Aug 29, 2009

A Tasty Interlude

It started with a movie. Last week the manly sweetheart and I took the MIL to see 'Julie and Julia', based on the book of the same title. She has been a Julia Child fan since the days of the tv show, and has owned a copy of 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking' since 1967 or so. I too once owned a copy, though it didn't last long. It was the 2-volume boxed set, but after a brief investigation of the contents I sent it off to the thrift store. Call me young and foolish -- I was not very interested in 'fancy' cooking. I laugh now at the fact that, though I did get rid of the cookbooks, I actually saved the box it came in, thinking it would make a good drum for my piano students.

All three of us enjoyed the movie, and left the theatre with a vague yet powerful yearning for food made with lots of butter. Heck, I said, if Julie Powell can make Boeuf Bourguignone, I can make Boeuf Bourguignone. Borrowing the MIL's copy, I read the (multi-page) recipe and found I had just the perfect (according to JC) cut of meat in the freezer -- a nice package of (locally grass-fed) beef rump roast. The challenge was on!

I invited a few faithful friends -- the usual Sunday Dinner crowd, so what if it was Thursday -- and started cooking around 3:30 pm an hour later than I had planned. By the time I was ready to serve, almost 5 hours had passed, though that included not just the cooking but also a quick trip to the grocery store for a few vital ingredients, a trip out to the garden to pick beans, whipping up a batch of coconut macaroons for dessert and a fair bit of dish washing as I went along (Julia said I should).

I remembered to don the pearls just as the guests arrived, and voila! everyone agreed that le boeuf was tres bon!

Aug 23, 2009

I am a

What Flower
Are You?

"Mischief is your middle name, but your first is friend. You are quite the prankster that loves to make other people laugh."

Progress Report/True Confessions Part 1

It's a long stretch of mind and memory, from the lushness of the garden here in late August, back to the cool, wintry days of March, when I was ordering seeds and well, getting a bit carried away in my annual attack of garden optimism/amnesia. But honesty compels me to come clean on both successes and failures. After all this is not one of those garden blogs with photos of a gloriously weed-free, tastefully landscaped Sunset magazine-worthy garden. And things being the way they are here in Arabella's Garden, it's probably best if I ease into this slowly, one Impossible thing at a time.

Today's report features Artichokes, No 1 on the Arabella's Garden Impossible Dream 2009 list. On the positive side, I can say that my artichoke babies did NOT succumb to the plague of evil-looking black aphids that attacked my first artichoke-growing attempts several years ago. There are a few aphids, true, and they are (ick) black, but only on one plant and there is an ant's nest quite close by so I have left it as a sacrifice to the insect kingdom. Also on the positive side, since I had excellent (for artichokes) germination, I have 3 other healthy plants. On the negative side, I think I planted too late and I doubt the plants will have time to bloom before they are cut down by frost untimely.

Impossible Dream No 2: Melons

Let me first say that I have incredible melon vines. In the greenhouse. In fact, they are so healthy and vigorous that they are threatening to smother the sweet potatoes. But despite blossoms to Texas I see not a single wee melon. Lack of germination due to bee absence? Could be, though I have gotten fruit on melons in the greenhouse before. The door is open day and night and there are 2 vents also open. Too much nitrogen? I don't know but I am kinda bummed, since the outdoor melons died aborning.

I started them off commendably well - perfectly timed one month before setting-out time, but had terrible germination. Then the babies were either drowned or washed out of their pots in an early June thunderstorm while they were on the deck hardening off. The pitiful survivors died within a week of being transplanted into the garden. I replaced them with seed, but of course that gave them a very late start. I am left with one melon and one cucumber, just now starting to vine. I may get fruit, I may not. I'm not holding my breath or researching recipes.

Impossible Dream No 3: Beans for Drying.

Alas, there is no photo because none of the seeds I planted came up. Since I planted 3 different varieties, all from different seed companies and from the current year's crops, I can only blame myself. I was away from home right after planting all of these, and I think the seedbed dried out at a crucial point. Maybe next year.

Impossible Dream No 4: Sweet Potatoes

It's ok to laugh. The sweet potato vines are nearly hidden amongst the melon vines, in the lower photo. They are pretty, though, so I'll have to give a final report in a month or so, after (if) I harvest anything.

This concludes the bummer part of the Impossible Dream Report. Tomorrow I may have better news.

Aug 18, 2009

Mystery plants

Anyone out there recognize these plants? The first one was a birthday present -- most likely it's a bromeliad, but what kind? My experience with bromeliads has been minimal so far, and fatal -- to the plants. I'd like to keep this one alive, it's quite festive and cool-looking. The bloom spikes have these cute little topknots that remind me of pineapple fruits. Any guesses?

The next one has mysteriously arisen in my front garden for the second year in a row. I vaguely remember planting .... something .... here....... I think.. If so, maybe this was it. I did buy some shade lovers of doubtful hardiness, 3 or 4 years ago at the Portland Yard and Garden Show, and have guilty memories of allowing them to languish for many months in their wee packets of sphagnum moss before finally getting them into the ground in late summer. Not surprisingly, some of them appeared completely dead, but, being an optimist, I planted them anyway. Is this one of those hapless victims, risen like lazarus to reward me for my faith?

I know I bought several epimediums, but this doesn't look much like an epimedium, and besides it's blooming in late summer, not spring. Anybody know this cutie?

Being 60 -- Day 3

Birthenalia report: it was fun, touching, inspiring...

Right out of the chutes, and on a purely 3-D reality level, having someone else do the food was a stroke of genius. My wonderful massage therapist, Angie, is also a chef, and I asked her to come up with some casual brunch-type food for the party. She outdid all my expectations and brought mountains of delicious food items: bulgar/quinoa tabouli with artichoke hearts, feta cheese and walnuts ...... another yummy salad with corn, cherry tomatoes and fresh mozzarella ..... fresh figs with goat cheese .... spring rolls with peanut sauce ..... a cheese torte with pesto and sundried tomatoes. Oh it was heaven, having all that food just SHOW UP. All I made was watermelon agua fresca, and the always-popular chocolate bread with vanilla butter.

We are still eating party leftovers and I am fantasizing about having a live-in cook. Let's see, I could give up my office in the spare room to create a bedroom for Angie.... the thought of a) having food this good every day and b) not having to cook it myself ..... is a glorious one.

As the day went on, and beloved friends came and went, I was inspired to ask each one to share a hint or tip or a piece of general advice for me for the new year, decade and life in general. We started with the youngest and went up from there. I was touched by the results, which ranged from the familiar/cliche to the very personal. But even the commonest words rang strongly in my ears, coming as they did from seasoned human beings. The reason a lot of things become cliches is that they are actually true.

"Take responsibility for your own happiness -- and have fun"

"Presence is more important than presents."

"Plant pansies and paint pictures."

"Follow your Light -- you are the Light"

"No rain, no rainbows"

"Listen to the flowers"

"The Universe is teaching you: learn to steer"

Probably the two most profound pieces of advice came from women in their 80's. First, my 82+ year old mother-in-law told me "Life begins at 60 ..... or wherever you are right now."

And, from my 88-year old Aunt Rene, who phoned in the midst of the party, and when pressed for a few words of wisdom for the coming year/s, told me:

"Give your boy lotsa lovin', and make sure he knows who's boss"

In my 38+ years of marriage, I've pretty much operated that way, and if she's still vouching for it after 61 years of marriage, then I'll take it as good sound advice.

The final suggestion came from my near-twin, Barb, who earlier in the week had given me the Turning 60 Advance Report (look out for tired legs the first week). She told me I would have to do a tough bike repair on the 8th day. Pretty scary, considering my (lack of) mechanical skills. Any bike I touched would probably collapse into a heap of metal within seconds of riding. I'd better have a plan for next Monday.

Aug 16, 2009

On turning 60 -- the report so far

Yikes. How did it happen? The usual way, I guess: by living one day at a time. Whatever the process, here I am, 60 years old today. Like a good Leo, I am talking about it. Like a proper Leo in clown mode, I am mugging for my early morning birthday photo:

What am I doing to celebrate my natal day? Progress so far:

Got up at 4:30 for my usual coffee and journal time. Tried to think of some big goals for the year, and/or for my 60's in general. Decided on just two.

1. My current favorite journal notebooks are from France: Clairefontaine notebooks with lovely smooth paper and rather wide margins. From now on I'm going to go outside the margin lines in my journal notebook, so as to waste less paper and just live larger. Woohoo!

2. I'm going to cultivate more joy and gratitude, every moment I can. A lot more enjoyable than gloom, fear and pessimism, and better for the heart and brain.

And look -- so far it is already working! First my sweetheart, newly returned from the Oregon Bike Ride, got up and made our morning juice. He does this every morning without fail, but I am too lazy to make juice when he is gone, so the birthday juice is tasting especially sweet. Now he is cleaning the oven and soon he will vacuum the house for this afternoon.

Friends and family members, near and far, have phoned to sing or say 'happy birthday', and my near-twin friend Barb (born 8 days before me) called to give me the Field Report on the First Week of Being 60. She told me to look out for tired legs, the first week (she was also on the bike tour). Perhaps I should add a #3 -- 'get plenty of rest.'? It's always good to get these tips from older, wiser friends.

There's a party of sorts planned for this afternoon, though it's nothing more than my usual Birthenalia: food, conversation and lots of DIY live music. Musician friends bring their instruments and music and we all take turns bashing away at piano duets and assorted chamber music.

I've gone really wild this year and have asked a chef/friend to make most of the food, so my only culinary jobs this year are making the beverages (tea and watermelon agua fresca) and my infamous chocolate bread with vanilla butter. Here is the chocolate bread so far:

The menu also calls for sliced tomatoes with fresh mozzarella, so I am heading out to the garden to harvest some of my bounteous tomato crop. More on that next week.

Aug 13, 2009

Bee Guilt

I did it again. I murdered bees. Or rather, I hired someone else to murder members of the bee clan.

A few days ago I noticed yellowjackets flying around my legs while I was turning on the hose to water my front garden. Just a couple, and they weren't attacking me, but still ...........

Looking closer, I could see a telltale hole in the soil, right up against the brick facing on the front of house, with yellowjackets entering and exiting. Uh oh. This is familiar. Last September we discovered a large nest of yellowjackets under the front deck. By 'we' I mean my sweetheart, who couldn't figure out why he was getting 3 or 4 stings on his ankles every time he walked between the garage and the front door. We looked around and found a nice little entrance/exit hole under the fascia board, right in the main walkway part of the deck.

After consulting our environmental consciences and the local 'pest control' guy, we decided we had to do something drastic (for the yellowjackets, anyway) and had him come out and remove, ie destroy the nest. It was about time for piano students to start wending their way to the front door and I just didn't want to see them getting stung. Or us getting stung either.

That nest turned out to be huge -- the guy who used a (somewhat environmentally nonlethal) poison powder to knock out the workers -- said it probably had 40,000 combined workers and larvae. Aiiieeee.

This nest turned out to be much smaller -- they were still ramping up to full size and worker production, since we're about 3 weeks earlier in the year. These guys are valuable predators but they are more short-tempered than the other bees/wasps/hornets we have around here, and once their nests get big they are very touchy and attack anything that comes near it. I am sure if I hadn't noticed the nest now, I would have gotten stung before too long. As it was, since it was only a few feet from the front door and right beneath the hose bib, I must have been stepping right on it each time I turned the water on or off. I was lucky!

So.......... I have bee guilt. I will apologize to the overlighting spirit of hornets, perhaps offer them some flower essences for rebalancing and stabilizing, and hope for all future nests to be far away from the house. Members of the wasp/hornet clan are very sensitive to 'noise' -- both audible and energetic disturbance, and perhaps there is something here that is drawing them to our home environment. A good reminder to be mindful of overall thought patterns in our home, and of the need to keep an open heart towards this home-and-garden as an integral part of the natural world.