Friday, 25 February 2011

With God as my witness, I'll never eat parsnips again!

Or swede, or cabbage...

It's the long hard slog through the seasonal lull of exciting local produce. Michael and I get a veggie box each week from a very small local organisation who source all their veg so locally that they think onions from Lincolnshire (we are in Lancashire) is too far. As cheap, marvellous, ecologically/ethically sound, etc, as this all is, it does mean we have taken a step back about 125 years or so in vegetabley terms! Between November and April it's potatoes, cabbage, swede, carrots, leeks, onions, a lettuce if we're lucky, and, of course, parsnips - every single week.

The other night, as we were stoically consuming another bowl of parsnip soup/mush for dinner, Michael said: 'some people talk about looking forward to the first tomato of the year - for me it'll be the last parsnip'! For most people they no doubt only make an appearance roasted at Christmas or in Sunday roasts, and occasionally in cafes as spicy parsnip soup. For us it's a relentless fight against the mounting piles of the bloody things in the fridge.

Funnily enough his parsnip-weariness came just after I had once more reconciled myself to this oft-shunned vegetable. I'd become annoyed by their ubiquitous presence because of their capacity to permeate and taint with evil any dish they might be haplessly thrown into - never, I repeat, NEVER, just chuck a parsnip into a mixed vegetable stew or soup, unless you want it to become a mixed vegetable soup or stew that tastes unmitigatingly of boiled parsnip. They are mostly experienced roasted or spicy-souped for a very good reason. The parsnip may be a humble root, but it is no delicate wallflower - it demands centre stage in whatever dish it is contained within. My mother hates them, so perhaps I have an advantage in that I've had a limited number of years of exposure in which to tire of them...

But the reason I'd managed to steel myself once more to eating parsnips until what will be probably some time in May, is a blog post I stumbled on when on a desperate recipe hunt. Here it is: Roasted parsnip, garlic and mushroom soup. Now, quite apart from the fact that this sounds delicious, and I'd never considered putting mushrooms with parsnip before, the thing that was so curious about this article is that this woman had never eaten a parsnip before. Can you imagine?! I was struck with shame and upbraided myself inwardly for lamenting my pitiful, parsnip-filled lot, when there were others in the world who had never eaten a single one! Like a more compassionate Mr Creosote suddenly being presented with images of starving children in Rwanda. True, the author does live in Mississippi, where overwintering root vegetables are presumably not prolific, but the idea of a parsnip being something new and exotic really re-invigorated it for me somehow.

Still, I'll be glad when the season turns and we get the first batch of non-parsnip infested vegetables!,

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

A woolly conundrum

Not many people understand the objection to using or wearing wool. Least of all in the knitting community, in which I have recently become immersed.

I've gone into knitting shops, and mentioned that I wanted non-woollen yarn (or, on my first visit, green and naive 'do you have any wool that doesn't have any, um, wool in it?'), to be looked at with pity, incredulity and confusion - and then the sales assistant patronisingly says to me 'they don't kill the animals to get it, you know'. Sigh. It's too much of an effort to explain, so I just smile calmly and carry on perusing the cotton/bamboo/acrylic section.

It's a subject I've given a lot of thought to, and not just since taking up knitting with a fervour. When I first went vegan, I was mentally confounded by all the ethical implications of wearing wool, silk, leather, etc - so I decided on a course of action: I would not wear any of the aforementioned materials, new or second-hand (excepting stuff I already owned - my 'pre-gan' things), in order to clarify the situation, both for myself and other well-meaning gift-givers. I think this was a good idea, because from this point of absolutely no compromise, I was able to properly consider the issues at stake, and the way I felt about them. Many vegans will not wear these materials second-hand despite the ethical problem having been removed, because they feel it 'advertises' that product as attractive and acceptable for wear - and for the most part I do agree with this, certainly when it comes to leather. But in actual fact it's probably more ethical to wear second-hand leather than it is to buy new non-leather shoes made from either non-organic cotton or oil-derived plastics.

I digress. Wool is the main subject of my post, and largely relating to knitting. At first I stuck to acrylic and cotton yarn, lamenting inwardly at my limited range and gazing lustfully at the stunning range of textures and colours available to those who use animal fibres. It's not that I desperately want to use wool - rather like lamenting the lack of choice for an evening meal in a restaurant doesn't mean that I secretly wish I could eat meat - because I don't really like it all that much. I generally find it sweaty, smelly, itchy and a bit greasy. There's no getting away from the fact that there's nothing like it for warmth, though! I am just annoyed that there isn't a better range for those of us who don't use it. And it's not just vegans either - many people are allergic to animal fibres. Eventually I had the idea that if I were to buy it second-hand, it would probably not be too bad. So I began to trawl ebay... and here I went a little mad. After (rather more than) several purchases online from other knitters' destashings, I came to my senses. Again I berated myself over the ethics of the thing and yo-yo'd back and forth from 'well, having second-hand wool isn't really unethical', to 'no, but you shouldn't use it, it's just not vegan!'.

After Christmas, in my pauperly state, I implemented my new 'yarn rules' in order to control my spending and burgeoning stash:

1. Yarn will only be purchased second hand, from charity shops and NOT on ebay.
2. Unless I am buying for a specific project, which must already have been planned!

Shortly after that, I discovered the joy of unravelling, and largely thanks to this I have more or less stuck to the rules. As long as buying sweaters in charity shops to harvest yarn from falls within the remit of the first rule! The issue still haunted me though, as I unravelled my cashmere, silk, merino, etc sweaters, purchased at absurdly cheap prices. I decided that it was ok to knit with wool, but I probably oughtn't to wear it myself - but then isn't that just being hypocritical? Like it would be ok for me to make a toasted cheese sandwich just for the pleasure of it, as long as I don't eat it myself.

This is getting to be rather an unruly post, so I should get to the point and wrap it up. The rambling length of it does reflect my feelings on the subject accurately though!

So my recent conclusion. I have decided to stop worrying about it. My original reason for being vegan, before I even called myself vegan, was to lead an ethical life, to not consume products that caused harm to other things. Is it harming anything to use yarn from an old, abandoned woollen sweater? No. Henceforth, I've decided to give myself a break and just use it. If all I'm really worried about in using second-hand wool is the criticism of others who may point fingers and tell me I'm not vegan enough, or some such foolishness, then that really is just vanity - and frankly, those people can go and take a flying leap, because who are they to judge my choices?

The end.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Cosy collar

As promised, a little late!

I acquired a single skein of this gorgeous yarn from ebay - it's Gedifra 'Easy Wear', really chunky and soft, comprising an open, barely-twisted single ply, held together by a contrasting thread running through it. I knew I had to make something really great with it, but it took me a few trues to get it right. First I tried a pixie cap type thing with a long point, but decided it wasn't right. A few more non-starters later and I accidentally came up with this cowl. You can find it on Ravelry - here's the link: my cosy collar cowl.

Materials: 9mm (10 would work too) knitting needles; one skein of super bulky yarn; large eyed yarn needle; buttons and elastic or thread as desired.

I'm afraid I don't know what my gauge was, but this thing is quick and simple enough to play around with. I'd estimate around 5 sts to 4".

Cast on about 20 stitches. Knit stocking stitch until the work is about 7" long, or the height desired for one's neck. Mine was longer to fold over like a collar. I think I knitted about 13/14 rows for this, and possibly threw in some drop stitches to show off the plumpness of the yarn. Bind off all stitches.

For the panel: Cast on about 12 stitches - more or less depending on how wide you want it. You could even use a contrasting colour for this part. Knit seed stitch until the work is a little bit shorter than the main piece - 5"/6", or as you see fit. Bind off all stitches.

I then picked out 12 lovely old translucent buttons from my stash, in colours to complement the yarn - 6 pink, 6 purple. I tied each pair together with elastic (leaving a gap of about 1cm between them, though maybe more of a gap would be better so they don't pull through so easily) so that each 'toggle' was pink on one side and purple on the other. I pushed these through the fabric, three on each side of the seed stitch panel, and then attached it to the main piece. Ta da!

What I really like about this cowl is that it's totally adjustable - by merely popping out the button toggles and putting them back wherever you like, you can adjust the fit and the look of the collar. At the top you see it buttoned closely for a funnel-neck, battened up against the cold sort of thing - and in the second picture it's at full length for something more casual, and showing off the contrasting texture of the panel.

Here it is reversed for another different effect:

You can even get away with wearing it as a headband for maximum ear coverage - and a 'little Dutch girl' look:

Hope you like it - happy knitting!