Saturday, March 22, 2014

Grandmothers and others

 These are memory pillows. The one on the left, just 12" square, showcases a beautiful little doily crocheted in fine thread by Joe's Nonni, his Italian grandmother. Joe's mother generously gave us several pieces of Nonni's handiwork, crocheted doilies and embroidered dresser scarves, etc. We use the dresser scarves for their intended purpose, but I want to be able to see and enjoy some of the smaller pieces, like this one, so I'll probably be making more pillows or finding some other way to enjoy her lovely work and let Joe be reminded of the loving woman who made such fantastic red sauce.
     The pillow on the right is made from a tea towel given to me by Dr. Marseille Spetz, who was my neighbor when I lived among the dairy farms in the Arcata Bottoms while attending Humboldt State University in northern California. I was a newly single mother, my daughter and I were sharing a big old farmhouse with another single mom and her 5-year-old son, and my own mother was far away. The day we moved in, Marseille walked down the road to welcome us and stepped naturally and easily into the role of surrogate mother figure and one of the best friends I've ever had. She was in her 70s then, retired from medical practice but not from active engagement in the world around her. She signed up for classes at HSU, where she learned to play the trumpet, studied French and Norwegian, and eventually earned a master's degree in English. I didn't write down her translation of the text on the towel at the time but I remember the gist of it, and after much struggle with Google Translate the computer and I agree that it's something to the effect of "Hepatica (flowers) on the slopes say 'spring is here,'" as indeed it is.

This third piece also has a story: several years ago my mother gave me a set of "days of the week" flour sack dish towels that my paternal grandmother embroidered for her before I was born. I wanted to enjoy them, not stick them away in a drawer (though I'm glad Mom did that, or I wouldn't have them!), but they were too old and fragile to use for their intended purpose. The blotch on the "Saturday" towel on the lower left was already there and I haven't been able to get it out, and some had yellowed with age. I cut out the embroidered sections and added green print strip blocks and solid green strips between the blocks, both because it went with the frog motifs and to honor my grandmother's Irish heritage. Now it hangs on a wall in my north-facing sewing room where it's safe from the sun.
   I like to think that Nonni, Marseille, and my Grandma Lou would all be pleased to see these things out in view, where they can be appreciated both for what they add to the decor of our home and as reminders of the remarkable and talented and loving women who added so much to our lives. Maybe some day our children or grandchildren will use the things we've made or given to them and share their own memories or stories.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

In the Bleak Midwinter . . . .

While that title will ring painfully true for many right now (even a couple of my friends in Portland, Oregon, who were so excited a few days ago about snow, are complaining about cabin fever), here in Tucson we've hardly had anything worth the name of winter. I actually miss it, though I can't complain about sitting outside right now, enjoying 74 degrees or so.
I've had this adenium obesum in my kitchen window for a couple of years, and every winter it drops leaves for a period of relative dormancy (and I try not to get too alarmed), but it's never bloomed before. There are still a couple of buds left to open to add to the already pretty showy cluster of blossoms - I am so excited!
But I'm even more excited about what I picked from the garden yesterday! We've had pepper plants survive for up to 5 years by protecting them from frosts, but never tomatoes or eggplants. (The larger peppers are Cubanelles, the smaller ones very hot jalapeños.) In fact, raising tomatoes here is problematic at best - some years I don't even try, and I almost didn't this year. The Big Boys and wonderful heirlooms that grow well elsewhere . . . well, I've never had any luck with them here, but cherry tomatoes . . . sometimes. Sometimes not. Everything on this platter was planted early last spring and the plants are still going strong. It's very strange and no doubt, like so much of the rest of the strange weather this year, related to global warming, so my gratitude for this beautiful harvest is necessarily tinged with unease. But I can't not appreciate the beauty and abundance.
 This is the blossom of the Golden Sweet Snow Pea, an heirloom variety from India. I purchased the seeds from Pinetree Garden Seeds, a small, family-owned seed company with very reasonable prices and packets sized right for small family gardens like ours, and a selection of seeds and other garden-related items one might not find elsewhere, like these gorgeous yellow snow peas! I picked a few this morning and there are lots more on the vines that aren't quite ready.
 A friend gave me a small plant of this strange and very prickly euphorbia whose last name I don't know. Hard to believe it's in the same family as poinsettia. Anyway, I have several larger pots of it now (just break off a piece and stick it in the soil) and they're all getting ready to bloom - just look at all the little pale green buds.
And the Meyer lemon, that's had a rather rough and unproductive year, is also bursting into bloom. I've been watching the buds and today found the first open blossom.
So the weather is crazy but lovely and I'm trying to just enjoy what we have and not think about the heat that's coming or the lack of rainfall here this "winter." I wish winter wasn't hitting so hard in other places, and if you're in one of those places, I hope things let up soon, and I wish you warmth, comfort, and good company.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Waste Not, Want Not

A few weeks ago I bought a goldfish plant (columnea x banksii) - I think it was probably at Home Depot - and while repotting it this little branch broke off, so I stuck it in a tiny bottle of water. That's what I usually do when something like this happens, even if it's not the preferred method of propagation for a particular plant according to the gardening authorities. The worst that could happen is that I have a pretty mini-bouquet for a while, but if I get lucky, the cutting roots, as this one is doing (the roots - all 2 of them so far - are still very small and not visible in this photo, in which the plant appears larger than in real life). The added bonus - totally unexpected! - is the 3 blossoms! It's obvious where the plant gets its name. No sign of buds or blossoms on the parent plant, but it looks nice in its new pot, which will go well with the blossoms when they appear.
 The begonia below is about 5  months old and also came from branches broken off while the parent plant was being repotted. The lovely blossoms make me think I should move the mother plant into the kitchen too, since the light seems better for it there.

But in some ways, I'm most excited by this little plant that's growing out of the bottom of a head of celery. Here it is after about a week floating in water,
 and this morning, about 2 weeks later. It's definitely celery, even if it doesn't seem to want to stand up straight with the stalks tight together the way we find it in the store. Since the end of the original stalk is looking pretty funky by now, I suppose I should dust it with rooting hormone and put it into a proper pot with soil. It hasn't really produced any roots, but it may if I do that. I found the idea on another blog some time ago (and apologize for being unable to cite my source, an anxiety especially strong among current and former English teachers); that blogger said to pot it up in soil right away, which just wasn't convenient at the time.
So I guess my point is that it's fun to see things grow, fun to make something from what we'd normally throw in the garbage or at best the compost. And if you have kids or grandkids, or any kids, around, both you and they can have the pleasure of watching something grow and of learning together.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

An Ethical Dilemma

If you've read this blog much you know how I enjoy our little backyard wildlife preserve, including (and especially) the hummingbird feeder just outside the kitchen window. It seems to be migration time, and we were getting a lot more traffic there, so I put up a second feeder a few yards away about 10 days ago. Hummers don't like to share and all the buzzing and mid-air swordplay was distressing me. I just wanted them to chill out and eat!

But apparently hummingbirds weren't all that were passing through. The bees I'd been longing for (so I wouldn't have to hand pollinate my squash) suddenly showed up in great numbers - at the feeders. And they didn't want to share with the hummers. It was heartbreaking to watch the hummers hover over the feeders when they were unable to approach them.

I argued with myself for a couple of days over this moral dilemma: bees need food too, and surely they'd move on soon. (In years past we used to get a swarm in our big mesquite tree every April; they'd stay a couple of days, buzzing loudly and looking scary, and then disappear.) But these guys didn't move on. This photo shows what I wish could have happened, but it was a rare moment that I didn't see repeated.

Finally we took both feeders down. A couple of days ago I thought it would be safe to put them back, but the bee scouts were out and in less than an hour the feeders were buzzing. I didn't see any bees today, but think I'll wait a few days before putting the feeders up again.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sunday Breakfast

I have no idea how Chinese this recipe for Beijing-Style Scrambled Eggs really is, but I was wandering through my recipe collection and realized I had everything this one called for, and Joe and I were hungry, so I whipped up a batch - super easy and quick and uses only one pan! Sounds like the perfect breakfast to me! These are the very simple ingredients:

2 medium tomatoes
3 eggs, beaten
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I skipped the oil and used a well-sprayed nonstick pan)
1 green onion, diced (mine was sliced)
1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger root, grated
1 teaspoon sugar

Cook the tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds. Remove, drain, and peel the skin off. Cut in half and remove seeds, and chop coarsely. Set the tomato on a paper towel-lined dish to absorb liquid.
        In a small bowl, beat the eggs and add salt.
        In a skillet or wok, heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil over a high flame, making sure the pan is hot. Add the eggs, lower heat to medium-high and stir gently until thickened, but not overcooked. Remove from heat and place on a dish.
      Over high heat, add the remaining tablespoon of vegetable oil to the pan and stir-fry the green onion and ginger for a few seconds. Add the tomato and sugar. Stir-fry for about 30 seconds or until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add the scrambled eggs to the skillet. Stir gently and cook until the liquid has cooked away and serve immediately.

1. I skipped the whole blanching and peeling of the tomatoes. I don't mind the skin; I'm sure it adds a little fiber. I used meaty Roma tomatoes which produce less juice than some varieties; next time I'll try something juicier. But it still tasted great.
2. I also skipped the oil entirely. A decent nonstick pan with a generous spray of Pam-type cooking spray worked just fine.
After the eggs were scrambled and removed to a plate,
 I just re-sprayed the pan for the ginger and scallions,  followed by the tomatoes.
 3. I didn't actually stir the eggs and tomatoes together when I put the eggs back in the pan; rather, I pushed the tomatoes to the sides, plopped the eggs back down in the middle to warm up again, then served it up.

I don't suppose the toast is very authentically Chinese. In fact, the whole thing seems more like a delicious Asian twist on huevos rancheros, and that's just fine with me. I'll be happy to make it and eat it again.
      The recipe didn't say how many it would serve. One or two, I guess. This morning it served two, along with some fruit (not shown). It was enough, but I can easily imagine someone hungrier than I was today eating it all. After all, many restaurant omelets use 3 eggs.

Cosmo, not surprisingly, slept through the whole production.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

A Clever Idea

Okay, I can't take credit for this brilliantly simple solution for when your microwave just isn't big enough to hold everything you want it to at once. Unfortunately, I've forgotten where I read this useful and practical tip, but I'm deeply grateful to whoever originally put it out there.

You probably don't even need to read further to understand what's going on here. The blue dishes won't fit on the turntable at the same time, so I turned another small dish upside down and put the second square dish on top of it; it projects over the first one by an inch or so but there's plenty of air space to allow the magical microwaves to do their job of warming up some leftover chicken pot pie. Et voilá! Joe and I could sit down a few minutes later to equally piping hot leftover lunches together.

You can use any kind of microwave-safe dish to elevate the second dish, as long as it's got a flat bottom that's big enough to provide a stable platform, so the upper dish won't fall off its perch while the turntable's going around.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Insects Galore!

 Once upon a time, insects were much, much bigger than they are today, significantly bigger than an almost-three-year-old.

That's just one of the things Rory and her mom and I learned yesterday at the Arizona Insect Festival at the University of Arizona. This free annual event is pitched primarily to preschool and elementary age kids and their grownups, though there were some older kids around, often manning the informational booths and doing a great job of it.
     I knew when I got there 45 minutes after it opened and had to park in what looked like the last available space at the top of the multi-story Second Street Garage that there was a great turnout. Lots of little people were trying to get up close to see the exhibits,

and yes, those giant stick-like things really are insects! They really could have used a larger venue, though I'm not sure what that would be.
     Volunteers offered several large critters for visitors to touch or hold, but Rory was skeptical until we got to this caterpillar.
By then we'd collected our 10 (actually 12 station stamps), enjoyed a cool photo op (well, Rita and I enjoyed it - Rory was a little more skeptical once she actually got to the head of the line),
and built a bug from clay and pipecleaners. It was time to escape the crowd (picking up her prize, a butterfly tattoo, along the way) and go find some ice cream.

Look for the Arizona Insect Festival to come around again next September. It's fun, it's educational, and it's free. Even the parking!