“You’re Gonna Eat Wood!”: Ruminations on a Greek Wooden Spoon

My mother, like every other woman in the Greek diaspora, kept a wooden cooking spoon – a koutála – handy at all times.

This multi-function kitchen gadget served as the weapon of choice for mamádhes everywhere. So known is this use, in fact, that the Greek for “you’re due a walloping” translates literally as “You’re gonna eat wood!”

To be fair, I don’t think that my mother actually ever used the dreaded spoon on me. She probably just waved it around at a few times when I was four or five years old and said, “Wait until your father (a.k.a. “The Boss) gets home.” After that, a robust shake of the drawer where THE KOUTALA lived was enough to smarten me up.

I do find it curious that the mere threat of THE KOUTALA seemed far more useful a corrective tool than its male counterpart, THE BELT, as threatened or swung with seeming abandon by The Boss. (The Greek diaspora, after all, is hardly a matriarchial society.)

Perhaps this is so because in my little corner of Greece in Canada, food meant chastisement as well as love. This does not always jive with the many heart-warming recollections of immigrant food I have read.

I lack the number of fingers and toes required to count the number of articles about nonnas, bubkes and yiayiáthes, standing at their vast hearthes and showering affection upon anyone in the general vicinity with enough baked goods to feed the whole of Prince Edward Island.
Conversely, I have noticed only cursory literary mentions of food as a tool of discipline. One exception: Christina Crawford’s accounts of life with her movie-star mother, Joan. Admittedly, the food-related traumas from my past were not quite that severe.

One example that keeps ringing in my brain like that song you hear on Muzak and then can’t shake for days: “You little ingrates, during the wartime we were lucky to have a dry crust of bread to suck on and some weeds to eat – so you had better finish that tripe stew and that lamb’s head or else…(stentorian fingering of THE BELT).”

Moreover, food also became fraught in my childhood universe of one because it was a direct symbol of my Otherness within the smaller Anglo community of my upbringing. At least today I can chuckle when I read about all the pleasures of the Mediterranean peasant diet. In past, I had spent far too much time wondering whether those authors skipped home blithely from Brownies, swim practice or slumber parties. I imagined their triumphant arrival home to dinners catered in front of the TV by Chefs Swanson and Boyardee and accompanied by pleasant chat in dulcet tones.

Those kids, the kanadhezákia, did not know how good they had it! While they were lazing in front of the tube eating tater tots and fish sticks, I was trudging home in the dark through the snowdrifts from Greek school (which took place at least 10 evenings per week). The teacher (some guy who they sent to Canada because he was too sadistic to teach school in Greece) had assigned me approximately 10,000 lines in punishment. So, I was shivering more from the anticipated plea-bargaining with The Boss than from the cold.

What wafting harbingers of dinner greeted me? Colonel Sanders? McCain’s pizza? Pogo sticks, even? Nope. Instead, the wet sneaker stench of cabbage and rice slapped me across the face yet again. That smell was enough to bring bitter tears cascading down my frozen cheeks. If instead the plat du jour was lentil soup or stuffed vine leaves, I would sink to my knees in abject terror. What was so wrong with Hamburger Helper, anyway?

At the time, the only Greek foods I found remotely palatable were the Greek-Canadian experiments that my mother (like me, Canadian-born) indulged in when The Boss was working late. One of my favourites: chicken “lemonáto”, cooked in Campbell’s condensed cream of chicken soup diluted with Realemon and redolent with dried oregano . Another: fried Spam “a la Grecque”, which came with Kraft Dinner made with sweet-salty brown butter and mizithra cheese, all stirred together with THE KOUTALA.

(I have no idea what ended up happening to the many packages of the powdered orange stuff in the KD box. Since it was a sin to throw out anything in my house, perhaps they were donated in aid of hungry kanadhezákia.)

Since those grim and scary days, my interest in Greek food has expanded tremendously. In fact, the only thing food-wise that causes me to weep into my platter of stuffed vine leaves is the memory of the sheer number of delicious lunches I gave away in my zeal to score Wonder bread and peanut butter.

So, whither THE KOUTALA after all these years? It takes pride of place in my very own utensils canister. I liberated it from my mother’s kitchen drawer when I moved to the big city some 20 years ago.

In my idealistic world view, I felt that in this way I could help put an end to the cycle of violence in the Greek diaspora. (Let me stress that in no way was this particular revolutionary act related to a desire to save my student assistance loan money for important things such as … um, textbooks… rather than mundane household items.)

By this point, I had blown THE KOUTALA up in my mind until it was roughly the size of a baseball bat. Imagine my surprise when what I actually found was regular old spoon somewhat smaller than a soup ladle, and worn and stained to boot. I marveled: “So small! So harmless!”
As I do not have children (by choice – with THE KOUTALA in my possession I would fear for their physical and emotional safety), the only things getting whipped into submission in my household are the vats of homemade hummus that I scarf down on a weekly basis. With, of course, Greek-style pita.

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Kristina Brouhaha is a perpetually disgruntled recovering legal professional living and (not) working in Greektown, Toronto, Ontario. In her (considerable) spare time she dreams of the halcyon days of blogging at her erstwhile site http://www.bespokebybrouhaha.wordpress.com, ingests at least 2 food-related publications daily, practices the accordion she bought on a whim a few months back and pursues her long-deferred dream of working as a line cook. While she realizes that Mickey Ds and Harvey’s are pretty much always hiring, she can’t live with the idea that as a fast-food pusher she would be (theoretically, at least) old enough to have grandmothered her boss.

the litany of the wiseguy

WARNING/ATTENTION/ACHTUNG/EKTIMISI: The post you are about to read contains references to drugs, addiction and other generalised bad behaviour. Reader discretion is strongly advised.

I have a deep dark confession to make. One of the reasons I find it difficult to knit of late is that I have become readdicted to one of the darkest forms of music ever: the rembetika (Greek blues – and believe me, the Greeks are experts at being blue. It’s a national condition for us – even here in the diaspora – it’s inborn and we can’t really do anything about it. Combine that with extreme fatalism and I’m surprised the Greek race has actually managed to last this long without indulging in mass cultural suicide. But I digress…)

I blame the Eurocup, actually. This passion for evil music reignited in me when I attended at the Danforth to watch the game where the $#*(@$&(@#* Greeks got themselves put out of the Cup. As it happened, the place we were watching the game was right next door to Greek City Video. I had promised myself I wouldn’t go there (Mom – stop laughing NOW!!!)… but on the first smoke break (I guess I could also blame the ubiquitous “smoke outside” by-laws or, for that matter, the tobacco companies which keep me addicted to the demon weed…) wandered in and spent … oh, slightly more than the average PayDay haul’s worth of yarn.

Amongst the booty – one of my favourite ever movies:

Yes, yes, I know – you’ve never heard of it. And, for that matter, I don’t really know why it is one of my favourite movies. It is very, very depressing – about a Greek rembetiko (blues) singer who basically gets treated like a whore, becomes drug addicted then dies, over the course of 30 years. Every Greek movie ever made, by the way, is either “I want to slit my wrists now I’ve watched this” morbid or along the lines of a really bad “Carry On” comedy – if “Carry On” had featured horny priests. But anyway…

Another terrific score was this new CD by George Dalaras, the hottest Greek singer going:

The title of the CD is “Songs about Drugs” in English… and features primarily Rembetiko music again. It was recorded at a concert in Greece in 2007 which was held someplace that looks like this:

This is Dalaras himself… I’m only posting this photo for my mother, as she thinks he’s cute! (And here’s a video for you as well, Mom! And another one.  And if you want more, just search “tragoudia me ousies” on YouTube…Don’t say I never gave you anything!!)

So, why am I going on about this “Rembetiko” stuff, you might well ask?? Well, it’s bad boy music from the 1920s in Greece. SERIOUSLY bad boy music. Rappers had nothing on these guys and the few women that they allowed into the circle). People got arrested for playing and listening to this music. If you’re really, really bored, there is a great explanatory newspaper story from the Guardian here.

(At around the same time in Greece, by the way, the fashion for these “manges” or “spivs” (or, for want of a better word in US/Canadian English, wiseguys) was to wear very pointy shoes with toes extending four inches out from the real toes on their feet. The cops went around at the time with machetes and would just chop off the toes of the shoes. If they happened to hit the real toes in the process, too bad.)

But why were the rembetiko musicians and the characters they attracted treated so badly? A sampling of the song titles from the Dalaras CD should give you a clue:

– Alcohol and Nicotine
– The Castaway Cigarette
– Rumba of the Drug Dealer
– Clink Clink Go The Glasses
– Hashish
– I’m an Addict
– Heroin and Hash
– In the Basement
– The Tobacconist
– Five Spivs
– Bring Drugs So I Can Get High
– Ouzo and Hashish
– I’m a Flirt
– Why I Smoke Cocaine
– I’m a Cocaine Addict

Well, now finally I understand why this guy always looks so damned happy:

…while his wife and daughter slave away at home:

But seriously, what is not to like about this music?!? Perhaps I was just deprived as a child. The Greece painted through this music is certainly not the Greece I was raised to think ever existed, let me tell you. I mean, the one little rebellion I tried in high school – wearing head to toe black – resulted in my father’s telling me “Black is for Funerals” and grounding me for a year or so.

Plus, my (very lovely and extremely youthful looking) mother used to refer to this stuff as “migraine music”. To an extent, she had a point… especially when I hauled home the authentic 1920s recorded versions which featured singers coughing their heads off on tape (there’s a lot of tar in that hash, you know!!), whiny Greek bagpipes and violins which sounded like two cats in the backyard – um, well, you know.

However, they sure seemed to have a lot of fun!!!

So, now I’ve decided I’m going to quit my day job – finally – and resuscitate the Greek blues in Canada. First, all I need to do is learn how to play this:

Now, I don’t want to tell you just how long I’ve had this in my possession… it’s a bit embarrassing. But, I will learn.

Also, the renewed interest in the Greek Blues, plus another addiction to the fabulous music of Cape Breton, has led me to dust off the old keyboard and start practicing again:

So, doubtless I will very, very soon catch the eye of some impresario who likes cocaine music, and will be appearing very soon at a major concert venue near you.

Stay tuned… and in the meantime, a happy Thursday!

no soup for you!

It might seem paradoxical to write about soup at this time of year, when the temperatures (at long, long last) are climbing.

Well, welcome to my tortured world. For some reason, I suffer intense cravings for soup once the temperature climbs past 25C/77F/40million with the humidex.  These cravings continue all summer and finally wind down around – oh, October or so.

So, what is a girl to do when she works in an increasingly chi-chi foo-foo part of town where the average bowl of soup sets you back – oh, $10 or so? Which, by the way, she has no intention of shelling out at any point, let alone where such things as “apricot” and “lentil” are included in the ingredient list for one fancy dan soup?

Why, make up her own fancy award-winning recipes, of course!

And, I lied in the subject line.  That’s just what I told JJ yesterday when he called me a right weirdie for attempting to make soup out of the leftover curry from dinner.

Never without a witty riposte (don’t you hate that?!) he said “Ye know ah can’t stand that Seinfart wanker.”  Well, if he hates Seinfeld so much, why the hell does he know who the Soup Nazi is, I ask you?!

But I digress.  There will, however, be soup for you – that is, if you’re crazy enough to try this recipe.  Drumroll, please…

Mulligastrone a la brouhaha

What, you ask, is “mulligastrone”?  Well, obviously it is a combo of mulligatawny and minestrone.  (Oh, and you don’t think I saw you rolling your eyes?!?  Well, if Rachael “too chipper by half TV chef” Rae can make even more millions by adding water to spaghetti and meatballs and call it “stoup” (“thicker than soup, thinner than stew, hee hee, old family recipe, tee-hee!”), then why the hell can’t I take some liberties?  Eh?

Now, because I’m Greek and we don’t believe in written recipes, there is no actual recipe for this.  But that makes it more fun, doesn’t it?

First off, take some stock which you have slaved over a hot stove preparing or have pulled out from your freezer, having slaved over a hot stove preparing it some time back:

Now, so as not to lose my future multimillion dollar TV chef credentials, I assure you that prepackaged stock never actually gets used in my house.  However, so as not to intimidate those less culinarily gifted than me, I always put my “product of slaving over hot stove for several hours” stock into recycled tetrapaks which I … oh, never mind.

Put your stock in a saucepan and heat until it is at a low boil (or, as us TV chefs are wont to say, a rrrrrrrrolling boil!).

Oh, I almost forgot.  If you like super-spicy food or, like me, your tastebuds have been almost completely destroyed by chainsmoking, you might want first to heat a small amount of canola or other plain oil in said saucepan then add a heaping spoon of this stuff:

Turn down to low and cook about 2 minutes or until it starts to break down and smell fabulous.  Then add your stock.

Second, put in some small soup-sized pasta:

How much? you ask?  Hell, I don’t know.  As much as you want.  Somewhere between a handful and the whole package will do… probably closer to the former, though.

Simmer (at the same low rrrrrrrrolling boil) for 10 minutes or so.

Third, add in your leftover curry.

(This, by the way, was beef vindaloo that I bought pre-made because it was on sale.  I also added half a can of chickpeas to it.  Chickpeas or some other kind of beans will be essential for the “strone” component of the mulligastrone.)

Put as much in as you want.  If you want a thicker soup, put in some of the curry sauce too.  If, like me, you like thinner broth, shake most of the curry sauce off before putting in the saucepan.  Cook for 5 minutes or so.

Fourth, turn off the heat and stir in some leftover rice from the same curry dinner:

Again, how much is up to you.  Not this much, though.

That’s it!  And now, for little effort, you have a lovely soup that looks like this:

Add some of this, if you’d like:

… and chow down.

Now, the mulligastrone, like most highly spiced dishes, will benefit from sitting overnight.  At least, I think it will.  You see, I have a confession to make – I haven’t actually yet sampled it.  I’m bringing it to work for lunch today and it is the first time I’ve made this recipe.

However, I’m very confident that it will be guid.  Why?  Well, I am Brouhaha, after all.  And don’t you think I look better than Rachael Ray?!?

I’m sure the Food Network will be calling any day now.  Really.  Please wish me luck in my new and exciting career…

And, in the meantime, a very happy Thursday to you all!

Five Ways to Combat Your Fear of the Demon Weed

No, not that kind of weed.

Get your mind out of the gutter!!! Anyway, it’s (still) illegal.

What I was actually referring to is the kind that pops up in yards and gardens all over the place at this time of year, striking fear and loathing into the hearts of gardeners everywhere.

An example: the dreaded and much-maligned dandelion.

Now, my thumb is not green but black – must be all that tar in the smokes. All this to say, I have no clue about gardening. But I do think that dandelions are quite pretty:

See? What’s wrong with them? They’re bright and cheery. And they’re free, and they don’t take any work to maintain. So what’s the big deal?

Still not convinced? Well, maybe my five tips on combatting the affliction of weed hatred will convince you.

1. Start eating the leaves.

Yes, you can eat dandelion greens. My great grandmother did it for years – and she even drank the water they were boiled in (the appearance of which any smoker who has tried that time honoured quit smoking tip “empty your ashtray into a jar, fill with water, let marinate one week then keep bringing it out and looking at it when you’re jonesing for a smoke” will recognise). And, she lived to be 107! (well, I exaggerate a bit. But she was very old when she died).

I’ve also seen dandelion greens at the supermarket in certain ethnic neighbourhoods from time to time Even some of the top chefs have picked up on this dandelion trick and are serving dandelion salad. So, if they can serve it, so can you, right?

As for prep tips, don’t ask me. I wouldn’t touch them with a bargepole. But, as they are extremely healthy, you really should try some yourselves. I’m thinking about your best interests here.

2. Look for comparisons between other “real” plants that you have to pay for and tend.

If you do this, it may well be that you will stop seeing the necessity of shelling out your hard-earned bucks at the flower centre. Here’s an example:

I mean, do you see any difference, really? If anything, the dandelions are nicer looking because they don’t have those big ugly fuzzy brown spots in the middle!

3. Hunt down artistic depictions of the weed.

And yes, people do honour dread weeds such as the dandelion in art. Here are two examples.

This piece by Ann Beckley is called “Dandelion Lace:

Don’t you love the dandelion etching on the side?

And this piece is Myrna Oostrom is simply called “Dandelions”

Wow. I wish I could paint like that.

Anyway, works of art like these are important in that they help to remove the stigma of weed-dom.

4. Make a pros and cons list.

I have a deep dark secret to confess: I am a huge fan of pros and cons lists. Having said that, I’m not going to list the “cons” of letting weeds flourish here because you already know all of those. Here are some pros:

  • You don’t have to break your back any more doing all that weeding.
  • You can save all that money you spend every year on plants which end up dying half the time anyway when there is some freak snowstorm in June.
  • Got any neighbours you can’t stand? Letting your yard grow over with wees provided great fodder to piss them off.
  • Alternatively, having problems coming up with social chit chat with the neighbours? Let your yard grow over with weeds, then you can casually ask them how they cope with weeds in their yard. I imagine that this is good for hours of pleasantries.
  • You will have lots of extra time for fun things… such as knitting, for example.

Which leads us to the fifth and final tip…

5. Check out yarn inspirations.

There are even knitting yarns named after weeds. And let me tell you, fondling a skein of Handmaiden Dandelion sea silk could probably change your mind about a whole lot of things:

For some reason, I haven’t quite managed to get my hot little mitts on any of this glorious stuff yet. But, after all, it is PayDay tomorrow!

Here’s a little challenge for you. Below is a photo of more Handmaiden colourways.

Tell me which one is named after a (sort of) weed – and provide the name. I’ll post the link to the answers here tomorrow. Hint – each colourway has one word in the name only.

See, weeds can be fun. Go forth and let them multiply, I exhort you!

Happy Weednesday Wednesday!

Big Friday, redux

I’m feeling lazy today…I’m taking a day off for religious observance. That’s right, folks – it’s Big Friday for all us Greekish types (see my post this past Good Friday if you want to know why this is so).

So, being the high holy day in the Orthodox calendar, I’m spending the whole day in church, right?

Yep. The Church of Icarus.

(Oh, what’s that? You don’t think that knitting is a real religion? Check out this recent blog post by fellow raveller Genuine: The Sacraments of Knitting: A Simple Tract. I was a skeptic too, but she persuaded me and I’m a lawyer and all – I don’t believe anything, really.)

Anyway, if that excuse doesn’t work, my back up excuse is that I need to finish Icarus ASAP so that I can start on a test-knitting project that I’m doing for Susan of Sunflower Designs! The project in question is called Sherwood:

So, of course I had to go out and buy some new yarn for it today at Amerigo:

Llama!

I know, I know – it’s not really my usual type of colour choices. Unlike, for example, the llama I already bought from Amerigo a month ago…

… or the Handmaiden Sea Silk from the stash that I had already designated for this project.

But I figured, what with the forest-like name and all, that I should go with a bit more natural hue. Makes sense, eh?

Sherwood also calls for 1300 beads to be strung on. Here they are:

I figured I’d have to get a bit of zip in with the beads, at any rate. That’s fair, right?

And hope I’m not jinxing Icarus.  I’ve just finished the 3rd chart and now have only 20 (very long) rows plus the edging left.  Decided to pin part of it out to shore myself up last evening:

JJ just said to me “Aren’t ye glad ye didnae throw it off the balcony, hen”.  So I am. And I will be praying this Big Friday – if only to the Goddess of Knitting to ward off the dreaded Frogman.

So, that’s how my Big Friday will pass. Oh, and am I going to observe the traditional Big Friday fast (i.e. no meat, no dairy, no oil, no food that tastes remotely edible)?

Am I hell! (as JJ is wont to say). In fact, I’ll be hooking up with some friends on the Danforth for a big fat Greek meal which will involve as much pork souvlaki, saganaki (fried cheese) and galactoboureko (custard phyllo dreamy treat) as I can manage to ingest.

Hey, we can’t all be saints, eh?

A happy Friday to you all!

Substance over Form

…or, how I learned to love knitting!

(apologies to regular readers if you have seen this before. I thought it was time for a blast from the past, and for some reason this had ended up back in draft form on the Blogger site. Sigh. I’m such a luddite. Anyway, it was written in May 2007.

WARNING: potentially dull biographical commentary ahead. You may just wish to skip this and look at the pretty colourful pictures below. This is my first endeavour at personal writing in a long time (I write loads and loads for work) and so I thought I’d post it here for posterity given that it is topic-specific).

When asked what I do for a living, one of my snap answers is that I practice law in order to support my yarn habit. I like to think that I’m shunning the “lawyer” label, that being a “lawyer” does not reflect my identify or my interests. In my less glib moments, I realise that this smacks of reverse pretention. And, in fact, I’m really just trying to avoid either attracting the bad rap (who, after all, likes lawyers?) or fielding the almost-always inevitable “Oh really? That’s interesting. I’ve been having a problem with my divorce, inheritance, criminal charge, etc. etc.”).

Or perhaps it’s just that, for some reason, I find the fact that I am a lawyer embarrassing.

However, in many ways my personality reflects the worst Type A hallmarks of all those lawyer jokes. I am picky, technical, argumentative, cynical – and detail oriented to a fault. I’m also (traditionally) not big on doing anything unless I can find some authority in writing first.

This trend has until recently shone through perhaps most obviously in my approach to knitting. Had I not become a lawyer, I could very probably have made a decent living knitting samples for patterns and yarn companies (or, for that matter, gauge swatches for those fellow knitters who detest this task). My work is very technically proficient. I have never had any problems with knitting to the gauge specified in any pattern, with any wool or yarn, and the finished size has always been perfect.

An example – and the only time before nine months ago that I had ever knitted anything without a written pattern. While I was articling, my boss one day came to work wearing a gorgeous handknit sweater which had been made in Ireland several years before. It featured a lovely “tree of life” covering almost the full front of the sweater. I coveted it. I wanted it desperately – well, I wanted to knit it. However, of course there was no pattern available. What to do?

I stewed over this for much of the morning, then had a brainflash – I asked her if I could borrow the sweater for a while. And then I trotted off to the photocopier, sweater in hand, and spent the next half hour trying to reproduce it. It took me 15 minutes to get an image of the tree of life that satisfied me, and then I started on the back, and then the sleeves. This, as you might imagine, provokes no little hilarity – and scepticism – amongst the coworkers.

They weren’t giggling, however, when I came in to work five days later wearing the twin sweater to the boss, who by great fortune had turned up wearing it again. The following photo is my version: unfortunately, the former boss’ version is long gone. You’ll just have to take my word for it!

I still work for the same organization today, and once in a while they still bring this up.

And just what is so bad about this, you might ask? The problem was that everyone loved this sweater – but me. I could never get over two things – that I had no way of knowing with which brand of wool (if any brand) the original had been knitted, and that I could not locate the identical shade of wool despite scouring the entire city of Toronto.

These two issues made it impossible for me to actually wear the sweater, as every time I’d catch a look at myself in the mirror, I’d get completely stressed out. I wore it perhaps twice more, and then gave it to my mother. And – seeing the sweater still bothers me today.

This rigidity also made it difficult to enjoy knitting. Oh, I knitted. On and off, I knitted almost incessantly. But I didn’t really like it. It certainly wasn’t relaxing in any way. What amazes me in retrospect is how productive I was in knitting despite the fact that I would sometimes rip out the same series of rows 10 times until it looked “perfect”.

Also, I found myself unable to make several patterns I really liked because the yarn called for in the pattern was not available in Canada and I would not allow myself to contemplate a substitution of any kind. If the right yarn wasn’t avaiiable to me in the exact colour specifies – no go.

I should confess that I am exaggerating here for effect. But just a little bit. This was pretty much my knitting behaviour until perhaps four years ago or so, when I did try to modify a couple of patterns for friends. They were very happy with the outcome, or so they said. I, however, was not.

After that point, I did from time to time allow a shift in colour as well – usually to a different shade of the same colour. Again, I was very unhappy with the results (for no good reason, as the resultant sweaters were objectively speaking beautiful). I only ever knitted sweaters, by the way. I wouldn’t dream of knitting anything else.

I still can’t figure out how I became so enslaved to patterns and so fearful of deviating from them. This has not, for some reason, been the case with other crafts that I “practice”. A few years ago, for example, I took up making mosaics after a friend took a course with the Board of Education and told me how to do it. I have rarely followed a pattern and have made many original (and I think, beautiful) works:



The irony (or, possibly, the explanation?) is that I only learned to knit in the first place because my father’s mother, who did beautiful lacework night after night after night and who probably was not even aware that patterns for knitting existed, refused to teach me how to do what she did.

Why? Because she was an old school Greek woman who valued education and was very proud of her smart granddaughter – what she told me was that knitting was a pastime for “ignorant, uneducated farmers like herself”, and not appropriate for someone who was going to become a professional.

As I mature, I find the fact that she devalued her own work so much increasingly sad. At the time, however, I was 12 years old and no-one was going to tell me that I “couldn’t” do anything. So – I taught myself to knit. From – you guessed it – a pattern book.

And so it went – until about a year ago when I picked up a new book of patterns – Mason-Dixon Knitting by Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne. I was intrigued by it immediately I saw it at the local yarn shop, although it took me a full month to actually break down and buy it, mostly because it didn’t seem to contain any sweaters. Instead, it contained a lot of fun looking projects, short and less short. I started off by knitting a log cabin blanket – without doing a swatch! – and I have to confess, it was very fun.

Around the same time a friend asked me if I would knit a felted bag for her. I had never heard of felting, and so I agreed – only to panic when she gave me the pattern (which she found on the Knitty website – the French Market Bag, Summer 2002 [?]), which made it obvious that it was impossible to predict what the finished size would actually be. I then realised that my friend didn’t seem to care (after I bored her for a good fifteen minutes with my various apprehensions) – so why should I? She felted it herself as the machine in my building is front-loading. I liked the look of it and immediately found more felted patterns. I even felted them in the front loader!

Then, one fine day, I realised that I wasn’t happy with the length of one of the bags… and decided to modify the pattern to make it longer! And the earth didn’t come to an end. I realised also that I was really starting to look forward to my knitting time, rather than self-dreading it. I also found myself starting to wonder how I could broaden my knitting horizons even more…

Then one day I came across Freeform Knitting and Crochet by Jenny Dowde. A book of patterns about, essentially, how to work without a pattern – genius, I thought! How ironic – and how perfect for a recovering type-A knitting lawyer like me. I didn’t wait a month to buy it this time. And – I’m now doing freeform work without Ms Dowde’s (very wise) patterns to guide me.

At this point in time, I have never felt more contented with knitting, or more proud of my knitting work. I now believe myself to be a knitting artist, rather than someone who knits well – which feels tremendous. And funnily enough, this sense of contentment has spilled over into my personal and professional life and calmed me down from my Type A hyper highs.

Mind you, I still knit compulsively, I would say, and I still buy pattern books and make patterns – albeit using different colours and yarns than specified. But then again, Rome wasn’t built in a day – or even a year. And then again, I’m still someone who practices law to support my yarn habit…

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a snapshot of Brouhaha history

Cleaning can be fun! I came across these old photos in the storage locker… maybe fun only for me, really, now that I think of it. However, I do love the old European photographs.

(I don’t really have any progress on Icarus to show you, which is why you get to see old family pics instead. Managed a big four rows on the second chart last evening… after more tinking. This seems to be my “How to Knit Backwards” project. I suspect I’m getting a bit bored with it, which is usually when I start to make stupid mistakes. Oh well. Hopefully I’ll manage to make some project over the weekend…).

This is an old photo of my father’s family. Very old. My father is the little boy sitting on the guy’s knee on the right, as befitted his vaunted status of Only Son In The Greek Family:

And here is the engagement photo of his parents. It is one of my favourite photos, and I have a copy hanging in my office. I’m named after one of them.

Now, have you ever noticed in old photos that the people never, ever smile? They always seem to look as though they’ve just come from a funeral. I mean, they were getting engaged!!! Was it such a bad idea?

Maybe it’s just a 20th vs 21st century thing. I mean, the only time I’ve looked like this in a photo was when I had last to get my picture taken for my passport:

Enough said.

Then again, maybe the grandparents were just posing for some joint passport photo or other! And yes, such a thing does exist, although in early Canada days apparently the guy got to stand alone. Check this out:

A separate space for “wife” (and by association, kids)? How interesting. We’ve certainly come a long way although you’ve got to love the hat my great grandmother is wearing, don’t you? (The little girl is my mother’s mother. She is still living and is in her 90s.)

Then again, this photo was taken a very long time ago. Here’s the proof:

God Save the Queen! And this is the piece of paper which made my great grandfather a British subject:

(or was it a Canadian citizen?!? I’m so confused…)

And now for another deadpan “happy occasion” photo…

This is a wedding photo taken at my mother’s parents’ wedding. The guy standing behind the bride is my grandfather, in case you were wondering.

This is him having a good time with the boys well before the wedding (he’s the guy with the goofy straw hat):

Finally some people are smiling!!! And here is a photo of the one of the restaurants he owned in Kingston, where I grew up. This one was called the Superior.

I kind of miss those grandiose old names that they used to give restaurants. “Denny’s”, “Kelsey’s” “The Keg” just don’t cut it, somehow. If I’m ever fool enough to actually own my own restaurant, I’m going to name it the Fabulous. You heard it here first…

And finally some cute kiddie photos (I know you’ve all been waiting for those!). First, here is proof that the Brouhaha predilection for goofy hats has been passed down through the centuries:

My father and his sister. And until I saw this photo, I never knew they had Shriners in Greece!

(This is one of the first photos that came up when I googled “Shriner photos”. Seriously. I don’t get it… can anyone explain this to me?)

And here is a collage of photos of my mother that I made some time back.

I bet you didn’t realise that I was related to Shirley Temple! This is where I get all my yarn money from – royalties.

And finally, yours truly, back in the day before I developed an arbitrary hatred of pigeons…

Well, time to get off to work now. It’s meant to be 23C today and I would like nothing better than to stay home and knit on the balcony hit a patio sit at my desk and slog through a memo, really.

Happy weekend!