Saturday, June 30, 2012

Resources for New Knitters

It's nearly midnight and the sweater/scarf/doll/etc. that you've been knitting away at is still drawing you on to knit "one more row", but ... wait! What's this? The pattern's telling you to do something that's just crazy insane - maybe it's saying "ssk" or "s1-k1-psso" or "cable 4 front". That kind (and not nearly so batty seeming) dear who gave you your first knitting hit is probably in bed, and the local yarn shops are all closed. Where can you turn for help?

The INTERNET!!!

YouTube is a great resource, but maybe you've tried to economize, ditching the home connection for your smart phone and streaming video is no longer in your budget.

Googling the specific pattern abbreviation may help get you to written directions.

Then there's actually buying knitting books and knitting DVDs. At the very least, if your internet is not reliable, you can still turn to these repositories of knitterly lore.

You can purchase direct from Interweave Press, and I strongly recommend the deluxe version of The Knitter's Companion. I'm waiting with baited breath for the technical issues to be resolved on their Android app version of this oh, so helpful reference.

Your local yarn stores and fair-to-middling large-sized book seller should have a section devoted to crafting, and knitting should be among them. Look the books over carefully. Some will be "knitters bibles", how-tos that cover everything from casting on to finishing and adding embellishments to your knitted pieces. Others will be pattern books, and these are likely to be sources of those strange instructions.

There is a third kind, a sort of blending of the two, which details a particular technique or aspect of knitterly lore and illustrates those aspects with patterns. (By the by, if there's a pattern you want to knit up contained within, please do check the publisher's site to see if there are any corrections to the pattern before casting on - after all, errata happens!)

As for DVDs, I've had more luck finding them - and decent reviews of them - at online retailers such as Knit Picks and WEBS.

Hoping this helps spark ideas and leads. Feel free to add links to your favorite repositories of knitterly lore!

Left Hand Knitting

Shortly after I started knitting, I got told by just about every knitter I met that there is no such thing as left-handed knitting. Knitting goes from right to left, working needle *firmly* in the right hand *at all times*. Being a novice to the craft, I believed what I was told. The folks who tried to impress upon me these basic facts of knitting may have been mis-informed themselves, or well intentioned and trying to avoid confusing a knitting newbie. Whatever their reasons, they were wrong.

Before I get into the techniques for left hand knitting I'm going to go over what happens during right hand knitting. This knitting anatomy needs to be understood if you want to avoid some headaches later on. Starting with some terms...:
  • The "front" of your work is the part facing you, regardless whether it is the right or wrong side. 
  • The "back" is the side facing away from you. 
  • "Right" side is the side that will be on display when you are finished with the project and "wrong" is the part that will hidden, such as the inside of a shirt. 
  • The "working needle" is the needle that catches the yarn while 
  • the "holding needle" holds the stitches that have yet to be worked onto the working needle. 
  • When wrapping yarn around the working needle, "inside" refers to the space between the needles and "outside" is the area away from both needles. 
  • "Up" is above the working needle, and "down" is the below the working needle. 
  • The "tail" is the yarn strand that starts at the work in progress and leads to the yarn ball. 
  • The "working leg" of a stitch is the one that is closest to the working needle. 
  • The "holding leg" of a stitch is the one closest to the hand holding the holding needle.
In right hand knitting, or regular or traditional style, you knit from right to left, stitches held on the left needle and worked onto the right needle. The knit stitch is made by holding the yarn tail behind the work, inserting the working needle from left to right, from the front of the work to the back, and then the tail is wrapped around the working needle from the inside and down to outside and up.  The purl stitch is made by holding the tail in front of the work, inserting the working needle from right to left in the front of the work, and then the tail is wrapped around the working needle from the outside and up to the inside and down. Stitches' working legs should be on front of the holding needle.

Left hand knitting matches the way you wrap your yarn, but mirrors how you insert your working needle. This is because left hand knitting is essentially a horizontal flip of right hand knitting.

Left hand knit stitch, wrapping from
inside and down to outside and up.
The left hand knit stitch is made by holding your tail in front of the work and inserting your needle from back to front, right to left. The knit stitch is still wrapped from inside-down to outside-up.

Left hand purl stitch, being wrapped
from outside and up to inside and down
The purl stitch is made by holding the tail behind the work and inserting the working needle through the back loop from left to right. Again, it is still wrapped from outside-up to inside-down. Stitches' working legs should be on the back of the holding needle.

Personally, I'm finding that switching from right to left hand knitting makes flat-worked stockinette a LOT more fun to knit as I'm no longer turning my work, resettling the piece I'm working on, rearranging how I hold the needles, and so on.

A few easy "gottchas" for the knitters first trying this:
  • If you wrap the stitches wrong you will twist your stitches. Twisted stitches have the working legs on the back of the holding needle when working right to left and on the front when working left to right. If you work into the holding leg by mistake, when the stitch drops off the holding needle it will form a loop, not to mention feel much stiffer to work than if knit through the working leg. Twisted stitches can be hard to spot in relaxed fabric, but stand out when the fabric is pulled tight because they look like they're choking the stitch above them.
    The yarn tail is coming off the left needle,
    indicating that the piece is being worked
    from left to right.
  • The tail of the yarn always comes off the working needle. If the tail is coming from the left needle, you were working left to right when you put your knitting down and if it comes off the right needle then you were working right to left.
  • Especially as you're getting used to knitting left to right it's a good idea to push the new stitches all the way on the working needle as you make them to ensure your tension isn't too tight, and double especially if you hold your yarn "Continental" in your left hand.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Chicken & Veggie Casserole


Notes:

  • Makes 8 servings
  • Prep time is between 5 and 10 minutes if you're cutting the veggies and meat
  • Cooking time is approx. 1 hour
  • "Chopped" as I use it means bite sized pieces.
  • If substituting different types of rice, check the package's "stove top" directions for water amount and cooking time needed.
  • All veggies I used were from the fresh produce dept. If you're using frozen veggies, allow them to thaw in refrigerator or under cool water before using.


Ingredients:

  • 1 to 2 lbs. chicken, chopped
  • 1/2 sm. onion, sliced into 1/8" slivers
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • approx. 2 tsp "Cajon" seasoning mix, or spices of your choice
  • 1 cup Thai Jasmine rice
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup broccoli head, chopped (approx. 1-1/2 cups)
  • 1 tomato, chopped (approx 1/2 cup)
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 cup mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup, condensed, 10.5 oz
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup, condensed, 10.5 oz
  • 8 oz sour cream
  • 1 to 2 cups grated cheese of your choice (Mozzarella, Cheddar, Colby Jack are all good choices)


Utensils:

  • 9"x13" casserole pan
  • Aluminum foil or other means of covering the pan
  • 4 quart sauce pan with lid
  • Fork
  • Mixing bowl
  • Spatula for serving casserole


Steps:

Chicken:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 Fahrenheit
  2. Lay out chicken in an even layer along the bottom of the casserole pan
  3. Layer onion slivers and minced garlic on top, cover with spices
  4. Cover the casserole pan and place in oven for 40 minutes


Rice & Veggies:

While chicken is in the oven,
  1. Wash the rice
  2. Combine washed rice, water, broccoli, tomato, and celery in sauce pan (if using canned mushrooms, add now)
  3. Cover, bring to boil, stirring occasionally
  4. Allow to boil for 5 minutes
  5. Turn off heat and, if using fresh mushrooms, add mushrooms now. Rice mixture will be wet, and water may still be present
  6. Rice mixture should remain covered until chicken is done in oven.


Sauce:

While rice is cooking
  1. Combine the two cans of creamed soup with sour cream in mixing bowl
  2. Whisk with fork for 2 minutes, until mixture is same color throughout.
  3. Set aside


Casserole:

  1. Once chicken is done, leave oven at 400 and remove dish to heat proofed location. 
  2. Add rice & veggies, using fork to "fluff" the rice as it comes out of the sauce pan. Ensure there is a 1/2" of clearance between food levels and the casserole rim
  3. Pour sauce mixture over the rice layer
  4. With fork, gently mix ingredients to ensure even distribution of the sauce.
  5. Cover with cheese
  6. Return dish to oven for 15 minutes or until cheese starts to brown.

Let rest until cool enough to handle sides of the pan and serve.

Washing Rice

Quick note: I have  no clue if this post applies to brown rice. Life's too short to waste time on things that don't lead to pleasure, which for me has included brown rice.

Why should you wash your rice? The reasons revolve around what washing your rice does: it removes the powdered starches that are a natural by product of the harvesting and packaging of commercially grown rice.

I'm not a nutritionalist-type person, so I can't speak to the nutrition effects of removing the starch. The culinary effect is that your rice doesn't stick to itself so much.

Some of the ways you can wash your rice are: fine mesh strainers & washing in the pan.

With the fine mesh strainer, place your rice in the strainer and run under cool water until the water runs clear. Turn the strainer over, over the pot you'll be cooking your rice in, and using some of the water you'll cook with, rinse the grains that stick to the strainer into the pot. If you are going to bring your water to a boil before adding your rice, reserve about 1/2 cup of water for this and let the water boil for a minute or so before adding the rice.

Washing in the pan is not going to remove as much starch, and means that you will not be waiting to add your rice until the water boils. Making sure your hands are clean, place your rice in the pan, add cold water to a little over 1/2" above your rice, and use your hands to swish and swirl the grains around. The first wash is going to very milky white. Use your hands to catch the rice and pour out the water. Repeat until you're happy with the result. Draining the water off this way means that the rice will still be fairly wet when you add in water, so expect that for each cup of rice you wash in the pan, you won't be able to drain off between 1/16 and 1/8 cup of water.

Enjoy!