Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Harvesting and Preserving Herbs

There is a romance around picking little snippets of herbs from one's garden and carrying them directly into the kitchen for that evening's dinner or that special Sunday morning's omelet. We use some of the herbs in our garden this way, especially in early spring when the chives appear as the first edible in our yard, and in midsummer when basil and parsely are at their best. Most of the herbs in my garden though get picked and preserved for year-round use.

Right now I am harvesting the perennial herbs. Last year Adam took a large raised bed from our back yard and rebuilt it into two small beds for the side yard. The side yard of the house is south-facing and, unlike our back yard, is free of trees whose roots compete for water and nutrients. I put several small oregano, thyme, and sage plants in last fall. This spring I added chamomile, savory, and mint plants. When I put them in the ground each plant was tiny, the kind of plant that costs $4 at the garden center. The plants love the new location and are now bushes, jostling each other for space. I've decided to cut them back pretty severely. I really put too many plants into the beds, as most perennial herbs are what my mother-in-law refers to as "dreadful spreaders" and they like space to spread out. I am hoping that by harvesting the majority of the leaves from each plant I can leave the plants with enough to winter over, but not so much that they try to spread too far. I don't have a lot of planting space, but would like to grow a variety of herbs.

There are many different techniques for drying herbs. I prefer to dry the perennial herbs. I am much mroe likely to use them dried than frozen, and I don't feel that they suffer much loss in flavor. Today I washed all the herbs I picked, wrapped them in a linen tablecloth and squeezed the water out, and then laid them out on another table cloth in my air-conditioned dining room. Tomorrow I will tie them into bundles and hang them in a closet to dry completely. Some people don't call for washing herbs before drying, but we live in an urban area. So I feel it's important to wash off the dust and dirt.

Today I picked sage, oregano, and savory. Once these are tied up I'll pick the mint, thyme, and chamomile. A little later in the summer I'll pick my annual herbs, basil, parsley, and scallions, and I'll freeze them.

 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Fermenting Vegetables, It's all the rage!

For years now I have made vinegar pickles like my mom did when I was little. Last fall my friend Jen was making a polish dinner, and so I decided to try fermenting saurkraut. She had a food-grade plastic bucket, and I had a book called The Joy of Pickling. I shredded the cabbage, salted and pounded it to release juices, and weighted it with a plate and a bowl full of dried beans. In fermenting the weights keep the vegetables below the surface of the water where bacteria on the vegetables are hard at work acidifying the water and transforming the vegtables. For two weeks I kept an eye on my plastic bucket. Bubbles started after about three days, and every so often there were signs of life on the surface of the water (at the time I thought it was mold, I now know it was probably yeast) and I skimmed it off. After two weeks, with some nervousness, I tried the cabbage which was turning a golden color. It was delicious, and with almost no effort on my part. It probably would have been even better if I had left it to ferment another week, but the party was the next day, so out of the bucket it came. We ate it with kielbasa and homemade pierogies. My friend Jen cooked buckwheat dumplings in the shredded saurkraut.

Spurred on by this success and in need of a new kitchen hobby, since dealing with food allergies means I haven't been baking much bread lately, I got a book The Art of Fermentation for Christmas and a proper fermentation crock for my birthday. There are all different kinds of fermentation crocks and jars and systems, and strong opinions to go with them. I'll let you do your own internet research, and just say that the crock I got is ceramic and uses water to create a seal to help minimize the growth of mold and yeasts on the surface of the water. It also came with ceramic weights to hold the vegetables under the water.

Since getting the crock I've made two mixed vegetable ferments. The first was cabbage with carrots and oregano. I fermented it for a week, again I could have left it longer but I wanted it for a dinner party. We ate it with sausages and rice. The second was slices of cucumbers with carrots, radishes, garlic scapes, and dill. The cucumbers I get in my CSA share are too big to either ferment whole or pickle in vinegar. Last year I made freezer pickles out of them. While you normally can't freeze cucumbers without them turning to mush, the sugar vinegar solution in these pickles keeps them very crisp. This year I decided to try to ferment them. I only fermented them for three days, as cucumbers soften very quickly in the brine. They are delicious. I've been chopping them into my fried rice at lunch, and Olivia can't suck them down fast enough.

 

 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Olivia at Two

Olivia is on fire. She has the cutest wiggle in her walk, a sparkle in her eye, a giggle in her smile, and words pouring from her mouth all day long. She is going through a screamy screamy phase (luckily her sister is for the moment between screamy screamy phases) and also a "poor little idiot" phase. In combination we have regular conversations like this:

Me: Pour the juice in the popsicle molds and now put the tops on.
Olivia: I want a popsicle.
Me: Olivia they aren't ready. They will be ready tomorrow.
Olivia: I WANT A POPSICLE!!!

Or like this:

Olivia: Where's "Rhyming Dust Bunnies"?
Me: that was a library book. We took it back to the library.
Olivia: I WANT RHYMING DUST BUNNIES!!!!

She recites bits from books and sings songs. Her reportoire ranges from the Hallelujah chorus (both of the girls loved Easter service) to "I'm Driving in My Car," a favorite at our local library.

She loves to eat, even though there still are so many things she can't eat right now. She eats pasta with olive oil by hand, and sweet potato "pappa" very expertly with a spoon. She truly enjoys meat. "I'm having pork for dinner." And yes, she loves her mamma's milk.

Olivia adores Alessia, but is also more than willing to stand up to her, which I figure is healthy for both of them.

She is affectionately known as "the chaos machine."

I can't believe we've made it this far. In the past two years she has tested every nerve in my body. I don't do well without sleep. A friend of mine said that parenting isn't about picking a philosphy or a plan and seeing it through, parenting is about doing what needs to be done. I never planned on nursing a toddler, but it's what Olivia needs and so here we are. I am very much enjoying watching her little personality develop. She is strong and fiesty, yet also sweet and very physically attached to Adam and me. Alessia is so deliberate in learning new skills, and always has been. Olivia is much more casual. She watches and listens to us and her sister and then just jumps in. She surprises us all the time and we all adore her. Happy Birthday little ciccia!

 

 

 

 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Hello Warm Weather - an outdoor adventure and messy art

The girls and I are thrilled to have the warm weather back. This week we went on one of our favorite adventures from last summer. Our friends Julie and Cristina joined us. We took the T into Boston to welcome the return of the farmers' markets and then over to the Public Garden for a picnic lunch. The geese and the ducks and swan boats were all out enjoying the sunshine. The girls welcomed the Mallards and their adorable little ducklings by quack quack quacking, ran around the trees, and ate with that particular hunger that comes when eating outside after a good long walk.

This morning we had messy outdoor art. I brought out a large piece of paper, the last of our washable paint, and some toy cars. As soon as I said we were doing Messy Art, Alessia's eyes lit up. I reminded them of my two rules - don't paint your face on purpose and don't paint your clothes on purpose. They are both actually really good about following those rules, and beyond that I don't fuss. Alessia always ends up with a little on her face as she brushes her hair away and their clothes are always covered in paint, but it always washes out. I made big blobs of paint on the paper and showed the girls how to roll the cars through it. Alessia joined in. Olivia was more interested in scooping paint out of the cut open tubes, so I let her do that. We made hand prints and dragged leaves and sticks through the paint. Alessia requested brushes, so out they came as well. After the first time that Olivia stepped on the paper and into the paint, I decided that there was no way I was going to convince her not to and it wasn't upsetting Alessia, so I let it go.

Alessia took her shoe off to trace around her foot.

 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

A New Quilt Project

Last weekend I went with friends to a quilt exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts. It was such an inspiring experience. I had been thinking about starting a new quilt project. I knew I wanted to work with non-quilting fabric, but when I pulled out the pile of robes, napkins, and scraps of clothing fabric I wasn't feeling inspired. At the exhibition I saw several quilts made of different kinds of fabric used together, wools and cottons, plainweave cottons and sateens. The different textures of the fabric gave life and movement to the quilts.

Once home I pulled out some old robes and my quilting fabric. This is where I am at so far:

I intentionally cut the plaids slightly off grain. I saw this in an antique quilt some years ago in Vermont. The quilt was made of simple rectangles, but the plaids and stripes were all cut off grain, which made the whole quilt move. It gave the quilt angles, where there weren't any.

We'll see where this goes. Right now I am very excited about the possibilities.

 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Conversations with my children

Me: Olivia, you can't play with that.

Olivia (almost 2 yo): I Want It !!!!! (In screaming meltdown mode)

Me: Mamma said no.

Olivia: (very calmly) Alessia can you reach?

 

Alessia (3.5 yo): Mamma, mamma, Olivia is trying to touch a mess that someone made.

Me (internally - that could be nothing, or that could be something really bad): Show me, Alessia.

 

 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Rayon sarongs turned wall hanging

This is my first really serious attempt at weaving. When I was a museum teacher I taught basic weaving to children. During that time I played around with different techniques, and I wove a small piece that I turned into a sewing kit. I never really got serious, although I was always fascinated. Last summer I bought a tabletop loom. At first I thought I wanted to do tapestry style weaving, but in the end decided to weave with rags. I've always loved the freeform weaving of the 1970s. The fabric in this hanging is from sarongs and lounge pants all made of rayon that I bought while traveling in the my early 20's. I cut them all into long strips, and added colors as I worked. This was a big leap for me, as normally I am a planner.

I'm pretty pleased with the results. I managed to keep the width consistent, and I made a mistake on the finishing, but I know what I did, so hopefully it won't happen again.

This is the first time that I've made something purely decorative.