Squash and Sox (For Real!)

Well, People of the World, the fact is, I made a big decision for knitting over doctoring this evening.  I could have been at a dinner meeting and reunion of a medical society that I used to belong to, but I opted in favor of home cooking and working on the Berroco cardigan.  I was weighing the choices earlier this morning and realized that I would be having a reunion with folks who were gonna talk a lot about medicine and not at all about knitting, and who hadn’t been very close to me in the five years since I wandered (lurched?) into retirement. 

This afternoon I’ve been so excited about Important Impending Knitting Stuff that I knew my conversation would be focused on it, and how on earth would I carry on about the National Still-working Doctors Convention, the newest Killer-diller antibiotic, and the cost of ear swabs purchased by the gross.  I still have love for my former profession, but I’m just not there any more. 

So you probably are on the edge of your chair wondering about the Important Impending Knitting Stuff.  Today, in the advertising email of a knitting business, I read about the Think Outside the Sox competition.  You know I’ve entered competitions before, and even won one and became a finalist in another.  And you know I’ve had these ideas lately about socks and constructing them more simply.  And you know I’m just crazy enough to take any challenge if it’s presented to me with a skein of yarn.  So – BIG SURPRISE – I’m in.  Go there with me.  The website is http://ThinkOutsideTheSOX.com , and this is what I found there:

  • Deadline is January 1, 2009 – I oughta be able to knit some socks by then!
  • $20,000 in prize money is out there.
  • There are 26 categories that you can enter.
  • Yarns and categories are from a bunch of different co-sponsors, and they all have different goals, so you can pick you favorite or your forte.
  • You can knit or crochet your entries, or both!  (You know I crochet, too.)
  • The entry fee is only $10 (so you can get your socks back), and you can enter up to five times.
  • http://www.universalyarn.com/hotsox.php is the list of stores that are participating and have yarns for the contest. 
  • Winners are announced at Stitches West 2009-an opportunity for a California trip, y’all!

Now, don’t take my word for it.  Go to the website yourself and be sure you understand all the rules and restrictions.  This does make one complication for me.  Since I was going to work up the easy socks and put them on here, I’ve got to decide if the easy socks are competition-worthy.  I’ve lagged behind in finishing them because of more urgent projects, so they weren’t dashing to the front line as it was.  I’ll keep you posted. 

In other, non-sock, knitting, I’ve been getting palpitations looking at my cardigan.  I have both of the fronts finished, and I love how drapey and soft it is.  I know it’s going to lay on the body just right.  I’ve cast on the back with 159 stitches (roughly twice the width of one front, but still a number that’s a multiple of 4, minus 1 stitch).   It is going fast, and I’ll continue to concentrate on the sample piece and the cardigan in the next few days.

 This evening I looked up a squash casserole recipe and then mangled it badly to fit what I have in my pantry and refrigerator.  It is way better than I anticipated, maybe the best squash casserole I’ve ever made.  Just in case your pantry looks like mine, this is what I used: 

  • 1 large bag of frozen squash, already sliced
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten (by hand is ok)
  • 10 ounces of soy milk
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup of shredded cheese
  • two handfuls of organic tortilla chips with mixed whole grains and sesame seeds
  • 1/4 cup of dehydrated red and green bell pepper, reconstituted in the milk
  • 1/2 cup of dehydrated mushrooms, crumbled and reconstituted in the milk
  • 2 tablespoons of Smart Balance spread

Bring the squash to a boil in a couple of inches of water, then turn down and simmer until just tender.  Drain and mush out the extra water, then add the Smart Balance.  Beat the egg and add to the milk, peppers and mushrooms.  Smoosh the chips.  I place them in a zip-type plastic bag and crush them with a glass.  Put the squash in a deep casserole dish.  Fold in the egg/milk mixture and the cheese.  Spread the tortilla chip crumbs over the top.  Cook at 350 degrees F until the casserole is beginning to bubble.  Eat.  Enjoy.  Be healthy.



Cooking Weather

Don’t say “I told you so.”  I’m allowed to have my snow dreams.  Of course, in real life the snow went west and south of me, and I just got the frigid temperatures.  The cool thing is that the cold, cold weather made me want to cook.  Even today, when I awoke with a horribly achy, stiff back, I was in a cooking mood.  I keep an old exam stool in my kitchen and roll around from counter to frig to stove, and do most of my cutting and mixing at the kitchen table while sitting.  So…when I finally had enough Tylenol to get up and move a little, I was in my kitchen.

Actually, it started last night.  I had a tub of firm tofu in my frig that needed to be used, and I was in a casserole mood, so I searched at cooks.com and found Tofu Spinach Casserole.  It was easy and flexible, as I wanted to use fewer eggs and sauces with less salt.  I also used whole wheat noodles.  Turned out delicious.  I’m going to try freezing it in meal size portions.  I made popovers to eat with this:  1 and 1/4 c each of milk and flour, and 3 eggs and 1/4 t of salt make a whole recipe.  Stir well, pour the batter into greased (okay, Pammed) muffin tins, and cook 20 minutes at 450 then 15 at 350.  My sister makes a sweet version, the same basic recipe with sugar added, but I like them plain. 

NEWSFLASH!  1421 hours EST.  It is snowing in my back yard!  Probably won’t get 6 inches, but now I don’t feel so left out.

Back to cooking.  This afternoon I rolled around the kitchen taking inventory.  I had lots of white potatoes and a half-bag of organic pink lady apples that needed to be used.  There was a bag of frozen cooked shrimp in the freezer, and some frozen corn.  I decided on apple-oatmeal muffins and shrimp/potato/corn chowder.  Chowder first:  I cleaned and diced about a million potatoes (maybe a pound and a half).  I didn’t have any broth so I set them to boil with a can of no-salt mixed vegetables and the juice from a can of olives and some water-hey!  use what you’ve got!  I seasoned that with sage and added a handful of dehydrated mixed bell pepper pieces (pretty red and green).  Then, in a small skillet, I heated some olive oil and sauteed about half a bulb’s worth of peeled garlic cloves, cut into thirds.  I seasoned them with pepper and onion powder, browned them lightly and added the whole thing to the big pot with the potatoes.  After the potatoes were tender I added the 10 oz. bag of frozen corn and the pound bag of frozen shrimp.  When they came to a nice rolling boil, I added a few tablespoons of flour to thicken the whole thing.  I could have added milk for a more traditional chowder, but I liked the way it was at that point, so I simmered it for a few minutes and that was it.  Turned out lovely! 

Next, the apple oatmeal muffins.  I peeled and diced three apples, making about two cups of finely chopped apple.  To this I added 1/2 cup of dark brown sugar and two cups of flour, a mixture of millet and whole wheat.  I usually keep three or four kinds of flour in the refrigerator.  I also added 1/2 cup of pecan meal.  I keep pecan and almond meal in the refrigerator too, and flax seed meal, and I add  them liberally to baked goods and casseroles for flavor and those heart-healthy fats.  Next was about 4 teaspoons of baking powder (because I had no idea how much it should be), 1/4 cup of melted Earth Balance spread, and 1 cup of whole oats.  I mixed these all pretty well, then added plain, unsweetened soy milk to make a batter.  I gave it minimal stirring after that, just to moisten all the ingredients, so it would not get too tough.  I sprayed the muffin tins and loaded them.  These were cooked at 380 degrees until they were done (about 25 minutes).   It made 12 small and 6 large muffins.  Incredibly tender, moist and delicious.

Now I have two main courses and two breads that I can put away in meal-size portions.


Driving Forward

I took a drive today.  The temperature was in the 50s, and for part of the ride the sun was shining, but the sky was full of thick, fluffy, grey clouds.  Snow clouds.  It’s gonna snow six inches tonight (my prediction).  I could never be a weather person because I would be using my intuition and saying things like “I know it’s going to rain-it smells like rain!”  It’s been more than fifteen years since the last big blizzard.  The one before that was exactly 20 years – I know, because I was shovelling snow with a big, pregnant belly.  We are overdo for some real winter weather.

Nevertheless, I took my ride.  I wanted to make a leisurely drive up the country road that passes my subdivision.  I went north, further into the country, on a path I’d only travelled once.  This time, I had no destination and no deadline, so I could take the time to observe the scenery that I was passing.  The road traversed rural territory, with only one crossroad deserving of a traffic light.  The mountain range was to my right, perhaps a half-mile from the road, sometimes closer, continuing on past the eight miles that I drove.  There were at least a half-dozen new subdivisions in various stages of construction, making me wonder who was going to buy all those places in this mortgage-depleted time.  The houses were all large, mostly two-story, with ample yards.  One neighborhood claimed the name of “Seven Lakes” but I couldn’t see any body of water from the road.  I passed large tracts of land being used for raising cattle.  The cattle and horses that I saw ignored me, but I paid particular attention to a huge cow that sat less than 20 feet from the road on an unfenced property.   The older houses hugged the road, large beside small beside trailer, some on narrow parcels of land, some on huge, fenced estates.  I passed very few businesses – a barbecue place, gas station, and a few small stores at the large crossroad. 

Surprisingly, I was the solitary vehicle on the road for most of my ride.  I wondered where everyone was.  I know that lots of traffic traverses that road during morning and late afternoon rush hours.  I didn’t expect it to be completely deserted in early afternoon on a weekday.  No one running to the grocery store, picking up a child from school, going to the beauty shop, not a soul within a half-mile of me for most of my journey.  How odd.  I passed three or five churches.  Not even a few folks headed to or from a church committee meeting.  No police vehicles. 

Today is one of those days when I started off slowly.  I was tired and achy, and I felt like not much would be accomplished.  Somehow, as the day progressed, I was able to do some cleaning, then some laundry, then some cooking, and by late afternoon I was collecting mail from various tabletops into my shopping bag, preparing for tomorrow’s bill-paying marathon.  The day was punctuated by brief, positivity-making phone calls, and I think that was part of the secret of the forward motion.  This spate of phone calls actually began last night with a “Hello” and brief catching-up from New Orleans, test prep angst from my daughter, an invitation for a birthday dinner, then today’s post-test calls, a sister catching up, another sister, a friend that I hadn’t spoken with in more than a week…just those little reminders that I was a part of the world.  Being connected imparts responsibility, makes me move more and set my sights farther. 

Yesterday, in another blog, I read someone’s view that it was good to be working with her chronic illness, because it kept her from just sitting down and giving up.  I think it is possible to find other ways to be motivated, and to identify good role models to follow for that.  We are creative creatures whose natural inclination is to move and grow.  We can change and learn and keep up the momentum.  I will not let lupus “whup” me.  I am somebody’s mother!


God Knits, or At Least Provides the Tools

Praise to the Lord, who saw that we needed more than one kind of knitting needle.  I think I’m becoming a Utilitarian, a religion jokingly described by my favorite folk singer, Vance Gilbert.  In one of his monologues, he describes going to church and hearing the sexton read from a radial saw manual “He mounted the blade…and it was good…”  Today I took a page from the Utilitarian church and made a trip to Michaels.  I needed metal knitting needles.  I found them, and they were good.You see, I have been knitting this sample sweater from mercerized cotton (a very nice one).  I have to use size 3 needles to make the gauge, and that’s working rather tightly.  I finally realized that my bamboo needles were just too cozy, hugging that yarn and making me sweat to move it up and down the needle.  I knitted most of the back of the piece in this fashion before I was touched by a vision of slippery metal needles.  Today I drove past Wal-Mart again, 10 miles to the mall, grabbed two pairs of size 3 metal 14-inchers, and drove 10 miles back home.  I have finished working on that piece for today, and I can testify that it was soooooo much easier working with the metal needles.  A secondary benefit was that I am now holding more than 9 inches of pretty heavy sweater (including part of the sleeves), and the metal needle doesn’t bend under that weight.  I am following instructions to the letter, so I haven’t tried to slip in a circular needle. I know that might result in unevenness in the stitches, and it would show in this pattern.  Thanks be to God.

I talked to God about some other things today.  I asked for the time to spring break to pass quickly, because I miss my daughter.  I discussed making a similar med change to the one that allowed my sister to lose 40+ pounds.  I talked about a little extra energy for straightening up the kitchen.  I said some thank-yous for my big, deep bathtub and for walking through Michaels without back pain.  Add your own intentions.

The sister who visited Sunday brought me a large bottle of amazing bath salts.  They have lots of magnesium (like Epsom Salts), and are scented with eucalyptus and vanilla, an unlikely but interesting combination.  They were part of a wonderful, relaxing bath this morning, and I do seem to have fewer of my normal aches and pains today.  I think I’ll forego my night-time knitting and read instead.  I forget that relaxation is an acceptable option.  Amen.


Berroco Cardigan Again

Just a little snippet of a post.  I’m excited that one of the fronts is finished.  After V-neck shaping, I knitted straight, in pattern, for about 7 inches.  Then I made stepped bind-offs on the arm edge as follows: 

Row 1 – Bind off first 12 stitches, working in pattern.  Continue pattern to end of row.

Row 2 – Work pattern.

Row 3 – Repeat row 1.

Row 4 – Work pattern.

Row 5 – Bind off first 20 stitches, working in pattern.  Continue pattern to end of row.

Row 6 – Work pattern.

Row 7 – Bind off remaining stitches.  Leave long tail for seaming shoulder later.

I didn’t let myself work on this until I had done a considerable bit of the sample I’m working.  I will do the same tomorrow, work on the sample and then treat myself to a bit of the other front on the cardigan.  The other front will be a mirror image of this one. 


Hush, Hillary

Yesterday Hillary Clinton got loud and indignant about Barack Obama’s campaign mailings in Ohio.  In my personal experience, it isn’t good to be loud and indignant when you are factually wrong.  Her campaign policy has been that health insurance will be mandated, that everyone will be required to purchase health insurance.  Yes, there will be some subsidies for low-income people, but there’s still bound to be a goodly number of people who just can’t figure out where it’s going to fit into their minimum-wage budget without selling a kid or going hungry twice a week.  What will we do, put them in jail for refusing to buy health insurance?  A great place to look for comparison of the candidates on the issues is http://politics.nytimes.com/election-guide/2008/issues/index.html#/context=index/issue=health

“If the Democrats can’t landslide Republicans this year, they ought to just…close down.”  Point taken.  But guess who said that?  Ralph Nader, on Meet the Press, as he is announcing that he will once again (third time) run for president.  If that is the case, why is he running?  He claims that his positions are the positions of the majority of Americans, but he’s never been able to get more than a statistical handful of them to vote for him.  Yes, he’s fighting a two-party system, but Americans are not ignorant or self-defeating.  If we feel that we can get what we want, we will go after it.  His candidacy will be a call-to-arms for Democrats to make sure they get out their voice and their vote, and don’t allow a situation like the narrow Bush/Gore election again. 

Oops.  I believe I’ve been accidentally political.  Time to start knitting my Obama tote bag.


Mango Pie and Berroco Cardigan

I should be updating the knitting still further, but first there are things on my mind.  Like mango pie.  I didn’t mention yesterday that I actually made mango pie.  It turned out to be much more mango and much less cream than the pie I had in Athens (yes, that’s Georgia).  I love it.  I took 2 cups of defrosted mango cubes and whizzed them in the food processor until they were pretty slushy.  Then I added a couple tablespoons of gel-maker (the Kosher stuff you use if you don’t want to use Knox gelatin), and 3/4 cup of soy milk (which could also be regular milk or even cream, if you want to go there), and about 1/2 cup of sugar.  After I whizzed them together, I dumped them into a frozen whole-wheat pie crust.  I baked it on 375 degrees (a made-up temperature because I was just trying, you know) for about 50 minutes.  Totally delicious.  I’m saving a couple slices because my sister is eating here tomorrow.


Tomorrow’s sister is a conundrum.  Sometimes we don’t understand each other at all.  I think it’s because she overthinks things.  I will answer any question anyone asks me with a straight answer, but she doesn’t ask me questions until she’s thought too hard.  By then, it’s like:  “Essie, do you remember what motivated you to paint pink hearts on my Valentine in 1988?” and I’m trying to act like I (a) remember and (b) give a damn.  But we’ll have fun tomorrow because we do have some common interests.  She has the best voice in the family.  I used to sit by her in church so I could hear her soprano.  She was a choir all by herself. 


When someone is coming to visit, I tend to overcompensate for my physical state and try to show how competent I am.  She told me she was coming and I immediately offered to feed her lunch.  Of course it can’t be a peanut butter sandwich, even though I have wonderful Niedlov’s artisanal raisin oatmeal bread to spread it on.  So I’ve been to the grocery store to pick up some chicken, and spent an hour at Martha’s place looking for something interesting to do with it.  It’s gonna be ginger and peaches and onion and chicken and some mixed brown/wild rice or maybe I’ll do the creamy grits like I had in Athens.  They would be great with the peaches, etc.  This is a very simple, one step recipe, so hopefully I’m not going too far out on the self-imposed limb this time.   Hmm.  Sweet peaches, then mango pie.  Will that be okay?  Maybe she’ll give up the pie and let me have her piece.  Naaaah. 


I started my front neck shaping on the red cardigan today, and I’m well on my way to the shoulder.  Obviously I’m making it to fit me.  When I’m finished, I will give specific instructions for cutting it down to Barbie size.  The front neckline will be a flattering V because I watch Stacey and Clinton on What Not to Wear and because I hate things rubbing against my trachea.  I figured this out about the mistake rib.  When you are deciding what stitch you’re on (of the knit2, purl2), look for the big central knit stitch V that sticks out-that’s where the first knit stitch (of knit2) goes.  I had fun keeping the pattern lined up properly while I decreased stitches for the V-neck.  I began when I had knitted about 13.5 inches, all mistake rib. 


Decrease rows: 

Row 1 (wrong side):  K2tog,purl2tog,*(K2,P2)  repeat from * to end of row. 

Row 2 (right side):  (K2,P2) repeat to end of row.

Row 3:  K2 tog, purl 2 tog, *(P2,K2)  repeat from * to end of row.

Row 4:  (K2, P2) repeat to end of row.

Repeat rows 1-4 a total of three times, leaving 12 fewer stitches than you began with.  Then continue knitting the pattern straight until you’ve reached the desired length to mid-shoulder.  I got so excited about this sweater after measuring and writing the above instructions that I just picked it up and started knitting, and forgot to publish the blog.  Here we go!