Wednesday, April 27, 2011

At Risk Cricket

When we came home there was Cricket in the garden.
Our friend Larry of At Risk Welding made a sculpture of our darling dog. She died about two years ago - it's so nice to see her in the garden she loved. And our new rescue dog Ally
does not seem to be jealous. For a change. When Cricket died we thought we could never love another dog. Ally the clown has won our hearts. The best advice ever - get another dog. We are smitten, and Ally thinks it's a pretty good idea too. Thank you Patty Casci of Oh Behave in Danville for helping. Could not have done it without you. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Jam Session

There was a young man on the corner with a big smile selling strawberries. They smelled divine when Ally and I went by on our walk, so we went back for a flat.
This is only four baskets - a flat holds twelve. That's a lot to eat, so I made jam. And since it's rhubarb season I added some rhubarb. I pre-cooked the rhubarb, but I didn't need to, it softens quickly.

I used a potato masher (thank you Ann) to smash the berries. You can use a Cuisinart, but there's always one berry that refuses to cooperate, and with a potato masher you can hunt down the recalcitrant berry. Without turning the rest into mush - always a danger with a Cuisinart.

Two cups of rhubarb puree, six cups of smashed strawberries. 

One box of Sure-Jell pectin (yes I know it's better without but I did not have all day) brought to a full rolling boil. Six cups of sugar and back to a full rolling boil (thank you Mrs Westphall my seventh grade home ec teacher). One minute at a rolling boil and then quickly into hot jars, the rims wiped and the lids snugly fastened, then ten minutes in a water bath.

I recycle (Carol are you listening?) so it's a motley collection of jars, but labels from My Own Labels will fizz things up - 

and no one's getting more than one jar so who's to tell the jars don't match? Shhhhhhh. It's divine. It may be harder to share than I thought...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

a bad day to be me

It could have been a really bad horrible day. First my car needed what was supposed to be a routine service...that turned out to be a major expensive big deal. Like the price of a used car...and I only found out when I went to sign the estimate. A little warning, please guys. When you tell me it's a little routine maintenance I'm not expecting to need a second mortgage to pay the bill.

Never drive a small black car. It's what I got from the rental company, very cute, and a woman backing out in the Trader Joe's parking lot didn't see me. I was parked, not moving, rolling up the windows. She swung the nose of her car into my parking place as she was backing out and whacked! my rental...and kept going. She left a gash more than six feet long in the side of the car. Thank goodness she eventually stopped or I could have been carried away by the edge of her bumper, never to be seen again.

Not a great day so far, and it could have been a really horrible day, but Eric Nguyen at Traveller's Insurance and Sarah and Peggy at Enterprise Rent-A-Car made it better.

Eric made me laugh, and kept calling people at Enterprise until he found someone who said if Eric would pay I didn't have to leave them a whacking big deposit. Sarah and Peggy kept working and stayed cheerful as my blood pressure went up, and they seriously deserve a raise for keeping their cool cheerfulness.

When I came back the next day for - wait for it - another rental car (my car gushed $73 of gas onto the ground. I think the Alamo Chevron may now be a superfund site)
the Enterprise crew were - gasp! happy to see me and let Ally ride home in the rental car with me (no dogs in rental).

Apparently my car had a bad seal in the newly replaced fuel filter. Seriously, guys? It's a Mercedes - this is not supposed to happen! You'd think they'd check this stuff out before they send you home. I shudder to think what could have happened if I'd been on the freeway when the filter cut loose - I could have been a fireball.

This is not where you want to see your car -

Moral of the story? No idea. Ask me when my heart stops racing and my blood pressure returns to normal.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Details

Apparently there is a kerfuffle over German Chocolate Cake - it is in fact German's Chocolate Cake, and the original recipe is on the Kraft website.

Megan McArdle, a writer for The Atlantic, has the story. Anybody remember cake walks at school fairs? I can't remember exactly how they worked but they were a sort of musical squares with your choice of a cake for a prize. When the cakes were gone the game was over. My sister Debbie and I would pick our favorite cakes, and hope our parents won before that cake was gone.

Mom and dad always picked the German (more properly German's) Chocolate Cake. We were kids - we hated coconut, so I always wished they'd picked something else. Now I'm actually thinking about making the Original German's Chocolate Cake.

With all the strife in the world and this country bickering about ideals while we slide toward financial and social ruin, it's nice to know someone's paying attention to the details. Thank you Megan.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Almost there...

So much almost in bloom! Dogwoods...

...and white Wisteria.

The bluebells that make sheets of blue in Sylvia's garden have spread across my garden too - 

thank you Sylvia for sharing. I am happy to share with you too.

The quince my mom got me for my birthday was moved last year and I thought it would die. Today it is covered in sweet white cups and luscious green leaves. 

On our walk yesterday Ally and I ran into a friend who was exclaiming over the lily-of-the-valley...except they were allium. White, invasive, perfect for a tough spot that gets no summer water. Lily-of-the-valley don't thrive here - too hot. But not yet. I need a coat in the morning, a tank top at midday and it is too cold for cocktails in the garden.  It will be stinking hot later, but these are the days I leave the windows open day and night and rejoice that my parents had the good sense to leave Hardin, Montana and move here. Thanks mommy.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Get Out!

It is a glorious spring day. Blue sky, green hills, cool. Someone is riding up the mountain. Turn off your computer and go outside!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Bowling for Granola

"You must really cook a lot" Leslie said as she looked at my stack of metal bowls. Then she saw the stack of pottery bowls.

"Why do you have both?"

Sometimes when I'm cooking I want the bowl to stay put - when I'm making tuna for sandwiches (okay that's not really cooking) or mixing up a batch of lemon bread.

That's when I use the heavy pottery bowls.

And sometimes I want to be able to lift the bowl with one hand while I scoop out the goodies inside. That's when I use the lighter metal bowls. Like when I'm making granola...

Granola is so easy to make, and so much better for you. Fresher, no preservatives You can choose to add dried blueberries or cranberries, almonds or pecans, or macadamia nuts if you're in a tropical mood. If you leave out the wheat germ it's gluten free. And you can make it as toasty as you want...

I kept Deidre in granola for a while (she has taken the most astounding photographs of my garden) and when I was going on vacation I gave her the recipe. It has since become her entire family's breakfast of choice.

Granola - Makes about 8 cups

1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup honey or maple syrup (I use local organic honey from the farmer's market)
1 cup raw wheat germ 
1 teaspoon kosher salt ( do not use regular salt!)
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract (not the imitation stuff)
4 cups old-fashioned oats
1 1/2 cups chopped nuts  (I use pecans and/or almonds - sunflower seeds make it taste moldy)
1 cup  dried fruit (I use blueberries but cranberries are good too)
1/2 to 1 1/2 teaspoons Saigon cinnamon (available at Draegers)

Preheat oven to 375°F

In a large metal bowl mix the oil, honey and vanilla, then stir in the wheat germ. Mix well. Add the oats, nuts (raw not toasted or they will burn) cinnamon and salt and smash it together to get the oats mixed with the gooey wheat germ and honey.

Bake 10 minutes. Stir well, scraping the outside edges into the middle (the outside gets brown faster).

Return to the oven for 5 minutes more. Stir, check for color. When the granola is a golden brown even after stirring, remove from oven and stir again, then cool. If you don't stir it when it comes out of the oven it will harden into a brick. I usually do three stir and return to oven cycles, but two may be enough. I like toasty.

Stir in dried fruit, let cool and store in glass jars.

I have no idea how long this keeps, it never lasts very long around here.

Monday, April 4, 2011

David Brooks does behavior

Nature or nurture? Hard wired or chemical? Genetics, environment, chemistry, or can we blame it all on our parents? My sisters and I are very different, and I wonder why.

New York Times columnist David Brooks blogs about how we think and behave, and some ideas about why, and things are not as simple as they seem. No kidding. But this really made me think, made me want to dig deeper. To understand mean people, those who lack the ability to empathize. The people who cause pain in my life. The people who bring joy, love and understanding, the treasures in our lives.

He has a new book out. Shameless plug. And he blogged today about something called, a really cool science site that looks like it could keep me fascinated for hours trying to answer these questions, or at least find out what's the latest thinking. Altho I expect to get distracted...

I am thinking more because I'm reading his blog. First, he blogs every day. If you blog, if you write, you know being brilliant every day is hard work. Most mortals can't do it. And he's not fluffy, he blogs about serious stuff. If you read him in the Times or watch him on The PBS News hour you know he has a dry sense of humor that peeks out even in the most humorless of times. He's on my list of people I'd most like to have dinner with. Who's on your list?

I'm off to read more on See you there?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Tulips with a grain of salt

 Leslie has pots of them on her porch. Her favorite flower, her husband planted 400 this year. Guys, are you listening? Way to a woman's heart, right there. Pay attention. There will be a quiz.

Liz has tulips in the most stunning color. I'd love a dress this color. Or a car. Or a snuggly sweater.

Eleanor taught me to plant tulips almost touching in a pot. She taught me a lot about gardens. I miss her.

I thought the dog would keep the squirrels away from the tulips. I didn't know she'd dig them out of the pots and eat them. Still, despite her snacking they turned out pretty well.

I love the insides...

In pots they last a lot longer than cut flowers do. But our tulips don't repeat well in the garden.

An expert once told me tulips need baking summer heat to bloom, not cold as we've all been told. I didn't ask her why my friends in colder climates have tulips that come back every year. Didn't occur to me to question this strident person. She's the expert, right?

She said in Holland they dig up the tulips and bake them in ovens so they will rebloom. So naturally when we were in Holland for tulip time a few years ago, I asked about this. When the tulip grower finally finished laughing, (and saying things in Dutch and pointing at me, and laughing some more), he told me no. No way. Not. Then he laughed some more.

The lessons?  Take everything with a grain of salt. Just because a supposed expert says it doesn't mean it's true. Be prepared for ridicule when you ask questions. And keep asking. How else will you figure things out?