Saturday 30 May 2015

Midweek baking: fudge, apparently

I am an enormous fan of Heather Baird's Sprinklebakes blog. It is one of my favourite reads on the internet. Her recipes are always so toothsome and the photography is beautiful. I like the southern American twist her recipes often have and I lust after the dizzying array of cake decorating products and ingredients she has at her fingertips. In fact, the only problem I have is that sometimes I want to bake her stuff but have no access to the ingredients called for.

Triple decker maple peanut butter pretzel fudge (try saying that after a couple of gins) was one such recipe. I love peanut butter, and maple, and pretzels, and yknow, sweets, so this was high on my make-it list. Only, I couldn't find maple extract here, or peanut butter chips. Boo. I duly purchased some peanut butter chips during my last trip to the US, but by the time I did that I had forgotten why I bought them and so I used most of them in a batch of banana muffins last month.

However, I'm running revision for year 11 tomorrow and am going all out on the treats for them, so I remembered this recipe, probably because Heather points out it makes 4 pounds of fudge and only 71 hungry history students are going to be able to make a hole in that. And, as luck would have it, Amazon now stock both peanut butter chips and maple flavouring (still not extract but I can't be too choosy here), so the fudge was made. Here is Heather's recipe, adapted slightly for weight measurements.

150g bag of pretzels (salted, of course....don't go for the sour cream and chive version)
100g dark chocolates
60g melted butter
2 tbsp sugar
1 egg

Line a deep swiss roll tin (I think mine is probably 12x7 inches...a lasagne dish would work here) with greasproof paper, allowing the paper to overhang on all sides. Over a double boiler, heat the butter and chocolate together until they melt. Beat the egg together with the sugar and stir in. The mixture will quickly thicken (mine did, anyway) and become some kind of dreamy, glossy, chocolate curd-type substance. Remove from the heat and stir in the pretzel crumbs. Spread into the prepared tin and set aside to firm up.

Maple-peanut butter fudge:
2 14 oz. cans of sweetened condensed milk
2 10 oz. bags of peanut butter chips (such as Reese's)
1 1/2 tsp. pure maple extract

Combine the condensed milk and peanut butter chips in a large microwaveable bowl. It will look questionable. You will not be sure it is going to work.

Heat at 100% power until melted and smooth, 3-5 minutes. I recommend taking it out and beating it after 3 minutes and then again after 2 more if necessary. I think I probably overheated mine and those pesky chips still had not melted, so I had to deploy the trusty electric hand whisk to get it smooth. Stir in maple extract. Pour mixture over crust, like silky velvet. Refrigerate while you make the ganache.

Chocolate topping:
200g dark chocolate
3 tbsp double cream
More pretzels - maybe half of a second 150g bag, crushed. If you can find mini salted pretzels, they would be ideal to use whole for decoration. Heather uses straight pretzels, but Asda's pretzel selection was not expansive.

Melt the chocolate in the microwave with the cream. Beat until smooth; spread over the fudge. Sprinkle over the pretzels for decoration. Chill until set, then cut into smallish pieces. Definitely do not eat several in one go because you will probably feel quite sick.

Verdict? It is yummy. I would call it caramel rather than fudge, though. For me, fudge always has that texture of something that is almost but not quite still sugar: this is smooth and silky. I would also add more maple flavouring as it's not very pronounced. That is probably because I used flavouring over extract, though.

The Bikram Diaries: 4

I haven't been blogging about it, but I have still been going. I am up to class 26ish now. My latest attempt was on Thursday, when I managed to turn myself out of bed at 5.50am to get to the 6.45am class. Me in my 20s would be equally awestruck and disgusted that me in my 30s is capable/desirous of this. It was a bit of a mess, because I troughed a banana on the way to class and guzzled a bunch of water to make up for the lack of drinking on Wednesday, so I felt quite sick at various points in the class. When the instructor tried to give me some suggestions on how to sit to feel better I got all sulky. She was very understanding, though - she said that she's never participated in such an early class. Apparently they are very good for improving practice but not very enjoyable.

In general, actually, the last few have been harder. The heat's not really a problem anymore, but I have felt, in some ways, less flexible. I think it's probably partly to do with feeling tense about exam season and all the additional jobs I've been doing, and partly to do with being off work and being generally less active, and drinking less. It is interesting trying to pinpoint the tiny changes in lifestyle that might be having and impact.

I have seen some improvements in my practice, though. For a start, I can now get myself into standing bow pose with much less faffing than previously. It is getting easier and easier to get my face onto my knee in all poses that require that. When I am kneeling down, my bum actually touches my heels now. I still can't kneel down and sit on the floor between my heels; but Thursday's instructor mentioned to the class that it took her four and a half years to be able to do that so I won't be too hopeful about that happening any time soon.

I've started looking at yoga types on Instagram for tips on the poses and inspiration to carry on. There are some flexible people out there. As a result, I have downloaded a daily yoga app; on Wednesday I did a little morning yoga in the garden. Norris (the tortoise) was very interested and came up onto the lawn to watch. Or maybe he just wanted food.

I'm also attending a two hour astanga yoga workshop today. It mentions inversions, which I find concerning. There's no way I am attempting to balance on my head.

Wednesday 27 May 2015

Wonderwool 2015

Shocked to discover I haven't yet written about Wonderwool! A massive oversight on my part. We went back to the same bunkhouse (of course) and I slept in the same bed (third year running) and we took pictures of everybody's stash at the end of Saturday (standard)...

This year we also visited the farmer's lambs and helped with feeding. Well, April helped with feeding. I watched and took pictures, because I was wearing a handknit jumper and I didn't want to get milk and/or lamb on it. You can take the girl out of the city, etc.

Of course, there was yarn. I was a bit more restrained this year and actually came home with money in my little bag of £2 coins that I had been collecting all year. I think this was partly to do with my dismay at tipping out last year's yarn from the Wonderwool bag to take to this year's Wonderwool and realising how much of it there was left, and partly to do with my carefully-planned holiday enabling a trip to Jimmy Beans roughly on my birthday this summer. As you may have picked up on, I don't have two minutes to rub together very often these days so heaven knows when it's all going to get knitted up.

Buying less meant a focus on quality over quantity though, so I got some truly luscious stuff.

  • Top row - all buttons from Brimstone. I'm not sure about the little round turquoise ones: they are mounted in little metal crowns that just scream, "I'm going to snag your knitting something chronic." But, I really liked them a lot. 
  • Second row - some light silk and 500g aran cashmere, both from the Knitwitches sales bin. What will I do next year when she is not there? I have no idea why I bought the silk but it's so lustrous and appealing in the flesh. I am hoping the Cashmere will become that Telluride pullover I've been lusting after for months. Then, 600g Idris DK and a skein of softest, cloudiest alpaca, both from Triskelion. I got to this stall and found an old friend working on it, who was easily able to talk me into the single skein. It is so soft I just want to use it for a pillow.
  • Bottom row - Wingspan Kit from Moonlight yarns (local company woohoo!), 500g five moons Diana DK, 4 skeins of heavy laceweight linen from Midwinter yarns (as mentioned in this week's WIP post) and some dichroic glass buttons from Crafts From The Dungeon. I bought some toggles from the same company at Fibrefest years ago and was overjoyed to find these. I tried to chat to the seller about it but she continued her conversation with another customer throughout the entire process of serving me, which I thought was really rude. 
There was also this buckle from Brimstone, which I'm going to put on a hat, Wonderwoman style -

Difficult to pick a favourite, but that five moons was something I forced myself to leave behind on Saturday and then panicked about being sold before I got back on Sunday, so it is probably that. Bit of a departure in terms of my usual colourway but I probably have enough blue in my stash (whisper it quietly). 

It was another joyful and restful weekend away, although I did sit up suddenly in the middle of the night on Saturday and thump my head on the upper bunk. Not ideal. 

We're already planning next year. Better get off the internet and back to the knitting or next year's haul will be even smaller. 

Tuesday 26 May 2015

Half Term WIP

In an echo of the past, I bound off the sweater I was working on during Wonderwool and the first yarn I pulled out of my purchases was the linen. Like last year. And the year before. This is just further evidence of my weird OCD quirks, isn't it?

Oh, how tempting it looked on the Midwinter Yarns stall! It was a Sunday morning purchase - one coral, one glow, two cherry. I planned a colour phasing top. I decided I would make up my own pattern but prevaricated, not wanting to mess it up. Then a good pattern came up in the latest Interweave so I went for that one, even though I'm on tiny needles and still not getting gauge.

This was my progress as of Sunday afternoon. I was onto the second stripe and had realised much too late that just dividing the length of the top by the number of stripes was not going to be a recipe for success, as I'd used almost half the Glow and I was only done with the first of three stripes of it.

The detailing looks so good in the linen, though. I did not regret my choice of pattern for even a moment.

So, I switched to the all-glow stripe a bit early and realised after two inches that I was going to be lucky to get one all-glow four inch stripe out of it, let alone one all-glow four inch stripe and one glow-cherry four inch stripe. If I was one of those proper knitters I would rip right back and make my stripes three inches, but I'm not. I'm afraid if I rip it back I will become so annoyed with it that I won't knit it up again. Like, it will go in the sulky basket, like Breeze on a Sea Air that I loved so much and never finished*. And I like it too much for that to happen. And, as Mr Z pointed out by asking the right question, I don't know if I would have enough yarn for three inch stripes, even.

So, here's my progress to the end of the afternoon -

That is going to be it for the all-glow stripe. I have started on a glow+cherry stripe. I think maybe if it is half as wide as the all-glow stripe, and then I switch to the cherry for the rest of the top, it won't look too weird. I had already planned to do the neck and armhole edging in the red anyway, to tie it all together. Someone on Ravelry asked if the stripes need to be the same width, which of course they don't, but I had an idea in my head of how it would look, yknow? It's going to take time to readjust that mental image. What I really don't want is for it to be really obvious that I ran out of yarn.

On the plus side, it fits. Considering I wasn't getting gauge, went down a size from what I'd normally knit, and then started getting gauge (of course), this is a triumph in itself.

* Spoiler alert - I did get this out the other day and I'm going to begin working on it again when I'm finished with the linen.
In other news, of that FOs post, I only finished three of that seven.

Coming up for air

Today, I have had a day off. I have watched all three episodes of the spooky Remember Me that I recorded last November and haven't yet had time to watch, plus a film. I spent 4 hours chattering in a cafe with an old PGCE student who's moving to Dubai. I visited the supermarket in person, instead of quickly doing an online order of all things I have previously ordered because I'm too busy to browse for new food. And I have knitted. A LOT.

I know this is over-exaggerating, because I am very good at not working on Saturdays and I did have Wonderwool weekend not so long ago, but today feels like the first day I have had actually not working or with a deadline hanging over me since January. It has been an epic few months. I had a deadline for a piece of writing today; last weekend I was working on assignments for the exam board course; the weekend before I was presenting at a history conference; the weekend before was all Y13 and Y11 coursework marking; the weekend before was Wonderwool and worrying about all the work I had to do and when I was going to do it and coming home and working all Sunday evening; I can't remember the weekend before that but I do know that I was too busy to adequately prepare the ski trip video. The weekend before that I was in London for a course, and the two weekends before that was skiing. And you might remember March.

And the revision! Oh, the revision. Three after-school sessions a week. A parents' workshop. I'm going in next Sunday for the last gasp with Y11. And also Ofsted came back for an unannounced follow up to their January visit. They didn't see me, but it just added to the melee that was term 5.

So, today has been a bit weird, really. I've been drumming my fingers and fidgeting and constantly wanting to get up and come upstairs to do work. I have work to do, but thankfully none of it is particularly arduous or pressing. Tutt keeps reminding me that I like hard work; she is right. But, damn. This is starting to get silly.

On the plus side, I did get to meet Lucy Worsley whilst at the history conference. Lucy Worsley! I was star struck. I was chattering to a co-presenter when she walked past and we went and hung around until one of us (him) managed to pluck up the courage to ask for selfies. Her lecture was very funny: showed us a picture of her trying on the crown jewels and told us a good secret about how they figured out the anniversary of Hampton Court is 2015. I'm taking it to the grave Lucy, I swear.

More blog posts to follow, of course, now that I am temporarily free of deadlines. I've got two weeks until marking starts so I am hoping to make the most of it. The publisher has already opportuned on my brief window of time between the end of marking and the summer holiday - a period of roughly two weeks. So, it's nice to be in demand and stuff, but, come on.

Sunday 10 May 2015

Last Weekend's FO

Although I think getting rid of it is a mistake in assessment terms, I am not going to miss coursework when it finally goes. In spite of having had it since Christmas I am still plugging away to get it finished. Hence the tardy post.

Pattern: Feathernest, from Interweave Winter 2014
Yarn: The delicious fivemoons Luna DK, in Squished Blueberry
Needle: 4mm, 5mm
Mods: I did extra increases for the hips - I think I was meant to do 2 lots and I did 4. I made the body longer - just kept knitting until I ran out of yarn - and did less ribbing than called for. I didn't fancy 3 inches of 1x1 ribbing around my widest part.

I realised fairly early on that this is essentially a ribbed jumper and was therefore going to take a while, but I am very glad I kept going with it. The fabric is very stretchy. I particularly like the neckline, which seemed to be too high until the sleeves were added. It's an unusual neckline choice for me, but it's more flattering than I thought it was going to be.

I tried out some new, non-hands-on-hips poses. Clearly I'm ready to leave teaching and pursue a career in catalogue modelling.

Saturday 2 May 2015

The Bikram Diaries: 3

I managed to achieve my goals of last week, and felt very, very proud of myself when my forehead touched my knee in the Tuesday class. I can also reach both feet in front of me in standing-head-to-knee, although I can't extend my leg properly.

Then I had about a week off. I went back on Wednesday, and I was not hopeful for a good class. I was absolutely exhausted thanks to two very late nights in a row, and I hadn't eaten properly, but I was having a maniacal work week and had to do some exercise to try and reset myself. However, it was a surprise to me when I looked up to see the instructor leaning down, whispering, "Are you OK?" because I had FALLEN. ASLEEP. And worse? I had my back to him, so I can only think that he knew to come over because I snored.

I know it's not unusual to fall asleep in yoga, particularly when the meditation bit happens, but it is very hot in there and it's not at all restful. I don't ever feel sleepy, not even in the corpse pose at the end (which is when I normally fall asleep in other classes). It was a bit wake up call. As was the fact that I had to wuss out of at least half the class. I was very apologetic at the end but the instructor was really nice and told me to give myself more credit and at least I showed up. Yeah. I bet they teach them to say things like that on the instructor course.

Today was a triumph, however. On my way out, the instructor told me I had the best cobra pose in the class! Left feeling great. And, I managed to grab my right foot in the correct manner for standing bow pose, instead of having to shuffle my hand around; and I actually touched my left foot whilst holding my right foot in lying bow pose. And also I realised that the bow in the pose refers to the type you use with an arrow, and not the thing you tie with a ribbon. All this time I have been wondering how that posture could look like a ribbon bow. Um, dur.

They're not all so motivating, the instructors. After last Tuesday's class, I saw the instructor in the changing room and she said she could see I had made progress. "Yes," I replied, "and it is really motivating to see progress every class." "Ah," she replied, "but after a while you will plateau and you'll find you won't make any progress for a long time, and it's important you keep coming then." Wow. I shall consider my parade officially rained on, thank you.