Thursday, September 10, 2009

condiment experiment: Mangoes and Curry Leaves by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

Last night I attempted a couple of recipes in my new, beautiful cookbook (it's more of a coffee table book, really, so pretty and unweildy) Mangoes and Curry Leaves by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. I made three condiment sauces to go along with fishy's [superdelicious] chicken curry. There were two hits and one miss. The hits were lovely. The miss was... spectacular.

I did the Hot Sweet Date-Onion Chutney and the Fresh Coriander-Peanut Chutney, both from page 28, and then the Mint Sambol from page 32.

The chutneys were lovely, and I can see the date chutney becoming a favourite. It is indeed sweet, and it has a lovely hot kick that's not painful; very pleasant. The cooked onions give the whole thing a very roasty, tasty flavour, cooked as they were in sesame oil. I was a bit concerned that the sesame oil might be too strongly flavoured, but I think it was perfect. Given the few ingredients and the simplicity of it, I'm really impressed with the complexity of the flavours. Makes a nice dip, and I think would also be really good with samosas or veggie pakora.

The cilantro chutney was really nice paired with the curry because it has a very fresh, tangy zip that cuts through the richness and spice of a curry. We couldn't find cayennes or serranos, so we made it with jalapenos. It worked out fine, but I'd definitely be interested in testing out other types of peppers in that recipe.

And then there was the mint sambol. I did this is with the mortar and pestle, which in itself is a fair bit of work. Which would have been fine if it had turned out.

I don't know what I did. I thought I'd followed the recipe (except for the hot pepper types, again) but the resulting dish was so unbelievably salty it was inedible. I don't know if I didn't have enough mint, or enough lime juice, or if the difference in the pepper types would have solved the problem, but fishy and I each tasted it (him despite my dire warnings that his arteries would immediately solidify into solid columns of salt) and then we threw out the rest. I really liked the idea of the mint sambol, so it was definitely disappointing. And unpleasant.

However, I'm certainly going to keep trying recipes from this book. There's another sambol mentioned, spicy and sweet, that I might attempt next, keeping a close eye on the amount of salt I use, of course.

Hot Sweet Date-Onion Chutney
pg. 28 of Mangoes and Curry Leaves by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid
  • 3 dried red chiles, stemmed
  • 2 tablespoons raw sesame oil, or vegetable oil, or ghee
  • 1 large white onion (about 1/2 pound), coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 cup chopped pitted dates
"Put the chiles in a small bowl, add 1 cup hot water, and set aside to soak for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a wok or karhai (see Glossary) or a wide heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and salt and cook until the onion is well touched with brown, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

"Drain the chiles, place them in a food processor, add the chopped dates, and process for 30 seconds to finely chop. Add the onion mixture and process for about 15 seconds to chop and blend the ingredients. Alternatively, place the drained chiles on a flaat stone mortar and grind to a paste with the pestle, add the dates and grind, and finally, add the cooked onion mixture and coarsely grind, leaving some small chunks.

"Taste the chutney for salt, and adjust if necessary. Serve in a condiment dish. (Store leftovers in a well-sealed glass jar in the refridgerator for up to several weeks). Makes 1 cup; serves 6."

For more recipes and commentary on the above recipe (or to see the Glossary) please check out the cookbook! Especially recommended for food culture junkies and food p**n addicts like me.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

my favourite scavengers: blogging for vultures

I had no idea that today was International Vulture Awareness Day until yesterday, when posts and tweets started cropping up. To be honest, I had no idea it existed at all. But I thought, why not? These poor maligned creatures need some love, and I'm happy to join in the chorus of people who want to raise the profile of this unique group of birds, which contains several species around the world. I've always been rather fond of them, and I'm glad to note that there's an entire community of people out there who are just as if not more fond of them than I.

Vultures are possibly so maligned because they eat carrion, and are therefore reviled with the same strength that other carrion eaters (ie. crows) tend to be. But that's ridiculous. If we didn't have vultures we'd be up to our necks in rotting roadkill, and I, for one, am grateful that someone will eat that stuff. They're an integral part of the world's ecosystems and they are often completely overlooked if not outright discriminated against. The major issue that is being raised by IVAD today is the plight of vultures in Asia, which are being poisoned by the vetrinary drug Diclofenac, which is used to treat cattle -- if the cattle die in the fields, the vultures eat them (as they are wont to do) but the drug builds up in the vulture's system and eventually causes death.

Here in Canada we have one regularly occurring species, the turkey vulture. We also occasionally get black vultures popping up as far north as Point Pelee, or Toronto -- but that's a rarity and excuse for celebration and frantic scrabbling among Ontarian twitchers. We're lucky (and the vultures are lucky) because turkey vultures are doing quite well here, even expanding their range further into Canada.

Turkey vultures were one of the very first birds that I was able to reliably recognize, and so even if I didn't think they were cool, I would love them just for that. I also find them to be one of the easier birds to help kids identify. Turkey vultures make a "v" with their wings when they're soaring: "v" for vulture. Big and black, hardly ever flapping, with silvery primaries and a bald red head. A lot of people think they're ugly, but I think they have a wonderful if unique beauty about them. Their little nekkid heads with their big eyes are quite compelling.

I'm told, by people who will know, that turkey vultures are one of the brighter species of large birds and we can tell this because they are social creatures. They like to hang out with other vultures. One of the coolest things I've ever seen was a group of turkey vultures hiding from a rainstorm underneath the awning of a little hydro building out in the middle of a field. They were all hunched over, and clearly vying for the best and driest spots. I'm also told that turkey vultures are exceedingly tidy birds, very vain, constantly preening. Which is counterintuitive for a lot of people, given the vulture's diet.

Other cool turkey vulture facts:
  • they are one of the very few birds with a sense of smell, and it's quite acute in the area of rotting meat
  • their head is "bald" (actually, turkey vultures have a very fine downy layer over their heads, nearly impossible to see unless very close to them) because vultures like to get their heads right into their meals, and feathers would a) get in the way and b) get stinky and likely full of germs and parasites
  • they are related to herons
  • they migrate, but are one of the first birds back here in Ontario in the spring, and one of the later ones to leave

I'd love to meet a turkey vulture some day. We've attempted to see them closer once, by throwing a raw hamburger on the lawn at the cottage just to see if the vultures circling over would come down to investigate. I think the hamburger was too fresh, though, although it had gone off by our standards. Or perhaps there wasn't enough hamburger. Vultures are big birds. Um. So, yes. There's your weird fact about me for the day: I tried unsuccessfully to set up a vulture feeder.

Spread the vulture love, everyone, and happy International Vulture Awareness Day!

Other people I follow who love vultures around the world:
Steve Creek
Bird Canada
Behind the Bins

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Curried Potatoes

This recipe is particularly delicious at this time of year through early fall, when there are fresh potatoes and fresh hot peppers to be found, but it's good at any time. I can't remember what book I got the inspiration from, but I've been making this dish since before I moved out of my parents' house. It was a standard at university, and it continues to be my favourite way to eat potatoes. I'm including some standard measurements, but I'm pretty lackadaisical when it comes to adding ingredients. It changes every time. I've been very specific about the slicing of the jalapenos because this way they add the best texture, but the jalapenos are optional if you're not a fan, as is the coriander. The lemon juice, by the way, makes the whole dish. It really brings out all the other flavours. So while many of the other ingredients are fungible, the lemon juice really isn't.

I cook this dish in our wok, which is big enough for vigorous stirring and transfers heat very nicely, but a good big frying pan does the trick too.

Curried Potatoes

4-6 potatoes (I prefer russets, but any boiling potato will do)
1/3 cup oil
1/2 tsp. mustard seed
a few curry leaves (or 1/4 tsp. curry powder and pinch turmeric for Very Yellow Colour)
1-2 jalapeno peppers, sliced lengthwise in eighths and then sliced crossways in 3mm chunks
1 tbsp. ketchup
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. chile powder
1/2 tsp. cumin powder
lemon juice
chopped fresh coriander

Cut potatoes into 1 inch cubes, leaving the skins on (they're delicious in this dish), boil until tender, and drain well.

While potatoes are draining, heat the oil over medium heat. Add mustard seed, curry, jalapenos, ketchup, salt, chile powder, and cumin. Sautee for 1 minute or until spices are fragrant. Be careful not to overcook/burn the spices. 1 minute is really all it takes.

Add the potatoes and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring. Add lemon juice to taste (I wouldn't go higher than 1 tbsp. to start), stir until well combined. Add coriander to taste, stir and serve.

Makes 3-6 servings, depending on how hungry people are, and stores well in the fridge for next-day reheated leftovers. Some people might suggest this is only a side (ie., we had this with hamburgers last night) but they would be wrong. This was my full lunch today and it was perfection.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

progress update: bad news, good news

All right. The morning rounds in the garden provided me some good news, and some bad news. Let's get to the bad news first.


I don't know who you are, but they were just finally blooming and maybe going to give me some pickling cukes. Oh, the blossoms are still left. BUT NO LEAVES. There were leaves yesterday. There were lots of leaves yesterday. There are NONE this morning. Mystery animal that eats cucumber plant leaves, you are on notice. If I find you, you will be sorry. I have the feeling you are not sorry now.

Also, my tomatoes seem to be taking this cold, wet weather particularly hard, and don't even get me started on the single pepper plant that has managed to make it out of seedlinghood. It seems to have stalled just past that stage.

Good news, though!

I am going to have more tomatillos than I know what to do with. And the beans are growing! I may even have a few to take with me for lunch today. And the pumpkins! I'm going to have pumpkins, even with this bizarre weather. The pumpkin plants are going nuts, and there are two healthy looking pumpkins so far, and tonnes of blossoms. The buttercup squash seems less enthusiastic, but it's still trucking along. I noticed two honeybees doing their thing in the flowers this morning, and it was fun to watch.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

squash blossom

I was doing the morning rounds in the garden -- I tend to do this while my tea is steeping, before I come up here to the computer to check email -- and discovered that the squash has started to bloom. It's a perfect blossom, bright yellow, and unexpected. I thought I might expect blossoms this weekend, not as early as today.

If I had to pick a favourite plant for the vegetable garden, it might be squash. I love tomatoes, and always feel good about my herbs and the garlic. But it's squash that has a special place in my heart. It's the treasure hunt. I love the great, curly, crazy vines, and the hidden little squash plants at the base of the flowers; I love watching them grow over the course of the summer from flower to itty bitty squash to full-blown-keep-me-in-the-cold-cellar-for-the-winter big squashes. This is the first time since I was a kid that I've grown squash in my own garden, and I am absolutely thrilled with it.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

mulchy dilemma

In preparation for a wedding shower to be hosted here this Saturday, we've been working on the garden. It has just occurred to me that I should have taken before-and-after shots; maybe I'll do that for the front yard, despite the embarrassment of the before shots. Guys, our garden is big. It's really big. And when you get lackadaisical about mulching, like we have been for the past two years, the weeding is... challenging. Daunting, even.

We've done the first pass on everything in the back yard, and a couple of the beds (the one around the oak tree, the middle bed, the small bed at the entrance to the yard) are shower-ready. The rest needs another go-over. This is most of it, by the way. Luckily, I have cousins coming to help tomorrow morning, for which they will be both paid in cash and paid in strawberry shortcake. Because it will be a huge help.

My problem with mulching is that I have to get the mulch. I have to either purchase it, which can get very expensive for the number of beds we have, or I have to get it from the landfill, which gives mulch away for free, but you have to shovel it. Also, there's not much left at this time of year. And I would need containers for it -- and two years ago we had containers. I had five large Rubbermaid containers full, and that still wasn't enough to cover the gardens, and that is two trips in the car to the landfill, besides. Thus you can also see the problem with producing enough compost ourselves to mulch, although fishy's gone a long way to helping that with the creation of a 4'x4'x4' yardwaste cage in the back yard, which is currently full to the top of weeds (and likely weed seed, sigh.)

And I know that mulching is better for the garden. I know the plants could use the nutrients provided by a good compost mulch. We did purchase mushroom compost for the garlic bed, which I'll be putting out tomorrow with the small helpers. But what's a girl to do? Every garden magazine and book talks about the benefits of mulch to the plants, for weed suppression, for wildlife; but I just can't get enough. I guess we'll either have to suck it up and purchase, or make several trips to the landfill, or be more serious about composting, or something. Or maybe just fill in parts of the beds with big stones, which is a hell of a mulch. Or someone could tell me how to make proper leaf mold, which I haven't yet been able to do.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Lovejoy, Sharon. A blessing of toads. Hearst: 2007.

Over on the book blog, I review garden columnist and lecturer Sharon Lovejoy's book A Blessing of Toads. This book's a great one to read when I need to be reminded to relax in the garden, and take time to watch. She makes a great argument for it. As well, she provides numerous fascinating tips on attracting wildlife to the garden, with practical, easy-to-follow advice. She gardens in both California and Maine, so some of her California stuff is less applicable to us northern gardeners, but anything from Maine is very applicable here. Recommended!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

summer birds in the backyard

I stepped out to read in the backyard -- I've been trying to do this more, because what's the point of having an amazing garden if I can't enjoy it? -- and immediately stopped to watch one of our young robins going to town in the bird bath. I have never seen a robin clean himself (herself?) more thoroughly than this one. Then he stopped to preen, and I swear he was at it for three minutes while I stood perfectly still so as not to disturb him. There's something wonderful about that kind of spontaneity in a wild animal -- that bird was definitely enjoying himself.

Then I sat down on the steps, and less than ten minutes later an unfamiliar commotion caused me to look up again (I think I've figured out why my reading pace has slowed significantly in the past couple weeks). This time it was the downy woodpecker, landing on our oak tree. I was pleased -- haven't seen them since early spring -- and then a second swooped in after her. They were clearly gleaning something off the oak; I hope they keep coming back, too, for whatever they were eating.

Even better, though, every once in a while, the female would make a peculiar noise, and the other would come in from whatever branch he (she?) was working on, and open his mouth to be fed. The young wasn't begging for food -- the mother was calling him over to feed him. Or at least, that's how I interpreted that particular interaction. After feeding, the young one would fly back to where he had left off and keep working away at whatever he was trying to eat.

Other birds in the back yard this week have included:
  • a nighthawk soaring over (hooray! first one of the season for me, I've been waiting),
  • the ubiquitous chimney swifts,
  • a very, very territorial cardinal (he never stops singing),
  • young crows begging their parents for food,
  • chickadees for the first time in weeks,
  • goldfinches,
  • house finches,
  • grackles,
  • starlings and English sparrows,
  • and a long-winded red-eyed vireo.

If we widen our net to the entire neighbourhood, my neighbour and I saw a great-blue heron land on the roof of the church at the end of the street when we were coming home from a walk the other day; on that walk were also pewees and indigo buntings, over in the local park.

Especially now that things are starting to cool down a bit, it's getting noisy out there again. It was so hot today, the middle of the day was pretty devoid of birdsong. I'm going to go out and fill up the bird bath again in a few minutes, because I'm pretty sure that robin used up more than his fair share.

Friday, June 19, 2009

progress update: a little bit of everything

Hello, green blog. It appears I have been neglecting you something awful lately. It's not because nothing is happening in the garden -- it's because there's too much and when it's a choice between weeding or writing, I'll be weeding every time.

Today I'm trying to figure out how best to deal with the basket-of-gold (Alyssum saxatile) in the front garden. It's nearly done blooming and I know from experience that it looks like hell if I don't clean it up, but I don't want to damage the plant because it really does wonderfully. I don't know that I have any pictures of it blooming -- I'll have to get some next year -- but it's been absolutely spectacular every year, no matter the weather. Everything I've seen suggests pruning back hard after flowering -- cutting back 3 inches of growth -- so I think I'll try that this year and see how it goes. I do worry that though they seem to like the neglect, they might get sick of it after three years and up and die on me at any time now.

My other major garden task for today is compost maintenance. I tried to do it last week and it poured all day Thursday, so today looks good. The vermicomposter is going to be emptied entirely, and about 2/3 of the worms placed in new homes in the various compost piles. The rest will get new bedding in the vermicomposter, and "fresh" food from the veggie crisper in the fridge (yum!) and then hopefully they'll be good for another year. The castings I'm going to use in some of the house plants, but most of it will go into the composter to enrich the compost there. Castings dry out into extremely hard pellets, so they don't make great mulch. I don't think.

The other composters need to be turned, and I'm hoping that some of the leaf mulch from the new yard waste bin is going to be ready for mulching the garlic bed, which will be another plan for today if it is ready. Um, and re-potting tomatoes into their big containers. If I can find the soil. And transplanting the asters. And the pepper.

And since I've been saying I'll post photos of the square foot bed (which is really working very well so far):

Saturday, May 30, 2009

drowning in the purple sea

Hooray for rain! It has done wonders for the garden. And the weeds, but nevermind. I had a bean plant sprout and grow two inches in less than two days! And the beets are all up. The squash and pumpkins, cucumbers... everything except the fennel and the brussels sprouts are up and happy. I am assuming neither the fennel nor the brussels sprouts are unhappy, just not up yet.

fishy and I spent part of this afternoon drifting around one of our local nurseries, picking up plants for the garden. We decided on a plan for the front boxes, and picked up two more (different) hostas, some 'May Night' salvia, an interesting little perennial ornamental grass, a few more herbs, marigolds for around the square foot bed, creeping thyme for around the front flagstones, a lovely yellow potentilla shrub, and four foxglove plants. I managed to plant the grass and the foxgloves before the thunderstorm hit, so they're in and well watered now. Everything else will be fine for a day or three as we get organized.

(also: unuseable as cut flowers because they smell just awful)

We're hosting a shower here in about five weeks, is the thing. And I am feeling a little nervous about that. I don't mind people we know well coming in and seeing that the garden is pretty okay, but that some of the beds desperately need weeding and renovation. I do mind a whole enormous group of people I don't know coming in and having a garden party in the garden, in the state it is now. The major problem, I think, aside from the weeds (yes yes) are the giant alliums, which are growing dangerously close to the "weed" category in my books. They are bloody everywhere, including many places they shouldn't be. They are taking over. I am on the warpath. I pulled up a bunch today and I'll do more tomorrow, too. I'm not sure where they should be, or how to use them effectively. Right now I'd be happy to never see another one, I'm that sick of them, although they are really quite striking and take no care whatsoever. They thrive on neglect... which should be just my kind of plant.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

a perfect garden morning

It has been a morning of puttering in the garden and I could not be happier. The morning started with me tearing inside so I could grab my binoculars... a new species for the backyard was in range! And he's stayed around all morning, too: a beautiful black-throated blue warbler. In addition, I've heard a redstart singing, a wood thrush, a red-eyed vireo, and chimney swifts, a house finch using the bird bath, as well as the regular cardinal and robin.

And the robin! This year we have a nest tucked on the eavestrough of the garage. And this morning, for the first time, I saw someone other than mom moving in the nest. I am desperately hoping that she can fledge a few, despite the coons and the squirrels and the crow who caused a hella commotion this morning. I wandered over there to make him think twice about nest robbing, but the neighbourhood birds were doing a pretty good job of it without me.

I've planted strawberries, beans, dill and cucumbers this morning, and replanted some beets and chervil that got dug up by squirrels. Yesterday afternoon I planted the squash and the pumpkins. The strawberries, cucumbers, squash and pumpkins are all a bit of a gamble, since they're hot-weather plants, but the next week is supposed to be really warm and then we're getting into acceptable planting time anyways. If we have a cold snap and I don't cover things in time, I'll just plant them again. I have lots of seeds. Well, except for the strawberries.

The tomatoes are just about ready to be transplanted to their big home containers, and the tomatillos are soon ready to go into the square-foot bed. The ground cherries got repotted this morning, as did the artichoke. The basil and peppers are being really slow again, but with the hot weather coming (it's supposed to be up to 27 C today, and 29 C tomorrow) I think they'll take off.

I can't think of a better way to spend a beautiful sunny morning. I'm inside now to avoid the heat of the day, but I know I won't be able to stay inside for long on a day like this. I might even just sit in a lawnchair and do all my necessary computing outside on the laptop in the shade...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Point Pelee and Rondeau 2009

I twittered the experience, which was an interesting exercise. I'm likely to do the same this coming weekend, when the Family Birding Extravaganza comes around again. But we are now back from our annual trip to Point Pelee and Rondeau, and I have lots to report.

First of all, the lifer: I can now confidently add Cerulean Warbler (Dendroica cerulea) to my life list, as I saw a male not once but twice, in two different parks, on this trip. In fact, we saw the most warblers we have ever seen, including a Blue-Winged Warbler (Vermivora pinus) and a couple of wonderful looks at a Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea), always lovely. The warblers were everywhere. So, despite my initial concern at their seeming absence, were the thrushes -- Wood, Hermit and Swainson's, not to mention Veerys and ubiquitous American Robins. The Solitary (or Blue-Headed, depending on who you talk to) Vireos were always somewhere to be seen, and they're one of my favourites. There were Northern Orioles and Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks every time we turned around. There were swallows (every conceivable species except Cliff) and grackles. There were all sorts of woodpeckers, although the most glaring hole on our list was the missing Hairy Woodpecker -- there was not one to be seen.

There were a couple awesome looks at Wild Turkeys, including a big, beautiful (or so ugly, yet regal, that he was beautiful) male walking leisurely by the road at Point Pelee. We also had a chance sighting of a flock of Sandhill Cranes coming in to land while we were at the point. I'm sure it was my imagination, but they looked tired to me. That's a lot of gangly leg and neck to hold aloft across a Great Lake.

We had a really, really lovely trip. I'm very tired now, with a serious case of warbler neck from staring up into the canopy and snapping my head around everytime something flicked in the corner of my eye. My problem here is going to be that this year's trip is going to be hard to top, with our highest-ever total of 114 species for the four days. Luckily we didn't see the Yellow-Breasted Chat reported to be in a couple of the areas we were hiking in, which means he can be my target species for next year...

Friday, May 1, 2009

Friday Photo, and 100 posts!

Just sayin'. The fact that I've managed to keep this blog going impresses even me. Actually, I'm pretty easily impressed, but still. I am really pleased with the fact that I've really started keeping up the entries again. We'll see how it gets once I'm into the busy summer season again, but I'm feeling pretty good.

For today's photo, a pretty little moss having a party on the back lawn:

I am not one of those people who thinks a lawn should be perfectly even grass. The back of the lawn is more of a meadow, really. This moss is entirely welcome to stay.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

first warbler of 2009!

First backyard (well, front yard) warbler this morning! And it was my favourite, the black-throated green. I didn't see him, but I heard him singing. His zee zee zee zoo zee! was the very first warbler song I recognized, one of the first birdsongs I recognized, in fact, and is my favourite birdsong despite the fact that it's not particularly melodic. It's just so emphatic and happy. I almost couldn't believe my ears... but there he was, and there was no mistaking him. Hooray!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I still don't understand squirrels

The lettuce is up in the enclosed bed. Or at least, the green lettuce is. I haven't seen sign of the red lettuce. Nor the peas, which is very disappointing. I wanted peas! But I'm not ruling them out yet. The shallots seem to be coming up, surprising me. And there are lettuce, spinach and radishes showing themselves outside the safe zone, so we'll see how long those last with the bunny around.

Something I've noticed this year: the squirrels are leaving my tulips alone.

What is with that? I saw one tulip with its top trimmed. Just one. Last year the squirrels did a number on at least half of the tulips. I am not complaining about this, I'm just surprised. And curious. Is it that they got fat on my birdseed? Is it that there are less squirrels? (Not that I've noticed). Is it that there's a big tomcat prowling around, presumably making life a little more exciting for the squirrels? I have noticed that the squirrels are doing a number on the protected bed, because they get in there and dig. It doesn't seem to be malicious, just bored. As soon as I've planted a few more things in there I'm going to have to cover the top with chicken wire, too, so that the squirrels don't destroy everything. But they're ignoring my tulips.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Save the Frogs Day

Guys! Save the frogs! Frogs are disappearing. Often considered the "canaries in the coal mine" of the wet places of our planet, frog species everywhere are in serious trouble. Tuesday is the first annual Save the Frogs Day. Check out the website for lots of cool contests (frog art! frog poetry! frog songs!) and interesting frog facts.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Friday Photo

The forsythia is in bloom, and the sky is ominous. It must be spring!

Happy Friday, everyone!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

smitten kitchen's smashed chickpea salad = win

I was in the mood for something a little different as far as dinner tonight, so I wandered through all my Google Reader stars and found the smitten kitchen recipe for smashed chickpea salad. I wasn't really in the mood for meat, although it occurs to me now that I have managed to eat chickpeas two meals in a row -- chenna masala for lunch and this excellent chickpea salad on toast for dinner.

It's a breeze to make, and I don't think one would have to change a thing. However, if I was doing it again, here are a few things I would do differently: better bread (than freezer-to-toaster Dempsters), slightly more roasted red pepper (done on BBQ, these added much to the sandwich) and finally, significantly less lemon juice in the tahini dressing. The tahini dressing was nice, but I kind of feel like I've been kicked in the face by a lemon and that's not quite what I was going for. fishy suggested adding... something... to the chickpeas; maybe more salt? Maybe garlic? I might try arugula on the sandwich next time, or cress -- I can see the peppery greens being a lovely addition.

I've got enough that I can do lunch tomorrow, too. It would be really lovely on pita with sprouts, I bet, but since I have neither I'll probably go with the freezer Dempsters and mesclun mix instead.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Friday Photo

Here's what's happening out in the garden this week:

I love the early irises. Many of the later irises I could do without, but this little patch requires nothing of me and offers these beautiful, early season (we don't even have daffodils yet) blooms. I love how they bring colour to the otherwise brown and grey landscape of the back gardens.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Webb, Margaret. Apples to oysters. Penguin: 2008.

Any Canadian who eats should read this book. You likely aren't going to like all of it (I certainly didn't) but it's mostly very well-researched, engaging, and illuminating. I had issues with some parts, which I discuss in the review; but I'm really glad I read it, and even when I was annoyed at the author I kept on reading. If you need a push in the right direction, how about this: who knew that oysters were such sexy animals?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

it's productive city over here

This morning I finished off the square-foot garden by adding a bit of peat moss, sectioned it, and surrounded it with chicken wire in the hopes of keeping marauding bunnies out. Then I planted snap peas and shallots. Then, because I was feeling like it, I planted spinach, Boston lettuce, and radishes in the bed that will eventually go over to squash and pumpkins. It was a pretty half-assed planting, but we'll see. None of those seeds were purchased this year, so I'm not even sure what their viability is.

Inside I planted my ground cherries (weeks late, but better than never) and artichokes. The tomatoes are starting to get their first true leaves, as are the asters. The tomatillos are just sort of puttering along, but they look healthy, as do the rudbeckias. Grandma gave me a pineapple sage plant again and this time I'm going to keep it alive. The one she gave me looks pretty good -- I'm going to have to re-pot it eventually because it's going to outgrow the pot before the summer is over.

Next, I have to decide whether to sharpen my secateurs before I do a bunch of the spring cleanup, or after. I will definitely have to sharpen them before I do any spring pruning, but for cutting away dead perennial stalks they should be fine. I also want to get those hostas moved. I've identified a good spot for one section of them, but I'm not sure where to put the rest. And we've got Easter dinner coming up, so I'm not sure what else I'm going to get done this afternoon, if anything. I feel good about what I've accomplished today, though.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Friday Photo

I think I maybe don't post enough of photos of my garden on here. So today, I thought I'd show off my little rhubarb:

Cute, huh?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

April snow is on the way

Mother Nature has just kicked me in the solar plexus, with the news that our area is expecting 15 cm of snow tomorrow. I didn't plant any seeds today because I knew it was supposed to get unseasonably cold. But damn. Blizzard. In April. Not impressed.

I have, once again, moved all the baby plants out of the sunroom and downstairs, where they'll at least get some bright indirect light, if there's any light to be had. They will at least stay warm. I wasn't going to move the mint or the rosemary, figuring they could tough it out, but now I don't know. The mint can handle it but I might shift the rosemary. The thing is, it's not really supposed to be that cold, and the sunroom shouldn't freeze. But still. Psychologically I will probably fret a lot less if the rosemary is in out of the cold.

The weather is supposed to clear up by Thursday and warm up and be sunny again. It makes me want a grow light, but I'm not even sure where I would set that up right now.

Thurston, Harry. A place between the tides. Greystone: 2004.

I love my backyard, but there's no getting around the fact that it's not a salt marsh. However, I think Harry Thurston's fascinating and well-thought-out memoir and observational journal on the salt marsh in his backyard is a relatively reasonable substitute. Recommended, despite the very occasional ambush with depressing environmental fact.

Friday, April 3, 2009

reaching for the sun

It has been raining all day today, and too cold to put the plants in the sunroom. At this time of year, if the sun isn't shining, the temperature in the sunroom is only a degree or two above the outside temperature. So in the interests of giving my plants some light but not freezing them, I took them downstairs this afternoon out of the dark hall.

It's maybe been an hour and a half, two hours since I did that, and all of the seedlings are bent at nearly 90 degree angles trying to climb out the windows. Even without the sun actually shining. It's quite impressive. I'll leave them down there until next week, because unfortunately it looks to be both cloudy and cold for the foreseeable meteorological future.

Friday, March 27, 2009

square foot gardening: oh, my back

Someday I will have a wheelbarrow. Until then, I must be satisfied with getting lots of exercise for a relatively small payoff. But the good news is, the little square foot garden (it really is little) is nearly ready to rock.

A couple of weeks ago, fishy and I got lumber and worked together to build a little 4x4 raised bed. It's not exactly 4x4 inside; it's a little smaller, which means that I'm going to have to limit one side of my growing space to half a foot. So I'll have 12 square foot plots, and 4... less than square foot plots. This is okay. For things like basil or lettuce I don't need a full complement of plants.

Today I mostly filled it. I mulched the base with leftover Lee Valley packing paper. I used a bag of mushroom compost, the pile of soil leftover from when I dug the other veggie beds, some leaf litter, and four or five shovelfuls of our own awesome compost. It still needs a little more, so when I'm at the nursery on Sunday I'm going to pick up a bag of peat, a bag of vermiculite, and another bag or two of compost. When that's all mixed in with the organic-rich, sandy loam, I should have a soil that defies any vegetable not to grow well.

What was even more fun was that while I was shoveling, a robin stopped by to see what I was doing. It followed me around, waiting for poor worms and other critters that got exposed by my digging and plucking them up. It didn't seem to wary of me, which pleased me to no end, even when it was chewing its way through my helpful invertebrates. Too bad there are no earwigs for it to enjoy yet -- it can have as many of those as it wants.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

first flowers, and some seedlings planted

Hello spring. I think we've met before. You with your fickle sunshine and changeable temperatures, me with my seeds, gloves, and muddy boots, waiting, waiting, waiting for the right moment...

I am pleased to report the crocuses are blooming, and have been at it for almost a week now. The tulips right next to the house are up actually quite well along, although no buds yet. The white daffodils I planted last fall are consistently showing their little green heads now, and I'm curious to see what they have in store for me. They were mixed bulbs; my hope is that none of the close, very visible ones are astonishingly garish.

My Dutch iris, unfortunately, have come under severe attack by squirrels. I was hoping the squirrels would be too full of my birdseed to eat my bulbs this spring, but fat chance. They've eaten some of the bulbs in their entirety. The rest they're waiting for the iris to poke their poor little heads up, and then they're chewing them back to the ground. I am most displeased. Squirrels may be cute, but I could really do with less of them. I have fed them all winter, not necessarily by choice, but I would have thought they would have better manners. Little bastards.

I've started a number of seedlings now -- the peppers, the tomatoes, the tomatillos, and the Rudbeckia hirta 'Chim Chiminee' are all in little flats. The shallots still haven't come up and they're well past their 21 day germination period, so I'm losing hope. Dunno what I did wrong there. I need more seedling mix now, as I'm pretty much out and still have lots to start.

I also need to get my veggie bed finished. The frame is built, but I need to dig it in and then fill it with soil and compost. Lots of work and not terribly appealing given the rain, cold, and cloud. (The weather forecast says it's sunny right now -- someone failed to look out the window, I think.)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Kennedy, Des. An ecology of enchantment. Douglas & McIntyre: 2008.

This week has been a write-off as far as gardening is concerned. Not because of the weather -- no, that was beautiful -- but because it is hard to get up the energy to do any work in the garden when one is so tired one falls asleep before 10pm every night. Good old March Break.

But I have plans for today! Even though it's one of the colder, greyer days we've had this spring yet. *grumble grumble*

Meanwhile, another review, this time of Des Kennedy's absolutely wonderful book An Ecology of Enchantment. Highly recommended!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

snouty surprise!

I was out doing a little bit of cleanup (a very little bit, it's tremendously soggy out there still) and made an interesting discovery.

We have moles.

Part of me thinks, "Hey, wow! Cool! More backyard wildlife! Excellent!"

Part of me thinks, "Oh crap. That's not good for the garden."

The "cool wildlife" part of me is kind of winning out at this point, because I haven't noticed them doing any major damage. Because nothing is growing yet. They've got quite a little nest of holes underneath the big miscanthus grass in the back (which provided them with a tremendous amount of cover, but kept the snow out of the entrances -- it was while chopping the dead grass back that I noticed the holes, and I hadn't seen them before). I hope they haven't damaged the miscanthus roots -- it's one of the plants we have that makes me look good.

There are only two types of mole this could be: a hairy-tailed mole, or a star-nosed mole. And chances are, given the characteristics of the soil we have, they're the former. Either one is pretty darn cute (in a "what the heck is that, good lord, it's so ugly" kind of way) and I'm not about to [attempt to] evict them unless they start causing serious problems. I'm not all that attached to my lawn.

I am more attached to my earthworms, but moles have a habit of eating them. They also eat grubs, snails, centipedes, and slugs. So... I think the benefit of moles may outweigh the disadvantages, as long as I don't step in any holes and break myself.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Thursday bird report

So, I've been seeing - or hearing - a number of exciting things lately. Monday, on my way home from work, I caught a glimpse of a bald eagle eating something beside the river. I was driving so I didn't have a chance to see what it was eating, but I saw enough to know that the eagle was a full adult. I'm always astonished by how large they really are.

Saw both a possum (not a bird, I know, but still cool) and a peregrine falcon yesterday. The peregrine was in a place I normally see a red tailed hawk, but there was no doubt about what it was when it was flying, and I was sitting at a stoplight so I was able to get a good look. There really isn't any other bird the size and shape of a peregrine around here.

This morning, to add to the chorus of cardinals, chickadees, and mourning doves in the backyard, I heard a robin whinnying away. That's my first robin of the year! I know other people have seen them earlier, but I hadn't so they don't count.

It snowed yesterday. Just to show me, I'm assuming. But the next couple of days are supposed to be very nice, particularly the weekend. Perfect maple syrup weather, actually -- bright sunny days and freezing nights. When it warms up a little more, the mourning cloak butterflies will be coming out. Looking forward to that, too!

Friday, March 6, 2009

dividing hostas: wtf, internet?!

Okay. So I have been working under the presumption for several years now that hostas are best divided in the early spring, before they start to grow their leaves. I have seen this advice in books and all over the internet, from people who know plants and from people who know hostas specifically.

Now to be fair, I have never divided or transplanted a hosta myself, so the truth of the matter is that I have only book knowledge about this. But it's almost early spring, and damned if I'm going to let the hostas in the front bed go another year looking awesome in the spring and getting the awesomeness sun-blasted out of them by late June. It's not good for the hostas and it's not good for my gardening ego, either.

So I'm thinking, probably need to be doing something about this in the next couple of weeks. I can't remember when the hostas started to get their leaves last year, but I'm thinking transplanting time will be late March, early April for those babies. But then I think, let's double-check that. Let's make sure that I know when the best time to transplant hostas is. Let's make sure I know how to do it.

Previously, any info I have seen says "early spring! early spring! best for plant!" So why, internet, is all the information I see from you this morning saying "late summer! late summer! best for plant!"

Late summer is over, internet. I cannot possibly let those hostas go by another summer. They will gall me every time I see them and they are right by my front door, so I will see them a lot. Why didn't you tell me this last spring, when I was thinking about transplanting the hostas and ultimately not doing it at all because I thought I'd missed my chance?

It's too late, internet. I don't care what you say now. I'm transplanting those hostas this spring. As I am doing it, I am going to think to myself, "These are plants. Plants want to grow. I could probably divide them in July and they would still grow. They might hate me, and look awful for the rest of the summer, but they would still grow."

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Primeau, Liz. My natural history. Greystone: 2008.

I've reviewed Liz Primeau's memoir My Natural History over on the book blog. I also picked up Front Yard Gardens by her at the library yesterday. Actually, I was quite impressed. I put it on hold yesterday morning and it was waiting for me when I got into work yesterday afternoon. My library rocks.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Lima, Patrick. The Organic Home Garden. Key Porter: 2003.

Since I've started up the book blog, I've decided to post all my reviews there, instead of posting any reviews of gardening books and cookbooks here. I've got one posted now, of Patrick Lima's superlative guide to organic vegetable gardening The Organic Home Garden, and I'll have one for Liz Primeau's gardening memoir My Natural History coming up. I need to read gardening books right about now because it is sunny out there, but the ground is still frozen and I am starting to get antsy enough to try digging in the frozen ground anyways.

Yes, I know it's not good for the soil. I'm not actually going to do it. But I really really want to. So gardening books are protecting me and my garden from myself.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

year's first redpoll

Also, exciting bird report! As I was sitting here composing that last entry, a redpoll flew in and hung out on my feeder for a while. I've not had redpolls around at all this year, so that's a bonus. The nuthatches, both species, were going nuts on the suet, and there are juncos and chickadees all over the place.

As my mother says, things are just going to get more exciting from now on. And I remembered that as I drove by the river yesterday, the open patches were suddenly sprouting waterfowl. Do you know what this means? This means spring.

square foot gardening: in the planning stages

Garden season, as declared before, is open! And I am taking that to heart. This means that today, my efforts at avoiding work and cleaning have included figuring out the materials for my new square-foot vegetable bed, and realizing that I should probably start working on that soon-ish so that it's ready to plant in April with the early-season crops.

My dilemma right now is that if I want to go the whole way, I should probably follow Mr. Bartholomew's recipe for his soil mix ("Mel's Mix"), which is three parts peat, three parts vermiculite, and three parts compost.

To fill a space that is going to be roughly 1812 L, that is not going to be cheap. I mean, I have some compost here. And I can get it free from the landfill (although not until after April, either, which throws a wrench in my early-planting plans). But I don't have peat or vermiculite, and that stuff gets expensive when you start looking at buying roughly 12-14 30L bags of the stuff. I do have some soil that is composted sod, from when I started digging the veggie beds. What I am thinking is that I will use that first, then make the rest of the bed peat and vermiculite and our compost, as much as possible. It won't be Mr. Bartholomew's perfect mix, but it will be pretty darn nice soil.

In other news, I did plant shallots today. 24 of them. For transplant into that new bed, once the soil "can be worked in the spring."

Thursday, February 26, 2009

skunk dreams

The past couple of weeks I have noticed skunk signs. It's late February, so they should definitely be poking around more, and given the thaw we had two weeks ago I'm not surprised that they're out. I saw tracks last week, and sadly, I saw a roadkilled skunk two days ago.

And this morning, I heard a dog barking sometime between 6:30 and 7am. I thought, "that sounds close" and then I drifted back to sleep.

To have skunk dreams. They were so powerful I could smell the skunk. I could even smell the skunk when I woke back up. It took me entirely too long to figure out that the skunk smell had actually predated the skunk dreams, and that what I was smelling was likely that dog getting himself into trouble.

I can still smell it quite powerfully two hours later, although I've either gotten used to it or it's dissipating. My secret confession: I kind of like a hint of skunk now and then. It makes me think happy thoughts about the animals themselves. It also makes me happy to realize that my backyard skunk from last summer is still around and apparently quite powerful.

Friday, February 20, 2009

introducing Spike

I made the mistake of going to the nursery today. Well, it was planned. And I had a list. I was really good with the list, too. I only bought two small things outside of the list (and I do mean small).

The main reason for the trip was this lovely creature:

This is an attempt at keeping a bougainvillea alive. I'm not very good at house plants, as I believe has been discussed. But I was so taken with them in Cuba, and I really wanted to have a little piece of Cuba in my house. This creature, whom I haven't named yet, is going to be my attempt to bring some of my vacation home. She'll be able to live outside during the summer, and she'll come in and live in the sunroom and then the main part of the house in the winter.

I am hoping that she will end up reminding me vaguely of this:

I think I might call her Spike. Bougainvillea have very pointy thorns. They're sharp. I didn't know this until I picked her up. Plus, that's a tough-sounding name, right? So she'll be a tough plant. She'll have to be.

Monday, February 16, 2009

on my mark, get set...

75 posts! Soon I will be at 100. Certainly this summer, given the amount of posting I'm likely to do in the spring.

We managed to get the grapes trimmed today. It's quite lovely outside, and we're home to do so. I don't think we were too late (thus avoiding causing damage) so it should work out. It will be more controlled growth this year, and faster shade cover than the first year we were here, when we didn't really have shade over the back porch until late June or early July. And now, as noted, I declare garden season open!

The grapes are only going to provide the cover from above. So this year, I am going to try (one more time) to plant morning glories. I don't know why I can't get those stupid things to grow, but they just won't. I am considering, however, going with something more like a scarlet runner bean -- aside from the fact that the beans themselves are edible and extremely easy to grow, apparently the red flowers do attract hummingbirds. I've also been looking at cardinal vines, a morning glory relative (in the Ipomea genus) that reportedly is also very attractive to hummers. My one concern is going to be that in warmer climates it's an invasive... I figure if I grow it in a couple of containers, I should be okay. And possibly keep on top of seeds. But everything I've read suggests I'll be lucky if it actually flowers, let alone sets seed.

The other option, which is one I have considered before, is moonflower. It would be scented at night, and we do use that back porch a fair bit at night. So that might be a good idea, too. Although I really love night flowering tobacco for scent, too.

Decisions, decisions! I love it. This is possibly the best time of the year in the garden, when I don't have to actually weed anything -- things just grow in my imagination.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

hooray for birds!

When I woke up this morning, I heard a sound that I haven't heard in ages. And when one hasn't heard it in ages, one notices when it comes back.


The chickadees were singing. Just a little bit, and not their usual "chickadee-dee-dee" but the sweet sounds of their mating call...

We all know what this means, of course. Spring is on the way. YES!! Despite what the groundhogs saw (Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, thus six more weeks of winter), spring is on the way. I believe it. Even if there are six more weeks of winter, one of those I will be spending in the sunshine. Take that, snow!

I do love the winter, don't get me wrong. But I'm like those birds. I'm starting to get a little itch in my gardening fingers that signifies the days are getting longer. Sunday was, in fact, wonderfully mild. My gardening fingers are planning on ordering some seeds in the next couple weeks. I bought a new set of gardening gloves (I can't find the other ones, although I'm sure I will as soon as I start getting the tools out).

This week sometime fishy and I will get out to trim the grapes. That will be my first official gardening act of the year. And then I will declare garden season open.

Friday, January 23, 2009

fresh shiitake mushrooms = happy me

Another attempt, last night, at Thai food. I'm still quite convinced I have no idea what I'm doing, and that I'm not very good at it. I used an online recipe this time, for Sweet and Sour Chicken. It was good, but there was too much soy sauce involved. Tamari might have been better, since the flavour is not so heavy. It wasn't bad, it just wasn't quite what I'd hoped. It did look gorgeous in the wok -- bright colours and lots of variety. I think it was likely very healthy, too. And there are leftovers, which are likely to be better the next day.

What did work out well were the shiitake mushrooms. fishy was able to find them fresh at the local grocery, which is awesome. They have a very subtle scent when raw, but the minute they are cooked, their flavour skyrockets. They taste amazing and rich, and were a perfect compliment to the sweet and sour sauce. Their texture was also a nice compliment to the crunchy peppers and bok choi, and the soft chicken. They're kind of halfway in-between a veggie and a meat, texture-wise. A little squishy. Each bite is a little squirt of flavour. I know not everyone finds that awesome, but I do.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

snowy owl on a snowy drive

Twice in a row I have been fortunate enough to see a snowy owl on the way to or from work. I can't see snowy owls without thinking of Minerva, Kay McKeever's iconic mama snowy. There's a book, full of photographs, that made a huge impression on me.

Anyway. He's living in a specific field on a specific road that I drive to get to and from work. I'd only half-hoped to see him again today, but sure enough, he was flying over his field, and landed as I watched (very carefully, trying not to drive off the road.) I think it's a he -- a young male. He's too light to be female and too dark to be a full-grown male. I hope he's getting enough to eat in that field of his. It's close to a barn -- there must be small rodents about.

Also saw snow buntings. It was a very Arctic day out there, and the temperature appears to be dropping. Lots of blowing snow over desolate fields.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Chiang Mai curry noodles

I embarked on the first of a number of experiments with Asian cooking last night. Here is the main thing I learned: 3 cups of coconut milk is a hell of a lot of coconut milk for one dish. Also, I need to plan better for vegetables. Since the garlic and coconut milk were the only things that even resembled vegetables in the whole meal. Oops.

Otherwise, it was delicious, and I was quite pleased with how easy it was to make, and how reasonable the ingredient list was. I could find everything at the regular grocery store -- not that I object to frequenting Asian grocers, it's just that this was much more convenient for my hella busy day yesterday. This is a very rich, sweet curry; I used a mild curry paste, and it wasn't really spicy at all.

I made the Chiang Mai Curry Noodles from Hot Sour Salty Sweet: A Culinary Journey Through Southeast Asia, which I received for Christmas. It's a beautiful cookbook/travel book, and I expect I'll try to get around to reviewing it over at the other blog eventually. Do any librarians in the audience know if I'm horribly infringing copyright by posting an entire recipe, even if I attribute it? I suspect I should know more about copyright law than I do, given what I want to do for a living. At any rate, I'm not going to give you the commentary from the recipe, so if you want to read that you should borrow the book from your local library. Or buy it, I guess.

A couple notes: I used 4 cloves of garlic, because by and large I am immune to it and find that cookbook authors tend to be very conservative with their garlic estimates. The teaspoon of turmeric seems to be a bit much. However, I was using extremely fresh ground turmeric; it was quite powerful. The beef was a bit chewy. Alford and Duguid suggest that chicken can be used instead, and next time I think I will try that. I used chow mein noodles, because they are a kind of Chinese egg noodle... and they worked really well.

There were other options for condiments, like fried noodles and Thai pickled cabbage -- I had neither of these to hand, and deep frying just doesn't go well in this house. I definitely recommend at least the scallions, and both the shallots and scallions if possible. They make the dish -- cut right through the richness of the broth.

Chiang Mai Curry Noodles (aka. khao soi)
pg. 134 of Hot Sour Salty Sweet by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1-inch piece fresh turmeric, minced, or 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon salt, plus a pinch
  • 1 tablespoon Red Curry Paste (there is a recipe for this in the book, but I used store-bought)
  • 1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil
  • 3 cups canned or fresh coconut milk, with 1/2 cup of the thickest milk set aside
  • 1/2 pound boneless flavourful beef (sirloin tip or trimmed stewing beef), cut into 1/2 inch chunks
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 pound Chinese egg noodles

Toppings and condiments:
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped shallots
  • 1/2 cup minced scallions
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges

"Place the garlic in a mortar with the turmeric and the pinch of salt and pound to a paste. Alternatively, finely mince the garlic and whole turmeric, if using, and place the garlic and turmeric in a small bowl with the pinch of salt. Stir in the red curry paste and set aside.

"Place a large heavy pot or wok over high heat. Add the 1 tablespoon oil and, when it is hot, toss in the curry paste mixture. Stir-fry for 30 seconds, then add the reserved 1/2 cup thick coconut milk and lower the heat to medium-high. Add the meat and sugar and cook, stirring frequently, for 4 to 5 minutes, until the meat has changed colour all over. Add the remaining 2 1/2 cups coconut milk, the water, fish sauce, and the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and cook at a strong simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the lime juice." (Alford and Duguid, p. 135)

The above soup can be made an hour in advance and reheated before serving, if you want. Then cook your noodles as the package instructs, until they are tender but not mushy, drain them, and serve the soup over the noodles. Each person can add scallions and shallots as desired.

Serves 4.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

goodbye 2008, hello 2009!

Happy new year! 2008 had its share of challenges. I'm really looking forward to 2009, because it's going to be better. I've got a good feeling about this one.

For one thing, I'm done school. And that, my friends, feels really good. It means that I'm actually going to have the time to do some of the things I really want to do around this house, and in the gardens. I have a new job, and that means that I might even be able to afford some of it. The job is going really well and I love it. It's everything I imagined working in a library would be, and better.

I have plans to better organize my time and my life, but no real resolutions. I am wondering if I should set some written goals (Dad will be proud) but so far I am taking it easy. It's the first day of the year, after all.

The first bird of the year was a junco. The first pot of tea is orange pekoe. The first drink was a glass of Veuve Cliquot, which I think is a good sign.