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Archive for June, 2012

I live in Oregon. Come the end of Summer, i will be surrounded by blackberries. Along the road, in the yard, in the neighbor’s yard, along the river: blackberries! It’s hard not to pick and pick and pick and fill the freezer with bags of berries. It is hard to use them all up, at least for me since i don’t cook many sweet things. So, after last year’s harvest i ended up with a few bags of berries chillin’ in the freezer until just a few weeks ago. I needed to make some room for the cuts of ram meat i was bringing home, so i defrosted one of the bags of blackberries for snacking.

Defrosted blackberries do not have much taste.

What to do?! I decided to make some syrup! I do not have a food mill, so i squished the soft berries through my pasta strainer and poured the juice into a small pot. Since i have no animals currently, I threw away the berry chunks and later wished i’d saved them to try and make vinegar (anyone have experience doing that???) I have no experience making syrup, so i scrim coached: Berry juice, a tiny bit of sugar, a hint of cinnamon and some time i simmered until the juice had reduced quite a bit. The resultant syrup wasn’t exactly syrup, but it was certainly thicker than juice and was GREAT over oatmeal, yogurt and goat’s milk ice cream.

I think i’ll actually PLAN on making syrup this year… but will need a recipe. And a food mill. Who has a great recipe, that hopefully doesn’t include more sugar than fruit? I just can’t handle much sugar.

If you have a berry great syrup recipe, please share!

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All “Gussyed” Up

For those of you who don’t know, the husband and I own a small dog grooming business in the little town near our house.  March 25th marked 10 years of being in business!  When we first opened, we had 3 fur babies- Gus the silky terrier (and namesake of our shop), and Roxy & JoJo the boxers.  A few months after we opened, one of the girls from our local vet office called to tell me there was a great dane at a nearby shelter.  She knew I wanted one soooooooo badly, so I left work early that day to “go look at him”.  Of course, the husband wasn’t surprised to find me pulling in the drive with a large Harlequin passenger!

Needless to say, a lot of things have changed since then…  Not long after we added our 4th dog, we found out we were expecting our #1 skin kid.  We sold our house, and lived in a studio apartment behind our shop to cut expenses as we built our clientelle.  A few years later, things started getting a little cramped in our tiny apartment, so we bought a forclosure and worked for several months to make it livable.  After spending all of that time and hard work fixing up our new house, I went to see one of our client’s bouvier des flanders puppies, and of course, decided i couldn’t live without one of them!  A few weeks later, Velma was added to our zoo!

As if 5 dogs and a 2 year old weren’t enough, the next few years brought #2, #3, and #4 skin kids, along with the loss of Carl, the great dane.  (I still cry when I see a great dane.)

Some of the positive aspects of having our own business are that the husband and I get to work together, we get to bring our dogs to work, and we get to bring the kids to work.  Some of the crazy and stressful aspects of having our own business are that… you guessed it…. the husband and I work together (can get ugly sometimes!), we get to bring our dogs to work (although they mostly stay home these days), and we get to bring our kids to work (which can be really embarrassing when they start screaming and fighting when I’m checking in a dog or on the phone with a customer!).

One of the other “benefits” of my work is that I can groom my own dogs.  Having 4 dogs at this point in our lives, it really saves us a lot of money.  The problem is, most of the time we’re so swamped with our clients, that our poor dogs have to wait until I can squeeze them in!  That’s what happened to poor Gus last week… it’s been at least a few months since the last time he was groomed.  He is a single coated dog, so he normally doesn’t shed.  With the warm, dry weather we’ve been having, he was almost blowing coat like a double coated breed would!  He also had dry skin, and was brown instead of grey from all of the dust in the air (from the lack of rain in our area)!  Talk about feeling like a horrible mom!

If it was up to him, he would never get groomed again!  He absolutely hates it, but has learned to tolerate it as a necessary evil of life…

He felt much better when he was done!  Gussy will be 14 in October.  He’s starting to show the normal signs of aging, but he still takes his job of bossing everyone around very seriously!

Did I also mention that I also give the boys haircuts at work?!  (Talk about redneck!)  It is hilarious to see people’s faces when they drive by and do a double take at the little boy sitting on the grooming table getting his hair cut!  My next victim will be Velma the bouvier…. hopefully sooner than later!

 

 

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I volunteer for a large system of community gardens in Chicago– 664 plots at four sites. I see a lot of poor cultural practices when it comes to watering, so here’s some tips for proper watering, especially if you have raised beds:

 How to tell when the plot needs water
The surface soil is not an indication—unless you have mulched (which is a good idea, more below), the top inch or two will always dry out in the absence of rain. Dig down about two knuckles deep. If the soil there is dark and even slightly damp, give it another 12 hours and check again. Soil should not stay muddy, wet, or so damp that it’s hard to dig through with your hand—this is too much water. If the soil is dry a full finger’s length down, it needs water.

How much water should I give it?
Rule of thumb is 1” per week (NOT 1” per day as a gardener suggested to me a few days ago). Based on a very unscientific watering test in my backyard, this seems to be about 8 to 12 gallons (4 to 6 watering cans full) for your 4x8ft bed.  I would err on the side of too much water if you know there is no rain in the forecast. Rain counts—if you get an inch of rain, you don’t need to water. If you get a half inch, you don’t need to water as much. Watch the weather report.

Where should I water?
Water the base of the plant. But this does not mean “only the base of the plant.” It means “don’t water the leaves.” Water ALL of the soil, not just the area immediately around the plant. Remember that the roots are spread out throughout the soil. Watering in just one spot will encourage the roots to stay there, where the water is. Make the plant work a little to get a drink.

Why not water the leaves?
Especially on hot days, if there is water on the leaves it can actually burn your plant. Further, leaves get their water from the soil, relying only secondarily on the humidity in the air. Don’t be alarmed if your plants are droopy in the midday heat—they are conserving water where it counts—in their roots—and letting the extremities suffer a little. If you come back in the evening, they’ll be all perky again.

Seeds and seedlings
Seeds need to be moist, but not soaking. The problem is they are in that surface area that dries out. Once you water seeds, you have to keep that top couple of inches damp until they sprout. If you water them too much, however, they’ll just rot. If they germinate and then dry out, they’ll die. Be aware of how long it takes seeds to sprout—it’s different in different plants, so you can be aware of how to water. Water your seeds shallowly and your seedlings deeply.

Puddles
If you’re getting puddles when you water, either you’re watering too fast, or you’re watering too much. Watering cans deliver a lot of water in a short amount of time, not giving the soil time to absorb it, so it just pools on the surface. Water very slowly, and wait a few minutes between cans of water to allow it to seep into the soil. Use the spout cover; don’t remove it so that you can water faster. Especially on hot days, water sitting on the surface of your plot is just going to evaporate.

Should I water after a rain?
If it rains a full inch, you’re good for a week. Do the finger test a day or two after the rain, and keep in mind the weather. If it’s especially hot or windy, the soil will dry out faster.

Sprinklers
I confess. I water using sprinklers when it’s really dry like this. But I have a large garden (23×70 feet) and crazy curvy beds making a drip irrigation system nearly impossible. If you water with a sprinkler, do it in the early morning. When we’re getting adequate rain, I barely water my very mature garden at all because the plants themselves hold the moisture in the earth just fine. When I do water, I use cached rainwater, and yes, I carry the watering can back and forth. It’s good exercise.

Mulch
Yes. Nice mulches are: mushroom compost, cocoa shells (remember not to use cocoa shells where dogs, ducks or other precious critters might ingest it. I’m not so concerned about the squirrels and wild rabbits), leaf mold, “black forest mulch” (shredded leaves and wood). Do not use peat moss (water will run right off of peat moss, defeating the entire purpose, plus it’s not a renewable material), pebbles, bark, or wood chips. Once your plants are large, their own foliage becomes the mulch and helps to hold the moisture in the soil.

Best time to water
Water in the early morning or early evening (but not too late. You don’t want the sun to go down on wet foliage). If you water at the height of the midday heat, a lot of the moisture will simply evaporate and your plants won’t get the full benefit of what you’ve given them.

What are your best watering tips?

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Sunday Photos: Herbs

Herbs.
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One memory of growing up was going outside to snip some chives for my mom. I loved the job and I always loved the purple flowers on the chive plants too. I also loved the round hollow freshly cut stems with that distinct “chive” smell. Well, that apple (or chive blossom) didn’t fall far from the tree. I (Sincerely, Emily) grow chives. I actually have many chive plants throughout our gardens. I have common chive (Allium schoenoprasum) and flat garlic chives (Allium ramosum) and a lot of other herbs in between.
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What herbs are growing in your garden?

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Officially, summer is here. I sort of laughed out loud with “summer” arrived. Really? I am ready for fall. No rain in sight and things are getting super crispy around these parts. Harvesting anything has been sort of a joke. It gets frustration to water and water and watch and wait and then watch many thing never produce. I have pulled out most of the garden and I shake my head because many of you are just starting to harvest things. I am trying not to get to frustrated, but at this point, with two dry springs/summers and terrible springs gardens I am seriously thinking about only gardening in the fall and winter.

I know spring will roll around and I will get inspired, but it’s also hard when your winter garden is still growing great and you are still eating from it. Now I wish I would have just left the winter garden go as long as it could.

To keep my spirits up, I am going to share some nice photos. Photos that make me smile.

I hope they make you smile too.

How is your garden growing this year?

Sincerely, Emily

P.S.  I will be “unplugged” from technology for a few weeks, so you will not see you comment appear until I plug back in and get back in the swing of things. I look forward to reading your comments and will respond to each and every one of them.

You can see what else I am up to over at Sincerely, Emily. The topics are varied, as I jump around from gardening to sewing to making bread or lotion and many things in between.

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A very common reaction I get when people first see my garden is, “wow, isn’t that an awful lot of work?” They say this partly in admiration, but there’s an undertone of criticism sometimes– yeah you’ve got a gorgeous garden, but look what you have to do to get it.

I’ve been trying to imagine someone with a hobby or a livelihood that isn’t “a lot of work.” Do you jog or work out? Sing in a choir? Tutor on the weekends?

Wow, isn’t that an awful lot of work?

First of all, if I didn’t do a lot of work, it wouldn’t look like it does. Secondly, I enjoy it, and sometimes I get paid for it. I don’t really think of it as “work.”  I think of it as something I need to do to get the result I want– a beautiful garden, personal satisfaction, admiration, food.

Having grown up on the Puritan east coast, I am more suspicious of someone who doesn’t have a hobby or beloved activity that isn’t a lot of work. Whether it’s cooking meals for your family, or the homeless, tutoring your kids or others’, jogging to stay thin or teaching yoga so others can do so, the “work” we do by our own choice and on our own time is not just physical labor or drudgery, even when it is. It’s what keeps our spirits healthy and the holy close.

Most of us spend hours and hours doing “work” that brings us only pay, and not fulfillment, or fun, or well-being.

I like to lie on the beach as much as the next guy.

Okay, no I don’t. But I like to read, and shop, and go hiking; have drinks with a friend or toss a ball to a dog, or just sit on the porch and admire a flower. But I also like to “work”–to sweat and labor for something wonderful.

So yes, it’s a lot of work. Join me sometime.

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Pink is the symbol of universal love. Pink can bring calmness and relaxation to you life.  You can use pink in your life when you want to neutralize disorder or when you are looking for acceptance and contentment.

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I enjoy all the different shade of pink in different flowers and plants growing around my parts. The wild flowers were particularly beautiful this spring and I saw a lot of wild phlox growing right along the roadside south of town. One of my water gardens has beautiful pink water lilies (when the deer aren’t eating them!) I have posted a few more pinks over at Sincerely, Emily.

Wild Phlox

first waterlily of the season (March 2012)

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You really can’t be too creative with pink if you’re a gardener. It’s all about the flowers. Somewhere along the line, most of my (Xan) ornamental border turned pink (although you can see the tiger lily buds about to throw some orange into the mix.)

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My pink was found in a fresh salad: strawberries, french breakfast radishes, and canadian bacon all on top of mixed greens, all from local farmers. I’m loving the bounty of Summer. Finally!   – Miranda/ Pocket Pause

Tell us about the pinks in your life!

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Heat. Cool. Incubate.

Those are the three steps it takes to make yogurt at home. That’s it! You don’t need a fancy yogurt maker, a dehydrator or mail order starter cultures. All you need is a pint of REAL yogurt, a gallon of milk and some jars. And a heating pad or oven or crock pot. I use a heating pad and will give directions using that tool, but you can use whatever method you like to incubate your yogurt. More about that later. To start with, wouldn’t you like to eat THIS for breakfast, knowing that you made the yogurt and picked the berries yourself?

We’re lucky here in the Willamette Valley to have such good quality, and inexpensive yogurt available at the grocery store. Nancy’s yogurt is “real” yogurt, with no added sugar or thickening agent, and plenty of probiotic critters. The same cannot be said for most yogurt found in the grocery store. If you’ve read a yogurt label recently, you’ll know what i mean. I recently purchased some Tillamook yogurt, thinking that they’re a great, localish dairy and make wonderful cheese so their yogurt MUST be good, right? No. Upon reading the label (after i got home, woops) i found gelatin and other odd ingredients that have NOTHing to do with yogurt. Disappointing. Don’t even get me started on the other name brand yogurts in all manner of wasteful one-time-use packaging. Shudder. Eating and feeding our loved ones ‘real’ food, full of nourishment and lacking unhealthful ingredients is important, and making/serving homemade yogurt is a great way to do just that. And it’s really easy. And frugal. And waste reducing. Here’s how to do it!

To start with, here are the tools you will need:

  1. A large pot. Your soup pot will do just fine. It must be large enough to hold a gallon of milk with at least an inch of headspace.
  2. A meat thermometer.
  3. A heating pad (or crock pot, or oven, or dehydrator, or yogurt maker. I prefer a heating pad.)
  4. Some clean towels.
  5. Clean jars, pints or quarts.
  6. A canning funnel.
  7. A ladle is helpful.
  8. An immersion blender is a luxury.

Other than those basic tools, you will need 1 pint of starter yogurt and 1 gallon of milk. My starter was a pint of Nancy’s plain non-fat yogurt, and my milk is local Junction City dairy, Lochmead Dairy’s 1% milk. A fuller fat yogurt starter will make for a thicker, creamier homemade batch. Use your favorite.

Homemade Yogurt

  1. Pour the milk in the pot and slowly heat to about 180 degrees. Keep the burner at medium high or below. (I’m still playing with this high number to get the best yogurt, but this has been my starting point since i started making yogurt. Try heating to a lower temp, but never allow the milk to actually boil. Different high temps will make slightly different yogurt. Experiment!) You can tell it’s at about the right temperature because the milk will get ‘foamy’ on the top.
  2. Cool the milk back down to 110 degrees. I like to immerse the pot in the sink with ice and water.
  3. Once cooled, add the pint of yogurt and stir really well. This is where that immersion blender would come in handy.
  4. Pour the inoculated milk into your jars. I usually start with the ladle and then pour right from the pot. Stir occasionally and top off each jar with the ‘dregs’ from the pot to evenly mix the starter.
  5. Place the jars on a towel on a heating pad set to medium, unlidded and wrap snuggy with several towels.
  6. After 1 hour, turn heating pad down to low and go about your day.
  7. After 7-9 hours, unwrap the jars and behold the magic: YOGURT! Lid and stick in the fridge to enjoy for the next several weeks.

I’ve been making my own yogurt for years, though took quite a break since i moved from Austin to Oregon. I’m finally back on my yogurt making schedule, and make a new batch every 2-3 weeks depending how ravenously we’ve been consuming it. To see some more pretty pictures of my yogurt, and follow my other adventures, head on over to Pocket Pause.

Do you make your own yogurt? When did you start?

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“Mom” is Mei, my mother-in-law. After literally decades of resisting to teach me how to cook like the old country (China), she up and calls me so she can come over and show me how to make lo bak gao, Chinese turnip cakes. Who knows how her mind works.

I picked her up and brought her home, where she was aMAZED to find out that we have rice flour. Yes, Mom, Chinese people live here, of course we have rice flour.

You have to understand that my mother-in-law is VERY old country. She does not hold with new-fangled inventions like vegetable peelers to peel the lo bak (daikons or Korean radish). “Take off too much! Scrape with knife! Is better!” She also wouldn’t let me use my grater, instead insisting that I chop the lo bak with a knife because “too much cleaning up.” Of course, then she criticized the size of the pieces– too big! Yes, Mom, if you let me use a grater to, um, grate the vegetables then they get, how can I put this…,um, grated.

My mother-in-law does not let anyone in very often. It is very difficult to get her to talk about the old country, where she lived through two wars, may have been a bartered bride (we’re a little unclear on this), and spent many years as a refugee. But every now and then she decides I need to learn something, and we get to sit and work together. The stories come out, and she answers questions about China and her childhood.

Sadly, her lo bak gao is not very good. I now know why. She wouldn’t let me salt the water (but then complained that the finished product needed salt). She wouldn’t let me grate the vegetables. She used hot water to create the batter (this makes it sticky). She let the batter sit too long (ditto). Here is the modified recipe:

Toisanese Lo Bak Gao (Turnip cakes)

1 large Lo Bak, Daikon, or Korean Radish
1 Chinese sausage (This is a very fatty, sweet, pork sausage. Get these in Chinatown. The ones from the specialty market are not the same)
1/2 c. pork, any cut, cubed
1/2 c. each rice and corn flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups cold water
Salt to taste

Peel and grate the lo bok. Boil until soft in a large pot of SALTED water. Drain and set aside. (I may do a test to see if I use this water for the batter, if that helps the texture of the finished product– someone experiment with this for me!) Cube the pork and sausage, and saute in a large pan in a tablespoon of vegetable oil. Add the lo bak and saute until very soft (pictured is the cubed lo bak–this is not cut small enough). The lo bak should be well coated with the oil and drippings from the pork and sausage.

Oil or spray a square or round baking dish, and fill to halfway with the lo bak mixture. Set aside. Mix the flours, salt and cold water to form a thin batter; pour over the lo bak until just covered.

Steam until firm, about 15 minutes. I use a vegetable steamer from the Chinese market; you can also steam them in a wok with a steamer insert, or just rig a large pot or frying pan.

Allow to cool. Cut into slices or slabs and eat as is, or you can brown it a little by frying it lightly in oil for a minute or two.

We had left-over lo-bak mixture and used it the next day over rice with a little soy sauce. Delicious.

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We are surrounded by blue. Blue is the color of the ocean. Blue is the color of the sky. It can make you feel calm and cool, or dramatic and dynamic.

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There are so many shades of blue, all of them beautiful. You can see more blues posted over at Sincerely, Emily.

Lapis Necklace

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At Xan’s house, looking up, blue sky.

Looking down, blue ceramic drum in a patch of blue fescue.

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