Friday, February 16, 2018

February flowers

Hello! It's Friday night and I'm relaxing in front of the TV with the Bear. We had a good day today. It was Private Friday and we opted to stay home most of the morning, before going to the library and lunch. He had work to do this morning and I was happy to sit on the couch and read. The weather wasn't very nice - we had our best storm of the winter from Wednesday to Thursday, with lingering cold and dampness today - and it was good to stay inside and relax. At the library, I picked up my hold book, a new biography of my girl Stevie Nicks. Then we went to a bakery/sandwich shop and ate paninis. We picked up the small Bears at school and came home for more relaxation. I made fish and chips (frozen Gorton's fillets and french fries). The children recently went to bed and now we're watching This Old House. Soon, I'll make our customary Friday night stove popcorn, and we'll be watching The Grand Tour - not my favorite, but I do like to support other people's interests from time to time.

Thank you for the nice things you said about my budding Elise Shawl. I'm still plugging away. I'm only just starting to find it a bit easier lately, but it's still slow going. That's okay, I'm not in any hurry. Making it has inspired me to try crocheting other garments for myself eventually. I'd like to make some shrug-type sweaters to wear with dresses and sleeveless tops. I have a few patterns in mind, but I'm not really sure where to begin with yarn. I'd like to use something nicer than my usual budget-priced acrylic yarns, which I love for blankets, and preferably a natural fiber. But my budget isn't going to grow much, so I have to really look. If you have a suggestion for a nice, affordable yarn I might try, please share. I'm very open to ideas.

Speaking of low-priced yarn, I did buy some Vanna's Choice worsted acrylic this week, to add to my blanket stash. I realized that even though I'm on a stash-busting mission, I was missing a few colors that I needed to tie the others together. I like Vanna's Choice well enough. I prefer I Love This Yarn, but last time I went to Hobby Lobby, their stock was very low in the kinds of colors I like. I didn't want to keep running back there, and I have trouble justifying an online order when HL is, like, five minutes from my house, so I bought the Vanna's instead. Whatever it takes to get this stash down, right? I knew you'd agree.

Have you been watching the Olympics? We try to watch a little every night. I greatly prefer the winter games over the summer ones. I've been watching figure-skating, as I always do, and thinking about the Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding scandal of 1994. I was a teenager, watching every night with my whole family around a small TV set. I remember being pretty defensive of Tonya, which kind of appalls me now, but I thought she was cool, I guess. It was all we talked about - me, my sisters, our friends. We ate it up; we had a horrendous winter (in New York, where I grew up) that year, with something like 23 school days cancelled for snow. We needed something to do. Everyone took a side. At the time, my favorite TV show was COPS; I think I've always been attracted to people acting their worst. The Nancy-Tonya scandal combined such exciting elements - violence, glittery costumes, sneering women, fabulous athleticism - it was better than COPS, even. I haven't seen the new movie about Tonya, but I did watch the ESPN documentary a few years ago. I hope they're both doing okay now. I feel a little badly for contributing to the drama by being such an avid consumer back then, but it was the thing to do in that long, miserable winter. I'm glad to see better sportsmanship this time; adult-me prefers kindness and friendly competition over the cutthroat ugliness cheered on by kid-me.

I think winter has finally come to my neck of the woods, after months of warm, dry weather. This week's storm brought about three-quarters of an inch of rain to my backyard, with snow at higher elevation up the mountain. I've enjoyed having cold, damp weather for a change. There may be more coming in the early part of next week. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Meanwhile, spring is starting to happen outside too; there are tiny green shoots coming up in my backyard planter beds, and the winter jasmine is in full, golden bloom in the front yard. We cleared out the backyard beds and pruned everything in the front yard over the past few weekends, so we should be ready for the new spring growth.

This week, I was given a beautiful vase of yellow tulips for Valentine's Day. They're the kind that have the bulb attached at the bottom of the vase, in a couple of inches of water. I'm so excited about these tulips. You're supposed to be able to plant the bulbs for future blooms. I've had terrible luck with bulbs here (squirrels dig them up and eat most of them), but I'm willing to try again. I love tulips so much. I do have one small yellow one that comes up every year in the backyard bed. I can see it from the kitchen sliding doors, tiny and bright.

This weekend, we'll be taking it easy at home, puttering and hanging out. We've had a few sniffles and we're tired from a hard few weeks of endless school projects and work commitments. We won't really have a break from school until the end of March, unfortunately, but I know we're all counting down. In the meantime, we're relaxing as we can and enjoying the stay-home weather we're getting at the moment. I'm going to finish my little red coffeepot cross-stitching and start the teapot. I have plenty of crochet and lots of new library books. I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Crochet frontiers

Happy Thursday! It's almost the weekend. I hope you've been having a good week. Thank you for all the nice things you said about my blog after my last post. I hope you know I wasn't fishing for compliments, but it's lovely to receive them all the same. I really just wanted to let you know that I've been struggling a little bit lately with blogging. I worry sometimes that there isn't much I can share here that will keep people's attention anymore. I shouldn't let myself get caught up in those kinds of thoughts, but it does happen now and then. The main thing is that I love blogging and I plan to keep doing it. Thanks again for your support and kindness, and for sticking around to read what I share here. It makes me happy to know that I bring something enjoyable to your life.

Today, I want to share something new I've been working on. I have been hoping to expand my crochet horizons lately, by trying to create more wearable items, and using different kinds of yarn. That's one reason I've been trying to plow through my sizeable stash of worsted acrylic yarn, which is most appropriate for blankets. I'd like to have more space for other types of yarn, to make different things. I've wanted to do this for a while now, but it was a little daunting when I thought about all the yarn I needed to move out before I could.

After Big Gulp, I've made a good dent, so I'm letting myself take a little dip into the new frontiers I've been dreaming about. I'm trying my hand at lace crochet! Yes. I'm starting with the very popular Elise Shawl by Evan Plevinski (link goes to Ravelry; there's a free pattern download). I have had the pattern in my Ravelry library for several years. I've always liked the look of this design when I've seen it on blogs (Meredith is a prolific maker of beautiful Elise Shawls). Also, the shawl shares its name with someone very dear to me, which is one reason it caught my eye in the first place.

It took several tries to get to grips with the pattern, which was very confusing to me at first. I finally figured it out and it's been smoother since, but I wouldn't say easy, exactly. Not yet. I'm working fairly slowly and I have a long way to go, but it is making more sense now. One cool thing is that I'm using a stitch marker as I work, to help me keep track of the center stitch in each row. I recently upgraded from my first set of plastic markers, which were breaking one by one as I used them (I guess the plastic dried out or something), to much more durable metal ones. I feel like a Really Serious Fiber Artist.

The shawl is meant to be crocheted with a light yarn, such as sock-weight. I'm still learning about yarn types and weights - I've pretty much only used worsted or DK/baby/sport-weight yarn in most of my crochet, with a few attempts at thread crochet. So I wasn't totally sure what to use for this shawl, but in my poking around at the craft store, I came across Lion Brand Shawl in a Ball, which seemed like a really good way to start. Plenty of yardage, a light, airy weight, and many pretty variegated colorways, so I didn't need to worry about buying lots of shades. The yarn is a cotton-acrylic blend; the colored part is acrylic and the white ("slub") part is cotton.

I searched within the Elise Shawl projects on Ravelry for shawls made with Shawl in a Ball, and they looked lovely to me, with the colors pooling beautifully in the crochet. I chose the Calming Desert colorway because I really liked the purple-to-orange progression within it. This yarn has been a learning experience for me; it's finer and softer than most yarns I've used, and the texture is a bit inconsistent - smooth and silky in some places, sort of fuzzy in others, but I think that's part of the appeal. Worked up, the shawl is lightly rustic, pretty but not overly polished. I'm using an I/9 (5.5mm) hook, one size smaller than Lion Brand's recommendation; for me, the larger hook made the yarn harder to work with.

And check this out - blocking mats! I've only done a little bit of blocking here and there, with small decorations crocheted with cotton yarns. But this shawl is going to need a pretty good amount of blocking and shaping when it's all finished, to give it the beautiful winged shape and to give the stitch pattern the openness and definition needed for the beautiful lacy design to show up. I ordered these Hephaestus Crafts blocking mats, which also included a box of T-pins, from Amazon. I haven't used them yet, but they seem sturdy and well-made, and I'm looking forward to trying them out. I can't wait to see how this shawl works out; I'm not sure it will be gift-grade on my first try, but I'd wear it myself and keep trying. For now, I'm just really glad to be learning something new.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Winter waning

Hello! I hope you're having a good weekend. Here, it's Super Bowl Sunday and I'm getting some things organized so we can have a fun plate-on-your-lap kind of dinner later on while we watch the game. I did laundry all morning and I'm so glad that's over now.

It's good to be back here on my blog again. I'm still having some trouble finding interesting things to say and share here; life has been quiet and pleasant, and I'm feeling much better after a stressful few months. But I'm starting to notice that blogs are disappearing and that worries me. I don't have any plan to quit my blog, but I do think I need to adopt a new mindset. Instead of wondering whether the things I write here are interesting enough (there's enough navel-gazing in the world), I'm just going to assume that if you've been reading my blog for a while (I've been doing this over five years now, holy cow), then you like the kind of mundane, daily-life stuff I share. You're not looking for beautifully styled food, artfully battered furniture or expertly planned wardrobes. And a good thing, too - I don't have any of it. I completely get that there are lots of places to go for inspiration, and far be it from me to dictate where anyone else should look for it. I just wanted you to know, lovely reader, that I'm still here and still thinking basic, everyday life stuff. It's what I do, and who I am, so it should be what I write about.

Thank you for the lovely things you said about my Big Gulp blanket. I'm really happy with it, especially because it's big and warm, and it used up so much yarn. I still have plenty left over to make at least one more blanket. I'm thinking about something with hexagons. I've tried them in the past and given up quickly, but I feel like giving them another shot. Some of my oldest blankets, which we use in the family room for TV-watching and tent-building, mainly, could stand to be replaced. I've realized lately just how important proper sewing-in of ends actually is, because when I look at my early blankets where I tended to take it for granted, there are holes and unraveling sections galore. My first ripple, made in 2011, looks like a big slice of Swiss cheese. Sew your ends in properly, kids. Avoid blanket cheese.

I've been cross-stitching while I think about the next stash-busting, cheese-replacing blanket. I'm working on the Vintage Red Coffee Pot design from Stitchrovia, a cross-stitch pattern shop on Etsy. I also plan to stitch the similar design, Little Vintage Tea Pot, and hang them together in my kitchen. I bought the patterns way back in 2014 and have been excited to make them ever since, but other projects kept coming up. I really like Stitchrovia, by the way; the designs are modern, colorful and very striking visually. I have also stitched the adorable, kitschy Retro Kitchen Sampler design, which has been hanging in my kitchen for a couple of years. I'm thinking about doing this Strawberries and Cream design eventually too. My kitchen has a strawberry theme, and there's a wall in the breakfast nook that I really want to restyle. Right now it has a poster-sized, framed botanical print of strawberry plants and...that's it. The wall has looked this way since 2009 and was meant to be a stopgap while I decided what I wanted. Nine years later, I really think it's high time to move on.

I wanted to report on our successful new plan where the LB stays at the library for computer coding club by himself. It's going so well. I'm really pleased. He already knows a lot about coding (programming), but he's learning a lot of new things (to his great surprise; I knew he still had plenty of room but you know how it goes). The club is for ages 12-17, and the kids are at all different ability levels. They provide snacks, which is obviously a selling point (I've heard about mini bags of chips, granola bars, and Red Vines licorice whips). The instructor is also one of the children's librarians and we've known her for ages, so he's comfortable with her and I'm happy knowing she's a good egg. Really, it's been a great addition to our family's life. I'm proud of him, especially. He's growing up and while I'm not always thrilled about that, we're figuring it out together. 12 has been easier in certain ways that 10 and 11 were. I don't know if that's true for girls as well, but I guess I'll soon find out.

We finally had some snow about two weeks ago. And by "some," I mean a very tiny dusting. We woke up to a thin layer of snow that was really more like a sheet of ice. It was kind of dangerous, actually. The back patio was like glass. But there was a little snow on the tops of the railroad ties edging the planter bed, and a little fluffy layer covering the empty pots on the patio, and even a little on the trees. It was nice while it lasted. Now it's warm out, like so often happens in February. It could still go back to being cold again, but it's been such a weird winter that I won't count on that. A shame, really, because I love winter. I look forward to bad weather, wind in the chimney and fires in the fireplace. I hope there's still a little more to come.

All the same, I'm already thinking about summer. We'll continue with swimming and diving lessons. I will need to consult the library summer programs calendar when that gets released, but I'm sure we'll make it to many of those events, as we always do. I've made camping reservations already, for one weekend in June and one in July. We're going to try one new campground this year (well, new to me and the kids; the Bear has camped there in the past), and stick with one of our old favorites too. I'm hoping for dry weather, unlike last summer's monsoonal experience, but we'll make it work whatever happens. I really like camping, and there's a lot to be said for adaptability and resilience, or so they tell me. I mostly agree, but I also like dryness and comfort. Oh, did I mention that the new-to-me campground has showers? Heck yeah.

Did you hear that there's going to be a movie with Tom Hanks playing Mr. Rogers? I can't wait. I think that's perfect casting, don't you? They even look alike. The Bear and I were just re-watching Apollo 13, on Netflix, the other night and thinking how great he is. Then I saw the Mr. Rogers news the next day. We also watched A Futile and Stupid Gesture, also on Netflix and really good, about the founder of National Lampoon. We're both big fans of such classy entertainment as Animal House and Caddyshack; movies like this are one of the major ties that bind us, really. I've been watching Victoria, with moderately reluctant participation from my other half, and I really love it. The second season is even better than the first, I think. I'm reading the novel the show is based on at the moment too. I like it, but I prefer some of the Victoria biographies I've read, particularly the recent Julia Baird one.

Oh, we're trying to make sauerkraut right now. I don't eat it myself, but the rest of them like it. I'm not sure how it will work out, but I like the idea of trying to ferment things. We used to make beer, way back in the pre-parenthood days when we actually drank enough beer to make the cost and the effort worthwhile. We've made some pickles, but mostly fresh ones, not really anything fermented. So we'll see about this sauerkraut. Salt and green cabbage are cheap enough to try as many times as it takes.

I hope you have a good week. What have you got going on? It's going to be nice here, so I may take the kids to the BioPark tomorrow morning, to walk around the small aquarium and the botanic garden. Our hens seem to have decided it's spring, what with the lengthening daylight, and they're back to laying eggs. I plan to resume my frittata, omelet and quiche dinners soon. I want to bake something soon too; last week, I baked one of my favorite muffin recipes, Chocolate Chip Muffins from the Brown Eyed Baker blog, which I'd like to try next with blueberries instead of chocolate chips. I really like the lower sugar and the muffins' texture in this recipe, so I want to experiment. I might start that new blanket too. I'll definitely cross-stitch. I've got a big, white wall to fill up!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Big Gulp, the blanket

Well, in spite of my best intentions to get back to blogging, I've been failing rather miserably. I don't have a lot to say right now, I guess. The past couple of months were so stressful that I almost feel like I have a form of PTSD, like I need to come down from the stress and start thinking and reacting normally again. That has translated to not having much to say here or in "real life," either. It's all good, though. I'm rather enjoying a slower, sort of stripped-down life for now. Lots of time at home, watching shows I like (I started "The Office" from the series pilot again; I think this will be my fourth watching), reading books about royalty (as usual) and women in science, keeping warm since we seem to have decided to have winter after all (especially at night), and doing some cross-stitching instead of crochet (it's been a seriously crochet-filled year for me). It all feels right to me, for the moment.

School trundles on; we've finished a few major projects recently, which has been a relief all around. I've reached a milestone as a mother: I'm now leaving my 12-year-old at the library for a computer coding club, to be picked up when it's over. Up until now, I've always waited around while they participated in an activity. I realize that there are all different schools of thought regarding kids' independence, and I was definitely nervous at first, but for us, it's a very good idea at this juncture. He gets to do something he enjoys, gains some independence and responsibility, and I don't have to sit there waiting (nor does his sister). As a partial home-schooling family, it's particularly important to foster outside activities and chances to interact with new people. And we can split up the driving this way; I bring him down there, the Bear picks him up on his way home from work. I'm always happy to drive less.

So I finished another blanket a few weeks ago. I know, it's like a blanket bonanza around here. Let me explain. We were looking at ways to reorganize our home office, which is also my wannabe craft room. It was clear that I had a lot of yarn I wasn't using, which would be fine if we had tons of room to store it, but we don't and I decided it was time to blast through some of this yarn and get it made into something so we wouldn't need to worry about storing it. It sounds like an uninspiring way to start a crafty project, but there you go.

I decided to make a stash-buster blanket with my large supply of worsted acrylic yarn. I wanted something simple and easy, basically mindless, and went looking for ideas. On Pinterest, I came across a design for granny square potholders from a blog called knitpurlhook. This blogger, Aki, also made a blanket with the same design, which really spoke to me. I loved the idea of big squares joined simply. I didn't have enough of any one color to make a blanket like Aki's, but a multi-colored blanket suits me just fine, so I started making squares with any and all colors that I had. This blanket was wonderful for using up yarn. I decided to give my blanket a name related to drinking; well, guzzling, really. I named this blanket Big Gulp, after the giant sodas at 7-11. I also considered Slurpee.

I mentioned here when I first started this blanket that I enjoyed Aki's granny technique. She joins her rounds in a corner of the square, which helps keep the squares from "twisting" as you crochet them. I think you know what I mean if you're a crocheter. I'd previously only made grannies by turning the squares from one edge to another with each round, starting them to the left of a corner. This approach was new to me and I really liked it. I think it makes nice, neat granny squares and it's easier too. My squares have ten rounds and each measures about 12 inches without joining rounds.

The color I had the most of was cream, so I used that for joining. I actually joined as I went, edging each square in cream and attaching it with the same color as necessary. I love the way the center joins look in this design. I finally did them right, too. I have joined lots of granny squares but I've always been confused about which other squares to join to when I get to the center. The one above? The one diagonally? It has always been tricky for me. I think I'm finally getting it now, and I'm achieving the neat corners I've always seen in photos of other people's crochet. There's always something new to learn.

I always think I'm going to edge my blankets in some elaborate way, and I always end up doing something plain. I love the look of fancy borders in crochet, but I never end up wanting them on my blankets when all is said and done. I'm the same about home decor and clothes; I always think I would enjoy something frilly, but in the end, I go for straight, clean lines instead. Here, I did a round of granny clusters, splitting them up when I came to the join between two squares to avoid ruffling the edges. Then I did a round of single-crochet around the clusters. My border lays mostly flat and it's just a neat, tidy edge.

I made this blanket for the living room, where I had a crocheted blanket I didn't like very much. We've been keeping it on the arm of the couch and using it when we read or listen to the radio. The colors work well in this room; our furniture is a mixture of things we've bought and some hand-me-downs, including the couch, which is sort of an olive green-gray, and the chairs, which are a gold-camel color. I think the blanket ties everything together pretty well. Mostly, though, it's just a big, warm blanket that used up a LOT of yarn, which makes everybody happy. More room and a new blanket, what's not to love? All my yarn (stored in bins) fits in the closet now, by the way. The office feels huge; "so much room for activities!" like they say in one of my favorite movies.

Big Gulp Blanket
Yarn: I Love This Yarn worsted-weight acrylic in the following colors: Old Rose*, Rosy Cheeks, Lavender Smoke*, Sea Blue, Glacier, Arctic, Antique Teal, Stonewash, Dark Denim, Graybeard, Light Gray, Graphite, Coffee, Linen, Sungold, Dark Olive, Mid Green, Ivory (*discontinued)
Hook: Clover Amour I/9 (5.5mm)
Size: approximately 65 by 78 inches
Started: November 2017
Finished: December 2017

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Dulce de Leche Cheesecake

Back in November, I baked a cheesecake for my birthday. I've always been an avid proponent of cheesecake in virtually any form, but this recipe - dulce de leche cheesecake - was new to me. I saw Pati Jinich make it on her Create TV show Pati's Mexican Table, which I've been watching as often as possible for the last year or so. Have you seen it? Pati is from Mexico and she cooks lots of different kinds of traditional Mexican foods as well as modern twists on classic dishes. She is a busy mom of three growing boys; I enjoy seeing the ways she incorporates home-cooking and nutritious choices into their daily lives.

A few weeks before my birthday, I saw an episode of her show where she baked a dulce de leche cheesecake. It looked delicious and I was intrigued: the cheesecake had a cookie crust and a creamy, rich topping made with dulce de leche, a kind of caramel made by cooking sweetened milk for a long time, until it thickens and turns golden brown. Pati made her cheesecake with ingredients imported from Mexico, including Maria biscuits in the crust and Nestle La Lechera canned dulce de leche. As a resident of New Mexico who isn't much experienced with Hispanic cooking, I've always been intrigued by the products we can buy here which are imported from Mexico and other parts of Latin America. Dulce de leche is one of those products; I've seen it on the shelves but had no idea what to do with it. This cheesecake recipe seemed like the perfect chance to give it a try.

Pati has a wonderful website with lots of recipes and tips available, and she also writes cookbooks (you can check out her Amazon page here). I had already asked the Bear for Pati's first cookbook as a birthday present, and I found the cheesecake recipe on Pati's site. I baked the cheesecake on my birthday (I love to bake my own birthday treats, no need to feel sorry for me) and it was even better than I thought it would be. It was amazing. It wasn't the fastest recipe to make, and there were a number of steps, but nothing complicated at all for such an impressive dessert. I mentioned it here on my blog after I'd made it and a few people messaged asking for the recipe. I checked Pati's site to see if she allowed recipe-sharing on blogs, and she did say she preferred for people to ask for permission, so I emailed her.

YOU GUYS - Pati Jinich wrote back to me. She wrote a pleasant, friendly message thanking me for being a fan and gave me permission, with some parameters, for sharing her recipe on my blog. I was so excited! I really didn't know if I'd ever hear from her, but it made me like her even more. What a nice person and a great cook too. Pati fan 4 life! I would have shared the recipe sooner but life took a turn for the seriously lousy around my birthday and my blogging enthusiasm flagged, but I'm feeling much better now and ready to get back to it, so here's that lovely cheesecake. Thanks, Pati, for allowing me to share your delicious recipe.

Dulce de Leche Cheesecake
Recipe by Pati Jinich

For the crust: 
1 1/2 cups finely ground Maria cookies vanilla wafers or graham crackers 
6 tablespoons unsalted butter melted, plus more for greasing the pan 
For the cream cheese filling:  
1 pound cream cheese at room temperature 
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk  
3 large eggs at room temperature
For the dulce de leche topping:  
1 1/2 cups sour cream 
1 14-ounce can dulce de leche or cajeta  
1 cup chopped pecans

Butter a 9- to 10-inch springform pan and set aside.  

To make the crust: In a large bowl combine the ground cookies and melted butter until thoroughly mixed. Turn the cookie mixture into the springform pan. With your fingers, pat it evenly around the bottom of the pan, gently pushing it up the sides to make a crust 1/2- to 1-inch tall. Refrigerate while you make the cream cheese filling and dulce de leche topping. 

To make cream cheese filling: Place the cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat at medium speed until smooth and light, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the sweetened condensed milk and continue beating until well mixed, scraping down the bowl as needed. Add the eggs one at a time, again scraping down the bowl as needed, and continue beating until the mixture is well blended and smooth, set aside.  

To make the dulce de leche topping: In a medium bowl, mix the sour cream with the dulce de leche until combined. 

Adjust the oven rack to the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350°F.  

Remove the springform pan from the refrigerator. Gently spread the cream cheese filling evenly, trying not to distress the crust. Place the cheesecake in the oven and bake for 35 minutes, or until it is set and the top is lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let cool for at least 10 minutes before you add the dulce de leche topping. 

Spoon the dulce de leche topping over the cream cheese filling, add the pecans all around the edge and place the pan back in the oven for 10 more minutes. Remove from the oven and let the cheesecake cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving. It tastes even better if it chills overnight.

The Maria biscuit crust was a first in my baking. I've worked with graham cracker crusts quite a bit, but I'd never made one with Marias, though they are not new to me; we have eaten them occasionally for years. They're a very simple cookie with a slightly lemony flavor and very little sugar, so they're actually quite similar to graham crackers. The small Bears liked them when they were very little and I didn't mind so much if they had a couple, since they're relatively healthy. They're cheap to buy, and you can get individual sleeves of about 40 biscuits, or you can buy them in a box with four sleeves inside. I don't know a lot about Marias, but my understanding is that they are the most commonly eaten biscuit or cookie in the world, having their origins in Europe and then being imported to Latin America. I used my old, battered springform pan, which I will never, ever get rid of.

The canned dulce de leche was interesting. I don't know what I thought it would be like - more liquid, maybe - but it was actually a thick paste, almost like peanut butter. Upon seeing the texture, I thought it would harder to work with, but it mixed very easily with the sour cream for making the topping.

The cheesecake base was very straighforward, a simple combination of cream cheese, eggs and sweetened condensed milk. In keeping with my attempt to use as many authentic Mexican products as possible, I used La Lechera sweetened condensed milk, imported from Mexico. It was exactly the same as my normal American brand, Eagle, but it was actually a little cheaper, so I may just switch. Mexico is only a few hundred miles from here, but imported food always feels exotic and adventurous to me - even when it's milk and sugar in a can.

The only change I made to this recipe was to put pecan halves on the edge of the cake instead of the chopped pecans Pati suggests. This was just a personal preference; I had lots of pecan halves (a Costco-sized bag of them) and they look so pretty this way, I just wanted to leave them whole. They're also easy to arrange very nicely in a circle around the edge of the pan.  

After the cake cooled and I removed the outer ring, I was really impressed with the way my cheesecake looked. The layers were clearly defined, and while I would have liked my cake to turn out a little more neatly on the sides, I was mostly very happy with the presentation. I was particularly impressed with the way the dulce de leche/sour cream topping stayed intact on top. I thought for sure it would be dripping down the sides, but nope, it stayed nice and thick and stable.

My cheesecake was delicious. The crust was crisp and buttery, the filling was sweet and rich, and the topping was creamy and a little tangy, with a surprising slight bitterness. You could really taste the dulce de leche and its complex flavors. We ate very slim slices because it really is a rich combination when you put it all together, but a slim slice was just right. I'm really glad I made this cake for my birthday - it was the perfect combination of flavors for my tastes and it gave me the chance to try some new things, ingredients as well as methods. I'd make it again any time. I hope you'll want to try it too. If you like the look of this recipe, I'd think you'd really enjoy Pati's website, show and cookbooks; please check them out via the links above.  

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Finally, a storm

We're having a stormy day. You know how much I love storms, but this one is special. We hadn't had any measurable precipitation since the end of September, at least by official reporting at the Albuquerque Sunport. I know we had a little here at my house on two occasions since then, one in October and the other in November, but apparently nothing happened at the airport. Today, though, there has been rain in the city and snow up on the mountain. By my backyard weather station, I'm measuring two-tenths of an inch of rain. Not a lot, but I'll take it. We just haven't had anything in so long.

I think today's storm feels like an event for a lot of people here. It broke a 96-day streak of dry weather, within the top five driest stretches ever recorded. I'm feeling particularly excited about it. Not just the rain, but also the hunkering feeling that I just haven't had much lately. I had more hunkering time in the summer, during the monsoon, than I've had all fall and winter so far, which is just strange. I won't even be able to spend much time at home today, what with a trip out for school pickup, and two others for guitar and ballet lessons this afternoon.

I've been savoring the morning at home by myself. I started chicken tortilla soup in the slow-cooker (my recipe is here), watched a little Netflix, and read one of my new library books. I used my newest crocheted blanket for the first time. I only finished it yesterday, my quickie stash-buster that only took me two months to make. I really churned this one out. I'll share it soon, but there it is up on the arm of the couch. It was comfy. I didn't really do any housework. I'm proud of that. I needed to just hang out at home by myself on a stormy morning. It never ceases to amaze me how restorative a cold, wet morning spent inside the house can be.
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