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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$6 Holiday Wreath

photo(8)Nothing rings in the holiday season like breaking out the hot glue gun! I usually make a wreath every year. I’ve mostly lived in areas where there were plenty of pine boughs to pilfer off the ground after a wind storm. With the ginormous Douglas Fir in our front yard it would be crazy to not use the tremendous amounts of debris it drops everywhere. This year it dropped a ton of pine cones and, after a big windstorm, plenty of pine boughs. Mike was kind enough to collect them for me as he was working to keep the front of our house looking tidy (kind of a constant job – thanks, honey!).

This year I have been trying to be aware of how much crap I seem to be accumulating. I love to wrap presents creatively so I often go a little overboard buying new paper and ribbon each year, but this year I decided to not buy anything and use what we have on hand which, turns out, is plenty. I decided the same rule should apply for the wreath making.

Last year I used some wire I had on hand to form the boughs into a circle form, but it was a little sloppy, frustrating, and way more time consuming than it needed to be. So I bent my rule a little bit and sprung for a grapevine form that cost all of six bucks. The ornaments were left over from a few years ago when I knew Mike and I would be traveling so it wasn’t practical to get a big tree, but I couldn’t bear not having a tree at all so I got a mini-table-top one. I think I paid $4.00 for them at a drugstore back then. The battery operated lights I use each year on my wreaths. So much easier than dealing with a chord! The steps aren’t rocket science. Clip the boughs to a length that seems right don’t skimp on the hot glue when attaching them to the grape-vine form, ditto on the pine cones you arrange on the wreath. Add the lights, attach the ornaments with the wire hooks, and make a bow out of some ribbon you have on hand (for me that was this cute red with green glitter polka-dots that has wire in it so it holds its form nicely that I had on hand). Pictures of the steps below. I have to say this might be my best homemade holiday wreath to date. I know I could have made a swag wreath and that wouldn’t have cost a thing, but I love the round shape a lot. Maybe next year I will do the swag instead. I’m really enjoying not buying things and using my creativity; much more satisfying!

We plan to have a Boxing Day this holiday too – like Canada – and try to really clean things out that we don’t need/aren’t using and giving it away for someone else to get some use out of it. Too much stuff! Sounds like the beginning of a new year’s resolution might be forming…

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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.

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!)

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.

Excavation!

We are having a bunch of work done in our yard by two – sometimes three – amazing women. Our yard is a pretty large size for Southeast Portland and it has really been a challenge for us. We were keeping on top of it for the past two years with help from a friend, but our friend couldn’t help us anymore and we were rather abruptly reminded of how much work it is. Work that we can’t keep up with, not only because we both have horrendous back problems (me with arthritis and weak spots from old injuries, and Mike with a misshapen disc), but also because we are busy people who like to spend our time on more fun things than back-breaking yard work followed up with ice-packs, pain, and ibuprofen. When we bought the house we were gifted with twelve planter beds in the yard. Since I don’t have six kids, and I don’t want to homestead and be canning all the time, this is simply too much for two people. We are pulling out three of them. One of the smaller ones will be turned into a closet shed for tools, and the other two we are giving away to friends. A lot of plants in the beds are actually landscape plants and so in the early fall (any day now!) we will be moving them out of the beds and using them in the landscape which will hopefully help suppress weeds. We are also planning to build an over-sized shed that will become Mike’s glass studio. From a practical standpoint the shed is a good addition to the house since a yard this size, where the house has no garage and no basement, desperately needs one.

In the open area of the yard we have decided to build a labyrinth for meditation, reflection, and just to look at since the curves are beautiful. A big bonus will be that the hard-scaping will keep weeds down (it’s a constant battle here in the urban rainforest). It will be on a smaller scale than what you see at places like St. Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, of course. We are going to go with a more medieval and simplistic design that should suit the house and soothe our hippie souls. The dirt excavation to make room for the gravel and stone has been quite interesting from an anthropological standpoint. Our house is an old farmhouse (circa 1895) and is the legendary hippie house, which is saying something in Southeast Portland. Before we bought the house it had been rented for 15 years or so by up to eight hippies who were, as one neighbor put it, “real laid back.” When they finally decided to all move out the owners moved in, renovated it, and then sold it to us. They were lovely people and we feel grateful to have such a cool house, in an awesome neighborhood, in an amazing city. You can see a little bit of the history of the house in what ends up getting unearthed as we excavate. I find it rather fascinating and a lot more interesting than the usual, and seemingly endless, bits of glass (i.e. broken beer bottles) that have been constantly pushing their way to the surface over the past three years.

This weekend we have nothing more exciting than lots of errands to run to prepare for house guests, who will then turn into house/dog sitters, and the big trip to Europe.

Oregon Country Fair – Food & Fun!

We are back! We had wonderful camp-mates and this year I worked some Registration Crew shifts with Mike, which I really enjoyed. I also got some sleep which is miraculous and not something I’ve come to expect when we are out there. And, of course, we got to hang out with some good people we don’t get to see often enough.

A lot of planning went into packing for a week of camping. No small amount of effort went into planning the food we would need until some of the vendors opened up. We opted for some salads. These are all gluten, dairy, and garlic free and pack well for picnics and in coolers. I’ve had friends ask for the recipes, but they were kind of made up on the fly by me. I’ll do my best to recreate them here. Nothing is exact in terms of measurements. It’s just a list of ingredients so you’ll have to get creative with the ratios although I’ve tried to estimate some things as a starting point.

Green Bean and Tempeh Salad

I used frozen tempeh for this one. I defrosted it and then broke it into chunks. I marinated it in olive oil, dried Greek oregano, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and finely diced onions. I then roasted it for about twenty minutes in a 400 degree oven, making sure to turn the pieces over halfway through; I like them to be slightly golden brown. I then washed, trimmed, and cut into bite sized pieces some fresh organic green beans and steamed them until cooked. Once the tempeh and green beans were both cooked I tossed them with a dressing made of Dijon mustard, olive oil, fresh squeezed lemon juice, freshly ground black pepper, some dried tarragon, some salt, and some fresh and finely minced parsley.  I have to confess that tempeh is not my favorite food, but truthfully this salad ended up being delicious. We will make it again.

Tuna and White Bean Salad

Every time I make this salad people devour it. Including us! Buy good canned tuna in olive oil. This will seem weird but I drain off the oil (I add it to my dogs’ food at mealtime as a treat for them). I like the fresher taste of good extra virgin olive oil in the salad. I throw the drained tuna in a bowl along with a half a can of rinsed cannellini  beans. Buy good beans so that they are creamy and not tough! I add some capers, some finely diced red onion, some fresh and finely minced parsley, some lemon juice, salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Mix everything together and add enough extra virgin olive oil in to it all so that is is moist without being too oily. This salad is even better if it has had a day to sit in the refrigerator, but it’s a challenge to not gobble it up before then.

Gluten Free Tabbouleh

I make this like a traditional tabbouleh only instead of using bulger I use quinoa. Dice two Italian plum tomatoes. I like to pull the seeds out so there is less tomato liquid first, and then dice them. I add that to about one-and-a-half cups of cooked quinoa. I add some finely diced red onion, a healthy amount of fresh and finely diced parsley and about a third as much fresh and finely diced mint as the parsley. I then make a dressing of olive oil, dried Greek oregano (spring for the Dean & DeLuca brand – it’s the best I have found), lemon juice, salt, and pepper. I then toss the dressing in with the quinoa/onion/parsley/mint mixture. Done! Yum!

And last but not least…

Veggie Potato Salad

Boil your potatoes of choice (red is nice because you don’t need to peel them, but whatever you have on hand is fine too) and, if necessary, peel them. Dice them into medium sized chunks. I used two very large russets that were on our counter in danger of sprouting eyes. I also like to make this salad quickly while the potatoes are still hot. You need to be careful not to burn yourself peeling and dicing them, but I find the warmth of the potatoes makes the vegetables – particularly the green onion – blend better into the overall flavor of the salad. They also seem to absorb the dressing better when you start out warm. Chop up a red pepper, three ribs of celery, a handful of fresh parsley, and about three scallions – white and green parts – and add them to the potatoes. Drain one can of artichoke hearts, chop them in half and add them as well. I make a dressing of olive oil, apple cider vinegar, a bit of sugar, some dried dill weed, some salt, and some freshly ground black pepper. This salad can take a lot of dressing so don’t skimp! Another delicious salad that is not mayonnaise based so it travels well and the dill flavor really comes out if you let it sit in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight.

So that’s it for my quick and tasty salads that travel in a cooler or picnic pack well. I hope you try one or two of them.

And for your viewing pleasure, a few pics from our time at the fair.

Mike with a weird expression on his face but this is pretty much what he looks like at fair (Superman Kilt!). Here he is eating a gluten free, vegan, chocolate and peanut butter cupcake. Yum!

Here are two pictures from one of the many parades.

My view from registration booth. The pregnant woman on the left, sprawled out and catching some shade, is the perfect visual representation of how freaking hot it was out there.

The coveted wrist bands and parking stickers (and my cute purple toes). Ooooh. Aaaaah.

Our friend John at the drum tower. This apparently wasn’t the day it came together there for him and the group, but it was the beginning. And it is always fun to see him out there. He is the guy in the cap, the orange shirt, and the tribal band tattoo on his bicep. Love him!

Our friend June Bug getting her wolf spirit on.

And a gratuitous picture of Mike in our camp (that’s our red tent behind him) looking cute 🙂

One of our friends is on the photography crew at fair and if you are on Facebook, and want to see more photos than I’ve posted above, you can see them here: http://www.facebook.com/OCF.Photos