Ulrica wrote last week with details of a lovely little food game; a variation on the Make Do and Eat strategy for using up the food you have on hand. “Siege” was the name of the game played by her husband’s family. The rules are essentially the same as for Make Do and Eat: Use the food in your own pantry; buy only a little fresh food – fruit, veg, milk and eggs; see how long you can keep this up. The new name, however, lends a sense of urgency to the game. Indeed, it elevates the practice of eating one’s way through the ice-encrusted Containers of Mystery lodged in one’s freezer, from mere parlor game to survival strategy.
This week we decided to really give Siege eating a go, and we think it’s been working, mostly. Other than a wee pint of ice cream, lobbed over the castle walls by our dear friends, Ben and Jerry, we have stuck to the rules. Admittedly, I am carrying the lion’s share of the thinking about food and planning what we eat, but then I’m the one with time on my hands just now. I began at a ridiculous hour on Sunday morning by cleaning a couple of the bookshelves in the kitchen, making a place for all those not-yet-filled canning jars, reorganizing my cookbooks in the process. Way at the back of the top shelf I found a stack of embarrassingly dusty food magazines, that I had “saved” for one recipe or another. A quick flip-through was all it took to identify the recipes, rip them out, and recycle the mags. I also found a stack of recipes already torn from magazines, for bean and sausage casseroles, pasta bakes, lots of vegetarian fare and, I kid you not, no less than nine different recipes for chocolate brownies. I guess we all have our priorities.
Interestingly, but not perhaps surprisingly, my pantry contained a lot of the staple ingredients for most of these recipes. (Except, possibly, I don’t actually have enough chocolate on hand to make nine different batches of brownies.) Which probably explains why I clipped, stashed and otherwise saved the various recipes. They were all variations on my standard pantry staples theme. I suppose we all tend to buy the things we know we like over an over again, but I realized this week that I also buy things that I think I should like, because I know they are good for me. Like, for instance, beans.
Turns out I have as many varieties of beans in my pantry as I do recipes for brownies. I’m grateful for the beans, as we began this Siege game with very little meat in the freezer, and I tend to get cranky without protein. Esthetically beans are the living end; very pleasing to look at in their little glass jars, but my goodness, what a pain in the ass they are to use. All that soaking and cooking. Beans require a little forethought, and a bit of planning ahead which, I suppose, is not necessarily a bad thing. There is a certain comfort in knowing what you’ll be eating over the next few days, and maybe part of the comfort lies in knowing that you will, indeed, be eating.
The weather in west Wales has been almost autumnal, with gray skies and heavy showers adding to the feeling of being under siege. Of course I grumble about the weather, but it’s a delicious excuse to curl up and knit, or spin, with Radio 4 on in the background. I’ve been very productive.
Having completed the body of my Adult Surprise Jacket, I am on the home stretch. This is one of those projects wherein I knit the equivalent of at least four sweaters before settling on this pattern. There are two yarns here; the first, a dark wine-coloured generic wool, that began life as a horrible, horrible eBay mistake – it was the ugliest yarn for which I have ever paid actual cash money. What made it usable was the over-dyeing. It was originally the Cider House Rules vest (IK, Autumn 2000), which Tonia wore for years and years, until she didn’t anymore. I ripped this project out a couple of years ago, and have been saving the 400 grams or so for … apparently this current project. It’s not very nice yarn, but it is the right colour.
The second yarn is my own handspun that began life as Polworth roving, purchased at Woolfest three years ago, originally from Canadian dyer Rovings. (I didn’t see this precise colourway on the Rovings website, but I’m sure if you write and ask, they’ll be able to tell you what it is.) I spun the yarn very fine, and then Navajo plied it, to keep the colours unsullied. The result is DK to light worsted weight yarn with long, Noro-like swathes of near solids that do not repeat. At all. The process worked beautifully, but, I have to admit, it also made this yarn somewhat difficult to use. With long non-repeating colours, knitting sleeves that match, for instance, is a somewhat tricky prospect.
I suspect a less anal-retentive knitter would have had fewer issues with the colour repeats of this yarn than I did. The design process was endless as I tried a variety of stitches and sweater patterns, some of which were even my own, before settling on the Adult Surprise Jacket. I surprised myself, in fact, by choosing a garter stitch jacket (not usually a fan of garter, I gotta say) but the pattern was actually perfect for this yarn. For all that I’m not a fan of garter, I do love the little bumps of colour in the reverse side of garter-striped fabric, and this wrong side of the fabric became the right side of my jacket. The stripes are worked in a Fibonacci sequence (1, 2, 3, and 5) with first the wine coloured yarn as the main colour, then changing to the polwarth as the main colour, then back to the wine.
As I near the end of this project, I am down to just a handful of the handspun yarn, which leaves one big design decision left. For the adult version of this jacket the stitches are picked up at the edge of the elbow length sleeves, and knit downward. I have enough of the Polworth left to work a few stripes, near the cuff, but due to the long colour repeats, the stripes on the cuffs won’t match each other. I’m okay with that one little quirk, but I do worry that the block of wine colour on entire lower half of the sleeves will be too heavy. I’m not sure how to get around that, since I am basically out of the contrasting yarn.
The only other option I’ve come up with is to knit the cuffs so the garter ridges run parallel to the arm, and sew them to the sleeve after the fact. I do have just enough yarn to (maybe, possibly, I think) work three or four stripes in the contrasting colour on each cuff. This would break up the solid colour of the cuffs a bit, but also make any shaping of the lower part of the sleeves tricky, involving both shortrows and… math.
I’ve been staring at the jacket now for two days, listening to the rain and Radio 4, while Chinese Five Spice Adzuki Beans simmer gently, endlessly, on the stove. I’m no closer to a decision, but as the entire project has been, quite literally, several years in the making, I’ve no intention of rushing the ending. Also, of course, I am very busy just now, trying out a variety of different recipes for brownies.