6 October 2018

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The song by Staind, It’s Been a While, comes to mind instantly as I log on to my blog. Yes, it has, and as I formulate this post in my mind, I cringe at the idea of writing about my new obsession, the very thing that has kept my hands and mind so busy as to keep me from writing. There are several people in my life who will now roll their eyes and walk away at a mere hint of that one word which describes this obsession: knitting.

Instantly, your mind draws upon images of old ladies and miles of brightly colored, wobbly knits in combinations no human eye should ever be tortured with. And you’re right to have those images in your mind. I had one particular memory of Ron Weasley standing in a cavernous room wearing a knitted jumper with a giant R emblazoned across the front. Harry asks, “What are you wearing?” His expression is one of polite confusion mixed with distaste. Ron replies, “My mum made it,” and pulls a face as if to say ‘what can you do?’ Indeed. Come to think of it, if Ms. Weasley had so much magic ability, then you would think her knitted garments would be, well, magical.

Good news, though, this is 2018 and knitted things have emerged with a new aesthetic: chunky, textured, and in neutral shades ranging from the palest creams and grey to charcoal and black. There are also complex cabling and super fine lace knits; skills I haven’t attained yet. This is not your grandmother’s knit. Still, knitting is very much like poetry – personal, open to interpretation, and quite often downright awful. Is it any wonder though when you look at the yarns currently crowding shops both physical and online. Grandma remains quite the feature, it seems.

I recently attended a “yarn crawl.” For the uninitiated, this sounds potentially fun, like a pub crawl is fun. I wish it were fun. They really should have cocktails in the mix, but instead it’s just driving from one knit shop to the next (many miles apart) and browsing the “latest and greatest” in domestic yarn offerings (mostly bold color gradients) coupled with the odd shawl pattern. I saw plenty of old ladies, too. Did I mention that yarn, especially nice wool, can be quite pricey? I saw skeins priced at $35 per 50 grams. You’ll need maybe five of those for a single sweater (possibly more depending on the size). Several hundred dollars later, you slog home to your favorite knitting spot and … you’re back to where you were yesterday. Longing for a drink, and knitting something that you hope someone enjoys.

It sounds dreadful, doesn’t it? If it’s so dreadful, then why even do it? All I can tell you by way of an answer is to describe my own personal journey. It barely makes sense, even to myself.

For me, it starts with sheep. I realize this is a tough place to start. I recently watched a bit of a yarn documentary where that point was exactly made: it all starts with sheep and grass. In my case, it was nothing more than a strange and rather surprising affection for bucolic, pastoral solitude. England, Scotland, Ireland, the sea, chilly weather, a cup of hot tea, sheep in the pasture… I have no idea where or when I developed my affection for that, but it lurks around in the back of my psyche and manifests itself in odd ways. As if my old soul was born there when the rest of me wasn’t. On Twitter, I found a shepherdess who has an online shop that sells specialty UK wools. She often posts lovely pictures on her Twitter account and one day in the summer she posted a weekend sale of her yarns. It had never occured to me to knit prior to that very moment. I directed my browser to her shop, full of natural wools, and fell in love. I didn’t know the first thing about knitting, so I watched a YouTube video on beginner knitting, and decided quite immediately that I could do that. I bought a very small amount of the UK wool and waited, not very patiently, for it to arrive. Meanwhile, I was plagued by an unfathomable scent memory picked up while living in Australia. Irritated, I hunted for and found a local shop (The Black Sheep. Adorable, right?) and bought a small amount of non-UK yarn and the necessary tools of the trade. I couldn’t wait to start knitting!

When my yarn arrived from England, I was very surprised at the texture, particularly the skein of natural cream wool (natural means it hasn’t been dyed). It was springy and bouncy, fuzzy and not itchy the way I remembered wool from my childhood. It felt right in my hand, like reuniting with an old friend after a lifetime of being away.

After numerous false starts, I finally got the hang of knitting and completed my first scarf exactly a month ago. There is something incredibly satisfying about creating something wonderful from something so inherently humble.

Not content to just knit for myself, I decided to try creating something I could sell. I have miles to go before that grand day, but when it arrives I will post something here. With any luck it won’t go over like bad poetry.

Who was I even before knitting came into my life? I look back to the woman who used to spend most of her free time studying ancient Egypt, reading science articles and working on her novel manuscript. In tribute to her, HERE is an article that combines the best of both worlds. One day, I will do so in a more tangible format!

Enjoy!

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8 March 2018

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Hello, dear readers! I hope everyone is happy and well.

I thought I would share a recipe with you. Are you hungry? I am trying an anti-inflammatory diet this week and next (and maybe the next) hoping to arrest my ongoing battle with random pain. For dinner tonight, I created this chicken salad that turned out so yummy I just had to share with you. This made two servings, but easily can be doubled to serve more people:

Two chicken tenders (or one-half breast), boiled in salted water until cooked through, cooled and chopped well. Please, don’t use canned chicken! Fresh tastes SO much better! It doesn’t take long to boil the chicken and you can use that time to chop your veggies: two stalks celery, 1/4 c. diced onion, half a small apple diced, 2 tbs. slivered almonds, a small Persian cucumber peeled and diced, half an avocado chopped. Place everything in a bowl and mix with approx. 2 tbs. mayo (I used vegan because the diet abstains from eggs), 1 tsp. dijon, and one tsp. apple cider vinegar. Sprinkle with salt, fresh pepper, garlic powder, dried oregano, thyme and tarragon. Add a 1/4-1/2 tsp. turmeric. Mix well. I served on lettuce with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and a side of roasted fresh beets and carrots. Very delicious! I hope you try it in spite of the crummy picture.

Cheers!

26 February 2018

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Ode to my dear friend, Tamar.

One afternoon in 2004 at my apartment in La Jolla, I saw this tiny white-haired woman struggling to carry her groceries. I ran over and offered to help carry them. I think she was surprised by this gesture from a stranger, but we became instant friends and soon we were sharing our life stories. Tamar was a warm and outgoing woman who made friends easily. In her golden years, she sacrificed everything for her daughter, Barbara. She was lonely for her son, who lived far away at that time. She talked about Steven all the time, was so proud he was a rabbi, and shared pictures every time she had new ones. When her grand-daughter was born, she was so incredibly proud, and couldn’t wait to visit her. After she visited, she couldn’t wait to go back. Tamar loved her independence but she missed her family very much. I also had two children – two daughters. My oldest was just ten when Tamar babysat her after school. One of Cara’s favorite memories was sitting in Tamar’s living room pretending to do her homework while they watched M.A.S.H., and Barbara worked on puzzles and Bandit the overstuffed cat snored peacefully under Tamar’s bed. This was the essence of Tamar. She invited you in, made her home yours, and loved to talk for hours. Sometimes we just talked on the phone, sometimes we ate lunch at her favorite sushi place or at Soup Plantation. We shared Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, and even Christmas. When she called me and got my answering machine, she would say “Hi, Lisa, it’s dreidel, dreidel,” with a happy voice. No matter what, she started each new day with a positive outlook. Tamar was also a writer and encouraged me to write. She wrote poetry and short stories, and loved to share her work. When our apartment complex was sold, I together with another friend moved her entire house to a new apartment. She ended up living there until nearly the end of 2016 when her son Steven came to California, packed her up and moved her with him to Colorado. That would be the last time I would ever see her, except in my dreams. This morning, she completed her earthly journey and left us for the next life. I will forever miss Tamar and all the wonderful times we had together. I will miss the sound of her voice telling me about her life, telling me to not be afraid, to be strong, and to work hard. In some ways, Tamar was like a mother to me, but mostly she was a wonderful dear friend that I and my daughters will miss very much. Rest in peace, Tamar, and know we love you more than words can say.
Lisa, Cara and Kaitlyn

14 February 2018

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Stop. This isn’t about Valentine’s day, but happy romance day to all who celebrate.

No, this is about food. Some people are in love with food. My middle of the night mind meld made me get up too early to make a lamb dish. WTF? Half for breakfast and half for lunch, I guess. So, here is the recipe:

Half pound ground NZ lamb (minus a tiny portion for Hobbit), turmeric, garlic powder, fresh pepper, marjoram and tarragon, plus salt. I didn’t measure, but you are smart enough to decide how much you like, right? Fry that in a skillet, sans oil, and break up the pieces whilst it cooks. Meanwhile, take a few sprigs of parsley and 3 mint leaves, plus one clove of garlic- chop fine. When the meat is nearly done drain off fat from your pan. Throw in the herb/garlic mixture and sprinkle in approximately 1 tbs of gluten free panko crumbs. Stir cook for a minute or two. Serve with fresh lettuce leaves (i.e. wraps) and drizzle or dip into balsamic vinegar. I used this fantastic German date balsamic, mmm yum. Mind meld person, I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did 💕

Mid-winter’s Feast

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December has been a very rough month. As you know, we lost our brother on December 1. Honestly, this hit me harder than I expected. After returning from his funeral, I came down with a bad head cold. Cara and I have both been working non-stop, in addition to getting Rodney’s memorial video into its final state, copied and shipped out. There has been zero time to shop for presents, but yesterday we had the day off and took advantage of it to celebrate with a home-cooked feast. Cara bought a large lamb steak, which we opted to sear rather than stew. To the menu we added colcannon (Irish-inspired mashed potatoes with shredded cabbage), gourgeres (see November posting for recipe), sweet roasted winter vegetables, green beans with lemon and mushrooms, and mulled white wine. I served a small amount of Trader Joe’s cranberry sauce on the side. My recipes, such as they are, and a few pictures follow. Note that unless I am baking, I often fly by the seat of my pants and therefore measurements are approximate. Feel free to adjust to suit your taste.

To make my dairy-free colcannon, I used approximately 3 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and chopped, and cooked for 20 minutes in salted boiling water, drained and mashed with one tbs. of olive oil, 1/2 tsp. garlic powder, and enough coconut cream to reach the desired consistency (at least 1/2 c.); seasoned with salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste. I serve a bowl of shredded cabbage on the side so that each person can add however much they want to their plate.

Sweet roasted winter vegetables: In a 9″ glass baking dish, add approximately 2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped; 1/2 pound baby carrots sliced diagonally; 1/2 small onion peeled and diced; 1/2 head cauliflower, broken into florets; one green apple, peeled, seeded and chopped; 1/2 cup fresh cranberries; 1/2 pound cubed winter squash. Sprinkle with a little salt. Pour over the juice of 4 mandarins (sub. orange juice, but it isn’t as sweet), 3 tbs. brown sugar, 1 tbs. raw blue agave, 3 tbs. port wine and top with several blobs of cold coconut oil. (You can use butter if you aren’t dairy free like me). Roast at 400 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour, turning 2-3 times. Adjust sweetness if necessary. Set aside covered with foil until ready to serve. (Next time I plan to use water chestnuts for contrasting texture.)

Green beans with lemon and mushrooms: I used approximately 1/2 pound of fresh green beans washed, trimmed and halved on the diagonal; 4 ounces of fresh crimini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced; 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced; 1/2 tsp dried marjoram, the juice of 1/2 lemon, and salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste. Heat 1/2 tbs olive oil (you can use butter if you aren’t dairy free) in a non-stick skillet and add garlic, sautee for two minutes. Add green beans and sautee for 3 minutes, then add mushrooms, marjoram and lemon juice. Sautee/cook until green beans have reached the al dente stage. I’m not certain how long this took because I was simultaneously dealing with searing the lamb, but approximately 8-10 minutes total. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Feel free to double this recipe as leftovers are nice.

Seared lamb. I sear meat because I do not own a BBQ grill (wish I did). I learned the technique watching a YouTube video years ago. Success is really contingent upon the size of the meat, but it’s basically the same process I use for filet mignon or any thick cut meat. The lamb steak I used was 1.34 pounds and 2 inches thick (thank you Trader Joe’s). We marinated it at room temperature with olive oil, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, dried oregano and tarragon, and freshly cracked pepper. I have a large heavy skillet, which I preheat until very hot. Place the meat into the hot skillet and cover with the lid. Set your timer for 5* minutes. Turn meat ONCE (remember what Dad said..) I like to cook lamb just a wee bit longer (medium rare) than I do filet mignon. Set your timer for another 5* minutes and replace the lid. When the 5 minutes have passed, remove the meat to a serving platter and allow to stand several minutes before slicing into serving portions. *Cooking times will be adjusted depending on the thickness of your meat.

Mulled white wine: I was given white wine as a gift so we decided to transform it. To a small crockpot, I added the entire bottle of wine, 1/2 c. sugar, 1/4 c. mandarin juice along with the segments of 3 mandarins, 1/2 c. fresh cranberries, 2 cinnamon sticks, 2 cloves, and 2 cardamom pods. I let this cook on low for 4 hours while I worked on all of the above. It came out really wonderful! Next time we will use peaches instead of mandarins. I think the fragrance will be sublime!

Please feel free to comment. I would enjoy hearing the feedback. Bon appetite!