Tuesday, August 17, 2010

And now for something completely different...

What do you do when you are overwhelmed by your knitting 'to do' list (like classes, store knitting, personal projects, fiber arts fair...I could go on)...

You invite friends over and forget about it!  A couple of weeks ago I had my dear friends Barb and Pat over to my house for dinner, drinks, and good conversation.  For several years we had a regular monthly dinner night, along with our friend Kris.  We would meet and take turns hosting.  It was something to look forward to and we hardly missed a month, ever.  For me it was a respite and reprieve from the craziness of daily life.  The comfort of companionship from other women, very wise women I might add, cannot be replaced.

Kris has since moved away and we miss her terribly, but we are so happy for her to be out in her RV, traveling around and enjoying her retirement.  That left the three of us and we certainly had good intentions of continuing our monthly ritual.  Over time though, the dinner dates waned, and now it's only the occasional get together we seem to manage.  That is why I savor the moments even more when we do see each other.

I love cooking and baking almost as much as I love knitting.  My pantry is full of cookbooks and food magazines, boxes of recipe clippings and so on.  I can sit down and read a cook book like a novel.  (same with many knitting books).  These are truly two of life's pleasures for me.

Anyway, I really wanted to make something out of the ordinary for Barb and Pat that night and decided on:

Southern Cornbread Salad

Yep, cornbread salad.  Ever heard of it?  I hadn't until recently.  I ran across the idea while perusing recipes online.  And well, I cook like I knit...I can never just follow a recipe (or pattern) exactly as written.  By the time I am done, it has transformed into something completely different.  This salad was no exception.  Also, I had always wanted to make something, trifle or otherwise, in a trifle bowl...so I promptly went out and bought one!  It makes the prettiest presentation.  All of the colors and textures layered delectably together in one beautiful bowl.  Plus, hey, it's just fun sometimes to eat something out of the ordinary, right?

I started by making my Green Chile Cornbread and letting it cool.  Here's the recipe:

Green Chile Cornbread

1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup yellow corn meal
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup honey
1 cup lowfat buttermilk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg or 1/4 cup egg beaters
1 small can diced green chiles

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.  Spray an 8 x 8" or 9 x 9" baking dish with cooking spray.  Combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk together honey, buttermilk, oil, and egg.  Add mixture to dry ingredients and mix until moistened.  Fold in green chiles.  Do not over mix.  Pour batter into baking dish.  Bake 20-25 minutes.  Top should be very light golden brown.  Do not overbake.  Let stand 10 mintues.  Turn cornbread out onto cutting board and cool completely.

(This recipe also works well when you add 1/2 cup shredded cheddar or colby-jack to the batter.  I do the cheesy version when serving it with a big pot of chili.)

And now for the salad recipe (this is such a great idea for all of those Farmer's Market purchases this time of year!):

Southern Cornbread Salad

1 baked Green Chile Cornbread, cut into 1" cubes, reserving 1 cup or so for "croutons"-which I toasted in the toaster oven
 1-15 oz. can pinto beans with jalepenos or black beans, drained and rinsed
1-15.5 oz jar salsa (or use your own) mixed with one medium tomato, chopped
2 cups fresh, cooked OR frozen, thawed corn
8 cups of greens-I used a mixture of chopped romaine hearts and baby lettuces
1 diced green pepper
1 diced red pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
2 tomatoes, chopped
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
3 cups chopped, cooked chicken (deli broasted chicken works great and saves time)
1 T chopped fresh parsley, optional
1 T chopped fresh chives, optional
2 cups Spicy Buttermilk Ranch Dressing (recipe follows)

Toss chicken with salsa mixture.  In a trifle dish or clear glass bowl, begin layering ingredients in this order, making sure that they go to the edge of the bowl so you can see the layers:

1/2 lettuce mixture
Untoasted cornbread cubes
1/2 lettuce mixture
Red onion, red pepper, green pepper
(press down on everything a little as you get to the top layer)

Chill in refrigerator for 1-2 hours.  Pour dressing over top of salad just before serving or serve it on the side if you think you will have leftovers. 

Set reserved, toasted cornbread croutons in a dish on the side to sprinkle on top. 

Spicy Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

1 pkg. buttermilk ranch dressing mix
1 cup mayo (I use a light olive oil mayo, but choose your favorite)
1 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 T chopped fresh parsley or 1/2 T dried
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 T paprika
2 T chopped fresh chives or 1 T dried
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a jar.  Shake to mix thoroughly.  Chill for several hours before serving.  Works well if made up the night before.


On a related note, I mentioned Farmer's Markets earlier and wanted to tell you about my visit this last weekend to the Scottsbluff Farmer's Market.  I bought many wonderful things including a giant zucchini, which I promptly turned into Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread, fresh corn on the cob and tomatoes...
Grass-fed beef for chili from OpenBar2 Ranch...

...and two fun products, a habenero peanut butter (yes, you read that right) from Nuts for You , and an apricot/habenero jam called Blazin' Glory from Beeloved Jams...
Also a cantaloupe and  some goat's milk feta cheese from Victory Hills Farm.  
I spent about an hour or so just browsing and visiting.  Such a great way to start my weekend off!  

My good friend Monique Larsen has started a blog called Prairie Bloom, and you can find many of the Farmer's Markets in the area listed there, as well as resources for many organic, locally grown and/or produced items.  She is continually adding to the lists found there.  

I have in the past complained on occasion about my lack of choices for these kinds of items, and now I find the resources I have always wanted in one convenient location.  I admit it takes more effort to buy, cook, and eat seasonally, organically, when possible, and locally, but oh it is so worth it!

Hope you enjoy the recipes and thanks for the break from my knitting.  Some days it just gets to be a little much.  Never thought I would say that about my knitting, but then if I plan to do this for the rest of my life, I had better pace myself somewhat, don't you think?  

Taking the time to purchase fresh, locally grown ingredients, putting together a meal, baking something delicious, and sharing an evening with friends...I can't think of a better way or a better reason to take a break, decompress, refocus, and re-energize. 

I suddenly have the urge to pick up my needles...

Knit On,


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Art, Part 2

Funny how time can make you forget.  With enough time between one blog post and another, it seems that I can completely forget why I wanted to write about knitting and art.  Well, I haven't exactly 'forgotten'.  It's more like I don't know that it's so important to me that those questions get answered anymore, if that makes sense.

The images and questions I shared in my last post came from the desire to have a 'discussion' about what art is and what it means in our lives.  But over the last few weeks I realized that what I really wanted to do was to get you thinking about creativity and creative expression in your own life.  That doesn't necessarily mean that we're talking about art, does it?

Thank you to Jenn, for her thoughtful response to my last post.  I am honestly not sure I could have put it any better, Jenn.  If you haven't read her comment, it's worth going back and doing so.  I would like to share one part of her thoughts:    "In the end I try not to think about it all too much. I think sometimes our desire to come up with an exacting definition [of art] closes the door to possibilities."

I believe that is right on.  Art is many things, but most certainly it is personal and it is about possibilities.  And that's the note I was trying to hit and didn't realize it until I had time to reflect.


Have you heard of SARK?  I have every one of her books and have read them and reread them many times.  She has a particular style and soul in her writing and her creativity that makes me feel free and unique and capable of anything.  And aren't those the things we're looking for in creative self-expression?

In her book A Creative Companion, she writes:  "We all started out creatively free.  Remember the sandbox?  All you needed was bare toes in warm sand, and maybe a good bucket.  Then you could build your own world.  At school, things may have changed.  ...the chairs were in rows, and tree trunks were to be colored brown, not purple.  If you lived in a world of purple tree trunks, you probably learned to hide it."

I understand that statement.  I grew up believing that tree trunks were always supposed to be brown and the sky was blue and the leaves were green.  And that belief translated it's way into my knitting right from the start.  I tried to 'knit within the lines'.  I thought of it as a one dimensional endeavor that had to come out a certain way, period.  And honestly, this probably served me well for a time.  At least in the sense that now I know that is the exact opposite of what creativity and art really is, or can be.

I couldn't tell you for sure when it happened, but at some point I realized that I had my own ideas and opinions about how things should look.  I suppose my epiphany about my knitting came about the same time my epiphany about my life hit me (one of many obviously).  Yes, that would make sense, wouldn't it?  

The hard part is having the courage to step off that ledge and go in your own direction then, isn't it?  This could be as simple as choosing a different color than what was originally used by the designer, or possibly searching for different texture in the yarn you will work with...it could even be that stepping off of that ledge means tackling a pattern that has a difficult to execute technique that you have been afraid to try.

Listen, if that 'difficult technique' is the only thing keeping you from knitting that beautiful sweater that you have had the pattern for in your notebook for many years, take the leap!

There's always a way, trust me.  Books, magazines, on-line videos and tutorials, and of course classes!  ;)  The single, solitary reason that I love to teach is to build confidence in my students so they can go out into the knitting world and achieve whatever goals they have set.  I live for the 'light bulb' moments that come over their faces in class.

Creativity has to be cultivated to some degree.  99% of the creative world out there had to study their art or craft in order to do it.  For sure there are exceptions and I bet you could name many, but for the purpose of this discussion we'll stick with the idea that creativity takes some amount of effort.

You must also give yourself the time and space to work at it.  I don't know of very many creative endeavors that happen if every single day is filled to the brim with with scheduled things.  I do understand busy.  I am the queen of 'busy'!  Meaning, I can take 24 hours and fill it up like nobody's business.   But fill it up with what?  I had to step back and really reassess how I was spending my time (and more importantly why I was doing it this way) in order to realize that my creative goals (see the very end of my profile ;) were NEVER going to happen if I didn't start actually giving myself time to explore them in a pretty serious way.  Life had become way to many 'have tos', and it felt like time was starting to roll by like a freight train.

I can't tell you how many times a day I hear people say to me--well, I am just not that creative or I could never do that, or if only I had the time.  I am here to tell you that it comes in many forms and looks like many things.  There is no one set definition.

I promise you that there are no 'knitting police.'  No one is going to come look at your projects and say, you know you should have done this and it's supposed to look like that...the important thing is:  how do you feel when you are creating?

Carve out a little time this week, sit down, and just revel in what your hands and your heart are able to do.  Whether it is coloring a picture, baking something sweet, or putting sticks and string together.

Creativity is always there — you just need to want to explore it.

A few movements with a knitting needle and a little bit of yarn suddenly turns into something remarkable, something that exists nowhere else in the world; it's yours. And once you’ve created it, it will remain a unique and inexhaustible source of further inspiration because each time you do this, you are opening to your own possibilities...

...and that, my friends, is a beautiful thing.

I welcome your comments and suggestions.

Knit on...