Sunday, February 28, 2010

Food Rules : a review

I am a little in love with Michael Pollan. (Don’t tell Mark Bittman.) But I suspected correctly that his recent little book wasn’t going to be anything earthshatteringly new. It was basically just a handy summary of some of his wise principles to keep in mind when making choices about food. A lot of it is common sense, though I think we all know that common sense isn’t as common as it should be.

This small book - light on text and a very quick read - is basically a list of 64 rules about eating, divided into three section based on Pollan’s mantra “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” More accurately, it’s 3 rules with 64 ways to help you remember them. Pollan recommends picking one rule from each section to remember and use.

The first section “What Should I Eat? (Eat Food)” contains rules to help you avoid processed foods. Some examples are:
- Avoid foods that have some type of sugar among the top 3 ingredients
- Avoid foods that your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize
- Avoid foods that are pretending to be something they are not
- Eat foods that will eventually rot
- Eat food made from ingredients that you can picture

The next section “What Kind of Food Should I Eat? (Eat Plants)” is a little more specific. Some of the rules are:
- Eat fermented foods
- Don’t overlook the oily little fishes (like sardines and anchovies)
- Treat meat as a flavoring or special occasion food
- Eat more like the French or Japanese or Italians or Greeks (a traditional food culture)
- Have a glass of wine with dinner (Yes!)
- Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself

Finally, “How Should I Eat (Not too much)” focuses on not overeating.
- Stop eating before you’re full
- Spend as much time enjoying the meal as it took to prepare it
- Pay more, eat less
- Limit snacks to unprocessed plant foods (fruit, veggies, nuts)
- Do all your eating at a table
- Buy smaller plates and glasses
- Cook
- Break the rules once in a while

I’ve been on board with Michael Pollan for quite a while, so his ideas aren’t new to me. (Many of the tips from the third section I read about in the book "Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think" by Brian Wansink (also highly recommended) and they are definitely worth being reminded of.) Many of the tips are things I’ve been trying to keep in mind for a while now, though some are new, and some are definitely more challenging than others. For example, in the past year or so I have given up eating the tasty fake meats from Morningstar Farms because they are highly processed, contain shockingly long lists of ingredients and I’m not convinced they’re more healthy than eating meat. But avoiding fake meat products means more labor-intensive meals. On the other hand, the majority of my between-meal snacks are fruit and nuts, and that’s easy. I’ve been doing that for a while and it wasn’t even a conscious decision.

Although I borrowed this book from the library, it’s probably a convenient little book to own if you want to be able to refer to it for new tips now and then. But I’m really looking for something new from Pollan, rather than a rehashing of ideas that we have already heard. I hope he has something exciting in the works.

One more thing about the book: I can’t get the phrase “silence of the yams” out of my head now.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Little House on the Prairie : a review

In which the Ingalls family travels across the prairie and takes up residence near Indepdence, Kansas, Pa builds their house by hand, they are terrorized by a panther, Indians come into their house, and the whole family suffers from fever n’ ague and are saved by a black man. As if that weren’t enough, Mary and Laura are gobsmacked to each receive a tin cup AND candy AND a penny for Christmas. This is exciting stuff!

As a kid, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the Indian/white relations in this book, but it really stood out to me reading it as an adult. The Ingalls and their neighbors had such strong opinions about the Indians, though Pa went against the general feelings of the time and tried to defend them. But nobody thought it was wrong for the white settlers to keep pushing the Indians West. In the end though, it was declared that the Ingalls family and their neighbors had settled in Indian territory, so the family packed up and left.

During the course of this book I started to question Pa a little. He is definitely handy, but sometimes I had to wonder about his choices. An article I read about the family mentioned their frequent moving around, various homestead failures (like this one) and his risk-taking, and implied that Caroline and the girls really put up with a lot. It’s hard to really understand his character and motivations through a children’s book. But I will say that Pa has a whole lot of responsibilities and very little help to carry them out, not to mention having to protect his family from so many dangers. It is really all very daunting.

I wish I didn’t have so much other reading lined up right now. I’m dying to just dive into the next book in the series!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Oh darn!

I have been enjoying wearing my hand-knit socks every day, and you can tell.


I did a little Googling for information on how to darn socks and found this and this. There are actually a ton of darning tutorials out there, but they all looked pretty much the same, so these are the two I focused on. They vary a little because you can choose to darn from either the inside or the outside of the sock. I've done it both ways, but prefer doing it from the outside so the raggedy edges of the hole end up inside the sock and don't show. It feels just a bit bulky at first, but then becomes unnoticeable.

Also, I ordered this darning egg from KnitPicks, which has proven essentially useless, except for the purpose of taking these photos. I love KnitPicks as much as the next person, but that egg is too small for anything but the tiniest of holes. I ended up using a large round glass votive holder.

After darning, my sock looked like this:

The darning, it is not pretty. But after washing a couple of times it all starts to meld together and look less weird. Plus it's on my heel so nobody sees it.

The problem is that suddenly ALL of my socks are starting to get holes. Although darning is pretty easy, it takes a good 20-30 minutes to do one sock, and I suddenly have a whole pile of socks awaiting their turn. In addition to the hole in the sock above, I have also darned one of my gray socks (the first socks I ever knit), and now the other one has a hole too; one of Eric's Log Cabin socks; I’ve darned a hole in each of my Jaywalker socks and one of them now has a second hole; and one of my Pomatomus socks now has a very thin spot that if left untouched will soon be a hole.

My new routine is to check all my socks after they’re dry from washing, before putting them away, and setting aside the ones that need to be taken care of. It’s a whole new chore I never had before and they are starting to pile up. (I now understand the “darning basket” referred to in so many 19th century novels.) Eventually, I will have to start throwing them out – I’m not sure how many times you can darn one sock, but I suspect I will find out very soon.

Luckily I have two more pairs of socks on the needles, and I'm formulating a plan to spend my summer catching up by knitting oodles more socks while not wearing any out. I’ll show you my new socks-in-progress soon. Teaser: they are both Madelinetosh. Yum.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Wife's Tale : a review

On the eve of their 25th wedding anniversary, Jimmy Gooch leaves his wife. Mary doesn’t have a whole lot of self-respect and has been waiting for this day since they met. She has had a lifelong struggle with with her seemingly insatiable hunger, her self-esteem, and her desire for self-acceptance. When her husband leaves her, she is at her heaviest and has spent years isolating herself from others and passing up opportunities for travel and other pleasures because she is uncomfortable with how she looks and never, ever has anything appropriate to wear. But she is not content to stay at home and wait to see if Jimmy ever comes back. Mary embarks on a trip from her small town in Leaford, Ontario all the way to California.

After reading The Girls, I was eager to pick up Lansens’ newest book. It unfortunately sports one of the cliched woman’s-legs covers, which has been so overdone at this point that it’s laughable. Even more so for this book, because the main character is morbidly obese. These are not the legs of an obese woman. Who the hell designed this cover, and did they know anything about the book? But I digress. (Not surprisingly, this is apparently just the U.S. cover – the other versions are shown here.)

Mary Gooch is certainly less than perfect, and sprinkled through the novel are illustrations of ways in which she did not help her marriage at all. She spends a lot of time waiting in this novel, during which she thinks back to different parts of her life. It is very memory-heavy, and those memories sometimes seem more important than what is going on at present. Despite her many imperfections, I rooted for her. And this is certainly a novel of growth, in which she is forced outside of her comfort zone and realizes how much she has been missing. I don’t think I liked it as much as The Girls, but I was definitely content to spend every spare moment reading it.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Endpaper Mitts

They are finally done. Actually, I finished them a week or so ago but wanted to block them out so they'd fit better and hopefully look better. I think the colorwork does look a little better with blocking, though they're still a bit tight.

Pattern: Endpaper Mitts by Eunny Jang (free pattern)
Needles: Addi Turbos of three different sizes. I'm afraid that in my happiness at finally completing this project, I threw away my notes before entering them in Ravelry. I *think* I cast on in a 2, knit the ribbing on 0 and did the colorwork on 3.
Yarn: Louet Gems Fingering Weight in teal and aqua. I liked the yarn a lot.

As mentioned previously, I don't like that the sizes are based on gauge because it affects the appearance of the fair isle pattern. It was also annoying that the chart rows weren't numbered, but I suppose that's a minor quibble. For the most part it was easy to knit, and is a quick project despite the fact that it took me six months to complete. It's good fair isle practice too, since the pattern is so simple and only requires two colors.

The bind-off was very fiddly and obnoxious and didn't even look very good, as evident in the photo below. Check out the bumpy edges on my left palm.
It may not be the fault of the bind off itself - I suspect I screwed it up, as the process is unnecessarily complex. Unlike other bind offs, I wouldn't have been able to undo it and fix the mistakes. I have no idea why this bind off was chosen.

I'm happy to finally have another pair of fingerless mitts. Of course they don't match even one hat or scarf that I own so I don't know how much use I'll get out of them. Maybe this calls for some more hat and scarf knitting?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Secrets of Eden : a review

Chris Bohjalian's new novel is about a couple, George and Alice Hayward, who die in a murder-suicide. George was known to have been abusive to Alice and they had been separated for a while. One night a few months after he came back, while their teenage daughter Katie was out with a friend, George apparently strangled Alice and then shot himself in the head.

But it becomes more complicated. When Alice Hayward’s diary is found, it turns out that she was having an affair. Further, evidence from the scene of the crime raises questions about how George died. What at first seem so cut and dried is suddenly rather unclear.

The story was told through four different narrators: the Reverend Stephen Drew, who had baptized Alice on the last morning of her life; angel-obsessed author Heather Laurent, whose parents died in a similar way; investigator Catherine Benincasa; and daughter Katie Hayward. This use of different perspectives is what made the story so much more complex – the reader simply doesn’t know what to believe about whom. Of course, I had my favorites. I was rooting for Stephen Drew throughout the book, while I found Heather Laurent more than a little loony and annoying.

I really liked his twist on the domestic violence story. The ending was abrupt but, I think, appropriate. The book wasn’t earth-shattering but it was as compelling as Bohjalian’s stories always are. In this age of rushed deadlines and sloppy editing it’s really nice to have an author you can count on to consistently tell good stories well.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Almost Perfect : a review

Logan is still trying to get over his ex-girlfriend when he meets Sage, who just moved to his small Missouri town. Sage is like nobody else he has ever met- she is loud and wacky and sews her own wild clothing. She also has incredibly strict parents, isn’t allowed to date, and has been homeschooled for the last five years. Although Sage tries to keep her distance, Logan finally kisses her – a wonderful, perfect kiss that leaves him wanting more. And that’s when Sage tells him the truth about herself. She is really a boy.

You can imagine the conflicting feelings that Logan has after this revelation, and their relationship becomes a veritable rollercoaster as Logan and Sage try to figure out what sort of relationship they have, if any. This is the first young adult novel I’ve read (or heard of) about a transgender teen and it’s fun and sweet and sad - I didn’t want to put it down! If you are into YA books, this is a must-read.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

I'm knitting a scarf

I may have mentioned before how much I dislike knitting scarves. But the fact cannot be escaped - I really need a nice snuggly warm scarf. A few months ago I bought a couple of skeins of Malabrigo worsted, suspecting that it would never actually become a scarf, but I surprised myself a few days ago by casting on for the Scrunchable Scarf. The pic on the site makes it look unappealing but there are some nice shots on Ravelry.

Originally I wanted bulkier yarn for nice big squishy scarf, but I also was leaning towards Malabrigo and none of the bulky colors jumped out at me. This pattern knits up nice and snuggly and squishy, so I think it will be great. And the color is amazing. This picture doesn't quite capture the subtle shades, but maybe I'll get some better pics later.

The pattern is super easy and it makes for great tv/movie knitting. I haven't had a project like that for a while.

Progress shots of scarves are very boring, so I won't show this to you again until it's done!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Blame : a review

A young college professor with a drinking problem wakes up in jail one morning to find out that she hit and killed two Jehovah’s Witnesses in her driveway the night before. Patsy stops drinking in prison, and after she gets out she begins to rebuild her life. The guilt she feels about the accident contributes to many choices that she makes as she begins friendships and navigates romantic relationships.

The story began in an interesting spot. It picked up at the end of Patsy’s boozy years, and then extended beyond her time in prison – when she got out and was getting settled, it started to feel like the story wasn’t going anywhere. But I knew from the jacket flap that additional details would emerge about her accident. When all is said and done, it makes sense that it started and stopped where it did, but while reading it, it felt like the plot meandered.

I can’t decide how much I like Patsy. I actually have trouble reconciling Drunk Patsy with Professor Patsy. When we first meet her, in the first chapter of the book, she doesn’t come across as anything other than a party animal/train wreck who isn’t very bright and it’s hard to believe that she has an academic career. It’s also hard to believe it’s the same person that we meet later, sober. Anyhow, she is a bit of a martyr in parts of the book, denying herself certain pleasures because she wants to be responsible. I’m not saying she should have cheated on her husband necessarily, but…well. I question her choices. I think she made a rather calm and bland life for herself.

Guilt and responsibility are, of course, big themes in this book and not just in regards to the accident. There is lots of food for thought and discussion here, and I think this would be a great book group choice.