Monday, January 15, 2007

Books and Booties

On Saturday afternoon, the Knitsmiths had a surprise "Books and Booties" baby shower for Alison, who's expecting a Wee One this spring. Each of us was encouraged to bring our favorite children's book and a pair of booties for the new girl baby on the way. Here was my contribution:

The book? Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney, a classic gem about one woman's mission to make the world more beautiful (what could be a more fitting gift for a baby whose mama is a knitter?). One of my favorites (and apparently Gabriella's favorite, too . . .)

It appears that I was a bit of an overachiever, having knit a hat as well as booties (although not, ahem, as much of an overachiever as Dani). When I first got the invitation, I didn't realize the organizers would be so literal about the booties, so I figured I'd make a hat. When I realized that "Books & Booties" really meant "Books & Only Booties), I decided I'd better get busy shaking (or making) some booties, too.

Here are the details:


Pattern: Bouton d'Or layette no. 14, Theme Chardon, bonnet (#44)

Yarn: Rowan RYC Cashsoft DK, one skein each of sweet (501), belladonna (502), mist (505), and cream (500).

Date Started: 1/3/2006

Date Finished: 1/8/2006


Pattern: Lise, by Kate Gilbert (go look at the picture to see what they're supposed to look like)

Yarn: See above

Date Started: 1/8/2006

Date Finished: 1/12/2006

Comments: What did I learn from making these? That I am fundamentally incapable of making pompoms. I spent one frustrating morning last week attempting to make pompoms, and just couldn't do it--they fell apart, looked mangy, or generally just turned out awful.

Normally, this wouldn't be a big deal. Pompoms are just adornments, the frosting on the cake, if you will. But, as we actually discussed at Saturday's party, sometimes the frosting is even more important than the cake, and I think in this case that's true. Both the hat and the booties were supposed to have pompoms. The hat doesn't really suffer too much from its absence, I don't think, but the booties just look stupid without them. Without the pompoms, the booties lose their pointed-toe, jesterlike elfin character somewhat, and just look like really long socks. So there I was, at Alison's party, with this ensemble that, to all appearances, includes a hat for an infant and socks for a three-year-old. Pretty stupid, huh? I was almost too embarrassed to even put them up on display. I considered substituting jingle bells for pompoms, but figured I wouldn't want to be responsible for the choking hazard that would invite.

Seeing my booties alongside everyone else's exquisite creations, I also felt like I did a very poor job of selecting colors. I chose the colors to complement the lupines that are the central image in the Miss Rumphius book, but the pastels just looked anemic compared with the richer tones almost everyone else chose. In short? I felt like this project was a complete failure, and I felt worse because it was a gift. Ugh. At least Wee One will receive a great book.

Lest my disappointment in myself ruin your impression of the party, though, let me hasten to say that the hostesses (Lisa and Shannon) did a fabulous job. The decorations were great, the company was lively, and the food was superb. Speaking of which, here's the recipe for what I brought--enjoy!

Molasses Marble Loaf

2 c. sifted all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
8 T. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 c. sugar
1 t. pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2/3 c. milk
2 T. molasses
1 t. ground allspice

1 c. confectioner's sugar
1/4 t. ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
3 T. heavy cream (more if needed)
1 t. pure vanilla extract

1/4 c. finely chopped pecans (optional--I usually leave them out if bringing this to parties)

1. For the cake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a loaf pan, dust the inside with flour, and knock out the excess; set aside.

2. Resift the 2 c. flour with the baking powder and salt; set aside.

3. In a large bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the sugar about 1/4 c. at a time, beating for 20-30 seconds after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Scrape the bowl and beaters and beat on medium-high speed for 5 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

4. On low speed, add the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour and beating only until smooth after each addition. The batter will be thick.

5. Transfer about 1/3 of the batter to a small bowl, add the molasses and allspice, and stir to combine well. Spoon the light and dark batters alternately in the prepared pan, then run a knife through the length and width of the batter a few times. Smooth the top with a rubber spatula.

6. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until the loaf is well browned and springs back when gently pressed and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Release the cake from the sides of the pan with a small sharp knife. Invert the cake onto a wire rack, and carefully turn right side up to cool completely.

7. For the icing, whisk the confectioners' sugar, cinnamon, salt, cream, and vanilla in a small bowl until smooth. The icing should be thick but spreadable. Add a few drops of cream if it's too thick.

8. Place the cake on a plate and spread the icing over the top and sides. If desired, sprinkle the top with the chopped pecans. Let stand until the icing sets. The cake keeps well, covered tightly at room temperature, 2-3 days.

Note: This recipe comes from one of my very favorite baking books, Baking in America by Greg Patent. If you like baking, or just reading cookbooks, I highly recommend this one. The author did a lot of research into the American baking tradition, and many of the recipes come from rare antique cookbooks that the author then updated for modern American kitchens. I've rarely had a failure with these recipes (the blueberry buttermilk scones being a notable exception), and the historical anecdotes, as well as the failproof recipes make this a great collection for the serious baker.


Blogger lisa b said...

you're crazy...your hat and booties were amazing. bring some of the yarn to knitsmiths next week and dani will show you how to make the perfect pon-pom...she's a pro. thanks for being part of this special event.

10:06 AM  
Blogger Jofrog said...

I agree with Lisa, you are crazy! Your hat and booties were cutie. I think that it's great how different they all looked. Wee One will have something to wear with every outfit!

Thanks for that recipe too, I can't wait to try it out!

1:20 PM  
Blogger Dani said...

Crazy, crazy woman.. Your booties and hat were super cute! Everything was so different and its great that Alison has such a nice selection to choose from :) I am so excited about the recipe! I am making it on Wednesday for a family gathering.... Hugs, Dani

3:22 PM  
Blogger Stariel said...

I thought your hat and bootie set was adorable! It made me wish I had made a matching hat.

3:29 PM  
Blogger Alexis said...

Thanks for posting the recipe--the spice cake was fabulous! (And so were your booties and hat!)

2:07 PM  
Blogger alison said...

Thanks so much for booties and book and hat, Norah! They're all beautiful. I had no idea that the hat and booties were supposed to have pompoms. They look great without them, but if you've got extra yarn, we can totally get Dani to make some pompoms. (I sooo understand your pompom frustrations as I too am completely unable to make a decent pompom. Dani does all of mine!)

Thanks again for being a part of the shower and for making something so special for wee one. :)

9:02 PM  

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