Summer Rolls On

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Come in! Sit down! Have a cuppa.

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Welcome to midsummer – the middle of this strangely mild season, full of foggy days, overcast skies, and a persistent 10% chance of rain in the forecast that never materializes. Obviously, as SOON AS you buy deck chairs that you quite like, the breeze decides to pick up and the fog roll in. Ah, well. Deck chairs are also perfectly useful with a blanket in the autumn and winter…This summer has also been full of annuals that are coming up for the first time since we’ve moved to this place. We’re LOVING the surprises of flowers blooming where we’d previously thought they never would.

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Since we’ve kept our gardening minimal – due to the drought – we’ve gotten our excitement out of planning for a winter garden (purple carrots! kale! kohlrabi! radishes!) and seeing a long-term plan begin. We’re growing asparagus – which is a three-year crop. You can’t really EAT them for the first couple of years, because they have to die back and reseed themselves, but the little ferny, delicate looking bright green stalks are awfully pretty. We have fourteen! T. says they’re nasty enough that the squirrels should leave them alone, too, but D. has decided to ignore the haters in the house. Our blueberry bush is not doing much this year – we didn’t expect it to really put out fruit yet, but we have high hopes for next summer. Sadly, the borage, mint, and even the roses right now have the tell-tale perfectly round bites on the leaves — we may have leafcutter bees. Honestly, we’re sympathetic to bees and are trying to be willing to give up nice-looking foliage for them, but it is a struggle.

You’ll be amused to know that D. has finally solved the issue of the jays swinging happily from the feeder and dumping it. He’s wired a brick to the base of it, and defies their little lightweight, nut-stealing selves to swing on it and dump piles of seed on the patio now. If they manage, we’ll be shocked and figure that they’ve hired a raccoon and a ladder. So far, they’re just glowering at the feeder, and refusing to eat. Typical pouting jays.

It seems impossible that the days have gone by so quickly, but they have — we’re already nearly in August, and D. is still recovered from finishing his first batch of final papers at the beginning of July for the class he taught. One more class is scheduled for August, and then he can safely say that he’ll never teach for this University again. Nothing wrong with them, just that he’s not really a fan of online education, especially the way this is set up, and, after reading a few recent articles, believes that he’s actually part of the problem in education… the huge number of adjuncts who are forced to work without benefits or reasonable pay allow universities and colleges to continue to devalue education. Since things are going well at his other job, he’s willing to give up using his PhD in the classroom for awhile longer. He’s also quite willing to get through life with never having another week of marking student essays, ever again. (Meanwhile, T. had been smugly reminiscing on why teaching the fifth grade was a much better option — until D. said “lunch duty,” and then oddly she found something else to do…)

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When we’re not having wars in the backyard, or when D’s not either grading papers or photographing the awesome that is “Cat Shirt Wednesday” at the office (no, seriously. Cat. Shirt. Wednesday. Because… you never have enough cat shirts? Or Wednesdays?), we’re still in the kitchen. D. has perfected a sourdough rye bread that he bakes in an old factory pan from Wonderbread, so it’s easily fifteen inches long. Its high sides and narrow base (around four inches) make all of the slices look “professional.” Our pan was really used in a factory, but we discovered King Arthur Flour sells shorter pans which are equally as narrow for baking gluten-free bread. Apparently even the pan shape/size makes a difference there.

D. has been using our generic (non-Silpat) silicone baking sheets for a tasty new purpose – rolling sushi. We mislaid our traditional bamboo mat, and the silicone makes nice and tight sushi rolls. Now we need to perfect the rice-making technique, and we’ll be golden. Meanwhile, T. has been taking advantage of all of the berries out this season (except for cherries, which she hasn’t seen much of yet. What’s up with that?) and is attempting to use them as part of every meal. Her goal is to make this scrumptious looking strawberry cheesecake two ways – one vegan. That means experimenting with vegetarian/vegan gelling agents – and agar powder works as long as you don’t have to have leftovers. It “weeps” too much for a really stable gelled dessert.

Some people suggest chia and xanthan gum, others cornstarch. There are options – weighing the healthiest and the one that works best is the trick! Part of the fun of these experiments is eating the flops, though. Usually…

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Recently we’ve been working on actually hitting some of the “tourist” areas in our neck of the woods. We FINALLY got to Greens Restaurant at the Ft. Mason Center in San Francisco. The restaurant has been open since 1979 (and at Ft. Mason since the 80′s) and somehow T’s family, who even lived in SF — and T., who was born there, never managed to go. We found an excuse – T’s mother’s birthday – and wandered over one misty morning — to find the Avon Breast Cancer Pink Ribbon walk going in full stream around Ft. Mason and the Marina. It was awful timing, awful traffic, and really, kind of typical SF summer weather, in that it was pretty cloudy and foggy – but the food was really lovely, and even the vanilla roiboos tea was rich and dark and smooth. T. has decided she now needs one of the little iron kettles that they serve in – no idea where she’s going to put it, or how she’ll use it with an electric range, but she’s putting it on her mental list.

Our final month of summer is drawing near, and we’ve reconsidered our trip to Scotland. We’ve waffled back and forth, but it really doesn’t seem like a good time to go. Between the cranky cabbies — who will be well cross after dealing with the fares from the Commonwealth Games, the difficulty in finding lodging — and the difficulty in staying with even people we like for three solid weeks, and the Referendum vote, it seems a poor idea. Visiting a country whilst it grapples with its place in the UK is the equivalent of going to visit friends while they’re trying to decide if they want a divorce – and some days they’re feeling acrimonious, while other days, they’re positively nostalgic and maudlin… and all the neighbors and relatives have stopped by to say their piece for or against. Oh, no. No, thank you. Scotland, our best to you as you do your housekeeping; we’ll catch you later in the Spring.

Which leaves us kind of at a loose end for vacationing. We’re thinking of grabbing a map and taking a road trip — a short one. We’ve got friends in the Midwest and on the East Coast whom we need to see – when they’re not having hurricanes – and we also have friends in the Canadian prairies we’d like to see. Decisions, decisions! Have map, will travel, though – and we’re looking forward to something completely new.

Until then, enjoy these summer days. Hope this is the loveliest day yet.

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In Retrospect – Bagels, ALA, Mongolian Food

Because looking back across the years is A Thing around here, we give you a short video of D. making raisin bagels. Five years ago today, this is what we were doing with our afternoon. (We’ve since decided that poking a hole and stretching the bagel is a better method – but, hey, we were just getting started way back then!) Lately, the siren call of poured fondant is sounding again, and T’s thinking of re-imagining a recipe for Strawberry/Blueberry cheesecake. But, since there are peaches in the house, this might have to wait… is the video as hosted on Flickr.

Four years ago today, we were at the American Library Association, in Washington, D.C. for T. to receive an award (the Coretta Scott King Author Honor Award, for Mare’s War). This reminds us of the hundreds of people, and the ease with which we got lost, wandering around the huge conference center. This year, the ALA is in a massive conference center and hotel in Las Vegas… whoever had the idea that people should flock to the Nevada desert in the middle June… should rethink. Next year the ALA Annual meeting is in SF, and T. has decided that sounds much more reasonable.

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Three years ago, we were in Glasgow, wondering about the Glaswegian version of Mongolian food (and this restaurant’s choice in matchbooks). We’d visited the restaurant during a break before performing Pirates of Penzance (which we blogged about at the time and again back in January, when we found the video footage of the performance).

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And today, we’re enjoying the break in the heat, here in California. Even at D’s office, which tends to be twenty degrees warmer than at home, it’s a balmy 25°C/77°F, and at the house it’s 20°C/68°F. The weather has remained mild and breezy for days now, which is really helping the soil to stay moist during our infrequent watering. The strawberries are producing, and the asparagus is …deciding that maybe it will come out of hibernation. Maybe. T. is working on a novel revision, D. is tinkering with things at work (and waiting for his final batch of papers for a course he’s teaching), and life is just moving along. Our worm bins are coming along nicely, we’ve solved the mystery of our birdseed being scattered in piles on the patio (the Blue Jays take turns tipping over the feeder! Politely! We have such odd wildlife around here. Oh. And we’ve been gifted with a mockingbird as well. Nothing like hearing him at 4:30 a.m., staring to greet the dawn with the sound of a cell phone), and in the garden the gourds and squash are limping along as gardens do in their first year (the soil really is horrible, having been neglected for so many years). Ivy is trying to grow through the lawn with the clover…

Just another typically disorganized summer at the Hobbiton. And, how are you?

-D & T

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In Retrospect – Mid-June Crossroads

Apparently June 23rd is a big travel day for us. No idea why (maybe the lengthening summer days, ending with Solstice), but we’ve tended to bounce around towards the end of June over the past few years. (The small voices in our heads point out that, well, we’ve just plain bounced around. Ahem.)

When we travel, though, we like to try to capture something interesting about the pit-stops along the way. Airports are the perfect crossroads, the perfect jumping-off places to any given city. Filled with slightly unremarkable art exhibits and city information, they give the traveler a chance to find where they are, and what’s unique about it, before they wander off again. Sometimes, the traveler is a little less… left of center than average, and then they end up finding pretty much only the “weird” in any place, instead of what’s carefully being pointed out… For instance, in Glasgow, “interesting” took on a whole new level one day, because, we found Good Housekeeping. Who knew Michelle Obama would be on the cover of a Good Housekeeping magazine in another country? Why does anyone care? Why do they even have Good Housekeeping outside the U.S.? Good Flatkeeping just doesn’t have the same ring…? (Additionally, why are there still even magazines with titles referring to keeping house?! Unless they put back Heloise Hints, there’s nothing about housekeeping even in there. But, we digress…)

Miami counts as a very brief stop in our “crossroad” travels in June, as the first thing we did when we got out of the airplane was to arrange tickets to leave. Truly, coming from Scotland and arriving in Miami, in June, to the boiled-flannel heat and humidity was the worst idea, ever. We have no idea how the Scots, who reportedly love to vacation in Florida, can do it – it’s such an enormous and awful weather change. And yet, most Scottish folk we met told us that they have been to or plan to visit Florida – and a large number of them own condos there. Not something we and our humidity-avoiding selves could do, no.

A June afternoon in Schiphol is just … an ordinary, passing-through, although we haven’t been there in many, many years. We used to fly KLM every time we went to Europe, even tried to save up our frequent flier miles, but, when we hadn’t flown in awhile … they expired our miles. We tried to phone, and would have had to pay a per-minute charge to even tell them why they’d lost our business…! KLM gives new meaning to the idea of customer service. :|

These final shots are from …Detroit. Do we even remember that we passed through Detroit, once upon a time? When? Why? You know, it’s very bad when you vaguely remember the place, and only really remember it because of some survey they asked for us to take (yeah – ask people survey questions when they’re jet-lagged. That’ll be coherent). If not for the pictures, we’d not even have a clue that we’d been there. Sorry, Michigan. We’ll have to give you a better viewing at some point, outside of a crowded airport.

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“…well, it tastes like peanut butter. But, it isn’t sweet.”

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Happy Summer – we ARE still alive, despite the two month lapse that somehow happened. Our roses have bloomed now three times since the season turned – and while this rose is safely in the Portland Rose Garden, we’re getting lovely-smelling ones that look nothing like it (ours are more peach shading to pink edges than white). We’d like to point out that this one is too beautiful to look real anyway.

It’s been now a year and three months since we changed the way we eat. Not a diet, not a “movement” or a “challenge;” not “clean eating” or “Paleo” or anything else with a title and achievable goals except, “maybe we shouldn’t eat ourselves into an early grave, you think?” These things are easier to leap onto when you’re feeling like sick, and easier to become zealous and self-righteous about when you look like runway models. (Looking at you, annoying celebrities writing cookbooks when you clearly don’t eat.) The funny thing is that, now that visible results are achieved — you really can’t lose three or four stone and a few sizes without someone noticing — people are eager to eat with us. We’re receiving a lot of invitations… because apparently, we look good enough to where eating in public is now safe?

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Unfortunately, most of what we’re offered, we don’t eat. Not never-ever, because we do enjoy moderate amounts of everything – but generally T., at least, since she’s most apt to keel over genetically, plays it super-super-SUPER safe and says “no, thank you.”

Pub grub? Is mostly out. Pancakes? Not even a stack of super-granola-crunchy-whole-wheat. Mac and cheese cupcakes, even the Gouda ones – definitely out (and let’s take a moment to shake our heads at … mac and cheese cupcakes. Because EVERYTHING can be made into cupcakes and NEEDS TO BE. Not). Balanced atop the stunning pile of things which we don’t, as vegetarians, eat anyway, with our food …weirdness, we’ve become the Unfun People again. Which is fine. T., at least, is generally not fun anyway, she’s cranky, and she likes it like that. But how funny that for a moment, at least, we must have looked more fun than usual. Or else, maybe the invitations correspond with it being summer? Yeah… that sounds reasonable and less paranoid. Summer. *cough* Not suspicious of anyone’s judgment here at all.

Happily, some of the people who don’t live in our heads have become helpful in us achieving our goals in eating differently. COSTCO – generally supremely indifferent to anything but providing massive boxes of Halloween candy months before the stupid holiday and muffins the size of your head – now sells our almond flour. Smaller bags than we used to order from the company in the Midwest (who helpfully opened a California store, too), but still! Even more convenience! And, if you haven’t noticed, Smuckers has jams that are both Low Sugar – 50% less – AND sweetened with Truvia AND sweetened with Splenda. T. is confident that the raspberry one is just copying the flavor of red Kool Aid for fun (how is it that everything raspberry tastes artificial? Even freeze-dried raspberries tastes suspiciously like Kool Aid… which leaves you to wonder more about Kool Aid, really, than raspberries), but wow — suddenly, other people seem to be sharing our delusion that bleached everything/high fructose corn syrup/sugar not be super awesome all the time. Imagine.

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So, Summer’s been dancing along delightfully, for the most part – we’re really grateful to live in a fogbank much of the time, and are surprised to waken mornings when we can actually see the street below our house. Despite the moderate heat, T. has killed several pots of greens and poppies so far, which means it was too exposed on the deck when she started, and the idea of winter gardening is looking more and more attractive (although the news continues to warn of the approaching El Niño cycle… ::sigh:: SOME OF US cannot win.) One superior success for this summer so far has been our little worm farm. The disturbingly large, red and burly worms in our little bin have been eating egg shells, tea bags and every vegetable matter but onions and citrus peels (too acidic) and have provided us with a horrible smelling but really nutritious “worm tea.” Our plants (that T. hasn’t yet killed, anyway) are very happy, and we’re really hopeful to continue to enrich this HIDEOUS soil in this area.

Every summer (winter, autumn, spring) day needs treats – little things that you can eat with one hand, while with the other you pull weeds around your blueberry bush which isn’t going to produce this year (unlikely) or water confused and shock transplanted strawberries (and beg the green ones to redden up) or wave away ginormous flying insects and wonder why outdoors is so…full of… things on which to inhale and choke (DAILY). T. has been cheerfully churning out kitchen faves, perfecting her pastries, and altogether enjoying herself because D. is too busy hating the stacks of papers he’s grading to interrupt her in the kitchen/save her from the kitchen. T’s actually a tiny bit reluctant in her baking, because D. has always been the kitchen king, and his love of things with noisy engines and buttons and blades sort of overshadows T’s hesitant forays into the culinary world. But, now that D.’s even been too busy to feed the ravening hordes at his office, he recently swiped a few of her cookies to hand around. She was… okay, more than a little worried.

T: “No, you can’t take those. The recipe is still In Tweak. (An official state, wherein notes are scribbled in the margins of spattered pieces of paper then shoved into random kitchen drawers and utterly lost.)”

D: “It’s just a couple for These Guys From This Trailer And Those Guys There, and one of them is even gluten intolerant. He’s allergic to everything. He’ll be fine.”


Low-Carb Peanut Butter Thumbprint Cookies 3

T. moped about for days, when one of the guys said of her cookies just tasted like… peanut butter.

You may have noticed that we mentioned “pastries” a few lines back. Amusingly, we eat more pies, shortcakes, cookies, pastries, fats, nuts, and eggs and all than we EVER did before – happily. It’s not that we don’t eat treats, but we eat treats WE make, and we really scrutinize ingredients, and there’s a lot of Tweak. Well, over time… our tastes have changed. Without noticing, because we eat so much less sugar, we don’t need things as sweet. Which means that occasionally? Our cookies are … apparently not really sweet to people.

Which T. found bewildering.

T: “But, there’s more than peanut butter in there. There’s sweetener. There’s jam in those. Regular jam, with regular sugar. You gave him the regular ones, not the Truvia ones, right? Just jam. You can’t make blackberries not sweet.”

D: “Well, he only said — “

T: “I mean, it’s fruit. Fruit is automatically sweet. What does he mean, it’s not sweet. They’re COOKIES. Did you tell him they were vegan? Is that it? People are always so hostile to vegans.”

D: “Oh, were these vegan? Huh. Well, anyway, he said — “

T: “It’s YOUR fault. I told you those cookies weren’t ready! Now nobody likes my food.”

Fortunately, D. knew better than to pursue conversation with the irrational. Finding lemon scones on the counter some days later, he ganked a half dozen for the ravening hordes which were cherished and passed around and hoarded and everyone said very sweet things about a professional baking career, and “best scones EVER IN THE WORLD,” so some of our egos are finally somewhat mollified. *cough* Until next time.

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Have a cookie. No, HAVE ONE. What, you think I can’t tell you hate it? What? Oh, you’re allergic to peanut butter? …oh. No. I’m not trying to kill you. No, really, it’s fine. We can just sit here and watch the grass grow and have water. Oh, look, a squirrel…”

Posted in Baking, California | Leave a comment

Around and About

It’s really been awhile since we’ve posted anything, and it’s not because we haven’t been up to anything, either. No excuse, really, other than life rolling by, without even pulling the pictures from the cameras. Well, D. finally got around to going through all 1,200+ photos he’d been dragging his feet on working through, and we can finally tell you a bit about the past few weeks (with pictures).

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Two weeks ago, on the way home from church, we happened to see a bunch of sailboats coming up the bay. So of course we had to go grab the big camera & hope to catch them before they were out of sight. We present to you: sailboats with oil tanks. Thank you.

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Last weekend we were in Portland, visiting our friends N&K (who came to visit with us in Scotland, and whom we visited when they lived in Holland). All of you other friends: this is a hint to travel to interesting places. Like, for example, places with pretty volcanoes in the distance.

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Of course, Portland is very proud of being weird. Hence this guy, geared up for the naked bike ride (we don’t know why he’s clothed, no – but we’re kind of glad he didn’t embrace the “naked” in the “naked bike ride”).

Portland has lots of interesting architecture, strange but nice people, and is difficult to negotiate with a car. Apparently their public transit is quite good, though. It was Fleet Week, so there were sailors; there was a rose parade; we saw waterfalls. It was a very busy weekend!

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Also: there were lamprey.

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-D & T

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Raspberry chocolate chips

Raspberry Chocolate Bar 1

…well, they were supposed to be raspberry chocolate chips. Somehow, they never got to the “chipped” stage. They were nibbled and tasted and outright hoarded, and then, they disappeared into rich, chocolate cookies – there was no “chip” about them. But, they started out life as a ginormous hunk of baking chocolate.

We’ve always tried to eat seasonally, which for us means not splurging and buying strawberries or tomatoes or whatnot in the middle of winter. When a season is over, it’s over — there’s not much sense buying something which is three times as expensive as usual and tastes horrible anyway. There’s always frozen and canned stuff to fall back on, especially with things like berries. T stocked up on frozen, but decided to see if she could do something with freeze dried. Honeyville claims that their freeze dried fruit, hydrated, tastes fresh. Not to do a commercial, but it’s surprisingly close, and these were on sale. T. decided to experiment. (As usual.)

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We used our lovely 1940′s double-boiler – and this thing heats up FAST. As soon as the water boils in the lower pot, be wary. These aluminum double boilers have to be taken off of the heat almost IMMEDIATELY, or your chocolate will seize. Word to the wise there!

After adding a third cup of sweetener and some very hasty stirring, our chocolate forgave us for being too warm, and got glossy and pretty – so we dumped in a load of very dry and crunchy, freeze dried fruit. And it confused the chocolate entirely. T. stirred and stirred the mixture, and then we dumped it out to set.

And, it wouldn’t set.

And, it wouldn’t set.

And, even an hour later, it wasn’t even remotely firming up, and T. threw up her hands and said, “So, you think I could just stir this into cookie dough, and it’d be all right?”

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And, then, she wandered off to bed, and forgot she’d set it on the dining room table, until the following morning after breakfast… when she went in to put it away…

And it was solid. Lumpy, and not really as well-tempered and shiny and good-looking as store-bought chocolate, but it was done. The flavor was semi-sweet, and the raspberries added a sharp, tart-sweet and tasty note.

They never ended up being used for their original purpose, but it was a good reminder of how easy it is to make one’s own chocolate bars… you can control everything going in – how sweet it is, if it has peppercorns, nuts, or coconut flakes, if it’s got coconut milk, dairy cream, or no milk at all… sometimes, it’s just a lot easier to do it yourself. Meanwhile, we’ll be looking for what other trouble we can get into…

Posted in Baking, California, Food, Life | 1 Comment

Life & Color

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Just out of their hot soak in vinegar and vegetation.

A joyous greeting of the season to you – especially to our dearly beloved in the North, who may just now be getting the faintest hints of green fuzz on trees… We are today hefting pickaxe and hoe on the incredibly-ridiculously-oh-good-grief-REALLY!? hard clay soil of our garden space, covered, as it has been, with black plastic in someone’s SUPER-lame attempt to kill the stupid ivy. Yes. Well. It didn’t work.

At any rate, whilst we worked, T. had some experimental eggs soaking away in natural dye solutions. Pille explained how to do it with onion skins, but T. had forgotten that egg and skin need to be boiled together, and opted to simply do a hot vinegar bath. The rest of the ingredients she assembled were chopped red cabbage, chopped chicory root, turmeric, and, the perennial favorite, beets.

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Interestingly, the colors changed as they dried.

Dyeing with natural dyes is tricky – not just because it’s messy (all dyeing is messy; fact, you live with it), but also because there’s the niggling suspicion that one is wasting food. If you can, plan ahead and save ends and bits of prepared veg for this project. Certainly start collecting the onion skins WELL in advance.

The chicory created an intense, deep brown, and because we used it chopped and buried the egg in it, the texture is very mottled. Turmeric is reliably yellow- butter yellow, from a quick bath, or a mustard shade, for longer exposure. T. impulsively dipped a scarf in the chicory/turmeric mix and the dye actually heat set. She was unsurprised, considering how hard it is to get curry stains out of shirts.

The chopped red cabbage is our favorite. Instead of producing a red, the delicate, robin’s egg blue is just gorgeous. We may try frozen blueberries another time, for a deeper blue. We have plans to try the onion skins again — and like their streaky/mottled browning effect. The beets are a reliable pink, as were our fingers.

We love the colors. We would (and will) dye boiled eggs with natural dyes for no particular reason except that they’re beautiful, for the rest of the season. After using natural shades, synthetic ones just aren’t really as visually appealing.

♦♦ ♦♦ ♦♦ ♦♦

Today we found a nest of what we think were California Slender Salamanders beneath a rock under our lemon tree. We put them carefully back (they didn’t even want to stick around for pictures, they were completely freaked out) and just marveled at how alive our backyard is suddenly becoming, sans black plastic… unfortunately alive, in terms of the ginormous spiders invading, and the Norway rat we saw cruising around beneath the birdfeeder, (who might have found his way indoors, oy), but life is life, eh?

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Exuberant, joyous rebirth to you.

Posted in Arts & Crafts, Food | 2 Comments

Serendipitous Spring

“If you have a garden and a library,
you have everything you need.”
~ Marcus Tullius Cicero

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Spring has sprung, the grass is riz… and now we know where all the flowers iz…volunteering in our front yard! We were a little shocked a few days ago when we discovered that the greenery we thought were perennial Agapanthus that never sent up flowers are, in fact, irises. We oohed and ahhed like… well, like eejits, really. Our neighbors must think we’ve never seen a flower before.

Of course, the neighbors are probably used to the madness by now. The noise level outdoors has risen, as T’s been crowing her victory over Sidney and …Sonia Squirrel. (Oh, yes. The squirrels are multiplying. We now have four, but at least two of them, probably Boris and Natasha, haven’t hung around long enough for their names to be screamed in fury… “Bad squirrel! No! Stop digging!” – As if that helps. They’re as bad as really smart, tree-climbing dogs…). The feeder has been moved now TWICE, because little rodent brains work feverishly, and they’ve managed to outsmart the humans three times, but this time it looks like the opposable digits crew won. We know we’ve won because, at long last, we’ve seen ACTUAL BIRDS visiting the feeder, as opposed to large hanging rodents… We’ve identified Nuttall’s Woodpeckers (or Downy’s — it’s hard to tell, and they won’t sit still for photographic proof just yet) and a pair of Lesser OR American goldfinches — once again, they’re not quite comfortable enough with us not to bolt every time they hear us moving toward a camera. The combination of bird baths and bird feeders has proven to be irresistible — and we really thought the birdbaths would be just something the sparrows enjoyed. Who knew we even had goldfinch in the neighborhood?

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(We’ve amused ourselves with the realization that our birdbaths look a great deal like a pair of poppies we admired earlier in the Spring. Weird synchronicity, that.)

Meanwhile, the roses are blooming their hearts out, surprising us with a few blooms from the rootstock, even – fully different colors and sizes that expected. Even a tiny, dry set of twigs in the back that didn’t produce before has sprouted a single, brilliant peach rose. This year, the yard seems to provide a little surprise around every corner… fortunately all nice surprises thus far. (We’re looking at you, Boris and Natasha. What else have you buried in the yard??)

D always jokes that T. has a natural taste for “nuts and twigs,” based on how she was raised (Shout-out to the vegetarian-vegan-wheat-grass-drinking, alfalfa-pill-providing ::shudder:: tofu-touting parenti!), so it’s no wonder that she actually likes rye bread, despite the fact that for many people it’s kind of …on the Bleh And Avoid list. Much to her unbridled glee, she’s now supported in that “like” by a nod from various nutritional reports. The Whole Grain council has rounded up the lot here, but the bottom line is that rye bread can really help support the cellular work in the endocrine system, and if you’re pre-diabetic or suffering from an inflammatory disorder, whole-grain rye can help.

(There are a LOT of people who preach the gospel of “reversing” diabetes, and “curing” yourselves with rye, and we’d like to just duck, so our endocrinologist can give those people a big dose of stink-eye without us in the line of fire. *ducks* Thank you.)

Look: we have no idea about that – and don’t send us argumentative email about it, either. We’re not saying that rye cures anything, nor are we touting any particular Huffington-post-quoted doctors, or Dr. Oz (please not Dr. Oz!). We’re just saying that rye has been shown, over time, to enhance insulin secretion, indicating a possible improvement of β cell function, which is saying that your pancreas is doing more of its job making insulin.

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The irony was discovering this AFTER starting a rye sourdough starter. (Which, in its earliest stages, smells …floral. Not sour. Floral. While this is weird, it’s …kind of nice, because sometimes a starter crock can have quite a pungent smell.) Our local bakery has quit carrying the sourdough rye we liked, so we’d decided to do our best to recreate it — so far, we’re working on getting the bread to RISE properly. While our first loaves were not pretty in terms of “traditional” bread, they were beautiful bannocks! A little more work with dough conditioner and gluten, possibly some oat bran, and we’ll see ourselves to rights. Eventually. At least it’s delicious whether it’s pretty or not.

One rainy afternoon, T. decided to start the garden… early. She may yet repent of this notion, as the kitchen sunroom floor is hosting a great many seedlings which may need to be repotted before finally being put outside. We were happy to find a really good use for the plastic “clamshell” packaging on the apples from Costco; they make nice little greenhouses with their plastic lids, and are quite reusable. Now that many groceries are switching to plastic egg cartons, they also make a nicely reusable starter for small seeds.

The gooseberries and Alpine strawberries have miniseeds, which have produced equally teensy seedlings, so staying indoors for awhile longer might be just fine for them. We’ve never grown either, and have a lot of hopes for them — the poha berries, or cape gooseberry, is allegedly a very simple plant to grow, and Alpine strawberries grow wild in Northern Italy — in the cold, in the dry, and in the wet. T. is sure she’s going to kill something so has planted nearly all of her seeds of each plant… which means that we may, in fact, soon have WAY TOO MUCH of everything. Isn’t that the way it goes, though? Ah, well; better too many gooseberries than too many zucchini… although, that’s probably going to happen, too.

The kale and jicama have produced surprisingly hearty, thick-leafed seedlings, and of course, the cucumbers and birdhouse gourds are making a break for freedom already and trying to vine, even with only two leaves… thing just might get interesting, here…

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“Every flower must grow through dirt.”
May you ignore the fertilizer, put down roots, and thrive.
Happy Spring!

Posted in California, Gardening | 1 Comment

Squirrels, 1; Birds, 0; Humans, Peeved

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“So, the steel mesh bit…”

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“…is just for me to hold onto.”

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Super convenient restaurant, bro.”

Dear Sidney Squirrel.
– The Humans

Posted in California, Life | 3 Comments

[in just]/spring

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With apologies to e.e., around here, the world is not mud-luscious. It is buzzing, and if you go out the front door, the greedy, tiny, flying pigs will not whistle far and wee, but will divebomb your innocent head and make rude and aggressive “move along” noises at you.

Ah, well. Mud-lusciousness will revisit briefly at the end of the month, according to the long term forecast, as March is almost required to come in like a lion, and then calm the heck down. We’ll see. The last week of the month always throws us a weather curve ball this time of year (and, since Virginia got snow on St. Patrick’s Day, East Coast, we are feeling your pain. Metaphorically, at least.) Meanwhile, while we contemplate perfect sunshine, floods, or thunderstorms, we picked up some super-early strawberries because that chia is still calling us. (And thanks to all the people who have emailed to say they’re trying and liking this mix. It is really good, super quick, and opens itself up to many interpretations.) Imagining making a quick-set jam with it — all those lovely nutrients giving you an additional excuse to spoon it… a jam to which you don’t need to add extra sugar to make it gel… But first, T went off on another experimental tangent.

Our friend L., known to two very short, tiny, opinionated ladies now simply as “Poppy,” has tons of good stories about “back in the day.” We tend to enjoy those “back in the day” tales about food – our Uncle P., may his memory be a blessing, was full of those, and it led to many a happy Sunday recreating recipes from the 1940′s. Last weekend’s “back in the day” tale had to do with teacakes.

Teacakes (variation, “tea cakes”) are A Southern Thang, that is, one of those things which a.) originally didn’t have a recipe (no matter how Ms. P. Deen wants to tell it), and b.) was invented out of necessity – either scarcity, or some useful cause that has been lost to time. T’s father, once upon a time, used to make teacakes, and they were, unlike the sugar cookie varieties that one sees all over the web under the same name, rolled yellow cake, sometimes fragrant with vanilla, leavened with baking soda, and about the size and thickness of a halved English muffin. They were sweet, with a slightly soda-tang, and the tops would sometimes slightly brown and dimple.

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T’s father usually made these beauties annually on the 12th of Never, so T. can only recall having them once or twice in her childhood, despite begging … and now, after years of nudges and suggestions for her father to recreate the dish, he can’t remember the recipe. Oh, the wailing! (T. feels it important to point out that she believes his coyness to produce the Super Seekret recipe all those years has returned karmically to bite him in the backside.) Fortunately, there are other less coy members of his generation who do remember.

Though T’s father grew up in the panhandle of Florida, and Poppy was at least a part-time resident of Oklahoma, their variation on tea cakes are close to the same. Poppy’s grandmother’s teacakes were really test cakes for her oven, which was wood-fired and probably didn’t really heat evenly until it got going. She took cake batter – yellow cake batter – and made small, palm-sized test cakes, which an adoring grandbaby was only too happy to test for her.

As others have said, variations abound in the teacake country, not to mention the world. Originally, teacakes were measured with tea cups – actual, bone-china tea cups. Many old recipes use those measurements, which is where our plain old “cup” measure originated. T opted against using her antique (mismatched and beloved) china for this! Of course, any teacake coming from The T&D Test Kitchen will be not “authentic” Southern at all, despite D. having been born and living for ten minutes Murfreesboro as a teeny-tiny infant (apparently “Southern” doesn’t count if you can’t focus or speak). To add further to the “inauthenticity,” we introduced the abomination of chocolate chips!! But the teacakes themselves were tender and tasty and, piled with strawberries, a harbinger of things to come.

Chocolate Chip Teacakes

Preheat oven 350°F/170°F

  • 2/3 C. almond flour
  • 1/3 C vital wheat gluten
  • 1/2 C of shortening, butter, or margarine
  • Chocolate Chip Teacakes 1

  • 1/4 C sweetener – “Fake” or sugar
  • 1/2 Tbsp. vanilla
  • 2 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp. chocolate extract
  • 1/4 C chocolate chips, optional*
  • 2 Tbsp. almond or coconut milk, (opt)

As always, begin by greasing your pan, and turning on the oven. You’ll need a sturdy spatula to blend your ingredients. This dough comes together like a shortbread and/or pie crust – the liquid is only there if you really, really need it – we didn’t, but it’s an option. It’s important to combine your dry ingredients – flours, gluten, salt, sweetener, cornstarch – before you add shortening, or it may combine unevenly. T. started with a spatula, but gave up in the end, and just used her hands.

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Add your chocolate chips LAST. We used Barry Callebaut’s Sugar Free 52% semisweet from King Arthur Flour, but it’s really easy to make your own sugar free chocolate morsels, and you SHOULD. These bad boys are expensive. Our only excuse at this point was a lack of time. You’ll also note we used chocolate extract. An extract of chocolate is made the same way vanilla extract is made – alcohol infused through cocoa beans. It’s got a fairly strong alcohol note, and it can be as overwhelming as too much vanilla – moreso, really. BE CAREFUL and MEASURE. Like liquid smoke, too much extract is not one of those things you can take back.

One of the great things about this is if you’re a chocolate chip cookie dough eater – there’s nothing in here you can’t eat raw. Don’t, though, because that’s gross. You can opt out of rolling this cake and bodge the whole thing in a cast iron skillet. Bake it for forty-five minutes, check its progress, and tack on another fifteen minutes, with checks at five minute intervals. You’ll want it a lovely golden brown, but don’t let it go too far! Note that D. wedged it into servings before baking. This really helps in the quest to get it out of the pan!

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In case someone wants to argue with us and call these shortbread… Mmmm, okay. Chocolate chip shortbread, whatever. Traditional Scottish shortbread doesn’t contain baking powder, but you can call them what you want. The “cornflour” or cornstarch will help give the nut flour a velvety mouth feel and a richness typical for shortbread, but you can leave it out, if you choose, or substitute the same amount of rice flour, which is what commercial shortbread bakeries use.

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The important thing is to imagine how you’ll eat them.

Happy Spring,


P.S. – We tried that soy whipped cream, which we found at our Raley’s, on a whim – it’s vegan and though it contains sugar, it hadn’t got much. It’s not half bad at all.

Posted in Baking, California, Food, Life, Recipe | 1 Comment