Monday, October 31, 2016

You know it's fall when...

...Gina breaks out her knit work and starts trying various new things cooking- and baking-wise :-) But first things first. I tried the Vegetarian Pizza Quesadillas last time and they were a big success. This recipe - do it the vegetarian way or add some thinly sliced ham or whatever tickles your fancy - has moved up to my go-to list for quick, delicious dishes. So what else happened since the last time I posted? I gave the following new-to-me recipes a try (in no particular order):
The bread is incredible - moist, full of flavors and super delicious! French Toast suprised me with its nutrition values. I use Ja! Natürlich Mehrkorntoast, which is a whole grain toast variety that's available here, plus the classic Joy of Cooking recipe. I always thought it was a high-cal high-sugar thing - it's not! Also it's quick and easy, and my kids loved it. Definitely a weekend breakfast favorite. As for the cookies... My daughter isn't very fond of all things coconut (to put it mildly) and wolfed them down. Any questions? ;-)
What I'm planning to try next (tomorrow) is Mexican Chicken Quinoa Casserole - interesting insofar as it's a "first" in using black beans. Around here you only get them in the dried version so I'm making a very rough conversion of amount, I'm curious how it will turn out (and if my family will eat it ;-) ).

On a tangent - why does everyone seemingly shy away from recipes that have "healthy" in their name/description? I love having food that's good for my body and tastes great - healthy doesn't automatically have to mean bland or boring!?!?!? OK, end of rant...

A favorite go-to recipe when fall is in full force, showing its beautiful colors is what I dubbed the "Family Fruitbread" recipe which actually stems from my coworker Christian's grandmother if I can remember correctly. It's one of the best I've tried, a great mixture of spices, lusciously moist fruit and tasty nuts and flours. So without further ado...

Fruitbread aka Apfelbrot

500g apples, coarsely grated (about 3 medium sized ones, Gala will fit just fine)
170g dried figs, chopped up into small pieces
80g raisins
100g walnuts or pecan nuts, coarsely chopped up
160g demerara (brown) sugar
80g sour cream
1.5 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
4cl rum
170g spelt flour (whole grain)
80g rye flour
1.5 tsp baking flour
1 egg (large)
0.5 tsp salt

Pre-heat oven to 200°C/390°F. Prepare a loaf pan, butter the inside and lightly coat with flour. Mix the fruits with rum, cover and let soak over night. Mix flours with baking soda and spices, blend egg, sour cream and salt, put all ingredients into a big bowl and stir until evenly mixed. Pour into the loaf pan, bake for 30 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 180°C/350°F and bake another 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

Yields 14 slices - nutrition values (per slice):
Calories - 228kcal
Fat - 6.5g
Carbs - 38.3g
Protein - 4.1g

As always, if you find errors in this recipe or find that my terminology/vocabulary isn't right please feel free to mail me with suggestions for improvement!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Food - US-ian cooking

Heya peeps! I continue my endeavors of trying various dishes of the US-ian cuisine and make them in a clean eating and healthier version where possible. For one because I do love and miss the US and secondly because I like to broaden my horizon and choice of menus for the family. So - what could be more American than oven baked Mac & Cheese? Querying Pinterest yielded a couple of recipes and I went with one that promised a "healthy low-cal version that doesn't taste like cardboard". Sadly the nutritional values and calories didn't add up (meaning they cheated or left out some crucial ingredients in their calculations) AND it didn't come out right as the proportions didn't work out the way they should. Too late I consulted "The Joy Of Cooking", which I bought during my summer vacation - including a set of proper measuring cups - and didn't trust my experience and gut feeling. While the dish didn't come out bad per se it was kind of bland and not worth the effort. Next time I'll try a different recipe/approach as this is a dish I really Want To Get Right :-)

As to a successful result - when searching for American family dish recipes, Pinterest came up with a suggestion for quick teriyaki chicken which sounded too good to be true. I'd given a few sweet & sour chicken recipes a try over the years but it never came out quite right so I thought "well, why not". Know what? This thing is perfect. And quick. And easy. And "clean eating". And low cal. Color me impressed and my belly full - I sadly didn't take any pictures as it was made and eaten way too fast. Sorry! :-)

Several American friends of mine suggested various dishes upon my inquiry for recipes and one that has popped up often is meat loaf. I did check with JOC and io behold, it's very similar to the Austrian/German "Faschierter Braten" which I have made a couple of times and my family loves. Guess what's for dinner tomorrow evening? Side dishes will be an US/Austrian mix I guess, thinking of something along the lines of mashed sweet potato and peas... Lunch will have me try vegetarian pizza quesadillas filled with lots of delicious veggies - I used whole wheat tortillas for my lunch wraps in summer and my kids have been begging me to try them as well. Whole grains + veggies + fun for the kids filling the things for themselves = WIN! (or so I hope, wish me luck)

Seriously - healthy food is so much fun and so much better than pre-processed crap. And if you stock your pantry right, it doesn't take much extra time. Give it a try, it's worth it. Your body will thank you for it, too...

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

State of the Gina

Heya people!

My craft projects have somewhat been hibernation during the summer as I focused on working out quite extensively - up to six times a week - and trying to keep my diet balanced. Now as the days are getting shorter, weather's been changing for my favorite season and I feel a little bit like cocooning at home - plus I'm starting to wear lots of my knitwork - my focus is again shifting. And as a cold has me knocked out at home at the moment I even find time to blog again...

Where did I leave off? I'm still working on the mid-calf length black coat for myself. I started another beaded shawl with a pattern off Boo Knits for my Mom which should have been done by Mother's Day (oooooops) and I have some small things going like a simple cowl which I took with me on the plane as I spent a few days in Berlin for LinuxConf Europe last week, or like some socks for my son.

Speaking of Berlin I met a whole lot of amazing people and one of them (hi Carol!) commented on how she liked my Dragonfly Shawl and if I would make something like this on commission? I was kind of surprised as nobody had asked me such a thing before... We're now in the process of figuring out the pattern and colorways and then I'm off into my first project like this! I'm so much used to making things for myself and my loved ones that I rarely get to think outside the box aka colorways I love - this should be fun!

So, what else... I have advanced into the "don't eat crap" territory enough that I've started to swap ingredients for recipes on the fly and am making up new recipes on the go that fit my needs. A book that has helped me tremendously with understanding nutrition and changing diet accordingly for me was Jillian Michaels' "Master Your Metabolism" - I heartily recommend it if you want to understand how your body works when it comes to hormones and nutrition and how you can best influence your body food-wise.

I have further ventured into US-ian cooking, finally caved in and ordered some proper measuring cups which make life a lot easier. I also acquired "The Joy Of Cooking" and will try to make good use of it - I'm thinking of doing a Thanksgiving menu this year with a few of the usual dishes that go with it - wish me luck! :-)

Last but not least I'm leaving you with a recipe for some muffins I whipped up last night. I had a craving for the typical spices of fall, wanted something a little sweet yet savory and not too unhealthy. It's a recipe heavily modified from one of the muffin cook-books I have so I have no qualms posting it...

Oh, and as I'm no English native speaker and my kitchen vocabulary is still a little sketchy please feel free to send me corrections/hints for improvement - the various ways to contact me can be found here. Thank you!

Healthy Breakfast Muffins

100g dried fruits (dates, figs, apricots)
200g + 1 tbsp flour
100g bran flakes
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 egg (organic)
100g demerara sugar or maple syrup
80ml neutral oil (e.g. sunflower seed)
250g buttermilk

Caveat - I use wholegrain spelt flour for almost anything these days, as it soaks up fluids roughly as much as regular flour. If you want to use wholegrain wheat flour you might want to reduce the amount to 10% less as the muffins will probably get too dense/dry.

Pre-heat oven to 180°C/360°F (160°C/320°F if you have a convection oven), prepare muffin baking pan accordingly.

Blend the dried fruits and the 1 tbsp of flour and set aside (this went pretty badly at my first try but I managed to save the recipe in the end, see below ;-) ). Lightly crush the bran flakes, mix with flour, baking powder and ground cinnamon in one bowl.

In another bowl combine egg, maple syrup, oil and buttermilk and mix until well blended. Add the dry fruit mixture (this had formed a hard lump so I tossed the fruit into the liquid mixture and used my hand blender to make this work) and then add the flour mixture. Stir until all ingredients are properly mixed and wet but don't over-stir, fill into the muffin pan and bake for 20-25 minutes. Enjoy!


Yields 12 - nutritional values per piece:
- 200kcal
- 7,7g fat
- 27g carbs
- 4,9g protein

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Crafts - A beautiful exchange <3

The last project I did in 2015 was another Boo Knits' pattern called "Temptress". It all started out with some yarn that I bought in this variety by mistake, the Dragonfly Fiber Nautilace. The mistake was that I thought the yarn came as a 4oz/110g skein, instead it was 2oz/56g - oooops. This meant I needed to find a pattern that would only use up this small amount of yarn but still be special and lo, behold - another one of Bev's fit the bill! I finished the shawl right on December 31st while on vacation and blocked it soon after.

While I really liked how it turned out I somehow had the hunch this piece was not for me (slightly too "bright" of a color if you can say so of silver-grey) but had to think of a dear friend of mine who I thought would be a perfect fit. I asked her if my hunch was right and she was very happy to receive the gift :-)

As a "thank you" she sent me a beautiful stitch markers and some wonderful hand-dyed yarns from local stores and with the area she lives in being Seattle this was doubly awesome (Seattle is my not-so-secret love city-wise, even if I have never been there before). Here's the yarn:

The purple one on top is a Huckleberry Knits Merino/Silk/Yak (60/20/20) with 366m/400.0 yd for 99g/3.5oz, so a classic fingering weight yarn. It's extremely soft to the touch and I'm sure it will be a pleasure to work into something beautiful.

The red one is called Hazel Knits "Entice" (70% Merino, 20% Cashmere, 10% Nylon) and again a classic fingering weight, running 366m/400yd for 115g/4oz. The color is very vibrant and slightly variegated and will come out exceptionally well in something with a simple pattern - I'm thinking e.g. Martina Behm's "Hitchhiker".

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Crafts - Lovely Morticia & next projects

I've been a busy bee! I cast on the next Boo Knits project, a beautiful lace shawl named "Morticia". With me loving all things goth and the "M is for March" challenge going on over at Ravelry this was the perfect pick to extend my bead-working as well as lace knitting skills. I had some dark purple yarn planned for it some time ago but decided to go all black - same yarn though, Lana Grossa Lace Lux - with silver and purple beads (see my last post). Fast-forward 25 days and the shawl was done!

Blocking my last project went well enough but I knew the Morticia shawl would turn out bigger. Since I'm also a little bit of a perfectionist (at least in some areas ;-) ) I finally caved in and ordered some blocking mats and wires for my future works. I barely managed with the amount of mats and found using the wires somewhat challenging as I had to connect the three wires in some way to make the full bend but in the end it turned out quite alright, if I do say so myself:

Sooo, what's up next? I found a pattern for a mid-calf length hooded coat and also found that coincidentally I had the magazine the pattern was from at home already. Gnashing teeth at the estimated yarn costs and my birthday coming up resulted in a very generous gift from my parents (thank you!!!), a voucher for one of my favorite yarn stores. Yarn ordered, Morticia finished, coat cast on :-) I dubbed it "Something Death Would Wear?" in honor of my avatar and favorite comic character, Sandman's Death.

While I'm sure the coat will keep me busy for a while I do have some more Boo Knits' shawls queued up. Other than that I recently acquired various skeins/balls of yarn which ask to be made into something for my daughter, like this Wollmeise "Hoochie Mama" and "Xaverl":

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Crafts - Mustardseed done, Morticia next - beading awesomeness

My knitting/beading hack from last post? Worked like a charm! But first things first...
After working the first beading rows I was hooked ;-) It's fun, it's a challenge (sometimes), it's variety and it's fun! Here's a picture of a lace border repeat, the shawl almost done.


Today I managed to actually wash and block the thing. Did I mention that I -hate- blocking? I still hope I did a reasonable job (minor adjustments happened after this picture was taken)...  I love(d) the pattern and I think, apart from the Dragonfly Shawl, this has been the second fastest piece I've worked. Did I mention I'm on vacation next week and have a lot of knitting time on my hands?

So, now that I knew how to work beads and stumbling over a pattern I've been wanting to do for quite some time, AND Bev calling out March to be M-KAL month (knit-a-long with one of her patterns that start with M) I finally decided to give the Morticia pattern a go. Seriously, how can a (half-)goth like me resist a piece named after a favorite goth/knitting TV character? *grin*
I actually wanted to use the exceptionally beautiful yarn my friend Betsy sent (see this post) but I had used the Lana Grossa Lace Lux in various other projects before and remembered there was a black variety of the yarn as well. So I decided this will probably be a better fit and went to acquire some at one of my favorite stores, Wedermann. Because... my friend & co-worker Anja, who does lots of beading work, recommended Perlenmix as a source of beads to me so naturally I had to go and check. As they're 5 minutes walk from Wedermann one thing lead to the other... and here's what I came home with - I've been good, I swear! ;-)

So, I've cast on my Morticia today and what should I say - it looks way more complicated than it actually is. Bev's directions are meticulous and perfect, everything fits together perfectly (yarn, needle size, beads - thank you, instinct!) and I can't wait to have this beauty finished.The beads are a little bit smaller than I the ones I worked with the Mustardseed shawl above, but as the yarn is a little bit thinner as well they're a perfect match.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Crafts - Knitting/beading hack

My most recent project is a very beautiful crescent-shaped shawl by Boo-Knits called "Mustardseed". It's the third pattern I got from her and it's again exceptionally well written and charted and a dream to follow and knit.

Bev gives you the option of adding beads to the pattern, which I have never done before but decided to try this time. So, off to the crafts supplies store that's closest (which happens to be Hobbykunst Vösendorf, where I also bought the supplies for the stitch markers, see my post about it) and find all required items. Which, after most beading tutorials I found, consist of the actual beads and a very small crochet hook. As I didn't get one that was small enough at this store the helpful young lady working there showed me a hack that she's using for her beading work, so I got the thin silver wire (0.4mm) as well, in case I wouldn't be able to find the crochet hooks (which I later bought in my other favorite crafts store, Neidhart's Nähkistl).

To cut the long story short - beading with this small crochet hook and a fingering weight yarn SUCKS and is a major pain in the ...

I resorted to trying the wire hack and you know what? Works like a charm!!! Here are the step-by-step instructions how to do this:

Cut a small piece off the wire, shape a V out of it. Then, thread the steel wire though the stitch you want to put the bead on, slip the stitch off the needle:

Thread the bead onto both ends of the wire:

Slip the bead down, pulling the wire and the stitch through the bead (like a kind of hook):

Return the stitch onto the left hand needle and work it as usual:

That's what the finished row looks like:

Easy and guarantees not losing any strands of yarn or splitting it, as it's likely to happen with the crochet hook. It's a fantastic way to work beads if you have thicker yarns you work with. I'll keep you posted about the final results, I'm really looking forward to finishing this shawl <3