Thursday, April 30, 2009

Frogged Sock!

My first ever pair of socks has been frogged. I was correct when I said "not much to it really" in regards to knitting on two circulars. In fact, I'm a little disappointed with myself that I didn't google it sooner. So much lost sock time.

The trouble was I didn't read the pattern I chose for my first socks all the way through. A mistake I tend to make fairly often. Turns out it wasn't very well written. I assumed I would be joining and knitting in the round, seemed fairly obvious, so the cuff and the leg went just fine. But then the heel flap. I'm sure all sock knitters know the heel flap is worked flat, back and forth in rows, and I suspected that would be the case. But my pattern didn't specify and I couldn't be sure.

After reading several other patterns I ascertained that indeed I would work the heel flap and the turn in rows. I made an educated guess as to how many stitches I should work the heel across, as this was also not specified in the pattern I'd chosen. A little lost time to research, but time spent learning can never really be considered lost. So I forged ahead armed with my educated guesses.

The heel turned out pretty good. Next came the picking up of stitches and the gussets and the return to knitting in the round. Again my pattern let me down. Only this time I didn't feel like guessing, and I was running out of patience.

I took some measurements and notes, treating this half done first sock like a giant gauge swatch, and then I frogged the damn thing. Easy come easy go.

I spent the rest of the evening browsing my queue on Ravelry and reading patterns all the way through. I found several which seem to make sense and to be written with more specific instructions. I'll give these a try.

I won't give up.

I'm too pleased with how simple it is to knit on two circulars to just give up. And I've filled my queue with the oh so many socks there are to be smitten with. And my friend Amy has already requested socks for Christmas. And next week I'll be on a cruise and I'm determined to spend a good portion of my time on deck knitting socks.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Another Kitchen Garden Update

Here's another update on my kitchen garden, mostly without words

The beds overflow

Beans are full of blossoms

As are the eggplants



Sun Gold Tomatoes

Gypsy Peppers

Tiny Squash

Monday, April 27, 2009

Soup Swapping

I love the idea of a Soup Swap, and unfortunately I can't give credit where credit is due because I'm just not sure who is responsible for the idea originally.

The idea is a simple one really. Each participant makes a large batch of soup, and packages it in quart sized and freezer safe containers - one for each of the other participants. Then everyone gets together and trades their soup - each person going home with a variety of new soups to try.

I've recently hosted two Soup Swaps. The first was a gathering of 6 home cooks and their boyfriends, spouses, and partners. I hosted on a Sunday afternoon. I served several pitchers of Mojitos, and snacks. Each participant left with 6 handmade soups. For this one I requested that everyone also bring the recipe for the soup they had made so others could also add to their recipe collection.

This first swap was mostly a huge success and a lot of fun. The two caveats I took away from this first event where this: I hadn't requested that people make public what kind of soup they planned to bring and we ended up with three potato soups. Granted, they were all very different, one had bacon and cheese, another was potato leek, and one was plain old potato. We also agreed that a smaller group may have been better - 6 quarts is a lot of soup to make in a single batch.

The second soup swap was done with my crafting group. For a little over a year I have been meeting every other Sunday evening with a group of knitters and crocheters for dinner, wine, and crafting. At our most recent meeting we all brought soups for swapping. We were a smaller group, and everyone was only responsible for 4 quarts of soup, which indeed seemed more manageable. We also shared in advance what we planned to make and therefore had no duplicates.

The final inventory for my two soup swaps looked like this: Maryland Crab Soup, Grandma Woof's Potato Soup, Potato Leek Soup, Potato Soup, Lentil Collard Green Soup, Vegetarian Minestrone, Tomato Poblano Soup, Carrot Habenero Soup, Vegetarian Chili, Greek Lemon and Rice Soup, and a Vegetarian Gumbo.


I've Been Gone for a Minute...

I've been gone for a minute, now I'm back with the jump off...

Actually I'm back with sock knitting. That's right sock knitting. Those of you who have read this blog in the past, and those of you who know me, will probably remember that I like to say "I knit. But never socks." Famous last words, I suppose, because I just taught myself to knit socks on two circular needles.

I've been working on the Waves of Lace cami and a slightly metro-sexual sweater for The Boyfriend since about Christmas time and neither of these projects is very conducive to social knitting. The Boyfriend's sweater was big and fairly bulky to lug around. Plus it's wool and I live in Texas. The Waves of Lace, like all lace, requires that I pay attention to what I'm doing.

When my Stitch N Bitch chicas get together on Sunday nights I find myself looking for a knitting project that's portable, quick, and that I can work on while enjoying a glass or two of wine and keeping up with the conversation. I've done a few hats that I'll never wear (again, I live in Texas), and my kitchen is fully supplied with handknit dish clothes.

Socks would fit the bill, but I don't knit socks. Or more correctly, I don't have the patience to deal with DPNs. I fumble them, I find them awkward, and when I've tried them in the past my knitting has either fallen off, or I've picked them up backwards and knit things insideout.

Socks on two circulars would solve the problem. And my friend and fellow stitcher Tracey of Yarn Unravelled and I have said more than once "we should take a class". She shares both my desire to knit socks and my intolerence of DPNs.

A few weeks back while finishing yet another dish cloth, I jumped online and checked the class shedule at our LYS. Seems Socks on Two Circulars will be taught while I'm away on vacation. Frustrated, I goggled "socks on two circulars" and I found a couple of videos by Cat Bordhi.

Turns out there's not much to it really. In fact it's down right simple.

I have a pretty healthy stash of sock yarn. That's correct, as long as I've been knitting and saying "never socks" I've also been stockpiling sock yarn. I've got no explanation other than to say I must be a little nuts. Harmless, and well mannered, but a little whack.

Another quick internet search, this time on Ravelry, and I was all set up with a plethora of simple sock patterns.

And now, I am well on my way to being a Sock Knitter.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day

In honor of Earth Day I wanted to write about reducing our carbon footprint through our food choices. I suppose in reality I'm always wanting to write about mindful food choices, but Earth Day provides an occasion.

I've been hearing and reading a lot lately about a "low carbon diet" and find myself wondering in which sense do they mean "diet". A diet can be defined as a selection and limitation of what a person eats - diet as in weight loss plan. Or a diet can be defined as the whole of a person or group's food choices and habits- diet as in food culture.

I've been considering whether the "low carbon diet" is being perceived as merely a new set of limitations, which will inevitably have its nay-sayers. Or will it become the next fad diet to sweep the nation, which wouldn't be so bad, except that fads fade, coming and going without much longevity. And that would be unfortunate.

I am hopeful that the "low carbon diet" is a sign of the changing times, and a change in our food culture.

I'm no stranger to dieting, in the "selections and limitations" sense. Although I dislike the connotations of the word, mostly because it implies something that is temporary, short lived, and not sustainable. As someone who has struggled with my weight since puberty, I am always hyper-aware of my food choices with a mind towards not gaining- not too many calories, not too much fat, not too much sugar. Likewise, as a runner I find myself concerned with an appropriate amount of protein and carbohydrates to fuel my runs, and I make food choices based on my weekly mileage and training schedule. And as someone who is concerned with the state of our environment and committed to reducing my personal impact on the earth, I've made food choices based on good stewardship. What all this means is I don't do diets. But I am mindful of my food choices and I do my best to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Now, as I said earlier, I've been hearing a lot about the "low carbon diet", which I believe isn't really a diet at all, but rather a change in lifestyle, a set of choices, and a way of eating that can be embraced and committed to for the long haul. Turns out, I've been living the "low carbon diet" for some time now. And I can say this - whether your goal is to shed a few pounds, or to fuel your athleticism, or to reduce your carbon footprint, the following choices are good ones.

Eat less meat and cheese - Livestock operations account for 18% of carbon emissions. That's more than transportation. I love cheese and I honestly couldn't imagine a world without cheese. This is where making "better" choices comes into play. Eating less is not the same as eating none. We don't need meat at every meal, nor even every day. When you do have meat and cheese on your plate why not make it local, and grass-fed. Visit your local farmer's market and buy your meats from a farmer you can get to know and trust. Small farms with pastured animals have much less effect on the environment than the giant feed lots. Buying local also reduces trucking and its negative effects.

Eat what's in season - out of season, tropical, and exotic fruits and vegetables are often transported thousands of miles. Consider also the mode of transportation, highly perishable foods like fruits and fish are often transported by aircraft which has a much larger carbon footprint than ground transport. Eating seasonally goes hand in hand with eating locally.

Waste less food - 3% of the energy used in this country is used to produce food we waste. Not food we eat, food we throw away. How to waste less - eat your left overs- pack them in your lunch, or cook them in new foods, left over veggies make a great addition to a fritatta. Preparing smaller portions will also reduce your waste. And finally compost what you don't eat. Those peels and cores aren't really wasted if they are later used to feed your garden.

Cook at home - restaurant portions are most often over-sized meaning we either over-eat which is bad for us, or we waste the food which is also bad for us. Eating out also means you are no longer in control of your food choices, have they trucked in the produce? Are they buying factory raised beef? Do they even recycle?

Eat real food
- whole foods are always best, they are the healthiest choices, packing the most nutritional bang for the caloric buck. Avoid overly processed and overly packaged foods.

These five simple choices can have a significant impact on both your waistline and your carbon footprint. They are choices that anyone can make, and constitute principles that are easy to stick with.

And just as everyday can be Earth Day, so too can we all be living a "low carbon diet" and making food choices that lead to better health for ourselves and our planet.

Happy Earth Day! Eat Well!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Mayo-less Tuna Salad

There are not many foods I won't eat, but there are a few. Brussels sprouts are one. Mayo is another. I've tried the vegan mayo-like products that are available on the market, and while they seem to not have the sickeningly fatty essence of mayo, they are still lacking in their own special way. So I stay away.

This mostly works just fine, with one exception. I occasionally need an extra bit of protein in my life and when I do I seem to crave tuna salad sandwiches. The last time I craved a tuna salad I created this recipe. It is light, refreshing, packed with protein and low in fat. It's just real, good food.

Mayo-less Tuna Salad

1 can of high quality tuna packed in spring water
2 tablespoons capers packed in balsamic vinegar
2 cloves garlic pressed
2 scallions finely chopped
juice of half a lime
1 teaspoon organic Dijon mustard
kosher salt and fresh ground white pepper to taste

Simply mix all the ingredients together and serve. Lemon would work just as well as lime, I just happened to have a lime. I recommend serving on a bed of home grown baby greens from the garden or on a toasted whole wheat English muffin.

Serves 2


Monday, April 13, 2009

Just Do the Jam Thing

It was my intention on Saturday morning to go to the Sweet Berry Berry Farm and pick some fresh strawberries. But it seems I was about a week too late - when I checked their website they warned that picking might be slim, not a lot of berries were ripe this week. I decided it was not worth the risk nor the hour-plus-drive to get there. I ran down to the farmer's market instead, where I found a farmer happy to sell me several pounds of fresh, ripe, picked-just-this-morning-berries.

Incidentally, I also found some tiny green garlic, a few greenhouse tomatoes, and a fresh baguette, to which I added some basil from my garden for the best darn bruchetta I think I've ever eaten. I also saved myself enough time that I was able to visit a few of the stops on the Funky Chicken Coop Tour. But my bruchetta and my fascination with urban hens are different stories I shall save for another day, or not.

I needed the quantity of super-fresh berries because I had reserved Easter Sunday for jam making - my first solo effort at jam making. I've been wanting to learn to can for just about as long as I can remember, or at least as long as I've been gardening.

I have tons of fond memories of the canning process. My mom used to preserve the harvest, as did my aunts and my Grandma Ruth. My dad still does. I can remember the kitchen getting steamy from all the boiling water, and the deep sweet smell of the berries cooking, or the sharp savory smell of dill, depending on the harvest. I remember the "pop, pop, pop" of the lids as they sealed themselves and the tiny thrill I got as a kid counting all the "pops" to be sure the whole batch had sealed. It was my job the next day to press the center of each lid and make sure there was no failed jars.

I love those memories. I also love the taste of samples I get when I visit home - hot pickled veggies, salsas, raspberry jams, and old-school dill pickles. There are so many memories in each and every bite. Not just the distance memories of my childhood either. But also the fresher, more recent recollections of summer in Minnesota - when the weather was perfect and the garden overflowed.

Nostalgia is a big motivator for me, as is my new kitchen garden. The time has come for me to learn to can. This past week I did what I almost always do when I want to learn something new; I get a few books, read like a maniac, and give it a go.

That's how I spent my Easter - in the kitchen with a pile of fresh strawberries giving it a go.

The results are fantastic - 9 half pint jars of strawberry vanilla jam and 7 half pints of strawberry lemon marmalade. Both recipes are from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving (see link in the sidebar). My first endeavor into canning was wildly successful. I had just one jar that didn't seal of the marmalade, which of course I started eating today. It is a brilliant shade of red, and the tiny bits of lemon peel give it a bright, sunny taste. And while it was delicious this morning, I can only imagine how delicious it will be come December.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A Garden Update in Pictures

This week I built a new active compost pile and used the remnants of the old passive pile to mulch all the veggie beds. While I was at it I took some photos to share. There are blossoms on everything but the squash. And the best news is I have bees hanging around.

The Pickling Cukes

Black Beauty Eggplants

Ichiban Eggplant


The Butterheads


Monday, April 6, 2009

Porters and Stouts - Beer Glorius Beer

Some would say that there is no difference between a porter and a stout. Others would agree that there are differences, but would proceed to argue over what those differences are. Both styles of beer were developed during the industrial revolution in England and Ireland, this we know. Both styles are dark, and feature roasted barley and it's quintessential malt-y flavor. On this, we can all agree. But beyond these two basic ideas there is no consensus. Recipes varied from brewery to brewery - one man's stout was another man's porter.

Of course - as with all traditions of food and drink- there is a healthy serving of folklore surrounding porters and stouts. Ask around a little bit and you'll be entertained with stories of how the stouts became associated with the Irish. There are stories of how porters were originally developed by mixing all the old crappy beer together. Or that they are named for the "porters" who worked the streets and rivers of London and imbibed said brew. You'll hear tales of roasting techniques being developed in an attempt to disguise the traditional murkiness of the Ales of the time. How much truth there is in any of the stories is next to impossible to determine. After all, this is the nature of folkways.

No matter, really, the beer tastes good.

I attended a tasting recently that featured craft-brewed stouts and porters from both the old world and the new. The recipes continue to vary today. Many of the craft-brewers today are researching "traditional" recipes and attempting to recreate some very old-school brews. Others have focused their attention on creativity and innovation. As evidenced by the stouts and porters being crafted today that feature new twists like the addition of coffee, or lactose, or smoked grains to the brews. I enjoyed some of these innovations very much, and others, not so very much.

Here are my impressions and tasting notes for the six beers we tasted that night:

Meantime Brewing
- London Porter. 6.5% ABV (Alcohol by Volume). Meantime Brewing is a London brewery that has been researching and recreating the traditional British beers of the 18th century. Their claim is that this porter is based on a recipe from 1750. The beer has all the smoky, roasted flavors you would expect, but is rather light, without all the bitterness. Available in a 750 ml bottle with a real cork. I was charmed enough by this one to buy it.

Left Hand Brewing Company
- Milk Stout. 5.5% ABV. Left Hand is a Colorado based craft brewery. Their Milk Stout is produced by adding milk sugar to the brew as a way to smooth the roasted flavors. It had a very dark, mostly black color, and a silky, creamy texture.

Kona Brewing Company - Pipeline Porter. 5.4% ABV. The Kona Brewing Company is located on the big island of Hawaii. Their Pipeline Porter is brewed with the addition of 100% Kona Coffee. The coffee flavor was very forward in this brew. It had a rich roasted flavor, and a more pronounced bitterness than some of the others we tasted.

Stone Brewing Company - Stone Smoked Porter. 5.9% ABV. The Stone Brewing Co. is crafting their beers in San Diego, CA. The Smoked Porter was big, bold, and robust. Brewed with peat-smoked malt, the smoke flavor really came through with this brew. I could imagine it paired perfectly with grilled meat or fish. This is the only other beer I tasted that night that I liked well enough to buy, and I bought two of the 22 oz bottles. I'll share.

Avery Brewing - The Czar Russian Imperial Stout. 11.75% ABV. Located in Boulder, CO, is brewing up some interesting brews. Note the alcohol content on this beer. This beer is what most people expect from a stout in that it is inky, black, and thick. But it is also completely unexpected. Behind the traditional roasted and chocolaty flavors, this beer finished with something close to juniper. Definitely a beer to be shared - with it's high alcohol content and it's retail price tag of $7 for a 22 oz. bottle.

Avery Brewing - Mephistopheles' Stout. 16.1% ABV. As if the heady alcohol content of The Czar wasn't enough. This devil of a brew was black as coal, and thick as molasses. It had deep, rich flavors that reminded me of cola and butterscotch. It was delicious, but a little too evil for me.