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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Fashion Statement We Can All Live Without


If there is anything to which I can attest, it is that wisdom does not come with age; wisdom comes with experience.  What comes with age is a colonoscopy and it is an inevitable event that you can put off for only so long. Eventually, like time and tide, and the weeds in the garden, its time will arrive and you will have to deal with it.  I don't know about you, but even if it is Ozzy's secret fantasy to fly to New York and have a colonoscopy, it's not mine, not even for the trip to New York.  That would be a new kind of plane-ride-hell; can you imagine trying to get to an empty head as you're yelling, "Outta my way! I'm prepping for a colonoscopy!"

Life can be cruel sometimes.  One minute you're pulling an itchy training bra back down over your pubescent breasts because you're still really a kid and you've been hanging upside down on the jungle gym at school, and the next thing you know you're in the bathroom in the fourth iteration of your reading glasses pulling what appear to be colossal man-hairs out of your nasal septum in a magnifying mirror while silently cursing your husband for letting you go out in public with a mustache any twelve-year old boy would be proud not to shave.  And while it's true that the other side of the equation is that some men appear to grow boobs as they get older (aside from the fact that a few of them are boobs), I find this a small consolation.  It doesn't make up for the fact that I'm growing hair where I don't want it, like in and under my nose, and losing hair where I want to keep it, like on my head. And learning that the same percentage of women lose their hair as men do (roughly fifty percent- who knew?) doesn't make me feel any better, either.  I can't really say I see myself as the turban-and-caftan type.  Battle-axe-in-the-cadillac is not a secret aspiration of mine.

Something else I'm not too sure about is the idea of perfect strangers poking about in my nether regions, and I mean poking about literally. In my nether regions.  My mother informs me that it's not as bad as all that; what is truly awful is the stuff you have to drink to get ready for it.  She told the doctor that if the next colonoscopy isn't for another ten years, she thinks she might just rather be dead than do that again.

But the alternative is, and I have to keep reminding myself this, that if you are going to continue to live, wouldn't you really rather do it without a colostomy bag?

I mean, even if you could hide it in your caftan?

The answer is yes: I would rather continue to live without said colostomy bag, so yeah; I'm gonna go get my pooper scoped. The 29th of June.  If you're fifty or over, and you haven't done it yet, you should really consider getting yours scheduled too.

Because you probably don't look any better in a caftan than I do.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Gravlax

I kept forgetting the gift salmon in the freezer two weeks in a row and finally got around to making it this past week.  We had it with bagels and cream cheese (actually, it was neufchatel) and capers and chopped shallots.  Not exactly the thing on which one typically eats gravlax, but let's face it: bagels and preserved salmon just go together.

It was spectacularly good.

The recipe used fennel instead of dill, because the author didn't happen to have fresh dill in the garden.  I used tarragon, which is kind of anise-y like fennel, because I didn't have fennel or dill but I had tarragon and it worked well.

I had to wing it, though, because where she was pickling two and a half pounds- I'd only cut off maybe six ounces to play with, so I really had to scale back the salt and sugar.

So for 6-8 ounces or so of fresh salmon, I mixed two teaspoons of pickling salt and two teaspoons of sugar.  I sprinkled half the salt/sugar mixture and half the chopped fresh tarragon on a large piece of plastic wrap.  Then I laid the fish over that and distributed the rest of the salt mixture and tarragon over the fish and then wrapped it up tightly.  It went on to a platter, and then I placed a dish on that to weight it slightly.  I turned it every twelve hours (okay, Steve turned it every twelve hours) for four days.  Then to serve it, I just rinsed it and sliced it really thin.

I want to get my hands on another fresh piece of salmon so I can do it again.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Homesteading Update, 13 April 2012

The weather has been gorgeous of late and my back is paying for it.  Maybe I ought to slip myself a few ibuprofen with my wine, although I understand that ibuprofen is hard on your liver.  So is wine, but guess what I'd give up first.

Last weekend I told you all about my Red Pig tools and that I'd report on them after some use.  They are pretty awesome.  The crow's foot is great for weeding out grass rhizomes and raking a fine seed bed in a small space; it is far, far superior to the three-pronged cultivator that will shortly be finding a home in the Goodwill box.  Steve tried the Cape Cod weeder last weekend for its intended purpose but found that it was clumping the wet ground, which was obviously too wet to be worked. However, I found it to be the bomb for digging up onions; it loosened the ground around them easily and I was able to pull them out more successfully, so I still like this tool and can't wait to try it on other root vegetables.  I imagine it will do its intended job just fine in dryer ground.  I can't report on the fulcrum weeder because I haven't used it yet. I can report on the Hole About and boy, do I love this tool.  To the right are pictures of the Hole About, and the last one shows why I bought it.

It does a great job standing in as a trowel when I need one but it really shines at digging small holes. Which sounds, odd, I know, but sometimes you need to dig a really small hole.  It is super sturdy and I am not worried in the least about bending it.  I also think that I'll be using it for many years.  I would hazard the guess that if you were looking for a truly awesome gift for a gardening buddy, you would do well to get them some Red Pig garden tools.  I would also not waste any time; the guy who makes them is a retired tool designer for Corona, and he is not getting any younger. He's incredibly knowledgeable about tools.  Well, I'm getting ahead of my story.

Last weekend when I bought these things, the deal was that if you spent over $65, you could have a free trench clean out shovel; all you had to do was drive out to Red Pig Tools in Boring, Oregon and pick it up.  So yesterday, Steve and I drove out to Boring in truly gorgeous spring weather to fetch my free shovel.  We spent about thirty minutes chatting with Bob. He told about the Abbot weeder, which oddly enough, was not used for weeding out abbots.  He makes a berry hook, which is actually a medieval tool, but it works by cutting part way through the cane with the end, and then you hook it back toward you which makes the cane fall away from you.  This is a great tool for getting rid of blackberries which seem to plague the entire state of Oregon.  Goats work really well too, but a berry hook won't eat the young orchard you just planted.

Long bed
Big bed
The rest of this weekend was spent building the new planter boxes, or beds, as I call them.   The big bed is ten by twenty and the long bed is eight by twenty-four.  That way we were working with multiples of ten feet on one bed and eight feet with the other.  We built the

long bed first, and maybe in retrospect we should have built the big bed first, because the long bed kind of looks like ass. It's not the prettiest planter box.  It also doesn't sit particularly straight in its setting.  I will say that I learned an important lesson building it- actually a couple of lessons.  We had to cut our own stakes from two by twos, and the first few (critical few, it turns out) I left with one angle cut.  It turns out that a single angle will make the stake go in screwy; stakes with two angles cut to a point will go in much straighter.  The other thing I learned was to not set your stakes so permanently until you have the bed where you want it.  So the first bed is a little wonky, but the big bed will be much better, which is actually a good thing.  Because if I manage to get it done, that will be the bed that gets the hoops for the hoop house and winter gardening.

One of the high points of the day (next to quitting and coming in for a glass of wine and a shower) was the snake that showed up.  It wasn't Goethe, because he was much bigger and he didn't have that racy orange stripe down his back.  He was moving really slowly, so slowly that he didn't startle me and I was able to calmly tell Steve that Goethe has company.  I would like to think it's Gus but Gus had very definite yellow stripes, and this guy's were harder to see, possibly because he was bigger so he was older.  They were there, just kind of muddy.  He didn't have a rattle, so I'm not worried because a rattler is the only kind of poisonous snake in Oregon, and they tend to be down in the desert areas.  But yeah!  We have two garter snakes, thanks to Rae and her gift last week.

Maybe this year I'll get a leg up on the slug and mole populations.

My dreams are pretty simple, really.




Saturday, May 5, 2012

A Great Day

Today was a great day.  My friend Rae of Blissful in the Boonies invited me to go with her and her soon-to-be mother-in-law to the Spring Garden Fair in Canby, Oregon.  Unfortunately, her STB MIL had a bad cold and couldn't come, so it was just us two.  I won't bore you with the plants I bought (mostly herbs), but I got some swell hand tools that I want to tell you about.

Just look at these! They are super solid, well riveted and welded, and comfortable.  I've never seen such a  plethora of different kinds of gardening hand tools! I was a little worried about getting in trouble when I got home because they were kind of expensive compared to the crap you find in the Big Box store, but Steve took one look at them and said, "Oh yeah- take care of those and they'll last forever."  Then he said, "well, you might have to replace the handles some day," and I said, "not if I keep them oiled I won't."  They are made by hand by Red Pig Tools in Boring, Oregon. Left to right they are the hole about, the fulcrum weeder, the crows foot cultivator, and that one on top is the Cape Cod weeder (which was bought for Steve and his hops bed)(but which doesn't preclude my borrowing it). The Cape Cod weeder comes in a right hand and left hand version. They look and feel like lifetime tools, and once I actually try them, I'll report back.

I also got us a couple garden hats (Rae bought some swell baskets).  These were ten bucks apiece and were made by hand in Ghana.  What was cool was that the girls selling them had a hand-held credit card reading device that you swiped, and then they punched up the signing line, which you accomplished with your fingertip, and then she emailed the receipt to me. No paper, no wires.  I was struck by the dichotomy of the hand-made products from the third world and the high-tech hardware and software for completing their sales transaction.

Okay, last but not least were the gifts that Rae brought from her property: some of the soap she won from Miriam at Mucky Boots Farm (which is really cool because I entered and didn't win, but this means I got to share), two dozen chicken eggs, a couple of goose eggs, and the best gift of all was this:


Meet Goethe, our new garter snake!  Isn't he pretty?  I've never seen one with yellow and orange stripes; I've only seen yellow stripes.  He was let loose immediately upon my return home, and he was quite lively even though today was a bit on the cool side.  I hope he finds the holes in the planter boxes as hospitable as Gus did.  Our new modus operandi for mowing the lawn will be to completely walk the grass (both of us) to look for Goethe and see if we can find where he is before even starting up the mower.  I sure don't want to lose such a pretty and welcome snake.  Thanks Rae!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Why Everyone Needs a Fishing Buddy

One of the boons of putting up with the miserable weather in Oregon is that if you live in Portland and you have a boat, you can catch a nice salmon right downtown.  Or in my case, you know someone who likes to fish and can actually catch them.  Downtown. As in right in front of OMSI.  That is the kind of fishing buddy for me.   Right now the chinook salmon are making their way upstream, and spring chinook are especially nice to get your hook into because they are very fatty and rich; they start their migration upstream in spring, but don't actually get around to spawning until fall, so they have a lot of fat reserves on their bodies and are silky and unctuous and just plain delish.

My favorite way to cook a large filet, especially something like salmon is to do it the way I learned from my buddy Jacques Pepin (he doesn't know we are buddies, but we are) and that is to lay it on an ovenproof platter, season it however you will (or not), cover it with foil, and cook it at 200F for 20-30 minutes depending on how thick it is.  You will get a perfectly cooked and succulent piece of fish instead of gullet-strangling, fluffy, dried out, fish-guised-as-fur-ball dinner as I used to get when baking a fish.   The other nice thing about cooking a piece of fish this way is that it leaves you ample time to knock back a cocktail before you contemplate what else will go on the plate; in this case it was a glass of Steve's apfelwein, salad, risotto (made with orzo) and home grown asparagus, in that order.

I don't know if it was the apfelwein speaking or the recent trip to my new favorite restaurant * in Portland, but it dawned on me as I stared at that gorgeous piece of fish flesh that I should cut some of it off and pickle it, gravlax style, so I did.  I didn't want a lot of gravlax, just enough for bagels on Sunday morning, so I cut maybe six to eight ounces off and wrapped it up in some freezer paper to throw it in the deep freeze for a couple of days to kill any parasites that might be present.  At least, that's what the recipe I'll loosely follow said to do; we've made several things from The Joy of Pickling and they've all been successful and delicious (pickled tongue for instance). Or at least, they smell successful; the sauerkraut is still working but it smells just right and hasn't developed a scum which I've read it can.  Linda Ziedrich's gravlax recipe calls for a lot more fish, and some fennel to stand in for the de rigueur dill, but since I'm winging it anyway, I'll probably use some of the tarragon I have coming up. Or skip the herb entirely.  I just want the gravlax for breakfast this weekend.

So tomorrow night, the rest of the salmon comes out to defrost and get layered in sugar and salt and possibly tarragon, and come Sunday we'll be toasting up bagels and slathering them with cream cheese and gravlax.

And if it doesn't work, we'll be heading to Broder for breakfast.

*check out the breakfast menu.