Friday, October 31, 2008

Rainy day weather

Now it really feels like fall. It started raining yesterday, right before I had to bike to the train station, and kept right on going until after I biked home. I don't actually mind when it rains on my way home - I love stripping out of the wet clothes, putting on my fleece and slippers, and being cozy and warm while listening to the rain fall outside.

This will be great for the garden, both the veggies and the weeds. I have a huge list of things to do before winter arrives, but I still have time. The most pressing things are to get the basil and lima beans out, and plant more seeds (beets and carrots). It would have been great to get those seeds in the ground before the rain started, but unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

My plan this weekend is to hold up and do a ton of chores and fun stuff around the house. I’ll be working on my mosaic, making bread and soup, cleaning, crafting, crocheting, and hanging out with my sister while she does a bunch of the same things. Check back for an authentic, easy Eastern European soup recipe this weekend, along with some background info on the one connection I have to my cultural roots.

Tomorrow, I will make a run out through the rain to the farmer’s market to get fish – we haven’t had any in a few weeks, and I’m craving it. And I’ll probably have to stop at the Davis Food Co-op to pick up some essentials (we’re almost out of olive oil! Oh no!). But in general, I’m looking forward to hanging around the house in my pjs, drinking tea, eating soup, and just enjoying a slightly more relaxing weekend. Except the part where I take Cricket to the clinic for her shots. I don’t think anyone will enjoy that.

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Leek and roasted pepper risotto

Here's the recipe for leek and roasted pepper risotto that I made up the other night:

Olive oil
8 bell peppers (yellow, red, and/or orange - more if you want a stronger pepper flavor)
2.25 cups arborio rice
One large or several small leeks
1-1.5 cups wine
6 cups broth
Parmesan cheese

Prep work:

1. Roast the peppers - I do this by cutting them in half, cleaning out the seeds and ribs, and laying them in rows in roasting trays. I then broil them until the skin starts to burn (but not too long). Put them in a bowl and cover it with a plastic bag until they're cool enough to handle, then peel, saving the juice. Puree the peppers and juice in a blender or food processor. Set aside.

2. Finely chop the white and light green part of the leeks - you should have at least a cup.

3. Heat the broth on the stove and keep it warm.

Making the risotto

1. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the leeks and sautee for at least 5 minutes, until they get soft and translucent.

2. Add the rice, and stir to coat with oil, adding more oil if necessary. Stir constantly for 3-4 minutes.

3. Add the wine, and stir until it is absorbed evenly by the rice.

4. Add about a quarter-cup of broth and a spoonful of pepper puree, continuing the stir the rice evenly. Don't stir too forcefully or quickly, just enough to keep it from sticking to the pot.

5. When the trail left by the spoon doesn't fill in immediately, add more broth and pepper puree. Continue for about 10-15 minutes, then test for doneness. Continue adding broth and cooking until the rice tastes done. Turn the heat to low or remove from heat completely and let rice sit to firm up for a few minutes.

Serve, passing parmesan at the table.

Weekend of local eating

Yesterday was a fantastic day from the food point of view.

For lunch, we made sandwiches with homemade bread, homegrown roasted peppers, homegrown lettuce, homemade ketchup, local balsamic vinegar, and some stuff that wasn't homemade or homegrown (or even local, bah): mayo, mustard, and tuna. They were so delicious.

Dinner was Leek and roasted pepper risotto (leek and peppers from the garden), and a lettuce and pepper salad with homemade bread. Yum yum yum.

I went to the garden, but didn't have time to do much work. I picked eggplant, lettuce, peppers, basil, and parsley. We had something like 12 eggplants (small ones), so I made eggplant parmesan for later in the week, and Loris is supposed to make a caponata/eggplant stew-type dish one night as well.

I also made up a new whole wheat bread recipe, which looked wonderful when I baked it yesterday, but I haven't tried it yet. I'll post a recipe after I've done a taste-test.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I just got back from a crazy weekend of sight-seeing with friends and family from Italy. Being thorougly exhausted, I decided to use my half-day of remaining vacation time to ... work in the garden! Of course!

Actually, it was a great, if tiring afternoon. Here's what I accomplished:

1. Weeded around turnips, beets, radishes, carrots, and fennel.
2. Transplanted fennel that was growing too close together (hopefully it survives).
3. Picked eggplants, peppers, radishes, lettuce, and chard.
4. Removed 30 tomato plants and stakes/cages, and carted it all away to the weed/compost pile.
5. Put up some stakes and string to incentivize people from not going into my garden. It's not much of a physical barrier, but I'm hoping it will be a psychological one.

The turnips are getting huge! I forgot how quickly they grow, and now they're blocking the light from the beets. I'll have to replant some beets elsewhere.

Still to do in the garden before winter?

1. Remove basil and make pesto.
2. Remove peppers and eggplants when they're finished producing.
3. Add compost to the areas where I still have to plant.
4. Plant fava beans, carrots, beets, garlic, shallots, and onions.
5. Remove lima beans.
6. Extend the watering system - this can probably wait until spring, if it starts raining anytime soon.

It's going to be a lot of work before I'm done, but I always love how the garden looks when the seasons change, when new sprouts come up and before the real weeding begins.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


I'm busy working lots and lots of overtime these days, so not much time for blogging. Which is ok, because I’m not doing much worth blogging about, unless anyone wants to hear about bicycling to the train station every morning and freezing my hands now that the weather is getting cooler.

The garden’s doing well. I just picked some lettuce, peppers, eggplants, and radishes the other day. I don’t have time for weeding or planting more seeds, or harvesting the lima beans (that are so not worth it).

We’re having houseguests – Loris’ Uncle Sergio, friends (and pseudo-cousins) Stefano and Edoardo, and friend Lollo are coming from Italy to stay with us for a few days. We’ve spent a lot of time cleaning, some of it experimenting with green cleaning methods, such as using vinegar. That’s a whole other post. I also switched to a non-clay, flushable kitty litter, Swheat Scoop, which I’m liking so far (and more importantly, so is Cricket). More about that later, too, I hope.

We’ve bought seafood and veggies from our farmer’s market, tried to declutter our house, baked bread from scratch, and just in general have been trying really hard to get things together before our guests arrive.

Speaking of decluttering, this is probably the segment of my life which I find the absolute hardest. Right now, our apartment looks great (except the carpet), but a lot of that was accomplished by putting things in closets. Even my mosaic class has somehow created a huge amount of random crap, which is just was I was hoping to avoid.

I’m hoping to talk about more things in this blog, like the title implies. I’d like to talk about everyday life, my cat, my family, my garden, my apartment, and all the things I do to simplify, even when it seems like I’m actually complicating matters. I know that getting rid of stuff, decluttering, is the basis of simplification for me, despite being my huge Achilles heel. So that will hopefully be a prominent feature as well. I may even come up with a challenge for myself, and anyone else who wants to join in.

Even my writing is cluttered! See?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


I spent the weekend baking bread. I promised pictures, but I was way too busy to take any. I made two loaves of Royal Crown Tortano from Maggie Gleazer's Aritsan Baking book, and six loaves of my own daily bread recipe. It took all day, and the really tricky part is remembering the timing for all those different batches.

The Royal Crown Tortano is a fantastic bread, a huge, round, donut-shaped loaf with a dark golden crust that's not too crunchy, and a soft, well-structured crumb full of big holes. (I know, I need to take pictures). It calls for potato, honey, and a starter you make the night before. While it takes a LOT of time (you pretty much have to be home all day), it actually requires very little hands-on work. And while the dough is wet compared to your standard sandwich loaf, for an artisanal loaf it's relatively easy to work with, and forgiving of mistakes. And it's delicious, and lasts for a few days before drying out. I highly recommend this bread, it's one of my favorites.

Although this makes a really large loaf, I had no trouble mixing up a double recipe in my Kitchenaid stand mixer (note - I have a professional size - don't try it in one of the standard sized ones). I then had to stagger the rising and baking times because I can only bake one at a time. In the meantime, I did two large batches of basic bread for a total of 6 loaves.

The reason I made so many is that I'm freezing them, now that we have our fantastic freezer. This is working out great - I dobule-wrap them in plastic and stick them in the freezer after they cool off from the oven. Then when we need some bread, we turn on the oven, put in a frozen loaf, cover it with an aluminum roasting pan, and voila. Fresh-tasting bread, with a crispy crust.

So far I've only done it with my daily bread, but I've just tried it with the tortano, so we'll see how that turns out.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Fall lettuce salads

We're in lettuce season again. How do I know that? Besides the fact that we had our first lettuce salad from the garden last week, right now I am looking out my window and it looks like it's going to rain. The weather website says it's going to rain, too.

If you're not familiar with our Sacramento Valley climate, that basically means it's not summer anymore, since we have hot dry summers with scarcely a cloud in the sky let alone a drop of rain.

Loris and I are ecstatic about having lettuce for salads again. It's been a while since we've had it fresh from our garden. I planted six heads of curly green lettuce and six red sails, probably about only three weeks ago, and already we have more than enough for salads for two. A salad makes a light, crisp, tasty addition to our evening meal.

We often don't even throw on any toppings. But when we do, they tend to include tomatoes, beets, olives, peppers, onions, or shallots - usually only one to three toppings, to keep things simple. A simple salad is a great accompaniment for a nice crusty loaf of homemade bread.

Speaking of homemade bread, I'll likely be home working all day on Sunday, which gives me a great opportunity to make some fantastic bread that I don't often get the chance to make. Check back in to see how it goes.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


I haven’t talked much about crafts on this blog, despite including it in my header, but I actually really love crafts and artisan-ship (is that a word?). I often look through the courses offered at the UC Davis craft center and Davis Adult School, and I can’t decide which one I want to take, because I want to take too many of them.

I’ve been crocheting for about twelve years, and in that time I’ve made tons of stuff – mostly blankets, but also hats and other little things. I can also do some really basic knitting, but I never really picked it up and so I’m slow and incapable of being creative or fixing mistakes.

When I tore a ligament in my knee almost two years ago, I took glass fusing. Now THAT was a great class, although I didn’t make anything super useful. I made a beautiful set of sushi dishes, gray with red and green maple leaves. I made my sister a really cool dish with a purple dragonfly. For my mother-in-law, I made a dish with a mosaic-style sun on it, and for my friend’s wedding, I made a small trivet (or tile) with a Native American turtle design.

The problem with glass fusing, though, is that glass is EXPENSIVE. And I never got any good at cutting out circles. Those things are hard.

So now I’m signed up for a mosaic class, and after just two lessons, I don’t like it. I love the idea of mosaic, but I think one of the reasons is that it can be useful. Or rather, it can be a way of decorating useful things to make them unique and beautiful. I don’t really like doing art for art’s sake, partly because I’m just not very artistic. Crafty, yes; artistic, no.

But also, I'm trying to declutter my life, and having beautiful, useful things seems like a better idea than having beautiful, useless things. And we only have so much wall space.

This class requires making a decorative mosaic to hang on a wall. I'm struggling for ideas, but I think I have one now. It's going to be a "Tree of life" theme, really simple. I don't have time to make something complicated, and I want to use my new mosaic skills to make some really cool gifts for Christmas, too. I'll post some pictures if I ever manage to get started.