Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Mindless Becomes Mindful

For the most part, I'm pretty easy going. One year, I was hosting Thanksgiving dinner for my family. I think that year we had maybe 19 people coming for dinner. Our oven died in the middle of cooking the turkey, and refused to be resurrected. Luckily my folks don't live far away, so we just finished the cooking over there and warmed all the side dishes on the outdoor grill. When my mom showed up with the fully-cooked turkey, she just looked at me and said, "19 people for dinner, your oven dies, and you LAUGH. You are *such* your father's daughter." (But, really, is there anything funnier than warm side dishes huddling together in a dead oven trying to keep warm?)

However, lately, I have been having trouble taking things in stride. So Geek Boy and I enrolled in the Penn Program for Stress Management (he took it many years ago). The program is based on mindful meditation and the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn. It's been very interesting. The goal is to practice being present in the moment. Paying attention to your breathing, the physical sensations in your body, your thoughts (which you then let go of), and what's happening now.

It's been an interesting experience. I'm not usually someone who goes for things like this. In fact, when I first brought up the idea of taking the class, Geek Boy's first comment was, "You do know it's based on meditation, right?"

A side benefit has been one night out each week with Geek Boy. I take the train downtown after work and meet him at his office, we go to dinner and then to class. It's really lovely.

The train ride isn't very long, but with waiting time, I can get some knitting done. When this started, I decided to take the Nutkin socks with me as train knitting. Lovely yarn, interesting pattern, that was easy to memorize. Perfect mindless knitting.

Then something weird happened. I started getting mindful about my mindless knitting. Rather than just zipping away while looking out the window, I started watching my hands, the needles, the color changes in the yarn. Nothing new was happening. It's still just knitting. I just started using that time to just knit and not to think about anything else (well, as much as possible...it's only the 5th week I've been trying this whole thing, and I've got a long way to go).

Now, I haven't become a perfectly mindful knitter. Most of the time, I still just pull something out to keep my hands busy and have something to show for my addictions to Jon Stewart, Keith Olberman and Mike Rowe. But every now and then, it's nice to stop, breathe, knit.

And it doesn't hurt that the yarn is gorgeous. (Claudia Handpaint in a colorway I think is called Urban Jungle.)

In other knitting news...progress continues on the mitten swap mittens.

This is actually start #3. The first one was too tight. The second attempt, I tried double knitting, and it was too big. Now, I'm doing two handed color work with weaving and it seems to be just right. It's also going much faster than the double knitting. I'm further along than the picture indicates. I took it a couple of days ago, but haven't had a chance to post. I'm well into the third repeat of the pattern.

And today's fun in the mailbox:

Sundara Yarn Fingering Silky Merino in Blossom. New yarn! Yay!

Oh, and this week's soup is a fabulous Potato, Bacon and Horseradish soup from New England Soup Factory. Yummy!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

C Is for...


I love to cook. In college I enjoyed the nights when we skipped the caf and used the dorm kitchen. Better yet was senior year when we had our own apartment and our own kitchen. We weren't amazing cooks. Some company had come out with Chicken Tonight sauces. So, we had a lot of shrimp cocktail and chicken cacciatore. Nothing terribly exciting, but it was homemade, so it was good.

When I moved out on my own, my mom took me out to buy a set of pots and pans and she gave me my first cookbook.

I love this cookbook. This does not contain any groundbreaking recipes, but it was a great starter cookbook. Now, when I want comfort food, I go back to these dishes. With a bunch of years cooking experience under my belt, I can improvise much more. There's a shrimp and angel hair pasta casserole that I still occasionally make. Before, I would have had to have all of the listed ingredients. Now, I do a lot of, "I can use this, instead of this," and end up with something that feels the same but is radically different.

My cooking skills have grown, as has the cookbook collection.

It actually outgrew the bookcase and a portion is now housed above the sock yarn basket.

And then there are the magazines (Cooking Light, Everyday and Real Simple subscriptions (housed below the knitting book collection).

We keep our cookbooks in the living room instead of the kitchen because they're really reading material. I'll sit on a Friday night while watching TV, perusing the books, looking for ideas for the week, and making my shopping list.

Gotta keep the spice cabinet stocked. (These are just the savory spices...baking spices, honeys and specialty blends are on a lazy susan in another cabinet.)

And my nice countertop stove (where all the soup comes together). Peeking out from the corner there, you can see the bottles of balsamic vinegar lined up. I think there are 5 right now, including white, cherry and at least one high end bottle. (I tried getting a shot of my awesome wall oven, which once died while cooking the Thanksgiving turkey, but it's stainless, and reflects the flash in an awful way.) The pitcher belonged to my Nanny. When she moved into my folks' house I claimed this. It's old. It's stained. And I wouldn't make iced tea in anything else.

My sister, known around these parts as The Kid (despite being 27), just got married this summer. She and her husband (The Boy...he's 22) have tight finances. A few months ago, it got really bad, in large part due to their love of fast food. They were 10- and 15-dollaring themselves to death...financially and in terms of their heath. My folks worked with them to try and get their budget under control. As the big sister, I felt I had to try and do something. Luckily, I have a wonderful Geek Boy who goes along with all of my ideas. The Kid and I signed up for Dinner by Design, one of these come-spend-two-hours-preparing-frozen-meals places. For a few months we treated them to a freezer full of meals. The Kid and I had a great time together. Almost every day she would call me and tell me what they had for dinner and how good it was.

After two months, I got the hang of how the whole DbD thing worked. Now once a month we go grocery shopping together. We get everything she'll need for a month's worth of meals, head back to their apartment, prepare all of the meals and stuff her freezer. Some of it is simple stuff. We make hamburgers or put chicken and marinade in a ziplock bag. It can be a little difficult since The Boy is a very picky eater. But we've managed and we'll keep doing it.

So, C is for cooking: for the fun of putting together meals for myself and Geek Boy; for varied reading on a Friday night; but most of all, for time well spent with The Kid and the chance to know she and The Boy are saving some money and eating healthy.

I can't let this post go by without a C is for Cats.



Sunday, February 03, 2008

B Is for...


(Please don't say this surprises you.)

I sometimes feel funny about my beer snobbish-ness. There's something very high-falutin' sounding about going to visit a winery or going to a wine tasting. But a brewery tour or beer tasting just makes you sound like a lush. Probably a hold over from way back when, when those who ruled were from the wine-producing countries like France and Italy, and those up in the malt-growing, beer producing area were the "worker bees."

It's something that I enjoy and I'm learning not to apologize for it. Sometimes I get to use my beer knowledge for things like impressing my uncles. Like yesterday when my uncle was talking about a case of Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA someone gave him for his birthday. I suggested he savor it, since the hops shortage means it may not be around for much longer. My mom just shook her head. "It's hard enough to see you drinking beer. But now you're an expert."

I don't drink a lot of it, rarely more than one or two in a sitting, but I drink what I enjoy. Monk's Sour Flemish Ale is right at the top of my list. Along with Dogfish Head Peche (once again, thanks, Tina).

We took a tour of Flying Fish Brewery in New Jersey yesterday. Lots of fun. The guys who own it are very down to earth and make a great product. I've always liked their Abbey Dubble (Belgian beers are always a favorite). One of their current seasonals is the 4-pack pictured, Imperial Espresso Porter. It's delicious. Roasty with a little coffee and chocolate flavor. It almost matches the memory of the holy grail of beers (we need another trip to Toronto).

Most interesting thing I learned yesterday, and a good reason to continue my affection for small breweries, Flying Fish employs Goodwill workers for all of their package assembly. They send all of their packaging materials to a local Goodwill employer and the people in the program put together the boxes and carryalls. It's not a huge thing, but it's nice to know they look for ways to be part of the community.

We'll be heading to a mid-winter brew fest in a couple of weeks, and even managed to score tickets to the Meet the Brewers "after-party." Can't wait for that. In the meantime, I'll head down to the cellar and see what's good for Super Bowl watching.