Sunday, July 31, 2016

In the absence of doves

Yesterday's storm provided us with six inches of rain in two hours, causing massive flooding, abandoned cars, water rescues, state of emergency declared, all around.  Son needed an hour to get over a five minute trip home, caught in the midst.  My home and his are safe and dry, though.

However, massive dislocation of traffic, nearest six lane highway mostly closed for miles, canals over banks, little streams suddenly major waterways.  We forget we live in a floodplain until this kind of thing comes up out of nowhere.

So this morning, a little chipmunk showed up, looking down suspiciously at the ground, recently over his head in water, and being careful to make his way on top of fences and chairs rather than his usual paths through my groundcover.

In case anyone followed the weather reports from here, pretty dramatic ones, this post is to assure you that all is well for me and mine and most of our friends. Except for the friend away for the day who had left the car sunroof open.  They're still vacuuming out water from it.

I have to be on the road this pm to submit work to a gallery show, so I'm hoping those roads will be open.  We'll see.  And tomorrow is supposed to be a plein air artist day, alas, at a park next to the canal which broke its banks, so again, we'll see. I'm following police updates to see if roads are open again.  There will be more rain, and we'll have to see whether it's practical to try to get there.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Stormy weather and the armchair traveler 6WS

The weather, veering wildly between hot and humid and hot and downpours, is good for staying in and reading.  And here, thanks to various recommendations, is the current array, not counting what's going on in the Kindle (more Edinburgh books by Alexander whatsisname Smith).

Thanks to dogonart, and after a lengthy, months that is, wait, the library got hold of Four Seasons in Rome, a year on a fellowship there, enjoyed by Anthony Doerr, and I just embarked on it.  Very entertaining, and great fun to visit Rome by proxy without having to struggle with two babies, finding food for the family, admiring the scenery while lugging a stroller up steps, and writing a novel.  He seems to be surviving so far, though.

Then Kate H. turned me on to Diana Athill, whose most recent book is out this year, in her 98th year.  She still writes at a lively clip, though, if a bit disjointed, but she's lived an interesting life. She goes from wealth and great family houses, not hers, but related, to comparative poverty, until late middle age brought more money into her life, and she has continued on her unsentimental way, casting a penetrating but not unfriendly eye on her surroundings.  She's a lifelong single woman, with a colorful personal life and no regrets.

Pangur Ban is a retelling of that ninth century Irish poem about the monk and his white cat, presented here for kids really, but you can read it anyway. It's short, and you can spend either ten minutes or a lifetime unpacking what's in it.  

Anyone who has had an animal companion nearby while she works will appreciate the notion that the monk doesn't interfere with Pangur's work of hunting for mice and Pangur doesn't interfere with the monk's work of hunting for meaning. The illustrations are a perfect fit for the meaning, created by someone who knows his cats, as you'll see on the page where the cat gets back into the monk's cell.

This recommendation came to me via brainpickings, a wonderful, thoughtful blog which I in my turn recommend. I keep up with it on Twitter then get a weekly digest of the articles referred to through the weeks, some very good sources.

Then The Perfect Summer by Juliet Nicholson, yes, those Nicholsons, talk about well connected for sources.  She lives at Sissinghurst! that place of famous white garden fame.  She thanks half the royals for access to their papers and pix!  

The summer in question is 1911, when the tectonic plates of the political Western world were starting to shift, after the death of Victoria, but before all the treaties, all at cross purposes, were invoked by the death of the Archduke with the subsequent destruction of the world as it had been up to then, for practically everyone, mostly for the worse. 

Knowing all that, though, it's intriguing to get a glimpse into the privileged life still being enjoyed by a few, who little knew how soon it would vanish, during a summer of perfect, in fact very hot, weather.  Not unlike the weather recently in the UK, in fact, except people wore a lot more clothes then.

Just embarked on this one, and it's a bit more heavy going, what with all the historical detail and the name dropping, but still worth chugging on a bit with.

So that's the coffee table load for the day!  and I finally noticed that my title is in six words, so it fits with the Six Word Saturday theme.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Late July, Corn High

First corn from my local farm today, and since Handsome Son is expected for dinner, I thought it would be good to make a sort of corn thing with three ears of corn, off the cob, a job I hate doing, but anyway,  farm eggs, from another farm, cheese, sea salt and white pepper, and a bunch of thyme from my front yard.  

Added in a can of chickpeas for ballast.  I might have used tomatoes, but I don't get them till tomorrow, and well, I ate all of this week's..I might make a batch of hot biscuits to go with, though, come to think of it. And I'm serving steamed buttered green beans from yet another farm, courtesy of a friend.  Who also gave me another squash..yet another.

Nice glass of sangria, summer sort of wine, will accompany this Lucullan shebang.

Dessert will be build it yourself, fresh blueberries and peaches from the farm this morning, with vanilla yogurt.

Pot of English Breakfast tea, snarling as it comes out of the pot, will round off the proceedings. 

On one of these very hot and humid nights, it's very good to serve yourself a helping of frozen mango slices and frozen blueberries. They act like icecream and candy at the same time, perfect.My mangoes came from yet another friend, and I sliced and froze them right away.  The ones I didn't use to make mango preserve, that is.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Upcycled art, with an assist from nature and birds

Here's an upcycled orphan earring, now working as a pin on the dress I'm wearing today, thank you Meryl!  Do you ever do this with a sole earring after you lose its mate?  I have a number of pins like this one.  

You just push the stem through as if through a pierced ear, attach the finding on the back, and you have a pin. And if you don't blog about it, people don't see it's upcycled. There are more, which will probably find their homes in artworks, but this one just seemed very right for a denim dress.

And then a simple setup in the bathroom, with a daisy, picked from divisions given last year by a neighbor, thank you Karen, and flourishing on the patio, along with a wildflower sort of sunflower, I think, which showed up in one of the containers after the lettuce had gone to seed. 

And you see in there Italian parsley flowers, looking just like their wild relative, Queen Anne's Lace, and a feather I found on the street, donated by my local flicker.  He's around here a lot, and is welcome except when he sits on the chimney and hammers at it in search of insects, causing a racket like a motor suddenly starting up two floors down, in my fireplace.  

People with cats will know that there are very few places in the house where I can safely put cut flowers.  One is here in the bathroom, and the other is on top of a bookcase.  Any other place and the flowers are scattered, the water drunk, and general chaos, including broken containers, can result. But the bathroom has the additional advantage of mirrors, which give you more for the price of admission.  The container here was a little birthday gift from Girija, thank you, and is really a candle holder, but I'm using it for flowers since it works perfectly that way, too.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

We made history today 7.26,2016

Just this:

And about time!  Elton joyfully accompanies the rendering of Good old Summertime by Dollivers dizzy with delight.

Then we all got busy with brushes and shovels sweeping up millions of pieces of glass.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Tech is good. Journeys and madeleines of sound

Just musing today, hot summer afternoon, home reading Alexander McCall Smith, easy reading for summer, and noticed how much better it is to read when you can easily look up the references in ways not possible years ago.

Usually in my case it's to music I'm not familiar with and the characters are, meaning the writer is too, so I like to get the sound surround effect of knowing what they're hearing.  I do this all the time with Donna Leon, the opera and particularly Handel aficionada, found myself listening to many a Handel aria,  because her characters refer to it, and now it's happening with Smith.

What happens is that as soon as a character refers to a piece, or an artwork, I instantly seize my tablet, and find the music or the painting on YouTube, and it's surprising how often it's there and easy to find. 

Today it's Isabel Dalhousie and Jamie, the musician, remembering a concert of early music they attended.  They mentioned a song I don't know, though I know a lot of Elizabethan music, so I went in search.  

And found glorious Alfred Deller, a voice I hadn't heard in decades, right there on YouTube, with his consort, singing all the medieval and Renaissance pops. I have sung a lot of these, in various choirs as a kid and at the Uni, and play them on recorder as often as not nowadays.

But there was Il Est Bel Et Bon, large as life, lovely funny song about a young wife admiring her husband's kindness and his feeding the hens, making silly noises at them.  She's reporting this to her mother in law, as it happens.  This may be strictly fantasy, knowing the early period, but it zoomed me right back to uni, where I sang this song, in the first sopranos of our Madrigal Chorale.  We even made a record, very proud of ourselves, long since lost in the many moves I've done, but still imprinted in memory.

And the Wraggle Taggle Gipsies O, even further back, to school. And more songs,  and more recently, Three Ravens and others from the early music period, back to early days of learning recorder, as an adult, and now I've outlived most of my co learners. Remembering Arda and Dominique and Jenny and more.

Anyway, these are the sudden precipitous journeys your mind goes off on when you read, at least mine does. Like Proust's madeleine, but with sound.  Do you do similar things with music or references to paintings?  

I think a lot of us might do it for literary references.  Isabel, in the Smith books,  is batty about Auden, please, why, and she lards a lot of her dialog with quotations, which she then goes on to explain, Lord, save me from people like Isabel in real life.  It's okay to quote, but the explaining is, well, not so. Good she's safely shut inside fact she's an irritating person, which may mean I've read enough of her for now.  But all the same, I did look up the Auden references.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Clafouti aka Trip Down Memory Lane 6WS

So last night I was in the mood for some sort of pancake thing for supper, made one of the oatmeal ones, added in golden raisins and blueberries, tasted very good, but didn't turn over well on the pan, so it came out a bit freeform.

Today, bored because after I made a quick trip to the farmers' market, it was already hot at 9 a.m., air not breathable out there, not really up to going out again in heat at high nineties and humid, I thought hm.  How to rescue the rest of the pancake batter?  all good ingredients, but could it do well in the oven instead?  This is how I end up putting the oven on in ridiculous weather, sheer need to do something interesting. I had already played with tshirts and dye, and will duly bang on about that in my art blog.

Anyway, in the midst of this food thinking, I suddenly realized I was talking about clafouti, an old favorite of mine from years ago, from earliest perusing of Julia Child, whose original book I still have with a funny inscription from Handsome Partner.  

He gave it to me in early marriage, even though he only really wanted to eat my curries, mostly from the Bill Veach book.

Anyway, I thought, ah, I have plums galore in the freezer, and this will work lovely. Clafouti is a kind of fruit flan thing with a pancake batter poured over raw fruit, baked in a moderate oven.  Works for breakfast, or teatime.  Or anytime, really, it's very good. Also much simpler than Julia would have you think. True of many of her recipes, in fact.

So I went online and saw Julia's recipe, and thought, no, self, self, this is where you get the original book out and really revisit it.  And found there, in the original book, unhandled for decades, was a little slip of scotch tape marking the clafouti page.

So I accidentally took a nice stroll down memory lane, and ended up with a very good clafouti instead of a moderate oatmeal pancake.  

Right after it came out of the oven, my friend who feeds me her Indian recipes all the time came over with some offerings, and I explained I couldn't give her clafouti until the whole thing had cooled down. 

She's off on a temple visit, will be back Sunday or Monday.  So she booked some clafouti for then, and went off very happy with the exchange, having left me special squash (yes, I know) and chickpeas, all cooked her own way.  Tonight's supper.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

You just missed her!

You know those annoying birders who insist on telling you about the birds that were here last week that you missed?  I have become one of them.  But I do have a good excuse.

Several times this week, I happen to have been home, and to have looked out at the patio about four o'clock.  And to have seen a female hummingbird working over the red lantana plant on the fence.  She stays about ten seconds, tops, so seeing her is a feat, and taking her picture an impossible goal.

So I just wanted to show you this is where she was a minute ago!  she's so beautiful.  Works over every single flower on the red lantana, before swooping away high into the pine tree out back, perhaps to rest or clean her beak.  I'm particularly glad about this, since I'd observed that on the few occasions when I've seen hummingbirds on this street, they have been about five feet from the ground, and in search of red flowers. They used to come to my cardinal flower out front, a wild volunteer not there this year.

So I figured that the planters on top of the fence would also be at the right height, and I got a couple of lantana this year, for the red color. I don't like red in a garden, too hot, but I figured this was a different situation.  She seems to approve, showing up several times already.  I know it's female, because there's no red bib.

And what I see is what seems to be a disturbance in the air, then I focus and realize it's Mrs. H hard at work on the lantana.  

She inspects the whole array usually.  Spiderwort? no, and alyssum, no, then wild phlox, nah, wrong color, but ahhhh lantana, just the ticket.  She reminds me of a picky customer at a buffet.

Speaking of picky customers, I know I swore never to eat squash again, after the glut last year, but oh well, a friend stopped by with fresh summer squash from a farmer's market south of here, and well, steamed, buttered, peppered, salted, it's supper in summer. Just look at the colors, that golden and ivory and touch of green.

Last night was a lively meeting of the Socrates Cafe group, with many interesting thoughts about judgment, whether it's good, and if so when, and what kinds there are, and so on. So today, I simply rested and enjoyed a day of practically nothing, except being so glad about where I am, and how things are, and how luxurious it is to have summer days when you can choose to do nothing.

Not strictly accurate, since I did help a neighbor cut down a huge tree branch that was lying on my roof, and spent  a while lopping off all the small branches once it was on the ground. 

Then I arranged for the friend who brought the squash to take the trunk part home for next winter's fires, cherry being a lovely firewood. And got an incredible number of bites in the process of all this.  I guess the mosquitoes consider me a special delicacy, worth going out of their way to sample. There's probably a mosquito gourmet guide book about this.  And I did go to the library in the next town to get a reserved book before it went back to the main libe.  Other than that, though, quite otiose!

I'm reading one of the Isabel Dalhousie books, by A McCall Smith,  hence the sudden use of an unusual word. She, the professional philosopher,  does this, then agonizes over whether it's fair or proper.  And whether anyone can judge anything, and if so, when. She really should come to our Socrates group, would fit right in.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Field Trip! to the past, a historic farmstead

I took a field trip today, to a meeting of the Delaware Valley Unit of the Herb Society of America folks, courtesy of Helen H, who drove us there, to the historic Holcombe Jimison Farmstead, right by the Delaware, in Lambertville NJ.

Narrowly saved from extinction by the building of a major highway, the historic society managed to keep a few acres intact and dedicated to the farm around them, and to add all kinds of historical artifacts and interesting preservation of our farming past.

It was a boiling hot July day, a good time to remember that the farmers back in the early 19th century, when some of the barns were built, the farmhouse itself dating back to the 17th century, had no relief from the heat.  

I was there for a tour and a talk on edible weeds, very interesting presentation by a member of the Herb society, but I was most struck by the existence of this treasure of a museum and grounds that I hardly knew existed before.  

So this is my turn to pass on the good news and invite local readers to make a point of going there and enjoying the barns, the museum of farm implements and historic NJ items, plus meet the blacksmith, see the Kean Barn with old carriages and more recent engines, plus the herb gardens.  The herbs were the main reason for my visit, and it was interesting to explore how they'd decided to cultivate herbs to reflect the changing demographics of our population.

Within one small enclosure, are plots for herbs from India, Indonesia, Eastern Europe, Mexico, China, and other cultures. Amazing really to see what has been achieved, totally by volunteer labor.  Most of the people are very knowledgeable, with background at Brooklyn Botanical Garden, research into entomology and other specialties.  

 tour guide with modern water bottle, showing me the wooden water pipe excavated from nearby town when roads were being rebuilt recently.  There are still pipes like this in the infrastructure of New York and Philadelphia
 Some of the pictures hark back to my own childhood in the country, without utilities or running water, and I recognized the washday items all too clearly. My mom turning that huge mangle to wring the clothes. And the later, smaller one, that latest best thing she got years later, still hand driven. A poss stick in the background there, too, for possing clothes, all laundry hand done.

Canning and processing of food mainly done by women

 Spot the fruit varieties here, in the collection of stencils used to mark fruit crates

Funeral hearse, restored to 19th century condition, needing only black horses.

My tour guide was a retired teacher who enthusiastically showed me practically everything, untiringly, on the farmstead, then delivered me to the building where they gave me refreshments, and the talk on edible weeds.  A very full afternoon, and I definitely have to go back there.

Such a labor intensive life.  I noted that in the wool processing area, the hand carders are exactly like my own, same design still being made, because it works!  And the office for the doctor/dentist which was also his dispensary, since he did it all, and he installed the first telephone system for the area while he was at it.  Also led the local brass band.  Just too many items for pictures in this post, you have to go there!

And rural electrification is said to have got its start in this region. Hats off to the energy and real bravery of early farmers.  This is why I like to buy food from my local farmers, since many of them are the latest generation on the family farm, and hard work is their way of life. 

While I was there, a young couple came in searching for someone to donate the family parlor organ too. Turned out they were descendants of the original Jimison family and this was the organ that came originally from this farm, so it will probably come back again.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Saturday at the Farmer's Market

Now that I've switched from the weekday farmshare to the Saturday morning farmers' market, where I shop at a dozen different farmstands, Saturday has become my day of frenzied prep, cooking, freezing, noshing and generally fooling about with great food.

Finally the stone fruit are in, and peaches and apricots -- well, the apricots are nearly out again, but I never saw any before this week -- were part of my shop.  The peach farm lady gave me a free peach over what I'd bought for bringing in my own bag, nice bonus. 

And another keen shopper at the apricot place was buying large amounts, to make jam.  Evidently planning on a major jamboree, you might say.  Nowadays I don't make huge quantities, and the big enamel pot I used to use has long since been coopted for natural dyeing purposes.  But you can make modest amounts very easily, medium saucepan, fruit, sugar, lemon juice, pinch of salt, no pectin needed. 

So I made two jars of apricot preserves this afternoon, using most of a box of apricots.  I do keep a couple of fresh fruit out for just eating, in these frenzies.  Preserves are where there are whole pieces of fruit in the mix, different from jam where the fruit is all reduced.

And the peaches are now sliced, diced, macerated, spiced, sauce reduced and added,  and frozen ready to make into a crumble when the spirit moves me.

Tomatoes are coming in now, still expensive but wonderful, so worth it.  Just diced, bit of sea salt, olive oil, sherry vinegar, perfect. Every lunch is tomato salad plus mixed green salad, easy, no planning needed.

And the redskin potatoes, which look all muddy when you buy them, then when they're washed suddenly turn into rubies, are waiting their turn at potato salad later in the week.

So, after all this excitement, afternoon tea was fresh-baked hot biscuits (about fifteen minutes from thinking of it to eating them!) with sunflower seeds, and a nice spoonful of the apricot preserves, there's simply nothing better.  Hercule Poirot would have liked a spot of this with his breakfast croissant, not being a lover of marmalade.

There's a lovely drama about fruit that was growing on the trees this morning, picked at dawn and brought into market, then home with me and cooked, all the flavor totally still there.  Selected friends might get a bit of this, too. 

Then this afternoon torrential, tropical rainstorms, and I looked out to see an undaunted hummingbird in the rain, working over my red lantana on the fencetop.  I wanted flowers at that level when I planned the container for the flower thing, because I'd observed hummingbirds like to be about there, and they obligingly are.  

The hummer did retreat to the shelter of the pine tree outside but he has clearly spotted the red flowers and I expect he'll be back.  Much better than sugar water, since there's actual nutrition in the real flower.  I'm providing him the hummer equivalent of the farmers' market.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Soup, bread, and botanical history

Any break in the hot weather, and I can make soup.  So this week it was asparagus, broccoli and red lentil soup, using spearmint pesto. I really recommend spearmint as a flavoring in this soup, light, springlike, and very good. But you have to use farm fresh asparagus and broccoli.  And if you have any spearmint growing, you probably have too much anyway, plenty for making pesto.

Then, to go with, hot biscuits with walnuts and golden raisins, using half and half ap and wholewheat flour. Which makes these halfwheat biscuits, I guess..sorry, couldn't resist.

Then out in the patio, history and botany continues. I noticed a lovely little three petaled flower, blue, growing happily uninvited among the ground cover, and added it in to a pot on the fence, then noticed that the uninvited plant in there was the same thing. And  it was growing out of the drainage holes of the pot as well as upward.  

Turns out it's spiderwort, tradescantia virginiana, which pleased me no end.  For one thing, it spurred me on to find that this is a relative of the other tradescantia, the stripy one I grow as a houseplant, equally vigorous grower.  And the wild one is native to here, must have come with my long ago seeding of wildflowers.

The name is in honor of John Tradescant and his son of the same name, English botanists and plantsmen of the sixteenth century, who went through all sorts of hair raising adventures in search of plants to bring back from all over the world to English gardens. Including trips to the then English colony in Virginia.  Nowadays we look a bit more sceptically on moving plants out of their native habitats, but the Tradescants are still worth reading up, if botanical history appeals to you.

I'm a purist on moving plants, having turned down offers of cuttings from other states so that we don't inadvertently bring in more trouble than they're worth.  Also I like growing the native plants where I can, much less tiring to go with nature than against her. 

I noticed in the farmer's market recently, gooseberries on sale, and wondered how come, since it's illegal to plant gooseberries in NJ.  I had gooseberry bushes in the old house, but they had been there for decades, probably grandfathered in before the legislation.

The reason is that the white pine, a very tall, straight, tree, useful for all kinds of things, is a major product of the state. Yes, I know people only think of oil cracking plants near the airport, but this is the Garden State.  Anyway, gooseberry is a carrier of the white pine blister rust, a deadly disease, so they have to protect the white pine by banning the gooseberry.

If you've ever picked gooseberries, you have experienced the dagger like thorns protecting the fruit, which run right up under your nail as you pick, ow.  Birds probably have even worse trouble, their eyes being in direct contact, so gooseberries are typically left alone, in my experience.

Back to the garden, I don't like shopping for plants, though I have to buy herb plants, but the ornamentals I'd rather go from local cuttings and divisions and my own seeds.  I do have neighbors who only want the fullgrown plants, in flower.  For them it's more like home decor, for me it's more like what I think of as gardening, I guess. Such as the neighbor who got pachysandra, groundcover, from me, and complained after a week that it hadn't spread to cover the area yet, I must have given her bad plants!!

At a meeting last night of the artists' collective, I was reminded again that in art, too, there are shoppers and makers. People who buy materials and frames all the time, and people who try to make their own tools and materials.  Different strokes.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Early Sunday Morning

After a night of heavy rain, this morning was all diamond studded, and full of rainbows as the sun came up.


Saturday, July 9, 2016

Heirloom tomatoes, burlap and migrating flowers 6WS

Today, despite tropical rainstorms and winds, was farmer's market day, where I get the best eggs in the world and various other exciting things.

Today it was heirloom tomatoes, heard of them, never had them, splurged on some.  Oh, was that worth it.  Just the smell when you take off the stem.  

I just handled them and sniffed for a while.  My mom used to say that if you took off a tomato stem and it smelled of mint, it was fresh.  These smelt of mint and ambrosia! 

I chose a few different colors, and lunch today involved one of the darker ones.  As well as mixed green salad from the same farm. 

You just don't need anything more.

The egg man was there, cheerful as ever.  And, because of all the bad news lately, I gave a donation to the Crisis Ministry, represented this morning and collecting both food and money to pass on.  Glad they gave me a little something to do.

And since my peacock jasmine is looking very sad up there in the bedroom, suddenly not feeling well, I found others at the market, never saw them before, so I got a new one, which I'll put in a different window and see how she goes.  This one already has growth and several flowers, so I'm hopeful.

And back home, I realized that the flowers I got last week from the market, while looking perfectly lovely, smelled perfectly awful. Like a monster rising from a swamp.  So I put them in an old glass vase, and set them up on the fence outside, in the planter box, where you can see them without being knocked down by the smell. Nothing personal, I assured them. 

That's them, with the sunflower in the middle of them.

And the burlap planter is doing okay, too.  

The marjoram is a lot bushier than it looks at the top, because it keeps trying to get behind the nasturtium in the next pocket down.  The bottom two, dill, only one of which is in the pic, look a bit sparse because I harvested them the other day for that salmon recipe, but it will grow back. So all in all, this is good, largely because the squirrels have shown no interest in interfering with it, amazing.

So that's today out and about.

Friday, July 8, 2016

When the news is all bad, the kitchen can supply some respite

So I was wondering yesterday about that leftover phyllo dough from the salmon mushroom thing I made (very successful, by the way, to my surprise after all the mixup over the oven temp), and looked up any recipes that could use any flaky dough or anything. And started some yogurt cheese in case that would be needed.

And friend G. came over last evening and installed my new kitchen light, multitasking as always, since he was on a corporate conference call at the time!  also my eye doctor sent a reminder about getting my vision checked about now.  So things are moving along quite well on those two fronts. 

About the third resolution, to read the recipes more carefully, well, I did fall down on that a bit, forgetting to put parchment paper on the baking sheets, which resulted in some serious scrubbing after the baking was done, because, cherry jam and high temp.

I found a few ideas about making danish. Why danish, I wonder? do Danes like them?  Well, you really need puff pastry for this, and phyllo isn't it, but what's a few flakes between friends.  So I decided to go for cheese danish.  Then I realized that I still had a little package of cherries from my cherry bushes, in the freezer, awaiting jam.  So it could be cherry cheese danish.

I was saving them for strawberry and cherry jam,  but I decided just to make a little recipe of cherry jam right now.  

Sugar and cherries, nothing else needed, plenty of pectin in the cherries, but I added in almond essence.  I didn't pit them, they're tiny, but removed the pits as the cherries boiled, worked fine. You see the jam here at the unboildownable stage.

Then I made a filling using the yogurt cheese I made yesterday using vanilla yogurt, plus some confectioner's sugar, a fresh farm egg, bit of cornstarch, drop of vanilla essence, sorry don't know exact quantities, just shook the packets in, guessing.  

I think I'm channeling my mom who never seemed to measure, but when you asked how much of something to put in, would say, "Oh, enough, not too much, you'll know."  very helpful to a beginner...but she was far from a beginner and was so used to how much was enough that measuring wasn't an issue. 

Anyway I tasted the filling (yes, I know there's a raw egg in there, but it's from a very clean farm), and it was just great.  

So I cut out squares of the dough, put filling then a dab of jam on each, turned the ends over to seal, using a pastry brush with water, and that was that.

Two batches see here, each baked at 400F for 20 minutes, and came out very acceptable.  This is several breakfasts now.  And maybe a little something for afternoon tea.  And some for friends, if they get lucky.  The pastry sort of explodes when you bite in, great fun, but you wouldn't want to eat this if you're with anyone you'd like to impress.  

And there was jam and filling left over, but no pastry left, so I took the cook's privilege and just ate it.

The world is still rapidly going to hell but at least I can have a nice breakfast.  And do my part in speaking up to the right people, and doing what I can to make the world better not worse.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Painting done for now, and a wonderful study of birds

These two items are not as unrelated as they may seem.  I've been reading Jennifer Ackerman's Genius of Birds, a great study of the different forms of abilities in birds and of how humans have grappled and often failed, to understand them as forms of intelligence.

She gives many amazing examples of bird behavior which far outstrip many humans' abilities.  If you want an eye opener, go to YouTube and see 007 Crow  here

This bird had an eight part puzzle to solve, and you see him studying the situation, and the parts, then trial and error to get to the next step, and at one point you swear you see a lightbulb going off as he realizes how to make this work. It's wonderful, and quite humbling for those of us who don't always get our front door key to work first time.

Then there's memory, and birds who can hide thousands of seeds in different places and find them again as needed.  Or birds who not only use tools, but actually create them.  And birds who can recognize human faces.  As a person with face blindness -- the inability to recognize people if they're in a different context, different hairstyle, or wearing a hat and so on -- I bow down to a bird who can spot the humans he doesn't like and bombard them with nuts! Not that I want to bombard my friends with nuts, or anything, just it would be handy to know who's who when I meet them.  Oddly, when I had a flock of pet parakeets, I had no difficulty in knowing who was who.

Anyway, this was all in my mind as I taped up the window wall in the front bedroom, used for playing music and growing houseplants, and known around here as The Nook.  I kept wondering if a crow could do this better.  If a crow would make the tape stick better.  And not miss any bits. And plan on how to do the climbing up part and the not climbing part so as to extend my energy. And whether I could hire any crows, come to that.

But back to the painting, the wall came out just fine, though lighting made a pic difficult, in these humble hands, even without a handy beak to use as a tool, and I recommend the book.  She does have one small fault which is that if nine anecdotes about crows using tools works, why, 339 will work better.  I did skip sections on this account.  

But there are some really interesting conclusions drawn by researchers who find that speed is not always good in the long run, and that steady learning might serve the species better.  Speed of comprehension and execution have often been seen as markers of human intelligence and I've wondered about that, having seen some more deliberative learners end up doing amazing scientific research.  But many "intelligence"  tests we give kids do incorporate speed as part of the test. 

And I think I've done my painting quota for the moment, and will retire to read a restful Daisy Dalrymple mystery.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Happy Fourth! with various forms of marking it

Today is a wonderful summer's day, the kind you think about in February, just right for painting the staircase.  What? on a holiday?  well, in fact practically everyone I've talked to in the last few days is busy doing things like this. Fireworks were Saturday night, lovely display, perfect evening, celebratory dinner was Friday night.

But now, on the actual holiday, Handsome Son is at work, maybe to the shore later, next door neighbor driving in a convoy to Florida helping another friend retire there, with all her worldly goods in a UHaul, various relatives driving. 

She refused to let the convoy move off until she'd opened the UHaul trailer to show me the progress of the snake plant that spent a summer with me and was very happy on my patio, never looked back. I hadn't seen it since since she lived north of here, and won't see it again, since it will live in Florida.  It was like saying goodbye to a student!

The move involved many doublings back and forward to distribute people, vehicles, furniture, and so on, made me tired just watching. My part is to water his garden while he's away.

Another friend is busy organizing another household move. So my painting the stairs isn't too much of a departure.

I'm definitely down with using tape.  Got a nice gallon of paint, yes, actually bought one, the two possibles from the dumpster turning out to be solid material.  Taped up the stair wall and around the treads to save the rug, this was the dull bit which I did last night. 

Then today, only painting below the tape, to fix the most beat up part of the wall, the upper part never getting marked up, took a bit over an hour and a bit.  And I noted that ancient law of nature that dictates that when you paint walls, you're sure you've caught all of it, no missed bits, no wobbly edges.  Then as soon as the brushes and pads are washed and all the gear is away again, bingo, you see a little bit here and there.  So you get a little plate of paint and touch them up and nobody knows the difference, unless you blog about it, of course.  And the staircase looks a whole lot better now.

So this is very pleasing, the color named Sunflower Seed, and both arms are still working.

Meanwhile, of course the Dollivers ran up the flag in a waving field of wildflowers, planted from seed saved by Boud from last year, and retired to the Adirondack chair with a big glass of lemonade, and patriotic songs from Elton.  

Boud bitterly suggested Sixteen Tons might be a good theme for her today, but was swept away in a tide of anthems, fruited plains and all the rest of it.

And we all wish you a great day, if it's your Independence Day, happy all of us, and let's keep on working to improve everything, plenty of scope. If it's just a Monday where you live, well, enjoy it anyway!