Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day Weekend Labors

Here is the front of the house by this afternoon. You may recall the 3 yards or so of wood chips that sat on the driveway Friday afternoon. You may recall the weather stained color of the pavement. Much was accomplished this weekend, culminating in Q pressure washing all of the concrete today, front and back.

The bark recovered all of the paths in the front, and provided a layer all the way back to the cherry tree.

The Oregon Grapes and huckleberry got weeded around and bark mulched. The fence didn't get put back this weekend because there's about a foot of bark mulch above the surface from the stump grinding and the remains of a stump right where Q hoped to put the new fence post. The back is starting to look better though. Just having those trees gone has given it so much new life.

Some of the potatoes are coming up. I've never grown potatoes before and am very excited.

Edamame are at the top of the picture, followed by a couple rows of black-eyed peas. The blank area just had fava beans planted yesterday and the big leaved plants are bingo beans. We're going to need some major trellising soon.

No pictures, but we have the first half dozen blossoms on the peas.

Weekend cooking exploits...
  • I used our kale and spinach today to make homemade saag paneer. I made the cheese from scratch using the recipe from Milk, by Anne Mendelson. It's very satisfying to add the acid and watch the curd separate. Immediate gratification instead of the faith and time you have to give yogurt. Q doesn't like cooked spinach so he got a lentil dal, which turned out well. I ran out of garam masala so the saag turned out a bit flat but it's still very good - I just faked it and added salt/cumin/coriander/nutmeg/cinnamon until it tasted more flavorful. :)
  • Homemade doughnuts were Saturday night's experiment. They had good flavor but the oil was not deep enough so they got overly brown where they touched the bottom of the pan. K (roommate) and I both got slightly ill though so we're not planning to repeat that in the near future. I'm kind of happy that my body apparently doesn't believe in deep-fried food.
  • I couldn't bear to waste the warm whey from this morning's cheesemaking but realized halfway through throwing the bread together that I didn't have enough spelt flour. We now have a flat focaccia-type spelt and rice flour/tapioca and potato starch/xanthan gum/ and oats bread that's studded with dried cherries. It turned out well considering its bizarre origins and will serve well for breakfast over the next few days.

Q's Linen Shirt

I made this shirt for Q at Christmas but he didn't quite like the fit so I put it to the side to fix. Ever since then, when I've felt like working on it he wasn't home and I needed him around as I worked so it's just been sitting. Finally, the stars aligned tonight and I felt like working on it while he was home. I adjusted the side seams so they taper in a bit to get rid of some flaring at the bottom and shortened the sleeves by about 1". I think I could taper the sides even more. We'll let him wear this one for a while and then decide what needs to happen for the third incarnation. (The first incarnation is here.)

I bought Simplicity 4760 at JoAnn's Fabrics' Memorial Day sale today. He's already requested a "view B" short sleeve button down from it. I think I'll have to size it up though. That barrel chest of his defies even "XL" pattern sizes. I also got a 12 yd. bolt of 60" muslin at a really good price; I'm so tired of running out when I want to create a pattern or try something out. They also had a sample made up of Simplicity 2886 and it was so cute that I couldn't resist it at the awesome $1 sale price. I'm going to use a piece of cotton fabric (maybe a lawn weight?) that I couldn't resist there a few weeks ago. Pictures hopefully coming soon...

Friday, May 28, 2010

First Strawberries!

Yum! Here are our first three strawberries. I've also got to eat radishes this weekend. The one above had gotten quite spicy.

I love the yellow irises next to the purple lupines.

With the stumps ground down the back yard looks so completely different. Q's going to reset a post this weekend and put the panels back.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Gardening and Decorating

We have the first hint of color on two strawberries. If the rain ever lets up for more than 45 minutes at a time, we are in line to have a good crop. That is a big "if". After the insanely beautiful March, it has gotten progressively rainier. Apparently everybody's having trouble with their tomatoes, so I didn't feel quite so bad when we bought our starts. We went to Zwink's yesterday and got 10 Roma starts, 2 green peppers, 4 cauliflower, 4 broccoli, and 2 eggplant. I'm banking on the 3 slicing tomato and 1 cherry tomato starts that I already had to pull through. On the bright side, the basil starts I transplanted last weekend have not yet died. Since I grew those from seed, it will make for very cheap pesto this fall. We also harvested over 2 lbs. of mixed greens this weekend for me to take on my class trip tomorrow. The 7th grade is spending 4 days in Astoria.

The pea trellis got put up, to my great satisfaction. The tall one is the Alderman shellers. The row of snow peas is going to have to make due with the shorter PVC one. I'll have to work something out for the green beans, bingo beans, and black-eyed peas in the near future.

Q was delighted to discover the grape grabbing onto it's support for the first time. That naughty grass keeps trying to take over. Again, if it ever stops raining for long enough I have to go out and hoe out the grapes and strawberry beds again. It will be nice when tree guy finally comes and finishes the job and leaves us with a nice big pile of bark mulch for the paths and the grape bed. That should help some.

We went to a fun new store yesterday called The Eugene Backyard Farmer. It's a charming store complete with two calico kittens, Sonia and Sophie, and two chickens, Martha and Marie. He's thoroughly supplying chicken stuff right now and is hoping to expand into beekeeping equipment soon. He also carries some garden themed trinkets and the we bought the prints above while we were there. I fell in love with them and upon coming home and checking out her website, I've fallen in love with most of Nikki McClure's work. She's an artist from Olympia, WA who has most of her work printed in Portland on recycled paper with soy based ink. My latest fancy is custom making doors that have the prints sealed in them so our bedroom could have "Disappear" on it; the media room/study could have "Learn". "Rely", "Treasure", "Congregate" (hung by the entry way?), "Gravity", and "Breathe" were some of our other favorites but we loved almost all of them.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Random Picture Post

I'm currently teaching chemistry to the 7th graders. Using red cabbage indicator...
HCl, lemon juice, vinegar, boric acid, water (neutral), baking soda, ammonia, washing soda, lye
Chemistry is the coolest block.

The tree removal is partly done. Hopefully they'll be able to finish very soon.

The latest craving - marscapone filled crepes with rum/honey syrup

Greek-seasoned tempeh salad

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Garden Update

The black-eyed peas I planted last week all seem to have decided that today was the day to sprout.

The corn rows are coming up nicely, still punctuated by the lettuce I decided not to disturb. We had our first meal of salad greens on Friday night from the larger bed. A few ounces of lettuce and three radishes so far...

Here's the beginning of this fall's pumpkins. The cucumbers and other squash are all about this size.

Strawberries by June 1? I like having a strawberry bed that gets some full sun!

The basil seedlings got transplanted today. I hope they make it. The tomatoes that I grew are pretty sad. I transplanted them but I'll probably have to buy some starts. A few cabbage made it. I'm going to direct sow some more cabbage seeds. Looks like I'll also need to get an eggplant (one seems to have made it), a couple of peppers (one's currently alive), onion sets and some broccoli, cauliflower, and celery. I think I'll get better at proper hardening off with more practice.

The lupines are getting even prettier. The bumblebees love them. I think we must have a hive nearby. Q suspects its under the back patio pad. Speaking of bees, ours have been going crazy in the last few days of warm weather. Maybe we can even add a honey super in a couple of weeks! We're going to do a check next weekend.

The cedars are getting taken down tomorrow. It will be so nice to have a shot at growing things back there.

Asparagus Bacon Quiche

This is our new favorite recipe. It's so good that I don't even miss having a crust, a detail that makes it really fast and easy to make. I buy a dozen eggs a week from a friend and we've been struggling to keep up with their use. Delicious, nutritious, easy, quick! (I can't wait until - hopefully - next year, when it will be our own asparagus.)

Sunday, May 9, 2010

First Harvest

Our first harvest of the season turned out to be a radish!

The lettuce is definitely ready to start having leaves stolen this week.

We planted lots of mixed wildflower seeds outside the kitchen window and they seem to be doing well. Hopefully we'll have lots of flowers to lure the bees to the end of the garden this summer.

We've got strawberries and blueberries getting quite big...

The peas need to have supports put in soon.

We've almost got full blooms on the lupines.

This is the grape that was just a stick. It's been fun watching the leaf buds appear and start to open in the last week or so. The other grapes are getting quite leafy.

The corn we planted last weekend is just coming up (foreground). I couldn't bear to take out the lettuce volunteers so the corn patch kind of goes around them for now.

I put green beans, black-eyed peas, edamame, and bingo bean seeds in today. The carrots got replanted because the first ones I planted didn't have any come up! Many of the squash, melon, pumpkin, and cucumbers seedlings I transplanted last weekend survived. I direct sowed seeds of each to replace the ones that didn't make it today. It's getting into the season where there are going to be more dry days than rainy days so I'm going to have to fix up the irrigation soon.
Ugh - my least favorite job. Thankfully, we don't have to do it more than once a season though.

Snickerdoodle Cheesecake

We decided to create a snickerdoodle inspired pie because those are two really good things. :) According to the America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book, snickerdoodles are marked by being a little sour along with the sweet cinnamon. Cheesecake replaced the "pie" idea since it would provide the tartness. We decided that we needed something cakier than a traditional pie crust or the graham cracker crust of a cheesecake. The classic tart crust recipe, whose texture was labeled as "more similar in texture to a cookie" seemed like a good choice after adding some cinnamon. We baked the tart shell and then filled it with the "icebox cheesecake" recipe. This prevented us from having to bake the cheesecake like a traditional one; it just had to be refrigerated for at least six hours.

It was a success. Next time we will lightly sprinkle it with cinnamon (for taste) and large grain sugar (for prettiness). I think I'll cook the crust a little bit less next time too. It was good but maybe would have been a bit chewy if it was less cooked. The recipe's definitely a keeper.

Mix in a small bowl...
1 large egg yolk
1 T cream
1/2 t vanilla
In food processor, combine...
1 1/4 c flour
2/3 c confectioner's sugar
1/4 t salt
1 T cinnamon
8 T butter, cut into pieces and chilled
It will require about 15 pulses to create a mixture that looks like coarse cornmeal.
Add the liquids and process until the dough just comes together.
Form into a 6" disk and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least an hour.
When you take it out, let the dough warm on the counter for about 10 minutes before forming it into the tart pan. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. (It said to line the inside with foil and use pie weights but I didn't and there were only a couple of bubbles.) Let it cool completely.

Filling (measurements are different than the original, most are half, except the flavorings)
Whisk together...
1/4 c cream
1/2 pkg of unflavored gelatin
and microwave until the cream is bubbling and gelatin is dissolved, 30-60 s.
In the mixer bowl, cream together...
1/2 c cream
1/3 c sugar
When soft peaks form, add...
8 oz softened cream cheese (we use neufchatel)
2 T lemon juice
1 t vanilla
and the gelatin mixture.
Beat until the filling is smooth and airy, up to 5 or 6 minutes then pour into the cooled crust.
Refrigerate until set; at least 6 hours.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Internet is a Weird Place

Yes, this is one of those irritating philosophical posts. More interesting stuff (by my reckoning) - bees, gardens, cooking, sewing, and knitting- will return soon. I'll try to get a post up this weekend on our latest creation - The Snickerdoodle Cheesecake!
. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Today Q posted a link to one of my old posts on a relatively well-read site in the comments section of an article about Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. Google analytics registered 655 hits for my site today. I'm well aware that the only people who usually read this blog are my mom and a few friends. Therefore, 652 more visitors than usual was a novel occurrence. :)

I was struck by the fact that that many people came through and the only person who bothered to comment just made sweeping negative generalizations about my character. I was upset at first (oh my gosh, I'm a horrible person) and then just angry (my rebutting comment still has a little snide tinge of this, I admit) and now I've kind of stepped back from overreacting emotionally, regained some equilibrium and am letting my head, instead of my heart and stomach, start digesting this phenomenon.

This has led me to two potential ideas, neither of which is probably right but I do find them intriguing. The conflicting hypotheses both center on Thumper's mom's advice, "If you don't have anything nice to say...".

1) People, for the most part, still hold that to be true, and the majority agreed with the comment poster but didn't feel the need to say it out of courtesy.

2) People don't really bother saying anything if they aren't angry or offended. It's sort of a weird reverse, "If you don't have anything negative to say, why post a comment?" I, of course, on a personal level am rooting for this one to be accurate since it assumes that most people don't agree with the poster.

I also realized that I tend to live more closely in line with the second way of being but it leaves me wondering if I should start pursuing a third path. Currently, if it's not meant merely to impart information on a given topic, my rare comments do tend to be critical, question-asking sorts of things, not "right ons". (Although, I've never understood the nonconstructive personal attacks and name-calling.) My actions are not in line with my beliefs though, since I'm more often thinking "right on" when I'm reading things. I've now realized that I tend toward being a silently supportive lurker. ;) Unfortunately, in internet land, this doesn't express my appreciation to the many people whose work I read and admire on a regular basis.

As usual, it's the negative stuff that provides the richest food for thought and the strongest push toward different actions.

The Thought: I can see little bits of myself in the mean comment. I also need to remember that that is not the usual predominant characteristic reflected back by my friends and family - people who I assume know me better than any anonymous internet poster. I know that I will always be completely full of flaws but, thankfully, the people I surround myself with in the real world are kind enough to look past that and see who I would like to be, am striving to be.

The Actions: I will try to be a more active, balanced presence in the blogs I follow. A positive comment takes only a moment of my time and may bring a little bright spot to someone else's day.

If you got to the bottom here, thanks for reading. If you find me to be insufferable, don't bother commenting. If you disagree with my ideas, by all means start a dialogue. I will keep trying to take everything, the good and the bad, with more equanimity. I know there's something to be learned in all of it - even if I don't like it!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

May Faire Vending

Yesterday Q and I had a booth at the school's May Faire celebration. Luckily, we were right next to the food booth that my class was responsible for, so I also ended up working the last couple of hours there when we got shorthanded. It was the debut of Q's jewelry. For close up pictures of his beautiful pendants, go here. It's worth clicking on the pictures to get larger views. I'm totally impressed by his work.

Here is our table at the beginning of the day. We didn't get a lot of sales but it was fun and we managed to make enough profit to pay for the lunch we bought there in support of the school. The owl hat sold and the copper pendant sold.

The bottom right rug also sold. The rugs are my new pet project. I was given many many skeins of yarn (several drawerfuls) by Q's grandmother, who's infirm enough that she no longer knits. It's acrylic stuff that I would normally not use. I got out the size 19 needles and have been knitting it into rugs using five strands simultaneously. Those 2'x3' rugs are only 30 stitches across and 80 rows long. I'm calling them "scrap yarn rugs" because I'm sometimes switching colors partway through when I run out of one skein. The garter stitch and so many plies are making them super squishy and rather non-skid because if it. I'm marketing them as perfect for pets (Digit immediately settles in if one is laid down) as well as in kitchens and bathrooms. They wash really well. I washed all of the ones shown before bringing them to the fair. It's a good way to make sure that the sometimes label-less yarn skeins were really acrylic or superwash. I figure if anything felts, Greenhill Humane will still appreciate the donation. Similarly, if they end up not selling, Greenhill will get many nice new blankets and I will get nice empty storage space. I think they're a win all around in that way. :)

Yard Progress

The pics below are a combo of pics Q took last night after we finished some yard work and a few I took a few days ago. Yesterday I transplanted the squash, melons and cucumber starts from their tiny cells into the bed where they belong under the long, low cloche at the front of the yard. I know such plants don't like having roots disturbed but I figured all that would be wasted trying was some seeds. We'll see if they make it. They were lovely little plants before my abuse. Right now there are Banana Pink Jumbo, Mesa Queen Acorn, Sugar Pumpkins, Sweet Dumpling Squash, Black Beauty Zucchini, Yellow Crookneck, Wautoma Cucumbers, and Tigger Melons. Worst case scenario, I replant seeds directly into the ground when they all die. :)

The tall cloche over the bed is protecting the other starts that I'm trying to have get used to outside life. Notice all the white dots of strawberry blossoms in that bed. I need to get more netting so we don't share with the crows.

Mint is trying to take over the world. That bed can't really contain it and it keeps sneaking under. We're considering moving the 8 foot bed it's in over in front of another 8 footer and putting another 4'x6' where it is currently. (We'll lose a bit more grass, but it's a funny shape anyway right now.) The mint would get rooted out and put into a huge pot, where its chances of escape are reduced. Q had this idea partially because our current configuration unintentionally created a tricky spot to maneuver with a wheelbarrow. The front bed not covered by a cloche contains the overwintered garlic and three rows of peas, 2 Alderman shelling and 1 snow peas. We're going affix string to the PVC frame and attach it to nails on the bed frame for trellis.

The blueberries (far left) are getting lots of new growth and have already flowered but the fruit isn't recognizable yet. I don't know if I'll need to net them. I can't imagine birds won't be interested...
Those irises are terrifying in their tenacity. I take no care of them - they've never been separated and I covered them with cardboard and two feet of dirt over the winter to try and kill the grass growing among them. They came up right through the cardboard.

For comparison, look here to see what the yard looked like at this time last year.

Here's a close-up of the newly wired grape arbor. The tall plant at the back is the new raspberry.

Here's a close-up of a newly leafed out grape. All four have gotten new growth since transplant.

We'll get blooming lupines soon.

We'll get garden salads soon.

I'd totally forgotten this columbine that I planted out last year after it was given to me as a gift - and then it suddenly bloomed. I need to get a few more for that bed. They'll serve as a nice bit of color for this time of year between the bulb and the lupine blooms.

Copernicus Play Photos

The play performances for my 7th grade were on April 21. I just haven't had time to post lately, so here comes the stream of posts for the last two weeks. The play was a massive undertaking by the students and everybody I've talked to was deeply impressed by how well it was done. They are still a little irritated that it was so serious and wasn't "fun" but I can't help it, I get so tired of the clowning flippancy that marks what we do to be "accessible" to the masses. I promised them that for our 8th grade Shakespeare play we can do a comedy and they can help pick it. Knowing them, by then, just to be contrary, they'll pick Othello or something...:)

I was really proud of this set design. Since I can't ever do anything simple, the play I wrote (based on a fiction book of Copernicus' life) ended up having about 20 scenes. This meant that we needed a set that required very little moving of scenery but still allowed for several locations. The pictures below have all of the screens and curtains open or removed to allow all of the sets to be seen at once. Many shorter scenes took place in front of the curtain with only a few props. All the lights are also up; different lights also helped differentiate the space. Our art teacher (and parent in the class) was amazing in leading them through the preliminary painting and chalk drawing of the sets and then finished them with her own masterful touch.

The bed was used for his boyhood bedroom (which he snuck out of) and his final deathbed scenes. The "office" on stage right was several different offices at different time periods. The picnic table at the far right was a tavern scene. There were screens that got moved to cover the office or the tavern, depending on which set was needed.

The Rome backdrop had a black sheet that flipped down over it when it wasn't in use and the "tower" above was used for several scenes.