Saturday, May 21, 2005

I'm seeing socks everywhere....

Ta da! I finished my first pair of socks last night. Of course, now it is getting too warm to consider wearing wool socks, but I can't get grumpy about good weather.

The sock obsession is growing. Today I got a routine email from The Motley Fool (a business/stock-watching website with a sense of humor. Not that I actually follow any of their advice or have any spare money to invest, but getting the occasional e-mail from them makes me feel like I'm not totally out of touch with the real, money-focused world) the subject line of which read: "Simplify Your Stocks". What did I see when I read it? Why "Simplify your SOCKS" of course.

I received my knitpicks order last week and now have three different colors of sock yarn to choose for my next pair:

Flower power, Pansy and New England
I am going to have to set the sock obsession aside next weekend because it looks like I really will have two-days/three-evenings to myself. Brian has promised to take the kids away for the long weekend even though he wasn't organized enough to make a camping reservation at a State Park. He's going to fall back on taking them up to his parents' cabin in Au Gres. I try hard to like the cabin, but it is coated with tchotkes (model light houses, sailboats, etc. which I always encourage the kids to "accidentally" break) and is dusty as hell so I always have an allergy attack when I go there. I have contemplated thoroughly cleaning the place, but it would take all weekend and since I usually go up there to get away from cleaning my own sty-of-a-house, it doesn't really motivate me. I'd rather just not go.

So the kids and Brian will be up there and I intend to invoke the long lost discipline that got me to read books like this in grad school, and use that strength of will to work on my neglected novel. I won't dither away the time knitting or cooking or otherwise avoiding working on the novel. The book needs a thorough revision and a defined structure and finally I have a clue how to impose such order on the verbal chaos I have created. I finished The Stone Diaries last night (loved it) and it occurred to me that the project of that book (a woman's life from birth to death) is just about as sprawling as mine and the author manages not to get bogged down in minutiae. So I'll be spending the weekend with my buddy Valeska Gert, eating a lot of take-out, getting a flat butt from sitting at the computer, and (hopefully) missing my kids so much that I'm ecstatic when they come home.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Fuzzy friend and Take-out review

Oh look, I made myself a slightly disturbing fuzzy friend:

Just hanging out, being fuzzy.
I was trying to use the mohair yarn to make something wearable for my mother-in-law, but the scarf I started knitting looked like a muppet. So I decided to use the yarn to make my first knitted toy. It turned out ok though it did make me aware of how crappy my embroidery skills are--the eyes are pretty weird looking in person too. But it still seems to have kid appeal: my two-year-old spotted it as soon as she walked in the door, grabbed it and started yanking on the arms. I don't know how many more callisthenic sessions Mr. Fuzzy will survive, but he made it through his first encounter.

I could get into making knitted toys--it seems like a great way to use up some of my stash yarn that I can't figure out what else to do with. I think my next toy project will be a bit more ambitious--here's a free pattern for a knitted monkey that I'd like to make in some psychedelic colors.

Now, moving on to food. We all know that the key to being a sane parent is having a bulging file of good take-out menus. I have a new one to add. Yesterday I tried the take-out at the revamped Foods of India grocery store on Broadway. In the old store (located across the street and now being demolished for yet another condo development) there was a take-out window called Food n' Flavors and they had a pretty limited menu and only so-so food--the chicken curry was totally generic and the mattar paneer was ok, but nothing to write home about. In the new store, the take-out window has been renamed Shan-e-Punjab and the menu and food have improved a great deal. Now there is a much larger selection of vegetable dishes, chicken, lamb and seafood, biriyanis, naan and (not on the printed take-out menu, but posted near the window) some tandoori offerings.

Last night I ordered the Saag Paneer (spinach with cheese cubes) and Aloo Gobi (potatoes and cauliflower)--you can choose basmati rice or naan to go with them so I got one of each.

The chef likes to use lots of ginger which is fine with me, though I do wish it was grated finely rather than in large chunks. The naan was fantastic with a slick of ghee on the surface. The cauliflower in the aloo gobi was a little undercooked, but hey, he's using fresh cauliflower rather than frozen so I can't get too grumpy about that. The saag was thick and rich. And it was cheap, cheap, cheap. There's nothing on the menu over $7.95 (for the two seafood curries) and dinner last night cost $11.50 and was plenty for two people with healthy appetites. Next time I'll probably also order one of the lamb dishes so that my-better-and-meatier-half (aka Brian) will be content and so there will be enough for leftovers for lunch the next day. That addition will still keep the whole take-out under $20.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Wal-Mart Wine Wit

My friend Jen recently sent this to me. I don't know the source, but it looks like one of the David Letterman Top 10 lists. Perhaps Wal-Mart really is getting in on the wine market--if Trader Joe's can produce Two Buck Chuck, why not? (By the way, Two Buck Chuck is great for mulled wine in the winter or Sangria in the summer. I'll try to remember to post a Sangria recipe soon.)

Wal-Mart recently announced that they will soon be offering customers a new discount item:
Wal-Mart's own brand of wine. The world's largest retail chain is teaming up with E & J Gallo Winery of California to produce the spirits at an affordable $2.00 ~ 2.50 price range.

Wine connoisseurs may not be inclined to throw a bottle of Wal-Mart brand into their shopping carts, but "there is a market for cheap wine", said Kathy Micken, professor of marketing. "But the right name is important."

Customer surveys were conducted to determine the most attractive name for the Wal-Mart brand. The top surveyed names in order of popularity are:

10. Chateau Traileur Parc
9. White Trashfindel
8. Big Red Gulp
7. World Championship Riesling
6. NASCARbernet
5. Chef Boyardeaux
4. Peanut Noir
3. I Can't Believe It's Not Vinegar!
2. Grape Expectations
And the number 1 name for Wal-Mart Wine: Nasti Spumante

The beauty of Wal-Mart wine is that it can be served with either white meat (Possum) or red meat (Squirrel).

I'm getting a little dizzy here...

Sometimes you just have to brag about your friends. My friend Lynne is always hungry to learn more (where as I'm just always hungry). Last year she taught herself to knit; shortly thereafter she became a master felter, then she got a job at first one yarn store and then another, started a knitting group and this past Saturday, she learned how to spin.

I accompanied Lynne to a meeting of Spinners Flock--a monthly gathering of spinners of yarn. I've been to their big autumn sale which is where I bought the green kid mohair I used to edge my recent honey sweater but this was a meeting rather than a commerce opportunity.

In two short hours, Lynne learned how to spin.

Lynne at the wheel. That's a happy looking woman.
She tells the story far better than I could in her blog. I merely wanted to watch someone learn, but when I saw the goodies in an experienced spinner's knitting basket, I confess I was tempted.

Barbara's basket of handspun yarny goodness. That would be my toe in the corner and I am overly proud of the fact that I kept my drool in my mouth and didn't dribble all over her gorgeous stuff.
The first part of spinning looked pretty fun--pulling the wool out from the "roving" (big fuzzy ball of unspun, carded and usually dyed wool) and having it turn to rough thread on the bobbin.

A table full of roving.
But I quickly realized that I am not meant to be a spinner and here is why:
1) I get dizzy easily. Really easily. Even watching Lynne spin in my peripheral vision made me queasy. I get nauseated on a treadmill, use all my willpower to workout on the orbital trainer, can't go to movies with handheld camera (Breaking the Waves left me ready to hurl for days and I didn't make it through the whole movie) and let's not even talk about what fun I am on a sailboat.
2) I do not have the attention span for spinning. After spinning one bobbin full, you spin at least one more (for two ply yarn). Then you have to ply the two or three threads together which is sort of re-spinning in the opposite direction. Then you have something that looks a lot like usable yarn but it isn't yet and (this was the killer point that got me to decide that spinning is not for me) then you have to wash the yarn to "set" the twist. After washing it you have to untangle it (no small feat) and wind it. I really hate washing wool--the wet sheep smell is not my favorite odor and it takes all my stern inner voice scolding (I have to call myself a "lazy trollop") to get me to block a sweater. I often put off washing wool sweaters until the kids do something really gross, like smear it with their snot, or throw up on it. And I have been known to stick them in the washing machine on the gentle cycle (yes, I'd rather risk this with a sweater I spent a whole winter slaving over than preserve it and deal with handwashing.)
3) I don't see how it would be possible to spin and read at the same time. Yesterday I knit half of a bunny toy (my first attempt at knitted toys; I'll post a picture when it is done) and managed to simultaneously read 2 chapters of The Stone Diaries (which I am loving).
4) And finally, someone needs to buy the beautiful yarn that all the spinners make and I will happily do my duty in this department. Their big Fall Fleece Fair (where they sell all kinds of exquisite yarn like Barbara's pictured above) is scheduled for Sunday, September 18, at Beach Middle School in Chelsea from 10 am-4 pm. It is already in my calendar.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

A Party for a Ham

Some people know how to celebrate the arrival of an honored guest. Thankfully, I know those people and was invited to their home to meet, greet and eat a large hunk of prosciutto. Brian and Sarah threw the party and took the Italian theme much further than just the fabulous ham that Sarah's mother brought her back from Italy (Apparently you can bring certain preserved meat products through customs. Don't try to get through with fresh sausages--the drug-sniffing-dog will beeline for you).

The Spread
This was only one of two tables groaning with beautiful food. What you are drooling over (from near to far): mozzarella, basil, tomato salad (the mozzarella was made fresh at Big 10), carmelized onions and pine nuts, chicken liver pate (which was particularly great on a round of baguette with the onions on top), a plate of the prosciutto with its best friend--ripe melon, a runny glorious crock of St. Marcellin, and hiding demurely in the white bowl is a combo of raspberries, blueberries and grapes.

Yes, Brian and Sarah own a meat slicer
Here we have a shot of the prosciutto. That is a big hunk of ham. I wish my parents brought back gifts like this from their travels.

I know you wanted to see that gorgeous mozzarella up close.
And these photos don't even take in the other table full of food. On it was a big bowl of orecchiette with Sarah's terrific pesto, a bowl of Tuscan tuna and cannellini salad that John made and the two deserts: a Raspberry Custard Tart (from the most recent Cook's Illustrated) that Sarah made and a Chocolate Polenta Pudding Cake that I made.

I took a photo of the cake before it left my house.
I've made this cake before and I like the richness (half a pound of bittersweet chocolate, lots of eggs, some cream) that is off-set by the brightness of the orange zest that is in it. But last night, this cake wasn't doing it for me. Don't get me wrong, my cake was good and people really liked it and wanted the recipe, but I preferred Sarah's tart (Sorry, no photo. My eyes were rolling up in my head in pleasure as I ate it which made it hard to use a camera.) I think the main reason was that earlier in the day, I stuffed my face with Deb's delicious double chocolate brownies while at her son Jonathan's beautiful naming ceremony--it was me and the 4 year olds competing for the plate of brownies and I have longer arms. But also the specialness of Sarah's Raspberry Tart (and the pesto and the basil in the salad) was heightened after this long winter of deprivation and too many root vegetables. It heralded spring and banished from our minds the fact that it hailed (bouncing pea-sized hail) here on Friday.

My parents are in Seattle right now. Maybe if I call their cell phone and leave a pathetic message I can manipulate my way into convincing them that a whole freshly smoked salmon must be in their baggage when they return. I am supposed to pick them up from the airport, so a guilt trip about having to brave the wretchedly pot-holed freeways to bring them home may also be effective.