Prickly Pear Bloom is Moving!

Prickly Pear Bloom is Moving!

And it’s about time, right? I’ve had this here blog for four and a half years, and I’ve finally gotten the gumption to move it to a dedicated server, pricklypearbloom.com! It’s a scary transition, but I’ve done it. Please do follow me there, and update your feed readers with the new feed. I’d hate to lose you! Plus, I’ve finished another sweater!

I was gonna

Protest

Hi there. I was gonna tell you today that the blog is moving. Or I could have told you about the sweater that is Almost! Finished! Will be shortly, now that I’ve received the additional skein of yarn that I needed for the last inch. Or about the business card concepts that I’ve put together for my hairstylist. But those things are going to wait for a couple of more days. Instead I’m going to tell you about this.

Piping

If you watch the news at all, you probably know that there’s stuff afoot at Wisconsin’s capitol these days. It’s kind of weird that we’re in the national headlines for days running. And I’m not the most politically charged person, so I’m not even going to get into my opinion of unions or rights or right and left or what I agree or disagree with here. I don’t feel this is the place for that, the place for that is elsewhere. I am, however, going to say how incredibly proud I am that people are speaking up. Peacefully, at that. It’s too bad that something has happened here to make it necessary for people to protest, but I believe people don’t protest enough. Maybe it’s hypocritical of me to say I don’t want to bring politics here to this blog, yet I wish people would speak out for themselves more often. I apologize for my hypocrisy. Perhaps it’s something I too am finding my way through. But I found myself getting quite emotional the other day, being in that group of tens of thousands of people, all within a few blocks’ area, peacefully standing up for what they believe in. Thank you, Wisconsin, for making me feel human.

Firefighters marching the capitol

So, with that short paragraph, I hope that I haven’t shoved anything distasteful down your throat, and that you will stay with me in the next few days, when I return with a finished sweater, some groovy business card designs, and a new home for this blog.

Chicken Cacciatore & Polenta

Passion+Hard Work

It’s been crazy warm here—warm, but still gray and winter—and I think my brain is on some kind of hiatus, and not really in the place to be talking much, or taking pictures. I need to somehow get back on track to the above message, which I made for the masthead of the website I’m in the process of building for Prickly Pear Creative, but have since replaced with something else, because usually the first go at a design doesn’t work. That’s why it’s a process, I suppose.

But I’ve been cooking!

I am a huge fan of Top Chef, and when Fabio made chicken cacciatore with polenta in a recent episode, it totally inspired me. I found a couple of promising recipes online, and ended up combining them into a pretty awesome chicken dish, that paired so well with some cheesy, creamy polenta. The last time I made polenta, it wasn’t my favorite thing, but I’m glad I tried again, and I think this is the way to go from now on.

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Chicken Cacciatore

6-8 chicken thighs
2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1/2 cup all purpose flour, for dredging
3 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 roasted red peppers, sliced lengthwise
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3/4 cup red wine
2 pints canned tomatoes with juice
3/4 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons drained capers
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano leaves

Season the chicken with salt and pepper and dredge in some flour. Heat olive oil in a large pot, saute chicken for a few minutes on each side to brown. Remove from pan and place on a plate to hold. Add onion, red pepper and garlic to pan and saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Add wine and reduce by about half. Add tomatoes, chicken stock, capers, and oregano, and nestle chicken pieces into sauce. Simmer on medium 30-45 minutes, until sauce is reduced and chicken is cooked and tender. Serve with cheesy polenta or rice.

Cheesy Polenta

1 cup medium or coarse grind cornmeal
3 cups chicken stock, plus extra water
1 tsp (or more) kosher salt
1/2 c-3/4 c grated cheese*

Heat chicken stock in a pan until simmering, with salt. Add cornmeal slowly, whisking while adding to prevent clumps from forming. Cook polenta over low heat, stirring often, for 30-45 minutes, until there are no longer any crunchy bits. If it gets too dry or stiff, add a bit of water periodically and continue cooking.

Remove from heat and stir in grated cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

*I used a hunk of havarti, some pecorino and some parmesan. I’d say use whatever you have in your fridge. This would probably be great with some goat cheese, or any italian cheese, or even cheddar.

Pointy Ears and Pom Poms

Haka

So I still had a bit more than a skein of that huge pink yarn laying around after I made that sweater, and I was thinking maybe a bulky earflap hat with pointy ears and pom poms would be fun. I did a bunch of searching for earflap hats, and found quite a few pointy ones, but only with one elfin point. Which, I’d like one of those someday, too, but I was really hoping for two pointy “ears.” Not sure if I’d have to wing it, on page 20ish I came across Haka, which was just exactly what I was going for. It had a chin strap and a button, which was totally cute, but I opted to modify it with icord tassels terminating in pompoms. Because, go big or go home, right?

Pom Poms

I love it, and was finished in only a few hours, and able to wear it with pride to Grilln’ for Peace last weekend, which, incidentally, has sort of turned into a fun hat party. I even got my picture taken by the Wisconsin State Journal! Although who knows if they published it, because I can’t find anything about it on their website. Oh well.

Grilln' 4 Peace 2011

(Thanks to Jodi for sending me this!, and to Nate for taking these pictures.)

Snow Day (Or, The Great Blizzard of 2011, assuming we don’t have any more)

Driftscape

It’s a snow day! Well, I don’t have a job right now, so I stay home every day anyway, but my husband’s company notified the employees of their closure last night due to the impending blizzard, so he has a snow day. And I’m choosing not to do much work today, too. Instead we spent two hours shoveling. For which we are rewarding ourselves with hot chocolate and peppermint schnapps. And I think we might wander about the neighborhood later, and maybe even go sledding. Our porch was encased in snow this morning, and the drifts were a couple of feet high.

Snow Day

Article Spread

It’s also Knitcircus release day! I’ve been banging the keys and clicking the mouse incessantly for a few weeks on the Spring issue, and I feel like it’s the best yet. I’m so, SO proud of it. Plus, I shot all of the photography for it as well. And made the macarons. Each issue that goes by, I feel more and more connected to this thing. I get deeper and deeper into it every day. And I kind of can’t stop thinking about learning to crochet better so I can make Trellis. I shot it many weeks ago, and liked it, but every time I look at it now it digs itself deeper into my list of things I’d like to make.

I hope you like this issue as much as I do, and that it gets you in the mood for spring. Maybe it’ll offset the blizzard a bit. At least it’s still great weather for knitting!

Place

Place

I’ve got quite a few film images sitting around, waiting to be uploaded to flickr. These are from our trip to Seattle last summer. From the archive, sort of, but still new if you’ve never seen them. And I felt like they fulfilled my interpretation of “place” for Words to Shoot By. There are so many ways to imagine place, but this is one of the places that I long for, that I wish I was right now, when the snow is looming, and winter is not yet done here in this place. I just want to go there and visit my dad again. I wish I had more opportunity to hang out with him. He’s a cool dude.

About those macarons…

Macarons

When I was young, I made meringues. I remember my mom teaching me how, and then it was something cheap and easy and without a ton of butter that I could make for a sugar fix. Not a quick one, necessarily, as I prefer the kind of meringues that bake at a low temperature for a couple of hours so that the shell gets nice and dry and delicately crispy. In my memory I made them all the time after school while my mom was still at work. I could make them in my sleep, not only because I had that much practice, but also because they were EASY. Sugar, egg whites, vanilla. Maybe some cream of tarter for more stability if you had it and felt the need. And then there were a number of years when a staple of my holiday cookie-giving included the cutest meringue mushrooms, little caps and stems glued together with melted chocolate.

I’m not sure about the first time I heard of macarons, but they just LOOKED intimidating. Perfect little delicate cookies, sandwiched with fancy filling. At one point I heard that there were lots of fancy French “rules” for making them, so I was never that interested in even trying. I’m not a huge fan of long lists of rules.

But either through chance, or possibly based on this inspiration image from the mood board that I put together, macarons were going to be the cookie recipe for the spring issue of Knitcircus. And it turned out that maybe they were intimidating to more than just I, because they didn’t get test baked for photography as early as usual, and it was starting to get down to the wire. But when I started thinking about it, they are really just meringue-based cookies. How could they be that complicated? I am a meringue afficionado! I could do this! So I offered to be the test-baker. And lo and behold, they were easy. So, so easy. The hardest part is the piping bag, and if you don’t care about them looking perfect, I’m sure they would be just as tasty if you just dolloped them on the cookie sheet, instead. We ate most of them without filling, anyway.

Nutty

So, I cordially invite you to check out Knitcircus next Wednesday, when the Spring 2011 issue goes live, with the recipe for these macarons, which I helped test and added some tips from my meringue baking experience to hopefully help make the process less intimidating for you all. I can’t share the recipe here, of course, but in the meantime, I’ll pass on my basic meringue recipe. It seems silly to share this, because it’s only three ingredients, and you could probably easily find it yourself out on the internets. But it’s winter in the northern hemisphere, which means for quite alot of us, the air is dry, devoid of meringue-killing-humidity, and perfect for meringue making. And hey, they’re low fat!

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Simple Meringue Cookies

2 eggs whites, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp cream of tarter (optional)*

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

Separate two cold eggs, reserving the yolks for something else, like making ice cream or lemon curd or something delicious and sinful. Put the whites in a medium to large bowl and bring to room temperature. Add the cream of tarter, if using. Using an electric mixer, whip the egg whites until foamy. Being adding the sugar 1–2 tbsp at a time, incorporating slowly to allow the sugar crystals to dissolve in the egg. Once all of the sugar is dissolved, add the vanilla, and beat whites to stiff peaks. Drop by large spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment or a silicone baking mat. Bake for 1 1/2-2 hours. Meringues will have a delicate, crispy outside, and still be somewhat soft in the middle.

*Cream of tarter stabilizes the whipped egg whites, allowing them to whip faster and higher. I’ve made these with and without, and don’t have an opinion one way or the other. Evidently, egg whites that are frozen, or that are aged for 24 hours also whip better. Which means separate them the day before, let them hang out in the fridge, and warm them up a little bit before you whip them. I never think that far ahead, though.

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