Maggy Button: Baking and knitting out life's stress
There are four ways to tell whether or not I’m under stress at any given point in time. One is to look at my left eye; if it’s twitching, I’m stressing out. Another is to look at my cuticles; if they’ve been chewed (yes, I know how disgusting that is), then I am stressed.
Another clue is whether I’m knitting and just what I’m knitting. If it’s a complicated cable pattern or sweater, it’s recreational knitting -- if it’s dish cloths or hats, I’m in trouble.
When my aunt was hospitalized, I knitted two dozen dish cloths in a span of four days and when my husband was in the hospital for five months, I made dozens of hats, many that I gave to my friend Patty for the Boxes of Love she was -- and I believe still is -- sending to servicemen and women. (More on that in a later column.)
When stressed out, I bake more than normal -- and as a result, eat more than normal. I call it my see-food diet. I see food and eat it. Family and friends love me in this mode.
So, here I am -- eye twitching, cuticles bitten -- knitting a Rasta hat, of all things. Like I have, or ever will have, dreadlocks!
My grandmother taught me to knit when I was about 7 or 8. Grandma set me up with a large pair of wooden knitting needles and a pretty dusty pink yarn. She cast on the stitches and proceeded to teach me the fundamentals -- over and over and over again. I somehow always ended up with more stitches on the needle than she had cast on and she ripped it out and we would start over again.
I managed to make two blocks of knitted material that she somehow fashioned into a sweater for one of my dolls and for Christmas that year I knit her a shawl -- with a lot of holes and significantly wider at the end than at the beginning.
I gave up after that and turned to making potholders with cloth loops on a square metal loom. (Do little girls still do that or has that gone the way of jacks?)
I picked knitting up again in junior high school, but this time, it was with a group of friends. We knitted scarves for one another and everyone else we knew. Over the years, I dabbled in yarn off and on, and became better at it.
My first bout of stress knitting came my freshman year in college. Everyone on my dorm floor wing got a knitted purse for Christmas that year. They were made out of a heavy rug yarn and were just the right size for carrying to class or a party off campus. I wish I still had that pattern.
In graduate school, I knit a heavy jacket sweater while I was writing my thesis.
I was still pretty much a novice knitter when I joined the staff at the North Adams Transcript. One of the women in the composing room, Marie Rose LaFlamme, was an expert and I owe much of what I know about knitting to her. We would take breaks together and knit -- she was always willing to help me decipher the directions and straighten out whatever mess I had made.
She couldn’t figure out why my knitting work looked so different from anyone else’s, with the stitches a little twisted. Then she watched me knit and realized I had been taught what she called "German" knitting -- inserting the needle in the back of the stitch instead of in the front. (Makes sense since my great-grandparents had emigrated from Germany.) It took me weeks to unlearn it, which I had to do in order for cables and knitted designs to look right.
Marie Rose taught me how to do cables and follow a graph to make a design in a sweater. She encouraged me to try patterns that were complicated and then took the time to help me navigate through the maze of instructions. I think of her every year when I decorate the Christmas tree -- she gave me an ornament that is a miniature ball of yarn with knitting needles sticking out of it.
Marie Rose once gave me a recipe for her Party Cake, which is so good and easy to prepare -- right up my alley.
Marie Rose’s Party Cake
Prepare one package yellow or white cake mix according to directions. Bake 15 to 20 minutes at 350 degrees in a greased and floured cookie sheet with a ridge (15- or 17- by 10 inches with a3Ž4-inch lip). Cool cake.
Mix one package instant vanilla pudding with one cup of milk. Set aside. In a large bowl, cream one 8-ounce package cream cheese and one 9-ounce Cool Whip. Add pudding mixture and beat well. Frost cake.
Drop one can drained crushed pineapple by1Ž2 teaspoons on top of the frosting. Sprinkle with one cup shredded coconut, then3Ž4 cup finely chopped walnuts. Marischino cherries may be added as a garnish.
I tripped over a recipe for Ding Dong Cake somewhere recently -- Pinterest? Facebook? -- and decided to make one late last week. It couldn’t be easier to make and is pretty good -- OK, I lied, it was damn good!
Ding Dong Cake
One box chocolate cake mix, baked as directed. When the cake is done, let sit 10 minutes, then turn it out on cooling rack. When cool, slice cake in half and put one half back in bottom of pan.
Make the filling:
1 cream cheese softened
3 cups powdered sugar
1 stick margarine softened
Mix all together with mixer, fold in one container of Cool Whip. Spread on cake layer in pan, then put other layer on top,
Take one can of chocolate icing, add 2 tablespoons of milk and stir well. Spread on cake. Keep the cake in the fridge.
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