Four Upcycled Winter Tops

In which I think about the difference between fit and flatter, ways to seam knits for a pear shape, and the pros and cons of sewing with recycled sweaters.

 

Last fall, I knew I could use some more long-sleeve cozy tops for the coming winter, and I decided to see if I could find some “fabric” (in the form of large garments) at our local thrift stores, figuring that it would be cheaper than ordering quality wool knit, and I would be more willing to experiment if I wasn’t super attached to the materials.

Many things still take longer than I think they will, so I just finished the last of these a couple of weeks ago … luckily they still work as light sweaters for spring, and I’m now set for next fall/winter. Some people would probably call these light sweaters at any time, but for my winter wardrobe they’re shirts, something soft and warm that goes under a bigger sweater. (If it’s winter, I’m pretty much always cold. Heck, if it’s Texas in Spring but I’m inside and the is AC on, I’m still probably cold.) I’ve switched pretty much exclusively to wool (or cashmere etc.) and silk for winter wear, and I just love it that way, so those were the fibers I was looking for.

One of the biggest problems I’ve found with trying to upcycle tops for me out of existing tops, is that for there to be enough fabric to cut a new garment, the original sweater must be truly huge. Yet in the past, trying to reshape something without treating it as fabric and cutting new shapes has been a recycling nightmare that eats up way more of my time than the results are worth …

The first top I found this time was a women’s size large, with a pretty awful turtleneck, but in a nice brown cashmere. There just wasn’t enough fabric to dramatically reshape it, but it definitely needed a new neckline, and some ease around the hips (not a surprise to my pear-shaped self). I decided to take a wedge of the cable pattern from the old neck, cut a slit at center back, and splice it in.

 

brown winter top alterations

 

This worked—and I learned a few things. Probably the most obvious thing is that the wedge can’t be too large, unless you want it to ripple like a little peplum. I ended up folding in the sides and sewing them down again to make a flat wedge. It doesn’t look perfect, but I was experimenting. If I did this again I’d also add a little more pull-in factor to the neckline, probably with some slightly stretched clear elastic in the neck seam. But the biggest issue with this shirt is that it just isn’t that flattering. It fits OK, but I’m aiming for better. This one found a good use as my new winter sleep shirt.

 

brown winter top on form

 

The next top I found to use was a little bigger, at least big enough to cut out new pieces from it. My favorite part about this one is the fabric; it’s Merino, and just the perfect amount of stretchy, cozy, soft and wooly. If I could buy a bolt of this I probably would. This top came out quite a bit shorter than I’d like (again due to lack of fabric—by the time I cut the old sweater apart and put the pieces for my regular knit top pattern on it, this is what I got), but I’ve been wearing it all the time.

I played with the ribbing on this one a little more, cutting and sewing lengths from the original hem ribbing and treating it more like elastic, stretching it to sew around the neckline. That worked well, the ribbing on these sweaters has a tighter structure, and I suspect some added stretchy fiber that makes it behave quite differently from the rest of the garment. Sewing ribbing on things reminds me of the late 80’s, when my mom would order fabric by mail to make tops for us, along with coordinating ribbing in various colors. I wish I’d had a little more of the matching ribbing for this project, as it is the tiny hem on the bottom has to be encouraged to lie flat as it’s drying, otherwise it will flip up, and I had to baste it on before sewing to keep those little bits in place.

 

tan winter top on form

 

I’d been thinking how, in order to fit my figure better, I really need more seams, even in a knit fabric, than just one at each side. I love princess lines, but I thought that traditional ones would be more structure and more of a closely fitted, formal look than I want in a knit top. I was thinking of making a curved panel at each side, when I realized that I already have a top/sweater like that, it just fits a little looser than I’d want for this. So, I tried it on and pinned out the extra to get a fit I liked, traced a new pattern from the old one following those modifications, and cut it out.

This berry colored top was my most frustrated moment in this batch of upcycling. It came from a men’s XXL sweater in “cotton (90%) cashmere (10%)” which I went for despite the fiber content, going on color and the fact that I could definitely treat this one as a “muslin.” At first I was kind of miffed that even starting with a sweater this big, I couldn’t cut the sleeves long enough and I had to piece the side panels … but as soon as I gave up wanting it to work out “right” and embraced the experimentation and improvisation of working with recycled materials, suddenly it was fun again.

I really like the ribbing on the side panels, but the double sleeve ribbing came out wonky no matter how you look at it, the back neck has too much ease, making it slide off one shoulder sometimes (again with the 80’s), and the whole thing has all the baggy/low-recovery properties of thick cotton knit. However, it’s good to have at least one top that I don’t really care what happens to, and I brought it on the road for that purpose, it’s great to throw on in the truck etc.

 

berry winter top on form

 

I’m also having an ongoing thought process about the difference between fit and flatter. I want things to fit well, as in to harmonize with my shape—but maybe not to hug every curve. Sometimes if I aim for enough ease to really skim my hips it ends up emphasizing my pear shape instead, in a way I don’t find flattering, especially if I don’t also add ease around the bust. Also, if I curve a back seam in enough to fit close around my waist, the amount of curve required to flare it back out again over my hips is not really workable or looks a little crazy.

With that in mind, I cut the last shirt a little less curved in at the waist and out at the hips in back. I also added a side seam, mostly so that I could cut set-in sleeves (doesn’t save as much fabric as I thought it would vs. raglan) and set them in flat, then sew the side seam and underarm in one go, which apparently I like so much better than setting in knit sleeves in the round that I’ll do extra pattern tracing to get it.

I’m so happy with this last top. I dig the length, the slight high-low hemline, the side panels, and even the lighter accents (piecing again). And the bottom ribbing! This is every single millimeter of the ribbing at the hem of a men’s XL cashmere sweater (a bit frightening) and it’s just right. I flipped it over so that the original seam is at the bottom, so if anything it flares out a bit at the hem rather than cupping in. It hugs in just enough to feel cozy without riding up too much—like the dream of what ribbing could be on my figure. I’m still undecided about the extra fabric around the small of my back. It’s definitely a bit baggy there, but is that a bad thing?

 

grey winter top on form

 

Since I had to piece in a little lighter grey scrap at the side panels, I decided I should also add some to at least one arm to make it look purposeful. I also decided, after the berry ribbing, to make a real effort at getting the two knits to play well together, rather than sticking them under the machine together and hoping for the best. I tried sewing with tissue paper under the bottom layer (inside the sleeve) and it actually worked really well. However, I’m not in love with trying to position the paper around the free arm inside the sleeve, or with picking out tiny bits of tissue from the seam, so further experiments are still necessary.

 

grey winter top detail

 

I may have to go for another round of cozy top upcycling at some point, I’m getting kind of fond of the built-in matching ribbing. Although, I think I should resign myself to the need for an extra sweater for every couple finished tops, one to one just doesn’t quite work. And then, since I can’t be nearly as efficient with layout as I could with the same amount of raw fabric, it feels a little wasteful to cut up a shirt which is really perfectly good as it is … unless it has holes in it etc. So there’s a Holy Grail of thrift shopping, as if finding huge sizes in quality fibers wasn’t hard enough, now I need two or three that all coordinate with each other or with another one for extra fabric, preferably damaged! Maybe I’ll just order some nice fabric next time …

 

Advertisements

Celery Root and Apple Soup

 

celery root soup

 

Celery root is one of those vegetables that just looks intimidating.  Covered in dirt, all-over-knobbly, seems like it’s been underground for about a hundred years … but underneath all that, it’s surprisingly easy to slice and really delicious, with a subtle nutty flavor.  I discovered it last winter, when I started making this soup, and a lentil and celery root dish from Plenty * that’s really good (also how I discovered that “celeriac” is British English for “celery root” and therefore I could get what Ottolenghi describes as “probably my favorite root” in my own home town!)

This is originally a Deborah Madison recipe, and I love how thoughtful she is about both using up all the veggies, and using your time wisely.  The root trimmings go into a stock, which cooks as you get everything else ready.  This time of year, I’m waiting for spring, and ready to eat something new (or at least new-to-me).  Want to come on a new vegetable adventure?

 

Celery Root and Apple Soup

Adapted from Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen

Get out your vegetable brush, and go to town on:

1 1/2 pounds celery root

Thickly peel it, with a knife.  You’ll be able to see the boundary between the outer and inner layers.  Throw any pieces that are too deeply rutted or full of tiny roots to be clean into the compost.  Put the clean peelings into a stock pot (use a smaller pot here if you can, you’ll need a bigger one to start the soup in) along with:

1 cup chopped leek greens OR a few slices of onion

1 chopped carrot

1 chopped celery stalk

1 bay leaf

3 sprigs of fresh parsley (if you have it)

Pinch of fresh thyme

Pinch of salt

Cover all this with 6 cups of water, bring it to a boil, and then let simmer for 25 minutes.

 

celery root chopping

 

Meanwhile,chop:

The peeled celery root

1 onion OR 2 fat leeks

1 cup celery

1 apple, thinly sliced.  I like to use a Pink Lady, either a small one or half a large.  I really like the flavor, but too much can make the soup a little too sweet.  Or you can follow the original directions and use a more tart apple.

1/2 cup potato

Melt in the big soup pot:

2 Tablespoons butter

Add all the soup vegetables, plus another pinch of salt.  Cook over medium for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add:

1/2 cup water

Cook on low until the stock is done.  Pour the stock through a strainer into the soup, and simmer for about 20 more minutes, until the vegetables are soft.  Let cool and then puree the soup to the texture you like.

A splash of cream is good in the soup when it’s done.

Reheat gently, taste for seasoning, and serve with:

Very thinly sliced celery heart

Very thinly sliced apple, and

A little crumbled blue cheese on top.

Don’t skip the toppings, they really make this soup special.

* You can also read this recipe on his website.  The main variation I like is to saute the chopped celery root in some butter/olive oil instead of boiling it.  It comes out golden and tender and super yummy.

What about you, tried any new vegetables lately? Have any favorite late-winter recipes? (If you’re reading from the Southern Hemisphere right now, I’m jealous …)

 

A Big Vegetable Roast

 

 

roasted peeling beets

 

I think we first came up with this idea last fall.  Instead of roasting various winter foods as we need them, why not save oven power and kitchen time by roasting a whole bunch of things at once?  I love this idea, and it can save me a bunch of time later in the week.

I set the oven to bake at 400° F, and start prepping things.  I like to do garlic first, since it seems to take at least as long as anything else.  Slice just the tops from a head or two, and put in a small oven-proof container.  Pour in water to come about halfway up the sides of the garlic.  Drizzle olive oil right on top of the cloves.  Cover with foil or ideally, a lid.  I use the foil as many times as I can, but I’d love to have a container with a lid for roasting garlic, and beets.  It’s on my list but I haven’t found it yet.

Place the garlic container in a corner of the oven somewhere where it can roast along while you take other things in and out.

 

roasting garlic before

 

Ok, let’s talking about peeling veggies for a second.  Peeling a raw beet or squash is such a pain that I almost never do it.  But the roasted ones peel like magic.

In my oven, beets get a similar treatment to the garlic, except without the olive oil (probably no harm in adding it too …).  Cut off the tops and any long tails, then place them in a pan, add water, and cover.

Put the beets in the oven too.  No need to check on them for at least 20 minutes, big ones can take up to an hour or so.

 

roasting beets before

Believe it or not, this is the exact set of beets I got in a bag at our CSA store.  Who knew they would fit so precisely?

 

One of my favorite things to eat all winter long is butternut squash.  It’s good in so many things: soups, winter tacos, quiches, seasoned slices.  Search some of your favorite cookbooks or sites and you’ll get many more ideas.  It’s also much easier to peel when cooked!

Cut the squash in half, and scoop out the seeds.  Said seeds are delicious roasted with a little salt and any other spices you wish.  I usually put them in after the squash is done.

You can either cut the squash into slices, or roast the halves as they are, depending on your later squash plans.  I did some of each.  In either case, rub a little olive oil on the cut faces.

 

roasting butternut befoe

 

If you are roasting slices/seeds/small things, be sure to check on them after about 10 minutes, and then every 5 minutes or so.  It’s easy to lose track and burn them while the bigger things are still happily roasting.

I flip the slices over when they get brown on the bottom, so that both sides get nice and toasted.

 

roasted butternut slices

These slices are done, but the bigger chunks need to cook for a while yet.

 

Not pictured, but also great to roast are:

Sweet potatoes and/or regular potatoes in their skins, or as slices.

Nuts.  Sometimes it’s a lot cheaper/easier to find quality raw nuts and roast them yourself.  These are another thing that’s done quite quickly, so set a timer.

 

roasted butternut with potatoes

 

By the time the second round of slices (potato) are done, the big pieces of squash are too—easily pierced with a fork.

Beets are also done when fork-tender, and when the peel slides off with just a push from your thumb!

 

one peeling beet

 

And finally the garlic.  I’ve never overcooked it, but if it’s been in the oven for quite a while, check to see if the water has all evaporated.  If so, it’s probably done, and if not, add water so it doesn’t dry out.  To me, done roasted garlic = squishy and a little caramelized on top.  Yum!

 

roasted garlic

 

So there you have it, all the roasted veggies you need for the next week or so.

What are some of your favorite winter foods?

A Fall Harvest Without Much of a Garden

 

strawberries in compost

 

Over the past few weeks I’ve done a couple of things that I’ve been meaning to do since, oh, last year . . . one was to dig out the compost.  I mention this because for any of you who think you don’t know enough or have enough time to compost; I don’t either, and mine still works.  I practice a kind of benign compost neglect which goes like this: I dump all of our vegetable scraps into a big black plastic cone-shaped thing outside with a screw-on lid, which I got from the city of Flagstaff.  I continue to do this all winter, when everything is frozen.  I did some research when I first got the bin, and theoretically I know that I’m supposed to add stuff that contains lots of carbon, as well as the food scraps which are mostly nitrogen.  So, every three months or so (when It’s not too cold out and I’m feeling ambitious) I dump in a shovel of fireplace ashes which the previous owners of our house left in a large metal trash can outside.  Depending on the season, I scoop out the bottom of the little compost container from the house with either pine needles or snow, and that goes in the bin too.  The one thing I do actually add with some regularity is a bucket of water, since it’s so dry here.  If there is snow on top of the lid, I dump it inside the container too.  I turn my compost once every never.

Then I leave for the pretty much the whole summer and abandon the bin completely.  Only once have I coerced any friends and/or house-sitters to do anything to it while we’re gone.   And when we come back, a minor miracle has occurred.  The mound of frozen stuff that was nearing the top third of the container is now a much smaller, browner pile of—dirt!  Tada!

I asked my dad which of our motley collection of plants would most like some extra nutrients, and he suggested the strawberries growing out by the front fence, which he planted there . . . they are just like the strawberry plants we had at our house when I was little, producing a handful of the tiniest and most intensely flavored strawberries you’ve ever tasted every year.  Maybe a few more next year?

After digging it out this time, I have a few compost rules which I am trying to stick to: 1. All eggshells must be crushed (otherwise they take forever to break down).  2. No stacking/nesting of things like avocado skins (ditto.  Surface area is a good thing).  3. No stickers of any kind.  They do not break down (in my haphazard compost anyway) ever.

 

farmer roasting chile

 

The second thing I did was to freeze chiles for the winter.  And this year in a new twist, we asked Cory, the super nice farmer from Whipstone Farm, to roast us some sweet red bell peppers as well (on the spot at the farmers’ market) and he did!  I froze them using the exact same method I do for chiles.  I’m pretty excited about this development, which should mean a steady supply of relatively cheap, local, sustainably grown roasted red peppers all winter long—yes!  I mention this in case someone is growing peppers near you as well.  You could roast them at home if you don’t happen to know an accommodating farmer with a giant gas-powered chile roaster . . . I usually use the broiler in my oven.

Anyway, I’m pretty pleased with myself, especially for someone who doesn’t have anything approaching a real garden.  Any time I do manage to put a little bit of my work into my bit of soil, or into saving food for the winter, it feels pretty great.

 

DIY Crème Fraîche – and Kohlrabi Salad

 

Or, why I like The Joy Of Cooking so much.

 

creme fraiche and kohlrabi

I know, it looks like strange bedfellows, but keep reading . . .

 

If you’ve never had crème fraîche, I recommend trying it.  It’s kind of like sour cream, but a little less sour and much more subtly flavored.  And expensive, at least here.  It’s a cultured food, so we figured that if some of the cultures are still active, we might be able to get more crème fraîche by adding some of what we had to some plain cream.  Good quality organic heavy cream is about 1/4 the price per ounce of crème fraîche, at least in Flagstaff, AZ.

And in fact, if you look up crème fraîche in the KNOW YOUR INGREDIENTS section at the back of The Joy of Cooking (I love that part of the book), they suggest as a substitute: adding one tablespoon of buttermilk to one cup of heavy cream, warming it to 110° F on the stove, and then pouring in into a jar, letting it set loosely covered “until the cream has thickened and has a pleasant mildly sour flavor,” anywhere from 6 hours to 3 days.

We tried the same thing, using one tablespoon of store-bought crème fraîche to one cup of cream.  And, almost three days later, tada!  It’s funny because it looks like nothing is happening for quite a while, the cream still very liquid, and then finally a few more solid clumps appear, and the then bam! it’s done.  Once it gets as thick and mildly sour as you would like, store it in the fridge to keep it from becoming overly acidic.

These directions say to leave it in a warm place while the cultures are working.  Our house is short on warm places in the winter, so the first time I tried it, I left the little jar near the stove, figuring that whenever I heated something up it would get a little warmth.  That was the time it took almost the whole three days, but definitely worked.  The next time, I actually forgot to heat it at the beginning, I just added 1 tablespoon of the first batch to one cup of fresh cream and stirred it around.  I thought it might benefit from a warmer place, so I put it in the middle of the burners on the stove as I was cooking dinner, checking from time to time to make sure the jar was getting warm, but not hot, and to rotate it around a bit.  That time the whole jar had become thick crème fraîche by the next morning!

 

kohlrabi salad

 

Ok, so once you have some crème fraîche, kohlrabi is probably not the first thing you are inspired to put it on.  Dolloped in soup or on waffles might sound more luscious, and both are wonderful.  But, if you’ve never had kohlrabi, I definitely recommend it.  It’s one of those winter vegetables that looks knobbly and scary on the outside, but on the inside has a lovely subtle flavor, in this case a little cabbage, a little nutty, and quite good.

I tried one recipe for kohlrabi salad earlier this winter, but I thought the amount of lemon juice in the dressing overwhelmed the soft flavors.  If you look up almost any specific vegetable in Joy, it will tell you not only whether it is good raw or cooked, and how to cook it, and whether to peel it first, but it also gives a list of flavors that compliment that veggie particularly well.  That features was a huge help when we joined our local CSA – even though I had never heard of most of the greens we got, they were almost all listed, and I could figure out at least whether they were for cooking or salad, and what they were likely to taste like.

Under kohlrabi it says, among other things, that it goes well with cream, parsley, and dill.  As do carrots, and so . . .

 

Recipe Sketch: Kohlrabi and Carrot Salad with Crème Fraîche

This makes enough for 2 or 3 servings, feel free to make more!

 

Peel, taking off the woody outside layer (chew on a bit if you are not sure), 2 small kohlrabi

Scrub one medium carrot (I pretty much never peel carrots)

Grate the kohlrabi and carrot on the largest teeth of your grater (a trick I only recently figured out is to leave the carrot top as a handle, start grating from the skinny end, and stop when you get almost to the top).

Put these in a bowl, add 2 – 3 tablespoons of crème fraîche, and mix with your fingers, it should be slightly creamy all over.

Sprinkle on about a tablespoon each of chopped fresh dill and fresh parsley.  (Remember how I keep herbs in a jar in the fridge?  Dill keeps practically indefinitely that way.)

Mix together, taste, and add a pinch of salt if desired.  If you are not serving it right away, you may find that the veggies have absorbed some the liquid and the salad is a little dry, if so you can add a little more crème fraîche or regular cream before serving.

 

I love all harmonious delicate flavors in this salad.  And, as you might guess, some crème fraîche mixed with the cream for carrot and raisin salad is pretty great as well.

If you can’t find any crème fraîche to start from where you live, you may be able to get the cultures from a source like New England Cheesemaking Supply.

I did a little research on using the same process to make perpetual yogurt, which I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never tried, but it’s now next on my list of kitchen projects.  From what I’ve read so far it seems only slightly more complicated, heating the milk, I presume to kill of any unwanted bacteria, then adding the yogurt or culture once it’s cooled back to warm.

What about you – have you made your own crème fraîche or yogurt, or other cultured food?  Any tips or thoughts?

 

Michigan Winter in Pictures

 

michigan winter 5

 

Out here in Flagstaff, winter is (assuming it snows enough) bright days with the sun bouncing light from the snow everywhere, white too bright to look at and deep dark shadows.  Ponderosa pines collecting snow in huge clumps in their needles, and then when the sun comes out, dropping them with a window-shaking thud on the roof over my head, or on my actual head while I’m shoveling.  It’s getting your skiing in before the snow melts down, and watching the flakes float past my studio windows when it snows again, which is one of my very favorite things about this room.

In Michigan, from whence we just returned, winter is different.  And to me, totally beautiful.  The bare branches against a grey sky are a delicate tracery of subtle colors and shades, more muted but lovely scenes are in the dried branches, the white fields.  After spending the morning playing with my little nieces, I escaped outside with only my camera.  I got that “what are you finding out here to make the picture worth your freezing fingers?” look from at least one Midwesterner I ran across, but that’s the beauty of something unfamiliar, seeing the hibernating landscape with my fresh eyes, I saw worthwhile photos everywhere.

The landscape also meshed well with these thoughts from Kimberly at The Year In Food:

And I love darkness, in the sense that this is a season of long, dark nights, quiet, rest, hibernation. There’s merit to embracing it rather than fighting it and I try my best to do so each year. Perhaps easier said and done from the mild coast of California than in the thick of a midwest winter. But that season of rest is here, nonetheless: the fallow land, the bare trees, the grey skies, the long nights, the snowy mountains off to the east and north. Let’s embrace it, friends.

I often find myself this time of year longing for warmth, summer, light and long days of it.  But seeing a new winter landscape reminds me of the beauty that is here right now, a quiet one perhaps, but one worth enjoying just as it is.  Here’s to embracing your season, wherever you are!

 

michigan winter 1

 

 

michigan winter 2

 

 

michigan winter 3

 

 

michigan winter 4

 

Almond Paste Stuffed Dates

 

stuffed dates 1

 

Happy Midwinter everyone!  Light is sparkling off the snow here, and I’m quite excited that it’s coming back – after this we get just a bit more sun every day until the glories of summer  – no wonder so many cultures have celebrations around this time.

Whether you need some homemade gifts ASAP because the world did not in fact end today, or you had all that figured out long ago and just want a new winter treat to share with friends and family, I’ve got you covered.  These dates, soaked in brandy and orange juice, stuffed with almond paste and rolled in almonds, are fun to make and taste quite impressive!  They should be gluten-free as well, check the label on your almond paste to make sure.  We get Black Sphinx dates from Arizona Date Gardens – they’re wonderful.  Note: if you can find them sold in a plastic clam shell box, those are the freshest, gooiest dates you can imagine – and too soft for this recipe, they’ll just fall apart!  Use the regular, sold in a plastic bag or bulk bin kind here.

 

Almond Paste Stuffed Dates

adapted from two recipes in different editions of The Joy of Cooking

 

Pit, if not already done for you, 30 dates.  I like to use a “one clean hand” method, keeping a pairing knife in my dominant hand, and using the other hand for all the messy stuff; grabbing a date, holding it while I slice through it to the pit, pulling out the pit and tossing it in the compost, squeezing the date closed again and putting it in the bowl.  It sounds complicated but actually it’s pretty simple and efficient, especially if you have everything close by.

Place your pitted dates in the top of a double boiler.  I don’t actually own one, I use a pyrex bowl on top of a small pot of water, and the lid from another pot to cover the bowl.  Use whatever setup works, just make sure all the parts are heat safe and that nothing is in danger of falling over.

Pour over the dates: 1/4 cup brandy and 2 Tablespoons orange juice.  Bring the water in the bottom pot to a simmer, and let the dates heat in the brandy and OJ for 15 – 20 minutes (depending on how moist your dates are to start with), stirring them occasionally to make sure they all get a chance to soak up some yummy liquid.  They are done when the skins are curling off, you’ll see what I mean.

While the dates are cooking, pinch off pieces of almond paste and squish them to be about the size and shape of date pits.  They can be a little bigger, but not too much, or the dates won’t close around them.  Note: marzipan and almond paste are often sold side by side in the baking aisle of the grocery store.  Almond paste has more almonds and less sugar than marzipan, so it’s a better choice here because the dates are quite sweet on their own.

Also prepare the coating: grind about 1/2 cup almonds (some small chunks can remain but there should also be finer pieces – I do mine in a small food processor).  Add a pinch of sugar, a pinch of cinnamon and the zest of 1/2 orange.  Stir the coating together and put it on a cutting board or a plate for rolling.  Have a plate or piece of wax or parchment paper nearby to place the finished dates on.

 

stuffed dates 3

Hmm, iPhone pic, one of my goals for 2013 is to figure out how to take good pictures in my kitchen . . .

When the dates are done and cool enough to handle, pick them up one by one and peel off the large sections of skin that easily come off.  You don’t have to get all the skin off, but do get a fair amount so that the almonds will stick.  Place a piece of almond paste in the middle of each date, squeeze the date closed around it, and roll the surface in the almond mixture, then place the finished date aside.  You may have guessed that there are no clean hands for this part, but you do get to lick your fingers at the end.  As an extra bonus, there may be a little date-and-orange-steeped brandy left in the top of the double boiler when you finish the dates.  I highly recommend you drink this when no one is looking – it’s divine.

Let the dates dry for a few hours or overnight, then store them airtight.  I’ve never had any left to see how long they last, I would guess at least a few weeks in the fridge, and I ship them without fear.

 

stuffed dates 2

 

Enjoy!  And have a lovely solstice.