Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Free Box Tea Set!

Portland has a major free box culture. If you want to get rid of something that isn't actually trash, you leave it on the curb (in a box or not) or on a neighborhood "free bench" and it always disappears within a couple days. One of my favorite free box finds includes a perfect-condition wok that I found on the curb in front of my house. Matt was wondered aloud recently how many hundreds of dollars we've saved between the two of us, just by finding free stuff on the street. It's that awesome.

Once again, a few days ago, the curb in front of my house yielded a wonderful find. Matt found it and brought it in to me, and it was just another piece of evidence that he knows me very well. See, my favorite color scheme is bright yellow, blue, and white. A lot of what I own has been hand picked at thrift stores or import markets just because of these colors and patterns, or given to me for the same reason. For evidence, here are some of my current dishes:

And here's what Matt found:

I believe my reaction was along the lines of "EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!"

Totally up my alley, happy bright tea cups and saucers that match my other dishes in the haphazard-but-same-color-scheme that I love, it totally made my night. 

Pretty and free. Perfect, no?

Friday, June 25, 2010

The State of the Garden, Part 2

As previously mentioned, the weather has been terrible here until a couple days ago, and my poor garden has been neglected as I've stayed inside to avoid this month of rain. However, this week is at least dry and warm, though somewhat cloudy, so I spent Monday evening surveying the damage and trying to tidy up and put things back in order.

(Click on photos to enlarge)
Cilantro, spearmint, and nasturtiums surviving.

Bright Lights Chard, planted long ago but stunted by rain and slugs and overrun and shaded by my potato plants. Here they are, you can see the colors developing in the stems.
Matt decided to document me attempting to prop up my crazy potatoes:
Of course I didn't give them enough space when I planted them, although they seem to be growing fine, just flopping over and shading everything else. They are blooming though, which means I might dig for some new potatoes later this week!

My old clothes rack finally gave up the ghost, so I reduced it to its basic elements and used the rods as stakes, and the folding sides as trellises:

This is to keep my sweet peas from flopping over on their sides. I think it actually looks really cool:
These cucumbers that Olga gave me are growing and blooming healthily, but all the ones I started died as soon as I planted them into the garden...

I propped up some nasturtiums:

And snapped off all the garlic scapes (this helps the plant shut down in preparation for harvesting):

I also pulled out the hoe and went after all the weeds that have been thriving on this moisture, disentangled some garlic plants from a swarm of morning glory vines, and cut off the bottom branches of some tomato plants, which were yellowed and damaged from all the mud. 

Rosemary is one thing that loves Portland's wet climate. I bought this plant as a tiny start a year ago:

Here's some more nasturtiums climbing on something else repurposed as a 
trellis (metalwork from my old screen door):

I ended my bout of garden-tidying by collecting some rosemary and green onions to roast with potatoes for dinner, with some of the garlic scapes. The rest of the scapes were sauteed with olive oil and salt- one of my favorite summer treats, and even more special since Matt had never had them before!

I hope your garden grows well, and that lots of sunshine is finding its way to you!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The State of the Garden, Part 1

Sigh. The weather here in Portland for the last month has been less than ideal for garden survival. And for that matter, it's been pretty hard on us humans too. In the last four or five weeks, we have had one sunny weekend, and rest has been gray, rain, and unseasonably cold temperatures. We have set a number of record "low highs," hitting low temperatures the likes of which have not been seen here at this time of year since the 1940s. By June 10th we had surpassed the average rainfall for the entire month of June. Oy.

The results of this include everyone in Portland being depressed and grumpy and griping out the weather at every possible opportunity (myself included), and all farms and gardens in the area suffering, as our plants drown and get wiped out by the hordes of slugs that have shown up, thriving on the wet weather. It's really slim pickings at all the farmers' markets, and the whole thing has taken a rather large toll on my own garden. To whit:

My onions are sad, droopy things that have been flattened by heavy rain (the kale seems to be surviving, since it got up and growing before the slugs showed up):
(Click on photos to enlarge)

My peppers had some aphid damage before I put them in the ground. Somehow, they look worse now:
The fabric was a half-hearted attempt to keep mud from splashing on the plants with all the rain. I have had to gently scrub every surface of them clean several times nonetheless, since they were so coated in mud they were beginning to suffocate...

My cabbages were doing just fine until a couple days ago. Then I found a number of green caterpillars all over them, apparently intent on eating my plants into oblivion. So, I had to buck up and deal with my holy horror of caterpillars, go for the gloves, and pick them off. This is what they look like after I cut off the most damaged leaves:

Other casualties of the weather include my corn, carrots, and two plantings of basil, none of which ever even came up, and all of the beans I planted, including my mom's Scarlet Runner Beans. The beans made it out of the ground, started to leaf out, and then got promptly mowed down by the slugs, despite being surrounded by egg shells and sharp rocks. I swear they went from sturdy sprouts to dead overnight.

In addition to the havoc being wreaked by the weather, the terrible conditions have kept me out of the garden for some time. I have rarely ventured out in the rain, and on Monday evening it was actually dry, if cloudy, so I went out to see if I could find any positive things going on in my little plot of earth. And I did:

My garlic has finally produced scapes!
I was getting a little concerned that with all the rain my garlic plants would never stop growing and I would have to harvest them before the leaves dried out. But the scapes are here, and now I think we might be on the right track.

 My peas are the one thing that have been doing great. They were well up and away before this weather hit, and I have been eating good old sugar snaps for a couple weeks now:

The only thing is that they have all gone south and are growing up the neighbor's side of the fence, so I look pretty silly leaning over to harvest them. 

The tomatoes are all growing away and blooming, but I certainly won't be getting any tomatoes till August at least...

One of my two surviving squash plants:

Only a few of the flowers I started out with remain. Here are a few poor bedraggled, nibbled-on pansies:

I'm trying not to be too disappointed by all damage, but for the first big garden I've done by myself, it's a little disillusioning. Still, I have my tomatoes and my potatoes, and Matt found a few little potted flowers for free on the curb, so they will help brighten things up. Now if we can just get some sunshine and real summer!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Making Granola from Scratch

Homemade granola is something of a staple in my small household, as it was growing up (Although I have to say that I didn't have as much appreciation for it back then as I do now). This is a simple, inexpensive way to make a breakfast food from scratch that is nutritious and makes for a quick meal in the mornings! All the ingredients are very inexpensive when bought in bulk, so a little bit of money goes a long way here.

This is the granola recipe that my dad has always used, I'm not sure where it came from before he gave it to me. I usually double this recipe so I don't have to make it as often. It stores very well.

4 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup wheat germ

1/4 to 1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp maple flavoring (optional)

1/2 cup applesauce

Mix the rolled oats and wheat germ together in one bowl, and the oil, brown sugar, and maple flavoring together in another. Mix them both together, adding the applesauce. I usually do this right in the baking pan I use. Mix everything with a silicon spatula or your hands until everything is evenly moistened and mixed. Spread out on cookie sheets or cake pans, no more than 3/4 inch thick. Bake 30 minutes at 350 F. Stir all the pans with a spatula and turn oven down to 300 F. Continue baking at 300 F, stirring every 20 minutes. The granola is done when it is evenly browned and you cannot feel any dampness in the oats.

You can use almost any variation to this recipe, as long as the wet-to-dry ratios remain the same. Some of my favorites are:
  • Add 1-2 tsp vanilla extract before baking. 
  • Grind 1/2 to 3/4 cup almonds in a coffee grinder and add before baking.
  • Add 1/8 to 1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds before baking. 
  • Add dried fruit after baking or just for the last 20 minutes. 
  • Add any combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, allspice, or ground cloves before baking.

Once the granola is completely baked, allow it to cool for 20 minutes or so, and store in an airtight container. Enjoy!

Friday, June 18, 2010

New Napkins for My Table

Here's a few photos of those napkins I sewed up last weekend. The ones I already had, all thrift store finds from several years ago, are getting pretty cruddy, so I thought a few nicer ones would be a good addition to my kitchen. I was at the fabric store a couple weeks ago so I picked out four bright cotton quarters and cut these out and hemmed them up last Sunday. After hemming, they are 14 inches square. You may notice that I don't set much store by coordinated colors or sets of anything. I much prefer an assortment of bright, eclectic things, which is demonstrated by everything around my house. I have very few matching dishes, but they are all bright and unique, my clothes are almost all bright colors, and I don't care too much if the different things I am wearing clash a bit. For whatever reason, I just love a big riot of color, as you can see here:

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Portland Weekend in Photos

Read the previous post to see if you can match the pictures to the events of the weekend!
(Click on photos to enlarge)

At long last, it's sandal season! Hello, summer!

Scrambling, and a Sunny Weekend!

We finally got our first real days of summer here in Portland over the weekend, with it finally hitting 80 degrees (a record for us, the latest into the year to hit 80!) and things warming up and sunning gloriously after weeks of gray and almost nonstop rain. The weather turned a 180 over the course of about 24 hours on Friday, and Matt and I took full advantage. It was also the Portland Rose Festival here this week, so over the weekend we went to the carnival (I haven't been on any kind of ride in years- I balked a little at the cost, but it was actually worth it for the rush of fun), took in the Grand Floral Parade, visited the Ocean Watch yacht before it commences its final leg of its circumnavigation of the Americas, barbecued with friends, went to the farmer's market, walked through Washington Park and the Rose Gardens, and spent lots and lots of time in the back yard, eating at the little patio table one of my neighbors put out, and soaking up the sun. Whew!

Yesterday I found time in the afternoon to sit inside for an hour or two and finish up some mending for Matt (the final pieces that were in exchange for his helping pay for sewing machine repairs) and sew up some new napkins for my kitchen. I will post pictures soon! While I sewed, Matt made delicious fresh lemonade sweetened with brown sugar, and cooked down some more frozen strawberries. He separated the juice and pulp and froze them in ice cube trays, to go into lemonade and ice tea for extra flavor. I am so pleased with his endeavors in the kitchen lately- he has been very enthusiastic about learning how to cook (he didn't do it much before he met me), and he is honing his intuitions about food and flavors with lots of success!

I ended the weekend in a mad fit of work, staying up till midnight last night putting the final touches on Tighe and Lisia's wedding gift, which I officially finished on Saturday (six months after starting it. Ahem). Since they are coming to Portland today and will be here all week, I had to get it all finalized and wrapped and put away before their arrival. I was exhausted, but very pleased, and now it is all ready to go. The wedding is one month from today!

Tonight will be busy. Tighe and Lisia are not staying with me (no room!), but nonetheless some cleaning is in order- my apartment is an absolute shambles after a busy week last week and a weekend of hardly being inside or paying attention to the condition of anything indoors! I have barely ventured into my garden recently, with all the rain, so I really need to get out there and pull some weeds and thin some things. (I did have my first salad entirely from my garden last week- kale, snap peas and green onions!) So I have my work cut out for me once I get home from work, cleaning and organizing and gardening and preparing to have company over most of the evenings this week! It will be so good to see Tighe and Lisia, to get lots of good time with them before the wedding week, which I am sure will be fun but hectic, with them trying to see so many friends and family in from out of town.

So. I will post some pictures as soon as I upload them, and in the meantime I hope you have a peaceful, fun, and productive week!

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Bag for Maya

My beautiful niece, Maya, daughter of my close friends Lydia and Roberto, just turned 2 years old on May 28th!
I had the honor of being the first person to meet Maya, after her mom and dad and grandma- she was about 12 hours old. Hard to believe two years have gone by since then! She and her parents mean the world to me, but they moved from Oregon to Nebraska when Maya was a week old, so I have been a long-distance Auntie her whole life. Between visits and photos we manage to keep up just fine (the photo above is from Mama and Maya's visit to Portland in early March). She is a happy, busy little girl with a penchant for bags and purses, so for her 2nd birthday present, I made her this:

I didn't use a pattern, but based it generally on these bags by Soulemama. The floral print is actually from a button-down shirt that was in my rag bag. I embroidered that piece first, then sewed on the lining.

The lining is a very stout cotton, essential because the shirt fabric, though lovely, was worn very thin by the time it made it to the rag bag. I sewed on the handles before sewing up the final side seams of the bag (have you ever tried to do it the other way around? Such a pain.) I ended up hand sewing those two side seams, as they were just too thick for my machine to handle. With the seams and overlap from the lining in there, I think it was about 8 layers of fabric altogether. I am very pleased with it- it turned out very pretty, but I also made sure to make it sturdy, including double-sewing the handles to withstand the hijinks of a toddler.

After pressing the seams and cutting off all the loose threads, I put in some pretty clips and things for her lovely long hair, and it was sent off to Nebraska. Happy birthday, little one!

*Maya's photo and name were published with her parents' permission!*

Friday, June 4, 2010

My Kitchen on Down to Earth!

I am so thrilled to have my kitchen--and a link to my Mother Earth News article--featured as the final one in the "You, Me, and the Kitchen Sink" series at Down to Earth (even if it didn't make it through the interwebs to Rhonda the first time!).

Click here to read the post.

Thank you Rhonda, for including me, and a big hello and welcome to all you DTE readers! Thanks for stopping by!

Matt and I are off to Smith Rock State Park for a weekend of rock climbing and camping, I hope you all enjoy your weekend, and thanks for reading!


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Making Vegetable Stock

I've read many good blog posts about the making and using of various kinds of stock, so I thought I'd throw in my own, focusing particularly on vegetable stock. I have made chicken stock regularly (basically every time we have roast chicken for dinner) for quite some time, but only recently started making vegetable stock. A vegetarian friend suggested the method she uses, which is to keep clean vegetable scraps in a large (gallon-sized) Ziploc bag in the freezer. When the bag is full, it is time to cook down the stock. It worked like a charm! In the course of several weeks' cooking, carrot peelings, bits of onion and leek, the stem sections of green and red peppers, ginger root peels, a couple lemongrass ends, bok choy leaves and stems, etc. all went into the bag, although it took some remembering at first, to keep from putting the leftover bits straight into the compost. When the bag got full, I pulled out my stockpot, emptied the bag in, and filled it with water (about 8 or 9 quarts- this is a 12 quart stock pot).

Once it reached boiling, I let it boil gently for about 45 minutes. Then I let it cool a bit, and strained out all the vegetable matter. Then into freezer containers it went, and into the freezer.

Containers waiting to be filled with fresh veggie stock. 

Making vegetable stock this way gets the most worth out of the vegetables I use in cooking, and I don't have to buy vegetables just for stock. I like that it does not increase what I spend, but increases the nutritional value in any food that I make using the stock. I really like brown rice cooked in vegetable stock instead of water, and we've used it as a base for lots of different soups, sometimes in combination with chicken stock to round out the nutritional value of a meal.

For more information about the making, use, and benefits of stocks, I recommend the Nourishing Traditions cookbook by Sally Fallon.