Friday, November 27, 2015

Oakberry Graduation Shawl

As full a view as I could get, plus one of the darling little acorns on the sides.  Knitter details on how to modify it to make the colourwork yourself are here.  Less knitterly details are here.

A couple months ago I stumbled upon the Oakberry shawl pattern by Carol Sunday.  It was so beautiful that I, who had never bought a pattern on Ravelry before in my 6 years of membership, did not hesitate to add it to my cart and checkout.  When I saw it, I immediately saw two things: the shawl in colour and me wearing it at my graduation in December.  Why?  Because it screamed "ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE" to me.  It fit perfectly with my degree.  I will be graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science and have been conducting microbial ecology research for two and a half years now, so it seemed a perfect pattern to symbolize my whole undergraduate career.  The shawl has nature, and the oak tree is crawling with microbial symbionts and parasites, and is part of a complex ecology in which it plays a key role.  It is also a robust, noble tree that is often used for ancient and current symbols, and the delicate lace border fits in with these finer points.  The oak has travelled cultures and peoples, and because of its ecology interacts with more than just people as well, fitting in with my study abroad in the French Riviera last spring and my frequent travel to conferences to present my research and take in others' current research.  The shawl itself both has and symbolizes inherent strength and beauty.

Here you can see the contrast between the robust body and leaf panel and the delicate vintage border.

After buying the pattern, I had to figure out what yarn to use.  Years ago as a new crocheter, back when I was 13, my mom had checked out Doris Chan's Everyday Crochet from the local library.  I fell in love with her designs, style of design, and approach to design.  One of the patterns in there, a little vest, said that she loved the "unadulterated shades from O-Wool."  I did not like the colour combo in the vest, but I loved the colours themselves, and their crisp, bold outline.  I found O-Wool yarns a few years later, but it was online and I was under 18.  When I finally did get to order something, I fell in love with O-Wool.  I hate fuzzy, halo-y yarns, and O-Wool, so far, has had none of that, even their merino.  Jocelyn Tunney's yarn was even more in my mind because I had just purchased Pompom Quarterly's Autumn 2015 issue just because I had fallen in love with the Magdalen scarf on the cover, which looked like it was made in bulky, cozy yarn- but it was O-Wool.  I knew I wanted something rich in colour and very solid and sturdy, so I went hunting for O-Wool.  I ordered 3 skeins each of Cypress (green) and Earth (brown), and after they arrived I went to my LYS and picked up some Juniper Farm Moonshine (40% Alpaca, 40% Wool, 20% Silk) in gold and Noro Silk Garden (45% Mohair, 45% Silk, 10% Wool) in a pale hunter green for the acorns. 

Oakberry took me 6 weeks of on and off knitting, from October 11 to November 27.  I looked up image after image after image of oak trees at different seasons to pick the yarn and colour, and even dyed the golden yellow yarn a deep gold to make the shade suitable for acorns.  As luck would have it, last week O-Wool announced the discontinuation of their Legacy DK yarn line.  I was worried about running short of brown, so I rushed to finish it in case I had to resort to scouring Ravelry destashes.  But I finished, and the sad, crumpled lace blocked out beautifully, as I knew it would.

And now I have a "but why should I block?" reference on hand.  For you non-fiber craft people, "blocking" is a very intense version of washing and laying flat to dry.  You basically stretch and pin the garment to its final shape.  Subsequent washes and reblockings will not get rid of this shape completely.
Oakberry took many reruns of Once Upon a Time, some Big Bang Theory, assorted BIGBANG music videos, and the Star Wars prequels (which I still hate, although with less intense fury than I did as a child).  On December 19, I will wear it with the pride I invested in it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Poison Apple Pie

I meant to release this recipe Monday as a potential Thanksgiving or other kick-off-the-holidays treat, but I'm releasing it now.  If you know how to make pies and are good at them, this should be a quick little thing to whip up and bake.  If you don't, fear not.  Making them isn't hard- prep work will take about an hour the first time, but if you follow all instructions and grab some helpers, it'll be fun and it will still taste great.  You can also cut a lot of the effort if you buy one of those premade pie shells.  You'll still have to make the top crust, but it's WORTH it.  If you DO know how to make pies, this one's a little different.  I'm not a lover of the traditional flaky crust as used in most baking traditions.  I'm used to Mexican pie crusts, which are sometimes flaky and sometimes crunchy.  Since I taught myself to make pies when I was 10, I often got lazy and cheated, or did something to cut my cooking time, which resulted in my finding out how to make a crunchy crust.  It is also how I invented this pie recipe, because I tried out 3 apple pie recipes and they all tasted so store-bought.  Until this.  For the crunchy crust, you use melted butter instead of cold butter or shortening.  And you can mix the leftovers with cheese and make crackers!  With cheddar, it's homemade cheez-its!
Figure 2: I apologize for the poor-quality photo.  It was, of course, still delicious.

So, how is this apple pie different?  It still has airs of the traditional, of course.  It has the look, the cinnamon (a LOT of cinnamon), and it's delicious.  The difference is my addition of cranberry juice.  It HAS to be cranberry juice.  It can be a blend, but it must be cranberry juice.  I've used grape and apple juice, and the taste is not as satisfying.  I've used cranberry apple, cranberry, and cranberry grape juice with success.  Make sure it's natural juice.  Ocean Spray is okay, as is Sam's Choice.  Langer's can be iffy, for whatever reason.  Sometimes I add walnuts or pecans, maybe some pear or a handful of blueberries.  The choice is yours!  (Note: For a tasty pear pie, follow the recipe, but replace apple with pear and the cranberry juice with apple juice or just a splash of water.)  For a diabetic-friendly recipe, Ocean Spray carries some sugar-free cranberry juice, and I substitute Splenda for the sugar.
Figure 3: Layering on the top crust!

General pie-making tips:
  • If making your own crust, you NEED to pre-bake it for 10-15 minutes.  If you do not, it will be gooey.  Ask me how I know.
  • When adhering the top crust to the bottom crust, coating the edges with water first works wonders.
  • After you've adhered the top crust, you do have to make those cuts at the top you always see in pies.  If you don't, steam cannot escape the pie, and it will boil over, possibly destroy the crust, and make a mess.  Ask me how I know.
  • When baking a pie, place pie on a cookie sheet to bake.  Sometimes the filling boils over from the edges, and you don't want it all over your oven.
  • I don't recommend a lattice crust.  It looks pretty, but for this pie, most of the flavour is gone.
  • If you melt the butter like I do for my crust, you will get a crunchy crust.  If not, or you use shortening, you will get the traditional flaky crust.
  • I use barely enough sugar to sweeten the pie.  If you like it sweet, just double that amount.
  • When kneading the crust, it's easiest to split it in two, one for each crust, smash a flattened circle down on a floured surface, and knead center out.  
  • I chop my apples instead of slicing.  I feel it not only gives more fruit in the pie, but that the flavour also packs in better.
  • If your apples aren't great to eat alone, they'll cook just fine.  If you mix apple types, it's fine.  If they're bruised, it's fine.  It's all fine. 
  • Take a deep breath.  Turn on some music.  Have fun. :3
Figure 4: Cut where the red is to allow pressure to escape the pie.

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Poison Apple Pie makes one 9-inch deep dish pie
2 cups flour
1 stick melted butter
1/2 cup milk or cool water

Preheat oven to 450˚ F.  In medium bowl, sift flour.  Pour in melted butter and mix with spoon.  When no longer hot, mix with hands until evenly mixed.  Pour in milk or water, and knead again with hands.  Dough should be smooth and not sticky, but still pliable and easy to work with.  Knead for 2-5 minutes, then split in half.  Set one half aside for later.  Flatten second half on clean, floured surface, flour rolling pin, and knead from center out to a ~12-inch circle about 1/4 inch thick.  To check if your crust is big enough, hold your pie pan over the dough center.  Edges of dough should just peer out over pie pan.  When suitable size, lift and transfer crust to pie plate, folding edges over.  Wet the sides of the crust and flatten with fork, then trim the leftover edges with knife or kitchen scissors- like Figure 4, but with bottom crust.  Pierce bottom of shell with fork, then bake for 10-15 minutes.  You can freeze it after it cools.

3-4 cups apples, chopped, cored but with skin still on
1/4 cup sugar (this will make the pie barely sweet, if you like it traditionally sweet use 1/3 cup)
1/4 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves (optional, just adds depth to the flavour)
1/2 cup cranberry juice

Preheat oven to 375˚F.  Place apples in small bowl.  If you're not sure if they are enough or too much, I often place them in my pie shell to check.  Add dry ingredients and mix well, then add cranberry juice and mix well again.  Pour filling into pie shell, roll out top crust to circumference at leash 0.5 inches larger around than that of your pie pan.  Crust should be ~1/4 inch thick.  Wet edges of pie with water and press down with thumb and forefinger, then again with a fork (Figure 4).  Don't worry if it's not perfect, it will still taste perfect.  In center of pie crust, slice 4 or 5 holes in the shape of a star to let steam escape during baking.  After that, trim the edges, cover pie edges with foil, and bake for 30 mins.  After 30 mins, remove foil and bake for 35 mins.  Let cool at least a half hour, then enjoy!