I'm sorely tempted to say I made two sweaters. The end result was only one, but I'm fairly certain the stitches totalled two garments' worth. Is this double counting? Do knitters abide by GAAP? And where do all the unravelled bits go, anyway? Is there a special spot in heaven for wayward knits and purls?
Oh, but, people: a sweater. With a hood! Plus a pocket, and even two mostly-matching sleeves. I'm particularly proud of this last little fact, since it means, whatever else, that it isn't a Thneed. It was a dead-simple sweater, as far as these things go, done on big needles and almost entirely in stockinette.
Entirely in stockinette. Would you listen to that. It's almost like I might have half a clue! See, the last time I brought up this whole knitting business, I could not keep straight my stockinette from my garter. I knew one was smooth, and the other, bumpy, but beyond that? No dice. They both sounded straight off a pantyhose package. I was stuck in a scarf rut, digging myself deeper by the row, rapidly barreling toward serious muffler:neck inequities.
I could not tell then, by looking, a knit row from a purl. I did not even know to find this frustrating. I didn't know that anyone could tell them apart, thought you had to just keep it all straight in your head. My scientific strategy was to add a few rows, examine the results, and rip out all that looked wrong. Statistics being what they are, this only happened half the time.
I now know that this is rather like saying you cannot tell your salt from your sugar. Each time you cook, you add a half-cup of whatever, and if it doesn't taste right, you dump and start over, this time selecting the other white powder. (Holy. Cow.) At the time, though, I took the undoing in stride—ignorance, bliss, all that jazz. But I was more than a little elated when Mamo offered, last Spring, a few (glaring) clues. Identifying my stitches added three weeks to my life, easy. It was one of countless lessons I learned along the way.
I learned how to increase, and how to decrease, and how to cast-on without turning to YouTube. I learned k2tog and St st and RS and WS, and toward the end, skp and ssk. All of which is only to say, I learned knitters have at least as many TLA's as CEO's. I discovered that only even-number-aged children may wear hand-knits, at least if pattern-sizing is any indication. (What, I wonder, does a 3-, 5- or 7-year old wear, during the bitter, cold winter months?) I learned nothing says "lay your head in my lap" like a mother with needles and wool underway.
I confirmed, as I'd feared, that it's much more difficult to keep count than to make endless, mindless, identical rows. Much, much, much more difficult, at least for this Human of Very Little Brains. Total bummer.
But I also discovered, as I'd never anticipated, that a kiddo takes immediate ownership of My Sweater. As in, "Is My Sweater done yet?" Um, no, actually I'm only on row 3. Or, "Will My Sweater be ready by dinner?" Um, no, but maybe December? Or, from Kid Two, "When will My Sweater be ready?" Um, ... Insert Sounds of Silence, here. I flirted with answering 2012, but concluded it came off as just plain mean. I thought I'd be in the position of foisting, begging one wearing, just to make it all worthwhile. I had no idea there would be demand. Demand, I know, that will soon be gone. Which is why I'm at work on sweater no. 2 (the real deal, not the ghost of mis-knits past).
I fine-tuned my knowledge of what does and doesn't make a suitable knitting opportunity. I nearly kicked myself when it took me three weeks to see the potential in piano lessons. One inch, easy, between warm-ups and assignments.
I learned The Curious Case of Benjamin Button runs just long enough to stitch one size-four sweater together. I learned not to learn the Kitchener stitch while watching How to Train Your Dragon for the first time. Or for that matter, while watching anything, save the sophisticated square dance of needle and thread. Also, that bad Kitchener comes out quick. And then needs re-doing, slowly, with feeling.
I learned that by keeping project baskets around the house, I could increase my chances of adding a few rows. (And the corollary, that no basket is as desirable for play as those holding half-finished rows of seed stitch.)
I learned to consider my constituency. To bear in mind that, though I like blue woolly Lamb's Pride, my girl might prefer something less scritchity. And less blue. And, if I'm being honest, more pink.
Poor Mamo waited patiently the better part of two hours as I scoured the yarn store for pink. The right pink. Soft on the eyes, soft on the skin, with enough weight and yardage to do the job right. And to endure, on the other end. No sense in a sweater that's only for show. No, it needed to stand up to climbing and cement-sitting and sidewalk-chalking, to drawing and scissoring and lego-building, to picnicking and, most recently, to sledding. (All that extra size-four bulk came in awfully handy for layering, seeing as it was seven degrees. Seven below, if you're into wind chill. Did I mention we went sledding?! Snow, glorious snow!)
Perhaps best of all, I pocketed experience, a nascent feel for the ways and means of yarn. How to give a little pull at each row's beginning, to snug up and even out loopy-loose edges. How to give a little tug at the end of each row, to straighten the stitches and standardize tension.
Why it matters, after unravelling, to give each stitch a half-twist when re-casting (see Exhibit A: that drunken row, center-front). Why you always, always, always correct an error, immediately. (Because it never, ever, ever undoes itself, independently). Why you follow a pattern: fit, style, guidance, sanity. Proof of concept. Wearability insurance. Before the sweater, I ad hoc'd two hats, thinking I could whip them up, the way I would soup.
I learned I knit most and best in the summer, contrary to my every last expectation. When it's 97º outside or pink and fuzzy inside, there's really no contest. Anything to beat the heat.
I learned that the thrill of the thing's in the doing, that off the needles is out of mind. I think I finished way back in September. I only just realized I never mentioned it. (Probably because I'm re-living the good times, having hit Phase: Quagmire in the aforementioned no. 2.)
Which got me to wondering whether I've ever mentioned how much I adore Indian food? I've beat around the bush a bit, here and there, championing gingered chickpeas and grilled silken chicken. But I'm not sure that adequately sums up the fact that I'd eat this way every single day, if I could. We need, someday, to talk chicken Korma and the quick bliss that is Keema and the glories of Saag Paneer. I think I could spend a full year on dal. Dal-a-day project, anyone? But since we must begin somewhere, let's go with what I've eaten nearly daily for two weeks.
First, how about a show of hands: who here has known a ferocious craving for cauliflower? It's a little tough to tally results from where I sit, but I can tell you this: two hands up, right here. One is for our standby roasted prep, salty and crisp and totally addictive. The other hand waves wildly for what follows, cauliflower and potatoes, totally transformed. If you only know cauliflower raw, steamed or boiled, suffice it to say this way's a revelation. It's a little like the difference between a grey two-piece sweat suit, and a gold-deckled, hand-embroidered, peacock silk Sari.
Julie Sahni, from whom it hails, calls it "Cauliflower, Green Peas, and Potatoes in Spicy Herb Sauce". She's right about the veg, but I hesitate over the suffix, since spicy to me is a synonym for incendiary. Spicy, here, means profoundly fragrant, six dimensions of aromatic, warm comforting yum. I suppose most American cooks would call it curried cauliflower, but that also sets the stage entirely wrong. You might then expect a brazenly yellow concoction, vaguely sweet and anonymously spiced. Not that, either. So I'm going with come-hither cauliflower et al. It's spot-on accurate, and the only way.
It is a close cousin of aloo gobi, the classic dry curry of cauliflower and potato. The basic idea is to fry heaps of spices—cumin, coriander, turmeric, a blush of pepper—to bring out their best and intoxicate the oil. To this, tip in a bit of tomato, to bring still more color and a tingle of tart. And then finally the veg, raw, pale and bland, until they hit the spice-slicked pan. You toss them about, searing a few edges, introducing amazing into every nook and cranny. Water is added, a lid clamped down, the whole mess left to braise fifteen minutes or so.
Those fifteen minutes are where the miracle occurs, and underscore everything I love about this food. The vegetables do their cooking right in the sauce. Think about this for just a moment. We have a habit of adding sauce to our veg: asparagus and hollandaise, broccoli and cheddar. Very nice, the both of them. But imagine the sauce snuck right into the veg, infiltrating every atom and haunting every bite? It's seems downright molecular, all very Achatz or maybe El Bulli. But in fact it's only an age-old braise, wisely constructed, expertly timed. When you pick up that lid, the cauliflower's just tender, brilliantly hued and punch-drunk on flavor. Ditto the spuds, which have soaked up the sauce, and gone creamy and sunny and intensely aromatic. Bland will not be among your first thoughts.
And, there are peas. Genius, these peas. These peas are the thing that sets this apart from your average, relaxing aloo gobi. Suddenly, you have sweet pops of green pea, crisp little commas in a plush paragraph. The color, the texture, the flavor, they conspire to turn a two-legged side into a three-legged meal. That, and they look like polka-dots. I'm a total sucker for polka-dots.
If you saw my best mittens, you'd know this was true. They're robin's egg wool with plucky white dots and they were hand knit by ... somebody, somewhere. I bought them at the Queen Anne Dispatch last fall, and hope someday to make a second set. Perhaps once I finish the next two sweaters in the queue—did I mention there were two more? To fill those baskets, you know—I'll move on to mittens. Onward and upward.
A bit of housekeeping:
I wanted also to mention that you can find me at habit, during the month of Feburary. I well remember when this project launched, and am stunned by the beauty they've captured, these three years. I am deeply honored to join in.
Come-Hither Cauliflower, Potatoes and Green Peas (Gobhi Matar Rasedar)
adapted from Juli Sahni, Classic Indian Cooking
Sahni says this dish is traditionally served as a thin vegetable soup. I admire it this way, but prefer it a bit thicker, more sauce then soup. My quantities and techniques include both, so that you may choose.
Serve with naan or basmati, or simply big heaps of raita (recipe here) or greek yogurt. This was also wonderful with a tin of chickpeas tipped in, for protein. And no, none of my children eat this (yet). But they do all eat nice, separate bowls of beans, peas, yogurt, naan and/or rice. I'm all for parsing, at moments like these.
Incidentally? This dish is vegan.
1 head cauliflower
2 medium waxy potatoes (about 1/2 pound)
1/2 cup ghee or light vegetable oil
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 - 1 teaspoon red pepper
1 cup tinned chopped tomatoes + juices
4 teaspoons Kosher salt
2-3 cups boiling water
10-12 ounces frozen baby peas (1 bag)
3 tablespoons fresh, chopped cilantro
Prepare your veg and spices: Wash cauliflower, trim off leaves and tough base, then slice florets and inner core into rough 1 1/2" florets. Peel potatoes, and cut into 3/4" chunks. Measure out all spices (cumin seed into pile, the remainder into another), and set aside, near the stove.
Heat ghee or oil in a deep, heavy, lidded skillet over medium-high heat. When oil shimmers, add cumin seeds, and fry a quick 20-seconds, until they go brown and nutty-smelling. Add remaing spice pile (cumin powder, coriander, turmeric and red pepper), give a quick stir, then immediately add cauliflower and potatoes. Stir a few minutes, to coat veg with the spiced oil, and to allow them to sear a bit, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, and continue to fry about 3 minutes, until tomatoes begin to thicken a bit, and oil and sauce begin to separate. Add salt and 2 cups boiling water for a sauced dish (3 cups for a soupy one), then clamp a lid on. Reduce heat and immer vegetables, covered, about 15 minutes, or until vegetables are tender when pierced with a knife. Remove led, and tip in the peas, directly from the freezer. Stir, bring back to a simmer (1-2 minutes), and turn off heat. Taste for salt and heat, adjust as desired, and scatter chopped, fresh cilantro over all to serve.