27 December 2012

Recipe: chocolate cranberry cookies

Christmas is already over! Wow, those days zoomed by, didn't they? Gone before I knew it. The days before Christmas were hectic and stressful, so I very much looked forward to the days off, even though the stress was partially to blame on something not work-related! You see, we had a special announcement to make this Christmas.

Who are engaged and freezing on a seaside cliff? These two!

We are getting married!
What does that have to do with cookies, you're probably wondering. Well, if I get stressed, I often find myself in the kitchen to bake cookies. As a form of stress relief, you see. Delicious, delicious stress relief. And seeing as we got engaged on the 15th of December but picked Christmas as the date to tell our families the big news, I got quite stressed in those 10 days of waiting! So I baked Christmas-appropriate cookies to go with the news!

I wanted to write 'We are getting married!' on the cookies in melted chocolate, but the melted chocolate was too thick for the nozzle on my squirt bottles (booh! I'm pretty sure I ruined one by clogging the nozzle with white chocolate!), so as a back-up plan, I covered them in the white chocolate and drizzled dark chocolate all over them. They were a big hit! And so was the news!

These relatively simple cookies are based on a recipe from the wonderful blog I Am Baker. In stead of adding white chocolate chunks to the dough, though, I added dried cranberries. In hindsight, I should have given them a chop, because the cranberries were rather large and impossible to cut through with a cookie cutter, making for some rather uneven and wonky cookies here and there, and I ended up with a lot of cookie dough crumbs and dough-covered cranberries on my workbench. Which is how I found out that the dough itself is absolutely delicious. Really, be careful you don't eat the whole batch raw because the chocolatey flavour from the cocoa powder and the somewhat acidic pop from the cranberries will make you go back for more!

But trust me when I say this: They're even better when actually baked.

Chocolate cranberry cookies

adapted from I am Baker
Makes a hell of a lot of cookies. I stopped at 60.

-1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 sticks room temperature butter
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 cup cocoa powder
- pinch of salt
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries (chopped)
- 150 gr. white chocolate (2 bars)
- 75 gr. dark chocolate (1 bar)

Cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy.
Stir in the egg and the vanilla extract.
Stir in the flour in small quantities at a time, until fully incorporated.
Stir in the salt.
Stir in the cocoa. Be careful, it'll floosh up if you stir too roughly and coat EVERYTHING in cocoa powder. I speak from experience.
Stir in the cranberries until mixed throughout the dough.

Cover the dough in cling wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to firm up before you roll it out.
Pre-heat your oven to 175 C. Roll out your dough (it is quite sticky, so place it between two sheets of waxed paper to roll out) until it is about 1 cm. thick. Cut out your cookies using a cutter. Mine is scalloped and has a 5 cm. diameter.
Place your cookies on a cookie sheet and bake in the oven for approximately 10-12 minutes. The original recipe says 8-11, but this depends heavily on your oven. My oven doesn't actually run as hot as it should, so I placed them in there for the full 12 minutes.

Once they are done, fish them off the sheet and place on a cooling rack to cool off completely before decorating them.

When it's time to decorate your cookies, melt your chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl or mug in short intervals, stirring in between each nuke until the chocolate is fully melted. Cover your cookies with chocolate, and allow the chocolate to dry at least half-way until you decide you can't control yourself. Only then can you eat one. Or two. Or five. I won't judge, I've eaten at least 20 on my own.


19 December 2012

Pattern: ridiculously easy christmas tree

tiny crochet christmas tree
Even the tiniest of trees can bring some serious Christmas cheer!

The most anticipated event of the year is almost upon us! And after the hubbub about the end of the world this Friday is over, it's almost time for Christmas, too!

While I contemplate making a zombie amigurumi to commemorate the event, though, I thought I'd show you what I did this week. I wanted to crochet something quick and festive for the season because... We don't have a tree this year. Or last year, for that matter. Or really any year that we've been living together. All we had was a sad-looking, plastic mini-tree that we got as a gag-gift for the BF's birthday years ago. (That's what you get for having a birthday in December, I suppose: all your gifts are either wrapped in seasonal wrapping paper, or are geared towards one of the major holidays...) I finally threw the thing out this year because it had been collecting a ton of dust on top of a bookcase (in plain view, so technically, we had our tree up in the heat of summer). We decorated the house this weekend, but with the lack of actual Christmas tree, we made do with our ginseng tree and strings of lights in the study. In order to at least have something tree-like in our house, I made this tiny ornament to cheer up my desk! A little festive cheer while I'm working can't hurt anyone, right?

My two unconventional trees, buddy-ing it up in the living room.

It's such a simple project that I've decided to write up the pattern. Here goes!

The Ridiculously Easy Crocheted Christmas Tree

You need:
- green yarn (I used 2 different strands of 2 different weights held together), +/- 30 grams, I think? It's far less than one ball of DK yarn.
- a 4.0mm hook, or to match the weight of your yarn.
- polyfill
- a yarn needle to sew in your ends
- some trinkets to decorate with, like ribbons, buttons, beads, or (like me) pins!
The pattern is written in American terms. All you need to know is the single crochet, the increase (sc 2x, making 2 single crochets in the same stitch), the decrease (decr, pulling up a loop in two consecutive stitches so you have 3 loops on your hook, wrap your yarn, pull through two loops, wrap your yarn and pull through the other two), and how to do a front loop only stitch.

- Start the base of the tree with 6 sc in the magic loop. Pull the ring closed, but do not close the round, as we'll continue in the round (6 st).
- (sc x 2) 6 times (12 st).
- (sc x 2, sc) 6 times  (18 st).
- (sc x 2, sc, sc) 6 times (24 st).
- (sc x2, sc, sc, sc) 6 times (30 st).
- (sc x2, sc, sc, sc, sc) 6 times (36 st).

At this point, we stop increasing and switch to the body of the tree.
- sc around, front loop only. (36 st)
- sc around (36 st).
- sc around (36 st).
- sc around (36 st).
- decrease round: (decr, sc, sc, sc, sc) 6 times (30 st).
- sc around (30 st).
- sc around (30 st).
- sc around (30 st).
 - decrease round: (decr, sc, sc, sc) 6 times (24 st).
 - sc around (24 st).
 - sc around (24 st).
 - sc around (24 st).
  - decrease round: (decr, sc, sc) 6 times (18 st).
 - sc around (18 st).
 - sc around (18 st).
 - sc around (18 st).
- decrease round: (decr, sc) 6 times (12 st).
 - sc around (12 st).  
 - sc around (12 st).
 - sc around (12 st).

At this point, you need to break out your polyfill (or leftover yarn, or that ball of horrible acrylic yarn you never ever want to use ever ever, or cotton balls, or whatever you can think of to stuff a crochet toy), and stuff your tree. Really cram your stuffing in there, as you will need to wiggle some of it into the top of the tree when you're done! You can always add a bit extra after the next decrease-rounds, so keep some extra on hand just in case you think your tree needs it.

- decrease round: (decr) 6 times (6 st).
  - sc around (6 st).  
  - sc around (6 st).
  - sc around (6 st).

Check to see if your tree needs extra stuffing. If so, cram it in there! I find it often helps to use the back of a bigger crochet hook or a pen or pencil to push it down. Is your tree stuffed enough? Then...

- decrease round: (decr) 3 times (3 st).

Cut your yarn leaving a decently sized tail, pull it through the loop on your hook, and use the tail to sew the top of your tree closed. Your tree should have a nice, pointy top! Then weave in your ends and decorate and you're done!

Enjoy your tiny, squishy Christmas tree!

And merry Christmas!

10 December 2012

I'm a bad blogger. I can't even think of a title.

December, you are killing me. Seriously. It's already the 10th! Only 15 days until Christmas and only 21 until the year is over! Personally, I cannot wait. I'm exhausted. Bring on 2013, because 2012 really was a weird year for me...

Last week, after a tiny flurry of snow on Monday, we ended up with a heaping ton of snow all over the country on Friday! The whole country in a panic, traffic jams at the sight of the first snowflake to hit a wind shield, trains pre-emptively delayed out of fear that one might hit a snow drift and derail (or, more likely, hit a snowflake and derail)...
Unfortunately for me, this came accompanied by a cold front and heavy wind, meaning everywhere I went, people had cranked up the heating. I'm pretty sure I've already told you before about my terribly annoyingly dry skin thanks to eczema, but just in case you weren't aware: I have pretty bad eczema when the weather changes and the heating gets cranked up everywhere and going in and out of heated rooms into the cold outside really aggravates it. So now you know. Exciting, huh?

I tried hiding indoors for the week, hoping to avoid going out completely, but we had a lot going on! First, there was Sinterklaas, and I decided to make knitted Christmas ornaments for my mother so I learned how to knit on DPNs (2.5mm, hooooo fiddly!), quite an accomplishment for someone whose only knitting success has been a tiny purse knitted on 5mm needles, if I say so myself. I'm actually still not sure what inspired me to pick up the needles, and I cursed them regularly as I wrestled with colour patterns and bits of string and pointy, pokey ends. (A non-knitter may never know the true agony that is poking yourself in the boob with the other end of a DPN while wrestling with a decrease, but I'm sure a few of you ladies are groaning in recognition and sympathy right now) I finished the last one about 15 minutes before we had to leave on Wednesday. Panicky knitting? Absolutely! Then, like the terrible blogger I am, I forgot to take any pictures of the finished baubles, and instead I wrapped them up and gave them away. I only realised that I forgot until Thursday, and I probably won't be back over at my parents' house until Christmas!

Thehen, it was the BF's birthday, and we baked the most delicious of all cakes ever to have been produced in my oven, (an amaretto-chocolate cake, hooooboy) and I forgot to take any pictures of it AGAIN. Seriously, if that doesn't win me the bad blogger of the year-award, I don't know what does. At least I saved the recipe for later use, though. Thank you, Pinterest!
Thehehen, it was the weekend, and I had all these plans to do stuff and get a decent blogpost up, and go out and enjoy the great weather on Saturday, and work out, and write... Instead, I spent half the weekend in bed, exhausted from a severe lack of sleep. Thanks, eczema, you really are doing wonders for my health. The other half of the weekend, I spent lounging on the sofa, watching a film (the Star Trek remake from 2008), playing with the birds, eating left-over birthday cake, and not doing much in particular. I guess I needed it.

In other news... Have I told you guys about Fitocracy? If you like games and need a fun boost for your work-out-mojo, try it out sometime! It's a website dedicated to fitness, where you log your workouts in order to receive points, gain levels, get achievements, fulfil quests, and hang out with other fitness-minded individuals! It's been one hell of a motivational tool for me!
Unfortunately, my fitness regime is suffering tremendously under the increase of my work hours and the sorry state of my health at the moment, as the eczema also takes a hefty bite out of my immune system and has left me with a bad cold for the past month or so. I do still try to work out at least twice a week, thrice if I can manage. I changed my workout schedule from low-weight, high-rep exercises and a butt-load of cardio to some actual weight training exercises and I could not be happier with that! I started doing squats, bench presses, even chin-ups! It's great fun, even though I'm still mostly working on form and not so much on lifting heavy. Give it time, though. I'll get there.

There! Now you're all up to speed on what the hell has been going on with me the past week or so. Hopefully (fingers crossed) this won't be the last time you hear of me until 2013!

4 December 2012

First snow of the season

And it was gone before we knew it.