely, who knows what sort of craziness must have occurred during this mental vacation, because there was one shocking sight awaiting me when I looked up.

A kiwi! And not the fruits that I had just been admiring, but the national bird of New Zealand! Sitting right there in my tart pan like it was ready to go in the oven along with the fruit of its namesake, I could write volumes about how wrong this whole scene was. Watching me prep ingredients as if it were as distant as a cooking show on tv, the little guy seemed not the least bit bothered by its uncomfortable-looking seat or proximity to a human with a knife. As a typically shy, nocturnal bird found only halfway across the world, there was simply no conceivable explanation!

This development certainly threw a wrench in my baking plans, to say the least. Off went the oven, away went the flour and sugar. Not wanting to evict my curious guest from the former baking dish, it didn’t look like there would be any tarts to be made today. At a loss of words, the only course of action I could think of was to offer him a slice of the cut fruit… Which he gladly accepted, to my relief. Munching happily as if this were all the most normal thing in the world, I can’t help but wonder if I’m losing my mind. Truly, if only I could understand any of this, my dear readers… But perhaps it’s just an indication that I had better get more sleep instead of shirking deadlines by baking!

I know that these bizarre flightless birds do have quite a few fans out there who would love to get as close to these marvels as I did… But since I have no clue how it all happened, the best I can do is give you a pattern to make your own!

Body:

With size 6 DPNs and rust colored worsted weight yarn, CO 3 and distribute them evenly among the needles
Kfb into each st (6 sts)
Kfb into each st (12 sts)
K each st
K1, kfb* around (18 sts)
K each st
K2, kfb* around (24 sts)
K each st
K3, kfb* around (30 sts)
K each st for 5 rounds
K3, k2tog* around (24 sts)
K each st for 2 rounds
K2, k2tog* around (18 sts)
K each st
(Okay, here comes some short row shaping for the neck. W&t means “wrap and turn,” which you can learn how to do via this handy video)
K4, w&t, p6, w&t, k8, w&t, p10, w&t, k12, w&t, p14, w&t, k16, w&t, p10
(Whew! Still with me? Great, it’s all smooth sailing from here!)
K each st
K2, kfb* around (24 sts)
K3, kfb* around (30 sts)
K4, kfb* around (36 sts)
K5, kfb* around (42 sts)
K6, kfb* around (48 sts)
K7, kfb* around (54 sts)
K each st
K8, kfb* around (60 sts)
K each st for 20 rounds
-Insert safety eyes and stuff head lightly-
K8, k2tog* around (54 sts)
K7, k2tog* around (48 sts)
K6, k2tog* around (42 sts)
K5, k2tog* around (36 sts)
K4, k2tog* around (30 sts)
K3, k2tog* around (24 sts)
-Stuff body firmly-
K2, k2tog* around (18 sts)
K1, k2tog* around (12 sts)
K2tog* around (6 sts)
Break thread and draw it through the remains stitches, tying tight.

Beak:

Switching to size 5 DPNs and yellow worsted weight yarn, CO 3 st, distributing evenly on your needles
Kfb into each st (6 sts)
K each st around for 22 rounds
K1, kfb* around (9 sts)
K each st around
k2, kfb* around (12 sts)
K each st
BO and break yarn, leaving a sizable tail to sew with

Feet (Make 2):

With size 5 straight needles and the same yarn as used for the beak, CO 25 sts
K each st
BO 5 sts, k to end
K to end, CO 5 sts
BO 5 sts, k to end
K to end, CO 5
K each st
CO, leaving a long tail

To Assemble: First take one foot and weave the long tail back through the 5 sts of the toe. Fold the leg in half and use that length of yarn to sew the long edges together, forming a long tube for the leg. Repeat with the other foot piece. Sew each leg to the bottom of the bird body and tie tightly, weaving in ends when satisfied with the placement. Lightly stuff the wide opening of the beak, and sew to bird face. Just weave in those ends and you’re ready to have plenty of your own bizarre adventures!


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Knit Therapy

Lest you think that I’ve put down my knitting needles for good, I’ll have you know that contrary to the lack of variety exhibited by my recent posts, I’ve still been knitting away just as prodigiously as before. As a matter of fact, I’ve been frequently dabbling in all of my usual crafts… Just not always to great success. Although it may seem that I haven’t even touched my stash of beads in ages, it’s just that I haven’t displayed the disastrous abortions I’ve pushed off the threads. Sometimes the ideas are simply better than their physical manifestations, such as the concept of pressed-flower coasters. In reality, the only redeeming quality about those hideous resin disks was that the design can be mostly covered by the cup meant to rest on top.

The truth is, only a small percentage of my work ever meets the public eye. Out of 50 potential projects, maybe 10 might come out just as I had intended. While this makes for an exhausting process to arrive at any quality finished object, I feel that the struggle is worth it to ensure that the questionable projects are weeded out. All the same, it can be nice to just go by the book and make someone else’s pattern exactly as written every now and then.

Churning out Knitty‘s Argosy was really just a simple exercise to clear my mind of all the craziness that has surrounded me as of late, just going through the motions without straining to “invent” something new. Aside from the fact that I was knitting a scarf in 90 degree weather, it was the perfect interlude between more challenging projects. For some reason, I’m finding that knitting is my form of meditation, a way to relax and escape from the world, more about the process and not the product. In such a demanding world, I think that anyone could appreciate how nice it feels when it really is the effort that counts, even if the end results aren’t exactly blog-worthy.

Everyone fails occasionally, preforms under par, but crafting is my way of putting all of that behind me and moving on, because at the end of the day, I will still have some tangible proof that hey, at least I’m trying. Besides that, sometimes even the meditative knits come out well, just like this one.


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Putting the “Art” Back in Pop Tarts

No matter how much I love to cook and bake, it seems like my efforts are rarely destined for my own mouth. Birthday cakes and bake sale cookies flood the kitchen in a torrent, flying out of the oven faster than I can slide more in, let alone snag a sample for myself. Not a minute to cool on the counter, they parade out the door to their various destinations, never to be seen again, along with whatever platter accompanied them. Though it’s funny to think that perhaps the recipients were so ravenous as to eat through the sweets and straight into the plate, I’ve lost more than my fair share of serving ware this way. Glass and ceramic slabs aside, the real loss is spare time in which to prepare food for myself, since dirtying more dishes or firing up the oven yet again are rarely appealing by the time meals come around after my usual baking frenzies.

Meals usually consist of simple things straight out of the fridge such as plain old veggies and fruits, or if the pantry’s goods are particularly alluring when I scavenge through them, the typical assortment of cereals and junk foods. Pulling these items from the far ends of the food pyramid keeps it all in balance, right? Well, don’t tell me if I’m wrong, because the convenience factor is often more valuable than the nutrition at this point. Running around madly to keep up with school, writing, crafting, etc, it’s good enough that I have enough fuel to keep running sometimes. In fact, it was my lucky day when I came downstairs for breakfast and saw a delicious looking toaster tart already waiting for me, unwrapped and clearly waiting to be eaten.

Well, I certainly didn’t need any further invitation (Lest the real owner of that treat return to claim it) and I reached down hastily without further though. Immediately I noticed that it felt different than your garden-variety hand pie, so I took a closer look at my newly acquired prize. Giving it a gentle squeeze to examine what sort of filling could be residing between these odd sheets of dough, I must have looked as though I stuck my finger in an electrical socket when I reeled back in surprise at what came out.

Good thing I didn’t absent mindedly shovel the whole thing into my mouth! Turns out it wasn’t a sweet snack at all, but a cell phone cozy instead! I swear, only in my house do such absurd possibilities exist! However, if you’d like such strange occurrences in your own home, you can now make your very own faux pop tart using the following pattern. Very easy and straight forward, even beginning knitters will find it to be a breeze to complete, with fabulous results. Although it won’t satiate your craving for sweets, it will satisfy your need to knit!

Please note that this pattern calls for color work called “intarsia,” and when switching colors the two strands of yarn must be twisted together or else the piece will not hold together, as many earlier crafters have found. For further help on color work, please refer to this video tutorial here.

With US size 5 straight needles and tan worsted weight yarn, CO 15 sts

Beginning with a k row, knit in st st for 42 rows

K2 sts in tan, switch to pink yarn and k11 sts, switch back to tan for the remaining 2 sts

Repeat this color scheme in st st for 25 rows

Starting with a p row, switch back to using only tan yarn, and knit in st st for an additional 5 rows

BO

To assemble, fold your long rectangle in half and sew up the two longest sides using a whip stitch. Embroider rainbow-colored bugle beads for sprinkles onto the pink area, or get creative – Try different decorations like embroidering squiggles for contrasting icing, or interesting beads for shaped sprinkles! With different colors and materials, the possibilities are endless! For extra security, sew a small snap onto the inside at the very top of the pouch, to prevent your phone from falling out.

Keep those phones warm and comfortable, but resist the urge to chow down on your new toaster tart! They may have plenty of fiber, but I’m sure you can still find a more nutritious breakfast instead!


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Nautie Little Fossil

It feels as though all of a sudden, spring must have crept in through an open window one night. It was marked on the calendar right and proper, and I do remember observing daylights savings, (Pointless ritual that it is) but the lengthened days of sunlight and warmth are still a shock to my system. After that winter that really wasn’t, it hardly feels right to continue on without it, but what is one to do? Mother nature won’t be bothered with such petty complaints when there are seeds to sprout, flowers to bloom, animals and insects to prod out of hiding! The season is still young, but there is so much to do; Spring could hardly wait another day before manifesting itself! Small mounds of compacted snow still remain, spotting the earth like unsightly pimples on an adolescent face, slowly retreating back into the ground and further distressing the swollen streams. Watching them melt makes the landscape appear some how changed, different from the last time I saw it without a covering of slick, glistening ice. Come to think of it, some thing was definitely out of place here… I just couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

Pacing around the muddy dirt immediately outside my garage door, an unsettled feeling rose steadily in my gut. What is it? What’s wrong? It was driving me mad. Having lived here for the majority of my life, I should be able to tell when some thing is amiss. Venturing further and further from my haven, it was another few minutes before I finally laid eyes upon a large rock near the perimeter of our property. Out of the way and easy to overlook, I was certain that something about it was drastically changed even from my present distance. Picking up my pace and seeing the full picture in clearer focus, I was shocked to see exactly what it was that had disrupted my sense of normalcy.

No small fallen branch or waterlogged tree truck, sitting in plain sight was a multi-million year old Nautiloid! Unearthed by the motion of melting snow, there was no denying that this was an authentic piece of history in my backyard, a small glimpse into a world that we can only make educated guesses about with today’s technology. While on rare occasion our backyard has been known to cough up a random fragment of clay pottery of mysterious origin, this find was unprecedented! What to do? Who to tell!?

Coiled contentedly around itself, eyes unblinking, I was fairly sure that my little nautiloid wouldn’t be going anywhere soon. After unimaginable lengths of time buried beneath the earth, I would imagine that a few more minutes would hardly even be a drop in the bucket. Feet pounding the soggy terrain, I made a mad dash back into the house to alert some one, any one still home. Scaling stairs about as gracefully as a drunken leprechaun, my breath was growing short and yet not a soul could be found to share my amazing discovery with. Just my luck!

Finally, after a torturous wait, my parents returned from an early grocery expedition and I ambushed them, pregnant with news. Dragging both all the way into the corner of the yard, we all peered with excitement at the designated rock to see… A big rock. The nautiloid was gone! Perhaps it was able to stay hidden for so long because it wasn’t exactly fossilized after all… But I guess the world may never know.


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Too Little, Too Late

As the days continue to become longer and the pages of the calendar seem to peel away like dry, sun-burnt skin, I’m slowly coming to the sad conclusion that my latest finished project came just a little bit too late. Despite the lack of snow days, I’m perfectly happy with a slight chill in the air, preferring the climate to err on the colder side in general. Bitter winds and freezing temperatures can sometimes be comforting and familiar, since I had to grow up with torrential snows every winter. They would be so bad sometimes that as a tiny toddler of no more than two feet, I could stand on a pile of snow and easily reach the basketball net in the turnaround! Nothing of that sort has ever been dumped on us since moving slightly coastal about a decade ago, but thinking optimistically, I hoped that perhaps a little more encouragement would remind March of its duty to be a month where winter makes its come back; A gentle nudge in the right direction, and who knows what could happen? It’s still not too late to see snow in the forecast. Despite temperatures soaring to a jaw-dropping 70 degrees late afternoon yesterday, submitting and bringing out the t-shirts and light fabrics would be suicide to my hopes, so I suppose the end result of my crafting was a compromise – Meant to keep one warm, but still a nod to the approaching warmer weather.

Having found this combination knit and crochet pattern some time ago, I rediscovered it in my file of potential projects and realized that if I didn’t get moving soon, it would have to wait another year before I would even think about making it. Hating to miss any opportunity when it comes to making new things, I gathered a few skeins of yarn and set to work in short order. Very simple and very quick, all the pieces came together in no time at all, encouraging a little extra work to further embellish with additional leaves. I just couldn’t leave well enough alone, continuing until I had knit up no less than six more leaves. Hey, if you really want to appease the threatening force of a premature spring, why not go all out and make it a flattering representation of lush foliage?

Wearing the finished neck piece is out of the question at the moment, lest I want I to sweat like a pig in a sauna. Although the actual atmosphere has done little to take notice of my desire for just one last snow, I suppose there are worse things than an early spring. Too bad my procrastination will force me to wait a year before I can wear it now. While I would have been satisfied with colorful acrylic flowers while white, powdery snow covered the ground outside, I’m sure that any day now, real ones will present themselves. I’m okay with this change, really! …I just wish I could have worn the neck warmer at least once.


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Getting Cozy with Zoé

Maybe I’m just a tad crazy at times, or maybe you could to soften that phrase and say that I’m perhaps a bit over-imaginative, but some combination of the two causes me to become inexplicably attached to inanimate objects. I worry that certain skeins of yarn feel unloved because they tend to settle down at the bottom of my stash, while others emerge to color various projects a dozen times over. Leaving certain stuffed animals in places that are new to them sets me on edge, because what if they feel lost and scared? What if they feel homesick when they get adopted into new homes? I kid you not, as pathetic as it all seems, but sometimes I worry about these things like they can all really feel and understand the world as any other person does. Don’t laugh now, but almost every item I frequently use has a name, right down to my favorite spoon (“Nosh.”)

When a new, fancy toy arrived for my birthday, she stole my affection from day one. An amazing, beautiful, flawless mp3 player sporting classy clean icons and smooth edges, Zoé, my Creative Zen, quickly insinuated herself into my daily routine and my heart. Enduring such heavy use, it was only a matter of time before I began to worry about Zoé’s well being, as it’s not hard to scratch such a smooth, unblemished music player in this sharp world we live in. Obviously, a cozy was just what the doctor ordered, but this undertaking in itself posed yet another problem: What yarn would do for such a wonderful friend?

After a good deal of searching, I came upon a spot of luck and managed to secure my local yarn store’s final skein of a breathtaking mottled blue cotton, going by the name of Patagonia. Reading the label confirmed that the yarn gods had smiled upon me – Hand dyed 100% natural cotton for $10? I could barely scramble over to the register fast enough, anxious to get back to my needles and set off to work. Zoé must have been getting so cold waiting alone!

Working up a basic pattern from scratch, it really took no time before Zoé was comfortably nestled into her new cozy, looking very safe and content indeed. Wanting to add a bit of interest to the exterior, I knit in a more unusual cable stitch right down the center. Ultimately, it fit Zoé perfectly and looked quite stylish, I think that this particular stitch might have been more successful if executed with a smoother yarn, without all of the bumps of a hand spun cotton.

A simple button closure secures the precious cargo inside, making for the perfect little pocket guaranteed to soften any accidental falls or rough journeys. I sure hope this cozy carrying case is enjoyed by its intended recipient, because I would hate to think that she would be dissatisfied with my work, and start misbehaving as a result!

So far so good, but after laboring so hard to supply me with good music to craft to, I think it’s time Zoé took a little nap. Peeking out one last time before closing the door and shutting off the lights, it’s easy to see how she’s so easy to love.

If you’re interested in recreating this cable pattern for yourself, here are some instructions that I wrote to the best of my ability. [This is not a pattern for the whole cozy!] I’m sorry if it doesn’t make sense or is very difficult to follow, but I’ll do my best to clarify any questions that may arise. There are 12 pattern stitches, not including a border, so if you want to repeat this a couple times, cast on multiples of 12 + however many stitches you want for a border.

Row 1: K3, p1, k1, p1, k1, p1, k4
Row 2: P3, k1, p1, k1, p1, k1, p4
*Repeat these rows 3 more times, 4 times total

Sl 3 st onto cable needle and hold in back, p1, k1, p1, [k3 from cable needle], sl 3 st onto cable needle, hold in front, k3, [k1, p1, k1 from cable needle]

k1, p1, k1, p7, k1, p1

*p1, k1, p1, k7, p1, k1
k1, p1, k1, p7, k1, p1*
*Repeat 3 times more, 4 times total

Sl 3 st onto cable needle and hold in back, k3, [p1, k1, p1 from cable needle], sl 3 st onto cable needle and hold in front, k1, p1, k1, k3 off cable needle

P3, k1, p1, k1, p1, k1, p4

Starting from the very beginning of directions, repeat until desired length is reached.


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America’s Favorite Cookie

Bet you can’t eat just one!, A famous potato chip maker once taunted in advertisements, challenging buyers to just try not to absolutely gorge themselves on their product, knowing that it was too full of artificial flavors and chemicals for the average human palate to resist. Thankfully, such crude suggestions no longer show up in modern commercials (as far as I know) now that the truth about the addictive qualities of both fat and sugar are public knowledge. Still, that doesn’t mean that food cravings never get the best of us, and this previously absurd challenge becomes proven over and over again.

Sit there smugly in front of your computer, think it would be different in your case, but it is easy to forget one’s own animal instincts still reside just below the surface, waiting for that next morsel of junk food to unleash themselves again. Don’t be ashamed; It happens to the best of us, because no one’s perfect. Keep yourself on a short chain? Unfortunately, you may be all the more likely to snap the hardest someday. Even in an innocent, practically unconscious act, food addicts find a way to manipulate your hands and mouth, forcing you to reach for yet another cookie, even though you meant to stop eating about 5 cookies ago. This is how it’s so easy to suddenly find yourself with only half a package of Joe Joe’s (Trader Joe’s brand Oreos) when they were only purchased a few short hour ago.

Embarrassed at such carnal behavior, I tried in vain to cover up my plight before anyone else reached for this ravaged box of cookies. How does one hide missing food stuffs? Well… Try to replace it, I guess.

Only after the first two impostors had landed in their plastic tomb did I remember that these were actually chocolate-stuffed Joe Joe’s, not vanilla creme as I had recalled! Just goes to show how much I actually enjoyed my gorge, not even taking the time to note exactly what I had just put in my mouth! Ah well, they’re close enough, right? Should the casual observer decide to peruse the shelves for a snack, I figured that in taking such a brief inventory, small details like the actual consistency of the Joe Joe’s might be overlooked in a glance.

Somehow, it seemed to be working! For a day or two, no one said anything about the cookies or lack there of. Needless to say, that’s only because no one actually ventured to open the box and examine their suspicious contents for that amount of time.

Close, but not close enough to eat. My scheme to replace the cookies probably would have worked better had I at least used edible materials!


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A Soured Supply

Mother nature can be a fickle woman, indeed. Warm and welcoming one moment, cold and forbidding the next. Seductively hinting at a mild winter leading into an early spring, countless ill-prepared farmers were snared in her trap recently. Teaming up with her mischievous sidekick, Jack Frost, it takes only the most innocent drop in temperature to turn into a deathly freeze for any outdoor plants. Such was the case this year in America’s prominent citrus-growing regions, stealing away all of our lovely tangerines and brilliant oranges. Sure, they’re still available if you hunt hard enough… And pay a substantially higher amount than for your typical seasonal fruit.

It may taste like a sour defeat, but there are still ways around it for the enterprising person. On high alert during every shopping expedition, I jumped at any fruit in the citrus family that didn’t have a price tag comparable to that of a brand new car. Although it may not look like very much, I do return victorious every now and then – Just check out my most recent steal!

Along side the grapes and less-perishable fruits in our crisper lay one each of an illusive lemon and lime, nestled comfortably into the controlled environment of the fridge. No, I didn’t manage to snag the much sought after oranges, a fact that I bemoan regularly as I look upon the meager selection on display at our wimpy local market. This should be their time in the sun! It’s a grave injustice I tell you!

At the very least, my palate won’t have to be deprived of all flavors bearing the sour notes citrus, having secured such enticing specimens from the other areas of the spectrum. If you’re aching for that distinct kick as well, you can knit your own lemon and / or lime from the simple pattern found on PeachCake Knits.

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