Monday, 24 November 2008

A Hat So Easy It Should Be Called Your Momma

Every year I say to myself 'This is the year I will make gifts for people, for handmade gifts are the bestest'. Unfortunately I say this every year around mid-December, when I have neither time nor money to spend on such endeavour, and anyway entering any retail outlet in December involves donning thick armor plating, a crash helmet & kneepads (what? You seriously think you can walk to the cashiers? Crawling on your hands & knees, clutching your purchases to your chest & praying to Cthulhu is the only way you're getting out of there*).
Well, for some reason (the planets were in alignment? A white buffalo was born? Pushing Daisies. Oh, yeah. That was it), this year the thought occurred a month earlier.
Huzzah. Thank you, Emerson Cod.
So this Christmas, every one's getting a scarf. Or a hat. Or fingerless gloves if I can fathom how to do them (don't hold your breath, Mike!)

Here's how to make a really easy roll-brim hat. Not only is it easy, it's also fast (insert appropriate 'Your Momma' joke here), and only takes an evening to make (this particular hat took me a Sunday double bill of Columbo). It also has the magic power of fitting comfortably on different sized heads, from my own 21" scalp to Mikeyfox's Mekonesque 24" cranium. Fancy that.

You will be needing a 41cm/16" 8mm circular needle (the 8mm is the needle thickness, the 41cm/16" is the length of the circular needle). Don't be afraid of the circular needle, it's more scared of you than you are of it.

You'll also need 4 dpns (double pointed needles). Yes, they are scary looking, and if you don't keep an eye on them they'll slip down the back of the sofa & perform acupuncture on you when you're watching Gilmore Girls.

You'll need a ball of wool too, the chunkier the better. A single 100g ball should do the job (though you won't have anything left over. If you're worried, get more, it'll get used for something eventually). I used King Cole Homespun super chunky yarn in green, which is a nice thick wool/acrylic mix. You could use any chunky wool suitable for an 8mm needle, Sirdar Super Nova Tweed wool works really well too. (If you're really worried about the finished hat size, then knit yourself a gauge & work out the stitches per inch)

Cast 60 stitches onto your circular needles. Yes, it looks far too small right now, but have I ever steered you wrong before? Now comes the fun part, 'knitting in the round'. Yup, you're going to be going around in circles. Before that, straighten out all your stitches & make sure that they are all pointing inwards (or down, if that's your thing). You don't want to get your stitches twisted up, or you'll end up knitting a Mobius strip. A surface with only one side it may be, a hat it isn't. You'll need a stitch marker (you can buy stitch markers, and they come in different colours & styles. For this I'm using an Ankh ring sent to me by the lovely Cynthia as my stitch marker. Just slip it onto the needle next to the last cast on stitch. The stitch marker is just there to show you where the end of the row is. When you knit your row & get to it, you just slip it from one needle to the other & carry on knitting. It doesn't get knitted into the hat, just goes round & round the needles.
Hold the needle with the last cast on stitch in your right hand & the needle with the first cast on stitch in your left hand and knit into that first cast on stitch, pulling the yarn firmly to prevent getting a gap in the join between the two stitches (though this being a roll brim hat, no one will actually notice if the joint is a bit shoddy).
Sensible folk will recommend that you knit with the needles facing towards you, rather than away from you (like in regular knitting). I can't wrap my head around such things, so knit with needles towards me, which has the bizarre effect of turning the hat inside out. But that's fine, just turn it right way round when you're finished. Work whatever method suits you best.

Another magic power of the circular needle is it turns a Garter stitch into a Stockinette. Yes, hot snow falls upwards. Why does it do this? Because you're knitting in a spiral, rather than the back & forth of regular needles. So if you want to make a garter stitch hat, you'll need to knit 1 round, purl 1 round & keep repeating. Or you can knit an inside-out, garter-that-becomes-stockinette magic-hat instead.
Keep knitting until you have 6" or 7" or so of knitting (a little less if you're making a Beanie style hat, a little more if you want a big chunky brim). Now comes the decreasing. Just relax. get yourself a cup of tea. Or a glass of wine. Some Malbec would go down well. Knit 8 stitches, then knit 2 stitches together. Repeat until the end of the row. Now knit 7 stitches, and knit 2 together, and repeat until the end of the row. Now knit 7 stitches, and knit 2 together, repeat to the end of the row. At this point you & the circular needles will have to part ways. yes, it's been a whirlwind romance, but you'll meet again soon. Time to meet the dpns, the double pointed needles -discovered by a the Mad Arab Abdul Alhazred in the ruins of Babylon & used to knit a cabled tote bag for his early draft of the Necronomicon. Wield them and despair!

Okay, so they're not that bad. But look, they make an Anarchy symbol when used to knit a hat. Coincidence? Probably, yeah.
Moving on...
You can just slip your stitches onto 3 of the dpns, spread them out equally & continue knitting the rounds of decreases. Or you can knit straight onto them, whatever works best for you. With the 4th needle knit off the dpns (it sounds complicated, but it isn't. Just take your empty needle in your right hand & the dpn with the stitches you need to decrease next in your left. Knit & decrease from left to right, and use the now empty left hand dpn to do the same again to the next one). Knit & decrease for as long as you can stand to (I keep going until I have 3 or 4 stitches, but I'm Peculiar), cut your yarn, leaving a tail of several inches, and thread through the remaining stitches. Tie off & weave in any loose yarn left (don't forget the bit at the brim where you cast on). Turn it right way around (if you've been knitting it inside out)

There you have it. A very fine hat.

*Oh, mighty cephalopod, get your lazy arse out of bed and smite mine enemies with your flailing tentacles, so that your humble servant may purchase gaudy, overpriced tat...

Wednesday, 12 November 2008


Back when I was a cub, every summer my Mum & I would go out to our local pick-your-own farm, with it's endless fields of strawberries & raspberries (and the occasional row of mysterious hybrid something-berry*), and pick our own body weights in soft fruits, which would be taken home and turned into jam. Jam, jam, bloody jam. No eating strawberries raw for us, it had to be boiled up with preserving sugar & poured into jars. Or doused in sugar & left in the fridge overnight to go soft & pulpy. Brrr.
So when I eventually inherited my Nans giant preserving pan (where many a succulent red fruit met its grisly end), I vowed never to make a single blob of jam in it. No, it was to be reclaimed, redeemed & turned to a higher purpose.

Yes, dear reader, it would be used to make chutney.

Ahh, chutney. Friend of cheese, saviour of the boring sandwich, secret ingredient of shepherds pie or pumpkin tagine. And the nicest thing to do with cheese on toast (though spreading the toast with marmite before adding the cheese is also very tasty).
As I've mentioned before, few things make me happier than spending an afternoon pottering about in the kitchen making something tasty. And I had all these Pumpkins...**

So better make some Pumpkin Chutney then!

700g pumpkin (any variety will do, really), peeled, deseeded & chopped into equal sized pieces.
700g apples, peeled, cored & chopped into equal sized pieces (I used half cooking apples from my father-in-laws impossibly high-yielding little tree, and half coxes, as all my apples had gone to the Great Cider Making Caper)
1 large onion, peeled & diced
250g demerera sugar (or any brown sugar)
450ml white wine vinegar (or cider vinegar, or even malt vinegar, though that would be like taking the delicate flavour of your pumpkin, wrapping it around a housebrick & smacking yourself in the face with it (which is entirely understandable sometimes)
250g raisins
1tsp salt
1tbs chilli flakes
1" ginger, peeled & chopped

Pile all of that into your preserving pan. I know it doesn't look like there's enough vinegar in there, but there is. Promise.
In a piece of muslin (though I used a reusable teabag here. A crazy little invention from Whittards) tie up 1tsp peppercorns, 1 cinnamon stick (you can break it up if you need to) & 6 or 7 cloves. Chuck into the preserving pan & bring everything slowly to the boil. This will occupy you for the next hour or two, so I recommend a Micah P. Hinson CD while you work. Broken Family Band will also work, chutney likes being sung to.
Stir occasionally, and when it reaches a boil reduce to a simmer & give it the odd stir to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom or burns (unlikely to happen at the start, but after an hour it'll get thick & tricksy). After about an hour & a half (maybe more, maybe less) it will have thickened up, and you can draw your spoon across the bottom and see the base of the pan briefly, like Moses parting the Red Sea. Only it's a chutney sea.

You have Chutney! Spoon into clean, sterilised jars & seal. Waste half an hour on Google images looking for a good picture to go on the label, then store in a cool, dark place for a couple of months to mature (though you'll probably have a jar that's only half full. That can be used straight away. Future jars will be better & more matured, but it will still be tasty.
Om Nom Nom!

*Where I was disheartened to discover that the Loganberry didn't give you X-Men powers, and was just a fancy word for 'bigger Raspberry'. Hmpf.

**Some people smoke. Some people run up huge credit card debts buying shoes. I buy pumpkins. Could be worse.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Dangerous Vegan Cutlets

It's cold, damp & the streets are lined with spent fireworks (I'd collect them for kindling, but I'm pretty sure that would result in one brief, spectacular bonfire, and a mention in the last 5 minutes on the 6 o'clock news*), so comfort food seems in order.

So here's a recipe for Dangerous Vegan Cutlets**
Long ago, this was a recipe for Chickpea Cutlets from that glorious tome, The Veganomicon (Klaatu barata nikto!), great recipes & a sense of humour all in one cookbook? Huzzah!
Though time, laziness, absent-mindedness & a distressing tendency towards experimentation have created this recipe, which still resembles the original.
For this recipe, we'll be needing some gluten powder (or wheat gluten, which I've mentioned before in the seitan recipe)

Dangerous Vegan Cutlets

1 can cooked chickpeas
1/2 cup gluten powder
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (preferably cornbread-crumbs, though anything else will do)
3 cloves garlic, grated
1 tsp salt
Black pepper. A lot
1 tsp paprika (preferably smoked)
1/2 tsp cumin
1tbs Tabasco or chipotle sauce (I like Valentina Salsa Muy Picante, but any favourite hot sauce will work)
1/4 cup vegetable stock

In a bowl, mash the chickpeas. They don't have to be a hummus-style puree, just knocked about a bit so there are no whole ones left. Add the garlic, breadcrumbs, stock, spices & seasonings & stir.

Scatter the gluten powder over the chickpea mixture & stir. Terrible things will occur. Don't worry, that's the miracle of gluten powder.

Knead the sticky mass until elasticy strings have formed. It'll only take 2 or 3 minutes. Cut into 4 equal pieces & flatten into cutlets (or burgers, they're pretty good in a bun with some spinach or shredded lettuce, topped with a few jalapeno slices. Num!) about 1cm thick (though a little thicker or thinner is fine). I tend to make mine thinner at one end. Why? No idea!
Pour a thin layer of oil into a large frying pan over a medium heat & fry the cutlets for 5-7 minutes on each side (you can add more oil if necessary when turning them). They're ready when browned & firm to the touch.

Mmmm. You can serve them with roasted or steamed veg, vegetable rice, or in a sandwich with some salad & avocado, smothered in gravy or salsa. You can even slice them & fry until crisp, and scatter over salad or fajitas (on corn fajitas is especially nice). These ones were eaten with mustard mash with some illicit french beans***

This is a great recipe to do some experimenting with. No chickpeas? try Pinto beans, or red kidney beans (they work really well). Butter beans with lots of garlic & herbs make a great cutlet. Or chickpeas with some Madras (or whatever Indian spice paste or powder you have lurking at the back of your cupboard) paste instead of the paprika & tabasco. Borlotti beans with grated onion & garlic & a dollop of sundried tomato paste works well too.

Om Nom Nom!

*if I'm lucky. It'll probably be a sideline in the Sheffield Star. BBQ Vegetarian a hit with local cats.
**After Nighthawks at the diner's Dangerous Veal Cutlets at the Copper Penny.
My veal cutlet come down, tried to beat the shit out of my cup of coffee. Coffee just wasn't strong enough to defend itself...
***Thanks to my Mum, master of the illicit vegetable.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Vegetarian Pozole Rojo

Pozole is a Mexican stew traditionally made with pork and nixtamal (also known as hominy, a large variety of dried corn kernels treated with lime* to increase its nutritional value & make it more easily digested). Hominy is a bit tricky to get hold of in the UK (Coolchile sell the dried variety, which is what I'm using in this recipe). This is a vegetarian version of the classic red pozole, using pinto beans instead of pork.
This isn't a quick recipe. This is an extremely slow recipe. I'll no doubt blather about slow cooking another time.

Vegetarian Pozole Rojo (Vegetarian Red Pozole Stew)

2 cups dried hominy
2 cups Pinto beans (dried & checked over)

Here's the dried hominy & pinto beans in a bowl. Rinse & cover with cold water, and leave to soak overnight (see, told you it was slow!), or for 6 hours.

Next morning (or 6 hours later), drain the beans & hominy & rinse.

Here's a closer look at the hominy after its soaking. The kernels have doubled in size, and are starting to look a bit more tender and appetising. They also have a very distinctive smell. Put in a large pot & cover with water. Bring to the boil & then simmer until the beans have become very soft & the hominy has swollen & started to burst open. This can take anything from an hour to 3 hours, maybe even 4, depending on how fresh the hominy & beans were.
While the hominy is simmering, you'll need to make the chile sauce (yes, more work. But this will add lots of flavour, and make the pozole red. Instead of swampy grey. No picture of that here, is there?!)

Chile Sauce
3 Ancho Chiles, deseeded & chopped
3 Guadjillo Chiles, deseeded & chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
1tbs oil
2 cups chopped tomatoes or passata

Heat the oil in a pan & fry the onion, garlic & chiles until softened. Add 2 cups of the cooking water from the pozole & leave to simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat & pour into a blender or food processor & blitz until you have a smooth sauce. 1/2 an hour before the end of cooking, add this chile sauce & the chopped tomatoes or passata to the pozole & stir in.
Suddenly your distressingly grey stew is RED! Huzzah, for soon you will eat!
While the pozole has its last half hour of simmering, you'll need to prepare some garnishes.

Yes, garnishes. Half the glory that is pozole is the variety of garnishes you can scatter over your bowlful of stew (kind of like the Chinese Hotpot or Steamboat/Steambowl, where the stock is served with a wide variety of ingredients & condiments, so each serving is different). Shredded lettuce, spring onions, chopped red onion, lime wedges, avocado slices, tortilla strips, sliced radish, sour cream & coriander all make great toppings (radish is surprisingly nice. Avocado & lime is even better)

Om Nom Nom

*Not the citrus kind of lime, the other stuff. The earliest known use of this process is in Guatemala around 1200BC. Cherokee Indians used this method to make a fermented stew called *deep breath* Gv-No-He-Nv A-Ma-Gi-i.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

On This Day

On November 3rd, 1927, a Prussian ministerial decree was issued requiring all Roma to be registered through documentation "in the same manner as individuals being sought by means of wanted posters, witnesses, photographs and fingerprints."
Infants were to be fingerprinted, and those over the age of six to carry identity cards bearing their photograph as well. Between November 23rd and 26th, armed raids were carried out by the police on Roma communities throughout Prussia to enforce the decree of November 3rd. Eight thousand were processed as a result.

History? No, it's happening in Italy right now. Italy's interior minister Roberto Maroni has proposed and begun implementing a policy of police fingerprinting of all members of the Italian Roma/Gypsy Community. That alone is a cause for concern, but when combined with the repeated (and unpunished) attacks on Gypsy camps, and the Italy's Highest appeals court ruling that it is acceptable to discriminate against Roma because "All Gypsies were thieves".
Déjà vu?

We are not monsters, we are not thieves. We are just people.