Thursday, June 29, 2017

Music not on today, gardening rushes to fill in the opening

I used to explain to Handsome Partner that it was no good waiting till I was unoccupied to talk to me, because that would never happen.  Always something going on.  Funny, since he was very much the same way, but he used to get het up when I moved from one thing to another without a pause.

 I'd encourage him to just barge in and say what he wanted. That's the difference between someone who grew up the elder in a family of two kids, and someone who grew up the youngest in a cast of thousands.  You don't wait for a space to talk, because there won't be one. You make a space!

Today, case in point, music originally moved because weather expected to be very hot, hard for me to drive, park, walk, play, retrace journey in blazing hot car, etc.  But then cancelled anyway because one player under the weather.  So gardening seemed to just rush in and take over.

I went out this morning before it got too torrid, to the nursery in search of hens and chickens. Been wanting some for ages, never succeeded with them, largely because they need good drainage, and the  &*&*&*& sprinkler system which drowns our areas daily in season never gives them a chance in the ground.  

But the advent of the nine hole strawberry pot was great, much better for drainage.  And today that took over half the day, just as well I wasn't playing, too, used up a lot of energy on gardening.

Found a nice colony of hens and chickens, and estimated that, separated, they would be about right, and here they are, in progress. 

 I should explain I never did this before at all, was just more or less guessing how to handle things, but I think plants sense when you mean well and have a kind touch, so I'm hopeful.

Anyway, this is how it worked out.  

The white tube thing is a Martha idea,  for once I tried a Martha idea. I had pvc piping in various lengths left over from building bits of weaving and spinning equipment, and my next door neighbor kindly drilled holes in the length of this piece, after arguing that I'd cut it wrong, he would cut a bit more off, so what the heck, he was doing the drilling, I let him go ahead.  I think it's too short now, he thinks it's fine.

The idea is that you can water much better this way, pour the water down the middle of the pipe, let it seep out the drainage holes drilled at intervals, and we'll see how well it works.  I poured in about a quart before it started to seep out the bottom, so now we'll see.  And hope the little chicks don't fall out before their roots get settled.  I'm wondering if this might be good for other plants, too, to get water deep into the plant rather than seeping down from the top.

Anyway, back at the strawberry pot, I put in soil at the bottom up to the first level of three holes, settled hens and chicks in, then filled up to the next holes, more plants, and so on.  The pvc pipe was inserted before all this, and the rising soil level held it steady after a bit.  Then the remaining plants filled up the top nicely.

Here you see the top of the pvc tube from another angle,but it's pretty well camouflaged by plants.

This lovely setup will come indoors once the weather turns in the fall.

I seem to have got off on succulents lately.  I took care of some over the winter for a friend, and they did fine with my somewhat inexpert care, so I investigated how to propagate from them, since they're now home in his yard, and I'd taken a fancy to them.  A bit of research persuaded me it would be workable. He agreed fine to my taking off a few lower leaves to try out.

Here's the parent plant, looking very nice if I do say so, sitting in its antique copper and porcelain scuttle aka its summer home,  and here are the leaves, gently turned and snapped off,

And here's the plate of them, back in my kitchen, and their eventual clay pot homes. 

Now comes the hard part. Waiting.

It can take days for them to scab over at the point where they were broken off the plant, then I will lay them on top of the planting medium that is even now on its way to me, coco peat. Then weeks more ensue before I see if tiny roots emerge, and after that plants which can be transplanted. But I'm ready for it, as you see.  

Some of my best plants have started with a leaf or a little cutting. A lot of my houseplant and other gardening involves leaving stuff alone.

Gardening is a great antidote to the stress of today's political scene, and handling plants like this just feels more important than fretting. You can't rush it, so you may as well slow down, observe, just see all the details of what's happening indoors and out.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Visitors next door, gathering in the herbs, and kitchen thrills and spills

Weekend visitors next door, grandchildren, endless entertainment watching their capers.  Here the just two year old ditches her best visiting sandals 

for her favorite climbing shoes, and favorite outfit, ready to tackle the Big Front Step

while her five year old brother obligingly holds open the screen door till she eventually gets there.

And the lazy cook thinking about making pesto, the herbs flourishing wildly and ready for pesto, thinks, hm, got all the ingredients, the parmigian cheese, the olive oil, the garlic, the crushed walnuts, not a fan of pine nuts.  But I didn't have the energy to make pesto.  However, the herbs needed to be caught right now at peak.

Seen here, foreground to background,  tarragon, rosemary

thyme, Thai basil, spearmint, oregano, basil, sage.  Particularly happy about the Thai basil, since I brought it back from seeds I saved last year.

Then I needed to pack them somehow to freeze.  Just freeze, don't fiddle about doing anything first.  This is great when you need a few twigs of herbs to lay on top of the chicken or the fish, in the oven.  Also to give to the neighbor when he grills meat, a rosemary twig tossed on the hot grill gives terrific flavor to meat, I'm told, not a partaker, but I can smell the herby effect.

So I knew there was a use for those bags the wine comes in. I felt a bit like an old farm lady doing this, putting up me herbs, except that she was probably not putting them in a freezer, nor using wine bottle bags.  

Maybe her Lydia Pinkham's Mixture came discreetly in a brown paper bag?  a lot of farm ladies used to swear by it, I know.  Not surprising, when you realize that this "tonic" was a pretty high proof alcohol!  Well, before the Model T arrived, a lot of women scarcely ever got off the farm, so there wasn't a lot of kicking up of heels to be done.  Enter Mrs. P.  But I digress.

Then, that done, on to the business of the day, baking bread rolls. Plus one actual loaf.  I was so carried away with the herbs that I clean forgot that the baking sheet I put the rolls on wasn't a nonstick.  So the rolls baked beautifully, and were welded to the pan.  

You see them here, with some debris in the background.

Nothing daunted, I used my trusty breadknife to cut across the bottom, leaving only a bit of a crust on the pan in the place of each roll.  And now I have pre-split rolls...ready to toast and butter. And a reminder that things go wrong in the kitchen, and can be rescued without too much sturm und drang if you have the right attitude. And I hadn't even had a glass of Lydia P, either. 

The loaf came out fine, parchment paper in a nonstick loaf pan.  Probably would have done well to put parchment paper under the rolls if I'd thought of it.

Then the scraped-off debris went out for the birds, whole grain bread, good for birds. The starling who has been run ragged feeding two giant babies all week seized on it, and stuffed a big wodge of it in the first baby's beak, pushing until it went down.  It worked fine till a bluejay, butterclaws, landed wrong on the plate, scattered the lot everywhere.  But I expect it will still be devoured.  Nothing's ever wasted. 

And I did a great freecycle this weekend, a big strawberry pot, almost perfect condition, ready for me to plant something. Pic is before I scrubbed it to get a nice mellow terracotta effect instead of the rather mossy look which I'm not so fond of.

Bit late for annuals, but I'm thinking of hen and chickens, never been able to get them to succeed here, in the ground, but I think this might work.  That's an upcoming project.  I would like to bring them into the house in the fall, too, and have them in view all winter. Always good to have something interesting to see.  As long as the cats don't get bright ideas about kitty hockey..

Sunday, June 25, 2017

June walk by the pond, sunday morning before it gets too hot

I don't do well in heat, so I took a walk this morning before the sun got too hot, along Plainsboro Pond.  Happy people, dogs, birdsong everywhere, lovely time walking.

Before the entrance to the one-time island, a couple of bluebird boxes, currently occupied by noisy families of house sparrows.  I used to tend bluebird boxes in another park, and learned they're put in twos like this so that interlopers, usually barnswallows, in fact, take one and tend to leave one for the bluebirds.  Sparrows have no such sharing ideas, evidently.  

I could hear their young shouting away inside the box, not old enough even to look out yet.  The cold spring must have delayed a lot of breeding, since I have young birds all over at home, still being fed, pretty late for them, and not the second brood either.

This is how you cross into the park, which used to be an island, until they built this footbridge to connect to the mainland (!)

waterlilies on the pond.  a second before this, I saw a large snapping turtle submerge

Wild roses everywhere

Mosses underfoot and shadows of the foliage falling on them

Kittenbird in tree studying me, too young to be worried

More wild roses and grapevines here and there

The wild grapevines were a happy discovery today, which I explain about here

If anyone's interested in knowing how to use them for drawing, let me know, and I'll tell you more than you wanted to know...


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

DIY, ten minute variety, my fave, and other past capers

Since my front door faces west, the afternoon sun beats on it.  This is why I put up that awning at an angle to the door, outside, to keep the sun out of my living room a bit longer each day.  

I have a door curtain up, varies with season and mood, to draw over the storm door, so when I'm home I can keep the front door open and let light in, without the sun and heat.  A metal door really builds up heat, especially when you close the storm door over it and create a small enclosed solar oven out there.  The reason I don't switch out the storm panel for screening in summer is that I want light and my air conditioning, too.

Anyway, time to switch from the big fleecy blanket which kept the door warm all winter, blocked drafts, and generally did a good job.  I got another three yards of the same stripey canvas as the awning, and whipped up a curtain for inside the door.  I like this a lot. Very cheerful, and does block some heat and a lot of sun.  

Simple construction: floor to ceiling in that hallway is about 7.5 ft, three yards of fabric is 9 feet, big hem at top for hangers, just cut it at floor level at the bottom.  I used clips which slip into shower curtain rings, easy to draw open and closed, and the whole thing literally took about 15 minutes including finding the little step ladder and the clips.  I have a strip of fabric left over, which I might use to make a new sail curtain for the loft, very seasonal, and probably about the right size.

What with making paper right and left, and this latest  diy, it's been a strenuous few days.  When you do stuff like this you don't realize until you've finished that you went up and down stairs or stepladders numerous times in the process, and in the case of making paper, lugged gallons of paper around.  Then you stop, and your body points out that it needs a cup of tea and a nice rest, if you can get around to considering that.

Total cost of this exciting adventure about $15.  From the outside you see the awning and the curtain through the storm door, nice continuation of the stripey nautical effect.  Or maybe garden party.  Maybe I had Royal Ascot on my minds.. 

Speaking of solar ovens, when Handsome Son was much younger, I used to do various experiments and adventures with him, one summer building a simple solar oven.  Just the usual wooden box, lined with tinfoil, glass lid.  And we would cook in it, which thrilled him quite a bit. 

In those days I was still eating meat, so it might be pork chops, or something.  The slow gentle cooking was great, but we quickly found that one of us had to be on guard at all times once the meat started smelling good, since it was a dog magnet.  No fences in that part of town, so we had to fend off various people's dogs who thought we were throwing a nice barbecue for them. 

And speaking of experiments, there were the years when we got ladybug things, forget what they call them, but they are the item the babies hatch from.  And had 63,457 ladybugs flying around wiping out aphids from all over. 

And the praying mantis chrysalis, which delighted both of us. For years after we'd see baby mantises all over the window and door screens, and their descendants, too, tending to business for us.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The day went differently than planned 6WS

So today I had planned on the farmers' market for salads and eggs and whatever else was good. Then the rain came on when I was on a previous errand, so change of plan.  To local farm stand where I found the last of the strawberry season and the first of the raspberries and peas.

Handsome Son wants to come for dinner tomorrow, so it was a good time to roast the chicken drumsticks, make a batch of curry powder in case I wanted to curry them.  

So I made a new batch of Bill Veach's curry powder Number One.  I just go by the proportions he uses, not the weights, since he's talking ounces and I have no scale anyway.  But it's easy to proportion it using a tablespoon as the three ounce equivalent, and scaling down from there.  I don't want to make as much as he does, so this is fine.

And here it is looking like a gravel pit, but very much more fragrant, wonderful, in fact, reminds you why it's good to cook. 

I tried grinding everything together this time, so see if the cinnamon would work better like this, which it did.  You're supposed to grind the grindables ahead then stir them together with the powders.  But I found that the flavors came out very well with grinding.  A few seeds didn't grind down, so I just spooned them out and worked on them with a pestle and mortar.

Duncan, the natural born supervisor, had been just fine, very cool, while he watched me measure, but once I started grinding, and opened the grinder, the smell was wonderful, but not to him.  He reared back and gave me a look of total betrayal.  You're trying to POISON me!

If you haven't tried making your own curry powder, do.  It's fun, and it uses up all those spices you bought one time and really need to try..there are at least ten spices in this mix.

But, curry powder made and stored, since we have the first of the peas in, it might be better to have the roast chicken, with fresh peas and mash. Summer type fare.

And since I had the last of the strawberries here, why not make a nice strawberry sauce and some shortcake to go with it.  This is how you get enmeshed in all kinds of cooking activity if you don't look out. The little bowl is the smaller in a set of lovely old McCoy bowls which are designed to look like ears of corn. Had them since HS was a baby, so he will probably like this touch.

So after chicken was roasted and taken out to cool, oven temp pushed up a bit for the shortcake.  This was just my same old hot biscuit recipe with a bit of sugar added, and a bit less flour, to make it softer.   The smell of the strawberries, with a pinch of fresh lavender in, whoa.  Little sprinkle of cornstarch.  The sauce will be spooned over the shortcake.  The cook tried it this afternoon and pronounced it good.

None of this was planned for today, in fact I was supposed to be excavating in the freezer for last year's iris leaves, with a view to making paper.  I did eventually get to that, but that's for Beautiful Metaphor, see here

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Lavender and books, cooking and other food for thought

More books showed up in my world, this one being impossible to resist

I read it right there at the library, thereby probably proving its title.  Found that as compulsiveness goes, I'm about as bad or good as other people who make art.  But not as neurotic as some.  

One of my art teachers used to warn students that if you are serious about art, you are most probably compulsive, since art takes such effort and focus and energy.  So steer clear of substances when you're not making art.  He said there's a reason a lot of artists are users.  

My compulsions fortunately apply only to making things and using tools.  And Twitter, but that's a recent development.  Anyway, this book is worth a look, but does tend to pile up the anecdotes, possibly to fill more pages, or am I just being cynical..

Then cookbooks, I always check out ones that teach you 1,000 ways to cook chicken, 367 ways to deal with an egg, and so on, just to see what they're actually doing.  And the Five Ingredients one is a bit of a swizz.  They don't create a meal, which for me is more than just the main course (and those look pretty sparse to me, in the pix, too), but I did get a great recipe for fettucine alfredo from it, and recommend it.

Instead of just dressing the cooked fettucine with the butter and parmigian, you take a scoop of pasta water before draining the pasta, simmer it with the butter and cheese, then add in the drained pasta, finally a bit more cheese and butter on top.  It's really good. Also as simple as he promised.

The Austen one was meant as kind of beach reading, and I have to admit, reader, I failed at it.  Just couldn't keep reading.  One of those books that are fun for a while, but don't kind of get anywhere.  I couldn't help wondering if the writer just wanted to be writing, rather than wanting to be writing something specific. 

But there are loads of people without my cranky nature who might really like this, fairly light, fairly literate, reading, so I would say take a look.  I had thought I'd like it as summer stuff that didn't take great mental energy.  But I realized as I went along, that really good writing, Lively, Pym, Wesley, creates the energy that you need to read it and enter their world.  

It's actually harder work to get through this sort of book than theirs.  Middlemarch just picks you up and sweeps you before it.  Which brings us to Joyce...Ulysses, to be exact, which swept me before it about two thirds of the way, then I sort of fell off at the curve in the road.

Then I was doing the Harvesting of the Lavender.  

Some of it anyway, needing to keep some out there blooming because my neighbors love it.  I had planned on making one of those woven wands, but ended up deciding it wasn't for me -- lavender is not very pleasant  to handle,not exactly oily, but a kind of blunt feeling -- so I just made a spray 

and hung it in the downstairs bathroom.  

It's being guarded by a doll I made and a little wooden man from 50s England.  And observed by a little ceramic turtle, gift from Handsome Son when he was about four, shopping with Handsome Partner.

The other thing I realized about trying to make a wand is that I don't like manhandling plant material.  I felt like a bit of a brute, bending stems and starting to weave.  Same way I feel about terraria, too, something supremacist about making plants do what I want.    Not entirely rational, I agree. 

But I have such a fellow feeling for plant life that it just feels wrong.  Not even fond of cutting flowers, I mean the act of doing it, but that may be early childhood conditioning. I remember my Mom who wasn't a fan of cut flowers, quoting George Bernard Shaw saying he liked children but not with their heads cut off, same with flowers!  But I have broken through this taboo with my monthly flowers in the house.   I do prune plants, because it's actually good for them, and in the wild, wind and weather would do it anyway. Same with cutting herbs, which encourages them.


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Shortbread and welcome blankets

Sudden need for shortbread, today, and since it's hot and the ac is on it's not too wild to bake.  So after studying my Big Australian Baking Book, and Martha Stewart's Cookies, and noting the lengths both go to to make a simple project into an olympic feat, I fell back on the old simple Sunset book.  Same results, basically, with many fewer fiddly steps.  I added some lemon zest into the mix, like that subtle taste.

So the beloved castiron baking pan came into play, and afternoon tea included a couple of squares of shortbread, plain, unpretentious. Next time Handsome Son shows up for a cup of tea, there will be a little something for him to go with it. He loves shortbread.  Well, he dives into any food I offer him, but some items he likes more than others.

And my blanket project, knitting sections for Warm Up America, has now been swept into the successor to the Pussyhat Project, the Welcome Blanket project to be exhibited then donated to incoming refugees, as a token of welcome and warmth.  Some knitters are getting into this with significant icons and colors, and I'm mainly knitting my stash.  

There will be a pocket containing a note of welcome, though.  And I'm using acrylic, so as not to add to the burden of people coming through such an ordeal.  Acrylic washes easily, no worries.  No hand washing, nor blocking. So I refrained from using my handspun.

I knitted one section today, and I think I can do one a day without busting up my hands.  They're hoping to start receiving in July, blankets, not people, that is.  I'm heartened by the number of refugees who have been quietly welcomed throughout all the blustering of politicians trying to stop them, and would like to add my bit. I will be doing my own joining up, though, not just sending a stack of sections.

And I got a reward this afternoon, when I looked up and saw a hummingbird browsing busily among the lantana, flying between the stems, backwards, too.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Farmers' market, classical music, perfect together 6WS

The Perfect Together slogan is a long running tourist meme for NJ, and tends to crop up..

Anyway, today, perfect weather for the farmers' market, though I didn't need much, ended up with apples and salad greens, 

because I brought my own bags, was given an extra apple.

And there were the usual huge array of food, veggies, plants, herbs, the local food bank collection (they take either fresh produce or money to buy it with).  

And today, best of all, the local high school string ensemble, playing a great selection from Mozart to ragtime.  Not easy to play a stringed instrument in warm weather with humidity.  Keeping the tuning is a challenge. But they did a great job.  Two first violins, several second violins, two violas, two cellos.  Not easy to get pix of them without a phalanx of devoted parents getting into the frame as they did the same.

So I had a free concert thrown in to the morning's planning.

Then the library, and home for a plein air adventure, which I tell about here

Friday, June 9, 2017

Plant identification by scent

Since my patio and the area out front is fully populated, mostly groundcover with all kinds of herbs and other plants in there when they can make it, but rarely a weed, I occasionally spot something I need to pinch and sniff to identify.

Here's peppermint!  very happy to have it. I have tons of spearmint the same flavor as toothpaste, but peppermint is the one you want for mint sauce and other interesting things.  

And here was a surprise, nearly pulled it for a weed until I stopped and checked, and found it was a rose geranium.  This is a mystery, since it's years since I had one in a pot, which vanished over winter, and this one was growing happily in the ground.  But the scent is unmistakeable, and makes you want Turkish delight, often flavored with it.

The Thai basil, tiny little plants, did survive the repeated squirrel attacks, and a pinch and sniff gives you the characteristic licorice sort of flavor.  They're the tiny heart shaped leaves, and I hope they grow a whole lot bigger, since I have plans for them. I saved these seeds from last year's plant, so we'll see how well they do.

No need to name this one.  This lavender is in its third year of absolutely no care, in a pot, just occasional douse with water, and it seems happy.  I often think the secret to growing plants is to leave them alone, not be at them, pruning and pushing and nagging.  And since I'm a pretty lazy gardener, that's not hard for me.  I have neighbors who are much more industrious, and I think their plants die of exhaustion.

Gardening by scent, really satisfying. Dogs must go mad in gardens. Now I'm off to make a pot of tea, haul the pillow out to the patio chair and sit in the sun to read my Hiromi Kawakame.  

I read The Briefcase recently, and it was wonderful.  Great translation, I expect, since it seemed to flow so well.  And I'm starting another, Manazuru, named for a coastal location the protagonist visits.

Are there any Kawakame fans in our blogworld? 

Astute readers may have noticed my radio silence on the subject of Ulysses this year. I may have reached my limit, having got about three quarters there.  Possibly when Bloomsday gets here, I may reconsider.  Or not.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Labyrinth, after a long hiatus

Since I had art business not far from the labyrinth, it seemed like a good idea to make a visit, first for a long time.

And I found it under renovation!  no escape from reno.  All the old shrubs gone, wood trim around the edges, prayer flags gone.  I expect it will be fine, and Buddha, serenely sitting in a different corner, seems to have little concern. 

Always on the walk, I get an answer to some concern I brought in with me, in the form of an object that I find on the path.  Today it was an empty cicada shell, perfect, complete, discarded because the owner outgrew it.  

So I carried it to the middle and set it there on a rock, as my offering for today.  Many messages in that cicada shell, which I'll leave you to decode, since they might be different for you, and I don't want to impose my responses on yours. 

And on the way out, joyful old fashioned roses, smelling the way roses should


Monday, June 5, 2017

Lively, bluejay and Marigold goes under cover

A while since I did a book review, though I've been reading all along.  I don't review books I didn't get much out of, or that I really didn't like, not fair, just my opinion.  But when one seems really worth the energy, I do.  

And, it's Monday, not that Marigold is particularly concerned about that, more that it's rainy and she was disturbed by my insisting on a picture. But readers who had to go back to work might enjoy a suggestion of a book to check out.

So here's the current choice:  latest collection of short stories from Penelope Lively.  
It's a bit uneven, but has a lot of layers and levels and is definitely worth reading.  She likes to slide between real and surreal, points in history, points of view.  Her writing is a kind of rollercoaster of technique, and very engrossing.  You always feel she's pulling your leg a bit, and is really onto you.

One odd choice: usually the title is from the strongest story, and it's put at the end of the book.  Probably to keep people reading.  In this instance it is the strongest story, but it leads off the collection, which, to me, tails off a bit after that.  I think Lively really is better at following a thread or ten throughout the whole novel form, rather than encapsulating them as in the short story.    But read it, and let us know what you think.

Aside from a lot of other things going on, some too soon to write about in the art side of life, I've been observing the feeder, kept supplied with suet put together in Minnesota and NJ birds seem to think this is the best thing ever.  The feeder is mobbed and I get to observe a lot of interesting and some comic avian capers.

There are about three or more bluejays feeding regularly.  One has got the hang of clinging to the side of the feeder, one is dedicated to standing on top of it, even when the food is so far down he can hardly reach.  And the third, my favorite, tries to hover under the feeder and snatch food which he eats on the deck.  You get to know birds as individuals if you observe them enough.

Here's a pic of him trying to flutter up to the bottom of the feeder.  He's a bit off course, feeder being over there on the left, in front of the lantana on the fence. Which attracted the first hummingbird of the season a couple of days ago.  Just a flash of a sighting.

Then there was a standoff between a female cardinal and the red bellied woodpecker, neither conceding until they feed at the same time before flying away at the exact same moment.  And a real fail from a male house sparrow going beak to beak with a little downy woodpecker.  Sparrow had no hope of holding on, eating, and fighting all at once, against the downy, small, but with that tail that enables them to hang on to trees.  Sparrow eventually basically fell off, chuntered and stomped around the deck, catching the crumbs that the downy dropped.

But it's not all birding.  Cooking is happening, too, since I got back the gumption to do a big shop, vegetables and tofu and parmigiano, and all kinds of good things.

So today, I roasted vegetables.  Sweet potatoes, white potatoes, carrots, squares of firm tofu, all tossed in olive oil, mustard seeds, fresh ground pepper, kosher salt, turmeric, home ground curry powder (from Bill Veach, let me know if you want the directions). Then roasted at 425F for thirty minutes, sort of stirred about a bit, then another 25 minutes and all was done.  And very good.  You can make a whole meal from this mixture.  Which I did.  And three more meals to come.  Probably next time Handsome Son gets here for a dinner, he'll get some of this.  Maybe with sausage or chicken or something.

Here's the before:

and the after:

As you see, they shrink a little, but everything was just right.  A bit crisp and spicy on the outside, tender on the inside.  Highly recommended on a day when you can tolerate a hot oven.