July Garden Update, 2014

hook and flower 2The garden this summer has, so far, been amazing. I have been harvesting calendula for over a month now. At first there was just a small amount each time, too little for the dehydrator, so I strung them up to dry. While pretty, they don’t dry as thoroughly this way. I ended up putting these in the dehydrator later for a few hours.

dehydrating calendulaThis is the medicinal kind Calendula officinalis and if you plan on using your calendula for salves, I suggest you plant this variety. It has the strongest medicinal qualities of all the calendula varieties. Picking them, smelling them (marigold), drying them, and plucking the petals off to store for use later make me happy. Maybe it’s the colors. Maybe it’s knowing they are so good for skin and so easy to grow. I love everything about calendula.

drying comfreyI’ve been harvesting my comfrey too. I have only one plant but it’s putting off tons of leaves and I keep cutting them and drying them. They are huge. Too huge for my dehydrator unless I cut them first. This one harvest was just too big so I hung it out in the back yard under the oak tree. I don’t like the quality of hung dry as much as the dehydrator. They turn pretty brown. Which is fine. But it’s just better in the dehydrator. I dislike the smell of comfrey. Cutting it, crumbling it, yuck. Not sure why. But it is one of the best medicinals in my opinion so well worth the unpleasant scent.

light through oilI finally FINALLY made salve with the oil I already infused months ago. This is a triple strength wound salve and it’s turned out really well and we’ve been using it and it’s GREAT STUFF.

kale harvestMom loves kale. I used to think kale was okay-ish but mostly only in soup with white beans and cooked so long it stops being tough or tasting like old man breath. Yeah, I really don’t like kale and never have. But it’s one of mom’s favorite greens so she grew a couple plants of it and I harvested it for her, cleaned it, steamed it, and then froze it. She is still having to be careful of her produce intake after surgery.

insect nurseryPrettiest little insect eggs ever. They look like beads and are hard like bead too. These clusters came off in one piece. I have to admit that kale leaves can be really beautiful.

withered blossomOur squash plants have been pretty productive. The most productive being the zucchini and the least productive being the yellow crookneck. All of them are so good fresh from the garden – I can’t get enough of them.

sage and squashStarted harvesting and drying my sage.

tomatoes and calendulaThe tomatoes I planted this year are: Ananas Noire (actually ripens green and yellow), Ethiopian Black (small black tomato), Cherokee Purple (huge and deep red), Japanese Trifele (small reddish pink), Sungolds (orange cherry tomatoes – the only cherry toms I ever grow), and Pinapple (orange with red streaking).

Purple CherokeeWe’re getting lots of tomatoes right now. And yet – we eat them almost as fast as we harvest them. I made a wonderful tomato soup the other night and I didn’t have enough of our own tomatoes that day so I had to add a can of tomato sauce to it. Even so – the fresh tomatoes made it especially good. I made garlic sourdough croutons to go with it. I did make it too salty though.

The neighbors all love our garden. They tell us all the time. Strangers walking by stop and enjoy and we’re outside they tell us how gorgeous it is. It’s gratifying. It’s so wonderful to have our front yard vegetable and flower garden giving so much joy not only to us but to a lot of other people too.

Notable failures: beans. I planted bush beans around the base of the peach tree and they started turning yellow and the beans are tiny. I think it’s the variety and I don’t like it because I can’t tell when they’re mature.  The carrots and beets have not thrived. My herbs keep flowering and not growing in size. My summer savory died. Screw summer savory!

It’s time to remove the chard which has become covered in powdery mildew. Time to cut down the spent snap dragons. Time to trim back the rudbeckias. I need to weed out all the spent sprawling allysum and take out the dying nasturtiums. I think we need some new flowers. We definitely need some penstemon and thunbergia. Maybe some lobelia and creeping verbena. Flowers to add some color once I cut down the spent ones.

Next herbal project is to develop a great lip balm. I have just ruined a big quantity of organic sunflower oil by trying to infuse it with fresh rosemary and dried peppermint. FAIL. Infusing oils with fresh herbs has failed twice for me now and I need to stop learning that lesson. I don’t like the resulting smell. It smells like bruised leaves. So this time I’m going to do a batch of sunflower oil with calendula and comfrey and then add essential oils to it. I’ll start that today.

Being out in the garden to pick vegetables and herbs this season has been amazing. Getting  back into gardening after such a long time away from it feels healing and good. So, more of that soon!

xoxo

a

Finding my Feet in the Garden Again

lagerfeld roseYesterday I had a major anxiety meltdown.  It made everyone miserable.  Today I have a huge emotional hangover.  The best thing I know of to cure it is to hang out with plants.

P1010317So before I go get some bean seeds and squash plants from the nursery I am sharing some pictures of how the front garden is coming along.  Many things are settling in and just now starting to make new growth.  These pictures are from a week ago.

P1010319Those tomatoes are in.  I didn’t start my own seeds this year so I’m at the mercy of the local nurseries choice of toms.  So far we’ve got: Sungold, Japanese Trifele, Pineapple, Cherokee Purple, Ethiopian Black, and Anasas Black.  (Wishing I could have found Caspian Pink and Aunt Ruby’s German Green)

P1010321Sharon gave me a bit of comfrey root and I wasn’t sure it was going to make it – but it did!  I’m pretty excited about this.  Don’t you dare tell me how it “takes over” as though that’s a bad thing.  Comfrey is one of the best medicinal herbs there is so bring it the hell on!

P1010318The border against the porch is really coming along well.  All the roses, having been fed a couple of months ago, are thriving and are covered in blooms and buds.  We cut our first bouquets of the season and for days I’ve been enjoying the heavenly rose scent next to my laptop in my office. iceberg budIceberg is a workhorse.  We’ve missed having it in our garden.  Beautiful small blushed blooms with a medium honey-scent.  Wonderful for filling in bouquets.

People stop and stare at our garden now every day all day long.  And not as though they were wondering how such a trash heap was allowed to flourish.  They LOVE it! They tell us how much they love it all the time.  A UPS man slowed down to tell me the garden was looking great.  A group of hoodie and skinny pants -wearing teens walked by and I heard one of the guys say “I can’t wait to see what they do with this next!” pointing at the raised beds.  Seriously.  Teens love our garden as much as the older set do.

It’s childish of me but it makes me giddy to say I designed and built them every time someone asks.  I’m that proud.

On earth day I was writing but I stopped to go plant my Abraham D’Arby rose and do a little weeding.  Perfect day.  Perfect moment.  Everyone knows I’m not a fan of sunshine but I will say that when it’s mild enough even I can enjoy the feel of it on my back.  The alyssum smells strong when the sun is out so the yard smelled like honey.  I picked my mom and I each a little vase of roses.  That is a chief pleasure in life of mine.  Deadheading roses and picking bouquets to bring in the house.  My therapist said I needed to do that as often as possible because I mentioned it as one of the few activities that I find truly calming.  Anxiety is an insidious bitch and she took me the hell down yesterday.

Today is gorgeous out and so I believe the best way I can push the lingering threads of stress from my head and body is to put my hands in that soil out there and open packets of seeds and play that game where you put them in the soil and hope something comes of them.  You never know with seeds.  I’ve got some Alpine strawberry seeds I’ve been meaning to plant.  I’ve been hesitant because I don’t want them to fail.  Today I’m going to sprinkle them out in different areas and just let nature decide what to do about it.  There isn’t enough time in life to sit on seeds when you can throw them out into the world and watch for the tough suckers that pop up.

On my day out Friday I spent about an hour at a bus stop waiting for buses that didn’t come.  I picked up trash and I enjoyed the scattering of chamomile.  I don’t know what kind it was – no petals on them – the scent was more pale than on the Roman or German kind you grow in your garden but had the unmistakable smell of chamomile.  I’m not sure if chamomile has a wild cousin or not, I will find out another day.  I just enjoyed that a carpet of it was thriving in the hardscrabble behind the bench at the stop.  I feel like I’m one of those scrappy little buggers, just hanging on through drought and flood.  Popping back up after being walked on carelessly.  Multiplying its universe against all odds.  And for the desperate traveler they offer succor to an aching head.  If only the traveler would bother to know what’s right there under his feet.

I hope your garden is breaking out of its winter shell now.  I hope you’re able to get out in it.  I’ll be connected to you all today when I’m out there blackening my nails. xo

Organized House for a Clear Head

porch cornerI have been very busy recalibrating my body and mind but I have come to a roadblock.  There are a lot of tools I have for dealing with my mental illness which is the thing that must be managed above all else or nothing else happens.  Among the tools for managing my mental health (aside from the life-saving psyche meds) are gardening, cooking, making things, making POTIONS, taking photographs, arranging flowers cut from the garden.  Canning.  Writing about it all.  I have an exhaustive list of projects I want to be working on in addition to writing book 2 of Cricket and Grey.  But until my house is organized and cleaned up I can’t work on these other projects because I can’t GET AT STUFF.  I can’t FIND STUFF.  I can’t CLEAN STUFF when it’s all such a mess around here I don’t even know where to begin.

The theme of this year seems to be recalibration.  Changing habits.  Cleaning up.  Cleaning out.  Rebuilding.  Rewriting.

I have a great house.  Plenty of room for things.  It’s got a lot of awkward spaces and so my living room closet is actually my kitchen pantry.  It’s okay though.  If I work at organizing my rooms better I can make it all work better for me.  I need to make it so that it’s easier to put stuff away.  I need to clean out more stuff – just because I like getting rid of stuff.  Feels good the way rejecting infinite loops of negative thought feels good.  Maybe you have room for old records in your head but why keep them in there if you can make more room for fresh air if not fresh thoughts?

As I work on losing another 20lbs in the next 3 months I need to be getting my house organized and cleaned out so that I can write better and more and also do more fun things in my kitchen and learn more apothecary skills.  To get my household polished up and running more smoothly I need to do the following things:

Clean out all bookshelves – pare down books and DVD’s and anything else that lives on my bookshelves.

Organize bookshelves – in particular my reference books.  Cooking, preserving, and gardening books need to be grouped together for easy locating.

Clean out and organize the living room closet – it’s gotten hairy in there with empty jars.  I may need to store some empty jar boxes in my office.

Clean out canned goods from laundry room – I don’t use canned goods when they’re difficult to access.  That cabinet in the laundry room could hold empties and canning supplies like screw lids.  (The things living on top of the freezer?)

Clear off everything living on top of the big freezer – cause it just hurts looking at that pile of crap.

Organize the kitchen cabinets better – tough job, this.  Too bad.  Find a way to make it work better.

Plan rearrangement of kitchen to fit the old stove – make an actual plan on paper of how I will fit the vintage stove into the kitchen and how I will fit a dish washer near the sink – will I find a cabinet on craigslist to put next to the one we have or find one to replace whole sink cabinet and everything or build something myself?

Clean off all the things I never clean off – fridge, big freezer, washer and dryer, doors, mouldings, window sills, stair railing, and cabinet fronts.

Make bathroom curtain – because that sitch is kind of depressing.  It’s a small window and I already have the fabric and trim to do it.

Make curtains for office – because the blinds SUCK.  Admittedly this is a huge job because I’ve got a ton of windows in here.

Hang my weird crap up in the office – because I like looking at my weird crap.

All of these things will make it easier to clean my house efficiently and access all my stuff for projects when I want to instead of avoiding projects because it exhausts me thinking about all I have to do before I can even start.  My head will feel better because my space will feel better.  I’m going to give myself a deadline to finish ALL of these things.

That deadline is July 9th.  The same deadline I gave myself to lose my next 20lbs.  These goals are not unrelated.

What kind of household projects are hanging over your head that you need to finish so other things run more smoothly?  Want to join me in getting shit done?!  Let’s do it!

The Monastery Garden Update

BEFORE:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAInstitutional plantings of agapanthus, spider condos (aka mock orange?), and some wan heather (or whatever those wan plants are that you can’t see in this picture).

AFTER:

the new front yardMatching tiered raised beds on either side of the front walkway with an Elephant Heart plum in the center on one side and a Frost peach in the center on the other side.

cleaned upFirst we had to strip out the agapanthus – a job that will never be completely done because this plant was designed by the devil – and then we removed the creeping amorphous shrubs that all the neighborhood spiders were using as their hatchery.

P1000988Then we got one of the neighbors to come dig up the beautiful weeping cherry that produces no cherries.  This was a sacrifice on my mom’s part.  I swear I didn’t force her to agree to let me put a fruiting tree in its place.

IMG_20140317_173816Then I began measuring and cutting the lumber for the beds.  Remember that I already designed the beds this winter?

P1000991I built the beds.  It took me about a week to build all the beds.  Philip leveled them in the ground and filled them with soil.

P1010002If you want to meet your neighbors in Santa Rosa all you have to do is work on a garden project all week.  Absolutely everyone will introduce themselves to you.  I love it!  You could work on a garden project for a year in McMinnville and no one will EVER talk to you or introduce themselves.  Ask me how I know.

IMG_20140319_192606Everyone in the neighborhood (so far) LOVES the raised bed design!  (They’ve all told me so and have been commenting on the progress excitedly for two weeks now).

view from porchI wanted the beds to be matching on either side of the path to give the walkway a sense of symmetry and formality.

the new front yardThis week I will be planting the beds out with most of the herbs they’ll have in them for this year.  The vegetables will go in next week.  Next year I will add more medicinal herbs to the beds as we’ll be building vegetable beds at the end of the driveway.

I’d be out there planting right now but I woke up too late and it’s already HOT out and I wouldn’t be able to water anything I planted without giving them major sunburn.  Next week I should have more to show you in these beds.

Buckwheat the Hippie Way: recipe for buckwheat groats

hippie dinner 4The naked child is me in 1971.  The back of the photo says “flower child” in my mother’s handwriting.  That was probably the last time I was naked in public.  The other picture is of me and my mom making “seed paintings” in the One World Family commune I was born into.  The beads are from my mom, given to her by my dad (I think).  Pretty sure he brought them  back from India himself.

buckwheat 7I grew up eating this stuff.  My peers think they discovered eating whole grains.  Pshaw!  While you were all eating hamburger helper and white rice I was eating this healthy crap.

Being raised by a hippie mother left an indelible mark on my culinary palate.  While my peers are discovering the marvels of millet, raw foods, fasting, and sprouted everything, I have done my best to distance myself from these horrors from my childhood food legacy.  The best use I could come up with for millet, for example, was to pretend it was Kix cereal for my Barbies.  (Though I never got to taste Kix as a child, I knew it had to be less difficult and more pleasant to chew.)  In spite of growing up to dislike brown rice and raw tofu, my mother was a good cook and there are dishes she made that I have fond memories of.  One that I’ve been wanting to recreate is fluffy buckwheat groats with steamed vegetables served with butter and soy sauce.  It’s earthy humble food that is beloved by no one but hippies and Russians, though in Russia the buckwheat is more likely to be the bed upon which a huge roasted pig is served.

The last time I had a craving for this dish from my childhood I followed the directions on the (very expensive) package of buckwheat I bought.  The instructions said to bring the buckwheat groats and water to a boil and then simmer for 20 minutes.  Within five minutes of simmering it I had a pot full of buckwheat mush.  Not to be discouraged, two years later I’ve made a fresh attempt to recreate the buckwheat of happy memory.  This time I followed directions for making it the traditional Russian way.  I brought my buckwheat just to a boil and removed it from the stove and put it in the oven for an hour in a bean pot.  I’m not going to lie, the kitchen smelled wonderful while the groats cooked, but they didn’t look promising having the look of mush in progress.

When I removed them from the oven and fluffed them with a fork I realized that they were almost fluffy, which was encouraging, but when I tasted them they were bitter.  Bitter?  Frugality prevented me from throwing my experiment away.  I put it in the fridge for a day.  Sometimes magic things happen to leftovers, right?  The next day I put on some Simon and Garfunkel, got out my mom’s old Indian beads and, determined not to waste food, I heated up the buckwheat while steaming some broccoli.  I added butter and soy sauce and ate it.  I don’t know if it was the music and beads, or if taking a time out in the fridge sweetened the buckwheat, but suddenly I was taken way back to the good parts of being the child of a Hippie.  It was the perfect fare for an overcast winter day in Northern California.

Buckwheat the Hippie Way

4 to 6 servings, depending on how much pot you smoked

Buckwheat the Hippie Way

Ingredients

  • 2 cups toasted buckwheat groats
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 lbs broccoli, cut into florets
  • soy sauce

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350°
  2. Put Simon and Garfunkle's greatest hits on your stereo.
  3. Put your India beads on and don't shave.
  4. Put the buckwheat into a medium saucepan with the water, butter, and salt.
  5. Bring just to a boil, stir it, and then put it in a small baking dish.
  6. Bake groats for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Hippies aren't specific people. Remove from oven when all the water is absorbed into the grains. If you're antsy for precision, go smoke a joint or have an orgy while you wait to calm you down like my parents did. Fluff grains with a fork.
  7. While the buckwheat is cooling down, steam the broccoli just until tender.
  8. Put a healthy serving of grains down on your plate and top with broccoli and drizzle with soy sauce.
  9. Now you're eating a piece of my authentic hippie childhood. Feel free to rebel, I know I did. But if you grew up with fare like this I promise that no matter how goth or urban chic or sophisticated your tastes become, you'll always come back to this earthy weird food.
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Windowpane Quilt as Allegory for Hope and Patience

windowpane quiltThis is my finished windowpane full sized quilt that I started in 2007.  It’s taken me a whole 7 year cycle to finish it.  I had no idea when I started it that I was about to be the loneliest and fattest person I knew.  I had no idea my old cat was about to die and I was going to go bankrupt and that my son’s problems were going to come to a head.  I had no idea that we were going to spend almost $2,000 we didn’t have to save two tiny kittens from the claws of death.  I had no idea that before I finished this quilt I would start feeling so sick inside I would wake up most mornings wishing I could just peacefully go back to sleep and not wake up again until it was time to die.

windowpane seven years agoI had no idea that I would finally write the novel I’d been trying to write my whole life.  Or that I would take Kung Fu from an unbalanced but brilliant Kung Fu master and discover how empowering it is to punch and kick things.  I had no idea that the town I was living in which treats some people wonderfully would become an iron trap holding me and my family down with our faces in the dirt.  I had no idea just how poisonous a location can be to a spirit.  Nor did I have any idea that such poison could simultaneously inspire such raw creativity and beauty in the people it infects.

trying out for sizeI had no idea any of this was coming.  I just wanted to make a quilt to keep us warm and to cheer up our house.  I just wanted to have fun with my sewing.  Which I did.  I had no real plan when I started it.  I just cut a bunch of rectangles the same size and then started stitching them together.  This quilt was a bright puzzle I put together as I went along.

macro quilt viewIt’s about the joy of surprises and how color and pattern can come together and work in unexpected ways.

quilt five years agoThis quilt was about letting go of expectation and using what I had on hand.

flannel layerWhich is how it ended up with a layer of ugly cotton flannel in addition to the usual layer of cotton batting.  About a day after I took this picture I started basting the layers together and suddenly came down with influenza for the first time in my life.  The real flu.  And not just any strain of influenza – this was the first round identified as H1N1.  Ten days of fever, shaking, excruciating pain, and wracking cough that caused me to break a rib.  I didn’t work on this quilt again until last month, February 2014.

latenight quiltingFinishing this quilt stands for a triumph over adversity.  It stands for creation over destruction.  It’s about never giving up and keeping hope alive with the little things like not tossing WIPs just because so many of them never get finished.  It’s a willingness to see something through, no matter how long it takes.

IMG_20140208_175307It’s the first full sized quilt I’ve ever made, my fifth quilt in all.  I’ve made 3 baby quilts (for Adriana, Ben, and Ivy), 1 twin sized quilt (for Lili), and this one.

IMG_20140304_002007All my animals love it and claim it.  My sister was the first to break it in.

IMG_20140228_014400I re-watched most of Alias (for the 3rd time) while making it.  I stayed up until 3am working on it on more than one occasion because I wasn’t drinking alcohol and consequently have returned to my insomnia.

IMG_20140302_171253I learned to make my own binding and how to machine quilt something bigger than a twin.  Finishing this quilt has set something free, I’m not even sure exactly what.  The past?  Pain?  Creativity?  Faith in myself?  The future?

Maybe it’s an allegory for hope and patience.

I don’t know.  All I know is that a whole lot of shit has happened since I cut out the first stack of rectangles.  I started it in McMinnville, Oregon and finished it in Santa Rosa, California and in spite of all the bad stuff that’s happened, this quilt reminds me of the good friends I made in Oregon and miss.  It reminds me of the blueberries and the asparagus.  It reminds me of the rain and the snow.  It reminds me of Hotel Oregon and the geek techs with M16′s.  It reminds me of the brambles everywhere that make the best jam on earth.

This is my windowpane quilt – finished.

Making Mustard with My Sister

peppercorn dijan

Above: Dijon style mustard with black pepper

At its most basic making mustard involves nothing more than mixing ground mustard seeds with water.  Everything I’ve ever read about making mustard desperately wants me to believe that there is nothing to it, that the possibilities are endless, that there’s no trickery or special skills involved.  And that might be true if you aren’t a discerning mustard consumer who wants a very specific style of mustard and if you don’t care if the mustard you end up with burns your mouth to pulp.

macro brown mustardMy sister loves most mustards but I love just one kind.  The mustard I want to be able to make is what’s commercially referred to as “Spicy Brown” which is peculiar since it is definitely not spicy.  I don’t like spicy mustard.  I like my mustard to be tangy.

There is a lot of confusing information out there about mustard making.  For one thing, I read in an issue of Kitchen Gardener that there are three kinds of mustard seeds: yellow, brown, and black.  But other sources have suggested that brown and black are the same.  Then there are recipes that call for white mustard seeds which, it turns out, is another name for yellow mustard seeds.

all the mustardSo many mustard seeds and not a one of them looks exactly the same.

two brownsTo further complicate matters, some brown mustard seeds look nothing alike which makes me wonder how on earth mustard producers make sure they’re getting the same seeds every time.  Are there named cultivars that no one is allowed to reveal to the public?  Is there a giant conspiracy to prevent ordinary people from discovering how to make their own Spicy Brown mustard?  Why is there not one single recipe out there for the one kind of mustard I want to make?

making mustardAnother thing to be confused about when it comes to making mustard.  The heat factor.  If you take mustard powder and mix it with cold water and take a taste you may lose your tongue from the burning heat of it.  Cold water, I’ve read, makes a hotter mustard.  Hot water reduces the heat.  I’ve done it both ways and both ways have resulted in 4 alarm hell-fire spicy mustard.  Most sources say that letting your mustard age for 2-8 weeks at room temperature will mellow it out.  So the longer you let it sit, the milder it becomes.  When it hits the spice level you like you put it in the fridge to stop the mellowing process.

My sister and I followed a recipe in the only mustard making book I’ve been able to find “Gourmet Mustards“* by Helene Sawyer.  We made her basic recipe for Dijon style mustard which she had us cook.  That mustard turned out insanely hot.  I also suspect it didn’t need to be cooked in order to thicken it.  We also made her Dijon style mustard with peppercorns and her Bavarian Style mustard.

dijon mustardDijon style mustard thickening in the pan.  Heat did not, er, kill the heat.  Someone is definitely spreading some questionable mustard intel out there!

bavarian mustardFor the Bavarian Style mustard we were supposed to soak the brown mustard seeds in sherry but since that’s something I never have in my house we used some vermouth.  Which actually smelled pretty good.  Then we were supposed to put the seeds in a food processor and process until the brown seeds were “almost smooth” but “grainy”.  This did not happen as the seeds were much too small for my blades to deal with.  It’s pretty though.

three mustard jarsThe next day we opened the jars and took a whiff.  The Dijon style mustard smells exactly as you expect Dijon to smell but the Bavarian style mustard has a distinctly earthy odor that isn’t my favorite.  Now we wait for several weeks before tasting again.

Meanwhile – I still can’t find any recipes or instructions for making “Spicy Brown” mustard.  I know it has brown mustard seeds (though it could have some yellow too and I suspect, from the tangy aspect, that it is a blend of the two), vinegar, turmeric, and “spices”.  That’s all.  No sugar.

Which reminds me – all of Sawyer’s mustard recipes involve some amount of sugar.  This makes me suspicious that her palate and mine are very different.  I do NOT want sugar in my mustard.  I am not a fan of honey mustard either.  Also – never put candied fruit in a condiment.  Not if you want me to trust you when it comes to – well – anything.

I have a bunch of mustard seeds.  I plan to experiment with mustard until I get it how I want it.  And the next person who tells me that making mustard is the easiest thing in the world had better have a recipe for spicy brown or I’m going to make them eat a whole jar of my freshly made Dijon.

*Maybe the new expanded version is better than the version I have.

Preserving Garlic: what happens when you freeze whole bulbs

whole garlic cloves in oilWay back in the late spring of ’13 I got my hands on a ton of locally grown garlic.  Remember that?  I pureed a lot of it and mixed it with olive oil and froze it.  Then I decided to try something new.  I put whole peeled garlic bulbs in olive oil and froze them.  The idea is that I could defrost them and add them to pans of vegetables for roasting.  I love roasting garlic with sweet potatoes and tofu.  My concern was that freezing whole bulbs might result in a mushy bulb that doesn’t roast well.  I figured that if it didn’t work I could remove the bulbs from the oil and I’d have a great garlic flavored olive oil to use for sauteing and for dressings.  So a month or two ago I removed the first jar of whole bulbs out of the freezer like a scientist meeting his first test-tube baby – full of hopes and dreams for a life of laboratory purpose and circus exhibi-

Letting it defrost in the fridge was my first mistake.  Things don’t defrost in my fridge very quickly because I think I keep it too cold.  So after a week of waiting for the oil to liquify I set it on the counter.  Ah!  Hopes and dreams revived, I practically lived in the kitchen watching the oil turn slick and – and – then I saw the bulbs.  They were weirdly translucent.  Weird enough that I didn’t feel like trying to eat them.  If they were translucent then they were probably mushy as well.  Stands to reason.  A good scientist always goes through to the end of the experiment but I lost my nerve.  This may be why I’m a writer instead of a scientist.

defrosted garlic bulbsI couldn’t bear to throw the jar away but I couldn’t quite convince myself I wouldn’t seriously regret eating them either.  They were slightly discolored as well as  translucent.  Sitting on the counter for over a month did not increase their allure.  In the image above you can see how darkened the bulbs became.  They look like agates in a pool of viscous piss.  (Everyone’s gourmet dream!)  I continued to not throw them away because I knew I must photograph them first and share them here.

I finally did it.  By now I can’t at all be certain the garlic wasn’t teeming with botulism but there’s no reason I couldn’t satiate my curiosity to see what would happen if I pan roasted these guys.  First thing I discovered on taking these bulbs out and handling them is that they didn’t lose textural integrity.  Freezing them didn’t turn them mushy.  Here’s what happened:

what happens to garlicThey became opaque again and pretty.  If I didn’t feel so uneasy about the possibility of botulism I would want to eat those!

garlic in panSo here’s what I’m going to do: pull out another jar of bulbs to defrost on the counter but as soon as they’re defrosted I will add them to a pan of vegetables and roast them and eat them and report my findings because I refuse to let fear of weirdness prevent you from knowing if freezing garlic bulbs is worth doing.  Who knows, this information could prove to be vital in an apocalyptic situation.

Lili’s Quilt

Lili quilt 12This is the front of Lili’s quilt.  This is one of the main things I’ve been working on this month.  I got it done in about one week from start to finish.  A record for me.  I did almost nothing else during that time.

Lili quilt 6This is the first quilt I’ve ever done machine quilting on.  I’ve been wanting to learn to do this for years.  Lili’s quilt is the biggest of the four quilts I’ve made.  The first three were baby quilts and this one is roughly twin sized.

Lili quilt 10I watched almost all of Alias and the first season of Arrow while making it.Lili quilt 1I had no real plan ahead of time.  I only knew that Lili (a four year old girl) likes pink, red, and purple.  Having found no good purple prints I decided to break up the red and pink with black.  It’s much bolder than I originally imagined, color-wise.  Kind of punches you in the face, but that’s okay because Lili is a girl with major moxie and some day she will have no problem punching people in the face who get in her way.

Lili quilt 3Ad-libbing a quilt allows for all kinds of weird stuff to happen as you go along.  Like stripes that don’t quite match up, not enough of one fabric or another, and good surprises like unexpected cool piecing.

Lili quilt 2This is the back side of the quilt.  It’s asymmetrical.  On purpose by surprise.  The irregularities in this quilt would shame my mom’s sister who is one of those precise quilters who follows patterns and makes every seam match up PERFECTLY because otherwise – THESHAMETHESHAMETHESHAME.

Having been a costumer and a professional seamstress I know how important it is to make things perfect if you’re selling them.  I will rip seams out until they’re just right when making things professionally.  But quilting, for me, is the one sewing project where I let myself just have fun and let things develop organically.  I start with an idea and then let it just unfold.  I do try to do a good job sewing it but I’m not taking seams out when points don’t match perfectly or my lines aren’t ruler straight (though they usually are anyway).  Quilting is my free-range sewing time.  I get to do whatever the hell I want with it.  There are no rules.

I’m really pleased with the way Lili’s quilt turned out.

Now I’m working on the quilt I started 6 years ago in McMinnville.  I broke my machine while machine quilting it.  I’m about half done.  So tonight I’m going to finish the quilting and tomorrow I go to my friend Chelsea’s house to get a lesson in binding.  Because I suck at binding quilts and while I could continue to suck at it I think I would get more satisfaction if I could learn to do it better.

If you don’t have many (or any) spare blankets in your house you should start making quilts.  I have only two spare blankets and only one of them is full sized and it’s shredded to the point of almost being useless.  I am appalled at this whole situation because what if there’s an emergency or an apocalypse and we need extra blankets?

One quilt down and many more to come!

Adventures in Vintage Stove Cleanup

knob filthRemember that free vintage O’Keefe and Merritt stove Philip found for us that has been living in our driveway for over a year?  (Slummy is the new cool, didn’t you know?)  Now that the horrid summer of 2013 is far behind us, the stressful fall where the house situation finally resolved is done and done, and the distracting holiday season is almost a distant memory (except for the dead Christmas tree in the front yard that keeps reminding us), it’s time to settle into this house like we mean it.  I wanted and planned to get back into cooking with new energy and excitement which was quickly dulled by the current stove in my kitchen.

Current stove stats: btu output is paltry and barely enough to boil pots of water in under an hour on three of the four burners, the oven door falls apart at least once a month (I have pictures for proof but it depresses me so I won’t share), the knobs had a habit of falling off (a minor problem which has since been fixed  by the awesome Stove Man), and the oven temp is uneven.

It was finally time to see if our free stove is worth fixing and installing into our kitchen.

stove gutsSo I got one of the few people who works on vintage stoves in my area to come out and have a look.  The Stove Man!  (His actual name is Mark Cownie of Grift’s Appliance in Sebastopol)  My brother in law helped Philip bring the stove into the kitchen so Stove Man could hook it up to the gas line and check it out.  I never thought I’d geek out about a stove so much but Cownie’s love of these stoves and his knowledge is infectious.  He taught me how to remove the pilot housing (so I can clean them and also dry all the water that collected in them) and he put in a gas shut off (yellow knob in the image above) and showed me how to clean off the connection between the stove knobs and the pilots.

removing partsRemoving these parts is really simple.  I used to be scared of blowing things up or killing my family with stealthy gas emissions and consequently avoided anything more sketchy than lighting a pilot which, honestly, I used to make Philip do for me whenever possible.  Mark Cownie has taught me not to be scared of my own stove.  This is empowerment for the kitchen set!

Please observe that griddle in the above image.  Notice anything wrong with it?  I’ll pretend to give you fifty buckaroos if you can tell me what’s wrong with it.

testing oven pilotsThe Stove Man fixed one of the oven pilots and both of them are now working beautifully.  I only realized last week what it could mean to have a double oven.  I mean, I knew instinctively that where one oven is good, two are better, but in practical terms what does that actually mean?

It means having the magical power to bake a batch of cookies at 350° while simultaneously roasting a chicken at 450°!!  (Excuse me while I go shriek and holler with unbridled excitement…)

dirty knobsI have a ton of cleaning to do of this stove but it isn’t going to take much money to get it functional.  I cleaned the knobs last Friday.

clean knobsNext up – everything else!

The biggest challenge with getting this stove in use is that it is much bigger than our current piece of crap (both wider, deeper, and taller) so we’ll have to remove some cupboards to install it and I believe we’ll need to get an actual stove hood installed.  Our current set-up is the usual microwave doubling as stove hood – which is fine when  your stove’s btu output is barely enough to make pasta, but on the vintage stove that has four full-sized burners I think we need a real hood for safety.

Before we can go hacking away at cabinets I need to submit our plan to one of our landlords (a good friend of ours) so in the next week I’ll be cleaning this big magic stove and coming up with a solid plan for installing it.