Tuesday, May 19, 2009

First Knitting Post!

So I know you're all thinking "the blog is called The Knitting Llama, but there aren't any llamas, and there isn't any knitting - I want my money back!"

Besides the fact that you're not paying for this, and never will have to pay for this, it really is time to say something about knitting. I knit. I taught myself about 7 years ago, when I started grad school, because I decided I needed some sort of portable hobby. I started pretty much where most knitters start: a scarf. While not the ugliest scarf in the world, since it was just off-white, it was too short and inconsistent in width, plus I had knitted it in stockinette stitch, so it would constantly curl up. Worst. Scarf. Ever. I still have it somewhere, though I'll never wear it. It's a symbol of accomplishment now, nothing more.

I stopped knitting for a time after that, mostly because classes and working got in the way, but I eventually started again, armed with this book of dishcloths. If you're using them to wash dishes, who cares if they look bad, right? The book got me started again, gave me confidence in my knitting ability, and taught me new skills; I now give this book to anyone I know who wants to start knitting. Making a dishcloth is relatively quick and easy, the yarn needed is thick enough and not fuzzy so you can see your stitches, and this book even has some relatively intricate cabling patterns - great for learning how to cable without running the risk of ruining something expensive and large. Plus, they make fabulous gifts for anyone, and for relatively cheap (depending on how much your time is worth, I suppose). When else can you essentially give your practice swatches as gifts?

My first full afghan was a present to my husband's grandmother. Not knowing any better, I knitted it with very cheap, not very soft acrylic yarn (Red Heart, I believe). The pattern was simple, just a diagonal stripe. It seemed like it took forever, as I had been making tons of dishcloths for the last few months, and I realized that a boring afghan pattern makes it really hard to want to work on said afghan. I think the only reason I finished it was because it was a gift; it would have been easy to give up on something for myself, since I didn't really like the colors all that much in the first place, and it wasn't soft in any way.

Since then, I've knitted socks, hats, baby afghans, full size afghans, and baby booties. Unlike this post, my future knitting posts will focus on types of projects, ideas, things like that. I just wanted to get some of the history out there, and let other beginning knitters know that it does get better than that first oddly-shaped scarf we all have hidden in our closets!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Chickpea and Spinach Stew

I frequently listen to the local NPR station on my commute to and from work. Last month, NPR started a segment sharing recipes for meals that serve four people for under ten dollars, the first of which is this recipe from Chef Jose Andres, who trained under Ferran Adria and now owns a number of restaurants in the DC area. After hearing the segment on the radio, I decided to try it that night. Lacking time, I used one can of chickpeas, had no Sherry vinegar and so used white wine vinegar, and based on the contents of my spice rack, omitted the saffron and replaced the Spanish paprika and olive oil with regular paprika and olive oil. Otherwise I followed the recipe as written. It was very good, not amazing, but was added to my standard menu list.

Last night, I made another attempt at the recipe. This time, I did extra alterations, and really enjoyed the results, so here's my new recipe (and it still doesn't break the $10 mark as long as you have these ingredients already):

Spanish Chickpea and Spinach Stew
serves 4

1 slice bread (white or wheat), cut into cubes

3 Tbsp olive oil
1 large shallot, chopped
6-8 garlic cloves, chopped
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp ground paprika
Pinch red pepper flakes

2-15oz. cans chickpeas, drained
2 cups stock (I used Imagine Organic vegetable stock)
2 Tbsp sherry
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups frozen cut spinach (you can toss it in frozen)

1-2 eggs per person
Pita bread (one per person)

Toast the bread in a large skillet (dry, over medium high heat) until browned and crisp, then either crush into crumbs with your hands or with a food processor/blender/mortar and pestle. Heat the olive oil in the skillet, saute the shallots and garlic until soft, then add the red pepper flakes, cumin, and paprika. Cook for about a minute, then add the chickpeas, stock, sherry, vinegar, and bread crumbs. Simmer for 5 minutes, add salt and pepper to taste, add the spinach, and cook about 5 minutes more to let the spinach soften. Fry 1-2 eggs in olive oil for each person, and warm the pita bread in a toaster oven or toaster.

Serve in a bowl, topped with the egg(s) and with the pita bread on the side.