Friday, October 31, 2008

Knitterly Ramblings...

So, it's Friday, it's Halloween, and it's time to talk about knitting! Let's get something out of the way: I am not a really good knitter. I don't design anything. I don't spin or dye yarn. For a long time, I felt badly about this. If this is my craft, well, I should do it all!! As time passed, it became clear that what I really enjoy doing is just knitting. Give me a pattern that someone else has already worked the bugs out of. Give me some awesome, well-spun, beautifully dyed yarn that someone has created. Give me some needles, and let me KNIT!
I am so happy for and proud of the people who spin and dye and design! Truly, their work is artistic and beautiful. I'm just not one of them. I am really, really busy and I have lots of hobbies and 3 kids and I'd prefer to just spend my extra time knitting, plain and simple. I've let go of the guilt and the need to do it all!
I'm a pretty good knitter, but not great. I don't understand all the intricacies, but I can figure most stuff out. I should probably practice my color work, and I've ripped out more lace than I've ever finished, but what I do knit, I enjoy. And that's the point, right?
So, here's what I'm working on right now:

It's a footie sock... maybe an anklet? The yarn is Sockotta, and I know a lot of you don't care for that yarn, but it's a cotton/wool blend and it seems like the perfect yarn for a pair of socks for "someone" who lives in a very warm climate. Ahem. Yes, Christmas knitting. Not to diminish the yarn, but I bought it at a yarn swap for $1. Don't you love a bargain? Yes, that is sock #2 on the needles, that I just started. I know, I know, I wasn't supposed to start it until I finish this:

It's the Cozy V-Neck sweater from "Fitted Knits" by Stephanie Japel. Yes, I did start it last spring and just tore through the first 80% of the sweater. Then, it got hot and I lost interest and it went into "the bag" for the summer. Then, it got cool and I started on the sleeve! Then, it got warm again. Oh, I will finish it, maybe this weekend. Only about 4 inches to go on the sleeve, and then the ribbing around the v-neck. I know I can do it!!

One thing I'm not very good at is choosing colors. In fact, I'd say I'm pretty hopeless. Now, this is one thing I DO want to improve on. I'm reading a book called "Kristen Knits" by Kristen Nicholas and it's all about color. Kristen knits in big, bold, beautiful colors and I'm hoping for some inspiration and perhaps, a few pointers. Oh, and I'm browsing a few sock books, too, just in case...

One more thing. Lest you think I have incredible self-control, feel comforted in knowing that those aren't the ONLY projects I have on my knitting needles right now! They are just the only ones I am willing to share with you:-)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

It's Only Stretching, Right?

I can't tell you how many times people say this to me about yoga. They can't figure out why on earth anyone would want to practice yoga... it's just stretching, right?

Well... wrong. Very wrong. But... what if they were right? What if yoga WAS "only" stretching? Would that be a totally bad thing? Would that be unvaluable?

I don't think so. Our bodies are made up of approximately 600 skeletal muscles. Muscle tissue easily stretches, and it can be safely stretched up to 50% of its resting length! Stretching these muscles helps to maintain the health of our joints, muscles and connective tissue. It also helps to maintain the resilience of muscles, which allows pain-free movement.

Underuse of muscle tissue causes atrophy and weakness. Overuse causes strains and tears. Gentle stretching keeps the muscles in an optimal state. Excessive tension in muscles causes tight spots and chronic aches and pains; stretching can ease this tension. Aging in the body can cause a loss of range of motion; stretching can help to prevent some of this loss. If you're a "weekend warrior" and did a little too much gardening last weekend, stretching can help to relieve muscle soreness.

Stretching helps to preserve and maintain the joints of the body by bathing them in synovial fluid, which is a lot like "oiling" stiff joints. Stretching before a more vigorous activity can help prevent injuries; stretching afterwards can help to realign muscle tissues and prevent soreness. Why wouldn't you want to stretch?

Of course, yoga is so much more. Physically, yoga increases flexibility and also increases strength. Connecting your yoga practice with your breath increases lung capacity and is beneficial to your entire respiratory system, heart and circulatory system. Yoga helps to increase your energy, stamina and endurance. It improves your balance. It improves your overall quality of life.

Call it stretching if it makes you happy; I'll keep calling it yoga because I know it is so much more than simple stretching. Whatever you decide to call it, don't underestimate the power of a good yoga class!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Le Creuset, How Do I Love Thee?

Let me count the ways.

Okay, this post isn't necessarily about veggies, but more about what to cook veggies IN. And I have the answer for you in two words: Le Creuset.

When my friend Shannon mentioned this cookware to me, I thought two things: one, that's waaaay to expensive for my budget; and two, cast iron, heavy, hard-to-clean. Let me address your concerns and assure you that you, too, will fall in love with Le Creuset cookware.

Money first. Yes, the cookware is on the high end of the scale, but it's not out of reach. There is a Le Creuset outlet at the Legends Mall in Kansas City, KS. In the outlet, they have a huge selection of "seconds." The flaws in the seconds are very, very minor, for the most part, and the store employees are more than happy to help you examine the pieces and choose what is right for you. I can't even find the flaws on my seconds! Best of all, the seconds cost considerably less than the first quality items. Add to that: coupons. If you go to the Legends website, you can print out a monthly coupon which has discounts for many of the stores at the mall, including Le Creuset. Print it out for an additional 20% any item! Better yet, join the "preferred customer" mailing list (it's free!), and you will receive coupons in the mail, up to 35% off. I've been buying one piece at a time, which is the way to go for me.

So, if you're like me, you are reading a lot about plastics and all the problems they are causing in the environment and in our bodies. I am trying to use the healthiest cookware, serving ware, and storage ware that I can find. Most of my cookware has a non-stick coating. I honestly feel it is relatively safe, but still, I worry. Everything I've read says that cast iron, coated or not, is the healthiest choice. Le Creuset is heavy, but it heats and cooks perfectly evenly. You never have to cook over high heat; once the pot or pan is heated up, it stays hot on very low heat. You can cook on the stovetop and then put the pot straight into the oven. Best of all, the cookware has a lifetime guarantee. Guaranteed, no matter what. Seriously. Does it get any better than that?

Clean-up is a breeze. Anything that is crusty or baked on or cheesy or seems impossible really isn't. We just soak the pots in hot water for about 10 minutes and everything comes right off. Do I sound like an advertisement? For the record, I have no affiliation with the company whatsoever. I just like it!

Let's get to the veggie part. This deep frying pan is my favorite piece, for right now anyway. You'll notice that the inside is black, instead of the usual off-white color. Why? For BROWNING foods!! That is so exciting to me! I love veggie sausages, especially the Tofurky brand Italian sausages and kielbasa. One of the main downfalls is that they don't really brown very well, unless you saute them in a bunch of oil. And, if you overcook them, they actually get softer instead of firmer. This is no longer a problem! The Le Creuset pan browns the sausages easily without all the added fat.

So here is an easy recipe, using Italian sausages, vegetarian or not, Le Creuset or none:

First, brown your veggie sausages, then remove them from the pan. Next, heat a little bit of oil in the pan and saute sliced onions and garlic. Add some sliced bell peppers. When the vegetables are soft, add a can of diced tomatoes, a can of plain tomato sauce, basil and oregano to taste. When it's all hot and bubbly, dump the sausage back in and warm it all up and serve it on top of the pasta of your choice. Good on anything; especially good on ravioli!!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Socks and Me

Handknit socks, how do I love thee? Why do I love thee? It's crazy, I know. I can go to any number of stores and pick up a lovely pair of socks for a couple of dollars and wear them for years. I can throw them in the washer and dryer, run around outside in them, let the dogs play with them. They always fit me perfectly. If I lose one... oh, well. It's a no-brainer, right?

Why, then, do I choose to handknit socks? Why do I spend $10 to $20 on yarn for one pair of socks, and then spend hours and hours knitting them? Why do I coddle the finished socks: hand or machine wash in a lingerie bag, but always hang to dry, never wear outside. Even inside I frequently wear another pair of socks OVER them! The dogs and cats don't come near them. Losing one is like losing a family member. And do they fit? Well, sometimes...

I used to feel like you do. Why would anyone knit socks? After I'd been knitting for a while, I thought I'd try it for the challenge. Learn a new technique. Maybe knit one pair, just to say I did it. My first pair was pretty bad. Well, they did look like socks; socks that the jolly green giant could wear. Let's just say my gauge was a bit off. Oh, and they were so big that I ran out of yarn, so one foot was much shorter than the other one. I was rather devastated, but my wonderful Mike swore he loved them and he wore them faithfully a few times. Then they found a comfortable spot in his sock drawer and slept there for a couple of years.

So, I had knit a pair of socks, but surely, I could do better. Off to the yarn shop, another skein of sock yarn, a better gauge swatch, socks that actually fit! They were so warm. So beautiful. So... perfect. It might be nice to have two pairs, you know, just for back-up, for when it got really cold. And maybe a pair with cables? Lace? Pink? Blue? Socks for the kids! Socks for the relatives!! Socks for everyone!!!

An obsession was born. A perfect little knitting project. Fits in my purse, so I always have knitting at hand if I have to wait somewhere, anywhere. I discovered I wasn't alone! Books and books on sock knitting: toe up, cuff down, sideways, double pointed needles, circular needles, two at once. Yahoo groups. Other people obsessed with socks!

So, what am I saying here? Never say never. And learn to knit socks!

And, what about that very first pair? Well, I recently pulled them out of hibernation, ripped out the old toe, and re-knit the shorter foot to match the other foot, and then re-knit the toe in different, non-matching yarn. I'm happy to report that they are being worn again! Here's what they look like: (I've put a regular sized sock next to them, for your amusement :-)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Good doggy!!

People always say things to me like: If you could only do ONE yoga pose, what would it be?

Believe it or not, that's an easy one: Downward-facing dog! (Adho mukha svanasana)

If I only have 30 seconds to practice a yoga pose, this is the one I do. After a jog, before a party, when I wake up, before bed. Before tennis, after tennis. Tired, sad, mad, lonely. This is my "go to" pose.

Downward dog stretches out your shoulders and back, your hamstrings, calves, arches... the whole back of your body. It really strengthens your arms and legs. It is both energizing and calming at the same time. It can help digestion, insomnia, back pain, and fatigue. It's great for runners and walkers who need to lengthen and stretch hamstrings and calves.

When you first start practicing this pose, it might not feel wonderful. Women, especially, might not have a lot of upper body strength, so it might be difficult to hold the pose for longer than a few seconds... that's okay! You will get stronger very quickly by practicing this pose.

I'll give you some instructions here, if you want to give it a try. Don't try this if you're pregnant or if you have carpel tunnel. It's always best to learn from an experienced and/or certified yoga instructor, but I know some of you are do-it-yourself-ers :-) Maybe, if you like this pose, you will be inspired to learn more! The crazy thing about yoga is: the more you do it, the more you WANT to do it! (Oh, you might recognize your favorite puppy in this pose. Dogs (and cats) do this stretch almost every time they get up! We really can learn from our pets.)
Here goes:
1. Start out on your hands and knees, with your knees right underneath your hips and your hands a few inches forward of being under your shoulders. Spread your fingers wide, middle fingers pointing straight ahead.
2. Turn your toes under and lift your knees up off the mat. Keep your knees softly bent for now.
3. Straighten your elbows. Elongate your spine. Relax your neck, letting your head rest between your arms. Lift your sitting bones up towards the ceiling. Draw your shoulders down away from your ears and press the mat away from you with your hands.
4. Now straighten your knees. It's okay if your heels are up in the air! You might want to try "walking the dog," by first bending your right knee, and pressing your left heel down, then bend your left knee, and press your right heel down. Come to rest in a comfortable position. Hold for 1 to 3 minutes, then rest.
These are really pithy directions! There are lots of places on the web where you can see more pictures and get more complete directions. Here are a few:
And now, for the most important rule of yoga: HAVE FUN!!!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Granola Munchin'

It's a beautiful fall day in Kansas City! Rumor has it that cold air will be sweeping in later this week, so I plan to enjoy it while I can. I've gotten a little bit lazy about my running lately, but today is the day I get back on track. (By "running", I mean slowly jogging. By "back on track", I mean 3 to 4 miles. Don't get too excited :-)

Yesterday, Mike and I took the boys to a fencing tournament in Des Moines... our first visit to Iowa. The fall colors were beautiful! I watched all the farmland rolling by, trees and ponds, farmhouses with big porches, and a little part of me longed to live a simpler life. Oh, I know that farm life is a LOT of work, and I'm really not sure that I have it in me!! Maybe it's just living closer to the earth that is so appealing. (Those who know me can stop laughing now!)

At any rate, it's Monday, so it's veggie day. Since I was pretty much on-the-go all weekend, I didn't get much veggie inspiration. On Saturday afternoon, I started thinking about what I could prepare that would be a healthy snack for Connor to take to the fencing tournament. Something filling, yet healthy. Whole foods. Protein. Aha! Homemade granola!

For the record, we didn't end up taking this granola with us for a snack! This recipe doesn't have any added oil, and the granola isn't chunky at all, so not the best for snacking. However, it absolutely IS the best for eating in a big bowl with some form of milk poured on top and a big spoon in your hand. This recipe was inspired by the recipe for "Nutty Sunny Granola" in John Robbins' book "May All Be Fed: Diet for a New World." Wonderful book for learning about how your diet can impact the world, and also, for the delicious recipes!

(makes about 6 cups)

3 C old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 C wheat bran or oat bran
1/2 C wheat germ
1 C coarsely chopped almonds
1/2 C sunflower seeds
1 C raisins
1/2 C coarsely chopped pitted dates or other dried fruit
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 C pure maple syrup

Preheat oven to 275. In a large bowl, combine oats, bran, wheat germ, almonds and sunflower seeds; mix well. Spread mixture over a large baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Stir it up, spread it out, and bake for another 15 minutes.
Transfer to a large bowl. Add the raisins, dates and cinnamon and stir well. Drizzle in the maple syrup and stir to distribute evenly.
Cool completely and store in an airtight container.

(Don't plan on storing it for too long, because it definitely won't last!)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Making a Comeback!!

It's true. For those of you who care, I've decided to make a blog comeback! I've been hanging out for over a year now, trying to find some blogging mojo. Trying to conjure up creativity. Trying to thinking of something to write that someone will actually care about!

Here's what I've come up with:

On Mondays, I will blog about veggies. Recipes, gadgets, tools, books, foods, etc.

On Wednesdays, I will blog about yoga. Classes, poses, books, breathing, etc.

On Fridays (or thereabouts), I will blog about knitting. Patterns, yarns, projects, books, etc.

Genius, huh?

That's me. VeggieYogaKnitter.

Stay tuned!