Sunday, December 16, 2012

Believe...a story of a kid who learned the truth about Santa

We're really into Christmas:
  • I shop early so I can have as close to a full month as possible to feast in the holiday festivities.  
  • The radio is on Christmas music with Delilah 24/7 beginning the day after Thanksgiving.  Ah...Karen Carpenter. Looooong agoooooo, and oh so faaaarrrr awayyyyyyyy...
  • I sing the gospel Christmas songs in my car with the gusto of any church choir singer (at red lights, I've been known to shut my eyes and clap to the beat as well).
  • There are numerous traditions we have created as a family: annual viewing of x-mas cartoons from the 70's, the Winter Lights Festival, each family member choosing a special ornament every year, everything related to the tree and special treats for Christmas.
  • I would holepunch "believe" in a card tucked into the lunch of my older daughter (a la Polar Express), that she would happily clutch all day.
  • There is great "Christmas magic" that my husband speaks of.  The talk increases about Nana, my husband's mother whom we lost several years ago.  Her angel sits on the top of the tree.  Her embroidered drummer boy ornament hangs carefully in just the right spot on the tree. A black and white photo of her and her two sons by her own Christmas tree is dusted off and sits on the bookcase for the season.
  • And then there's Santa...  He always knows what my kids want.  Last year, he knew my little one wanted a pink shirt that said "I heart music", and he found one for her.  That's pretty miraculous and cool (and so are iron-on transfers from Michael's).  He wraps their one special present with brown paper, and he always uses the same special lettering.  

My older daughter is 14, and whole-heartedly believed in Santa until she was about 10!  Now this is an intelligent, well-adjusted, outgoing kid.  Street-smart and savvy as well, but yet, she truly believed in Santa and all the X-mas hoopla.  If you're a parent that went full hog with the Christmas/Santa stuff like we did, you may have wondered exactly when enough is enough.  I don't know if no one told her, or if they did and she just didn't believe them, but when your older child is helping you bake cookies for Santa, and you're discussing where you should leave the milk, part of you feels kind of deceitful and kind of guilty.  Part of you feels sorry for promoting this whole thing and you wonder, gosh - is this harmful to make your pretty big kid think Santa has had several sips of milk and ate all his cookies?  Then just before you get a chance to figure out how you can gently let her know it's all been a well-meaning, but elaborate trick, she finds the truth out for herself.  

For my older daughter, it was really very, very devastating.  Without being too melodramatic, it may just have been the end of her innocence.  The year after she found out, she wanted little to do with Christmas.  She refused to take a photo with the mall Santa.  She was not interested in the tree.  She watched, but was cool about the claymation shows that typically make us all tear up.  She was either silent or sarcastic when we talked about Christmas magic with her little sister. 

The following year, she stood as her sister bonded with the mall Santa, and I got a nice photo out of it, but there was no talk about the Christmas magic.  

Fast forward to today.  As a teenager, she is fully aware that there is no Santa.  However, the kid once again loves Christmas.  She opens the Christmas storage bins and carefully unwraps the ornaments from their well-worn paper towels, that she is equally careful with.  She regales us with stories of each ornament she picked out.  She seems to remembers exactly what she was thinking when she originally chose each ornament.  She gets upset if we even entertain the idea of not following Nana's recipe for Santa's cookies.  She looks forward to the special lettering on "Santa's" gift (and will be really happy when she finds the gift card to Urban Outfitters this year).  

In the end, all the deceit that I felt perpetuating this Santa business was worth it.  As a teenager (and hopefully as an adult), the image of the generous old Caucasian guy in a red suit is gone, but what remains is many lovely family traditions and the magic of Christmas.  For all those concerned about allowing your kids to think Santa is real, I would say it is thoroughly worth it. 

We take turns choosing a theme for the tree each year.  It was my teenager's turn this year.  Her rule was only glass ornaments, but each person could choose 1-2 ornaments that didn't fit the theme if he/she really wanted them there.  I chose a cheap plastic Santa ornament that is hollow in the center.  I think it was originally one of those M&M's tube toppers.  Each year, I pluck a needle or two to place inside the ornament.  The hole in the bottom is covered with tape.  There are needles from the last...13 or so trees inside the cheapo plastic ornament.  It's all about the traditions we create.  

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Kabocha for breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert

Kabocha is a perfect fall/winter pumpkin for cooking.  The slightly sweet and nutty taste along with the smooth texture and dry water content makes it a great substitution for any recipe that calls for pumpkin.  

Above: Kabocha (steamed and mashed) pecan waffles with maple syrup
Below: Irish oatmeal with sauteed kabocha, pecan, brown sugar, golden raisins and a drizzle of coconut milk.  Holy yumminess!

Below: a savory curried kabocha and pork for dinner.  Another favorite not pictured: a pureed soup of kabocha, sauteed leeks, ginger, some cream and parmesan.  

Below: a beautiful and just-sweet-enough Sankaya, or Thai coconut custard.  Recipe on Wai Sek - my Asian foods blog... and also soon to be published in Heirloom Gardener magazine.  

How could you use this versatile Asian winter squash in your own recipes?  

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Growing and cooking Jerusalem artichoke ( or sunchoke or white man's ginger)

This root is most commonly known as Jerusalem artichoke or sun choke.  Though it is not a plant native to China, it has been cultivated there for over 300 years now.  Fittingly, the Chinese also call it "gwai geung", which is translated as "devil's (or "ghost's" - with devil or ghost meaning a foreigner) ginger".  By the looks of the simple stir fried dish above, you can see how it might resemble ginger.  To make this sort of nutty, sort of beany tasting side dish, scrub the roots very well, cut into pieces, and lightly stir fry in oil.  Then, add about 1/4 cup water, stir, cover, and steam for another few minutes until crisp-tender.  This dish is finished with some spring onions and sea salt.  

Above: some little reject roots, too small to use.  Below, the bases of the very tall stalks.  To harvest Jerusalem artichokes, dig them up carefully as you need them anytime between fall and the middle of the cold season.  These plants are very hardy and while a frost may damage leaves, roots are fine underground.

Sometime before the ground freezes hard, harvest all the roots and be sure to save some roots to replant for next year's crop.  Replant roots immediately in rows about 1 foot apart.  Jerusalem artichoke plants spread.  Spring brings new growth and summer brings cheery yellow/orange flowers.  A beautiful and tasty plant!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Gargantuan winter melon!

Have you ever seen such a thing?!  This is a winter melon, aka wax gourd, next to a full-size basketball!!  The wax coating will help keep this melon fresh for months.  Winter melon is mild and really juicy - perfect for adding to a light and tasty soup.  White inside, once it's cooked, the winter melon takes on a beautiful translucency and the flavor of whatever it is cooked in.  This is the melon that banquet chefs will carve in a bas-relief fashion, pour soup into and steam whole for a pretty darn showy presentation.  Honestly though, I'm not sure what kind of steamer this particular winter melon could be cooked in! 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Scamp's birthday

Scamp is still alive and kicking after last year's ordeal with rupturing a disk and requiring the $7,000 surgery. It was such a melodramatic, emotional, stressful time if you recall!!!  

The vet thinks this good ole boy is oooold.  But probably not yet 9.  Kind of a sucky deal since the rescue said he was 3!!!  I don't think it was intentional though because they have labeled other dogs old - even the younger-looking ones.  Either way, we adore this supersweet, gentle, adorable old guy.  We have just celebrated his first year being a member of our family.  He enjoyed the birthday party planned for him by my 7 year old.  

Sunday, October 21, 2012

My father's ducks and geese...and a leafy green treat

Above is one of my father's Chinese geese. Unfortunately, his mate was eaten by some animal despite a loving home and secure habitat.  Below, these happy and pretty little ducks have had their dinner and have gone out to their enclosed portion of the pond for the evening.  In the water, they're safer from night predators who can't swim, but who can certainly dig a hole under the fencing.  The ducks know the drill - eat and then waddle with a quack quack quack out to the water.

Above, the dark green is tatsoi or rosette bok choy.  The light green is a choy - a Taiwanese lettuce that is somewhat similar to romaine - perhaps not as crisp - the texture is a little more like spinach actually.  A choy is often eaten cooked.  Below, the a choy is growing neatly in well-spaced rows.  I asked my father what the packed bed is for then if you're supposed to give them room to grow...

For the ducks of course!!!

He said the ducks love these greens and would come running if I threw some in their enclosure.  I didn't believe it, especially since they'd just eaten and gone straight out to the water.  Well, as he predicted, I threw some of the leafy greens in and they all came running back in from the water!

This is my favorite duck.  He's so goofy with his fluffy mohawk, savoring his a choy.  

Sunday, October 14, 2012

GBBD - October 2012

Everywhere...comatose bees...

Visit May Dreams Gardens to see what else is in bloom on this Garden Blogger's Bloom Day!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Library of Congress Asian Vegetables Talk

This afternoon, I gave a talk at the Library of Congress.  It was a pretty spectacular experience being in these lovely buildings in the city.  We're really close, but don't get to DC nearly enough to take advantage of all the amazing FREE things to see and learn about in the museums and other government buildings.  After a talk (that I think I possibly jammed too much into - but appeared successful nonetheless - I used my "don't look a gift horse in the mouth strategy"), we strolled to the Jefferson building.  In the photo below, there is a peek between the tree and the building at the top of the capital.  Darn camera phones - you probably can't see it, but the photo was a cool one.  

The architecture and ceilings of this building are gorgeous!  Below, a beautiful mosaic section.  

My husband was taking a little tour of the city during my talk.  He was excited to show me what he found at the information center - a digital marquee with the details of my talk!  He said, "You'll never see that again...".  I was like, gee, thanks.  But what I think he really meant was that the opportunity to talk at the Library of Congress was pretty special.  

The Jefferson building was spectacular - and not just because of the Gutenburg and Mainz bibles.  I particularly loved all the portraits and quotes about books throughout this building.  

This is Tsai-Hong.  We went out for some bi bim bop afterwards.  Always seen it, but never tried it.  YUM! YUM!  I met Tsai-Hong today for the first time.  She arranged this 2 part program.  The first part was sort of a gardening 101, my talk was the second in the series.  She is obviously smart to know a gardening program would be successful, but she's also witty, sweet, and warm.  A kindred spirit you recognize upon first glance.  And...

...she's a grower of bitter melon - a WHITE variety!  This is super cool and I can't wait to try it.  My parents will flip over this one too.  This is where, if I weren't so tired, I would wax poetic about heirloom seeds, and the freaking specialness of this white bitter melon which someone saved seeds of, passed along, and scattered throughout the world among friends, and which in fact, could possibly outlive us.  I'm doing a poor job with this explanation, but I'm sure many of you know exactly what I mean.  

Friday, September 28, 2012

The good, the bad, and the ugly

I'm so contrived these days, but seems every year, I do some variation of a good, bad, and ugly post.  

The good - finally, a cute little watermelon.  But too little, too late you little watermelon!!!! It's almost October!

The bad - well, bad meaning good... A frickin' plethora of apples on the trees at the u-pick farm, and after a glug, glug, glug, glug, glug, glug, glug of triple sec and tequila, some jars of strawberry margarita preserves! 

And the ugly - some one has taken a hole-puncher to this foliage.  Either that or some nasty bug has decided to really piss me off.  And then to add insult to injury, this Sassy cat of mine needs to make my planter a kitty bed.  Ah well, she's 11 years old this October.  Maybe I'll just leave her be.  

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A virtual visit to my table at the DC State Fair

It was so fun to host the Asian vegetables demo table as part of the DC State Fair at the Barracks Row Fall Festival. In the top photo, you see clockwise from the top: flowering chives, my cutting board which I used to show people how to prepare these vegetables for cooking, bitter melon peeking into the scene, the long speckled fuzzy melon, the Chinese long bean, kabocha pumpkin, and the little gourds I've been talking about recently. I did have some things to sample, like chrysanthemum tea and winter melon soup (you can see a big wedge of the giant winter melon on the right of the table in the photo with the green shirt guy).  My little one, who ate all day long from the awesome assortment of artisan pie, cupcake, and ethnic food trucks, is sneaking some of the taro chips I had out for sampling in the photo above.  She spent the day tagging along with her older sister and sister's friend, both of whom were very watchful and tolerant today!

Above, people are trying samples, checking out the veggies and the guy in the green is checking out the free seeds basket!  Those went quick!  The visitors were mostly city folk and had lots of container/balcony gardens.  I directed them to the malabar spinach, which vines and does well in containers.  People with community garden plots took home tatsoi (aka rosette bok choy or flat cabbage), to plant now for a fall/winter crop.  Gardeners who took home other seeds have to wait till spring.  Below, I have taro chips and the three brown taro roots underneath.  These don't grow well in our zone but taro is everywhere these days (dim sum, bubble tea, pastries, etc.), so I thought I'd share.  In the middle is lemongrass that I plan to root.  I also demo'd how to actually use lemongrass.  I love that stuff!!!  On the right are luffa gourds.  The shorter, fatter one is a smooth (aka sponge) luffa, at eating size.  The two longer ones are angled luffas.  The pom-pom'd thing is a sponge I made and gifted one year.  It has a luffa sheet on one side and terrycloth on the other.


In other goings on... above, the DC State Fair peeps are awarding the prizes for the best photograph contest (there were so many fun contests at this fair!!!!).  I think I heard an announcement that Kenneth of DC State Fair and The Indoor Garden(er) made up postcards for the runners up (the guy in yellow in the photo above is happy about that!).  I thought that was such a sweet prize to put together for the runners up.

My daughter and her friend bummed pies off of the DC State Fair's Best Pie leftovers rack.  Michael is an extra happy camper because his shirt is signed with x's and o's by the Washington Redskins Cheerleaders.  Rah! Rah! Rah! for a great day at the fair!


If you've been following my ramblings, you know my father is obsessed with little bottle gourds this year. He's going to freak out when I show him this arrangement I spotted at Whole Foods yesterday with the little bottle gourd anchoring the decor!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

How to dry bottle gourds

Though my father typically plants a couple of bottle gourd vines every season, this year, he went a little crazy.  Click here to see the gorgeous vines in his garden and learn about why his friends will be happy to receive these auspicious little gourds.

To dry the gourds for ornamental purposes, he harvested them at maturity.  These are miniature gourds, so they are tiny, but mature.  In the photos above, you see them as they look freshly cut from the vine.  He is stringing them to dry for seeds.  These are just the seedstock, not the ones he will dry for gifting.  


In the photo below, he has taken mature gourds and scraped off the outer peel with a sharp knife.  This is not a necessary step, but makes for a cleaner appearance.  Some of the gourds on the vine looked pretty jacked up with spots and other imperfections, but scraping the peel leaves them all pretty as can be as you can see in the photo below.  After scraping off the peel, he will sun dry them outdoors (bringing them in if it rains!!!).  It takes about a month to fully dry out.  My father actually used a food dehydrator during rainy days and at night to speed the process.  The few gourds in the batch that were not at full maturity when harvested shriveled a bit, and were left a little wrinkly.  Try to wait until the gourds are at full maturity before harvesting.  

The little gourds were dried on a woven tray as you see below.  The lighter ones were scraped first before drying.  The darker ones were not scraped and left to dry as is.   As you can see, they are just as lovely.  For a smoother appearance, the unscraped gourds can be lightly sanded for a smoother and more finished appearance, but as far as protecting the gourd, this is also an unnecessary step.  The ones my father really liked, he also painted with a light lacquer for a little shine.  If you try growing these little gourds, I'd love to know how it goes!

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