Tuesday, April 15, 2014

I made a simple request. Please water my seedlings while I'm away for 3 days.

It was just about 3 days!  And I came home to this...


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Everyone: look at my hellebores!

I'm very annoying to my family members from about April through September.  Everytime we pull up in the driveway, "Wow, look at that striped clematis."  Everytime we walk up to the house, "Oooh, did you see the Asiatic lily?"  When we're in the kitchen, "Look at the blooms on the fothergilla."  And currently, "The hellebores - everyone!  Look at the hellebores!"  Can you really blame me though?

At the end of every winter, the hellebores get their simple tidying up... a few minutes per year of care, and...

...voila! Really.  I can't think of an easier, more gorgeous, carefree perennial.  Shade-loving, persistent even when occasionally snowed upon, and with a form that looks like a bouquet growing straight out of the ground.  And maybe also a bit because they herald spring, hellebores are probably my favorite perennials in my garden.  

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Seed Starting: multi-cell seed-starting kits versus individual pots

The first time I started seeds on my own, I bought a 60 cell seed starting kit complete with a styrofoam tray that floats in a bottom tray (so you can't over or under water), a clear "biodome" to provide a warmer and more humid environment, and moist little pre-fab plugs I was supposed to simply drop a seed into.  Easy as pie.

Ten days later, the tomatoes were 3 inches high and threatening to pop the biodome off, a few of the eggplant had just started to germinate, and there were no signs of life from any of the peppers.  With the variety of seeds at different stages - some requiring heat, some needing to be moved under the grow lights, and some nearly needing to be potted up already, a multi-cell seed starting kit for the backyard gardener is just not the best method for seed-starting.

Recently, I bought a few 10 cell kits thinking that I could simply put a single variety of seed in separate trays to avoid the problems I had with the 60 cell kit.  The idea of not worrying about watering and the ease of simply dropping a seed into a plug and then plopping that plug in the hole in the tray was so appealing.

The results? Tomatoes germinate reliably and quickly as usual.  Peppers were not reliable and as seen in the photo above, it was a great waste of valuable space under the lights to keep this whole tray with just a few seedlings going.  By the time I consolidated the seedlings that DID germinate by potting them up and labeling them, I could have just done it the right way from the beginning.  And the tomatoes that are looking great?  Well, they're quickly outgrowing the 3/4" plug and will need to be potted up.  The final word on these seed starting kits?  A waste of time and space.  What I would consider almost a gimmick - that I fell for again.

Today, I started a second batch of seedlings using the method that I've used for years prior to being hyponized by the apparent ease of the seed-starting kits.  I also potted up some plants have have outgrown their tiny plugs.  My hands get dirty.  It's a lenthier process.  I make a little bit of a mess on my kitchen table. I have to keep an eye on watering.  I had to go to my local coffee shop to steal my plant markers (and to pick up a latte because this seed-starting process takes more time and energy). But it's simple and effective.  I can recycle the medium-filled pots if seeds don't germinate.  I can move individual pots around that are ready to go under the lights or keep pots that haven't germinated together in a warm environment or on the heat mat.  My seedlings also have a longer period of time in these larger pots before they need to be potted up and most can go directly in the garden.  Am I the only gardener that continually needs to learn you shouldn't try to fix what ain't broke?

Friday, February 14, 2014

Lemon Curd recipe

I had 72 eggs in my refrigerator the other day.  You'd think my father's chickens would slow down a little with the snow and freezing temps, but they're laying those eggs like gangbusters.  With 6 dozen eggs in my fridge, there was little room for anything else!  I quickly solicited the help of my Facebook friends.  Within a few minutes, I had all kinds of ideas that required many eggs such as: quiche, flan, chocolate mousse, cheesecake, Lyonnaise salad, fritatta, creme brulee, pavlova, souffle, okonomiyaki, pound cake, eggnog, crepes, tortilla Espanola, and a couple of suggestions for egging Justin Beiber.  Yes, to all of the above suggestions.  But one recurring suggestion stood out - lemon curd, lemon curd, lemon curd.  With anticipated snow and a probable day off of work, I had all the time in the world to make this easy recipe while canning enough to give away.  I found a few recipes that sounded good, tripled it, and added a couple extra egg yolks in the end because the curd was not thickening as much as I'd liked.  

Lemon Curd -  makes about 3 pints

20 egg yolks
3 cups sugar
about 8 lemons (Meyer lemons preferably) totalling about 1 1/2 cups of juice
3 sticks butter, cut into chunks
zest of all the lemons, finely chopped

In a heavy pot over medium heat, whisk yolks and sugar.  Add lemon juice and stir gently and constantly with a wooden spoon.  Do not boil.  Reduce heat to low to prevent curd from boiling.  Continue to heat and stir for about 15 minutes or until thickened and curd coats the back of a spoon.

Remove from heat.  Add chunks of butter and stir gently until melted.  Pour curd through sieve into large bowl.  Gently stir curd in sieve to work curd through and catch any solids.  Stir in zest.

Ladle into hot jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace and process in a boiling water canner for 20 minutes.  Remove lid and let sit for another 5 minutes.  Remove from canner and do not disturb while cooling.  Lemon curd is shelf stable for only about 2-3 months after processing in a boiling water canner.

Amazing on some blueberry scones for breakfast!

These are gluten free and dairy free - made of an egg, almond meal, coconut flour, coconut milk, honey, and blueberries. 

With this easy recipe and all the other suggestions on my list, these chickens can go crazy with it!

Monday, December 9, 2013

My advice to new parents is all positive

I read an article today on "the truth about becoming a parent" with advice that we need to begin talking about what parenting is really like - the good, but also the bad and the ugly.  The article states that if we don't share the bad and the ugly, we're doing a disservice to parents-to-be.  I get where the author is coming from, but the article made me reflect on what my own advice to new parents would be.

The author talks about her (pre-baby) visions of lovingly gazing at her precious, sleeping baby.  Though I can't guarantee that mothering a newborn baby is always this dreamy bliss, for me it was - at least with baby #1.  When my older child was a newborn, my heart would skip a beat every time she got up.  There were times I would literally say aloud, "Oh good!  She's awake!", because I couldn't wait to see her.  11pm, 1am, 2:15 am, 4am, 5:30am, any hour, I would awaken with a smile on my face and practically run to attend to her, rock her back to sleep, and then gaze at that precious sleeping baby, often in my arms.

A lot of things made this possible.  I was 23 years old.  I had the youthful physical strength and energy in my arms and back to rock the baby (sometimes for hours!).  Being a young mother also meant I had very few well-meaning friends who were already parents preparing me for the worst - such that I would be anxious and fearful of  issues that may never materialize, or even worse, go into motherhood with an attitude that is anything but positive.  My only friend who had a child before I did happened to be a particularly optimistic, loving, tender person and set the tone for this most important connection I would have.  Another factor was where I was in life.  I had fewer side projects going on and took several months off of work, followed by working only part-time.  This did not mean I was living the posh life.  In fact, the baby's dresser was dorm room deco - a cinder block and wooden plank contraption.  We charged everything from toilet paper to ramen noodles and spent years paying this off.  But the time off from work, along with few distractions, meant I had the luxury to gaze lovingly without worrying about lack of sleep the next day or not getting projects done.  Another factor, probably the most important factor, was my baby's personality.  This was a baby born under the sun, cheerful and easy from the first day, a baby that only cried if she was hungry or physically hurt.  A kid who has always been bubbly and outgoing.  Just about the only thing that did not go as I hoped for during my pregnancy reveries about my happy life with baby, was the childbirth.  A little too optimistic about a manageable natural childbirth.  The Bradley videos must have edited out the women who had 22 hours of back labor.  I could have starred in that video.

While baby #2 spared me (only 5 hours of back labor), she was not quite so easy as her sister.  In fact, the entire pregnancy was shaded with a veil of anxiety.  Having had a miscarriage at the beginning of the second trimester between #1 and #2 meant I was constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.  What will go wrong?  When will it happen? Anyone can be a statistic after all.  A full three weeks before her due date, baby #2 decided to surprise us.  We left the birth center a few hours after she was born and all ended up well (save for a meconium-in-the-lungs scare).  However, 2 days later, we were in the hospital with a bad case of jaundice.  Following that was a string of every other affliction you could imagine including: fifth's disease, hand-foot-mouth, H1N1, an asthma diagnosis, several bouts of pneumonia, 2 eye surgeries, and a mysterious dark purple viral rash that went into her joints and required oral steroids for a month.  Hello, roid rage.  This kid made me sheepishly regret all the times in the past I'd naively scoffed assuming that fussy babies, shy, cranky toddlers that ignore you when you goo-goo-gaga at them, and kids who have a hard time sharing were simply a byproduct of ineffective parenting.  Same parent here, wildly different babies.  For years, this baby had been almost constantly sick with one thing or another, and just needed a little more attention than baby #1.  Though she is a sensitive and caring person, a fiercely loyal friend, a sharp wit with a sarcastic sense of humor, we have always considered her...intense.  Tricks that worked beautifully with #1, didn't work with #2.  While attending to this needier baby, a connection developed to a practically telepathic extent.  While a smile looks like a smile to anyone else, I know whether it means she's happy, she's conniving something, she's feeling loved, or she's content to have gotten her way.  My first piece of advice - love each child.  Each human is different with unique needs and parenting means learning about your child - not gurus or from baby books, websites, maybe not even from your sister or mother, but from your baby directly.  Sometimes the advice you get feels wrong.  This is when you trust your intuition as a parent.  What are your child's needs?  As the parent, what can you say or do or give to your child so that she feels safe and unconditionally loved?

I read an article in Mothering magazine when I was pregnant with #1.  It said something about how when we have little kids, we think - oh when will they ever grow up, but then up they grow and we're pining for the days when they were just little babies. I wanted to remember that because somehow at age 23, I knew it would go by so fast.  I wanted everything to go in slow motion and to live in each season of motherhood.  I loved nursing my newborn.  I loved walking through stores or museums with 10 month old snug on my hip in sling pointing at everything she sees.  Parents of toddlers, one day you will wake up at 10am, fully rested on a snow day like I did today and wonder, hmmm, when did my little one stop climbing into my bed in the morning?   Every developmental phase is so incredible.  Today my kids are almost 9 and almost 16 years old.  Every now and then, as clear and fleeting as a deja vu, my little one will say something, or jump around in a way that reminds me of when my older child was her age.  I think about that Mothering article even more today because it IS going by SO fast.  My second piece of advice to new parents - slow down.  Fully experience each moment.  Enjoy every stage, including the sleepless newborn months - they do go by so quickly.  Though there are unpleasant bumps sometimes, it is mostly good and I think we'd be doing a disservice to parents-to-be not to focus on the positive.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Houses in my home area

I love sign language.  I've been taking an ASL class this semester and just learned the sign for neighborhood (home+area).  ASL is just so logical.

This street above is on the way to my kid's school.  I feel angry everyday for the people who have to live here.  Can you imagine if you lived on this street of all one level, uniform homes, and then people were popping the tops and building these McMansions?  If you look carefully, you see a little one on the right, then a new tall one, and then another little one, and then another tall one that is going to be built on the other side.  Can you imagine being in the little one with those two hulking houses RIGHT next to yours on either side???

In more positive real estate, the house above is in my immediate house+area.  I've been taking note of it for years now because they've slowly added more and more raised beds to their front yard.  At this point, the whole front yard is vegetable garden.  The other day, I noticed the new solar panels on the roof.  Love it.  

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Sally Lunn with buttery pumpkin spread and Hong Kong style

An improvement on the Heritage Sally Lunn bread I made the other day.  First, I made a really really delicious pumpkin and butter spread.  This was simply a blend of about 2 parts butter, 1 part mashed, roasted Seminole pumpkin, ground clove, nutmeg, lots and lots of cinnamon (a superfood), and a teaspoon of honey.  Wonderful on fresh bread or toast.

Then, I decided the only way to top this would be to add a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk
Hong Kong cafe style.  If you've never had this, try it.   I guarantee you'll love it!

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