Sunday, July 31, 2011

Fakey gazpacho

When I was sick, I didn't want to eat, but I knew I had to.  It was also very, very hot outside.  I also had a lot of cucumbers.

Ah! Inspiration. . .

I took a 28 ounce can of tomatoes, a chopped cucumber, a handful of cilantro, a little bit of cayenne pepper, cumin, and ground corriander seed, some salt and pepper, and purreed it in a food processor.  I chilled it and then poured it over finely chopped cucumber and zucchini.  It was very tasty.

It was not a proper gazpacho, which is also delicious, but it worked out quite well for me.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

I'm back, sort of

I was over the worst of the sinus infection/cold but was still very tired and not back 100%.  I also had (still have) a nagging cough and toasted voice.  The end result was that I was in bed very early.

When I get something like this, I tend to lose my appetite.  I also tend to lose my appetite in the heat (though I love the heat, I remember the dogawful winter far too well).  So I've lost weight and I think that's also making me a little tired.

Hopefully I'll be posting again this week. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

My first cucumber and other garden news

Today I picked my first cucumber.  There are a few small ones starting as well.  The plants have a lot of flowers on them, so I'm thinking I'll have a good crop.  I have been sick and wasn't able to keep up with the garden as much, so the weeds are back out in full force.  I really, really wish they hadn't shut down the community garden for two weeks, and that they had tested the soil when they first set this up.  I've been doing triage since they let us back in.

My bush bean plants are pretty much gone--baby rabbits come in to eat them (I saw their scat on one of the tarps I put down).  I am getting some tomatoes--hopefully I'll get a lot this year.  I've got some flowers on the plants, but not lots.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed.  My eggplants are getting big, now if they'll only bear fruit!  My red pepper plant is bearing fruit and two of the six green pepper plants are getting big (but not bearing fruit yet).

My rosemary is still small and my thyme is a little sad.  The oregano is growing close to the ground, not up.  The basil--the plants that survived, that is--is doing well. 

Well, you know how I said I'd share my triumphs and failures with you?  Looks like the garden is a mixed bag this year. We'll see. . .

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Herbs

I was talking to someone about growing herbs recently--I think I was bemoaning the state of my basil plants--and she said she wasn't sure what to do with herbs, so they ended up going bad in her fridge. 

Before I go on to the main topic of the post, I'll just say here that herbs were kind of my gateway plant to gardening.  About eight years ago, I asked my folks if I could plant some herbs in a small patch in their garden, and they graciously allowed me to.  I've made bags and bags of pesto cubes since.  I've grown basil (hence, the pesto), rosemary, oregano, sage, mint, cilantro, dill and thyme.  I tried growing cilantro and parsley but the rabbits got to it quickly--we did wrap some chicken wire fencing around it one year and it did okay.  My mother grows shallots, which are perennials, and the sage that I planted about four years ago is huge and healthy.  That thing will never die.

So, here's what I do with fresh herbs:

Freeze them.  They often freeze well, as long as you don't expect to use them as a garnish.  If you need a fresh-tasting herb in a recipe (as opposed to dried) this is a good option (especially for basil, which has a very different taste dried.  It's delicious either way, but very very different).  If you need them to look pretty, this isn't the way for you to use them, though.

I'll chop them and toss them in omlettes, with scrambled eggs, in salads, on fish or chicken, in hummus or other dips, in soups, with vegetables (especially if I sautee greens, some herbs with bitter greens are lovely), or you can make some nice flavored oils or vinegars with them.  I plan to use some of the herbs I'm growing to make flavored vinegars and can them.  Those are good on salads.

I'll sautee zucchinni with some olive oil, garlic, and chopped herbs--maybe some rosemary and thyme, or some basil, or some oregano, whatever I feel like.  I let it cook down, sprinkle some parmesean cheese on it, and eat.  It's a lovely, light meal on its own or a delicious side.  (Hat tip to my mom, who taught me that recipe.  It also works well with summer squash.)

If I'm making rice or couscous, I'll chop some herbs and add them to the water or stock I'm cooking it in.

In the summer, I will make a cold soup with pureed cucumber, red onion, crushed ice, and mixed herbs.  I especially like using parsley and mint with this.  I also like adding chopped mint to salads; it adds a nice burst of sweetness.

If I'm roasting a chicken in the oven or in the slow cooker, I'll stuff it with fruit and/or an onion and herbs (sage, rosemary, or thyme work well).

If I'm making a quick tomato sauce from crushed tomatoes, I'll add some chopped oregano, garlic, and basil to the sauce.  Sometimes I'll add rosemary or thyme for a different flavor.

Mint is an herb I use a lot of--I chop it up and mix it with plain yogurt and fruit.  I put it in cold soups and salads as I mentioned above.  And I'll tear and crush the leaves and put them in ice water or iced tea.  It adds a very nice flavor.  If I have hot tea--either caffienated or herbal--I'll sometimes add mint leaves to enhance the flavor.  I also chop it up and serve it with lamb--I'll make it available for people to put on their servings of rosemary lamb chili (which is just divine) or I'll chop it up and make it part of the herb rub if I'm making lamb chops.  (I'll usually combine a little salt, pepper, chopped garlic, chopped mint, and chopped rosemary and rub it on the chops before baking or broiling them.)

Sage is delcious fried.  I'll fry it up in some olive oil and let it get very crispy.  It makes a good garnish for soups, for beef, or as a sinful little snack/side.  You can take frozen sage out of the freezer and fry it up and it will get just as crispy.
 
What I love about herbs is that they are basically weeds (go on, see how someone who seeks to maintain a pristine lawn feels about mint).  They are not tender, they are very tough, and boy do they add flavor.  And they also add a lot of nutrition.  I have a lot of dried herbs that I got from the supermarket--it's not worth my while to dry basil or rosemary or oregano--but when I have them fresh I really use what I have.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Criminal gardener

Practical Parsimony beat me to it; however, I came across this story and included a snippet about it in my church newsletter on sustainable living. 

Julie Bass, an Oak Park, MN resident, thought that when the town tore up their yard to replace a sewer line, it would be more efficient, frugal, and healthy to replace the grass with a front yard vegetable garden.  The city disagrees and told her to take the garden down or move it to her back yard. 

This wife and mother of six has asked for her day in court.  The trial will be on July 26th.  If convicted, she could face up to 93 days in jail. .

Among many of her neighbors, the garden is a hit. Neighborhood kids help her out with it.  The garden itself is neat and tidy.  But someone called the town hall to complain, and the town told her to move the garden.

The town ordinance says that any unpaved areas shall be covered with suitable plant material.  The town's Planning and Technology Director, said that "suitable" meant "common" (he cited the dictionary).

Ms. Bass wants her day in court--if she loses, she could face up to 93 days in jail.  She started a blog, which I highly reccommend you read to get updates.

One suggestion I'd have for her neighbors who back her is to plant front yard vegetable gardens themselves.  If they suddenly become common then the town will have no leg to stand on.  Another suggestion I'd make--which Julie made on her blog--is to not harass town officials at their homes, try to find their personal information or the names of their kids (holy moly, I mean seriously??), or generally act like bullies.  Send your concerns to the proper town office, keep it in a civil and adult tone, and maybe make sure your town doesn't have such an ordinance.    And if it does, organize with other residents to change it.

These ordinances mean well--they want to make sure that properties are presentable and safe, and I get that.  I don't begrudge any town official doing their job, and on one level, I get where they're coming from.  Having lived near people who let their yard get overgrown, or who never kept it up, or who tore out the grass and then let the dirt just sit there and turn to runny mud during the spring rains, I can see why there are laws in place. 

But in my complex you learn to let certain things go.  One woman turned her small patio area into a beautiful shade garden, with a lot of impatiens and shade-loving green plants.  Technically, it's against the rules--you're supposed to just leave the ugly shrubbery there.  But her garden has added to the place.  Likewise, we're not going to get stroppy about someone trying to grow a tomato plant and some basil.  (I will just turn green with envy because, sob, I don't get enough sun on my balcony to grow anything edible.)

I don't get why they didn't suggest she plant grass around the raised bed containers, or turn the area between the containers into more of a flower garden with walking paths, etc.  It doesn't have to be all or nothing, but unfortnately, that is the way these conflicts often go.  The town really dropped the ball on this one.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

It's viral.

Dreaded words by my doctor.  A z-pack will not help this sinus infection.  I'm supposed to stay home and just be sick.  Seriously, those are her words.

I hate staying home and being sick. Really, I hate being sick.  Argh.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Busy, productive me.

I got back from the CSA earlier this week and decided to preserve a lot of the food that I got that I won't eat.  I canned the beets, blanched and froze the beet greens, and I'm made zucchini potato soup that I froze.  The rest I'll either eat this week (salad greens and bok choy) or sautee or turn into chips (kale). 

I also suspect I have a sinus infection.  I'd say cold, but my sinus infections always start with a sore throat, post-nasal drip, and a throbbing face.  Check on all three of those.  I'll probably call my doctor tomorrow. Bleah.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Keeping up with the cleaning


 I don't smile maniacally when I do the dishes.
 Caveat: I need to practice what I write about.  I'm just sayin'. 

I find the biggest obstacle to having a clean place is keeping up with it.  I can put on my rubber gloves and scrub my place from top to bottom, but I still have to do things like cook and get mail and use the bathroom, so I've got to maintain.  Some people swear by FlyLady, and while I think she's got a great approach, I've found that lately you've got to ignore a lot of plugs for products she said you never needed when she first started (I mean, look, microfiber cloths are nice and all, but she herself said years ago that you don't need them, just clean rags, some soap, and some water to clean your place.)

Basically, I'm able to stay on top of things by doing these things:

I get rid of any mail that I don't need, and I shred any mail with personal or sensitive information on it.  Right into trash-recycling it goes. 

I refrain from dumping things on my kitchen table when I get home (it's right near my front door--I'm in a condo, not a house).  Yeah.  Well, ideally.  Not this week (hey, I said I need to practice what I write about).

I either scrape the dishes and put them in the dishwasher, or I wash and dry them, and I put clean dishes away.  At the very least, I keep them in the sink if I don't have time to wash them in the morning and do them when I get home (but coming home to a sinkful of dishes inspires me to nap because ugh, that looks an awful lot like work and I just spent eight plus hours working and another two and a half hours commuting round trip).

I try to sweep daily. I absolutely do this in the galley part of my kitchen, which tends to get dirtier since I, well, cook there.

I keep a sponge or rag in my bathroom on a suction holder attached to the toilet next to the sink.  I dampen the sponge or rag and wipe down my sink and other surfaces.  I throw the sponge in the dishwasher whenever I run it; if I'm using rag, I put that in my laundry basket and replace it with a new one every couple of days.  (I also throw the suction holder into the dishwasher.)

Granted, this is the ideal, but it's not like I'm good about doing this.  I get tired, I work late, I socialize, I work out and am so tired after that I just want to shower and crash, I get up late and barely have time for breakfast let alone straightening up. . .

I guess the biggest thing I have to remember is that the world won't end if things aren't perfectly clean, as long as it doesn't get too hairy.  As long as I never let it get to the point where it will take me a full day to get it looking halfway decent, I'm good.

Friday, July 1, 2011

I call hoax. Or pathetic attempt of a pickup artist.

So, apparently someone found an ATM receipt in the Hamptons that showed a bank balance north of $99M.  Several things ran through my mind:

No kidding, it's the Hamptons!
Are you sure it's not a printer error?
Are you sure their account wasn't hacked?

But I think it may be a prank or a hoax.  Either someone's bored and wants to have some fun and stir up some dramz, or it's some dude who is convinced that the chicks will reject him if he's not sweating cash and so bought a fake receipt. Yes, there are companies that create those, and there are pathetic losers who have decided that only rich men find love because all women are golddiggers, so they try to fake being rich, end up with a golddigger, and fulfill their own prophecy.  Your own hell, you really can make it.

Also--look, not that I am wealthy by any stretch, but the ultra-wealthy don't tend to let their bank balances be known to people.  Heck, I don't let my bank balance be known to people--if anyone knows it, it was revealed through subterfuge, not by any of my doing.  Not unless they are naive or very, very stupid.  Someone worth $100M or $1B may buy a mega-yacht or own homes in Aspen, Geneva, New York, and LA.  They may have a staff their household with a number of people that rivals the number of people employed by governments of small nations.  But I don't think it's likely for anyone who's really that wealthy to leave that information about.

Come to think of it, this may be a brilliant guerrilla marketing ploy for novelty/joke companies that print these things for people.  Or for a pick-up-artist guru who wants to drum up business. 

Busy Days

So, I've been mainly doing triage on my garden plot, which is why I've been so awful about posting here.  Remember when I said you'd hear more about my failures than my triumphs?  Well, this is one of those times.  Lucky you!

Anyway, it's a combination of bad planning on my part and forces arrayed against me.  I was going to mulch my garden (and just keep up with the weeding as I mulched parts of it, since it's a big plot and it's difficult to get that much mulch when you don't have a yard).  Unfortunatly, everyone got an email that the gardens were temporarily closed due to the fact that they had to test the soil--one of the plots at the other garden site had elevated levels of lead (!) and so they wanted to make sure it was safe.  Then they wanted to make sure there weren't any heavy metals in the soil, so it was over two weeks before I got the all clear to go in.

Oy.

It was a jungle in there.  I couldn't see my bean plants or my green pepper plants.  My herbs were lost in a sea of grass.  I spent a lot of time pulling weeds and laying down tarps, and there are still a lot of weeds (though I can see my plants now).  The good news is, I have a huge weed mulch pile.

Last weekend, something came in an ate a lot of my bean leaves (seriously? You filthy rodents can't even wait until there are beans?).  I guess fencing around a plot stops no hungry mammal.  I'm hoping a garden snake moves into the mulch pile.  The beans--most of 'em--are coming back, though I'm down to 11 plants now.  Sigh.

My eggplants seem to be doing okay, my tomatoes are doing okay (they are mostly staked), my red pepper plant is doing well (getting big, has flowers on it), my green pepper plants are small and stunted.  My herbs are also a bit small and stunted but it's been cool and rainy so maybe that's why?  As I've said before, it's a good thing I don't have to rely on my gardening prowress to eat, or I'd be in big trouble.

I will eventually get a decent digital camera (the one I have had for years pooped out on me a  couple of years ago) and I'll post pictures of my weed patch--er, I mean my vegetable garden.  And maybe other things, like the buzzard I saw grooming itself in a nearby tree when I pulled into a parking spot at work.  (They are surprisingly cute.)