My Latest DIY Project (We Are Knitters Review)

Flurries are blanketing the city, radiators are rumbling on, and everyone is breaking out their puffy winter coats…that means it’s knitting season! Every winter, I bring my yarn basket down from the closet and start musing about warm projects to make. I’ve always loved to knit and crochet, and–get ready for a humblebrag–I was actually on TV as a kid, teaching viewers a crochet craft for the holidays. In retrospect, I look at the uneven, lumpy bookmark I crocheted at age six and realize that my bright-eyed cuteness probably trumped my skills in that scenario.

This time around, my knitting project stole the show, and I have We Are Knitters to thank!

We Are Knitters Review | Jaybird

We Are Knitters is an international knitting company on a mission to transform knitting from your grandma’s craft to an art form that’s fun, modern, and fashionable. They offered me a kit to review, and it was hard to limit myself to just one: they offer both knitting and crochet projects and have kits for making blankets, scarves, sweaters, hats, and even decorative items. Finally, I chose the Soho’s Snood, a project knit with WAK’s signature chunky Peruvian wool. Snoods, infinity scarves, and cowls are simple and trendy styles that you can easily make at home, so I wanted to see what the difference was when knitting with a kit.

I’m a more experienced crocheter than knitter, so I chose an easy level kit to build my knitting repertoire. Each kit comes with a pattern, wool, large wooden needles, a yarn needle, and a cute little We Are Knitters label to sew onto the end product. Upon opening the bag and letting two balls of gray wool tumble out, I was smitten: the thick wool begs to be touched. At size US 19 (15mm), the knitting needles are on the gigantic side, which mean that they’re easy to wield for new knitters and kind of a conversation piece if you like to knit on the train or while chatting with friends.

We Are Knitters Kit - Soho's Snood| Jaybird

Following the We Are Knitters pattern was a fun and easy learning experience. Each time I came upon a new stitch, I would grab my phone or laptop and pull up the fantastically helpful We Are Knitters YouTube channel. They have an entire library of videos showing knit and crochet techniques. Videos are my go-to for learning everything from how to snake a drain to how to braid challah bread, so having each stitch at my fingertips helped me practice until I felt confident moving forward. One of the instructions from the pattern, “yarn over, knit two together” (yo, k2tog), isn’t on their channel yet, but I easily found other videos to use in the meantime.

It took me a few sessions to complete the snood, and I always looked forward to picking up my knitting. Once I finished the project, which is knit as a long rectangle, it wasn’t hard to sew it up and take it for a spin. Jim got his blogger-BF brownie points by accompanying me to Millennium Park for some photos, and we caught the last bright leaves of fall before it started snowing this week.

We Are Knitters Kit - Soho's Snood| Jaybird

As a garment, the Soho’s Snood is perfect for a Chicago winter. It’s thick and warm, and it can be pulled up to protect your face while you traipse through a snowstorm or scrunched down. The eyelet stitches add an element of texture that several friends have already commented on. I can’t say enough about the softness of the yarn–I used a piece of scrap to tie a bow on a friend’s birthday gift, and she couldn’t stop talking about how soft it was either!

Since this is a review, I guess we’ve come to the final question: would I buy a We Are Knitters kit on my own?

The answer is absolutely–with the caveat that I couldn’t afford to make WAK my go-to for every craft project. Great yarn comes at a price, so while I’d love for every project to be a We Are Knitters project, I’ll have to wait before I purchase my next kit (hopefully the Jake Blanket pattern).

We Are Knitters gets it–and they’ve generously offered a 10% discount for Jaybird readers with the code ‘JAYBIRDWAK‘. If you have a beloved knitter on your holiday list, you can find kits, free patterns, and lovely skeins of wool, cotton, and fabric yarn over at We Are Knitters. Happy crafting!

We Are Knitters Review | Jaybird

Disclosure: I received a We Are Knitters kit to review; all opinions (and raves about super soft yarn) are my own.

A Weekend in Detroit: Food, Drink & Art

One of my goals this past summer was to use my car for more fun trips. Since I commute in Chicago traffic every day, I have some negative associations with time spent driving, and I wanted more opportunities to look forward to local travel. Last fall, I went camping in Michigan with friends, so it felt right to head east again. This time, Jim and I set out to spend a weekend in Detroit, Michigan visiting my cousin’s family and seeing the city for the first time.

A Weekend in Detroit | Jaybird

One incredible thing about social media is the ease of building a network of friends all over the country. I knew right off the bat that some of my blogging friends lived in eastern Michigan or were from the area, and so I reached out for recommendations. Amy, who blogs at Club Narwhal, not only has an index of Detroit Adventures, but also generously sent me ideas for places to eat and things to see while visiting. As I posted pictures on Instagram and Facebook along the way, more friends chimed in with their own Detroit and Ann Arbor favorites, which made the trip even more fun.  This post is a long one with plenty of pictures, so read on after the jump!

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Banana Bread French Toast

Today in things you should bake this weekend: banana bread French toast. This recipe is decadent. It’s rich. It makes no promises of being healthy, or paleo, or a smart breakfast to start your day. Nope, this kind of recipe is purely indulgent. Sit down with your coffee–use some real cream–and enjoy.

Banana Bread French Toast Recipe | Jaybird Blog

I first made it for my family while visiting this summer, and ever since, I’ve been tempted to give every baked good the French toast treatment. It seems silly to ascribe such meaning to baked goods, but this recipe began with love. It started with banana bread: I wanted to make a small gesture of thanks to friends and neighbors who have given such amazing support to my family in the past 18 months…knowing that this time around, I would only reach a few of these wonderful people.

With zucchini in season, and bananas always plentiful, I spent an August afternoon baking. I still haven’t found my holy grail banana bread recipe, but I gave this one a shot and it didn’t turn out half bad.

Banana Bread French Toast Recipe | Jaybird Blog

Then again, could a sweetbread full of chocolate chips turn out anything but delicious?

Banana Bread French Toast Recipe | Jaybird Blog

Of course, it turned out that I made too many. I didn’t have time to drive around and give out all of the loaves, so I ended up with loads of banana and zucchini bread. Baker problems, I tell ya. After a few days, they weren’t at their freshest, but I knew a little egg, milk, butter, and magic would turn each piece into a better-than-ever brunch food. French toast is often made with bread that’s slightly stale or past-its-prime, because the egg and cream mixture will plump it right back up.

If you have a favorite banana bread recipe, would you post it in the comments? Next time around, I’d love to try it your way.

Note: I decided to add recipe notes and kitchen equipment before each recipe since I often get questions in the comments about recipe specifics and offline about preferred kitchen supplies. The links below are affiliate links which means I will receive a commission if you shop my list to stock your kitchen–and it won’t cost you a thing!

Recipe Notes

  • I used a mini loaf of banana bread to make my French toast, but the quantities in the recipe reflect an egg mixture for a full loaf.
  • Serve yours with any number of toppings: fresh banana slices, blueberries, strawberries, or even whipped cream.
  • Maple syrup or warmed honey on top = a necessity.

Kitchen Equipment

  • Electric griddle – my family has used one of these for two decades and we love it. My brother and I both learned to make our family pancake breakfasts on this. It’s great especially if you’re making other dishes on the stove but need a large cooking surface for pancakes, French toast, bacon, etc.
  • Rainbow whisk – you can’t see it in the photo but this rainbow whisk brightens every moment I spend in the kitchen. Overall, I highly recommend Kuhn Rikon kitchen goods. I also have their vegetable peeler, julienne peeler, and avocado knife (yep, that’s a real thing).

Banana Bread French Toast

Ingredients

  • 1 loaf cooled banana bread, cut into 3/4-inch-thick slices
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • a pinch of sea salt
  • butter for cooking

Preparation

In a shallow, deep bowl, mix all ingredients except banana bread.

Heat a griddle or large skillet on medium heat and melt butter in the pan to coat.

One at a time, quickly dip banana bread in egg mixture. It will become soggy and likely to break if you let it sit for too long, but make sure that the whole slice of bread is submerged for a moment.

Place on griddle and cook until golden brown, then flip and finish.

Serve with your desired (delicious) toppings or keep warm on a baking sheet in the oven on 275 degrees Fahrenheit for a few minutes while finishing the batch.

http://jaybirdblog.com/banana-bread-french-toast-2/

Banana Bread French Toast Recipe | Jaybird Blog

Spooky Swirl Brownies: A Paleo Halloween Recipe

One of my favorite things about cooking and baking is the opportunity to experiment. I try all kinds of recipes, usually starting with one I find on a blog or in a book, but I never follow them to the letter. Over the years, I’ve learned what spices I like and what ingredients complement each other, and I usually have a few personal touches to add to even the most meticulously-tested recipe. Every time I bake, I see it as a chance to try something a little different–I don’t even faithfully follow my own recipes.

Case in point: these Spooky Swirl Brownies, a new paleo Halloween recipe.

Spooky Swirl Brownies - Paleo Halloween Recipe | Jaybird Blog

With Halloween coming up in less than two weeks, I wanted to bake a paleo dessert with the charm of my favorite Halloween candies: bright red Fireballs, neon green sour straws, and other colorful junk food. When I saw purple sweet potatoes pop up at my grocery store (something that magically happens once every few months), it was time for a new experiment.

In the past, I’ve made many batches of Pumpkin Swirl Brownies and Sweet Potato Brownies, and I’ve used purple sweet potatoes to make these Purple Sweet Potato Muffins. I wanted to try something different without straying too far from brownies, a dessert that always gets raves no matter what diet the person eating follows, and so I stuck pretty close to my pumpkin swirl brownie recipe. The purple sweet potato is denser than its orange relative, so the batter is thicker and the resulting brownies are fudgier…a trade-off I’m happy to make.

While all the adults who tried one of these brownies enjoyed them, I think these would be most fun to make with kids. What better way to convince them that vegetables can be fun to eat than to make bright purple goo and turn it into a dessert? The recipe has some kid-friendly tasks like spreading batter layers and swirling; just make sure an adult is the one to use the oven and the food processor!

Where to Find Purple Sweet Potatoes & Puree

I got this question when I posted the purple sweet potato muffins, too. As I mentioned, I find them every few months at Mariano’s, a grocery chain in the Chicago area. I’ve also found them at Joong Boo, a Asian market in Chicago, and readers have suggested looking at ethnic grocery stores in whatever city you live in. If you have suggestions for other national chains that might stock them, please leave them in the comments to help others out!

You can make purple sweet potato puree at home by baking medium purple sweet potatoes potatoes directly on an oven rack at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes or until soft when pierced with a fork. I put a sheet of foil on the rack below to catch any sugary drips while baking. Let baked potatoes cool, then remove baked potato from skin and process on high in a food processor until smooth.

Spooky Swirl Brownies - Paleo Halloween Recipe | Jaybird Blog

Spooky Swirl Brownies: A Paleo Halloween Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 cup purple sweet potato puree (homemade or canned)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 2-3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons coconut flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • a pinch of salt
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • heaping 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips, divided (Enjoy Life is a paleo + GF brand)

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line a 9x9" baking pan with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together wet ingredients. Stir in dry ingredients except cocoa powder and chocolate chips.

Scoop half the batter into a second bowl and stir in cocoa powder. Fold 1/4 cup miniature chocolate chips into the batter in each bowl.

Starting with the cocoa batter, pour batter into baking dish and smooth into an even layer. The cocoa batter in particular will be very thick and may be hard to spread--be patient and accept that it may not be perfectly even. Follow with a layer of purple batter, then repeat. Use a knife or chopstick and drag through the batter at varying heights to create a pattern and swirls under the surface. Some blending is okay but avoid over-mixing in order to have two distinct colored layers.

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the brownies comes out clean. Cool in pan for 2 minutes, then lift using parchment paper and cool on a rack.

http://jaybirdblog.com/spooky-swirl-brownies-paleo-halloween-recipe/

What’s your favorite Halloween treat, paleo or not? Have you ever baked with purple sweet potatoes? 

P.S. I’d say the second picture is actually a truer reflection of the puree’s color than the first. The light was better when the second photo was taken, and the purple color also becomes less bright when mixed with other brownie ingredients and baked again. The top crust of the brownies remains purple but in some areas begins to turn orange where it is baked–the same way a chocolate chip cookie turns golden brown as it bakes.