Gardening & The Yard

This is a cheap post in which I post pictures of what our yard looks like. This is the best it has looked in the three years we have been living here. I’m growing a lot of food again this year and am going to do my best to preserve it so it doesn’t go to waste. My fruit trees, at year three, are really starting to produce too. It’s all very exciting and a little bit intimidating too. We have seen a little aphid problem on one of our cherry trees which is par for the course. We will be picking up some lady bugs as soon as we can get to the store. We are dedicated to being totally organic!

Green beans are beginning to blossom. We also have chard, tomatoes, and onions growing in this bed. image_1

Two more tomato plants as well as some Basil and a few flowers to bring in bees and butterflies that should bloom mid-summer.

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Four pepper plants – two bells, one ancho, and one pepperocini – as well as some California poppies and some rosemary.

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The view standing at the back of the yard.

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Another shot of some of the vegetable beds. The strawberry bed is the one with the gnome sitting in it. Then we have a bed filled with onions, beets, radishes, lettuce, basil, and escarole. In the background are two beds filled with artichokes, potatoes, rhubarb, cucumbers, and butternut squash.

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The view standing on the back deck.

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A close up of a peach growing on one of our peach trees. You can also see another rosemary plant in the background. In the bed that is hard to see we have basil, cilantro, parsley, Russian sage, oregano, and thyme growing. The bed next to it I have given over to flowers; red poppies and some colorful wildflowers whose name escapes me right now…

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Some pretty flowers growing.

image_8Another angle showing the flowers and our fig and pear trees.

image_9My cute doggies checking out the scene through the fence gate. You can see I like to put out things like wind chimes and colorful garden pottery and ornaments. Soon we hope to have strung fairy lights across the whole yard too.

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A close up of the one (out of three ) purple artichoke plants I planted two years ago. This one is still going strong.

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2013 So far … challenges, travel, gardening, shopping local, canning/preserving

photo-7Yeah. I’ve been shitty about posting. In my defense 2013 has kind of been kicking my ass. There are some good things going on….but there have been some challenges too.

Challenging stuff:

My mom got in a very bad car accident, which is bad enough (cracked sternum, 6 cracked ribs, one crushed knee, and a broken foot) but she was also in the middle of packing to move. So my sister and I flew out to Massachusetts to help her and also pack and get her all moved in and unpacked. While we were doing this we were also still working full time remotely. It was pretty intense and also extremely expensive.

I almost burned our house down, with our dogs in it, by leaving a pot boiling on the stove while Mike and I went to a lecture on smart cities. Thankfully everything turned out okay. The house was fine except for some very smelly smoke damage that was not bad enough that we couldn’t clean it ourselves. I don’t make light of how much work it was to get it cleaned and get the smell out but it could have been so much worse. And thankfully we have amazing neighbors and our dogs were fine. Our front door needs to be replaced but the insurance will help pay for it.

Mike finally had hernia surgery and it thankfully went well but it was a lot of painkillers and ice packs and eating in bed. He was a trooper.

I started a running program and fell in love with running….and promptly had my back give out on me and was in some serious pain for three straight weeks. So I think running is off the table for now. I did manage to get through an acupuncture appointment, with Mike holding my hand the entire time, and my needle-phobic self only cried twice. That will clue you in to how much pain I was in…I let someone stick needles in my body which terrifies me. It helped though.

And I had a tense day trying to make sure people I am close to in Boston were okay after the Boston marathon bombing. Thankfully they all were/are fine but it was a tense 24 hours. Even though I thought I had checked in with everyone I felt like I was going to get a phone call that night telling me some bad news (a lot like 9/11) but thankfully everyone was really okay. It was wonderful how everyone seemed to focus on how people pulled together in a crisis and how they all helped each other out under such bad circumstances. I was really proud of Boston and the rest of the country for focusing on the good side of human nature. The man-hunt the next day was insane; it was like some crazy scene out of a Jason Bourne film.

Anyway! Some good things….

I took a recent trip to California and went to some small towns west of Redwood City – Santa Cruz, Capitola, and – my personal favorite of the day – Pescadero. Driving back to Redwood City from Pescadero there is a lot of farmland, which is the picture at the top of this post. We bought local artichokes and locally made chicken/artichoke sausage from Arcangeli Grocery in Pescadero. (Click to check them out; you can order their stuff online.) I also went to the Shipyard Artists Open House and looked at some very cool art. California really has it going on for painting. It was refreshing because I am sorry to say I have not been overly impressed with Portland in that respect. I also ate the second best pizza I have ever had out of a food truck in front of building 101. (The absolute best was at the Brooklyn Flea Market a few years ago – but I mean…New York having good pizza is a given.)

Our back yard is looking the best it has since we moved in. We removed three of the planter beds and are now left with nine, which is a much more sane number. We have been keeping up with the weeding (with help!) and even with back problems I managed to plant some things (radishes, escarole, lettuce, onions, green beans, beets, cilantro, thyme, oregano, chives, and parsley – the chard from last year is in its harvest state, the artichoke plant is going strong, and we had some potatoes pop up from missing a few from last year’s harvest). I’ve decided this is the year I fully can and preserve my harvest. The fruit trees are really beginning to bear fruit and I think it is time to get my tomatoes in. I invested in some canning gear from Miradoor, a local little shop. And I purchased “Canning for a New Generation,” by Lianna Krissoff at our local Powell’s on Hawthorne. I think I am ready to go and this book is so great about breaking down the canning and preserving process in a way that is simple and easily understood (takes a lot of the botulism terror out of it…which is…you know…really nice).

May 15 marks me and Mike’s third year in our house, and May 22 marks our fourth year together as a couple. I am feeling very blessed in life even with the early 2013 challenges.

And for your viewing pleasure…some very cute pictures of our family dogs.

Emmie

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Serena

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My sister’s dog Abbey

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Vegan Stuffed Cabbage Rolls (Lebanese style)

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We are having our annual holiday potluck at work tomorrow. I usually like to bring a main dish item since most people bring side dishes and desserts. This year I was chatting with someone in our office who is vegan and she mentioned she doesn’t participate since there usually isn’t much she can eat at potlucks. I assured her that there were vegans, vegetarians, and celiacs amongst us and then committed to making something vegan and gluten-free. I have sympathy for people who make food choices and who have food allergies and can never eat at work events and parties. Mike can almost never eat at his work events. Our workplace is pretty great because a lot of people label their potluck dishes so that people with allergies, etc. know what they can and can’t eat.

Last night I made my vegan stuffed cabbage rolls to bring to the party tomorrow. They are all completely prepared. I plan to layer the rolls and sauce in a crock-pot as a way of being able to serve them hot easily. I doubled the recipe so Mike and I could also have them for dinner last night and I managed to take pictures! As usual they are not good pictures, but we all need to get over that one of these days…. And yes, I did eat my cabbage rolls last night with my titanium spork. Yeah, you covet my titanium spork. Recipe is outlined after the pics.

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Rolling

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Arranging

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Saucing (this is a new word)

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Vegan Stuffed Cabbage Rolls (Lebanese style)

1 1/2 cups cooked rice (This time I used wild and brown rice, but white is great too.)
1 small package of mushrooms chopped (in a non-vegan version this would be ground lamb)
1 small onion finely diced
3 tblsp fresh mint, chopped
1 tsp allspice
pinch of cayenne pepper
1 tsp cinnamon
2 cups tomato puree (I really like the Pomi brand from Italy in the box but any organic – non GMO if you can find it – is good.)
1 head of savoy cabbage (The market didn’t have it so I used what they had. The Savoy is much more pliable and easy to work with though.)
olive oil
salt and pepper

In a large non stick pan saute in olive oil the mushrooms and onion until cooked through. Add salt and pepper to taste as well as the allspice and the pinch of cayenne pepper. Add the rice to the mushroom/onion mixture and stir thoroughly over medium heat until all the flavors have melded together. Turn off the heat and stir in the fresh mint. Let this mixture cool in the pan.

Set a large pot on the stove and fill with water. Bring to a boil. While waiting for the water to boil pull the leaves apart from the head of cabbage, trying not to tear them. Blanch each cabbage leaf in the boiling water until pliable. Drain.

In a mixing bowl add the pureed tomatoes and the cinnamon as well as salt and pepper to taste. (Go easy on the cinnamon…you may even want to just try using a 1/2 tsp or a pinch.)

In the bottom of a glass baking dish (like a lasagna size) put a bit of olive oil and a large spoonful of the tomato mixture in the bottom of the dish to coat.

Take a cabbage leaf and lay flat. Cut out the tough, non pliable stem area at the bottom of the leaf. In the center of the leaf put a spoonful of the rice mixture, then roll the leaf up tucking in the sides neatly. Lay the stuffed cabbage roll in the baking dish, folded side down to hold it together. Continue rolling cabbage until the dish is filled.

Pour the tomato sauce over the cabbage rolls. Cover the dish tightly with tinfoil and bake in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes until the cabbage is tender and the rolls are piping hot.

Long Weekend!

Well today we are getting let out of work early and then the long weekend begins! We make such a big deal out of Canadian Thanksgiving in our house that we are a little burnt out on the giant dinner thing by the time the American holiday rolls around. So we enjoy a quiet dinner for two on a smaller scale at home. I’m not making anything earth shattering for dinner (and since Mike doesn’t eat turkey we will be having roast chicken), but I am planning on making pumpkin spice donuts. I found the recipe on RoostBlog. I’ll be modifying the recipe slightly to make them dairy-free. I’ve made another type of donut from one of RoostBlog’s recipes before and they are a house favorite so I have high hopes for these. We do have a local friend coming over this weekend and doing the sleepover thing too (mostly so we can drink adult beverages to our hearts’ content). Mike is a bit of a bah-humbug when it comes to Christmas. So my friend K. is coming over to help me put up the Christmas tree, decorate, eat, drink, be merry, and generally get our Christmas on. Mike’s job is to fix the cocktails; a job he is thrilled with. I might also make a wreath for my front door. Mike collected a bunch of pine cones from our front yard (the Doug Fir dropped a ton this year) and a recent storm blew some fir branches down which would be perfect for a homemade wreath. If I do, and it turns out well, I’ll share. Nothing rings in the holiday season like breaking out the hot glue gun!

 
I’ve been thinking about how to share pictures from our trip to Europe. I should probably post them to someplace like Flickr and then link from here. I’ve been dragging my feet though because I am maintaining so many things right now – as are so many people. Part of my plan this weekend is to get the bazillion photos off my phone and onto a hard drive at home, and responsibly backed-up as well (we have a mac-mini with extra memory, which is attached to the TV, which is also attached to four external hard drives, and networked to my old G4 MacBook…it’s kind of insane and you can tell Mike is a tech-geek). Once that happens it will be easier to get them over to Flickr (if I go that way) and then share them. I really miss being in Europe. It was spectacular. The pace of life is different and some of the small towns and communities we spent time in in Ireland and Italy were really wonderful. I hope one day I get to go back.

For now enjoy a few random pics I feel like sharing (the one above is the view from our room in Amsterdam).

Two of my favorite people on the planet – my dear friend Matteo and Mike. And let us not overlook all of the Italian cheeses that I overdosed on! This is in Matteo’s kitchen in Italy. I miss him.

Did I mention our backyard meditation labyrinth is pretty much done? It is and it is spectacular.

Emmie with her summer garland of flowers. Such an intense cattle dog gaze.

And our goofy Serena. Nothing intense here just pure silliness and joy. She was born to wear that flower garland.

My sister’s pup Abbey who fell asleep with one of her birthday toys. She just turned one. So adorable.

And my new Chuck’s which I haven’t taken off since I purchased them. I bought them in a little store in Hood River. And look at that sun shining down on them! Every glimpse of sun in Portland right now is precious.

Pickles & Social Meltdown

I made the refrigerator pickles this weekend. A lot of them. The only reason I stopped was because I ran out of jars, not cucumbers. It was insanely easy. I used the Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking’s “Fridge Pickles 101” as my guide.
Other than the pickles my weekend was filled with a lot of uninteresting things (laundry, cleaning, laundry, cooking, laundry, pickle making, laundry) and also dinner with friends on Sunday. I’m a total social wimp (i.e. natural introvert), so while the dinner was fun I now feel like I need three days to recover from the social interaction with a couple of people I had never met before. The “other people coming to dinner” was sprung on us after we had been at our friends’ house for about 20 minutes. I can’t help but think they know us well enough to not tell us ahead of time thinking we might cancel. Which we wouldn’t do. We might fantasize about it but we wouldn’t actually cancel. They were of course very nice people and nothing bad happened to us for socializing. Well, other than annoying each other on the ride home which I’m going to chalk up to being at the end of our social rope and using each other as a release valve. And that’s generous because it was, of course, all Mike. (Hi, Honey!)

Ears, Artists, Apples, Comics, Produce, and Pickles

Quick updates…
We finally tried the restaurant Roe, which we had hopes would be like our beloved (and sadly closed) Fin. It was incredibly disappointing. We went to get tacos after.

My ear infection seems to have cleared but allergies and my sinuses are kicking my ass.

Our house guests spent their last night with us last night and we officially have the house to ourselves again.

We went to see an artist give a talk at Bullseye Glass and I was not overly impressed (although I am glad we went).

I got invited to do the Oregon Fruit Loop with a friend weeks ago, but had to decline due to the pesky ear infection and generally feeling like crap. But then another friend asked me to go with her and I was well and had the time so we went and of course visited the Mt. Hood Organic Farm that also happens to have one of the best views ever. I will be baking pie soon.

We went to Powell’s to hear Matt Fraction chat with author Sean Howe whose book, “Marvel Comics: The Untold Story” was just released.

I am still harvesting tomatoes and spent a chunk of time making tomato sauce. Looks like pasta for dinner tonight! I also am planning to make refrigerator pickles since I have a ton of cucumbers I need to do something with. I am planning to use Fridge Pickles 101: from The Hip Girl’s Guide to Home Making as my guide; unless someone has a better suggestion.  But I really like the idea of being a hip pickler – this is Portland after all.

Enjoy this picture of Mike getting his book signed by Sean Howe at the Powell’s in our neighborhood. Yeah, yeah – I still owe pictures of Europe. Patience. It involves moving pictures from one device to another…and you know how that goes. I mean…I’ve got pickles to make.

Summer beet (and potato and cucumber) harvest!

We harvested some of our beets this weekend. I’m the worst photographer ever so I’m pretty proud of this shot. It doesn’t quite come across but the beet on the left is about the size of a softball. Huge and wonderful and the beauty of growing beets is that you get two vegetable out of it.

The first night I used the tops. I cut up the red stems into a fine dice and threw it in some olive oil with some diced red onion. I sauteed them until they were slightly brown then added in some freshly grated ginger, salt, and pepper and after sautéing tat for another minute or two threw in some white wine. I then sliced some red potatoes (also from our garden) very thinly and added that into the mixture. I simmered this all on low with the cover on until the beet stems were soft and the potatoes were cooked (adding water if needed along the way). I then threw in the chopped up greens and put the cover back on and cooked this until the greens had wilted. I then took the lid off, stirred everything so that the greens were evenly mixed in with the stems, potatoes, and onion and placed pieces of whitefish on top of them. I then covered the pan again and let it simmer once more until the fish was cooked through.  A one pan meal that was very tasty.

The next night I roasted the beets themselves in a 400 degree over for an hour and fifteen minutes. I like my beets straight up with nothing to distract from the sweetness. I also harvested some cucumbers from our garden (it’s produce-palooza over here) and decided to make a salad. I always make my owen dressing and this one was a combination of sesame oil, olive oil, tamari, rice wine vinegar, ground ginger, salt, pepper and a bit of honey. I used a bit of this dressing as seasoning for some salmon fillets. I brushed the fillets with some of the dressing, wrapped them in foil, and threw them on the grill outside for about six minutes. So delicious!

It’s amazing how creative you can get when you are inspired by the veggies you grew in your own garden. I wish I’d taken pictures of the actual meals, but I was still riding the high of the fabulous beets picture that it didn’t even occur to me.

Stay tuned because my tomatoes are on the cusp, my lettuce and carrots and rainbow chard made it through the horrendous dry heatwave, my red okra is starting to produce and the cucumbers have gone crazy.