Mini Greenhouse Experiment

I bought Four-Season Harvest a few years ago hoping it would tell me how to have tomatoes in January. It doesn’t, but the author, Eliot Coleman, writes about growing greens in inexpensive hoop houses- basically PVC pipes covered in plastic sheets. So, I decided to plant a fall garden, with spinach, and mesclun greens, and kohlrabi, and they have looked lovely all fall. I didn’t put the plastic on, and few light snows didn’t faze them, when the snow melted, they bounced right back. We went away for Thanksgiving, and the weather prediction was for temps in the 20’s, and high winds. I put the plastic on, tucking it in, weighting it down with bricks and stones. Wasn’t enough, of course- I should have used duct tape… When we got back from Nebraska late last night, the plastic hadn’t blown all the way to Denver, but it had gotten loose, and the greens are fried. I’m sure the spinach, at least, will come back from the roots, but not until spring. The parsley looks undamaged, and the garlic will just hunker down and sprout again next spring. So, the lesson for me is to be more careful with attaching the plastic. I don’t think the problem was going out of town- I am pretty sure if I had seen and heard the plastic flapping around in 40 mile per hour winds, I would have just stayed inside and watched it.

Lows in the twenties make me feel like this, too.

I paid probably $10 for the PVC and a plastic dropcloth. Should have used staples and duct tape, too, though.


Simmering stock

For years, when we go to DH’s grandparents’ house for Thanksgiving, one of the aunts has gathered up all the turkey bones after dinner, and given them to the dog, Lady. I always thought of that Far Side cartoon, where a dog is sitting at a table, with a chicken bone sandwich in front of him, thinking, “I think she’s trying to kill me.” A couple of times I voiced my concerns about the poor dog eating poultry bones, but they usually ignored me and gave the bones to the dog anyway. Lady wound up living a long, full life, barking at strangers who drove out to the farm.

            There’s a better thing to do with bones, though, than try to kill your dog. I’m talking about stock, of course. According to Ratio, which has become my new bible, homemade stock is what separates the good from the great. For example, I am doing braised leeks for my contribution to Thanksgiving dinner. So, I chop the leeks, wash the dirt off them, put them in a casserole and cover with broth, then throw in the oven for an hour. I could dissolve some boullion, or open a can of broth. But homemade stock has a feeling to it, and a rich flavor, that isn’t too salty or tinny. It is worth having around. And not that hard to make, with either turkey bones, or chicken.

            So, you have some bones left over (I plan to beg some from our hosts before they give any to the dog. Sigh, Nate is the next generation of dogs risking perforation…) get out the crock pot, and cram the bones in.

I swear I had a photo of the crockpot, but I totally can't find it- here's Alice. Cute, isn't she?

Skin is fine, meat is fine, connective tissue, like in the rib cage or the wings, is great. As the connective tissue breaks down in the simmering water it will create a smooth “mouthfeel” in the stock. The crockpot is the ideal vessel because it stays at just the right temperature. When stock boils, it can evaporate too much water, and scorch. Trust me, this isn’t a smell you want in your house. To the crockpot, add a chopped yellow onion, some carrots and celery. These are for flavor, and you’ll strain them out later. The ratio book says do a 3:2 ratio of water to bones, by weight. I usually get a pitcher and pour water in until the bones are covered.  Although, I did get a food scale for my birthday (thx DH) so maybe I’ll weigh the bones this time.  Simmer all day, or night, if you can stand the smell of turkey soup when you wake up.  I can’t- it gets into my dreams… Anywho, simmer all day, then decant. Use tongs to pull out the big pieces, then strain the stock in a fine mesh strainer. I have a five quart crockpot, which make a little less than 3 quarts of stock. I strain them into 1 quart yogurt containers, pile them in the freezer, and pull one out when I want to make soup. I use it to make rice and beans, as well. One of my favorite applications is just to mix it half and half with spicyV-8 juice. And, of course, making braised leeks for Thanksgiving dinner in Nebraska. After the pan comes out of the oven, it can wait until the next day. I add bread crumbs and fresh-grated parmesan cheese, then bake again until the cheese melts, then put it at the kid’s table. That way, I know I’ll get a good share of it.

There is no joy in warball

            One of the good things for me about doing yoga is the non-competitiveness of it. I have spent a lot of my life feeling klutsy and bad at sports, and I finally have found a way to move my body where I’m not at risk of losing. When I was in middle school, I was placed in an “adaptive P.E.” class. It was me, another similarly clumsy smart girl, and 2 older kids with Down Syndrome. We threw balls at targets, walked on balance beams, caught bean bags. It was awful, as if regular P.E.,  they gave it to me as an intervention. I remember feeling so frustrated. That clumsy 12 year old is sometimes alarmingly close to the surface of my everyday adult life. I cried a few weeks ago in Yoga class, because I couldn’t do “Dancer’s Pose”- which is where you stand up, reach back, kick your foot up and grab it, then lean forward, balancing. 

Step one, reach back, step two, find your foot...can I go back to step one again...

 That physically retarded (can I use that phrase? probably not)  12 year-old-swam up to the surface, and I wound up just bawling in child’s pose for a while.

After I got myself back together, I got up and finished the class.

I went to class the next week though, and managed to find my foot after asking for help from Kristin, who’s awesome. I’m still not great at the balancing part, but I get stronger every time.

            I had a realization today, in the shower (don’t all great realizations come in the shower?) that I shouldn’t be doing yoga to get better for next week’s class, but to get better for life. See,  when I couldn’t find my stupid foot, I made plans to practice holding my foot back, grabbing it, leaning forward, then I felt guilty when I didn’t follow that plan. A lifetime of experience with gym teachers gave me the idea that I should throw balls at targets to improve my eye hand coordination, or do squats to have stronger glutes, or run faster so that I can … run faster.

            I need to try to keep the idea before me that I walk because walking helps me think, and dancing is fun, and riding a bike feels good, and yoga gives me peace.  I can’t blame the gym teachers- maybe they were trying to teach me this all along, and I wasn’t ready for it. They found joy in war ball? doing the shuttle run gave them time to think, doing jumping jacks brought them peace? Maybe.

            So, what is your favorite way to move your body now? What did you hate in gym class?  Bonus points if the answer is the same, but the attitude has changed… 

Forcing tulips to do what?

Forcing tulips to bloom, of course, but earlier than they would ordinarily. I’m trying this as an experiment this year- I bought 48 white “Purissima” tulips this year and purposely kept out a six pack to force (okay, okay, I was just sick of digging holes, after also planting 96 species tulips and about a million siberian squill). 

I put them in a six inch pot, kind of cramming them in, and then started thinking. The bulbs need to be cold for at least 8 weeks, but not frozen. Our garage gets too cold, the fridge is perfect, but it really isn’t ideal  for me to have flowerpots in the fridge. Probably somebody else could get away with it… not me.

The previous owners decided to store old curtain rods in here for some reason, but I am going with tulips...

Then I had a brainstorm: in our basement, there is a little door to an undercrawl- the main part of the basement is finished and heated and civilized, but the undercrawl is open to Mother Earth herself. I was considering where to put my pot of tulips, when I thought of that little door. So, the pot is there, to wait out the rest of fall, and a chunk of winter, and then in the dark days of January, after the tree is down, the dangly sparkly things put away, the twinkly lights rolled up and boxed, I will have a little pot of spring waiting for me in the basement.

Heating the house with tea

The tea stein.

So, as rain turns to snow outside my window, I have begun the yearly process of trying to heat the house with tea. It works, somewhat. After a gloriously warm and dry fall, we are finally getting some cold weather.
We live in an older house, a mid-century-fabulous, low-slung ranch, with huge windows facing East and West in the living room. Love the house, but it isn’t very draft proof. DH said something about using a stick of incense to find the drafts in the front window, and I said, “Oh, so you can caulk the cracks?” He looked shifty eyed- he hadn’t thought about it that far. We don’t have a caulking gun, so it would involve a trip to Home Depot. Home Depot is a place that makes DH very uncomfortable.
So, I am heating my house with tea. In the past I have tried heating with a pot of soup, simmering away all afternoon. I have also tried it with chocolate chip cookies, but I’d like to be able to zip my ski pants, so instead, it’s tea.
Before I got my electric tea pot, I used to fill the kettle, turn it on high, walk away. When I eventually returned, it would be boiled away. I would have heard the whistle, if the whistle hadn’t broken. This runs in the family. My dad would do the same thing, walk away, get caught up in something, and when he came back, the pot would have boiled dry and started to melt. He burned through the bottom of several tea kettles this way. Eventually, he started making tea in the microwave. This has been suggested to me, but with the microwave you don’t have the advantage of heating up the house as well.

To me, winter interest means it looks good through a window, covered with snow, while I drink tea.

It is probably only psychological, that the house is warmer when the teapot is going, but the placebo effect can’t explain everything. So, once the water is boiling, I slosh some sugar into my big pottery stein, add a teabag and fill it with water. I cup the mug in my hands to warm them, try a sip, but of course it is far too hot to even slurp carefully, so I bring it to the couch, and set it on the end table to cool. Or, sometimes I sit cross legged and put it in my lap, although that sounds kind of creepy, now that I see it written down in black and white. I hear your diagnosis, “deep rooted psycho-sexual problems.”
The tea finally cools enough to drink, and the pottery mug keeps it warm for a longish time, but by the time it is half done, it is too cold, so, I turn on the kettle again, go to the bathroom, and when I get back the water is hot, and I refill. Now, here is the beautiful part, since it is half cold, the tea is just right, immediately, so with the second round, I don’t have to wait as long. The tea might be weak, though, so I tip some more sugar in from the bowl, and add another tea bag. The process repeats itself all afternoon, all winter.

This is a broccoli plant- and after the snow melted, I actually picked the broccoli- and it's fine!

Ode to Smoked Paprika

My new favorite spice is smoked paprika. I had read about it on various cooking blogs and fancy food snob websites, and assumed that I would have to get to a fancy food store, and it would be imported from Spain and fabulously expensive. I was wrong, though, when I was looking for something else at the grocery store, and found Smoked Paprika right there in the spice rack.
I remember a few years ago, when I “discovered” chipotle peppers in Adobo sauce, and put them in everything, meatballs, garlic bread, salad dressing. The problem was, from my point of view, that chipotle peppers are a bit too hot for me. They are smoked jalapeno chiles, and a little goes a long way. With the smoked paprika, though, you get a little heat, with some smoke flavor too. And it smells amazing.
I put it in a dry rub for pork loin on Friday. (Sorry, no pictures. Kind of can’t find my camera…) And it was so good, DH didn’t use sour cream on his mashed potato, he just used the juice from his pork. That sounded really gross. Don’t take it that way.
It would also, of course, be good on anything else savory, or eggy. I am thinking about the ancient can of regular paprika in my mom’s spice cabinet, which we broke out whenever we made devilled eggs. I am sure the can is still there, kind of sawdust flavored. You have probably heard the rule “spices shouldn’t celebrate birthdays.” My goal is to use up this jar of smoked paprika before it has to celebrate a birthday.

One day I’d like to write a novel


Announcing the end of the one day novelist: National Novel Writing Month starts today. The idea is to sign up on the website  and keep track of the number of words you have written on your own novel over the course of November. Winners are people who make it to 50,000 words by the end of the month. There is no prize- it’s like Farmville- no one asks you if you have real tomatoes from Farmville, right? Same with Nanowrimo- if you win, you have the satisfaction of winning, and a rough draft of a novel.  Pretty cool, I’d say.

 For the last several years I have started this big adventure in writing a novel, and not finished…this year, I think I have it figured out, though.  I heard a writer being interviewed on the radio- don’t remember who, and he said, “To write a novel, you have to have your characters make choices they can’t undo.” That has been my problem- every year I start out with characters that I come to love, and then I become overprotective. “don’t go to that party,” I think, “you’ll get pregnant!” or “you can’t call the lawyer, they just make things worse!”  By the time I get about 30,000 words in, I am bored to tears, then it’s Thanksgiving and I run out of time.

So, my solution this year is to go to greek myths, specifically, Jason and the Argonauts.  All of Jason’s bad decisions got made thousands of years ago, I just have to show him dealing with them. I’ve got a lot of notes, some research I printed off the internet, and will start tomorrow. I’ll try to post a word count here on the blog, in case anyone cares, and I’ll let you know at the end of the month if I have won.  Also, if anyone has title suggestions, please comment