Saturday, July 31, 2010

Entomological interests

I love bugs. 

When I was in the 6th grade I had a very cool teacher who had a meticulously organized insect collection.  Each insect was carefully labeled with its name and where it was collected.  I decided to emulate her and create my own, with which I took first place in the science fair.

To this day I remember a particular experience with a predacious ground beetle (an inch-long black beetle common in the Pacific Northwest).  Friends of mine down the street found it in a puddle and brought it to me.  Because it was already dead, I mounted it on a pin and put it on the back porch because my mom wouldn't allow the box of dead bugs in the house. 

About an hour later one of the legs started to twitch.  "You must have hit a nerve," my mom assured me.

Another hour passed to find the beetle twirling in circle on the pin like some sort of macabre carousel animal.  That wasn't just some weird nerve twitch.  Nope - that critter was full-on alive. 

I still love bugs but I haven't put one on a pin since that science fair collection drew to a close. 

Every time a Monarch butterfly flutters by I stop and stare, wishing it well on its long journey.  When the gorgeous three-inch-long blue dragonflies whisk around my yard in the afternoons I cheer them on, knowing that they're helping to manage the mosquito population.

But I especially adore bees.  Even though one of my earliest memories is of being stung by a bumblebee when I was about 2, I still love them.  I often find them warming up in the morning sun because they didn't make it home last night.

I would love to get a beehive someday, wouldn't you?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Front yard

It's official.  The veggie garden on the parking strip is a wild success.

The tomatoes are so gorgeous and lush that the basil I planted under them never had a chance.

I turned my back on the tomatillos (back, left) for a week and they went from about 8" tall to nearly 3' tall.  They've grown several inches since I took this pic last weekend!  The celery (rear right) is growing well; it was another experiment.  This weekend I'll rip out the lettuce and bolted spinach.  The leeks - middle left - are coming along very well, though I think they need more dirt.

The potatoes grew so big that I had to stake them up to protect the adjacent plants.  Our cold, wet spring stunted much of the garden so that when the heat finally turned up some things, like the parsley and peas (front) bolted instantly.  Oh well.

Anyone going to want some yellow squash?  I feel a bumper crop coming on.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Berries and more berries

The farmers market had half-flats of berries for $12.  I selected raspberries, boysenberries, loganberries, and blackberries, then carried them the half-mile back to my office.

The boysenberries, which I'd never had fresh, were soft little pillows of delicious juice that burst in your mouth.  They were heavenly and made me forget all about the raspberries!  Look how luscious they are. 
From left, the cast & crew of my dessert are: Logan, Black, Boysen, and Rasp.

My intention for the half-flat was this recipe from, which we were taking to friends' house that evening.  Alas, their little girl got sick and we rescedhuled for another night.

I decided to make a smaller one:

My verdict is that this was good but not blow-my-skirt-up-amazing.  When we finally connected with our friends for dinner I took whipped cream and berries for dessert.  Now THAT made us all groan!

I'm dreaming of this week's berry offering at the market... [dreamy sigh].  Please please please have boysenberries today!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


I've tried to grow artichokes for 4 years, sometimes from seed and other years from starts.  Always in the back yard.

It appears that this year's $2.50 artichoke planted in the front yard looks to have been worth its price, with no fewer than 5 chokes on it!

Happy dance!

We're officially giving up on the backyard's veggie garden.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Dog + Chickens

While we haven't yet committed money nor signed a contract with her breeder, it's pretty certain that we're keeping Rosemary.

How do you deny a face like this?

Or resist this stubby little body?

Rosemary is fantastic with the chickens, all things considered.  She's a very sensitive dog and has been very well trained.  It takes very little correction to stop her from chasing or even really looking at the chickens.  I take her with me every time I go into the run to let the girls out of the coop or lock them up for the night.  She's on a short leash, of course, but it's going well. 

The chickens are starting to trust that she's not going to eviscerate them, though the Polish are still easily spooked due to their limited vision.  Overall the girls have really relaxed when she's nearby.

Here are a few of them watching Rosemary last weekend.  They're alert - you can see that several of them have their necks are slightly extended - but not freaked out.  Some of them pretty much ignore her, which is what we want.

Here's Dozer, our barred Plymouth Rock, watching Rosemary explore the yard. 

They definitely give Rosemary lots of space.  If she moves too fast or in an unpredictable manner they're pretty quick to get away.  In this pic she was more interested in eating the grass than getting after the chickens.

Last weekend she pushed the gate (pictured above) open while I was cleaning the chickens' waterer.  Granted, Beaker was able to push the gate open when she was broody, hence the bungee in all the pics.  I turned around to see her in with the girls, just hanging out.  Gah!  I shooed her out as fast as I could without scaring the girls and any potential crisis was averted.
We'll continue to monitor the chicken-dog interactions very closely so that we don't get complacent.  As good as she is with the chickens so far, she has still shown interest a number of times in chasing them when they spook.  That could simply be her herding instinct - corgis are herding dogs, believe it or not - but she hasn't earned our trust with the girls yet. 

In time we'd like Rosemary to help guard the hens and keep them in their area of the yard.  But for now the interactions are strictly monitored.  Chickens, who don't tend to flock in the same way that waterfowl do, might drive a herding dog bonkers.

For now I'll be happy if I can get her to stop eating the chickens' crap!  I've never had a dog who is so interested in other animals' fecal matter. She's either eating it or rolling in it.  Bleh!

But she's still pretty darn cute and she's a pretty darn good dog.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

McDonald's rant

Last week I started to see tv commercials and billboards promoting Mcdonald's food as "local".  There are pics here of some of the billboards in the Seattle area. 

In today's paper there was a full-page ad about this.  You can see the full copy here.  A direct quote:
[W]ithin Washington state itself (...) close to 95 of every 100 fries (are from Washingon potatoes). To put that in perspective: It’d be easier to find someone who doesn’t like ice cream or puppies than a french fry in Puget Sound that wasn’t made from a Washington potato.
No they di'int!  They played the puppy card.

This ad campaign has rubbed me the wrong way ever since I saw the first blast.  But I haven't been able to say why without blasting holes in my own belief system about buying local.

Is McDonald's food local?  Yes, some of it was grown in Washington.  That's got to be good for our economy, right?

And I promote eating local foods in part because it supports the WA State economy.

So why, then, does this whole "from here" crap irritate me worse than sand in my ass crack?  I want to scream every time I see one of the ads, but why?

I support local agriculture for many reasons.  Puyallup, the town next to mine, was once a sleepy farming community that was known for its luscious berries and fine produce.  Now it's widely recognized for its strip malls, warehouses, and housing developments.  There are only a handful of berry farms remaining in the valley.  When I buy berries from Puyallup farms I am helping sustain a way of life that will be paved over unless people support it with their money.  Money talks.

Berries were once such a way of life in Puyallup that there's a bronze statue of Ted Picha, an early berry farmer.

I've recently befriended Lisa, co-owner of Lucky Pig Farm (ironic name noted).  The meat I've bought from her, which she raises in Tenino, is spectacular and very reasonably priced.  Granted, the prices are higher than Safeway but lower than other local pig farmers.  Today I asked her if she has any kielbasa and she said that she was toying with the idea of making some from the next pig to be slaughtered, which is this week.  I bet she'd save some for me if I asked.

I have decided to purchase pork exclusively from Lisa.  Lisa gives me ideas for how to use the meats they raise and I know that she raises animals responsibly on her 7-acre farm.  Lisa recently told me that they only raise a head of cattle every other year because doing so is very hard on the land.  I believe that she's a good steward of her land because her family depends upon the health of the land to make a living.

I'll write more about Lisa and her adorable son, Calvin, as soon as I can remember to take my camera to the Sunday market. 

Getting back to my point about the "from here" campaign from McD's...

I realized that what "eating local" means to me is being close to your food, understanding where it comes from, eating foods that are minimally processed, and supporting sustainable environmental and economic practices.

Potatoes are healthy until they're deep-fried.  But McD's doesn't just fry the potatoes.  The fries have more ingredients than you can count on one hand.

Apples are a wise choice until you dip them in caramel or wrap them in a trans-fat-filled pastry whose ingredients list sweeteners 4 times: "high fructose corn syrup, sugar, sugar, brown sugar".

Fish is great until it's highly processed, breaded, fried, and served smothered in cheaply made tartar sauce.

Eating foods that you've raised yourself or bought as close to their original form as possible is always the best bet.  As soon as Mega Food comes into the picture, the nutrition goes out the window, even if the food was raised within a day's drive of your front door.

Just because it's "from here" doesn't make it "local".

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Vote for your favorite farmers market

I voted!  Have you?

Local Food and Local Farms

More pictures of Rosemary & the garden coming as soon as I get them off the camera.  I'll have plenty of yellow squash to foist upon give people pretty soon!  And artichokes, oh my.  Can't wait!

Did anyone else get the Simon & Garfunkel earworm from yesterday's post?  I've had "Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme" in my head for d-a-y-s.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010





And thyme.

We got a dog! 

Her name is Rosemary and she's a 4-year-old spayed champion Pembroke Welsh Corgi.  Her owner & breeder decided not to breed Rosemary so was looking for a home for her.  G-man and I have always wanted a corgi and now that I'm no longer commuting it's possible to have a dog.  He's taking her to work with him and on days she stays at home, I'll be able to run home at lunch to check on her.

The next thing we'll be working on is to make sure she doesn't kill a chicken.  We're keeping them well separated while she adjusts to being in a new home.

The cats hate her.  And us.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sunday morning in the yard

Quiet mornings in the garden make me happy.  I'm always up around 7 on weekends and like to sit in the backyard before the neighborhood wakes up.  The finches and dragonflies flit about in search of food and the hens coo from their run.  It's so peaceful and calming.

All I need is a pot of tea, my newspaper, a freshly baked scone from the freezer, and a fresh fruit salad with homemade yogurt.

Here's some of that infused vanilla honey I made a while back.  It was so good in the black tea! 

That's my great-grandma's Hall streamline teapot from the late 1940s.  The sugar and creamer that match the teapot are Starbucks, circa 2005; green bowl, Paris, 2001.  While I visited my great-grandma several times in the nursing home as a child I never knew her.  I was just 8 when she died.  My grandma says that I'm a lot like her mother, who shared my love for urban chickens, gardening, and entertaining.  Apparently she also loved dishes.

Oh.  I think Rudy wants something...

Now he's happy.

Friday, July 16, 2010

When it's too hot to cook is one of my favorite food blogs.  Deb's recipes are fresh and vibrant.  Most of her stuff is desserts but she does branch out into the savories from time to time.

Last week she posted this recipe for mango slaw with cashews and mint.  Since it had been too darn hot to cook, and G-man was at a Mariners baseball game, I made it for myself.

Regretably the main ingredients are not grown locally.  At all.  The only local things were the mint and onion, which came from my yard.  I added some frozen shrimp to make this a main dish, had it with some chilled wine, and voila: a no-cook summer dinner perfect for 90-degree weather.

My dining entertainment was provided by, well, nothing.  Here are my carrots and potatoes, neither of which is having a stellar season.  I suspect both will be cancelled for the 2011 season (i.e. we're going to seed 1/2 of this bed with grass and move the rest of the veggies into the front yard).

As for the recipe, it needed a little oomph.  I think it was missing fish sauce because it lacked that certain je ne sais quoi for which Thai cuisine shines.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Chocolate Angel Food Cake

I don't really like wine.  Really.  I only choke it back for one reason: to have a place to cool angel food cake upsidedown.

I must go through 2-3 cooling bottles a week.  Ahhh... the sacrifices we food bloggers make.

Seriously.  I hate wine.

Our next-door neighbors invited us over for a BBQ last weekend.  The men kept themselves busy with the meat.

Even though we're not eating the girls' eggs right now, we still have a respectable inventory of them.  Since angel food cake uses about 12 egg whites and we also had a ton of local berries, I made this:

Buddy wanted some, too.

Chocolate Angel Food Cake recipe

Note: I made it without cake flour and it was fine.  I also forgot the cream of tartar.  I did like the use of almond extract, something I hadn't seen in an angel food cake before.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The mother lode

Some time back I went to my cupboard to pull out the red wine vinegar only to find this:

What?  You can't really tell what that is?  How about a closer look.

It looks like something from a horror film, doesn't it?  And that's just my prune-y fingertips!

Most people would be totally grossed out at this and curse the vinegar maker.  Not me.  I'm weird.  I got all excited: I think it's a vinegar mother!  A "mother" is the bacteria culture that's used to convert a fermented liquid into vinegar.

My old office had several bottles of wine that had been sitting around in a hot closet for too long to be any good.  I brought it home and scrawled "vinegar" on the label so I wouldn't drink it.  Thank God for that because about 2 months later I went scrounging for some wine and nearly opened this.  Believe me - it's NOT worthy.

About a week ago I divided the wine between 2 jars, put a piece of the mother in each, and put them in my pantry.

A few days after I did this, the mother in one of the jars is floating.  I'm taking that as a good sign.

By the way, I found this website to be very useful as I was thinking about making my own vinegar.

Apparently it can take up to 6 months to turn white wine into vinegar.  I'll keep you posted.  In the meantime I'll have to prevent my hubbie from throwing away what looks like urine samples with some nasty goo in it. 


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Fruit fly trap

Fruit flies are an annoying fact of life unless you keep everything in the fridge.  And since tomatoes get disgusting in the fridge, it's highly possible that you are battling fruit flies right this very moment.

When I'm canning lots of fruits, fruit flies are an absolute menace because I generally don't keep the fruits in the fridge for the day or so it might take me to prepare to put everything up.

Here's how to make an easy, natural, non-toxic trap for fruit flies.  I got this "recipe" from a vendor at a farmers market a few years ago and have used it ever since.  During my canning periods I can catch upwards of 40-50 in a single night.  This is an incredibly effective method to catch and dispatch these flying pests.

You'll need:
  • small glass jar (8-12 ounces)
  • apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar might also work
  • 2 drops of dish soap
  • tap water

Pour about 1/2 inch of vinegar into the jar.  Add a couple of drops of dish soap, then fill the jar to the top with tap water.  It doesn't matter if the water foams.  Place the jar next to your problem area.

Why does this work?  Fruit flies are attracted to the fermented scent of the vinegar (you won't notice it).  They land on the surface of the water to feed but because the surface tension has been reduced by the addition of the soap to the water, they sink like teensy pebbles.

In my experience the traps work indefinitely.  When they get unsightly due to their effectiveness, dump the liquid and start a new trap.

Problem solved.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Independence (from imported foods) Day

Time got away from me and I didn't get a chance last week to show you the yumminess that we enjoyed on the 4th of July!  It was, except for condiments and minor ingredients, an entirely grown-in-Washington meal.

We had brats from Cheryl the Pig Lady. (note: I've since found a closer supplier of pork and befriended her.  I'll post a blog about her soon!)

The sauerkraut is from my garden last summer.  In fact, I had an accident with the food processor shredder blade while making this particular batch and suffered a very deep cut in my right thumb. It was pretty bad... and then it got worse with an infection.  Even now, a year later, I still don't have full feeling in the pad of my right thumb.  

Lesson: use both hands to remove the blade from the food processor.  Respect the sharpness.  I'll make more sauerkraut this fall when my cabbage is ready.  And I'll be super careful with that food processor.

Those are local grape tomatoes, and lettuce from our garden, topped with a homemade raspberry vinaigrette.  I made the raspberry vinegar last summer and the honey was, of course, local, too.

Look at this warm German potato salad!  The pickles were from my last jar of dill pickles that I made 2 years ago, the parsley was from my yard.  Does the mustard I used count as local if my friends who brought it from Germany last year bought it in Germany and presented it to us as a gift?

Yes, the irony of German food on the American Independence Day isn't lost on me. 

We also had local corn, a distinctly American feast.

About 3 hours later we were ready for dessert, which was a royal treat.  I made my favorite lava cakes from  They're so bad but so good.

I topped the cakes with even more terrible things: a modified (read: "somewhat healthier") version of this vanilla ice cream and homemade hot fudge sauce.

Notice how yellow the ice cream is?  That's due to the deep orange color of our girls' egg yolks right now, caused by diets rich in bugs and greens.  G-man thought I'd made lemon ice cream!

Let's get back to the potato salad for a minute.  Last summer 2 friends visited from Munich and taught me how to make a true German potato salad.  They bickered back & forth in German like an old married couple as they made it, cracking us up.  If you don't like dill pickles, leave them out: this was a serious point of contention between the 2 Munichers, who couldn't agree whether pickles were authentic.

Warm German Potato Salad (recipe vaguely adapted from one found at

4-6 large-ish red and yellow potatoes (waxy type)
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1 small onion, diced
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons spicey mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1/2 medium-sized dill pickle, diced

1. Place the potatoes into a pot, and fill with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, and cook for about 20-25 minutes, or until easily pierced with a fork. Drain, and set aside to cool. Once cooled, cut into thin slices and put into a large bowl.

2. Place the butter and onion in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook until the onions and butter are brown.  Remove from the pan and set aside.

3. In a small bowl whisk the butter-onion mixture with vinegar, water, mustard, honey, salt and pepper.  Adjust ingredients to get the desired level of tangy sweetness, then pour over the potatoes.  Add pickles if desired, then top with parsley.  Serve warm.
Because of a lack of highly perishable ingredients this recipe will keep well for a BBQ.  It can be chilled then brought to room temp quickly in a microwave.  Leftovers are great if heated slightly.