Sunday, May 31, 2009

Affirmations of a Knitter

On Thursday of this past week I had the pleasure of attending a reading and reception with Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, better known to us knitters as the Yarn Harlot. The book store where it was held vastly underestimated both her popularity and the size of the local knitting community. The room was packed - beyond standing room only. And most of us were knitting, of course.

I expected the Yarn Harlot to be funny - as full of wit and clever insights as her writing, and I was not disappointed. I wasn't expecting, but was pleased to discover, that she was also inspirational. I left the event with a renewed love of being a knitter.

Since that evening my head has been swimming with personal declarations of what it means to be a knitter. Affirmations, really. Things I mostly already knew, and if you're a knitter you are likely to know them also. But I have not taken the time recently to consider them, neglecting to concentrate on why it is that I can not stop knitting.

I've been considering community - that standing room only crowd. Being a knitter means being a part of a larger community. A team player, so to speak, on an extremely diverse team of smart generous people. People I might otherwise ignore or avoid were it not for the one unifying fact that we all knit.

Being a knitter is healthy. A fact supported by science. It can lower your blood pressure and reduce your stress. In short, knitting has the ability to calm an over-active mind, and to settle a restless soul. Knitting allows me to be still.

Knitting is worthwhile. When I feel I don't have the energy to do much of anything, but can't justify doing nothing, I knit. When you are knitting you are doing something. Not nothing, something. You are knitting.

Knitting is good, and can do no harm. I'm unlikely to hurt myself while knitting. And knitting makes us generous and thoughtful. Whether we are knitting for ourselves or for others, it is an act of extreme kindness to give a hand knit article.

Since seeing the Yarn Harlot I've been thinking - knitting is healthy, worthwhile, and good. These affirmations have accompanied me during stolen moments with the yoga socks, and my precious uninterrupted hour of lace knitting. I'm pleased to be a part of the knitting team. A team that embraces the idea that something hand made will always be more beloved and fine than something that is not.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

In Which I Will Not Be Defeated by Socks

In my last update on the sock saga I quoted The Boyfriend and his observations about the determination, and stubbornness I'm displaying when it comes to learning to knit socks. I'll quote him again - "I forgot to account for your stubborn streak".

Again, he's not wrong. I have such a streak. And I've stubbornly set my mind to becoming a sock knitter. Come hell or high water, as they say.

That stubborn streak has seen me through a couple of triathlons, and more recently a couple of half marathons. But it wasn't just the will that got me through these athletic endeavors. There was also the proper gear and a good amount of training.

And so it stands to reason, at least in my mind, that with the proper gear, and some training, and my willful ways, I can master the art of sock knitting.

That's been my current focus.

Yesterday the gear arrived in the form of a giant box of sock yarn and a sock cocktail kit from Knitpicks. The sock cocktail pattern is really more a mix and match recipe, giving instructions for different toes, cuffs, heels, and leg patterns. A great learning tool.

I also, by coincidence or providence, which ever suits your taste, received a free download of 5 sock patterns from Knitting Daily.

As for the training, I signed up for two classes being offered at my LYS. Two classes being taught by Cookie A. the sock designer and author of the new book Sock Innovation: Knitting Techniques & Patterns for One-of-a-Kind Socks
The classes are not until July, but that just gives me time to practice so I can make the most of this learning opportunity.

Meanwhile, since my last post, I've completed the make-it-up-as-you-go yoga sock I mentioned in the previous update, and I'm pleased to report it fits. And I like it. And I'll knit it's mate. Tonight perhaps.

When Life Gives You Eggplants, Make Baba Ghanouj

A few posts back I posted a plethora of pesto recipes and encouraged you all to freeze them, and preserve your culinary herb harvest.

This week my garden over flows with eggplants. And I've been making Baba Ghanouj.

Way back when I worked in the sweetest little Egyptian restaurant stuck smack in the middle of a residential neighborhood in SE Minneapolis. From the owner and chef I learned that the best baba ghanouj has just four ingredients: Eggplants, parsley, garlic, and tahini.

I've tested and sized the following recipe for a single batch of about 1 and 1/2 cups. I've been making a batch or two everyday and freezing it. It freezes well.

Baba Ghanouj

1 pound fresh eggplants, roasted
3 gloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons organic tahini

To roast the eggplant: Wash and dry eggplants. Pierce skin several times with a fork to allow steam to escape and avoid exploding eggplants. Place in broiler, turn every few minutes, and cook until the skin is charred and the meat feels soft and tender. Let cool for several minutes before handling.

To make Baba Ghanouj: Once the roasted eggplants have cooled enough to handle, cut them in half lengthwise, and scrap the meat away from the skin and into a food processor. Add all other ingredients to food processor and give it a whirl. Process until a smooth creamy texture is achieved.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

That's all there is to it, another super simple recipe. Again, I sized this recipe for household use, but by all means, if you have a lot of mouths to feed or a lot of eggplants, feel free to double or triple the recipe.

And don't forget to freeze some, preserving summer's bounty to be enjoyed over and over again.


Baba Ganoush on Foodista

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sock Update

This whole learning-to-knit-socks-thing is becoming larger than life. I know in my last update I said I would knit the shorty sock again, but smaller. And I will, just not right now.

I decided to try my hand at a yoga sock first - no heel and no toe, much simpler. I knit most of the first one before deciding it was too small. I frogged it and began again. This time going up a needle size.

Half way through, I decided this yoga sock would make more sense if it was knit from the toe up, instead of from the top down. So I'm re-working the idea and coming up with a new design.

For those of you counting along at home, that's four socks started, one large lonely floppy sock completed, and a pattern half written. Progress.

While walking one of the dogs and discussing said progress with The Boyfriend yesterday he made the comment "this just isn't like you." He refers of course to my usual and utter lack of patience and sticktoitiveness when things don't come out just right. He's not wrong. It isn't like me, but I said it before and I'll say it again - I won't give up on socks.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Peaches Are In!

I shop at my farmer's market on a pretty much weekly basis. It's a part of the routine, and just daily living. But this past weekend turned out to be special - the peaches are in.

Nothing smells as good as a fresh ripe peach. And there is no fruit as sexy.

I knew in advance there would be two grower's with peaches this week. I got the head's up in the weekly email newsletter from the farmer's market, which I'm happy to subscribe to. The advance warning gave me the opportunity to peruse a few cookbooks and decide what to do with the peaches. Knowing what you'll cook is a handy piece of information to have when deciding how many peaches to buy. And an afternoon spent with a glass of wine and a pile of cookbooks is not a waste of time.

We scooted down to the market a little later than usual- the sky was gray, the forecast called for stormy weather, and the coffee tasted good. The delay nearly cost me my peaches.

After The Boyfriend bought his requisite breakfast tacos, and I had dawdled around buying bread and produce, we made our way to my favorite farmer and egg guy. As we chatted and waited for our turn at the eggs the cold front arrived. Literally. With one big gust of wind the temperature drop by 15 degrees. I exaggerate not, this happens here in Central Texas. I knew I had mere minutes to get my peaches and get out.

I paid for my eggs, and hurriedly made my way to the peaches. They were beautiful - so soft, so delicate, and the smell... but no time for dalliance the storm was on it's way. I loaded up my market bag with several pounds of peaches, paid, and thanked the farmer.

Then the rain came. In buckets.

We ran the 5 blocks back to the car, carefully handling my little lovelies so as to neither bruise them nor let them get too wet. And I was in flip-flops. But nothing could stop me.

With the peaches safely home and the cold front firmly in place I opened all the windows in the house, a treat as rare as ripe peaches in Texas in May, and prepared to spend the afternoon in the kitchen.

I wanted to get out the canning equipment and try my hand again at preserving the harvest. My previous success with the strawberries had whet my appetite. After previously mentioned cookbook perusing I had decided on the Spiced Peach Jam from The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest, and the Peach Rum Sauce from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving (both links in the lower right column).

It wasn't an easy decision, there's a ton of yummy things you can do with peaches - besides just eating them. Which we also did. Of course. But not too many.

Both recipes turned out perfect - delicious, a bit out of the ordinary, and the smell... By dinner time that evening I had six pints of jam and eight pints of sauce. Every jar sealed. Dinner time was 9 PM.

Word on the street is that the blackberries will be in this Saturday...

Friday, May 15, 2009

Back On Dry Land with One Sock

I'm safely back on dry land and I can say most definitely I will never cruise again. I'm just not a cruiser. I enjoyed the fresh salty air, and the down time to read and knit. I also had the pleasure of snorkeling, and a swim with sting rays in Grand Cayman. They were lovely - graceful and gentle and the softest silkiest creatures I've ever laid my hands on. But I didn't love being stuck on a boat with an excess of rowdy strangers. Live and learn I guess.

I did have ample time to knit and I finished a sock while stuck on that boat. My first official sock. I learned a lot from the single sock - the basic structure and anatomy of sock knitting, how to turn a heel, and how to properly graft a toe.

Unfortunately, it will never be a pair of socks. It is simply too big, and a little floppy. Enough so that I won't knit its mate. I can see no point in two socks that don't fit. Instead I'll move forward and onto the next pair.

I have already gone down two needle sizes, as I always do, to accommodate my loose knitting, and knit the lonely sock with a US 0. I'm going to try the same pattern again, but this time I will cast on fewer stitches and see if I can't knit a sock that fits. If I can I will knit its mate.

A Plethora of Pestos

My kitchen garden features a fair number of culinary herbs and I've been putting those herbs to good use with pesto. Pesto is the perfect way to preserve an abundance of herbs, as they freeze well, especially if you don't add cheese.

I've been making a variety of pesto - mixing and matching ingredients to create new recipes. The idea is that any pesto has a basic set of ingredients - the fresh herb, an oil, a nut, the aromatics, and sometimes an acidic, usually citrus. Within this concept I've been improvising and have been creating some truly fantastic recipes.

Let's start with a Basic Basil Pesto - the one everyone thinks of when they think of pesto.

Basic Basil Pesto
3 cups fresh basil
1/3 cup pine nuts
3 cloves of garlic
1/4 olive oil
salt and pepper

Put all of the ingredients, except the oil into a food processor and pulse until finely chopped and blended. With the food processor running, slowly drizzle the oil into the mix until a smooth, and somewhat creamy textured is achieved.

Again, I have omitted the cheese, which in a traditional basil pesto would be Parmigiano Reggiano. Leaving out the cheese both reduces the fat content and allows for a nicer texture when freezing the pesto. By all means, add the cheese when serving your pesto with pasta.

I based this next one on the idea of an Herbs De Provence bouquet .

Pesto Provencal
1 cup fresh parsley
1/2 cup fresh tarragon
1/4 cup fresh thyme
1/2 cup fresh oregano
1/4 cup marjoram
1/4 cup sage
1/3 cup almonds, chopped
3 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup grape seed oil
2 tablespoons of orange juice
salt and pepper

Put all of the ingredients, except the oil into a food processor and pulse until finely chopped and blended. With the food processor running, slowly drizzle the oil into the mix until a smooth, and somewhat creamy textured is achieved.

Make sure when your measuring your fresh herbs that they are loosely packed, and don't fret about being too exacting.

This next one is hands down my favorite - I took my inspiration from Thai cuisine.

Thai Pesto
3 cups fresh cilantro
1/3 cup no-salt peanuts, chopped
3 scallions, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, rough chopped
1/4 cup grape seed oil
juice of a very juicy lime
salt and pepper

Put all of the ingredients, except the oil into a food processor and pulse until finely chopped and blended. With the food processor running, slowly drizzle the oil into the mix until a smooth, and somewhat creamy textured is achieved.

I've also made a variation of this Thai Pesto - after my cilantro had bolted I substituted lemon basil as the main attraction. It was delicious.

Parsley Pesto
2 cups fresh parsley
1 cup fresh cilantro
1/4 fresh chives
1/3 cup walnuts, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper

Put all of the ingredients, except the oil into a food processor and pulse until finely chopped and blended. With the food processor running, slowly drizzle the oil into the mix until a smooth, and somewhat creamy textured is achieved

When I use any nut other than pine nuts I chop them first. Otherwise they tend to bounce wildly around in the food processor. Also note that I often use grape seed oil instead of olive oil, it has a milder flavor which really lets the other ingredients shine.

This next one is a garlic lover's dream. The flavor is reminiscent of some Indian Chutney's I've had. I was only able to make this once as the season for green garlic is extremely short.

Green Garlic Pesto
8-10 sprigs of fresh green garlic
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup olive oil
juice of 1/2 a lemon
salt and pepper

Put all of the ingredients, except the oil into a food processor and pulse until finely chopped and blended. With the food processor running, slowly drizzle the oil into the mix until a smooth, and somewhat creamy textured is achieved.

And finally a Cilantro Pesto which has similar ingredients to the Thai Pesto. But the addition of fresh ginger, and the switch between peanuts and almonds, and lemon for lime juice makes it completely unique in flavor.

Cilantro Pesto
3 cups fresh cilantro
1 jalapeno rough chopped
1/3 cup almonds chopped
2 tablespoons diced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
1/4 cup of grape seed oil
salt and pepper

Put all of the ingredients, except the oil into a food processor and pulse until finely chopped and blended. With the food processor running, slowly drizzle the oil into the mix until a smooth, and somewhat creamy textured is achieved.

Most of these recipes will yield between a cup and a cup and half of pesto. I freeze mine in half cup portions, which seems about right for serving two. Pesto is most commonly tossed onto pasta, but it can also be used as a spread on sandwiches, or to spruce up grilled chicken or fish. I also like it on a baked potato.


Pesto on Foodista

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The First Real Harvest

Today I was able to harvest the first real harvest of veggies from the kitchen garden. I've been harvesting a little here and there- the radishes and lettuce are of course all gone, and I've been making pestos on an almost daily basis.

But today, it felt real. There were summer squash, eggplants, cucumbers, peppers, and green beans all ripe and ready to be picked.

While I was out there I found these guys on the parsley. I don't know what they are, or what they will become. But they are pretty. And as long as they only eat the parsley, they're welcome to stay.

If you can identify my little parsley eaters, please leave a comment. I'd appreciate it.