Sunday, March 8, 2009

Sweater Progress

Yes, I am still working on the sweater! However, the same thing that always happens to me at this time of the year is happening right now: I want to knit spring and summer stuff, not sweaters!! Still, we have cool weather and are expecting a cool down next week, so I have plenty of opportunities to wear a sweater, if I can just finish it.

The body of the sweater is finished, so I only have to knit the sleeves and the neck. This seems like a easy task, but, if you've ever knit a sweater before, you know that the sleeves can seem endless! I don't know why; they have a fraction of the number of stitches as the body of the sweater, and yet... they seem to take forever.

At any rate, these are set in, short row sleeves. I have done short rows before, with wraps and turns, but I haven't done them on the purl side, so that was new. For these sleeves, you have to pick up a certain number of stitches, place a marker, pick up more, place a marker, etc., and you have to pick up the same number of stitches on either side of the sleeve. This sounded sort of tricky to me, but I jumped in. On my first attempt, I ran out of room before I had picked up the required number of stitches. Ripped that out. Second attempt, I sort of "made it work." It looked pretty good, not perfect, but I was eager to move forward, so I deemed it "good enough." Never a good idea!

I worked all of the short rows, joined for worked in the round and then stopped to admire my work. Ug. Not pretty. It was a bit uneven. There were loose spots where I had picked up stitches. Some of my purl wraps were clearly wrong, so there were some weird crossed stitches in some parts. Reluctantly, I ripped it out.

I set it aside for a while, but quickly decided to try again. Picked up the stitches nice and evenly. Worked the short row wraps carefully... success!! I am now "speeding" down the arm of sleeve number one!

In other knitting news, I am about to turn the heel on Mike's tabi sock, which looks huge to me, but he tried it on and it fits him quite well.

I also knit up these baby booties, but still have to sew the seams. A friend is newly pregnant and doesn't know if it's a girl or a boy. However, I had this lovely organic cotton yarn sitting in my stash and it just happens to be blue. Girls can wear blue, too, right? Light blue. Pastel. Barely blue. Maybe I could add pink pompoms if it turns out to be a girl?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Trimming the Fat

I've been trying to cook delicious food that is a little bit lower in fat and calories. I think I've hit that age where every little bit actually does count! Plus, it's just got to be better for the kids.

One thing I use all the time in baking is either applesauce or prune puree. Buying the prune puree can be sort of expensive, though I'm not sure why. Laurie gave me her recipe for cowboy cookies (thanks, Laurie!!) which included directions on how to make prune puree and I just slapped myself in the head... duh. Just put a bunch of prunes in your food processor. Turn it one and start pouring in hot water, slowly. Eventually, you will get "prune butter." Just make it the consistency you want, but be careful not to make it too watery. Turn off the machine every once in a while, scrape down the sides, and start again. Okay, this stuff is delicious! I really like it on toast or crackers.

I just substitute it straight for butter or oil in a recipe. It works especially well for things that can handle a bit of added sweetness, and amazingly well with anything chocolate. Last night, the kids found a box of brownie mix in the pantry. It was from Trader Joe's, "Truffle Brownie Mix." The directions called for 1 stick of butter, melted, and 2 large eggs. I used 1/2 cup of prune puree and egg replacers equivalent to 2 eggs. Voila! Gorgeous, moist and delicious brownies! I know they're not health food, but still, better than the alternative.

Another of my favorite things is bean dip. I love bean dips on veggies and crackers and I really love to spread them on tortillas to make wraps. My favorite is hummus, but I've been searching for a way to make it lighter. I came up with a very tasty bean dip, but I'm not even sure you can call it hummus! It doesn't have tahini or oil in it, though it does have chickpeas. Here's how I made it:

1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 clove garlic (large-ish)

2-3 Tbs lemon juice

1-2 Tbs tamari

1 roasted red bell pepper (from a jar)

1/2 tsp smoked paprika (must use SMOKED, not regular)

Whirl it all up in a food processor; let it chill for an hour or so to blend the flavors. This is really delicious! I used it as a dip and then I used it as a spread on my wraps. I just spread a layer on a sprouted grain tortilla and then added whatever veggies I wanted. One time, I sauteed onion, mushrooms and corn and added some spinach leaves... heavenly! Usually, I just put some salad on top and roll it up and eat it. (sorry about this sorry-looking photo:-)

I thought it might make a good base for a salad dressing. I tried diluting it with some rice vinegar and, honestly, it was okay, but not great. I think it might need more seasoning or something; I'll have to play with it.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Wild About Sprouts!

Every year about this time, when the weather warms up a little and the seed catalogs start arriving, the gardening urge kicks in. However, February is waaaaay too early to garden in Kansas. Without fail, I turn to my sprouts.

Yes, you can sprout year round, 365 days a year. Throughout the year I will sprout in fits and spurts, sprouting for a while, and then... not sprouting for a while. But February brings a flurry of sprouting and I never get tired of watching the dormant seeds sprout into little live plants.

My first sprouting jar was an old, gigantic olive jar from a restaurant with a cheesecloth lid. Next, I graduated to a "real" sprouting jar with a fine mesh lid. These days, my favorite sprouter is, by far, EasySprout. Easy to use, easy to clean, perfect results, every time. You can buy one from many places online, including Amazon and, my favorite sprout vendor,

What to sprout? The question should be: what NOT to sprout! There are the obvious standbys, like mung beans and alfalfa and radish and broccoli sprouts. Then, there are bean and lentil sprouts. You can also sprout nuts! Again, sprouting seeds are available all over the place. If you want some unusual blends or ideas, visit! (I am not affiliated with them in any way; they are just the best place I have found for buying and growing sprouts, recipes, information, etc.) Sprouting nuts is supposed to make them easier to digest and it softens them a bit if you want to grind them up for nut milk. I have made hummus with sprouted chickpeas and it was surprisingly good, though it tasted quite different from cooked chickpea hummus.

What else can you do with sprouts? Well, the obvious things include using them in salads, sprinkling on soups, in sandwiches and wraps, and rolling up them up in your sushi! Sprouted lentils make a wonderful salad. Just mix up a bowl with sprouted lentils, some chopped red onion, diced tomato, and diced cucumber. Then, add the dressing of your choice. This salad tastes great with a vinaigrette style dressing, and also a tofu or creamy-based dressing. You can eat the salad plain, or on greens, or on a sandwich, or in a pita. Really delicious!

I just sprouted some radish seeds. These are sort of peppery sprouts, much like radishes themselves. Some pithy directions: Place your sprouts into a jar or bowl or your sprouter. The amount of seeds varies with the type of sprouts and the size of your container. With the EasySprout I use 2 Tbs of radish seeds and maybe 1/4- 1/2 C of beans. Cover with water and soak for 8-12 hours. Drain well. Then, rinse well with a steady stream of water 4 or 5 times a day. After rinsing, you must DRAIN WELL. Make sure the sprouts aren't sitting in water or they will rot.
Here they are on day 2:
Here they are on day 3:

Here they are at the end of day 4, when I have decided they are "done." For radish sprouts, I like to de-hull them a bit, which sounds like a big deal, but it's not. I just put the sprouts in a bowl and fill with water. The seed casings either sink to the bottom of the bowl, or they float. I just scoop out the hulls on top and discard, then scoop out the sprouts and lay them on a towel to dry out. You don't have to de-hull sprouts at all, ever, but I find the hulls of the radish seeds are a bit bitter and tough. I don't try to get every single one, just a general clean up. That's it; they're done! I store them in a glass or plastic container in the fridge. If they seem really wet, I might wrap them in a paper towel. I think I might put some on my pizza tonight!!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Do You Neti??

If you already have a neti pot and know how great it is, well, consider this a reminder and skip this post! However, if you don't even know what a neti pot is, read on!

This is a neti pot. It looks a little bit like Aladdin's magical lamp, doesn't it? You fill it with warm, salted water and pour it through your nostrils, as in, IN one nostril and OUT the other one. I know it sounds creepy but trust me, it is fantastic!

Neti pots have been used for thousands of years in India. I first learned about them 10 years ago in my yoga teacher training, while learning about various cleansing techniques. It is great if you live in a dry climate or if your house gets dry due to central heating or air conditioning. It restores moisture to your mucous membranes. It's also great for getting rid of excess mucous in your sinuses. It helps to wash out pollens and pollutants and even germs that could cause colds or flus.

I used to have dry, cracked nostrils in the winter time, which would bleed and scab and really hurt! I don't have that problem any more. Also, any time I feel a cold coming on, or even if I just think I've been exposed to a lot of germs, I use my neti pot every few hours for a day or two and it seems to do the trick. I'm not saying you'll never get sick; I'm just saying that it may help ward off sickness, or perhaps shorten the duration.

I confess that I some times put my neti pot away and, well... out of sight, out of mind! If I leave it on the counter where I can see it, I use it every day.

Some more specific directions: Prepare your saline solution by adding salt to warm water, using about 1/4 tsp salt if it is very fine, or up to 1/2 tsp salt if it is coarse, to 8 oz of warm water. You don't have to buy any special salt, but don't use iodized salt. I try to use a natural sea salt. You can also buy "special" solutions for your neti pot, ranging from a simple saline solution to those that contain herbal blends. I've never tried any of them, but I can assure that a simple homemade solution works just fine. Make sure your water is a comfortable temperature, not too cold and not too hot.

Okay, so pour the warm salt water into your neti pot. Lean your head over the sink sideways, with one nostril up and one down:-) Place the spout right into your nostril and start pouring. You will experience about 1 second of very slight discomfort as your nostril fills up and then it should start flowing out the other side. You can breathe comfortably through your mouth. If the salt water is dripping down your throat, you need to lower your forehead. If it doesn't flow out the other nostril, just adjust your head slightly, tipping backward or forward. When you are done, remove the neti pot and then blow vigorously out your nose. Repeat on the other side.

There is a You Tube video showing how to use the neti pot. You can buy one for about $10-$12 at health food stores and at lots of places online.

Just consider this a public service announcement. I am not a doctor, and I don't play one on tv!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Daily Bread

Am I overdoing it with the food posts? Sorry! I just love to cook and I love to eat and I can't help myself!!

This post is about bread. Home-baked bread that you can pop into your oven every single day, even if you think you don't have time! That's correct: I'm talking about "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. If you don't know what I'm talking about, go directly to the library or bookstore and grab a copy. You won't regret it!

Okay, so the premise is: you make up a batch of fairly soggy, wet dough. You store it in your fridge. Whenever you want bread, you hack off a hunk of dough, let it rise a bit and then bake it. The results are phenomenal. This is not your average home-baked bread. It's a crusty, complex loaf of bread, the kind you drive to a bakery to buy, and it couldn't be easier!

There have been some basic directions printed in Mother Earth News and Vegetarian Times, but if you like bread, you will want the whole book. You start with the basic white bread, then you can move on to whole grain breads, flatbreads, pizzas, and dessert and pastry breads. There are also some add-on recipes, like salads and sandwiches and other things you might want to serve with your bread, or make with your bread. Trust me, it's easy and delicious.

So, here are a few more details: you mix up the dough. For the basic recipe, it's water, yeast, salt and flour. You let it rise for about 2 hours and then you store it in the refrigerator. It will keep up to 2 weeks. You can make 4 1-lb loaves out of the basic recipe, but it is easily doubled. Whenever you want to bake, you pull out your dough bucket and cut off a grapefruit-sized chunk. You quickly shape it into a round and then let it rise at room temperature for about 40 minutes.
Then you slide it into your oven onto a pre-heated baking stone or sheet. You add some water to a pan in your oven to create steam, close the door, and let it bake for about 30 minutes. Then... Cool. Cut. Eat. Repeat.

The possibilities are endless!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Sushi Time!

Have you ever made sushi at home? Well, you should definitely give it a try! It's fun and easy and a LOT less expensive than taking your family, with 3 hungry, sushi-loving teens, out to a sushi restaurant. This is the sushi we made on New Year's Eve.
I don't pretend to be an expert, as I've only made it a few times, but I did do a bit of research, so I'll share what I've learned. As an aside, the only things I've filled my rolls with are vegetables and those fake crabmeat things. I don't know anything about where to buy raw fish for sushi, or how to handle it, or anything else. This just pertains to veggie sushi, okay?

Apparently, the secret is in the rice. You will need to use Japanese, short grain rice, also known as sushi rice. (clever!) It is very tiny grains of rice, smaller than arborio. I like Lundberg Farms brand, but there are others that I'm sure are wonderful, too.

You need just the right amount of starch, so it's important that you wash the rice before cooking. Simply measure out your rice into your pot or the bowl of your rice cooker, fill with water, and swish it around a little bit. Dump out almost all of the water, and then gently scrub the rice with your fingers in the small amount of water that remains. The water will get white and milky. Fill the bowl with water again, dump and scrub. Do this 3 times; by the third time the water should be much more clear. Next, add the amount of water which corresponds the the amount of rice you are using. (i.e., 1 cup of dry rice to 1-1/2 cups of water). Now, let the rice soak for about 30 minutes. After soaking, cook it up! (Note that some recipes recommend adding 2 Tbs. sake to the rice water, right before cooking. I've made it with and without sake and noticed no difference.)

Once the rice is cooked, just let it set for about 10 minutes while you make up the sauce. In a small saucepan, combine 1/4 C rice vinegar, 1-1/2 to 2 Tbs sugar and 1 tsp salt. Simmer over medium heat and stir until dissolved; let it cool to room temperature. (This amount of sauce will season 2 or 2-1/4 C dry sushi rice, which is the amount I used.)

Here we go: Scoop the cooked rice into a clean bowl. Gently sprinkle the vinegar mixture over the rice by pouring it onto a spatula that you move across the bowl as you pour. Cover the rice with a dishtowel and let it set for about 2 minutes. Now you want to mix and cool the rice, being careful not to mash the rice, keeping the grains distinct. You will gently cut through the rice with the spatula, turning the bowl. Some recommend that you use a small fan or a blow dryer set on cool to "fan" the rice, but I've never tried it. Just gently cut and lift and turn the rice until the rice is cooled.
Now, make your rolls! It's easiest if you use one of those little bamboo sushi mats, shown in the first picture. Lay down a sheet of nori, shiny side down. Now spread a little rice on top, using wet hands, leaving a little bare edge on the sides and bottom and 1-2 inches bare at the top. Add your fillings, right onto the rice, about an inch up from the bottom. We have used: thin carrot strips, cucumber strips, avocados, asparagus, sprouts, radish, daikon, lettuce... you could use scrambled eggs, too. I like to sprinkle sesame seeds on top. Now, roll it up from the bottom, nice and tight, using the bamboo mat to help you roll. Cut into pieces with a nice, sharp, WET knife. That's it! I usually make the rice and the kids roll it up. Have some soy sauce and wasabi for dipping, and pickled ginger for a nice, cooling contrast. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Going With the Flow

That's my new year's resolution: to go with the flow. That's it. I'm not going to sweat the small stuff, or even the big stuff. I'm going to stop trying to control everything and just sit back, relax and enjoy life. I realized that the harder I hold on to something, the harder I cling to a thought or a notion or an idea or "the way it SHOULD be," the more it eludes me. Then, I get all tight and bunched up, in my body and in other parts of my life, and I don't want to do that any more. I'm just going to take it day by day and see what happens.

I love the beginning of a new year. New lists and journals and calendars. Starting over, starting fresh. It feels so great! I know I'll probably abandon half of the new lists and journals, and it's okay. It's the starting over that feels so great.

So... let's talk about knitting! Here are some mittens I knit for my aunt, to go with the scarf I knit her last year. They are knit in Berroco Foliage, which is sort of thick and thin and loosely spun, very rustic, with beautiful and gradual color changes. I love the yarn.

Here is a scarf I knit (now finished) (needs to be blocked) of my own design... sort of. I used the "Little Arrowhead Lace" pattern from the first Barbara Walker treasury and added edging stitches. You can't see the design very well unblocked, but it's pretty. The yarn is Nashua Geologie, another yarn that is all about the gradual and beautiful color changes. I only used one skein and I hope it will block out long enough.

Finally, I bought the yarn for ANOTHER sweater. This one is IT, I just know it!!! It's going to fit in the shoulders and chest, the sleeves will be the perfect length, the yarn won't be too heavy or too hot or too itchy... PERFECT!! I bought Cascade 220 Tweed, in a dark charcoal color (much darker than it looks in the photo!). I've started knitting and... so far, so good!!

I do have a pair of socks in my queue, this time for Mike! He loves to wear his leather flip flops, regardless of the weather, except when it is just too cold. I'm going to knit him a pair of Tabi socks; you know, the socks that actually have a pocket for your big toe, and then another one for the rest of your toes, so you can wear them with flip flops!! He swears he will wear them, but... if you know Mike, you know that it's a gamble on my part! I think they'll be fun to knit, though, and if he won't wear them, I just might!