New computer!

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I’ve just gotten a new computer!  I’m not using it right now, because I’m still figuring it out and I haven’t transferred any of my data yet.  I only bought it yesterday, after all.  It’s an HP Envy, 14 inch, with Windows 8, and so far I quite like it.  Yes, I’m a PC.  I talk to both Mac and PC, though – at college I work in the IT department helping professors with technology.  One professor actually just bought a new computer with Windows 8, and didn’t like it much, so I was a bit concerned.  Windows 8 was designed primarily for tablets, which have touch screens for the most part, and which makes using a mouse or the touchpad awkward sometimes.

I’ll probably be blogging periodically about how the switch to the new computer goes with the data transfer and getting used to Windows 8.  So far I’ve mostly been impressed by the packaging.

This is ALL of the packaging that came with the computer.

This is ALL of the packaging that came with the computer.

Usually delicate items like computers are wrapped entirely in styrofoam or another non-biodegradable and non-recyclable plastic foam.  This one had the two support pieces you see in the photo on the left – the computer was inserted into the slots and suspended neatly in the box, which is made of very strong cardboard.  The box had a handle for easy handling.  There was a light recyclable piece of plastic fabric to protect the screen when the laptop was folded, instead of sticky plastic.  There was one small bit of bubble wrap for the battery.  And the Quick Setup Guide was actually helpful!

I’m impressed with HP’s attention to the environment with their limited packaging.  As an added bonus, it takes less money to package things with less, because there’s less actual material and because the package weighs less.

I’m also intrigued by Windows 8 so far.  There’s both a traditional desktop (the work end of things, it seems) and a more tablet-y desktop, with squares to click on and customize, like the apps on a phone or tablet, and which seems to be dedicated more towards play and social media.  The $1 version of the dummies guide I bought (I’ll donate it to my fellow technology assistants at work when I’m through with it) says it’s a split personality, and while I do agree, it seems reasonably functional so far.  Then again, I’ve only had an hour to play with it.  I’ll have to see what happens when I import my data.

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‘Tis the season to be merry

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Well, I’m back again.  I’m actually going to be doing two posts today, one right after this, because there’s been some beverage-related stuff that I’ve been holding off on posting for a while, and because I just got a new computer.  Whoo!

Merry-making has been the primary goal since I got home (and after I finished my last research paper that I brought with me).  Mom’s taken up home brewing as her potential next career, and we are now brewing alcohol (hard cider and beer) in the laundry room.  Who needs laundry?  Actually, it’s already like Junk Storage Room #5, so it’s fine.  Although I’m still not sure where the laundry baskets went.

Mom started brewing before Thanksgiving, so we’ve had some cider and beer tasting recently.  Both have gone pretty well, except I’m pretty sure the cider is actually moonshine or something, because I felt quite tipsy after a glass and a half with snacks.  Cider, FYI, is supposed to be the sissy drink to bring to a party.  On the other hand, it tastes quite good, if a bit dry and less sweet than your average cider.  The beer was a bit hoppy (tastes of hops, not bouncy), but otherwise good. I’m only going to do a bit of commentary on what we were doing while brewing, since there’s zillions of sites on how to brew.  A few links are provided below.  The photos are from our first taste test and our latest brewing escapade, in which we made some hard cider (VERY easy), some basic beer (a Sam Adams clone), and a pumpkin beer.

First, the tasting!

This is what the beer looked like freshly poured, from the first batch.  Big head!

This is what the beer looked like freshly poured, from the first batch. Big head!

Alastor had a taste as well.

Alastor had a taste as well.

Alastor really liked it.

Alastor really liked it.

Brewing and fermenting!  Brewing took about three hours for the gallon of cider (about fifteen minutes of the three hours) and the two-and-a-half gallons of beer we made.  Then we leave them alone for three weeks, bottle (an hour or so), leave them alone for another week or so, and then we can drink.  Mom says the cost about breaks even, and there isn’t too much in the way of labor.

The cider needs to stay in a dark place during fermentation.  This is a cupboard in our laundry room.  I'll be taking some of this and the beer with me to college once the first stage finishes.

The cider needs to stay in a dark place during fermentation. This is a cupboard in our laundry room. I’ll be taking some of this and the beer with me to college once the first stage finishes.

Beer requires boiling for about an hour while adding ingredients (grain, malt, and hops mostly) at specified increments.

Beer requires boiling for about an hour while adding ingredients (grain, malt, and hops mostly) at specified increments.

After boiling, you need to cool the beer rapidly.  We put the pan in the sink full of ice water on top of a metal trivet to keep the water circulating underneath.

After boiling, you need to cool the beer rapidly. We put the pan in the sink full of ice water on top of a metal trivet to keep the water circulating underneath.

This is a hydrometer, used to measure the amount of alcohol in a liquid.  Mom didn't test the cider last time.  I eagerly await this version's results.

This is a hydrometer, used to measure the amount of alcohol in a liquid. Mom didn’t test the cider last time. I eagerly await this version’s results.

Beer also requires a dark place to ferment - in our case, a blue storage tub.

Beer also requires a dark place to ferment – in our case, a blue storage tub.

Some sites Mom’s used and liked:

Thesis is done!

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Well, I said a couple months ago – it’s been long enough that I forget when, exactly – that I would be posting periodically on my thesis and complaining about it.  Well, that was apparently a lie.  I failed to realize that without the “a blog counts as a Skype for the parents” bit of being abroad that I didn’t have any good reasons to be blogging when I had a fifty-page paper to write.

“Well, I should be writing some of this fifty-page paper I have due at the end of the semester, or working on this other essay due this Friday, or doing readings for class tomorrow, or… I could write more unnecessary stuff for a blog?”  Yeah, right.

Anyway, my thesis is done now.  With all of the table of contents and bibliography stuff, it turned out to be 65 pages, and is now bound and turned in to my readers.  (Note to self: I still need to drop chocolate off for Q to fortify him for reading my pet monster.)  I only have a couple of shorter papers left for this semester and I’ll be finished.  To make up for having failed to post anything for months, I’m giving a brief summary of my thesis below.

My thesis “Water Reuse as Part of San Diego’s Water Portfolio,” and while the topic is interesting, I’m SO glad to be finished with it.  In short, I explained why San Diego needs to be concerned about its water situation (depending on the year, 80 to 90 percent of San Diego’s water is imported, 50 percent coming from the Colorado River which is expected to be severely affected by climate change).  From there, I suggested water reuse as an option to diversify San Diego’s water resources.  Technologically, water reuse can produce water on the level of distilled water, which is much cleaner than what comes out of the tap as is.  In the early 1990s, there was an attempt to add water reuse to San Diego’s water portfolio that went very badly (it got called “toilet to tap” and was portrayed as being unsafe, among other issues), so bringing up that issue is a bit problematic in San Diego.

The major barrier, a bit surprisingly, is psychological, not technological – it’s called the yuck factor (yes, that’s the real name).  It has to do with the psychology of disgust.  The two laws of sympathetic magic (I got to use the word “magic” in my thesis, haha!), that of contagion and that of disgust, both work against water reuse.  The first law, “once in contact, always in contact,” suggests that something which has once come in contact with something unpleasant is contaminated for the rest of eternity.  The second law, that of similarity, suggests that any two things that resemble each other share fundamental properties – this is how voodoo dolls work.  Well, “work.”  Because what comes out of a water reuse treatment plant is similar to the wastewater that goes in, it’s fundamentally contaminated.  The other psychological issue that causes problems for implementing water reuse is the affect heuristic, or the intuitive sense we get about something due to our past experiences.  San Diego’s past experience with the “toilet to tap” debacle, as well as the fact that we associate water reuse with both “good” and “conservation” as well as “yuck” and “sewage” makes it seem less pleasant.  The same study suggests that more education about the issue provides more opportunity to judge the risk of water reuse with our intellect rather than our feelings, which is an opportunity for San Diego to step up its public relations and education campaigns to drum up support.  The City has been improving – their treatment facility is open to public tours and their willingness to answer questions is astounding.  I dropped by on Black Friday hoping for some pictures and got a personal tour with my mom, with a lot of great information.

Look how eager they are for good PR!

Look how eager they are for good PR!

I’ve never studied psychology before, so I was a bit surprised when it turned out that my thesis was going in that direction, but fascinated by what turned up.  I initially thought that those who were against water reuse were just being idiots and refusing to accept the obvious conclusions from the science, but now I’ve realized that there is good reason why people’s opinions on the issue are so strong.  The psychology also changed my mind on what method of water reuse I was championing for San Diego.  I originally wanted direct potable reuse, which sends water treated to an extremely high level direct into pipes, but I realized that the psychology would make this infeasible.  Personally, though, I’d still drink the stuff straight from the treatment facility.  Indirect potable reuse is the alternative I’ve supported in my paper – it’s the same level of treatment, but the end destination is a reservoir where the recycled water blends with existing supplies, which reduces the yuck factor.

There’s a lot more information, but I obviously can’t write up the entire bloody paper here – that was the most interesting bit for me.  If anyone would like more information on the subject, to be pointed to some sources on either water reuse or the psychology of disgust, or to read my paper, write me a comment!

Recycled sweater iPad cases

Okay, so again I haven’t posted terribly recently.  If if helps, I haven’t been doing much in the way of cooking (except stir fries, which get pretty boring to write about), so there haven’t been any recipes to pass on.  I may have to add a series on getting rid of carrots, though, because while we didn’t plant any carrots, we did go to Costco and buy some.  This was a bad idea.  There were ten pounds of carrots, eight of which are probably still left in a drawer in the fridge, though I’ve been steaming, stir-frying, and making carrot cake out of them for a week.  I’ll probably make another round of carrot cake this weekend, because we’re going to a friend’s house for dinner.

Anyway, to the point!  I’ve finally finished the iPad cases I’ve been working on.  They came out quite well, and actually do fit an iPad and even the slim leather cases people use, which was a relief.  They’re on my etsy here.  They’re made completely of wool, because synthetic fibers don’t felt in the wash, and all of the embroidery floss came from prior projects.  The maroon one has a fossil ammonite as the centerpiece of the flower, which I did a bead-wrap around ages and ages ago, and spent years afterward wondering what the hell I was supposed to do with it after that, since it didn’t go with anything.  I’m so glad to finally find a use for it.

 

The front, with a big sunflower

Fossil ammonite as the centerpiece

The pink one has books as theme

I’m working on a third iPad case as well, though slowly.  This one will be red, and so far has a flower made of recycled plastic costume jewelry beads from my great-grandmother’s stash that I painted pink and yellow with old nail polish.  For some reason I kept buying nail polish when I was younger, despite knowing that I never wear the stuff, and now I have a collection of it.  I actually have no idea why the light yellow color exists, since I associate having yellow nails with liver failure, which would lead me to say, “Can I call you an ambulance?” rather than “Wow, I like your jaundice-colored nail polish!”

 

 

Zucchini: prolific but versatile

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Zucchini is another garden vegetable (well, squash – it has seeds but is categorized as a vegetable) that people tend to end up with a lot of.  Thankfully it’s a lot easier to cook with than radishes.  In the garden, you want to wait until the zucchini is a little bit bigger than the ones you find in the grocery, but not too much bigger, as they get really seedy, woody, and a bit bitter.  Big ones can be used for frittatas and zucchini bread, where the taste is muted by other ingredients.  Below is a list of cooking styles and recipes Mom and I have been using over the past week, in order of difficulty.

This is a big wonking zucchini. Smaller than this is okay for uses where you’ll be eating recognizable zucchini. This size or larger should be used for recipes with shredded zucchini, like zucchini bread or frittatas.

Raw

You can actually eat zucchini raw, and it tastes pretty good.  I’ve been having it in sandwiches and salads lately.  They’re also good sliced and dipped in ranch dressing as a snack.  This is definitely a zucchini use where you want the squash to be a reasonable size for the best taste.

Grilled

Grilling is the next easiest way to get rid of zucchini.  You also want reasonably-sized zucchinis for this, because the seedy bits do not improve with cooking.  We barbecued sliced zucchini and crookneck squash the other day, and basted them with a mixture of balsamic vinaigrette and red wine vinaigrette.  The zucchini was excellent, but we waited too long to pick the crookneck, so it was basically a mouthful of seeds.  Ew.

Stir fry

Stir fry with onions, corn, zucchini, crookneck squash, and chickpeas/garbanzo beans.

This is another pretty basic recipe, which isn’t even a recipe at all.  Here it is: pour a few tablespoons of olive oil into a frying pan, and heat to sizzling.  Add vegetables, hardest and onions first, softest last, until each can be easily stabbed through with a fork.  Add flavorings if you’re not cooking for my dad.  Remove onto plate.  Eat.  Yummy!

Breaded and fried

Zucchini chips!

This is another quick and easy way to use up zucchini, and while tasty it’s relatively healthy.  You’ll want to use zucchini that’s not too large for this one as well.  The basic recipe involves dipping zucchini sliced into rounds in egg, coating them with breadcrumbs, and frying in oil.  Mom made some like that for Dad (he doesn’t eat spices, pepper, or basically anything that adds flavor), and then made a separate batch for us, with garlic, sweet basil, and parmesan cheese mixed into the breadcrumbs.  Yummy!  If you cook the zucchini al dente, so it stays a little bit crunchy/firm, and let it cool thoroughly, this can be put in tupperware and saved for lunch the next day with no ill effects (usually fried crunchy things get soggy in the fridge).

Zucchini bread

This was maybe a few hours after baking. Considering how much is gone, it’s obviously pretty good.

Mom has a family recipe for zucchini bread, but we wanted to try a different one this time around, since hers uses a lot of oil, and this one uses mostly applesauce instead (generally, one can substitute applesauce for oil, or half apple juice and half oil for oil to make the recipe a little healthier).  Zucchini bread is where those really enormous zucchinis should go, because all of the other ingredients take care of the bitterness, and the seeds can be pulled out when you shred the zucchini.

Cooking Light magazine’s Zucchini Bread from allrecipes.com

  • 2 cups coarsely shredded zucchini
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 cup applesauce
  • 2 eggs, or 1/2 cup egg substitute
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • cooking spray
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Place shredded zucchini on several layers of paper towels, and cover with additional paper towels.  Let stand 5 minutes, pressing down occasionally.  Set aside.
  3. Combine flour and next 5 ingredients (flour through baking powder) in a large bowl and stir well; make a well in center of mixture.  Combine applesauce, egg, oil, and vanilla extract in a separate bowl; mix, then add zucchini and fold in.  Add to dry ingredients, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened.  Divide batter evenly between 2 (7 1/2 in. x 3 in.) loaf pans coated with cooking spray.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Let cool in pans 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pans and let cool completely on wire rack.

This recipe turned out really well, though we used less than a whole zucchini in the process – Mom’s recipe uses a lot more.  This one is less oily, though, and tastes excellent.  In fact, we made this on Saturday night, and it’s probably about three quarters gone Monday after lunch.  Oh, well.  I’ll just have to make more.  We have three quite large zucchini hanging out in the garden now, even after making all these things in the last two weeks, so I’m going to have to do something about that.

Upcoming in getting rid of zucchini: zucchini frittata, Mom’s recipe for zucchini bread, and anything else I can find.

 

Getting rid of more radishes

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Well, we only used about half of our radishes last time for grilling, so we had another ten or so to deal with this weekend.

So many radishes…

Mom and I were in Beaune, France earlier in the year as a bit of a road trip after my study abroad program finished (and by Beaune I was finished with my memoire, so I could actually go out and see the city instead of hiding in the hotel room writing for hours on end), and at the hotel restaurant we had an absolutely fantastic radish soup as an appetizer, which we wanted to try.  So this weekend we did – as promised.

The recipe we used is found here, at Michelle Wright’s Blog, but I’ll reprint it for your convenience.  Photos are mine, all mine.  Mwa ha ha. 

Chilled French Radish Bisque

  • 4 C French Breakfast Radishes, sliced 1/4″ thick
  • 1 C white onion, sliced thin
  • 2 T unsalted butter
  • 1 Bay leaf
  • 1 T rounded, flour
  • 3 C Chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 1 t Kosher salt
  • 1/2 C Buttermilk
  • 1/2 C French breakfast radishes, grated
  • 2 T Lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • TT Chives, sliced (TT=to taste)

Ingredients! The lemon and radishes both came from the garden.

Wash the radishes. Remove the tops and slice about a 1/4″ thick. Slice onion as thinly as possible.

Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the onions, bay leaf, and radishes. Cook over low heat about 10 minutes. Do not brown. Add the salt. During the cooking process, the radishes will begin to lose a little of their color, and will render their natural essence.

At this point, add the flour and combine with vegetables. Pour in chicken stock and mix well. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 additional minutes, covered (important). Remove bay leaf and pour into a blender. Add a towel to the top of the lid to protect against a sudden hot splash or accident. Puree until smooth.

View of the blender. That thing is a chopstick we were using to stir.

Cool soup overnight.

Grate the remaining radishes and add a pinch of salt.

Add the buttermilk and the lemon juice. Stir in grated radish. Pour soup into frozen demi-tasse cups and garnish with chives.

Yields: 16 demi-tasse cup servings; or 16 – 3oz portions.

Recipe is courtesy of: Nick Krug’s The Red Door Farm, via Michelle Wright’s Blog

As per usual, we did a few things differently.  We skipped the bay leaf.  We used vegetable stock rather than chicken stock (they taste basically the same).  We also quartered the recipe, because we don’t really need that much soup, and we didn’t have that many radishes either.  Also, they were the usual American radishes, and not French breakfast radishes, so our soup is a little stronger than theirs.  Also, the original recipe did not specify whether or not to cover the radishes when they were cooking in the broth, so we didn’t, thinking they meant us to cook off the broth.  When we added the buttermilk at the end, the resulting soup was so thick that it stood higher on a spoon than flour would.  So we added more buttermilk until we hit a consistency of the middle range of clam chowder, and it was fine.  So while either way works, you would be well-advised to cover the pan when you’re cooking if you’re trying for the original recipe.

We also let the soup cool before we put it in the blender, since we have a plastic blender and preferred not to have a plastic puddle.  It doesn’t make much difference, I don’t think, since you cool the soup right after anyway.  We also sliced and diced rather than grated the garnish radishes, which made running into them in the soup a little more tangy than grated would have been; especially if you’re working with American radishes, you would probably be better off actually grating.

Not-grated radishes in the foreground.

On an entertaining note, this soup is a rather relentlessly bright pink, so if you’re into that sort of thing you could probably make a fancy bright pink garnish out of this.

I forgot to take a photo after mixing in the buttermilk and before eating, so I had to take a photo of the leftovers. This plus a cup is about the amount you get by quartering the recipe.

Mom and I both had a little dessert bowl of the soup, and thought it was great.  It’s also probably a similar recipe to the one we had in France, though stronger because of the type of radish we used.

Brick path and garden update

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So our house is a mess under renovation.  Since it has been for 15 years now (since we moved in, really), there are a lot of things on the to-do list.  Like getting the floor installed, that one wall plastered and painted, the furniture back where it belongs, the power tools out of the dining room, etc., etc., etc.  Etc.  Bricking a path at the back of the garden doesn’t even approach the top of the list.  Actually, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t actually on the list until yesterday.  But Dad suggested it, and it’s actually done now, so I suppose that’s a few points for us.  And it looks nice, so there.

We started with a pile of pipes and bits of wood that were for some reason behind the garden, and a big pile of sand that needed to be tamed in order to lay the bricks.

Pipes, wood, and general mess

Big pile of spidery bricks. Most are on the side yard, though, not here.

Dad came out and micromanaged helped with getting the sand flat, and brought out a level I could use.  Eventually, the sand was flat where the bricks would go and the rest of the sand was out of the way.  Or at least, not immediately where I was putting bricks.

Ready to lay bricks

We have a great big pile of bricks in the backyard, and more on the side yard that still have mortar all over them.  I think there was a plan to brick a patio in front or something, or maybe there was an idea to brick the back.  Who knows?  But anyway, all I had to do was get the bricks out of the pile and cleaned off without being bitten by black widow spiders.  Conveniently, black widows really like living in piles of bricks, rocks, or wood, so you have to be extremely careful.  I was using gloves (always do when I’m outside, since I hate the idea of spiders and their webs, and splinters), picking a brick and quickly dropping it on the ground, then attacking it with a deck scrub broom before I picked it up properly.  I got lucky and only saw about two decently sized ones, which I promptly stomped.  With probably more than necessary force.  But whatever.

Following that was just laying the bricks in place, and making sure the sand was level and the bricks were fitting nicely and all the cracks were on the bottom.  I offset the bricks only a little because I didn’t want to have people tripping on the edges.

Almost done!

After I had all the bricks in, I sand-locked them.  I’m not sure about the term, but there is a technique to lock bricks in place without mortar using only sand.  You have to place the bricks closely together for it to work, then work the sand into the spaces, and the bricks should hold together after that.  Not sure why – added friction or something.  In any case, it worked rather well.

Bricks sanded in

Sanded-in bricks should look like this. They actually don’t move.

As for the garden itself, it’s basically exploding.  The squash leaves are all about three times the size of my hand, and there’s a crookneck squash (AKA yellow squash, AKA summer squash – I use them fairly interchangeably) about five inches long, and some zucchini about four inches long.

Crookneck squash. I think it’ll be ready to eat in a week.

We’ve also got some ripe cherry tomatoes starting, though I didn’t realize until yesterday because apparently the thing’s decided to start ripening from the bottom.  You can only see them if you’re kneeling next to it and peering up into the leaves, hence the awkward angle in the photograph.

Mom’s looking forward to these.

There’s also an alligator lizard living in our backyard, dividing his time between his nest behind the lime tree (pictured) and in our compost bin, hopefully eating lots of bugs.

He looks kind of like a velociraptor if you only look at his head.

In jewelry-related news, actual jewelry work has been minimal.  I’ve been working on felted iPad covers from sweaters liberated from a thrift store, and the embroidery had been going a bit slowly.  Among other reasons, because I’ve been laying bricks rather than embroidering.  Hopefully I’ll be able to post something finished soon, but for the moment, here’s a teaser photo.

Half an iPad cover! The center of the flower is a fossil ammonite that I wrapped with seed beads, and the fabric is a felted wool sweater from a thrift store.

The internet is also on the fritz today, so this post has taken most of the day to get out.  Ugh.

How to get rid of loads of radishes

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The first thing almost every novice gardener puts in the ground is radishes, and lots of them.  They’re as close to instant gratification as you can get, with a garden, and they don’t take up much space.  Then, only twenty or thirty days after you plant, you have your radishes.  The only problem now is that you have your radishes.

A single radish, or maybe two if you have a strong stomach, in a salad is quite enough for most people.  (The French eat them by the bowl with a bit of butter, but I’m fairly certain it’s a different species than the traditional first-garden American radish.  I was too intimidated by the bowls of whole radishes at the Ministry cafeteria to try them, so you’ll have to content yourselves with my speculations.)  But you were overenthusiastic when planting your garden, and you didn’t want to waste the seeds in the packet, so you planted twenty.  Or thirty.  And the longer you leave them in the ground or in the fridge after they ripen, the more bitter they get.  But what can you do with so many radishes at a time?  Apparently, grill them. With about thirty radishes in the garden (twenty or so after a week of conscientious salad-eating), Mom and I found a recipe for grilled radishes.  We modified the recipe to be more foil-dinner, or camping, style, so you can cook these on the grill or in a campfire.  If you cook them in a campfire, do your slicing beforehand to save time.

Grilled Radishes

  • As many radishes as you need to get rid of (we had eight then)
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Slice radishes thinly into rounds.
  2. Combine all ingredients and seal in a foil wrapper.

    Camping with Girl Scouts means a lot of kids sharing campfire space for non-sharable meals (vegetarians, kosher, and carnivores), so we learned to label. Some are somewhat creative. We knew Dad wouldn’t like our alcoholic peach, so we drew a skull-and-crossbones.

  3. Grill for about 10 minutes.

    After opening the packet

Grilled radish greens

  • Radish greens (two big handfuls collapses down into about one small one after cooking)
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1-3 whole cloves garlic, to taste
  • Squirt of lemon juice to taste
  1. Remove stems from greens, but leave the greens intact.
  2. Combine all ingredients except lemon juice, making sure greens are well coated.  Seal in foil packet.
  3. Grill on the barbeque or in a campfire for 2-5 minutes to wilt greens.  Remove from foil and squirt lemon juice to taste.

Since we were making a grilled meal, we also had some corn and breaded tofu, both grilled.  For the tofu, we made our own breadcrumbs by toasting some leftover bread in the oven and putting it in a food processor.  We used balsamic vinaigrette to marinate the tofu and stick the breadcrumbs on.  For dessert, we grilled peaches, which carmelizes the peach and makes it sweeter.  Dad’s was plain, but Mom and I marinated ours in Peppermint Schnapps.

Peaches after grilling

Results

The tofu was the main course, as it were, and was good but rather bland.  The balsamic vinaigrette wasn’t strong enough to really impart any flavor to anything but the breading.  Maybe a longer marinade in straight balsamic vinegar next time. The radishes, our main test, were excellent.  They still tasted recognizably like radishes after grilling, but without the zing that makes you stop eating after one or two raw radishes.  The greens were less successful.  Radish greens are rather bitter (and spiny when picked, although the spines wilt away when cooked, so eating them is easier than picking them), so I didn’t like them much, though Mom thought they were good.  Dad took one bite and pitched the rest.  As a general note, radish greens act like spinach in that when cooked, they lose a lot of volume. So if you’re trying to achieve a set amount of cooked greens, use more than you think you’ll need.

The corn, of course, was quite good, as it’s difficult to mess up grilled corn.  The peaches were also well-liked.  Dad liked his plain one, and while I liked my part of the Peppermint Schnapps-infused one, I think I’ll have mine plain the next time.  It’s surprisingly strong, even after being grilled.  I later found that a teaspoon of the stuff is quite capable of flavoring a cup of hot cocoa, which was incidentally divine.

Next up in getting rid of radishes

Since radish greens were a flop, we will likely be dropping the greens straight in the compost unless we find a recipe for Thai-style soup or something.  For the ten or fifteen radishes remaining in the garden, Mom and I are hoping to recreate a sort of radish soup we had at a hotel in Beaune, France.  It was served as an appetizer in a little shot glass with the bread and butter, and was absolutely delicious.  We think we’ve found a recipe, so that’s our plan for next weekend.

How to get rid of lots of really, really, really ripe apricots

As I mentioned in my last post, when my family and Certain Someone and I were on vacation, driving from Yosemite to Monterey, we stopped in Gilroy for a brief wine-tasting and acquired about thirty ripe apricots. Which we then put in a paper bag and drove with in a warm car for about eight hours, not counting their brief stay in a Monterey hotel.  So when we got back home, they were really, really, really ripe.  So Mom and I decided to make jam, and she found a recipe for apricot jam and for apricot butter.

Canning is actually rather easier than I expected.  It sounds kind of mysterious, and the Department of Agriculture (or whatever) publication on the subject which we have for some reason made it sound like canning without specialized equipment is courting botulism.  But Mom’s done it before, and we managed to can four jars of apricot stuff without dying.  The recipes we used follow.

Apricot Jam from incdeb on Food.com

  • 8 cups diced apricots (we had about half this)
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 6 cups sugar
  1. Sterilize your canning jars by boiling for 10 minutes.
  2. Combine all ingredients in a large stock pot.
  3. Boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until sugar dissolves, and continue at a rolling boil for 30 minutes, stirring frequently.
  4. Remove from heat and fill jars, leaving 1/4 of the jar as head space.
  5. Wipe rims clean and put the 2-piece metal canning lids in place (we just had normal lids, so we heated them as in the next step and just tightened once the jam was good and hot, which sealed them).
  6. Process in boiling water for 10 minutes.
Apricot butter from Cooks.com
  • 4 (30 oz.) cans apricots, drained
  • 3-4 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground cloves (we just added oodles of cinnamon, since we don’t have cloves)
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice
  1. Puree fruits.  (Oops.  Our butter came out rather lumpy since we kind of didn’t notice this step)
  2. Pour into crock pot with remaining ingredients.  Cook on high for 8-10 hours, removing cover for last half of cooking.  Stir occasionally.
We put about half of our apricots into each of these recipes, so we could try them both.  We ended up with a jar and a half of jam and two jars of butter.  We had to blanch the apricots to get the skins off easily, but once we did, they came off like magic.  For both these recipes, we decided that we didn’t need near as much sugar as the recipe claims, so we used about half that amount.  I haven’t tasted the butter yet, but the jam did come out with a rather intense flavor.  Picture time!

Apricots on the right, instant apricot puree from overripe apricots on the left. I literally just scooped it out of the skin.

Peeled apricots

Apricot mush is what happens when you peel and de-seed really, really, really ripe apricots. Only fingers were used to get from peeled apricots to this.

Apricot butter in the crock pot before stirring and heating

Apricot butter ready for the jars

Apricot jam on the stove

Apricot jam in the jars!

Our compost got fed about three times that day.

So canning does take a long time (8-10 hours if you’re talking apricot butter, but you don’t have to pay attention to most of it anyway since it’s in a crock pot), but I definitely had fun, and it’s absolutely an excellent way to get rid of thirty overripe apricots in a pinch.  Whoo!

Yosemite, garden, and a new necklace

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Well, I’ve been busy since I last posted.  And I was on vacation for a week in Yosemite (and a bit in Monterey) with Certain Someone and my parents, and there wasn’t really internet, so I’m going to say that that week doesn’t count.  Anyway, I have a bunch of pictures to make up for it.

Vacation

Sentinel Dome

Above is Sentinel Dome, our destination for the major hike of our trip.  We like hiking, but we’re not really what you’d call avid hikers, so this was about as strenuous as we got.  (Both Mom and Certain Someone have wonky right knees, though Certain Someone’s is basically better now, and I had a stress fracture in my foot that sometimes twinges if I overdo it, so we try to keep to easy-moderate hikes of a couple of hours at most.  Dad’s mostly fine, though, except for his tendency to walk backwards without looking where he’s going.)

We stayed at Yosemite Lodge, and probably a quarter mile or less behind it is a shallow, calm bit of the Merced River, so we walked back there on one of the days and made little boats out of bark and twigs and grasses.  I gave one (eventually named Boomerang in frustration) an anchor of sorts to try to make the wind have less of an effect on it, but to no avail.  The thing went a hundred feet then back upstream, blown by the wind.  Ridiculous.  Fun, though.  Certain Someone and I wandered to the village and examined some shops after that – we each got a book at the Ansel Adams Gallery, and I wanted to buy stuff at the green store, because I’d like to support them, but it was all either jewelry (I make it, and don’t wear it), stuff that requires a flat surface to set it on (the house is under construction, and there is no flat space), or stuff that I could make.  Damn.

The book was very good, though – it’s Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach.  It’s what he calls a “political fiction,” rather than science fiction: he projects what would have happened if northern California, Oregon, and Washington had split away from the United States to form Ecotopia, and remained incommunicado for twenty years, after which an American reporter is sent to try to reopen communications and examine their lifestyle.  The story is written in the form of the reporter’s stories sent home to New York and his diary entries, and is a very convincing portrayal of what could have happened if Ecotopia was formed and banned cars, doing everything to reduce pollution and emissions and live lightly on the earth.  The only jarring points are a bit of rabid feminism (it was written in 1975), and the presence of typewriters.  The other posited technologies all exist now, and their use seems realistic, though they are still little used today.

After about four days in Yosemite, we drove south to Monterey, stopping briefly to wine-taste at Thomas Cruse Winery in Gilroy.  Tommy Cruse is quite mad, but he makes good wine, and Mom bought a case of various wines from him, including a dessert wine made from apricots (which Certain Someone and I though was delicious – it’s very sweet).  Cruse also showed us a vat of in-progress apricot wine, and told us to try the nut that’s inside an apricot pit, though we declined – he said it made his tongue go numb.  He also gave us a paper bag and the go-ahead to pick some apricots off his trees, which we did.  We must have ended up with about thirty apricots, and discovered that leaving thirty pretty ripe apricots in a paper bag is a really good way to super-ripen them, creating mush.  When we got home a couple of days later, Mom and I made apricot jam and apricot butter (like pumpkin butter) with the apricots.  (Next post will include recipes and progress photos, since this one is long enough already.)

We were only in Monterey for about a day, so we didn’t have much time, but we did have the opportunity to stop in a couple of used bookstores.  This time Certain Someone and I left with three books each.  I finished one on the car ride back down the coast.

Jewelry

Getting home also allowed me to get back to my jewelry-making, and I finished the piece I’d almost completed before we left.  I accidentally lumped a few seed beads together when I was packing up my last project, and the blue, silver, and copper seed beads abruptly reminded me of a Damascus sword blade.  So I made a pattern to try to imitate the effect in seed beads, and I like to think I succeeded in some degree, though my hand-drawn pattern that swaps black and silver was mind-melting to follow.

The pattern from hell. It was almost impossible to keep track of where I was, even with the sticky marking my place. I got lost in it twice at least. Also, black is represented by pencil lines, and silver is represented by black ink lines, so I had to work to keep everything straight.

Damascus-inspired necklace in progress. And yes, that’s the top of a storage bucket I was working on.

Finished product

The finished Damascus-inspired netted beadwork piece is now on my etsy here.  I think my next foray will be into some ipad/ipod/iStuff covers made from felted wool sweaters from a thrift shop.  Hopefully I’ll be able to show you some soon.

Garden

Well, I promised you garden photos, and I took some when I promised that but didn’t post them, so now you get a time-lapse from then to two days ago when I took the more recent ones.  Stuff is popping up really well.  We have kale, zucchini, spaghetti squash, crookneck (yellow) squash, radishes, spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, mint, and lemon balm.  We can already see some miniature zucchinis and crookneck squashes forming.

Two weeks ago (ish), when the garden was mostly a couple of scraggly kale plants (that big thing in front) and seedlings.

Time lapse! This is two days ago. Note the less scraggly kale on the right, the way-too-many radishes in the middle, randomly interspersed with a few spinach and lettuce, and the corn and zucchini-crookneck squash-spaghetti squash plants in back, with the giant leaves. There’s also a mint in front holding out from last year, and lemon balm in the lower right. Yummy.

No time lapse here, but this is the lemon tree.

Also, can anyone help me ID this plant? It’s a weed, it grows in sandy soil without much water, and it has blue-black berries when they’re ripe. I’ve also seen it at a construction site, so it may favor disturbed soil. Thanks!

See next post for apricot jam and apricot butter!