A picture of sartorial elegance… not

The sartorial elegance bit? It ran through my head when I was taking out the trash yesterday, wearing my Ruby Sheep PJ bottoms, a black sweatshirt, and a dark red and black plaid wool coat. Hmm. Maybe I’ve been working at home too much… speaking of which, Monday and Tuesday were 17-hour days, so all you get for this post is a contest link, some of my wee book reviews, and a cat picture or two.

Shannah’s having a contest. Let her know what your favorite handcrafted gift was this year, and you could win some sock yarn and a surprise. Contest closes at midnight, January 6.

Reading Update
Casting Spells by Barbara Bretton. This was absolutely delightful. Recommended for knitters who enjoy a bit of fantastical romance. Plus it has a black cat on the cover. How could you go wrong?
Just Desserts by Barbara Bretton. Nothing paranormal or knitting related in this romance, but it was a decent read.
Hex Appeal by Linda Wisdom. The sequel to 50 Ways To Hex Your Lover is another enjoyable read, although there were a number of major inconsistencies that kept jolting me out of the story.
It Itches: A Stash of Knitting Cartoons by Franklin Habit. Delightful. This was a birthday present from Deb, but I’ve just been reading a cartoon here and there for the past five weeks, anticipating.
Dark Lover, Lover Eternal, Lover Awakened, Lover Revealed, and Lover Unbound (The Black Dagger Brotherhood, Books 1-5) by J.R. Ward. Very good vampire romance – I really am not able to put these down. Bits of it seemed reminiscent of the Dark-Hunters. Ward does this sort of cruel but effective bit where she starts gearing up the next book before the end of the current book. She ties up the current story, but you definitely know what the next book’s going to be about and are eager to get your hands on it. Much more effective than a complete cliffhanger, which drives me nuts. Oh, and some of the books (Lover Awakened, Lover Unbound) had me sobbing. Just so you know to have the tissues handy… Also please note that these are very, very steamy and a bit dark.
Sex and the Single Witch by Theresa Alan, Holly Chamberlain, and Carly Alexander. Very light’n’fluffy short stories that were actually a nice break from the intensity of the Black Dagger Brotherhood. However, not particularly recommended.
The Cursed One (The Wild Wulfs of London) by Ronda Thompson. One of the later books in this series about werewolves in England in the early 1800s. I enjoyed it, even though historicals tend not to be a favorite.
Wolf at the Door (The Others, Book 1) by Christine Warren. Can an Irish werewolf and a NYC foxwoman find happiness together? Kelley Armstrong’s Otherworld might have been a bit of the inspiration behind this series, but this is much lighter and more chick lit feeling.

“Oh, for fur’s sake, the last thing she needs is more pink feathers.” -Chaos

“Silly big kitty. You can never have too many pink feathers!” -Mayhem

“Unhand my feathers, Mom! Mine! Mine! Mine!!” -Mayhem

Happy New Year! I may or may not post on Friday, January 2. It’ll be a surprise to all of us.

Tuesday is apparently for obscured thank yous

D’oh! I can’t believe how far behind I’ve gotten on thank yous! Bad Chris. No biscuit.

Elspeth sent me cat’n’music’n’yarn goodness. Thank you, E! Look at all the adorable kitty swag from the Japanese store near E – isn’t that fan the best?! It’s obscuring a stack of mix cds, because E and I share a deep passion for making mixes. And May is obscuring some nifty plum and black sock yarn.

“Why do you need all this cat stuff when you have me and the big kitty, Mom?” -Mayhem

Shush, May. Silly question! 😉 Jane sent me a very cool coffee towel, one of her gorgeous photo calendars for 2009, and a cute project bag she sewed (um, you have to sort of imagine the bag, since Chaos is obscuring it). Thank you, Jane!

“Hmph. All I like to do with coffee is stick my paw into it when you’re not looking, Mom.” -Chaos

Um, too much information there, Chaos. Ewww! The Paos sent Jeanne and I some lovely Christmas goodies. (They may or may not be regretting that as they work on the 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle we sent them). I received some fun stripey yarn, a purple notebook (made from recycled retail packaging), a Zip-It bag, and some of my beloved dark chocolate-covered rice cakes (tragically only available in the UK) (you have to imagine what they look like, because I’ve already eaten them). There’s also a book for Jeanne and I to share, which May is kindly obscuring (Notes on a Scandal). Thanks, Paos!

“This looks like it would be a fun toy.” -Mayhem

“Maaaaaaaaaaay. You’re obscuring my view! I can’t see the stuff!” -Chaos

I sent Susie that pair of Keen MaryJanes that just weren’t working for me, and she sent me a box of STR, black kitty book plates, Hello Kitty gum, Emily the Strange lip balm (Chaos is obscuring that), and hot pink feathery goodness for the kitties. Thanks, Susie!

“I wonder if I would like kitty gum?” -Chaos

“Hot. Pink. Feathers. Duuuuuuuuuude.” -Mayhem

May was so excited about the hot pink feathers that she stole the toy before I could even remove it from the packaging! Then she cried the entire time when I snatched it back and removed it from the packaging.

*hot pink feather fizzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz* -May’s brain


I hope everyone had a much healthier break than did I! I made it through our family Christmas Eve celebration, but then a very evil cold took me out for the next few days. We’ll see how long I make it at work today…

Anyway! Now that the top secret knitting has been gifted, I can finally post about it. I knitted the Lion Brand Artful Afghan for my brother and SIL’s cabin. (Please note that these pictures were taken before washing, when the ripply edges vanished.)

“Stripey!” -Mayhem

“What is this stuff?! This is my favorite yarn ever! I love this!” -Chaos

Yes, ’tis true – turns out Chaos’ favorite yarn is Wool-Ease. (Jeanne has suggested that I use the leftovers to knit an afghan for him.) Let’s just say that knitting an afghan with a stitch count of 748 for the last round is much more challenging when a 15-pound cat insists that he must be on your lap wrapped in the afghan as you knit.

“If I hide under it, you can’t see me and you’ll know it’s mine.” -Chaos

“Um, everything ok under there, big kitty?” -Mayhem

“Go away! Mine!” -Chaos

Woe of the Toe

Let Eryka know whether or not you attend craft shows and you could win a $25 KnitPicks gift card on December 31.

Thanks (?!??) to Van for alerting me to these fugly holiday sweaters… Swallow all coffee and cereal and brace yourselves before you click, ok?

Office a little quiet before the holiday? Make an origami reindeer from a box to keep yourself entertained.

You can blame all shopping malls on Minnesota. Sorry ’bout that.

Ever wondered what happens to those socks that vanish in the washing machine? Wonder no longer.

Here’s a clever trick to keep that poor right index finger from getting maimed by sharp needle tips.

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books is having eight days of giveaways. The first giveaway (not romances!) will probably be over by the time you read this, but there are still seven more on the way.

Apparently “business is booming” at Minnesota’s public libraries due to the recession.

Reading Update
Ghost Moon (The Moon Series, Book 7) by Rebecca York. Enough with the excursions to the parallel universe, please. Thank you.
How To Knit a Wild Bikini by Christie Ridgway. This is the first book in a chick lit knitting series set in Malibu. I’m looking forward to reading the next book!
Backup: A Story of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. Although published as a small hardcover, this is really a short story told by Thomas, not Harry.
“A Jaguar’s Kiss” by Lora Leigh, from Shifter. Yes, there were three other stories in this collection of paranormal romance, but I couldn’t get into them. Leigh’s story was ok, but definitely not one of her best.
Playing Easy To Get by Sherrilyn Kenyon, Jaid Black, and Kresley Cole. Steamy. Very steamy. I liked the Kresley Cole vampire’n’Valkyrie story the best. The Sherrilyn Kenyon story wasn’t a Dark-Hunter story – it was from her B.A.D. series.
50 Ways To Hex Your Lover by Linda Wisdom. Vampires and witches and evil bunny slippers, oh my! This was a fun’n’fluffy paranormal romance – the next book is already in my to-read pile. (But please note – it’s really cheating to name a book based on a throwaway line in said book…)
I Want You To Want Me by Kathy Love. Apparently this is the most recent book in a series. Or it might just be the second book in a series. Not exactly easy to figure out. Anyway, this is a story about a sculptor and a lhampir (somehow derived from dhampir?!), set in New Orleans.

Still completely loving MaryLou’s sock pattern and am surviving my first top-down sock experience… mostly.

“But Mom, that’s my favorite bit because it matches me! I don’t understand why you’re cursing at it. And really, I’m not sure I’m old enough to hear language like that.” -Mayhem

And for a little color/preview of coming attractions… (I told May to watch out so MamaTulip doesn’t steal her toy!)  😉

*my toy my toy my toy my toy MY toy MINE MINE MINE* -Mayhem

Look! Over there! Kitty tummy! (aka I got nothin’ here)

Happy Solstice, belatedly! Spring can’t come soon enough – I’ve had enough of winter already. Friday night and Saturday it snowed. Sunday it was bitterly cold and windy. The kitties and I hung out. I finished a few last minute present details. The kitties napped. I read. The kitties napped. I knitted. The kitties napped. You get the picture. 🙂

Here’s a little kitty nap action. Can’t you just feel the excitement?!

*zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz……..* -Mayhem

Extremely tasty cornbread stuffing/dressing recipe, plus random linkage

After reading about how many of you were about to head to the grocery story for ingredients yesterday, I’m looking forward to hearing many exciting tales of crafting candy from cryptic recipes! (I think Van would like someone to send him some peanut butter cups…)

If you ever see one of these lamps in someone’s house, you absolutely must take a picture for me! Ye gads. (Also? Probably your host is a vampire and you should run.)

I wonder what size knitting needle it takes to knit a couch?

Oh dear – ‘twould be mortal peril indeed for me to try this.

Did you know that heat is a leading cause of laptop problems? I’m a big fan of laptops stands for keeping your laptop from overheating – and my favorite is not the kind that contains USB-powered fans. Check out Lifehacker’s great list of DIY laptop stands – I love the three-ring binder variant (although I would probably cut vents in the binder to help cool the laptop).

Had I been thinking, I would’ve posted this recipe before Thanksgiving. But as Brigitte pointed out, some people do eat turkey for other holidays.

Cornbread Dressing
The day before you need the stuffing, make enough cornbread for a 9×13 pan. This should be a savory, not sweet, cornbread recipe. This works well for me:

Preheat oven to 425F. Grease a 9×13 cake pan.

Combine the following dry ingredients:
2 cups cornmeal
2 cups GF flour blend (I usually use Bob’s Red Mill All-Purpose GF Flour)
6 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

Combine the following ingredients in a separate bowl:
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup veggie oil or melted margarine (I use Earth Balance Buttery Sticks)
2 cups buttermilk or plain yogurt
2 beaten eggs

Combine all ingredients quickly. Do not mix until it’s smooth. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the edges are light brown.


The next day, cube the cornbread (I made 1+” cubes) and toast in the oven at 350F until lightly browned. Meanwhile, saute the following in a little bit of olive oil or butter:

1-2 onions, chopped
4-6 stalks celery, chopped
1 c portabello mushrooms, chopped
1 apple, chopped (do not peel)


1 sweet Italian turkey sausage, cooked and cut into very small cubes
1 4 oz can chopped black olives
1-2 T parsley flakes
1+ T poultry seasoning
1/2 – 1 tsp fennel
32 oz gf chicken or turkey broth

In a large bowl, mix the toasted cornbread, sauteed veggies, turkey sausage, chopped black olives, and seasonings. Add the broth and mix well. You may need to add some water to make the dressing sufficiently moist.

Bake at 325-350F in a 9×13 pan or in a casserole dish for 30-60 minutes, until dressing turns golden on top.

“So tired… who knew how exhausting it was to be a princess?!” -Mayhem

The hand-crafted candy edition

Earlier this week, when Carole posted about making candy, it reminded me of all the homemade candy recipes my family has. These are traditionally made during the holiday season and most of them are inherently gluten-free, although definitely not lactose-free!

Enjoy… and be brave and observant. Those old family recipes are often cryptic and filled with assumptions and odd ingredients. (Chocolate bark?!) My favorites are the peanut butter cups, bon bons, and can’t fail fudge.

1 c chopped nuts
1/2 c butter
3/4 c brown sugar
6 oz chocolate chips

Butter 8″ square pan. Spread nuts on bottom. Mix butter and brown sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and boil seven minutes on low heat. (You can boil the butter and brown sugar in a microwave instead. However, the recipe directions are a bit cryptic: #7 setting. 4:44. Stir. 3:33.)

Pour over nuts. Place chocolate chips on top and cover the pan for a few minutes to soften the chips. Spread chips with a knife. When the toffee is cool, break into pieces. (Check out Bridget’s toffee recipe, which has action shots!)

Nut Caramels
2 c sugar
2 c sweet cream
1 1/2 c dark corn syrup
1/4 lb butter (1/2 c)
3/4 – 1 1/2 c chopped walnuts
2 tsp vanilla

Butter 13×9 pan. Combine sugar, cream, syrup, and butter in heavy saucepan. Bring to boil, stirring every two minutes. Boil to soft ball stage or 242F. (The boiling business takes a long time.) Add nuts and vanilla. Pour into prepared pan.

For chocolate caramels, add 2 1/2 squares unsweetened chocolate with the nuts and vanilla.

Microwave (no risk of scorching, but again with the cryptic)
Use a covered glass bowl that’s more than twice the volume of the ingredients (2 1/2 quarts works well). Times are approximate. Stir slowly and carefully since mixture bubbles up, almost flaring. Still easier than on top of stove.

First – High: 7:77, 5:00 (stir after each listed time)

Then on #7: 8:88, 8:88, 8:88, 8:88, 8:88 – may need more 8:88 or 5:55. Use candy thermometer the last four times.

Peanut Butter Cups
1 c creamy peanut butter
1/2 c butter or margarine
2 scant c powdered sugar
2-3 pkg chocolate bark (you can use semisweet chocolate chips instead, but I’m mystified about the amount you’d need)

Mix together peanut butter, butter or margarine, and powdered sugar. Form into small, slightly flattened balls. Melt chocolate, place some in small paper cup (small cupcake papers), add peanut butter ball, press a little, and cover with more choc. These can be frozen.

Chocolate Cream Drops (Bon Bons)
Melt 1/2 cup butter. Add 2 lbs powdered sugar, 1 can Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk, 7 oz finely shredded coconut, and 1/2 cup chopped nuts.

Chill until firm, then roll into small balls and chill again.

For the coating, melt 6 oz choc chips, 1/2 block paraffin wax, and 1 sq Baker’s chocolate in double boiler. Dip bon bons in chocolate and set on waxed paper. These can be frozen.

Can’t Fail Fudge
3 c semisweet or double chocolate chocolate chips (1.5  12-oz bags)
1 14-oz can fat-free Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk
2 tsp vanilla

Melt chips in microwave. (I do 2 1/2 minutes, stir, then 2 1/2 more minutes.) Stir chips – they should be smooth (i.e., no unmelted chips!). Add vanilla and sweetened condensed milk. Stir until well mixed. Using a rubber spatula, transfer to either individual containers, or to a greased 8″ pan with waxed paper on the bottom (if you want to dump out the fudge and cut it). Pat it smooth with rubber spatula.

Divinity Fudge
2 c sugar
1/2 c light corn syrup
1/2 c water
2 egg whites
1 c chopped nuts
1 tsp vanilla

Boil sugar, syrup, and water until mixture turns brittle when dropped into cold water. Pour slowly over stiffly beaten egg whites. Add nuts and vanilla. Beat until mixture is creamy. Pour in buttered pan.

Maple Cream Fudge
4 c brown sugar
2 tbsp gf flour blend
2 tsp baking powder
1 c unsweetened (evaporated) milk
1 tbsp butter
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla

Blend dry ingredients together in a saucepan, stir well, and add milk and butter. (Chris: No idea what temperature you should use for this!) Stir constantly as mixture will scorch easily. Cook until soft ball forms in cold water. Add vanilla. Let stand about 5 minutes or until partly cooled. Beat until thick, then spread in buttered pan. (Chris: I’m guessing a 13×9 pan. Guessing!)

“I want candy. Tuna candy. Why didn’t you share that recipe, Mom?” -Mayhem

And sometimes the title well runs dry

Life in Minnesota has been very cold and snowy this week. Enough said.

Zonda’s celebrating her third blogiversary with a contest! Leave a comment by December 23 for your chance to win a cool calendar or lovely yarn.

If you have a little time and effort to put into it, you could have the chance to win a Sony ebook reader.

To find more reading-related contests, Literary Escapism and Vampire Wire always seem to have links to a few.

Worth reading: Lilith Saintcrow’s column about urban fantasy, including how the first (but not the recent) Anita Blake novels kickstarted the genre. Not sure which is more over-the-top – the column or the comments!

Huh. Socket antlers. I’d guess they’re not recommended for homes with children or pets…

Look! A holiday greeting from the cats! I never thought of Chaos and Mayhem as deprived… until I saw this. More on the thumb issue… Oh, that reminds me. Recently, I was cutting kitty claws and was grousing to myself (as usual) about how hard it is to trim May’s dewclaws. Why the heck is it so easy to trim Chaos’ dewclaws and so hard to trim May’s?! And then I realized… Chaos has protothumbs, not dewclaws. O noes! (Looking for a good dewclaws link led me to this Wiki article…)

Reading Update
Sex, Lies and Online Dating by Rachel Gibson. More nicely done romantic suspense! And even better, it looks like Gibson has other books related to this one.
Shadows on the Soul and Hungers of the Heart (The Guardians of the Night, Books 3-4) by Jenna Black. Ok, I’m obviously totally sucked into this series, no matter what misgivings I have. That doesn’t mean I can overlook the massive plot weaknesses/gaps in the fourth book. Sheesh.
The Devil Inside (Morgan Kingsley, Exorcist, Book 1) by Jenna Black. This is some pretty extreme stuff. Not sure I want to read more of the series, as this book left me feeling vaguely queasy.
The Mammoth Book of Vampire Romance. With stories by Lilith Saintcrow, Keri Arthur, and more, this was by far the best short story collection I’ve read in a very long time.
Uncommon Grounds by Sandra Balzo. An enjoyable cozy mystery about Maggy Thorsen, PR executive turned coffeeshop owner. This mystery is set in “Brookhills,” Wisconsin, which is apparently based on the real Brookfield, Wisconsin. I’m the next person on the list at the library for the second book in this series.

“Ends? What ends? I have no idea what you’re talking about, Mom. Were you installing some socket antlers for my further chewing pleasure?” -Mayhem

A radical knitting development!

No, Marina, not that radical. 😉

But first, some announcements.

Check out Eryka’s new Etsy portal for knits called Knitsy.

Trek was hit with a surprise Box Tops for Education request and is begging looking for all the help she can get to fulfill it!

Please let Ms. Concateknit know if you’ve donated to any cause recently. Non-profits such as pet rescue organizations and food banks are seeing a lot of use these days and need all the help they can get. On December 31st, Ms. Concateknit will randomly select a lucky donor to win a New Year’s gift from she and her adorable rescue dogs.

KitKatKnit’s giving away some really ugly Lorna’s Laces (um, can you tell I love the yarn and don’t really want you to enter?!) and other goodies. Leave her a comment by 4:04 PST, December 21, about your favorite holiday candy tradition – and watch this spot for a whole bunch of holiday candy goodness later this week.

Ok, back to the knitting stuff. A few weeks ago, MaryLou asked for test knitters for her gorgeous new Tendrils Rib Socks. I looked at the pictures and saw twisty little stitches. I love twisty little stitches! So I volunteered. MaryLou quickly sent the pattern and I realized… the socks were top-down. Now, I’ve easily knit 70 pairs of socks over the past eight years… and every pair was toe-up. But since being a test knitter means knitting the pattern as written, I forged ahead (with Jeanne snickering in the background).

I dug out two skeins of Original STR in Beryl and cast on. And cast on. And cast on again. Moving right along, I’ve finished the leg and done the heel flap. (I’ll try not to mention the trauma of knitting a heel flap that just… flaps there. Unattached to anything. *shudders* Well, I guess I’ll try not to mention the trauma too many times at least…) My mind boggles at what has to happen next for this to become a sock!

Fortunately, the twisty stitches are making me very happy and I’ll definitely knit this pattern again… toe-up. 😉

“Hmm. I wonder how I can get at those socks again? Mom’s been excessively careful with them since I added four extra ends last week. Curses.” -Mayhem