Sunday, November 29, 2009

Vegetarian gravy

Mushrooms

Onion

Soy sauce

Marsala wine

Vegetable broth

Flour


Chop up some mushrooms and onion VERY finely. Saute the onion over low heat until it softens and starts to caramelize. Add the mushroom and cook a few more minutes. Add some soy sauce and marsala and cook for a few more minutes. Add some broth, turn up the heat to a gentle boil, then add flour a bit at a time, whisking to help it dissolve. Continue to cook and add flour bit by bit until the gravy is the consistency you would like. Taste and season with salt if necessary.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ketchup, redux

Last weekend (namely Saturday) I decided to make ketchup again. Since I had knee surgery on September 3 and I'm still not walking, I decided not to start with whole tomatoes and have to cook them and mill them and whatnot. I started with cans of tomato puree, added the other ingredients, and cooked it down, and then canned it. Last night. More than 48 hours later.

I learned a few lessons from all this, lessons I hope that I will always remember:

1. DO NOT make more than one ketchup recipe at once. Unless you do it in separate pots. It took FOREVER to reduce.

and

2. DO NOT cook it over high heat at the beginning in an attempt to get things going faster. Unless you want to spend three days trying to clean burnt crap off the bottom of your pot.

The ketchup had a more complex flavor, either from being burned or from cooking for two days, or from both. But still. Never again.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Veggies

The last week or two has seen a lot of vegetables on my table, partly because the summer garden is finally producing.

On Monday, we roasted some beets, boiled some green beans, and sliced some cucumbers and tomatoes, and set them on the table in separate bowls to combine and dress with oil, vinegar, mayonaise and mustard, and experiment with different flavors. I was surprised to find that my favorite was green beans and sliced beets with oil and vinegar, although any of them with oil and salt was delicious, too. The tomatoes are the first Juliet and Super Italian Paste tomatoes from the garden. By the end of the week or early next week we'll have our first heirlooms (Cherokee purple!).

Last night, Loris sauteed carrots in olive oil, which we ate with some REALLY strong cheese he picked up at the co-op. On the side, we had sliced cucumbers with oil, vinegar, and mustard, and tomatoes with basil, olive oil, and burrata. If you like fresh mozzarella, you have never had burrata, and you have a chance to buy some, do it! It's amazing stuff.

We'll only have one or two more dinners with carrots and beets from the garden, but pretty soon we'll be eating peppers and tomatoes, and soon after that we'll hopefully have zucchini and eggplant. And hopefully we keep getting cucumber and green beans.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Juliet tomato

I really like the Juliet variety tomato, even though it is a hybrid and not an heirloom, and even though I am not normally a big fan of cherry tomatoes. I first tried the Juliet variety two years ago in my first real summer garden, and I loved it, mostly because it is so versatile and prolific. The fruits actually look like pint-sized roma tomatoes.

As such, I used them for everything - snacking, slicing, in salads, cooked with fish, and most importantly, added to the romas for tomato sauce.

This year, I only planted one, and now I regret it. In the future, I thinkI'd like to plant several to supplement my sauce tomatoes, because really, this beauty produces so many tomatoes! It's such a great option for when the sauce tomatoes don't do that well. Or if, as in my case, I decided to only plant half as many sauce tomatoes as usual, and the heirlooms I planted instead (brandywines) aren't doing too fantastic just yet.

The only real problem with the Juliet is that I can't keep up with pruning it, and it takes over the garden. I gave up trying to prune and stake it, and instead I sunk another stake at the end of the row and I am wrapping twine around the two stakes, and trying to keep the plant tethered in the middle. I think that will be a reasonable way to grow them in the future - between two stakes.

Now I'm already looking forward to next year's garden.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Really quick garden update

Cucumbers - taking over the garden. Should have given them more space. Had a cucumber salad the other day with our first one - delicious!

Peppers - Really producing, 95% of them doing fantastic, a few that I still can't tell if they're going to pull through.

Zucchini - the yellow squash really faltered and still hasn't really recovered. The light green variety I planted from seed died, but I replanted it about a week ago and now I've got three little sprouts. I'm hoping with these temps they catch up soon!

Tomatoes - first Juliet is almost ripe! Hopefully more will follow soon.

Green beans - producing like crazy. We have 2.5 pounds just from the last few days. Will need to look into canning them.

Eggplant - getting established. Not expecting big things any time soon.

Melon - Really taking off, but no little melons yet.

Winter squash - not doing much, I'm hoping with the heat it'll perk up soon.

Onions - almost entirely harvested - only about 10 left, but we have at least 15-25 at home still.

Carrots and beets - still quite a few left, will need to pick soon (but we still have carrots in the fridge!).

Monday, June 22, 2009

Cooking (mostly meat)

Lately we've been experimenting a lot with meat from the farmer's market. We have a local pork producer who often has lamb and grass-fed beef. There's also a fisherman from the Bay Area, and now a local free-range chicken grower. Over the past year, we've branched out from our original purchases of filleted white fish (usually cod or something similar) and pork chops to crab, salmon, tuna, scallops, prawns, pork loin, grass fed ground beef, sirloin steaks, lamb stew meat, and most recently, a whole chicken and a 5-pound leg of lamb.

Memorable recipes have included seared tuna on heirloom tomato salad, risotto with asparagus and lamb, basil-stuffed scallops, prawns and crab with homemade mayonnaise, and hamburgers on homemade focaccia with a variety of cheeses and toppings.

A few weeks ago, we bought a whole chicken and I roasted it, stuffed with some garlic and herbs, and basted with lemon juice and olive oil. It was divine, although it could have used more salt. I don't know if I could have or should have brined it. I saved the bones in the freezer to make stock, which I'll try to do soon.

Last night, Loris cooked a leg of lamb. I'm not sure of his exact recipe or method - I just know that it took a lot longer than he expected, there were rosemary, garlic, potatoes, onions, and carrots, and it was amazing. Eight of us finished off that 5-pound sucker. It was tender and juicy and really fantastic. My husband is a wonderful cook.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Garden update

Holy cow, I will never get those garden pictures posted.

The garden is doing really well! The tomatoes are getting huge, the vining ones are growing nice and tall and the determinates are getting nice and bushy. I've already been pruning and staking them, although at my sister's garden today I noticed that someone using the same stakingm ethod ties the vine much closer to the stake, so I will probably give that a shot. Quite a few of the plants have little (or big) green tomatoes.

The peppers are looking good. I'm excited! There are a few little ones here and there getting started.

The green beans have already started producing, and are getting huge. I am going to have to start picking them regularly.

The onions are almost out of the ground, I'll probably pick a few more today. The carrots look great, I need to pick more of those before it gets too hot. We might squeeze a few beets out, too.

Eggplant went in recently, four of them, and I've got two more waiting to go in. The cucumber is rapidly recovering from its post-planting malaise and I'm trying to get it trained up the trellises before it takes over its little corner of the garden.

The melon is doing fantastic, as are the butternut squash and yellow summer squash. The zucchini I grew from seed, however, is just not looking good. I'm a little worried and disappointed about that.

And that's it! I've started a mini-herb garden at home - two kinds of rosemary, sage, basil, and soon some parsley (when I get around to buying it). I've braided the garlic, and I'm drying the onions and shallots. Pretty soon, I'll be canning giardiniera, tomato sauce, zucchini, jam, and ketchup.

Oh, and a post about making mustard should be coming up soon. Just find me some time to write and post pictures!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Onion soup

I've been busy harvesting onions, although to be quite honest I'm not sure what to do with them. There are about 20 left in my garden, and we've got maybe 15 at home - not sure what happened to the other 35 I planted, unless I'm really not counting correctly.

They didn't really dry out the way the garlic did - most of them were still green and happy. And we've been experiencing rain! And lightning! And thunder! IN JUNE! It's crazy. So I guess they're not going to dry out anytime soon.

Some of them are HUGE. And some are small. The ones I thought didn't do anything at all actually did produce nice little onions. What to do with all these onions?

Loris made a frittata for dinner a couple nights ago, which was delicious. And last night I made onion soup, using a recipe I more or less made up after browsing a few cookbooks and looking online to get some ideas. It was divine. Here's the recipe.

2.5 large onions (or more smaller ones)
Olive oil and butter
Marsala wine (dry)
Turkey stock (or some other stock - I used some concentrated frozen stock from my Thanksgiving turkey, about 1/2 cup or so)
Broth (around 4 cups - I used Knorr's veggie boullion)
Bay leaves

Slice the onions thinly. Put some butter and olive oil into a medium pot over medium-low heat, and wait for it to get hot and the butter to melt. Add the sliced onions and saute for at least 45 minutes, adjusting the heat so that they are cooking slowly (with my electric stove, I have to start with higher heat, and then lower it once everything heats up). Stir often, keeping an eye so that the onion gets soft and carmelizes, but doesn't brown. If it seems a bit dry, add more olive oil and/or butter.

Add the concentrated stock and a good helping of marsala wine, enough to make a sort of sauce, and let cook another 10 minutes. Then add the broth and bay leaves, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for another 20-30 minutes or longer (probably less is ok too).

Take out the bay leaves, and serve.

This can probably be served with a dusting of parmesan cheese, or traditional-style with a toasted slice of bread and some melted cheese.

Garden update - shallots, bermuda grass, new plants

I picked the shallots on Saturday, May 30. While a few were mushy, most of them were nice and firm. I feel really lucky about that ... whew! I'm either going to braid them (which doesn't seem as straightforward as braiding garlic), or I'll just do what I did last year and let them dry in some mesh bags hanging in the closet.

I finally had it with the bermuda grass (which I lamented last week). I spent hours on Monday and Tuesday after work digging the stuff out, even around the tomato plants as carefully as I could. It was back-breaking work, but I think I got about 90-95% of it, and I'm determined to start catching it again as soon as I see it. I might even pull out my parsley so I can get rid of what's hiding in there, and then start over.

The only problem is my neighbor, who has tons of bermuda grass in the corner right by the common border we share. I can't do anything about that, but I'm considering buying a big piece of plywood or something similar (and cheap), digging a trench (oh my poor back), and planting that thing in there. I figure one foot below ground and one foot above should stop that grass from coming over. It might come around, but at least I'll limit my vulnerability.

And last - I've planted some more stuff! New plants include two types of melon (ambrosia melon and a variety of Israeli melon - maybe Ogen?), butternut squash, yellow patty pan squash, my zucchini genovese that I grew from seed (2), two black beauty eggplants, and two rosa bianca eggplants. I'm pretty much done with my summer planting, yay!

Oh yeah, and after all that digging and weeding and planting, I did some mulching. I'm essentially mulching only the area around and between the winter squash and melons, since it won't be watered, will supress weeds (I hope) and provide a nice place for the melons and squash to hang out while they grow on their vines.

Here's my garden diagram:

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Potato leek cauliflower soup

I made up this soup the other night because I wanted to make cauliflower soup. I wanted to use potatoes to make it thicker and creamier, and I usually use an onion family member in my base. That sounded a bit like potato leek soup, and honestly, I couldn't think of a better addition to potato leek soup than cauliflower.

This is a really simple recipe which makes a thick, creamy, rich soup.

Leeks (quite a few small ones or a couple big ones - you want at least a cup sliced)
Potatoes (I think I used about 4 medium-sized potatoes)
Cauliflower (I used most of a head)
Butter
Broth
Bay leaves

Slice the leeks legnth-wise and rinse them under running water, being sure to get all the dirt from between the layers. Then thinly slice them width-wise. Melt some butter in a medium stock pot and saute the leeks over low heat until soft.

In the meantime, peel and dice potatoes, and wash and chop cauliflower or separate into florets. Add the potatoes to the leeks and let cook a few minutes. Add the cauliflower and cover all ingredients with broth. Add 3-5 bay leaves.

Raise the heat so the soup is at a simmer. Cook for at least 20-30 minutes, checking to see when the poatoes and cauliflower become very soft. If in doubt, overcook.

Fish out the bay leaves, then puree soup using a submersion blender or a food processor. If it's too think, thin with more broth.

Serve with a swirl of olive oil and some croutons. Enjoy!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Overrun by weeds

I'm struggling with the weeds this year, more than ever before, it seems. Bermuda grass, in particular, is a scourge I wish I could eliminate entirely from the garden. It's driving me nuts, and I don't think I'll be able to dig it out this summer for fear of damaging the roots of my tomatoes. I might settle with getting out as much as possible, then putting down a nice layer of mulch. If only I can figure out what kind of mulch to use.

I still have to plant zucchini, eggplant, winter squash, and melon. I'm hoping to do it tomorrow, after a big session of weeding and mulching.

I finally built my little tomato watering system, although I'm not sure how great it works. I did get a T-joint, found my old tubing and cut it in half, and ran a line into each channel. It seems to water a little slowly - to get a good deep watering, I think I'll have to let it run several hours, which isn't always possible. The tomato plants are looking fantastic, though - some already have some small green tomatoes! I'm busy pruning and staking and tying the vines, and Loris even said that they don't look completely out of control yet, which is always a good thing =)

Everything else is doing great:

1.We've picked most of the lettuce because of the hot temps.
2. The peas didn't produce because I planted them too late.
3. The peppers are mostly doing extremely well, except one or two that didn't pull through the heat.
4. The green beans look fantastic.
5. Radishes are almost done, and the flavor is getting too strong because of the heat.
6. Carrots are coming along well, and I'm harvesting regularly, although a few have developed hard, woody centers.
7. The leeks mostly went to seed, so I pulled them and will make do with the edible parts.
8. Spinach bolted - I have no luck with spinach.
9. The basil suffered from the heat, but is now rallying well.
10. Ditto for the cukes - I might replace one of them.
11. Onions - yum! They're still not really drying out, and a few have put up seed stalks, but we picked one and are slowly eating it fresh in salads.
12. Garlic - looks good, but I haven't dug it up yet to see. It's probably ready any day now.

One exception - shallots. I pulled a few, and the bulbs were all mushy. Not sure what's wrong, but it makes me very sad. =(

Next time: Decisions on mulch, garden update, and hopefully some pics

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Tomatoes

Over the month of April, I gradually planted my tomato seedlings. They're in a sort of weird two-and-a-half row area that I'm still trying to work out a watering system for. You can see where they fit in the garden in my garden plan.

The varieties I have are:

1 x Juliet
1 x Cherokee purple
1 x Valencia
1 x Big rainbow
1 x Pineapple (yellow)
1 x Lillian's yellow heirloom
1 x Amana orange
1 x White Tomesol
4 x Italian super paste
6 x Brandywine
12 x Roma

Total: 30 tomato plants, with a wide variety for making plain sauce, fancy heirloom sauce, and some just for eating raw. Yum.

All heirlooms will be staked individually. Romas have stakes placed every three plants, and I'll tie string between the stakes to support them. I'll also prune them less aggressively, since they are a determinate variety.

The issue I'm having is that with my tomatoes in three side by side rows, with two channels, it's hard to water them together, even with the channels being connected. I've been using two hoses, but with rising temperature in the summer, other gardeners will need to use their hoses more often and I don't want to be using them more than I should.

Right now I'm trying to figure out a way to essentially make a "hose splitter". I was considering doing it with some tubing and a T-joint. I was also considering doing the same thing, but keeping the two resulting mini-hoses a bit longer and punching holes in them, so I can run them in the bottom of the channels and water a bit more evenly and hopefully prevent erosion. I'll probably experiment a bit and see what happens.

So far, despite a few plants being slightly droopy-looking at the beginning, everything is looking fantastic.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Zucchini

I have been wanting to plant a certain light green variety of zucchini that my father-in-law grows, and I while I haven't been able to find it anywhere, I finally found the seeds two weeks ago at the Ferry Building Marketplace in San Francisco. Actually, I'm still not sure it's the right variety, but I guess we'll see when the little guys start producing!

The variety is called zucchini genovese. I planted 6 seeds in a little starter container around May 3, and I think I saw them come up around May 9 or so. I'm about ready to transplant them into their own containers for another week or two to see how they do, and I'm guessing they'll be ready for the garden by June.

I'm not keeping them all for myself. My sister's getting one, and my friends with a garden are getting a couple, too. I think I'm going to plant 1-3, but I'm not sure yet - we'll see!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

New garden plan

Loris decided that the tomatoes should all be together to make it easier to water them. So I'm carving out part of a path to become more tomato-growing space, making the path narrower, and having it shift slightly into the next bed. I think it will work fine, but let me say, digging up some ground that I've been walking on for the last several years is tough! The weeds have deep roots in this section, which also makes it hard, but will hopefully help get rid of some of them.

My body is aching from the amount of digging and tilling and mixing of compost that I've done recently. And when I'm done, I'll have to really do some weeding, especially if we're getting the rain they're predicting for this weekend. Still, the end is in sight - the garden will be planted and weeded in the next couple weeks and then I can't wait for the first summer veggies!

Here's the newest garden plan:


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Summer's ... not quite here yet

Brrr, it's cold! Where did summer go? After biking to the train station last week in capris, sandals, and short sleeves, I'm back to long pants, socks, a jacket and gloves. It'll warm up again by next week (I hope!), but until then, we seem to be back to spring instead of early summer. I'm a little concerned for the seedlings I bought last weekend which need to be protected from these cold nights.

The garden has undergone a major transformation in the last week. Loris and I (but mostly Loris) put up a chicken-wire fence. We bought 3 rolls of 25-feet long, 3-feet high shicken wire and some poles and erected a somewhat flimsy fence around the garden. It didn't quite reach because the edges were so ragged that we lost about 6 inches to a foot off each end of all three segments, so I had to make up the difference with some different chicken wire and poles, which were harder to put up.

But! Now we have a garden fence. With a doorway. It's not really going to keep anyone out who really wants to get in, but hopefully it will keep out errant dogs, trash, and people who think my garden is abandoned and they can help themselves to my veggies or supplies without any guilt. Now, hopefully, they'll feel guilt.

Really, though, the important thing is the veggies. I planted most of the tomatoes yesterday, probably too close together. I put eggshells and compost in each hole, then buried the tomato plant fairly deep at the edge of the usual trough I dug in the center to hold water. Each tomato plant gets its own stake, with the exception of the romas which will be held up by string tied between stakes placed every three plants.

I didn't have enough space for all the tomatoes. I only managed to fit 24 into a space where I was hoping to fit 30, and they're still really tight. I'm reformulating my garden plan right now. It's tough. I have 12 romas, 6 brandywine, 4 super Italian pastes, one Juliet, one Cherokee purple, and 3 yellow/orange varieties. I want to get three more yellow/orange varieties (or maybe 2 plus one more purple or other heirloom), for a total of 6 more plants to find space for.

I finally pulled out all the chard(it was going to seed), turnips (Loris is thrilled), and fennel (we ate it all last week, yum). I have basil and peppers ready to plant, if not for the stupid cold weather. I also have some green beans that will get into the ground today. I need to get more, though.

This year, I'm planting two hot peppers for my sweetie - the same Anaheim pepper I planted last year, and a Cayenne pepper. Otherwise, I also have red and yellow bell peppers, and hopefully I'll find some orange ones.

And that's it! Photos and updates to come.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Summer's coming

It's getting really warm around here, although temps are supposed to go back down at the end of the week. Today is going to be a whopping 95 degrees, though! Not bad for mid-April.

I've been busy in the garden. I picked all the fava beans and removed the plants, since they were really infested with ... aphids? Something, I'm not sure what. I didn’t want them to spread to new spring veggies. I’ll probably pull all the turnips now, too, since they’ve gone to seed. The fennel is getting big, so we’ve been picking it and adding it to pasta sauces, or just eating it on its own. One night, I’ll make roasted fennel with oil and balsamic vinegar.

I definitely planted the peas too late, so I’m not expecting much from them. The last of the cabbages have been picked, and I’m working on preparing the center garden bed for tomatoes, which will hopefully go in by the end of the week. I’m not ready for all this!

Goals for today include:

Water and weed
Pull turnips
Finish preparing tomato bed
Prepare and plant bed of green beans?
Add on to the watering system so green beans can get watered

Add to that the fact that I was hoping to make fava bean risotto and roasted fennel for dinner – well, we’ll see if there’s time for any or all of that!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Laundry

I am not a huge fan of IKEA, despite recently buying quite a lot of furniture there. I don't have any good excuses, although I did research ahead of time to make sure I was buying furniture that was made out of real wood rather than some weird, cheap material. And actually, I'm very happy with what I bought - it's sturdy, looks very nice, and seems like it will last me for quite a while.

I did get one thing that I am now in love with, though. Take a look:
This thing is fabulous. I can fit an entire load of laundry on it, indoors or out. I started drying my clothes outside on a clothesline two summers ago, but I've always had to use the dryer in the winter. Now, I've gone completely dryer-free. In the summer, in combination with my clothesline, I'll be able to easily dry 2-3 loads at a time.

My only real complaint is that it does take up quite a bit of space when in use, which is more of a problem in the winter when it has to stay inside. Small price to pay, though! I think it's already paid for itself.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Rain, rain, go away

It's California. It's not supposed to rain in April.

The rain has me a little down, even though I know it's really good for the garden. I'm expecting that this will probably be the last rain we have this year, although you never know - for a few more weeks, anyway, there's always still a chance of rain.

It's still not quite warm enough to plant tomatoes, but I'm hoping to do it towards the end of the month. That's the big crop I'm excited about this year. I'll probably do around 24 sauce tomatoes (12 romas, 12 heirlooms?), and at least 6 heirloom plants for salads and other things. Maybe another watermelon beefsteak!

Sitting here, on a gray, rainy day, it's really nice to think about the sunshine, warmth, and beautiful colorful tomatoes we'll be eating in just a few months.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Yum

We are so fortunate to be able to spend money on good, local food. We have a fantastic network of sources in Davis, including our very own community garden plot from which we get the majority of our vegetables. Add to that the Farmer's Market and an expanding, full-service Food Co-op, and I pretty much don't ever set foot in a standard grocery store or have to buy over-processed food from a mega-mart. Trust me, I do count my blessings and consider myself to be very lucky.

Last night, we invited our long-suffering realtor over for dinner and created a mouth-watering feast. I'm so proud of how it turned out, although unfortunately I didn't take pictures. But I thought I'd run down the dishes and the sources of my ingredients, even if it's just so I can remember what a good job Loris and I did.

Bread: I made focaccia and French bread with ingredients from the bulk aisle at the Co-op

Appetizers:

Giardiniera - home-canned pickled vegetables (mostly grown by us, supplemented with local stuff) in tomato sauce

Bruschetta - home-made bread with toppings from our trip to Italy

Prawns - from the Farmer's market served with homemade mayonnaise from my coworker's eggs and lemons from a friend's tree

Stuffed scallops - from the Farmer's Market, stuffed with basil and garlic from our garden (plus local oil, and salt and pepper)

First course:

Home-made tagliatelle pasta with leeks from our garden and butter

Second course:

Local, grass-fed pork from the Farmer's Market cooked in a red wine sauce
Asparagus from the Farmer's Market with butter and Parmesan cheese we brought with us from Italy

Dessert:

Home-made vanilla ice cream, made with local organic milk from Straus Family Creamery
Hazelnut cookies made with a friend's hazelnuts (not sure where they came from), filled with nutella (from my husband's hometown in Italy, although we bought it here) and mascarpone (I should check to see where this comes from)


Things that I'm not sure if they were local or not: Various baking ingredients (like flour, potato starch, and sugar), salt and pepper, butter, vinegar

Things that I know were not local: Some of the olive oil, probably the mascarpone, nutella, wine for the wine sauce

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Quick ketchup fix

I've posted about making ketchup previously. Recently we ran out of our homemade ketchup, which I made two summers ago with tomatoes from my garden. We had enough for about a year and a half, but lately we've made do with store-bought ketchup.

Today I'm at home all afternoon. My sister's bringing some frozen french fries over for dinner, and my husband was lamenting that the homemade ketchup is gone. Well, hang on a sec! We have cans of crushed tomatoes in the cupboard. I have several hours - I can make a mini-batch of ketchup!

And so, my friends, can you. It's easy, requires almost no work whatsoever, and since it's a small batch, if you eat it quickly there's no canning or anything else involved.

Small-batch ketchup

28 oz can of crushed tomatoes (without basil) or PLAIN tomato sauce
1/3 cup vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
1 whole clove
pinch of salt

Put on stove and bring to a very slow boil. Stir occasionally. It's done when it's as thick as you like it, about 2-3 hours.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

My finished mosaic



See previous pictures here.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Spring chicken


... or eggs.

I just found out that one of my coworkers lives on 5 acres and has chickens. She sells her eggs to coworkers, and I got to buy one of her first batches last week. They were absolutely beautiful, brown, white and green, and super-fresh.

We made them into a local dinner. Loris cooked up a frittata with parsley from our garden, I made some cole slaw with home-grown cabbage, and we ate them with home-made pretzels. So yummy!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Grateful Post #3

Today is a beautiful day, and it's Thursday, which means the week is more than halfway over. Even though I am enjoying the beautiful blue sky outside my window and feeling happy to be alive, I feel the need for some grace. Something just doesn't feel quite right. So I am offering up these heartfelt feelings of gratefulness today.

1. I'm grateful for sore muscles that mean I am getting stronger. I love being mildly sore the day after working out - I feel like it's an almost instantaneous reminder that I've done something to make myself healthier.

2. My garden provides me with exercise, food, beauty, and a little slice of nature that is all my own, right in the middle of a community of people who more or less feel the same way I do. My husband knows even better than I do - when I'm in a bad mood, he always suggests I go out to the garden. What a smart guy.

3. There is a little tea shop in town, a relatively reasonable walking distance from my office, and I sometimes stop by when I have to go to our other building for a meeting. The last time I went, I found a packet of chocolate hazelnut tea. How brilliant! I don't know who thought of that particular flavor for tea, but it's delicious.

4. Spring comes relatively early where I live - while this isn't so great for planting things like peas, it is great for flowers. When I got back from Italy a few weeks ago, the trees were already in bloom, like they were welcoming me home. The flower bulbs I planted in the yard two years ago are blooming, tiny little white-blue flowers like little stars in the grass. I will miss my flowers if and when I move.

5. I love growing my own food, but just as much I love preserving it, for a variety of reasons. I love opening my cupboards and seeing rows of beautiful colors in clear glass jars - ruby red strawberry jam, golden yellow peaches, green pickles and zucchini, bright red tomato sauce and tomato juice. I like knowing that I was self-sufficient, that I planned ahead, and that I followed in the footsteps of so many women who came before me. And I especially love how it all tastes.

OK, I feel better now.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Spring plantings

My garden is in pretty good shape for the spring/summer. I have finally finished the bulk of my weeding, and I planted French breakfast radishes, several rows of carrots, and three varieties of beets – Chioggia beets, early wonder beets, and an heirloom mix (which includes Chioggia).

I also planted peas, even though I think it’s way too late for them unless the weather stays unseasonably cool for a while (I highly doubt it). Well, it’s worth a shot.

Here is a new diagram of the garden, with what I’m planning to put in around the edges.

Starting to dream of summer tomatoes!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cabbage soup

One problem with cabbage is that it generally all matures around the same time, and sometimes the heads can be quite big. So for several weeks (or months, depending on how much I plant), I often find myself trying to be creative in using up my cabbage.

I'm hoping to try making some sort of vegetarian stuffed cabbage sometime soon, but until then, I needed something simpler for the gigantic cabbage I've had in my fridge for about a week now. Loris usually slices cabbage very thin and cooks it on the stove with garlic or onions and plenty of vinegar, which is delicious, but I don't think I can eat that every week (or more than once a week!).

So yesterday I made some cabbage soup. It's actually Rustic Cabbage soup, with potatoes and beans, and you can find the recipe here. I was a little nervous about the flavor but I needn't have worried. It was delicious. Definitely add some parmesan cheese when you serve it, although it's very good without it as well. For just the two of us, we had a hearty meal last night (along with a salad and bread), enough for lunch today, and there's still a bit leftover.

The problem? There's still half of a cabbage in my fridge!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Grateful Post #2

Things I am grateful for this Monday, which is a day on which I am generally not a grateful person.

1. Fish from the farmer's market in Davis (and a husband who can clean it and cook it into a delicious meal).

2. New furniture that makes me feel like I have a new house. Having comfy chairs in our living room will hopefully turn out to be a good thing. All the new furniture also kept me busy all weekend, and got me to organize something like 75% of my apartment. Awesome.

3. Repurposing my old TV stand into a printer stand, which I've been wanting to get our home office organized. I'm brilliant. I had some black paint leftover from my sister's Christmas gift that I used to touch up the chips and it looks great. And the new TV cabinet is big enough for our living room computer to fit inside, and has glass doors which should cut down on dust.

4. A cat who can't decide which piece of new furniture she likes best, so she has to keep doing the circuit and trying them all, over and over again. It's so cute.

5. It's almost spring! I can't wait to start wearing sandals!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Grateful Post #1

I picked up this idea from another blog, which referenced the amazing story of world-class violinist Joshua Bell playing in the Washington DC subway, and very few people stopping to listen (I can't link right now b/c the site is down). The point was that most people, in their harried, day-to-day lives, don’t stop to notice and appreciate what is around them. This project is a way to try to force oneself to stop and smell the roses – and be grateful for them! I especially have a problem with this, so trying to do this as much as I can will be a way to connect to the beautiful world around me and stamp out pessimism and negativity in my life. It's called Grace in Small Things (or in my case, sometimes, big things).

My first list of five things is here:

1. Potato-leek soup! It’s SO delicious, simple, and healthy. I just had a big bowl of leftovers for lunch. Even better, I didn’t have to make it myself! (thanks Candace!)

2. My swimming pool. Now that the weather is warming up, I will appreciate this greatly. Since I don’t think I’ll be moving out of this apartment any time soon, I have to say that the primary thing I am grateful about staying for is the swimming pool.

3. Green hills. Northern California is gorgeous in the spring. I went biking in Healdsburg for my friend’s bachelorette party last weekend, and the dormant, gnarled grapevines were set off against a brilliant background of green grass and colorful wildflowers, including plenty of bright yellow mustard.

4. My bicycle. I’m actually not riding it today, but I am so thankful for my bicycle (as I believe I’ve written about before). It was a surprise Christmas gift from my wonderful husband (who probably deserves a gratefulness post all of his own) after my old bike was stolen. It is one of the best gifts I have ever received, because it is fun, beautiful, and I use it almost every day. I commute to work and sometimes around town with it. I take it for joy rides on the weekends, ride around to wineries with friends on it, train and exercise on it, and compete on it in triathlons.

5. Friends. I have not spent a single night this week without friends, and tonight will not be an exception. For this, I am extremely grateful.

6. Can I add a number 6? The music from the more recent version of Little Women with Winona Ryder. It is SO beautiful, and I don't mind at all when it gets stuck in my head. I chose the hymn from the wedding in the movie for my own wedding, too, so thinking of that music always reminds me of my wedding day.

Life in general

I've finally started exercising again! Yay! It's been pretty tough to get into a schedule, especially since my life has been so crazy and busy lately, and I have a lot of backlog to catch up on regarding bills, taxes, cleaning, organizing, gardening, and so on. Trying to simplify seems almost impossible, but I’m sure I’ll get there soon.

I’m really happy that spring is around the corner and it will be time to get outside in short sleeves and sandals, enjoy the weather, spend time in my garden, and visit the green hillsides of California before they turn brown for the summer.

I have a lot to write about the garden, including some experiments and projects I want to try. I’m thinking about taking up a friend’s offer to plant some potatoes at his garden, since I don’t really have enough space. I’m hoping to start a slightly more serious triathlon training program and pick a couple races to train for. Since we can’t seem to find a nice house to live in, I’m hoping to make my apartment feel more like a home. I’m hoping to get more involved in my community, although I don’t know how I will find the time.

Spring is the time for rebirth, so I’m hoping to get started on all the projects soon! And most of all – I’m hoping to have the time to keep writing about them here.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Rain pants schmain pants

I really love being self-sufficient and living a car-free lifestyle. We've had rain for the last few days and I just can't bring myself to wake up my poor husband at 6:45 am to drive me to the train station.

Yesterday, I just got soaked - I really didn't realize how hard it was raining. Not that hard, actually, but riding for two miles I still got quite wet. Luckily I had packed an extra pair of pants, and made a mental note to buy a pair of rain pants.

Today it was raining again, and it suddenly occurred to me that I already have pants that are more or less water-proof (or water resistant) - my ski pants! They're not downhill ski pants, they're more like a stretchy water-resistant shell under which I normally wear long underwear. But for biking to the train, they're perfectly sufficient by themselves!

Of course, the train was 20 minutes late when I checked, and getting later by the minute, which foiled my plan. So I biked to the bus instead. And didn't totally embarrass myself by not being able to use the bike rack this time, too.

Ingenuity wins again!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Stuff never stops

Life around here has been interesting lately. Mostly I’m trying to just catch my breath and let things settle down after the holidays. Because things are still crazy, even though Christmas passed us by more than a month ago.

We live in a nice apartment, with a decent amount of closet space, and yet if we bring anything new into the house, we have a hard time finding space for it.

Our bedroom is the only room that I can justify, and it’s still not great. I have a lot of stuff in my closet that I never use, not to mention stacks of reading materials by the bed. What’s worse is that our closets have now become home to some of our sporting equipment, because … well, we just have a lot of sporting equipment.

The three closets in our hallway are stuffed. Two contain a lot of useful household stuff, like toilet paper, light bulbs, sheets, towels, candles, tools, etc. But the big one? That has a lot of stuff I should probably get rid of. Tons of yarn I want to make into a blanket (or two or three), my trombone that I never play anymore, gift-wrapping supplies even though I almost never wrap gifts, crafting supplies. Sure there are some useful things, like one entire shelf of blankets, much of our canned food supply, and suitcases.

The office – don’t even get me started. My cedar chest is full of stuff from my past. High school, college, my baby stuff, stuffed animals, stuff from my wedding. Bookshelves are full of old law books that I never use and probably will never look at. An armoire full of paper – mostly useless books, high school yearbooks, files for the work I do for my husband’s company, computer paper, photo paper, a drawer full of pictures that need to be organized, and two drawers of random computer stuff (cables, mice, keyboards, blank CDs, power cords, and I have no idea what else). And the closet in there – well, our chest freezer is responsible for taking up a lot of space, plus the skis, biking stuff, rock climbing stuff, a box of winter clothing, and the majority of the rest of our sports gear.

The worst part is our storage closet in the carport – that’s the worst and I absolutely dread clearing it out.

How do I even start getting rid of this stuff? And more importantly, what do I do with it? Who will want 6-9-year-old law books (and has it really been that long since I was in school)? What about all those leftover champagne glasses from our wedding (with our names on them)?

Help! I’m drowning in stuff.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Roasted pepper and goat cheese appetizer

Twice in the past week I've made a roasted pepper appetizer. It's really quite simple, I got the basic recipe from my Williams Sonoma Entertaining book. You either buy roasted peppers, or roast and peel them yourself (quite easy to do).

The filling is essentially herbed goat cheese. The recipe calls for mixing in fresh herbs yourself, but I just bought herbed goat cheese. The first time, I used the cheese straight from the package, but it was pretty hard to spread, and the peppers can be kind of delicate. So the second time, I mixed in a little cream cheese and then enough milk to soften the mixture and make it spreadable.

Spread a thin layer of the cheese mixture on the peppers, and roll them up into logs. Refrigerate for about 4 hours (or however long you have), then slice them into bite-sized pieces.

Loris personalized them by adding a drizzle of olive oil and some fresh-cracked pepper, which was divine. I just ate the leftovers for lunch =)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

VERY late Christmas presents

I have so much to write about and never enough time or motivation to do it.

But I wanted to write a quick note about the Christmas gift I finished for my husband last night. I know, I know, it's a bit late but hey! It's not a MONTH late. Barely.

Anyway, I wanted to make him a tray because in the summer we eat outside and it takes forever to carry everything in and out of the house before and after meals. I saw a beautiful sunflower tile tray, but it was expensive, and I thought, I can make something as cool as that! No problem!

Well, I did get knocked down off my high horse by this project - it was tough. The first problem was to actually construct the tray. I decided to tile it using tile samples from my sister's office which would otherwise be thrown away (hooray for reusing perfectly good materials!). So I would need a solid base able to withstand some heavy tile and grout, and I would have to figure out a way to frame it and add handles.

I figured out my tile design, laid it out, and measured, so I knew how big the decorative surface had to be. Then I had to figure out the frame. This was hard. I wanted not only for the sides to be high enough to frame the tile, but also to form a bit of a lip to keep errant dishes and such from sliding off while being carried. A simple corner molding wasn’t tall enough – after tiling and grouting it would be flush with the tile rather than forming a lip. I ended up deciding on a bigger corner molding that would create a lip, and bought a long, skinny piece of wood and cut it down to act as a filler between the base and the molding, to create the height for the lip. That took some serious calculations, especially as my sister and I were deciding how to construct this “on the fly” at the hardware store.

Since my dad’s tools are rusty and under mounds of crap in my mom’s garage, I had to cut the molding with my trusty hand saw and miter box. THAT was a royal pain – I’ve never used it to cut molding, which I wanted to line up perfectly at the corners to form a frame. Luckily, everything fit beautifully, and in a relatively short time, I had glued the filler and the frame together around my base. Whew!

Next, I had to attach some handles. I bought some cabinet handles that I really liked, only to realize that they were a bit small to comfortably carry a heavy tray with a heavy load – and that was for my hands. It would probably be even harder for a man. Finding large enough, stylish handles was a neat trick, and it was expensive. Drilling holes through my frame in exactly the right spot was an even harder trick, which took me several days of attempts, several moments of almost-swearing, and one episode of me nearly crying. I won’t go into details. Let’s just say it was really difficult.

Finally, I glued down the tile. I didn’t actually mosaic it – just picked a random pattern of colored tile with two large terra cotta stripes, and I also didn’t realize that it would be so hard to line up the square tiles so that they were all even. I didn’t worry about it too much, and in fact you can see that they’re not in perfectly straight lines, but I think that just adds to the charm. It looks handmade.

Last night I grouted it. I got some grout on the frame, so I’ll have to lightly sand it, but it’s DONE. HOLY COW!

Pictures to come. I hope.

Whoops, did I say "quick note?"

Monday, January 12, 2009

Beautiful San Diego Sunshine

I just got back from a conference in San Diego, where I had to present a session in front of about 120 people. I did a great job of not stressing, and everything went really well. The best part about the conference was a few nights of good sleep (sorry to my kitty, but sleeping on me is going to have to stop!) and a few mornings of running in fantastic weather along the San Diego Bay.

All the running was inspiring me to start getting in shape for 2009. I may start riding my bike to work again, once a week or so. I hope to make a running date with a friend once or twice a week in the evenings after work. My husband and I will (hopefully) start rock climbing once or twice a week again, and running stairs once a week. And on the weekends, we’ll continue to go ski mountaineering.

My hope for this year is to do at least one of the following (if not more – listed mostly in order of likelihood) : 1) run a half-marathon; 2) compete in at least one Olympic distance triathlon ; 3) compete and place in a sprint distance triathlon; 4) run a marathon – probably the California International Marathon in December; 5) consider a Half Ironman.

In the meantime, I also want to improve my health by eating more nutritiously. After 4 days of eating out, conference food, and heavy hotel breakfasts, I’m really appreciating coming home to my organic vegetable garden. We’ve been feasting on broccoli, cauliflower, fennel, and turnips. The lettuce has gone into hibernation, but already I can see promise for fava beans, spring peas, onions, and carrots.

After a fall and winter of slacking off and eating a lot of junk food, it’s time to get serious about being healthy. I’m looking forward to it.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Mosaic

Finally! Pictures of my mosaic.

After the first phase - the tree is finished, and I've started on the background:



In this one, the tiling is done, and I only have to grout it. I'll have a picture with the grout soon.



And here is the awesome mosaic bowl I made for my sister for Christmas. The moon is a large bead made of - mother of pearl? The stars are small, clear beads. The mountains are grey and pale purple, with snowy caps.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Winter

Went to the garden today for the first time in a while. The poor peppers that are left are looking pretty sad, but overall the garden looks good. I picked a head of broccoli and a head of cauliflower, both of which had been out there too long, a fennel bulb, and 5 or 6 huge turnips. I'm going to make cauliflower soup tonight. Yum!

My sweetheart husband bought me a composter for Christmas. We set it up in the house, and the cat quickly decided it was her new home. I think she was pretty disappointed when I moved it outside, and I've already started filling it up with onion skins, cauliflower and turnip leaves.