Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year! GTTC and Gifts (part 3 of 2)

Happy New Year!!

It's cold in the 'burbs of Maryland with dustings of snow. I have my eyeballs on the little clump of dried leaves near the top of this bare fothergilla, for under it - an egg sac with a billion spider babies-to-be rests. Remember the story of my Charlotte spider? I hope I will not live to regret leaving this egg sac alone. I do want them to live, but I just REALLY hope they all blow away in the spring. Anyway, when the leaves blew onto and covered the egg sac a few weeks ago, I thought about removing them, but on second thought, it's possible that the leaves are actually protecting the egg sac, right? Then again, they're also creating more surface area for winds to blow down. I don't know. I'm just leaving the whole operation alone and keeping my eyeballs on it.
I wanted to share a few more gifts sent and received this season. I thought I was going to stop after "gifts part one" and "gifts part two", but there is more to share. Below are some of our Secret Santa gifts. My husband, brother-in-law, sister, and I draw names and exchange homemade gifts with materials not to exceed $15 or so. For a few different reasons (timing and logistics), I don't have everything to show you.
Here's my gift to my sister. This is her adorable baby Emmy. Emmy and I went to a paint your own pottery store and made this vase (and a video) for my sister. After you paint it, they glaze it for you and you pick it up in a few days. It was great because not only did my sister get a very pretty vase, but I got to have some quality alone time with Emmy!

Here's my sister's gift to my husband. She has gotten him some sort of Star Wars or Star Trek gift every year for probably close to 20 years now. This time, she made him a Star Trek pillow (insignia knitted on the bottom, space-themed fleece on the top) and an R2-D2 beer cozy. I thought this was hilarious!!!

Here's my gift to my husband from 2009 that I just gave him. We didn't see my b-i-l and sister last Christmas so we extended the deadline. I made some nerdy dice (for Dungeons and Dragons and games like that) out of polymer clay. This stuff is difficult to work with! I messed up on the 20-sided, but was fairly happy with the finished product!

Here, you see my older daughter unwrapping her new electric guitar. The funny part is that the gift giver is more hands-on than the recipient! Isn't this truly the case though - it really is more exciting to give than to receive most of the time...

...unless...what you're receiving is the ONE thing you've wanted more than anything else in the world - a FUSHIGI (until you take it out of the box and realize it's totally lame and doesn't actually float by itself).
In the garden last week, I was still able to remove snow and harvest some beautiful and very hardy parsley! This was my first time making polenta like Mamma used to make (well, not my mama, but maybe like someone Italian's mama) - great stuff worth the pot-stirring. The beans, garlic, onions, and parsley were braised with tomatoes for about 20 minutes or so. I will admit it was QUITE delicious.

What's going on in your (mega) bit of the world (wide web)? Are you challenged by the Garden to Table Challenge?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Teenagers trashing the place

Well, hopefully there are several more years before I have to worry about my own teenagers trashing the place, but there is a family of raccoons who go through my trash on a regular basis, leaving their leftovers all over the side yard for us to pick up. Besides the fact that they do carry diseases (my neighbor found one in her carport, swaying around and not looking quite "right"), they're the one true pest I have to contend with. In my small garden, I may patiently wait 90 days for a single butternut squash. When the raccoons come by and gnaw at just one of my squashes or melons, it can be really frustrating.

Besides their diseases, messy habits, and ability to devastate my backyard garden harvest, they're aggressive. On this particular day, I had to call animal control after hearing noises in the trash can for going on 2 hours. Turns out all the guy was really able to do was tip the trash can over (I guess I could have done that!). Apparently, since the trash was dumped the day before, the raccoons were able to get in to the bin, but since it was empty, had no way to get themselves out. The animal control guy said there were 2 fat "teenaged" raccoons in the trash can.

I did learn some interesting tips. The raccoons have very nimble hands and are often able to work their way around bungee cords, ropes, etc. They get into the cans by climbing the fence next to the cans and lifting the tops. The best way to prevent raccoons from getting into the cans is by setting them away from anything they can climb. Unfortunately for me, I have a very small side yard and there is no way to set the cans entirely by themselves. He also mentioned that we should make the contents unappetizing to the raccoons. One suggestion was to keep a spray bottle of bleach nearby and every time a bag goes in, the top of the bag gets sprayed with bleach. I may save this smart suggestion as a last resort. The easiest trick might be to simply set a heavy rock on top of the can. Several ideas to try!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry X-mas, Longwood trees, GTTC, and conjuring Nana

Merry Christmas!!!

This is our ridiculously large tree pre-tinseled. Sorry guys, but I must generalize here and suspect it's a man thing to go out and try to bring home the biggest tree available.

Above and below are some of the sides I made to go along with our holiday ham. Above - my first attempt at cooking (and eating, believe it or not!) Brussels sprouts. They were very delicious simply roasted with a few thin slices of apple in olive oil and tossed with some bacon (I figured a bit of bacon makes everything a little more palatable, right?), sea salt, and a splash of white wine vinegar. The potatoes below were inspired by a recipe in Bon Appetit for German Fried Potatoes. Unfortunately, I cut out the ingredients, but only part of the directions. The concept seemed simple enough. The potatoes are parboiled the night before, refrigerated, and then cut into pieces and pan-fried in lard (or bacon-drippings in my case). I fried the potatoes along with finely chopped red onion. The potatoes are then dressed with: olive oil, mustard, malt vinegar, and salt. The recipe also called for a splash of lager beer. It's garnished with finely chopped chives.

When I announced we'd be conjuring Nana tonight, my older daughter thought I was proposing a seance. No...just following Nana's recipe for Magic Cookie Bars from our probably 35 year old cookbook. Nana would have been very happy with the cookie bars we made for Santa!

Here are some other photos from my trip to Longwood Gardens. This festive wreath below is made of different herbs.

This tree, in a section of the Longwood holiday display, was made by the music department at a local school. I thought the sheet music paper chain was very cute.

I'm not saying I particularly love this, but I did think it was very clever. Can you tell what the Santa ornaments are made from?

Finally, one of the very large lit trees at Longwood...

I'm not sure what's going on with the order of things, but I know many people who don't have much reason to celebrate this season. Tragic and very sad things are going on for several people I know right now. I do hope everyone has a happy and thankful Christmas and New Year. And for those going through a rough time, I hope you can find solace in friends and family, and know that things get better.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Gifts - part 2

Just wanted to share a few other gifts sent or received recently. The apple pie filling gift bag included a photo card of my husband juggling apples at the orchard, The little one with an apple and the older one peeling them (I'm the pie). These were sent to people who I thought would probably not gag from cuteness (basically family members). Oh, there's also a page of recipes I have cut and pasted onto one sheet. The recipes range from pie crust to cobbler to bourbon ice cream (that you could top with the apples). I recently found some old fashioned caramels - you know, the square ones in the plain clear wrapper - and threw those in the bag as well.

People I wanted to give a gift to, but whom I thought would not exactly treasure the family photo received the strawberry-lemon jam gift bag. Last year my canned bruschetta gift was packaged in a pretty and festive box, but you know...the economy and all... The accessories are all from World Market. They are GREAT for gift basket type things. I think last year's stuff was also from World Market.

My husband met a woman who canned back in the day and had these lovely glass jars to pass along to me. In return, we gave her a small sampling of my canned goodies. One of these jars had a sticker on it that said, "grape juice 1961". I think that's pretty nifty.

Below are the holiday cookies and bars I received from my friend Grace (this has turned in a fairly annual thing that we all look forward to!). The biggest treasure is the separate box of lemon bars she set aside just for my husband and I (cause the kids wolf them down but don't appreciate them). They are made from her own Meyer lemons!

And finally, this is my front doorstep today. I love when the mailbox is stuffed with packages and there's a box on the ground. Especially when the box is from Williams-Sonoma and stamped "perishable". That can only mean good things. It ended up being salami, cherry rusk crackers, and coffee-rubbed artisan cheese. Apparently my sister saw them in a catalog and just decided to send them! As you might recall from Gifts - part 1, she's the best!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Garden to Table Challenge - carry out

For the first time in a few months, I have no meal this week to brag on. Though I've been reasonably good with resisting (too many) holiday cookies, I'm in fast and furious pig out and carry out mode. This week, I wanted to spend some of the certificates I bought, thinking I'd made some really shrewd deals. I can't even tell you how much I've fumed about all the strings attached to the program. Here's the deal - I bought several $25 gift cards cheap through ebates. They were only like $4 or so. When you get the cards, you have to go on the website, search for a restaurant, then enter the certificate code to activate the $25. Finally, you print out the confirmation and bring to the restaurant. On my first visit to a place near me, I went in and was told they had changed owners several months ago (so the website is not quite accurate!). I decided to use another gift card at zpizza because they will actually allow the gift card to be used for carry-out ("dine-in only" is another annoying restriction that most restaurants make). After I print out the $25 confirmation, I find out there's a $50 minimum! So...on an ordinary night, for a family of 4, in order to use the card, we had to put in an extra $25 dollars to make the minimum. We ordered: 2 salads, 2 pizza rusticas, 1 pizza, a meatball sub, and a penne with meatballs. Long story short - be wary of deals that sound too good to be true.

Above - one of my favorite pizzas from zpizza (this is their photo). It's a curry chicken and yam pizza rustica. It's delicious with the sprinkling of raisins and cilantro as well. Anyone have yams out there? This is a very yummy and out-of-the-ordinary way to use them.

In other news - I swear my father has magic soil in his garden. Check out the enormous turnips and white sweet potatoes (next to my size 8 foot). My parents actually grow the sweet potatoes for the leaves, not the tubers. If I haven't already done a post on this, I will at some point.

Anyone out there eating well? Cooking well? Ordering well? Post what you're harvesting and cooking or dining out on that is fresh and seasonal. Motivate us (or at least me!). In the process, qualify to earn the jackpot of 1/2 my seed order. I just got my seed catalog in and can't wait to start dog-earing pages. See the convoluted rules here.

I could use your tips on what to eat as well as how to say no to the holiday decadence. I think the cold (we got snow this week) is making me crave noodle soups (like pho), cream-based soups (like baked potato mmmmm...), and hot cocoa which is in turn making me crave my other pig out foods: Indian food, Krispy Kreme, and any dessert in bar form.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

GBBD - December 2010

It's December and we've just had our first dusting of snow. Not much blooming in suburban Maryland. Yep, this is all I got. My daughter received this bouquet after her 30 second debut as a rat in The Nutcracker. I could really wax poetic about what a brilliant ballet it is - how many different levels, styles, tastes it accommodates, but I'll spare you. There's a lot of ballet in the media right now, isn't there? Have you heard about that bastard's comment about the NYC ballet dancer?

This Christmas cactus may not look like much - especially covered in a thick coating of dust, but as you can see from this post last year, it holds a very special place in my heart.

This blurry photo features my friend Grace's Thanksgiving table. She used ivy from the garden along the long table (actually 2 long tables pushed together - this is what happens when you have 5 sons and a gazillion grandchildren). The yellow are the blooms from a large-blooming chrysanthemum my dad gave her a couple years ago.

So...this is all I got. However, I thought I'd leave flower lovers with more so here below are some photos from the trip Grace and I took to Longwood Gardens (a few more to come later). The conservatory is all dressed up for the holidays.

From the front, this wreath was pretty, green, and dotted with flowers. But from a different vantage point, you see that they're actually blooming orchids.

I also must show you this. Attached to the Longwood conservatory, there's a living green wall down a long and curving corridor. What I originally thought were elevator doors are actually...(get ready for this)...

..."bathroom pods". Behind each door is an individual bathroom and your view looking above - skylights way up at the top of the dome.

And if this is not enough, visit May Dreams Gardens for more on this Garden Blogger's Bloom Day. I can't promise you more toilets, but there will certainly be more blooms from all over the world!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

GTTC - plan b watermelon cooler

I've had a black diamond watermelon (the runt of my 2 melon harvest) sitting on the counter for a while now. It was certainly not as beautiful or fragrant as the first one, but I figured the recipe I found for a watermelon cooler (watermelon juice, fresh lemonade, vodka) wouldn't require that I be too fussy about the less-than-sweet-and-tasty watermelon (alcohol tends to grant forgiveness to little imperfections here and there). Next problem: no vodka in the cabinet, just some rum, so a little bit of a plan B. Then, I didn't want to lug the juicer out so I decided to use the blender instead. Durrrr, I guess there's a reason why you use a juicer instead of a blender for some purposes. Since we didn't want to drink ground watermelon seeds in a sort of nasty-tasting watermelon pulp...

I just ended up livening up lemonade with watermelon balls (and rum in the tall glass). There were few complaints, especially at the end of a long day in which 15 people were laid off at hubby's work (yes, right at the holidays). And especially after the older kid found she has an E in French. And especially after the little one has come out of a time out for repeatedly fibbing (this is really getting old) - this time that she was coughing because she ate an ant.


Yesterday, the hubby and I had a date day. First we saw our older daughter's 30 second premiere in her ballet school's performance of The Nutcracker, then we rounded out the day by watching Black Swan (quite ironic, huh?). Amazing movie if you like that kind of thing - and I'm still wincing. Anyway, we had dinner at a restaurant that boasts "pub fare". Below you see a "Scotch egg" - an appetizer so over the top I had to take a photo and share. It's a hard boiled egg wrapped in bacon and deep fried. Served with a mayonnaise-based sauce. It was really quite delicious - but you really couldn't have more than a half a serving.

One more thing to share. This was some ultimately pretty bad food served on an organized trip my friend and I took to Nemours and Longwood Gardens (photos to come!). I'm sharing this with you because I love the use of the microgreens on top. So pretty!

What about you? Dipping into the preserved foods? Cutting into bad melon like I am? Creating masterpieces with root vegetables? What stories do you have to tell?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Gifts - part 1 (show and tell)

Just wanted to share some gifts, both sent and received. First, I made this box (decoupage) below for my childhood bestest friend Kelly, who recently lost her sister way too young. Michelle will live in our hearts forever.

The idea to do a bean mosaic was inspired by Meredith of Great Stems. A little out of the ordinary I know, but when you have been giving the same man gifts for the past 20 years, you start to run out of ideas. It's based on his horoscope sign - cancer. Can you see the symbol, the stars, and the crab?. It is meant for his time travel (don't ask - especially since I don't have answers).

This was a gift I recently received - one of the most amazing gifts ever! My sister was my secret Santa this year. The deal: under $20, must be homemade. She created a journal with bits a pieces taken from my blog! I can't tell you how incredible it is to read a simple quote and remember why I wrote it a year ago, how I felt, how proud I was, how scared I was, how fun something was, how inspired I was, and how funny I thought I was at the time!! Best gift ever - and best sister ever, huh?!

Oh - and to know that she read almost every word of it all!!!
Related Posts with Thumbnails