Brain Status: Updates Complete

They say the brain is like a computer. They never mentioned that it was one of those annoying ones that is always needing updates, but doesn’t do them automatically.

Henry Markram: Brain research & ICT futures

No, the brain needs to be updated by the old-fashioned method of knowledge acquisition we call learning. If you stop learning, your brain gets obsolete and will eventually crash. Of course, when updating one’s brain it is important not to allow in any malware or viruses, but that’s another post.

I am both a good student and a bad one. Good, in that I like to collect information, always learning something new; and bad, in that if I don’t master something at my first try I am liable to give up. Seriously. There is only one subject I took all the way through high school: English, a.k.a. my mother-tongue.

So obviously I have a lot to learn, both in terms of facts/skills and character, and I like to think that knitting is helping with this. Apparently knitting can delay the onset of Alzheimers, basically because it’s exercise for the brain, using a variety of different areas and making them work together. Sounds good to me.

Хруцкий Старуха вяжущая чулок(1838)

Knitting is also developing my character, because it forces me to persevere when I don’t get it right first time: witness the number of unsuccessful attempts before I learned to turn a heel. It is helping me develop that difficult virtue: patience, in a relatively pain-free way.

I haven’t knitted socks in a couple of years, but just lately, I have returned to them, after diverging through various scarves, a balaclava and a stegosaurus, among other things. This time, I’m trying the socks from the toe up. As Joe Blomfield said, “There’s a great deal of engineering in a gentleman’s sock, I’ll have you know.” Ditto for ladies, or even, heaven help us, people whose feet are so small they don’t even walk on them, viz. babies.

Toe-up has a distinct advantage over cuff-down, namely that you don’t have to guess when you’re going to need to start the heel in order to have enough yarn left to finish the foot – risking ending up with no toes. You just keep going up the leg until you don’t want the sock to be any longer, or you run out of yarn, whichever comes first.

FO: Pedi socks

The difficult bit is that you don’t start with a nice simple tube: you start in one of a variety of ways, all of which are mind-bogglingly complex in description, not much better in diagram, and only somewhat confusing in video, because the knitter demonstrating the technique may well be knitting a different method or style from you.

I have, however, learned (and by learned I mean got it wrong a couple of times and then got it right) Judy Becker’s Magic Cast-On – it’s not the cast-on called for in the pattern, but I’m not going to let that stop me. The pattern is also for stripy socks, and I’m just using one variegated yarn.

Knitting, you see, is like cooking: adapting the recipe and substituting your own ingredients are expected – so much so that a lot of patterns don’t even bother giving instructions for the interchangeable parts, they just tell you to start with your favourite cast-on, and then use your preferred heel here, and so on.

And then a miracle occurs.

Speaking of preferred heels, I have also knit my first short-row heel – the pattern fortunately gave detailed instructions (which is why I chose it) and I watched a video of someone demonstrating the technique as well, which helped. Some things do not make sense in description until you actually know how to do them, which rather defeats the point.

Having tried this method of heel construction, I think I can honestly say that I will quite likely never knit a heel-flap-pick-up-stitches-along-the-side sock again. I loathe picking up stitches. Maybe it’s just the difference between my row gauge and stitch gauge, but I always seem to end up with a gap.

I also recently learned the “Magic Loop” method of knitting in the round, which may one day be of use in sock knitting. Unfortunately, my smallest circular needle has a diameter of 2.75mm (US#2), and the sock patterns I’ve seen generally call for 2mm (US#0) or sometimes even smaller. The ones I’m using now are 2mm bamboo needles, which flex slightly as you handle them. It’s rather like knitting with extra-long toothpicks.
But I’m learning.

What have you learned lately – skill, fact, or otherwise? Share the learning, share the love!

What's For Dinner?

Back when I was a whiny little tyke, I used to annoy my parents by continually asking what was for dinner. (Not repeatedly on the same day – I may have been whiny but I wasn’t stupid.)
“What’s for tea?” the little Deborah would inquire, a glitter in her childish eye, and her parents, sensing an imminent chapter from that well-known collection of essays, Things I Do Not Like to Eat, would fall back on that stand-by of parents through the ages: “Wait and see.”

Nicolaes Maes 007

It has become generally accepted to blame the problems of one’s adult life upon one’s upbringing, and it has just occurred to me that this three word refrain might be to blame for my lack of organization when it comes to figuring out what the evening meal will be. Because deep deep down, my sub-conscious thinks that you don’t know what’s for dinner until dinnertime arrives. This may explain the scrambled egg incident.

Of course, this theory only danced across my mind for a handful of moments before the hound of reality came galloping after and savaged the poor little thing to shreds. Because I was still by all measures a child when my parents started me learning to cook the evening meal, which includes planning ahead and getting something out of the freezer in time for it to defrost.

Meal planning suggestions from 'Family meals and catering' Wellcome L0072310

Mind you, I grew up a handful of degrees south of the Equator, where meat could be removed from the freezer at lunch-time and be completely thawed by five o’clock. (I was thirteen before I encountered butter that had been left out of the fridge overnight, but was still too cold to spread, and I didn’t know what to do with it.) I now live closer to 42 degrees south, and lunch-time doesn’t cut it as far as defrosting goes, particularly in winter. Breakfast-time is more like it, and if it’s something large, better make it breakfast-time the day before.

One could of course use a microwave to defrost food, but the results are unsatisfactorily uneven, and in any case why pay for electricity to do what time and nature will do for free? This is not to say that the microwave plays no part in defrosting: we use it all the time. As a cat-proof meat safe.

cats-meat-609216

I am sure I am not the only one who has struggled with the daily task of organizing food on the table. It was worse when I was still working at the DDJ, leaving the house before I was fully awake and returning when I was tired and the need for dinner was imminent. The Caped Gooseberry did his best, but multi-variable decision-making and chronic fatigue do not mix.
We ate some very simple meals in those days. As Julia Child said, “Good French cooking cannot be produced by a zombie cook.”

But rejoice! there is still hope for us. Some time ago (on the website of the Daily Connoisseur, I think) I came across the idea of the capsule menu. Some of you may be familiar with the idea of the capsule wardobe: a small but effective collection of clothes that you can just wear without having to spend ages thinking about what to wear or what goes with what.

Walk In Closet - Expandable Closet Rod and Shelf

The capsule menu is similar. Basically it’s a schedule of what you’re going to eat on what day. You shop accordingly and voilà, the decision is already made and you don’t have to spend ages figuring out what you have and what you can make out of it. Bliss.

If you have a high boredom threshold, you can have the same menu every week. We have a two-week cycle, which includes such gems as “home-made curry” “spaghetti bolognese” “something eggy” “something from a cookbook” (variety: the spice of life) and a couple of nights where we get takeaways: a curry, or the traditional NZ fish & chips.

A particular favourite of mine is the four days we spend working our way through a roast or a corned beef. We buy whatever’s cheap at the supermarket (oddly, roasts are frequently as cheap or cheaper than even mince), cook it up, and then have the leftovers in various ways until they are all gone. What could be nicer than a chicken roasted with homemade stuffing, or a shoulder of pork with rosemary crackling? Served (of course) with roasted potatoes and lashings of flavourful gravy.

Roasted Chicken Dinner Plate, Broccoli, Demi Glace

Planning ahead also means that you can make sure you are going to get a balanced diet, time constraints are taken into account, and everyone in the house can be assured that their favourite foods will appear regularly. (If it was up to the Caped Gooseberry, we’d have rice nearly every night.)

Have you tried a capsule menu? Did it work for you? What dishes did you decide to have? And what’s for dinner?