TV breakthroughs!

I finally, finally managed to make it through not one, but two! episodes of Dr. Who. This may not seem like such a great thing, but I kept trying to get into it in preparation for when we finally get the David Tennant Dr. Who series on PBS

(because how lovely is he?), so that I would know what was going on. I never really saw the appeal of the Christopher Eccleston Dr. Who,

but after this weekend, suddenly, I do! He’s no David Tennant, but still…

Anyways, bring on David, PBS!

And in related TV news, I finally got around to watching Torchwood.

I don’t know why Ianto’s not in there, but there is a surprising lack of easy-to-find photos of the Torchwood cast. Anyways…

So. Much. Love.

So much.

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My arch nemesis returns…

Well, in light of the successful baby knitting, I decided that I would once again attempt the devious Mrs. Darcy. But this time, I come armed with a theory as to why it grew so large upon blocking it the last time.

While reading through some older entries of the Yarn Harlot’s blog, I discovered that she and a friend has run into a similar problem whilst knitting matching sweaters. They’d been knit to gauge and measure correctly when they were finished. Once they’d been blocked, however, she found that the sweaters had expanded to outrageous proportions.

‘Wait a minute,’ I thought. ‘That’s what happened to me!’

In the process of describing how she managed to save the sweaters in time (I think they were knitting his-and-hers sweaters for friends of theirs), she happened to mention that they were knitting with superwash wool.

‘Wait a minute!’ I cried. ‘That’s what I’m knitting with!’

So. My theory now is that it is neither my attempts at resizing the original pattern nor my knitting skills which are the problem here. My theory is that the problem lies with the yarn.

So. I did what all the books recommend that you do and which I obviously should have done in the first place and will now do every single time since I’ve learned my lesson the hard way, which is BLOCK YOUR GAUGE SWATCH!

I was so proud of myself for knitting up the gauge swatch (which tells you if your stitches are the same size as the one used for the pattern – basically, if your gauge is off, the size of your sweater will be off), but I thought ‘Block it (wash it, pin it out, and wait for it to dry)? Pppfff, no way – I want to make a sweater now!’

But look what happened!

It went from measuring 6 3/8″ x 4″ to measuring 6 11/16″ by 4 5/16″! Sure, it doesn’t sound like that big of a difference, but when you spread that growth over something that you think is, say 24″ wide, it ends up being…excuse me while I attempt to do the math here…a whole inch wider! And something 24″ long would end up being 25 3/4″ long!

But now that I know that my gauge is actually significantly larger than I originally thought, I should be able to adjust the pattern and change the number of stitches I do to hopefully get something that will look too small when I’m done, but end up being the correct size once it’s been blocked.

Hopefully.

It’s like a fiesta in my mouth!

So my team at work last week had a rough day on Thursday. When I told my DE that she deserved cookies, she said ‘What I really need is a margarita.’ Now obviously, I can’t make a margarita and bring it in to work, so I thought I’d do the next best thing…

Margarita cookies!

They’re not just cookies in a margarita glass, they are really Margarita Cookies from Smitten Kitchen. Basically, it’s a shortbread recipe to which lemon and orange zest and tequila have been added. You make them into logs and then roll them in sugar and a little salt, slice them up, and bake them.

Despite the fact that they sound easy, they were rather more difficult (read: annoying) than I expected. But they are pretty tasty! And they’re small, so they’re easy to snack on…

ETA: Sounds like a couple of you are going to make these – yay! My advice? Double the amounts of zest (and maybe also the tequila) – I think that might help give them more flavor and zing and help them not just taste like a citrusy shortbread. I haven’t tried it that way, though, so do so at your own risk! 😉

In which I host a ‘dinner party’…

Those of you who know me know that I can bake, but cannot cook. Every once in a while, I go slightly insane and decide to prove that I can, in fact, cook. Some of these…experiences…are more successful than others. Tonight’s, I think, can be added to the ‘Success’ column. Huzzah!

The theme for this evening’s dinner was ‘The Four Seasons.’ Representing summer was the appetizer, Crab, Mango, and Avocado Salad from Simply Recipes. I think this was the least successful of the dishes. I substituted coconut rice for the crab which was problematic on a number of levels, but mainly that cold rice does not equal good rice. Also, if I made this again (and it was good enough to have another go at it), I’d probably layer it mango-avocado, then rice, then another mango-avocado instead of the opposite. But it wasn’t bad.

There was also some trouble with this one as one of the slices of mango made a run for it underneath one of the stone’s burners while I was making the main course.


After repeated attempts to stab it out of there (and rather more swearing than I’m proud of), I eventually had to wait until the soup was done, then lift up the top of the stove, and retrieve it.

ETA: This evening for dinner, I decided to try and heat the rice, mango, avocado salad up and see if that improved it at all and it did! It’s still quite a bit more bland than you’d expect with all those flavors in there, but it softened the rice up a bit and made it seem a bit less dry. Still needs some work, but much better!

Then, for fall, I made Pumpkin Soup with Smoked Paprika also from Simply Recipes. I won’t go into the entire rant, but needless to say, the local market no longer seems to carry McCormick’s spices and flavorings, so I had to jury-rig smoked paprika from turmeric, cumin, and cayenne. I was trying to recreate a soup I had when I was visiting a friend in Sweden and, while I didn’t manage that, it was still very yummy. And I did this the long way, too, which was very satisfying. I started with this:

And ended up with this:

(It really is rather more orange-y than it looks in that picture…) Yum! Very good for a chilly fall (or winter) night. And I now have vast quantities of it, so I’ll probably end up freezing it and saving it for later.

To go with that, there were hot rolls (made from a box, so nothing special) and…spring! Green beans provencale from Recipe Zaar. Verrry yummy. I added cubes of mozarella to this and it was perfect. (Alas, the picture is quite blurry – I promise they were in focus when I took it…)

And there was winter for dessert, in the form of Gingerbread Cupcakes from Post-Punk Kitchen (a vegan recipe, made unvegan by me), which went from this:

To this:

I was not sure the frosting was going to work, but I finally got out my hand-mixer and it ended up being really nice – sweet, but with enough lemony flavor and surprisingly light considering it has shortening in it. It didn’t look very pretty, but it sure tasted good…So. 3 out of 4 ain’t bad, right?;)

A golden fall evening

I was home sick today, an event made ironic because of the fact that I got my flu shot yesterday. Actually, I think it was a reaction to said flu shot, but that’s just me. I’m feeling better now, but I was just sitting here reading (The City of Dreaming Books) and watching TV (Everybody Loves Raymond) this evening when I happened to glance at the window. ‘What an odd color it is outside…’ I thought.

And then I thought I would share it with you because it was very pretty when I saw what was causing it…

I wish you could see that tree better – its leaves are the exact shade of golden yellow that the sky was so that everything on that side of my apartment seemed to be glowing.

I love fall.

Fiction

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

There is no other word for it, this book (novella, actually) is delightful. It’s about Queen Elizabeth discovering that she has a love of reading. Really, that’s about it. Okay, it’s also about how she approaches reading, how her reading habits change (and change her), what her staff think of these changes, and has a lovely, and surprising, ending.

It’s only about 120 pages, so it’s a quick read and it really is surprisingly satisfying despite its diminuitive size. I would recommend it to anybody who likes books about books (a la Ex-Libris, which I adore!) or just anybody who likes books, full-stop.

My rating: A-

Fiction

Empire of Ivory (Book 4 of Temeraire) by Naomi Novik

See? I just said a little different, didn’t I? There were dragons in Guards! Guards! and there are lots of dragons in the Temeraire books.

For anyone who hasn’t heard of the Temeraire books, it’s basically the Napoleonic Wars with dragons. Needless to say, it’s awesome. Dragons are used like sentient ships, basically, bringing the battles to the air about a century earlier than in reality. The stories center on Captain Will Laurence who is unwillingly (at first) drafted into the Dragon Corps when his ship captures a French ship which is carrying a dragon egg. Upon hatching, it (Temeraire) bonds with Laurence and, well, the rest is history. Except that it turns out that Temeraire is a very rare Celestial – a Chinese breed which is only meant for emperors and was intended as a gift from the Chinese to Napoleon.

This book (the fourth in the series) picks up right where the last one left off. Seriously, it picks up again finishing up the last scene from the previous book, while Temeraire and the group of feral dragons they’ve picked up on their latest journey are bringing Prussian soldiers back to England while under attack from a group of French dragons and their crews. Basically, a plague is, well, plaguing the English dragons, diminishing their numbers (which they are trying to hide from the French) and Temeraire and Laurence must find the cure.

Turns out, Temeraire had a bout with a similar illness which was unintentionally cured during a stopover in Africa, so Temeraire, Laurence, and their squadron of sick dragons with their crews head off to Africa in search of the cure.

There are even more political manueverings in this one (which is saying a lot, trust me) than in the previous two books (there were some in the first, fair enough, but it was mostly about Laurence and Temeraire) which sometimes slows (and confuses) the plot a bit. It’s still good and the dragons are fun to read about.

I think the main problem with this book is that there isn’t enough of Laurence and Temeraire – my favorite parts are reading about their interactions and their relationship with one another. And the other dragons (although, my second-favorite (after Temeraire, of course), Volly does make an appearance) seem to be given a bit of short-shrift, too. Basically, it was a lot of political goings-on in this one. But.

In true Novik fashion, she has set up a very interesting premise for the next book in the series (due out sometime in 2008) which may be the reason for my main problem with the book. Knowing the ending now, it seems like the entire book is just a big set-up for the next one. Which I am greatly looking forward to. Hopefully there’ll be more of Laurence and Temeraire in that one.

So despite the fact that I think this is probably the weakest of the four books, it’s worth the read just to be back in the universe Novik has created and it’s a promising set-up for the next one. I highly recommend the series overall. I think Entertainment Weekly put it best – this series is for ‘anyone who’s read one of Patrick O’Brien’s 19th-century-set naval adventures and mused: You know what would make this better? Dragons.

My rating: B