Monday, December 21, 2009

Just another knitted object in the bathroom mirror

There are probably 72 billion photos on the web of someone aiming a camera at a bathroom mirror while modeling a newly-knit item. We all try to be nonchalant about it, but it still strikes me as funny.

I finished a small shawl, blocked it, and will wrap it tonight. It's going to a good friend, one who is impossible to buy a gift for, and I hope she will enjoy it. The pattern is Storm Cloud Shawlette, available free here, and is one of my favorites. The pattern is so simple, but a great way to use a couple hundred yards of very very nice yarn, and this yarn is fabulous. It's Alchemy's Synchronicity in Foxglove, 50% merino and 50% silk. It's light and warm and silky, can be scrunched up into a scarf or draped like a shawl. Mmmmmm. I have more yarn and am tempted to make myself one, but it's not a good color for me. But I have dye....

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Chili-Garlic Paste

Not a timely post (much more Christmas going on than chilis, but oh well) but I wanted to post this.

When our chili pepper garden took off last summer, I made a Chili-Garlic Paste as a way to store the chilis. It was a great success, and when S brought in the last batch of chilis last month (last post) I made another batch, hopefully to see us through the winter. I actually took some photos which I just found. (It's been a long month.) I mince assorted chiles from the garden with fresh garlic in a food processor, and freeze the mixture in "plops" for later. I use the paste frequently for Asian-inspired dishes, soup or even just chicken for a weekday dinner.

My trusty (antique?) Cuisinart is perfect for this.

Recipe? I cleaned, seeded and cut the chilis in fairly regular pieces and threw in an appropriate quantity of peeled garlic cloves.

Then I processed lightly until the mixture was minced finely, but not pureed. Sometimes I add a touch of olive oil to hold it together, but didn't this time.

I spooned the mixture onto a lined baking sheet in "plops" and froze them for a couple of hours. The plops then went into a freezer-weight zip bag and into the freezer.

I love to take one or two of these out of the bag and throw into some hot olive oil - saves time and is much fresher-tasting than bottled commercial chili paste - and they add a great flavor to chicken breasts or soup. Besides, it's fun.

By the way, our chilis were not hot this year....even the deadly habaneros were just sort of uncomfortably hot, and the jalapenos were downright mild. Only the cayennes were true to form. That made our salsa kind of boring, but the combination worked well for the Chili-Garlic Paste. YMMV.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Last of the Red Hot Peppers

Although a few of the tomatoes are still blooming and setting fruit, the peppers are pooped. S picked the last harvest of the hot peppers and brought in this lovely assortment. The cayennes and jalapenos are now in the dehydrator, and I'll make garlic-chili paste with the anaheims and poblanos. We still have the usual problem of what to do with the habaneros. To my mind, they are only good for giving to friends with studly sons who like to show off how much heat they can take. We're still having fairly warm days, so I hope we have more
tomatoes before it gets chilly.

I had surgery on my left foot last week, and have been recovering at home and getting lots of knitting done. I think I've finished four charity hats and a few Christmas gifts, and have several projects on the needles still. I can move around some now, but can only be on my feet a few minutes at a time. I'm enjoying the rest, but am itching to be outside. I did sit on the patio this afternoon for a while, knitting and enjoying the fresh air (and yes, my foot was up on the bench).

Monday, October 26, 2009

October is for Tomatoes - another experiment

While surfing around the gardening web this summer, I saw references to others in temperate climates rooting some slips of their summer tomatoes to grow a new fall crop. Hmmmm. Our warmest weather is always August - October, so back in August I took a couple of cuttings of Early Girl. Not my favorite tomato obviously (see Mr. Stripey), but a reliable early producer and handy. One cutting did very well, and a month or so later was ready to repot.
I also became fascinated with SIPs - Sub-Irrigated Planters, similar to the Earthbox. I spent a lot of time reading blogs and Gardenweb's Container Gardening forum
. My garden was in the ground, but I decided to try to make a SIP for the fall tomato experiment. One blog in particular popped up with encouragement and links, Inside Urban Green. Long story short....I made a planter out of a 18 gallon Sterilite bin from Wal-Mart.
There are many, many photos of these around the web, and instructions much better than mine. Since I wasn't thinking about documenting this except for myself, I didn't take pictures of each step. The basic idea is a waterproof container deep enough to provide a water reservoir in the bottom, a platform between the soil mix and reservoir, a pipe or tube to keep the reservoir filled, and a couple of "wicks" - in my case, yogurt containers which will be filled with the soil mix and will wick moisture up to the main planting chamber. Also used: a throw-away plastic pot, and a piece of PVC pipe. I used the lid of the bin cut with a box cutter to fit into the bin where it would rest on the plastic pot, and cut holes for the yogurt containers to slip into from the top. I also cut a hole for the pipe, cutting an angle on the bottom of the pipe so it would not sit flat on the bottom. I drilled some holes around the pipe below the lid level. The plastic pot provides support, and all the drilled holes allow water to flow through the reservoir. After I took this photo, I also drilled some holes in the platform, in case we get some rain this year and the water needs to drain down, not up.

I drilled a 1/2" hole in the side of the bin, just below the platform. This serves as an overflow drain, and tells me when the reservoir is full.

I then packed the wicks (yogurt containers) with moist potting mix (not potting soil or garden soil), and filled the container with more mix. This mix has fertilizer already in it, so I didn't have to add that to the plan. (There are multiple ways to add fertilizer to SIPs ....I went the easy route.) I planted the rooted Early Girl cutting, set the bin in the sunniest part of the garden, and filled the reservoir. Other than filling the reservoir through the pipe a couple times a week, I've pretty much ignored it for six or seven weeks. I made it out to the garden yesterday to poke around a bit, and discovered the new cutting covered with blossoms, and a few small green tomatoes. If you look at the photo below, you can see the fill pipe. I need to rig up a support, since this plant is obviously growing well. Even more exciting (in our temperate but fickle climate), the plant is setting fruit.

Cost: $4 for the bin, $1 for the pipe, $6 (I think) for the planting mix. I'm hoping for a couple more months of fresh tomatoes! If this works as well as I hope, I'll probably plan a SIP garden for next summer. Or maybe spring....

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Goodbye, Mr. Stripey

I will miss you. You've been such a delicious treat, and oh so worth waiting for. I hope to see you again next summer.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

what to do on a hot afternoon

To celebrate actually having a garden (and a harvest), last week I decided to make salsa. We certainly had the peppers and tomatoes for it. S harvested the peppers and did the mincing (and the Pampered Chef chopper was a life-saver) while I peeled tomatoes and assembled the other ingredients. We were halfway in before I hauled out the mason jars and hoped that I had lids for them all...fortunately I had bought a box of new lids before putting all the canning stuff away last year. I sound like this is a regular event....actually it occurs every couple of years when I make plum jam, which is my idea of putting-by.

S took off for an appointment and I spent a couple of hot, steamy hours in a 90-degree kitchen. When I finished, I had this:

Eight jars...a lot of work, but very satisfying. To celebrate, we had Huevos Rancheros for dinner. Next time, I need to remember to assemble jars and lids before chopping ingredients, and to add more jalapenos. Otherwise, a success. (Recipe is Fiesta Salsa from the Ball Blue Book.)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

everything is green

In preparation for some techy upgrades coming our way, we are painting the living room and beginning the overdue process of updating it .... maybe we will begin to use it, even enjoy it one day soon.

First step this weekend, was dismantling a bookcase (we are very good packers), moving it out of the way, and prepping for paint. I am eating this elephant one bite at a time, so decided to paint one wall completely before tackling the rest.

A rare visit from E, Eldest Child, couldn't have been more timely. She grabbed a brush while I did the rolling, and by mid-day Sunday, we had a lovely green wall. Hard to tell the color - this isn't really it, but it depends on the lighting anyway. I finished the baseboard, but still have to spray the vent covers near the ceiling.

Now the fun...moving the furniture around and trying to fit books, videos, games, photos, whatever back into their places. Good time to fling a few. (E made the executive decision on the kids' videos....she can live without the Gnomemobile. There's a bag going to the library used book sale soon.)

Next week...another wall! Can't wait to see where this will lead.

Friday, August 28, 2009


We took a one-day vacation yesterday and delivered a last load of college supplies to M. We left early (to miss the LA traffic; ha) and had a great breakfast at the Cajun Kitchen in Carpinteria. A nice surprise, and we'll be going back. The Cajun scramble was just spicy enough, and the home fries were crisp/soft just as they should be. Instead of toast, I ordered a "homemade" blueberry muffin to go -- actually it was two small muffins, just out of the oven. Obviously from a mix, but then they don't advertise as a bakery and I should have ordered cornbread like the guys next to us recommended. We walked on the beach for a bit and then headed on to Santa Barbara.

We combined the delivery with an early-season soccer game. Hot, that's all you can say. It was hot. I was uncomfortable sitting in the shade, and the girls were sprinting in the sun for 90 minutes.

To recover, we headed for the harbor and had an early dinner at Brophy Bros, which overlooks the marina. Great location, inexpensive prices for the view....a good place to watch the crowd. Good service, basket of chewy bread, bottled beer only, but a decent selection. Steamed mussels were good, but the broth was strongly flavored with bay leaf, even with pieces of leaves still there. They win awards for the clam chowder -- I'm picky about chowder. (My father started that; he told me to stay away from the places where "they tie a clam to a string and drag it through some white sauce." Anyway, Brophy's was good, plenty of chopped clams -- but would someone please take the bay leaves away from the chef? I tasted bay for hours afterward.

The view from our outside table:

After eating, we walked out on the seawall, which is a great view -- especially on a hot clear day.

It was nice to come home, and not have a suitcase to unpack. We are so fortunate to live close to so many beautiful places.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

another season

The nest is empty again... H drove off to her sophomore year of college today. Doesn't she look sad? She sent three texts to us (not while driving, thank you) and then called when she arrived. We'll see her in a few weeks. Her twin has been at school for three weeks now, and we'll see her briefly next week. See how sad M was when she said goodbye?

Friday, August 21, 2009

It's just an experiment

When you want to do something and you are not certain it will be a success – call it an experiment. That's what we decided to do this year – let's take the stress off of having to SUCCEED, and try something for fun.

Growing food -- something you actually bring in the house, prepare and then eat -- is amazing. Our new sunny back yard was pretty empty back in May when we had a new wall built, so I decided to quickly put in a few vegetables to take advantage of the sunshine while figuring out what to do with the back yard. I really didn't know how much fun it would be. We spent a morning at the nursery and at Lowe's, came home and I started digging.
I started with tomatoes and a six-pack of assorted bell peppers...oh and a crookneck squash plant. Yep, all that in that small bed. I dug and amended and fertilized and laid out landscape cloth and planted and watered -- and collapsed. I hadn't decided yet how to support the tomatoes, so I stuck in some rebar pieces left over from my rose trellis project of a few years ago.

Meanwhile, Stuart tackled his first project....a pot of cactus. That didn't take too long, so he worked on his next experiment — the butterfly pot. He decided to get as many different butterfly-attracting plants that would fit in a 25-gallon pot (that's what took most of the time at the nursery and Lowe's). I was sceptical, but then I think he was sceptical of my veggie garden.

It turned out nicely, and we put it against the empty back wall, where we could watch the neighborhood butterflies stop by for a snack from the kitchen window.

Two weeks later, I added some newspaper mulch under the landscape
fabric to smother out a few tenacious weeds, and stuck some wal-mart tomato cages around the tomatoes. Everything was growing like crazy, and I was getting into this. By the three-week mark, it looked like a garden. I was so encouraged by my success, I bought some cucumber plants, a straightneck yellow squash plant and some bean and lettuce seeds. Why not make use of the empty space along the new wall? You can see where this is going...I kept going. And going. Some bush beans next to the squash. A "lettuce bed" next to the bush beans. A few bush beans in the side garden bed. An experiment.

And you know? from the first tiny green tomatoes to the enormous and delicious cucumbers? This has been so much fun! Even now, with the crazy, cool and foggy weather creating a perfect environment for mildew, I love coming home, walking around my little garden and picking a few things for dinner.

I've learned a few things too....indeterminate tomatoes need more space between them to be healthy, and those cheap tomato cages are barely adequate. Tomatoes take a really long time to ripen. The crookneck squash doesn't get enough sun, and sulks. Four bush bean plants produce approximately 8 green beans at a time, just enough to throw in a stir-fry. The most fun has been the Burpless Cucumbers -- very prolific, sweet and crunchy. Thankfully, I rigged up a trellis on a couple of rebar posts, which is holding up the vines for now. Straightneck squash is on the menu several times a week, and we really aren't tired of it yet. The pack of colored bell peppers has been a hoot -- purple, lilac, ivory, and some that haven't colored up yet. Lilac bell peppers are really beautiful!

So it is just an experiment. The mildew is pretty bad, so I'm cutting back affected tomato and squash leaves. We've only eaten one tomato, which was good but not fabulous. Am I tired of it yet? Well, I'm starting seedlings of swiss chard, and rooting a couple cuttings of Early Girl tomato. I've read that we can get another whole season in before the cold weather hits in January.

Good morning!

It's an amazing day, especially for August. I don't enjoy heat, and with the additional southern exposure we have allowed to the house (removing very old and ugly trees to make room for something new and lovely) -- well, I am thrilled that the weather is so mild and pleasant. I have a day of errands ahead, and a quick coffee date with friends first. Better get ready.