Monday, February 22, 2016

Inspiration Mondays: When I Used to Nuke Marshmallows

Great cooking favors the prepared hands. --Jacques Pepin
One of the first things I learned to do in the kitchen was peeling onions. It was a job my mother gave me regularly, since onions were the base of a lot of dishes I grew up eating. I use a lot of onions even today; it would be strange to make a sauce or the base of a stew without them. You'd think after so many years of working with them that I would have found a way to chop them up without crying, but it seems like it gets worse every year. I can only do it now if I have the fan on over stove, and even then it has to be on high.

I also remember learning to peel and mash garlic with a mortar and pestle, how to debone fish with my fingers, and how to flatten small pieces of dough with my hands for siopao. My culinary skills took a bit of a nosedive when I became a teenager and learned how to make a bunch of edible experiments by varying the number of seconds for which I nuked them at power level 10. If you've ever microwaved a marshmallow, you know what I'm talking about...

When I moved into my first kitchen as an adult, I only had the basics: a few spare pots and pans, some cutlery, and a paring knife. I inherited an egg beater from my mother-in-law, one you turned with a crank. I refused to buy an electric mixer... but I can't remember why. Instead, I cranked out many meals with my one knife and my trusty beater. I made some pretty impressive meringues and pavlovas with that thing...

Come to think of it, it's been years since I made a pavlova. Hmm... weekend project...

I read an article this weekend about someone learning to cook into a tiny kitchen, and it made me think of how I learned to make my way around a kitchen with my sparing tools. Over the years, I've picked up fancier, more expensive, more "professional" gear in the kitchen. I recently saved up my money to buy a Vitamix, and it's been fantastic.

I wondered if I felt a bit guilty for abandoning the simpler way to do things in the kitchen for the flashy appliances that are First World "must haves." I decided that I don't feel guilty at all. I think that, if I hadn't spent all that time cranking that fricking beater to make light and fluffy meringues, then I wouldn't know how to use my Kitchen Aid to its best abilities. If I hadn't spent my life chopping vegetables, then I wouldn't know how to prevent my hand blender from overheating. And if I hadn't spent all this time knitting and crocheting things, then I wouldn't know what a good quality sweater ought to look like.

Owning a Ferrari doesn't make you a good race car driver.

I still use my second-hand egg whisk to make quiches and omelettes, and I still use my dough whisk to make bread. It's like straddling two worlds: one where things are created with daydreams, and one where things are created instantly, like magic. It's an interesting line to think about.

Today, I'm inspired by people who have done the tedious things a hundred-bajillion times in order to create the things that allow us mortals to do them pretty well the first time. I won't be hand-blending my smoothies anytime soon, but I'm grateful to know the value of learning how to make things through good ol' elbow grease, and I feel pretty good about sharing that experience with the Vitamix geniuses. Whether they know it or not, we come from the same stock.

Thanks, guys.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

A PSA Regarding Knitting Needles and Cake

Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck. ― Dalai Lama XIV
So, I've been trying to make something out of this yarn for a while now. I spent a bunch of time waiting for a pattern book to arrive in the library for it, and while I waited, I did a bunch of daydreaming and re-designing of the pattern in my head. Once I had the pattern in hand, though, my gut told me that it wasn't quite right.

I searched for another pattern, and finally settled on Svetlana Volkova's Bloomsbury. I did what a good garment-knitter does: I knit a bunch of swatches to make sure I got the right gauge. I usually only need to knit one, because I either get the right gauge right away, or I re-work the pattern to work with the gauge I am getting. I finally settled on the latter: I just couldn't get the right gauge, even though I used larger and larger needles. I dared not go any larger for fear that the whole thing would turn into a floppy mess. So... I did some re-calculations and decided to use the instructions for a larger size in order to get a sweater that would fit me.

And then, I went out to a yarn store and bought new needles. That's where it kinda went wrong.

See the needles below? Those are the needles I knit the final deciding swatch with:

But the needles were old aluminum ones that I almost never used because it's a size 10 needle, and I knit very few projects with that size. The cord was driving me crazy: it's so stiff that it was making it impossible to knit this sweater in the round. Since they were the only set I had in that size, I decided to treat myself to some better needles... nice wooden ones with a flexible cord. They're so great, so easy to knit with, perfect for knitting this sweater...

Gauge Rule #1: You should always knit your project with the needles you knit your gauge swatch with. This is because all needles are ever-so-slightly different, even if they are the same size.

Gauge Rule #2: If you decide to change needles before you start your project, you should re-swatch and check to see that you are still getting the same gauge, even if they are the same size as the needles you swatched with before.



I didn't do that. I cast on with my nifty new needles and sailed along, right down to the point where I separated the stitches for the sleeves, and was just starting to knit the body.

And then I said, "Hmm... I wonder if my gauge is still the same?"

Guess what that answer was. Sigh.

So, I made a cake. Earl Grey Chocolate Cake, moist and delicious and perfect with a cup of tea:

I had a piece, then I went back to my sweater. I put the work-in-progress on some spare yarn and tried it on. Yeah... it was really big around my bust. I measured the gauge again and realized that it was going to be about five inches too large in the bust. Gah.

Luckily, the instructions at the bust were to cast on a bunch of extra stitches. I did some math, and decided I could potentially save the whole thing if I cast on only six stitches at each armpit, instead of the prescribed sixteen. All being well, that would give me about an inch and a half of spare space around the bust... nice and comfy, not too big, not too small. 

I was a bit worried that, since I started with a larger size, the shoulders and arms would be too large, but I think it's going to be ok. I usually have to fiddle with those parts of the pattern since I'm so broad in the shoulders and my upper arms are larger than what most patterns account for. This debacle, along the resulting adjustment, means that I may have inadvertently fiddled my way into a perfect-fitting sweater.

Well, that's the hope.

Here's what it looks like right now, panda added for scale:

This is the back. It sure is pretty, even if it's a bit of a nerve-wracking knit:

So, let this be a warning to you all:

1) Swatch for your projects.
2) Re-swatch if you decide to use different needles, EVEN IF THEY ARE THE SAME SIZE.
3) Cake is important. Make it and enjoy in moderation.

That is all. As you were, everyone.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

A Valentine's Day Cook-a-Thon

One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well. -- Virginia Woolf
 It's Valentine's Day, which, depending on your situation, is either the day of love or, as the guy on the radio put it, "Your next retail opportunity." Whatever your situation, it's a day to think about love, and to do nice things for the people you care about (which should also include yourself, by the way).

So, what'd I do today? Well, I did all the expected Valentine's Day things:

1) I went for a long run. Nothing says love like making your heart pump hard.

2) I went for a long walk with the hubby straight after. Hobbling should be done with people who care enough about you to make sure you get home safely.

3) When I got home, before I sat down, I made the traditional Valentine's Day Honey Lime Sweet Potato dish. Ok, it wasn't for Valentine's Day - it was for my lunches this week. But it has the word "honey" in it, so it's kinda Valentines-y.

4) I kept on cooking, because I knew that as soon as I sat down, I'd be stuck in that chair for a while. I made some Baked Falafels, because nothing says Valentine's Day like mushed up chick peas, onion, garlic, lemon juice, cumin, and cilantro. That should be on a card.

5) While those were in the oven, I made some country-style biscuits. Well, not really. I opened the tube of dough from the store and put them on the tray and put them in the oven. Still, country-style biscuits are love... or maybe I just love biscuits...

6) Which went well with the Valentine's Day Tomato Soup I made for our lunch. It's red. It counts.

7) I did this while wearing my slippers and Valentine's Day sweatpants... which are kinda red...

8) All the while, I had some Valentine's Day ribs in the slow cooker... cuz your heart is inside your ribs. That's just basic biology.

And well, apart from that, I worked on my new sweater project, which started out as a lowly swatch which I knit over and over again to get a good enough gauge:

And is now looking like this, which I worked on while watching the latest Bond movie last night... which wasn't the best idea because I had a bunch of mistakes to fix this morning. I blame Daniel Craig personally.

I'm not really all that surprised that I spent a lot of time cooking today. I think I get that from my mom, because if there's anyone who makes sure you are fed well, it's her. And I think that we both believe that Virginia Woolf said... you can't really help other people if you haven't fed yourself well enough.

I hope you had a good day, whatever you celebrated. Here's to you and your heart inside your ribs, sweat pants, red-coloured food, warm bread, the ability to move around, and the good fortune to have people who care about you around you. Happy love day, everyone.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Inspiration Mondays: Telling People About Your Droopy Socks

I found this little book in a vintage shop a couple of weeks ago. I decided $3.00 was a great price for a little booklet of thrilling moments and profound passages. It was a bargain for sure:

Last night, while waiting for dinner to cook, I sat down and opened it and read through a few passages, and I came upon this paragraph:
To live, is to understand. To live, is to smile at the present; it is to be able to see over the wall of the future. To live, is to have in oneself a balance, and to weigh in good and evil. To live is to have justice, truth reason, devotion, probity, sincerity, common sense, right and duty welded to the heart. To live is to know that one is worth, what one can do and should do.
It made me remember this quote, uttered by the Man in Black from one of my favourite movies, The Princess Bride:
Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something
It got me thinking.

I think we believe that there are people who believe life is like how Victor Hugo described: a time to learn what one is worth, and what one can do and should do.

And I think we believe that, on the other end of the spectrum, there are people who believe that life is all about pain, just as the Man in Black said.

But I think the truth is that we are all sometimes like Victor Hugo, and we are also sometimes like the Man in Black. We are all swing back and forth between those two personalities week to week: sometimes rising upward with duty and strength beneath us, and sometimes crushed by the difficulties of life, or by the weight of shame or depression or guilt.

The thing is, in this Facebook world of sharing our highs, we don't see anyone's lows. And we believe everyone else is doing so much better than we are, and we wish we could be so lucky. And there are people out there who are really, really suffering because of it. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't one of them. It's hard to remember that everyone is in the same boat, paddling as hard as they can.

Today, I'm inspired by people who are trying their very best to be real. And what I mean by that is: they're not walking around chanting, "Oh man, life sucks, I'm suffering, feel sorry for me." They're simply not afraid to say that, no, things are not ok, and maybe I need some help and someone to talk to. And I'm inspired by those people who are wise enough not to say, "Oh, it's not so bad, chin up."

They're wise enough to say, "Hey, me too. Let's get a coffee and talk."

Here's to your socks falling down and telling people so.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Where I'm Not Wearing Pyjamas

"After all," Anne had said to Marilla once, "I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea
Sometimes, I reach the weekends thinking about this blog and I wonder, "Well... have I got anything interesting to talk about?" I always feel a bit sheepish (heh, get it?) when I don't have anything wool-related to talk about, or when I have a week when I haven't made anything or done anything particularly artistic or creative. I suppose the truth is that I make and create things every day... but perhaps not all that blog-worthy.

So I said to myself, "Should I talk about the cute egg coddler I found in a vintage shop last weekend?"

Or the awesome stalks of brussel sprouts I got at the farmer's market yesterday? And my new-found love of brussel sprouts after having plate after plate of amazing grilled ones in San Francisco? Man, those people know how to make an unpopular vegetable sexy:

But here we are: Sunday night of a long weekend (it's Family Day tomorrow in British Columbia), and I'm not blogging about ceramic egg gadgets nor little cabbages. I'm always glad to see the weekend, blog-worthy topics or not. And it's my favourite kind of weekend, where I had absolutely no plans: nowhere to be, nothing to do, apart from the usual chores: grocery shopping, laundry, whatever. I have a secret goal of having a weekend where stay in my pyjamas for the entire time... except maybe to bathe. I sigh just thinking about it.

Luckily for you, I actually have a finished project to share, and I actually did put on real pants to share it. Well... sort of. I put on leggings, which are kind of like pyjamas, except they are deemed acceptable for public appearances. Mostly.

I love the look of this bubble wrap stitch, even if it did start to bore me about halfway through. It's like a bobble stitch, except there are no knobbly, gathered, knotted wads of yarn that are charming in small doses, but tend to give you flashbacks of 70's orange shag carpet in large quantities. This stitch, in contrast, is smooth under the fingers, but interesting enough in texture to make you want to keep stroking it, especially in this alpaca blend. Call it a sophisticated bobble... if you are so inclined to talk to your yarn... which I am...

And the shock of discovering that the third ball was a different dyelot (or perhaps even a different colourway, given how different they are) actually turned out to be completely lovely once the whole thing was finished. Yeah... loving the grey on grey action here:

And when doubled, totally cool. It's like I planned it:

I'm looking forward to wearing it to work, where the office temperature is grounds for warfare (decidedly Baltic in the morning, near-Sahara by the afternoon). It's the perfect place to wear sophisticated bobbles or any other warm neck-thing. And if I could get away with it, I'd wear pyjamas, too.

A girl can dream, right?