Search This Blog

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

I'm Sorry I Haven't Written But....

....I have house guests who have been fabulous help and I'll write all about it once they're gone, but in the meantime we are getting SO MUCH DONE! 

Seriously- everyone should have a Dave and Carl in their lives.....

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

I May Not Have A Lot To Give, But What I Got, I'll Give To...

Tonight I sent money to two organizations that I think are important to everyone, whether they realize it or not.

One is the Seed Savers Exchange, which started its life thirty-five years ago as a few people getting together to exchange open-pollinated and heirloom seeds. They have made at least two deposits that I know of in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, in Norway.  For the year 2010, they have 704 listed members, which means they are members actively offering saved seed for exchange.  I'm a member, but not a listed member, and I will probably never become a listed member, but I think the work that the Seed Savers Exchange does is important, very important, so I think they're worth supporting.

The other organization is Bat Conservation International. Now- I have to admit that I'm just silly about bats.  I seriously dig them.  Nothing makes me happier than to watch bat acrobatics at dusk.  Thanks to Hollywood, bats have been badly maligned, and a lot of people fear them or dislike them.  It's true that there is a vampire bat, but it lives in South America and it tends to feed on livestock left out all night.  Most bats are insect eaters, and they're e*x*t*r*e*m*e*l*y important to farmers and gardeners because they keep insect populations down.  If we didn't have bats, we would not have crops- they don't pollinate, like bees, but they allow crops to grow by eating the billions of insects that would strip fields bare.  Bats have been having a tough time lately, by losing habitat, but now a new malady threatens their existence.  White Nose Syndrome is a fungus that attacks bat populations by the colony and is killing them by the caveful.  Experts are very worried because they don't know what to do for them yet, but they are working on it.  White Nose Syndrome is to bats what Colony Collapse Disorder is to bees.  Putting WNS and CCD together in the same sentence is really, really scary.

I can keep bees in my backyard, but I can't do anything more than hang a bat house up and hope for the best.  Oh wait, yes I can. I can give Bat Conservation International some money.  I sure hope they figure out how to fight WNS.

I also hope that you'll consider checking these organizations out, and maybe contributing something as well.  I may not have money for public broadcasting, but I found it for the Seed Savers Exchange and Bat Conservation International.  The way I look at it is, we all gotta eat.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Still Life With Roses

The first to bloom: Courageous

Winter Garden Planning

Today I placed an order with Territorial Seed for my winter garden.  It didn't comprise everything I plan on growing because I currently have plenty lettuce, carrot, and turnip seed.  I also have cabbage seed, but not for the right kind. Oh! You want to know what I ordered? How kind of you to ask:

Improved Dwarf Siberian Kale (OP)
Melissa Savoy Cabbage (F1)
January King Cabbage (OP)
Cherry Belle Radish (OP)
Guardsman Scallion (OP)
Shimonita Scallion (OP)

Oh you saw that F1 hybrid in there? I know, but Melissa has the very best reputation for being frost and freeze resistant, and there will probably be only so much I can do to protect the cabbage this winter.  I have a good idea where I'm going to put it and the January King, but the area seriously needs hoeing and cleaning up.  And I ordered seven grams of the Cherry Belle radish seeds, because Steve loves radishes and they are a safe snack for him.  I shouldn't have tried to plant the sprouting radish seed, which is probably chosen for the vigor of the sprouts- it makes for lousy radishes and they bolt very quickly, which actually might be another reason they are used for sprouting seed.  Anyway, I've learned my lesson with the radish seed.  Only the good stuff from now on.

I didn't order the garlic and shallots at this time because I don't want them showing up during the summer.  I'll wait until closer to the end of the summer to order them.

Well, I need to get back out to the garage and start some Roma flat Italian green beans, because the slugs have chewed up most of the sprouts in the Three Sisters, which, aside from the beans, look pretty good.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Catching Up In The Garden

While today was not exactly sunny, it didn't rain either, so I was out all day in it.  I first installed wire on the new section of fence to hold up the volunteer blackberries that grow all over Oregon.  They'll get sun all day, except for late afternoon.  I will have to stay on top of them because they really are quite the invasive weed.  They are invading under the fence from the neighbor's yard, who isn't quite as aggressive as Steve is about killing them off.  They are just a weed with a nice little pay off, and as long as I keep them corralled, things will be okay.  And as long as they produce blackberries, they can stay.  But I'm not going to water them. (Although I might fertilize them for more flower, i.e., fruit production.) But no water.

I planted storage onion seedlings, which appear to have gotten a little leggy in the garage.  Really, I need to replace the one fluorescent bulb in the light fixture with another grow light.  The seedlings really didn't look so hot when I transplanted them, so only time will tell if they are going to make it.  I also transplanted a few pickling cucumbers (Parade, from the Seed Savers Exchange).  They were not happy with me.  Cucumbers really dislike being moved, but I felt like taking a chance.  Parade are supposed to be especially good for processing because they all ripen at the same time, but my silly plants didn't all grow at the same rate, so I may as well have planted any pickling cuke and had the same results.  It won't matter that much, though, because this year we have a small air conditioner so I can keep them cool enough to ferment properly. Making up small batches will hopefully be a good thing, and not a pain.

I wanted to plant some more pickling cucumber plants that I started, but I didn't get that far today.  Didn't get to sowing the warmer weather greens as well.  But I did get a picture of this:

Baby Eight Ball Zucchini

This is what comes of babying your squash plants when the weather threatens unseasonable hail, and also why I was extremely grateful that yesterday's hail in the Tualatin Valley didn't make it this far east. It would have destroyed my plants and broken my heart.  As it is, I'm hoping to be able to give my friends who are coming in from out of state next Wednesday some zucchini from the garden for dinner.  When my friend Karen and her boyfriend were here a couple of weeks ago, I was able to serve them a sorrel soup from the garden, pasta with greens from the garden, and a salad from the garden.  It wasn't fancy, but it was fresh and it was local, and fortunately, they were appreciative.  The zucchini are the first real summer vegetables; it will be weeks and weeks until I have tomatoes, eggplants, and cucumbers ready.

But these little successes make me want to try harder to get more ground under cultivation.  I have cabbage that are going to be ready in a few weeks, but I need to think about where to put more of them for this fall and winter; growing cabbage in a three-foot wide box doesn't really work.  They sure take up a lot of room!  I'm also trying to figure out where to put wheat. I'd like to try growing some, but also not in a box, obviously.  I'd like to be stuck with the problem of having to thresh, winnow, and grind homegrown wheat, because then the pasta and pizza I make would all come from the garden, with the exception of the cheese.  Since I'll never keep a goat, I'm okay with that.  And where to put a bed of strawberries?  And I'm really sorry I canceled my order of seed potatoes because it turns out potatoes don't seem to affect Steve adversely the way that wheat flour does.  I can give him potatoes with his eggs in the morning and it doesn't make him crash the way toast or biscuits would.  From what I've read, potatoes provide the most calories per acre, making them a good way to produce a lot of food.  I'll do them next year, and I'll stick to the original plan, which was to grow them in grow bags.  I just can't put them in my clay soil.

Speaking of clay, I think that one of my Italian plums is dying, and I suspect that it's all the rain that we've had.  I'm going to take a picture (if I can get a decent one) and send it to the agricultural extension to see what's killing it.  All the leaves are withering, but I can't see any insects or cankers or anything that would cause it.  I looked in my IPM (Integrated Pest Management) book and wasn't able to identify the problem with the book.  The other tree is just fine, though.

Well, successes and failures aside, this is only the beginning of my first real growing season, so I should neither beat myself up over what didn't get planted or fret about what I still have to grow.  It's all a learning process, and I have to remember that what I don't eat has to get put up somehow- canned, frozen, or dehydrated.  I'm not up to the challenge of making a meal a day from the garden yet- somehow, I still think that's a ways off before I have that much food coming from it. But first, I've got to start weighing and recording how much food I pull from it this first summer.

I'll let you know when I start getting sick of the zucchini.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Lettuce Lessons Learned

With a high of only sixty-one and it being overcast all day, yesterday was perfect for harvesting lettuces, so that's what I did.  I harvested two full lettuce boxes of mesclun mix and arugula, five heads of salad bowl lettuce, and five heads of Bibb lettuce.  The head lettuces were washed, spun in my paint strainer lettuce spinner, wrapped in paper toweling, and placed in plastic produce bags which were then closed with twist ties and placed in the humid drawers in the bottom of the fridge.  I'll use up the mesclun mix first, and we'll see how long everything lasts.

Then the rest of the lettuces were thrown into the compost bin because they're starting to bolt.  Actually, no - they are bolting - they just haven't formed flowers yet.  I sure hope I've learned my lesson about not planting everything at once!  I should have planted far less and staggered the seeding, like all the books tell you.  The next lettuces to sow are a chicory, Catalogna Frastagliata, which is an Italian dandelion, and an endive, Tres Fine, which I'm hoping is more like escarole and not so much like frisse, which I don't like.  I like bitter greens (not too bitter) but I seriously dislike the mouth-feel of frisse.  I read somewhere that these are slower to bolt, so we'll just have to see.  Hopefully they'll do well during the heat of the summer, which right now is not showing any signs of arriving.  It's hard to remember when you're outside in your jacket and wool cap (my attire yesterday) that it's June, but when I went out mid-morning it was in the low fifties.  Warm enough to bolt lettuce, but cool enough to require a jacket.  Not sure what it's doing for my summer squash and melons. Probably not much.

I also harvested a bunch of mixed greens: turnip, beet, radish, kale, chard, and broccoli rabe.  The mixed greens I blanched, shocked, and then chopped up and put in labeled freezer bags.  Then I froze them in my new freezer, which we subsequently stuffed with as many things as we could think of to help keep the temperature down:  a couple of gallon jugs of water, all the butter and ham from the fridge freezer, the ice cube trays, and two ten-pound bags of flour from Costco.  It seems to be helping because the freezer compressor is cycling on and off.  I was a little concerned that it was going to run continuously.  Next Wednesday, when we pick up our quarter steer, it should have a much easier time keeping the interior cold, since the most efficient way to use your fridge or freezer is to keep them full.

Then finally, I found a small handful of alpine strawberries that were ripe.  I gave them all to Steve.  I'm a sweetheart that way.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I Just Wanna Know...

.....when the hell did 'given' or 'gave' become 'gifted'?

Gifted used to be an adjective, as in the child was gifted at playing the piano, or, in terms of plaguing his wife, Evan was surely gifted, but it appears that it's become a verb in its own right.

The verb is 'gift', the past tense of which is 'gave'.  A 'gift' is something that you give to someone, even if it's a large sum of money donated somewhere by a large corporation.

'Gifted' is an adjective used to describe something or someone in possession of extraordinary talents in one way or another.

Every time I see 'gifted' used as a verb in print, it drives me nuts.

Monday, June 14, 2010

New Tricks For An Old Dog

Since the job market is practically non-existent for me, I'm seriously considering training for a career change.  I looked into the health care industry because, let's face it, it's a growing industry, especially with the aging demographic that this nation has.  Problem is, I don't have the physical strength or back to become a nurse, much less the four years it would take to become one.  Plus, I'm not much into sick people.  Don't get me wrong- I feel for them and pray for bad cases; I just don't want to be around them. Which is probably why I have the utmost respect for Registered Nurses and everyone else who deal with sick people.  It really takes a special type of person to care for others when they are not their best, or just plain helpless, and I recognize and admit freely that I am not one of them.

I was lucky enough to find the American Medical Association's Health Care Careers Directory online, and medical coding looks like something for which I can train quickly and become certified quickly.  And quick is the name of the game here, because I am no spring chicken.  Another good thing is that in some situations, you can do medical coding at home, not that I am going to count on that.  Most of what I've found is outpatient coding, so I am not sure if training to be an inpatient coder at a hospital or surgery center would be better paying or whatnot.  It would certainly preclude medical coding at home, however.

At any rate, I had the heart to heart with my loving husband, and his sage counsel is to go ahead with the first prerequisite online class, anatomy and physiology, and see how I like it and all that.  There are companies all over the place that want to teach you medical coding, but I figure that the best place to start is with a nationally recognized organization that provides certification testing, figuring that they'll do the best job readying me for the test, which is evidently six hours long.  It has been a really long time since I last took a class- I'm not even sure I'm capable of retaining anything.

The state of Oregon has a Training Unemployment Insurance, for which you have to apply ninety days before your class starts.  The local community college doesn't do this type of training, and I'm not sure that I want class room training anyway; I discovered long ago that if I can't interact with the instructor and put in my two cents worth every so often, I will fall asleep.  I can't just sit through lecture.  And I don't know if I would even qualify for TUI, after applying for it, or if it would be the same weekly amount as the regular Unemployment Insurance I'm currently receiving.  So online training is probably my best bet; I can do it while I'm still looking for work, and if I manage to get a job, I can still continue to train for my certification. 

At least in this day and age, we have resources like online training.  I may not have enough working time left to go back and get a degree, but I can do something about getting trained for something else.  And that's a hell of a lot more empowering than just looking for work and not finding anything for which I'm qualified.  A lot more empowering.

The question still to be answered though, is can this old dog learn some new tricks?  We'll just have to see.  Rolling over and playing dead won't be one of them, though.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Good Idea No. 7

You know the way it's really hard to cut thin slices of radish?  You can get really nice, thin slices for your salads by using your vegetable peeler instead of your knife.

Grasp the radish by the root end, cut of the stem end with a knife, and then start peeling off slices with your vegetable peeler.

PS: This is my hundredth post...

Lunch, 10 June 2010

Ravioli in butter with sage, walnuts, and Pecorino Romano
I know.  I just like a little pasta with my cheese.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Call Your Bank

These days the big banks are not enjoying good press, and maybe that's appropriate on a corporate level, but our local branch has been treating us very well, and has just saved us a bundle of money.  A big bundle.

Our banker suggested that we move some of the money in our checking account into a savings account that does not provide overdraft protection to our checking account, so that if our checking account were compromised, we wouldn't lose everything in it to a thief.  At the same time, she said she'd have Sylvia call me back about saving some money our our mortgage, which we have with the same bank.  Before I forget, I should also mention that this bank provides us with our Visa account, which we use like cash and pay off every month.  If we need something big, we save for it first, buy it with the Visa, and then pay it off right away.  But the one percent rebate we get is applied directly to the principal on our mortgage, so it's free money to us.  Gotta love that.  But back to the mortgage savings.  Sonia, our branch manager, also told me that our out-of-bank transfers should happen at no charge, so if we were charged the three dollar fee I should call her and get that refunded to me, which I did today.  I also mentioned that Sylvia hadn't called me yet, which Sonia had her do.

It turns out that we qualify for a Fannie Mae three step HARP (Home Affordability Refinance Program).  The three steps are that they will send us a copy of the disclosure for our records, and then in July, we'll receive the loan package that includes the original copy of the disclosure statement, which we'll have to sign and return to the bank, and then the third step is that we'll close on the thirty-first of July.  This loan refinancing will cost us nothing; the only charges that might occur are the recording fees, which our bank will pay.  Evidently, the rates and offers change all the time- Sylvia told me that she's had some people call and there were no offers available at the time.  So what came up today were three offers: a thirty year fixed at five and an eighth percent, which would save us $105 a month; a twenty year fixed at five percent, which would cost us thirty-one dollars more a month, and a fifteen year fixed at four and a half percent, which would cost us another $155 a month.  The last one sounds good with a nice low rate, but we figure that if the chips fall against us, that extra $155 we'd be obligated for could make life a lot harder for us, so we opted for the twenty year fixed at five percent.  I usually pay extra principal every month anyway, because we really want to be done with this mortgage as soon as possible, and because I can right now.  So even with some of the extra money I have for the principal going into the actual mortgage payment, we'll still save a scad of money.   Steve did a rough, rudimentary calculation.  How much will we save?

Try $64,560.  That's not even counting the extra principal from our Visa or that I pay every month.

Call your banker and ask them to look into whether you qualify for HARP.  If you do, it will so be worth your while.


Today for the second time in five days I was startled nearly out of my skin by a garter snake.  I'm not sure what kind of the four different garter snakes that live in Oregon it could be: Common, Western Terrestrial, or Northwestern (although I'm pretty sure it's not a Pacific Coast Aquatic), but it's definitely some sort of garter snake.

Western Terrestrial Garter Snake.
Image from here

I'm feeling pretty ambivalent about having garter snakes in the backyard, because on the one hand, they're predators, and eat among other things, slugs, of which I have a veritable smorgasbord.  On the other hand, I would probably live a lot longer and happier without being given a heart attack every time we surprise each other.  My visceral reaction is from my limbic system, which is something that I believe we share with the lower orders, particularly reptiles, and I can only imagine that the poor snake is as scared shitless as I am.  However, that doesn't help calm down me when my heart feels like it's trying to abandon ship and jump out of my chest.  I'm not sure what kind of wear and tear the fight or flight response is having on me, or what its long term effects are.

Garter snakes are of the subfamily Natriccinae, and unlike most snakes, give birth to live young,which doesn't endear them to me any.  This second snake appeared to be shorter than the first that we saw last Saturday, and since Steve chased the first one under the house then, and this second one came from the same general area of the garden as the first, I suspect that they came from either the end of the first planter box or the second, since I still haven't closed up the holes which I would wager make a perfect doorway for a snake.  And, since I happen to know that the plastic decking from which the boxes are made heats up like hell in the sunshine, that would be the most likely place for them to be hanging out.  Especially since the second snake was at the end of the second box and disappeared so immediately and I didn't see where it went.

There are only two venomous snakes in Oregon: the Western Rattlesnake, and the Night Snake.  The rattlesnake, we all know, is dangerous to humans, but the Night Snake is not; its venomous fangs are in the back of its mouth and are used more for paralyzing prey than for striking.  Garter snakes are not, for the most part, venomous, but interestingly, a small population of Oregon garter snakes retain enough toxin in their livers from the newts they eat (and by the way, they are the only thing that can eat these particular newts) that they are poisonous to small predators like crows and foxes.  And garter snakes have been know to make people, um, swell, a little bit.

It looks like I have to get in the habit of looking for them, but in the meantime, I'm resorting to not going outside unless Steve is with me.  What a wimp, huh?  I am hoping that once I get the bark down, some time in the future, that I'll be able to see them earlier and not get so startled by their sudden and somewhat too-close-for-comfort appearance.  They don't say snake in the grass for nothing, I'm learning.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Not A Food Blog - Really

I promise this is not going to turn into a food blog.

But I am having a good time making pasta!  Eventually, the novelty will wear off, so please bear with me for the interim.   I'll stop soon- I promise.  Besides, eventually the rain will stop and I'll get to go back to gardening.

Today I made ravioli, which were pretty good.  I froze most of them, so I'll have them in the freezer for when I'm too tired to think about what to cook for dinner.  Pasta is something I have to leave for the late meal, because of the whole grain and cheese thing. So we can't have it for lunch if Steve is going back to work afterward.  Just not a good idea.

Over the weekend we found beautiful strawberries from California for ninety-eight cents a pound.  Now- there are two things really wrong with this statement.  The first is that they came from California.  But, if you'll recall, I mentioned the local berries at the farmers market were rotting.   I do try to buy local and have no problem with higher prices, but not for rotting fruit.   The other thing wrong with the statement is the price.  How in the world can the grower or the farm worker make a decent living if they're selling them cheap enough for the supermarket to practically give them away for ninety-eight cents a pound?  I can only hope that they were a loss leader for the store.

But I now had something nice with which to serve that lovely cream.  Last night it was just strawberries and cream, both sweetened with a little agave syrup.  Tonight I flavored the cream with a little Italian trick- balsamic vinegar with the agave syrup, and then a dusting of black pepper- a spicey black Sarawak.  Even the mint was yummy.

Breakfast, 07 June 2010

Salmon cakes and hash browns with homemade ketchup

Homemade ketchup is a bit of a revelation.  It's better than organic commercial ketchup, which tastes like everybody else's commercial ketchup.   Homemade is a bit chunkier, and tastes like an amalgamation of all the ingredients; commercial just tastes of ketchup.

This was the first product of our tomatoes last year, and we used the recipe in the 1977 edition of Irma Rombauer's Joy of Cooking.  I would recommend making ketchup to anyone who cans, because it's so worth the effort.   Your kids might have a little trouble making the transition, because it is different- spicier and not quite so sweet.  

All I know is, I'm never going back to commercial, and we'll be making more from some of this year's harvest, Lord willing that we get one. 

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Surprises At The Oregon City Farmers Market

Today was a glorious, sunny day, and because it was, we spent most of it in the garden.  I weeded, and Steve weed-whacked the grass climbing up some of the planter boxes, and he dug a couple of holes for apple tree supports, and we both worked on moving part of Santana's Wall.

This morning, though, we had a mediocre breakfast at Biscuits Cafe in Oregon City, after which we went to the Oregon City Farmers Market, which is still pretty small.  However, we got a few groceries, not much, and some duck eggs.

The woman selling the duck eggs was out of chicken eggs, and had only the one dozen duck eggs left, So we asked about them.  She went though a whole litany of behaviors for duck eggs, like, they're a little hard to beat for scrambled eggs, and they're great for baking (which I don't), but when she said they are wonderful for making pasta, she got my attention.  I asked how long they would last, refrigerated of course, and she said a month- easily, so we bought them.  In this picture above, the top eggs are the duck eggs, and the bottom are commercial chicken eggs.

On the way out of the market, we picked up the pint of cream we had set aside for us- the day was warm, the vendor had the ice, and we had other shopping to do.  So she saved one for us.  If you look closely, you can see the P. on the top for Paula.  I haven't opened it yet, and aside from wanting to make a batch of creme fraiche with part of it, I want to come up with some wonderful thing to do with this heavy, beautiful cream.  Plus, with the bottle deposit, it wasn't cheap!  More than anything, though, I want to do justice to it.  The market boasted of strawberries, but with the exception of one vendor, whose berries weren't ripe, the rest were rotting, most probably due to the rain we've had.  I feel sorry for the farmers, but I'm not going to buy rotting strawberries again.  I did that last summer, and threw more than half of them away.  I don't know how everyone else feels about strawberries, but the commercial growers tend to pick the berries while they're still quite unripe, and I like my strawberries good and dark red- I want to see that the sun has ripened them and they are perfect.  It's likely that the only way to get perfectly ripe strawberries is to grow them myself, but I haven't figured out where to put them- I'll need to commit a chunk of the yard to them for awhile.  In the meantime, our alpine strawberries give us a treat every couple of days...and that's all.

So- duck eggs.  Naturally I wanted to try them out right away, so I did.  Tonight I used the cutter attachment and made linguine, and I don't know if you can see it, but the duck eggs made for a very yellow pasta.  The vendor said their yolks are almost orange because they forage more than do chickens.  The raw dough was very yellow, which disappeared once I got it all floured up, but I hope that you can see from this very bad picture of my dinner how yellow the pasta was.  It was great, by the way.  Homemade pasta rocks.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Too Close To Middle Earth

There are times when my husband will shed his geekskin and don his nerd's clothing, particularly when trying to get my goat or be funny.

When making decisions about how to put together my so-called hutch, which will really be a series of shelves, I first considered that they are to hold my white porcelain ware.  To show the porcelain off to their best advantage, as well as have another wood color in the kitchen- I tend to favor the Old World, unfitted kitchen look- I settled on staining them a dark color, Minwax's Ebony, to be exact.  Then I figured that being that dark, I'd better make them look as English as possible, or Irish, at least, with a small nod toward the Gothic or medieval periods.  (Trust me, I realize what a stretch this is for pine from the big box store.)

I futzed around in my drawing book until I had a shape for the shelf supports that I liked, and then I blew them up on the copier in the office, and used them for cutting templates.  Earlier this week I finished cutting out all the shelf supports.  I decided that I don't have enough room in the garage to put the shelves together assembly-line style and opted to put them together the old-fashioned way, i.e., one at a time.

I got the shelf and the support section for the first shelf put together yesterday, and the first of two coats of stain on.  Steve came out to the garage to get his shoes for his daily walk in the park.

"Wow!" he said, when he saw my progress.  I couldn't tell from his tone of voice what he was thinking.

"They're supposed to look English," I offered lamely.  He looked at them again.

"Yes," he said with mock seriousness.   "They look hobbity, not elvish."

Would he say this stuff if I didn't get his references?  Is this as bad a reflection on me as it is on him?

Oh jeez, do they look hobbity?

I dunno.

All I know is that I hope this isn't a portent for the future.  And that they don't look hobbity.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


(Notice I didn't say "Pasta 101".  I am a rank amateur at this.)

Making pasta on the new island was everything that I had hoped it would be.  The size and shape of the surface lent itself well to making pasta production be really easy.  The lemon pepper cream (cream, lemon juice, coarse ground black pepper, egg yolk) sauce was pretty good as well.  I made tagliatelle, which is one of my favorites.

What didn't work so well was I think I got them too thin, and I cooked all of them, so there was way too much pasta for the two of us, but we ate it anyway.  Next time I'll cook half of it and refrigerate the rest.  Because it was so thin, it overcooked, so it was a little softer than we like it.   I just read Mario's recipe, and he rolls it out on the thinnest setting, but he only cooked it for two minutes.  Now I know.  I cooked it for five because I wasn't sure.  So my setting was right but my timing was wrong.

I'm definitely going to do this again, because this was the most fun I've ever had making pasta.

But God, I'm stuffed.

Look What's Climbing Over My Back Fence!

Roses are welcome; raccoons are not.

Good Idea No. 6

This one's a bit of a no-brainer, but it occurred to me suddenly, so maybe you're missing the big picture too.

I hate using plastic bags, but sometimes they are the best thing for what I'm trying to do.  An oiled Ziploc, for instance, is the best thing for storing pizza dough.  A snack bag, overturned, is a good, reusable cover for the Spam can. I always wash and reuse plastic bags until they spring a hole, and then they go into the trash.  Drying them is made easier by the use of this device.

You know how TV chefs always tell you to marinate your steaks or pork in a Ziploc bag?  Well, I've been doing that, and then throwing out the bag because I didn't trust myself to get it pristine and sanitary again.

Today I needed to marinate a couple of steaks and I decided that I just wasn't going to waste a plastic bag on them.  Enter one of my smaller casseroles, in which I mixed up the marinade, and then I covered it with a small platter that's roughly the same size, and voila!  I feel like such a dummy because I have covered casseroles, but the trick is to match the size of the container to what you're marinating so that you don't need as much marinade. Also make sure that it's non-reactive, so the food doesn't pick up a funny taste from the acid in your marinade.

If you have a covered serving dish in with your good china, I bet you could use that as well, as long as everything fit in it.

Just for the record, this marinade was a couple of tablespoons red wine, a tablespoon Maggi (or use soy sauce), 3-4 tablespoons olive oil, 3-4 mashed garlic cloves with the skins removed, and a couple of freshly crushed allspice berries.  The steaks marinated two and a half hours (don't forget to turn them) and were cooked in unsalted butter, with salt and pepper on top.

While they were cooling their jets on a warmed platter, I deglazed the pan with a splash of Scotch, which I then flamed. Once the flames died down I poured the sauce over the steaks.  They were good. No, they were great.

Why Scotch?  It is very roughly the same flavor as cognac.  In fact, during the French revolution, when you couldn't get cognac out of France anymore, the illicit distillations from Highland stills became the rage, and the fact that you couldn't get cognac helped Scotch whisky's cause.  It's not cognac, and you have to use quality stuff (and not the peaty, smoky stuff, although if I had some, I'd experiment with it), but it works in a pinch.

Get it?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Sometimes Not So Gentle Art of Espalier

I'm no expert at the art of espalier, but I'm sold on the idea of using the practice to get more fruit out of a smaller area.  Plus it looks so cool.

Ideally, the way to train apple branches for espalier is to plant a post on either end of your row of apple trees, and then run a wire between them, preferably coated grape wire, and then attach the branches to the wire. 

I'd been a little worried about getting the first year pruning and training done on my apple trees, whose green little branches were starting to harden up.  So when Steve balked at the idea of digging eight post holes in one day, I had to come up with an alternative, but quick.  The first idea I had was to attach them to something straight, and then tied down the end, like this:

But when tying on the second lateral on the opposite side of the tree, I actually managed to pull the entire branch off at the trunk, and I decided that this way was not good enough. Not nearly.  I cannot tell you how bitterly disappointed and upset I was to have pulled off a perfectly good branch that was ideally opposite the other and in perfect line with what I wanted to do.  And I was really surprised at how bummed I was all day over this.  I still am.

Not wanting to sacrifice any more branches with my ineptitude, I decided to just tie them down, like this:

These branches are not quite parallel with the ground, but I didn't want to pull them off, so I decided to leave them here for a little while, and then sometime later in the year, pull them down a little more.  For the first year, you prune the whip at about a foot and a half up, then after the branches start growing you pick three branches that are best for training on opposing sides of the tree, and one that will become the new leader.  This tree below made it somewhat easier on me, as there was already a perfectly lateral branch, so no training was necessary on one side of the tree.  I merely oriented it where I wanted it when I planted the tree so that I could use its lateral branch to my advantage:

This next picture shows how I tied down the branches in between two trees with a hooked stake fashioned out of the neighbor's apple tree prunings.  I originally asked for the prunings with the idea that I'd use them wattle and daub for my outdoor kitchen, which is now nixed, and also for smoking things in the Weber, but I've found that they are really useful to have around:

 And then last, but not least, the surprise I found when I went out to take care of this project.  Of the apple prunings I have, which were cut in either late March or early April, I used a couple to mark where the support post should go for that row.  One of them decided to take root!

I'm thinking that the best thing to do with it is to nurture it along into a tree, and then give it back to Larry as the fourth apple tree for his orchard, which currently only has three trees.  It's going to be a standard, so I certainly don't want it because I just don't have room for it, but his place is begging for a fourth to even things out.  Then if he doesn't want it, maybe I'll give it as a prize to a contest someday.  I think it might be a Winter Banana, because the fruit has a vaguely banana aroma when you cut into it.  Larry doesn't know what they are because the old lady he bought the house from didn't know what they are.  His apple trees are the largest I've ever seen outside of a proper commercial apple orchard.

At any rate, the post holes will still be dug eventually, and the wires set, because next year I get to repeat the process on the new leader.  Cut it, and from the ensuing branches, train two out laterally and a third to be the new leader.  I'll keep doing this as far up as I can comfortably reach to bag and harvest apples.  I'll post about bagging apples someday when I actually have apples to bag.  One of the things that I did yesterday while working on the espalier was to prune off all the little apples I found.  I want these trees to work on establishing themselves and creating sturdy branches for later.  Only the Golden Russet had apples, little, beautiful, bronze apples.  It was kind of a shame to cut them off, but isn't farming one difficult choice after another?

I mean, how can I reasonably expect myself to be able to cull problem animals or harvest them for dinner if I can't even sacrifice a little apple?  Better to suck it up now....