Monday, March 31, 2008

pw's apple dumplings

No original material tonight. Just a HUGE thank you to Kassidy who cooked her own "welcome home" dinner... I know, we (her friends) will be reminded of this night for a while, I'm sure.

And, Kassidy, our own local cowgirl - or is there such thing as a lambgirl? - baked us yummy dumplings from the Pioneer Woman's cooking blog. Trust PW when she says you might eat the whole batch in one sitting.... they're beyond delicious.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

augh! aphids! scary!

augh! graduate school portfolio! due tomorrow! scary! 

(This was the alternative title for the post, but you're probably more interested in aphids than the last three years of my academic adventures.)

Aforementioned aphids have taken over my starts.  At this point, it's undecided whether the handyman's raspberry soil played the part of the culprit - we're suspicious of a lot of things now...

Nevertheless, my dahlias had some friends when I checked in with them this morning...

So, the handyman and I ran around squishing the bugs, and, for the record, I considered it quite the ethical dilemma and carried on an extensive conversation in my mind about whether or not the greater good would forgive me for squishing bugs just to save my starts... I heard my starts cry out to me and decided I was in the clear.  

Though it was more efficient to squish with one's fingers, it made me itch.  (Ever had a lice outbreak at summer camp?  Lice or not, your head itches for weeks... just looking at those little green suckers was enough to bring my nails to my scalp more times than would be socially acceptable.)

But then, we realized it was going to take more than tweezers to solve the problem.  Out came the sticky-soap insect-killer.

Still, I fear for the souls of my thumbelina zinnias...

I would make some kind of war analogy, but I am at a loss. I can not fight the good fight and submit my portfolio in time tomorrow - the aphids may feast on my zinnias and bachelor's buttons and tomatoes until I am freed up for battle. In the interim, the above solutions are not sufficing, but we will prevail! 

Or the handyman will deal with it while I work... 

(Suggestions welcome.)

Friday, March 28, 2008

tomato buckets and power tools

Remember the handyman's upside-down tomato plants?

Well, it just so happens that I get my own this year. I'll have two simple posts with hooks on either side for four buckets. There's a new plan for the holes in the buckets - we decided to make them larger to allow for sticking in larger starts or fitting a couple of patio princesses in there. I suppose we could have started the tomatoes in the buckets, but using power tools was much more fun...

We should give those of you who know me a moment to laugh here.... AND have another.... Done? Okay.

For the rest of you, I'll catch you up. My history with power tools has not been uneventful. As a little girl, I had visited my father where he worked in the hospital and saw a man sitting on a gurney with one hand holding another hand that was missing some fingers. How many? I don't know - I just saw the end of an arm wrapped in bloody gauze. My dad leaned over and whispered in my ear, "That's what happens when you stop being afraid of power tools. He almost cut his hand off with a chainsaw."

Ah, it's so easy to scare small children. My dad was the champion. It's easy to confuse them, too. Are chainsaws power tools?

With that fear firmly planted in mind, yesterday the handyman handed me the drill and said, "Drill some holes, woman!" (Okay, he probably left out the "woman" part.) I managed the holes fine, but had to have some coaching on using the electric saw to cut out the rest of the opening. I will say that despite my whining and complaining, the handyman made me do them by myself, so I'm giving myself credit here. I did them. By myself.... Even though there's no picture to prove it.

Cutting his small holes into larger ones.

I like that you can't tell in the picture that my holes are misshapen. Throughout school, my art teachers all said a lack of symmetry was interesting. I plan on having the most interesting tomatoes. Ever.
In the picture above I'm hammering the sharp edge of the hole so that the plants, and my fingers, don't get cut at any point during the transfer or eventual upside-down swinging in the wind. It also creates a little bit of a lip so that a small amount of moisture is retained.

You also might be interested to know that I'm wearing three fleeces and can't feel my bum. Smart, huh?

Because it took a month of Sundays to cut and hammer my holes, the handyman helped me get the labels off with a heating gun.

Since his were old and the opportunity for peeling had long since passed, he decided it was a good enough reason to get out a blow torch. I really really wanted to use it, but the handyman scoffed at the idea of me burning his labels. (If you can't tell, I think it would have been much better to stick the torch in my eager paw than give me an electric saw... but who am I to question his judgement?)

Well, Dad would be proud. The fear's still there, but there was no blood, no lost fingers, no corneal abrasions. And, I think the final products turned out just fine.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

quick greenhouse update

I know I've already posted today, but I thought I'd add a quick picture update before I take off to do something fun and exciting that I'll definitely share about tomorrow (hint: it has to do with tomatoes).

Speaking of tomatoes, the patio princesses have all shown up:

The petunias still look good:

The thumbelina zinnias came up really fast. (I've got some summer cutting mix and burpee's giant mix that have come up, too, but they were having a bad hair day and didn't want their pictures taken).

These little guys looked like four-leaf clovers not too long ago. I wonder if cabbage is anywhere close to the clover family...

This is the first of the morning glories, and its almost here.... (insert comically strained voice over "almost.")

This is the handyman's new pet project. He pulled a mission impossible and snuck along the neighbors' fence to get grape shoots which he rolled in root hormone and stuck in dirt.

(Okay... so Gibson gave him permission, but it's much more fun to imagine him sneaking around... He and I DID stage a mission impossible over there last year though. During a barbeque, we snuck from the handyman's house across the street, crawled on our stomachs military-style past the barbecue with all the extra sunflowers, and planted them in his yard. Took him several days to notice. Totally fun sunflower sabotage.)

adventures in bread-machine bread-making

A few months ago, after the first batch, I asked myself, "How could bread-making go SO wrong?" I'm clumsy and I'm careless, but, seriously, the things that have come out of my breakmaker have been so far from edible that I decided Leigh's chickens would probably turn their beaks up at the mere suggestion that my mistakes were to be consumed by them.

That is, until the handyman figured out we were using wheat flour that was WAY too heavy. The paddles stop turning when the motor reaches a certain temperature, and even though the machine proceeds as though all is well, all is certainly not.

So, after three inedible loaves and a threat to return my parents' Christmas present back to it's home, I now have new flour and a new outlook on this precious machine.

Since I'm still finding my way with this machine, I'm sticking to simple wheat bread and pizza dough recipes. (okay, the handyman did the pizza dough, I'm still in the wheat-world.) But, once I get this down pat, I plan on taking over the world, or just my town, with loaf after loaf of yummy creative bread.

Your average wheat bread ingredients (our grocery store has things like gluten, yeast, and milk powder in bulk - those are the round plastic containers):

Stuck in the machine. The dough got underneath the paddle and baked itself into the bread. More funny than problematic.

Waiting for the knife...


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

the dog parade

I should say up front that though I can't match the quality of photos or narrative, I was inspired by the Pioneer Woman's Initiation of Hamilton. After checking out her page, I wanted to take my camera on a walk with the dogs. Usually I'm running, and it's not entirely comfortble to have an expensive piece of equipment bouncing round my neck or in a bag or in hand. Luckily, Marnie wanted to go for a walk so I had extra incentive to do both today. She's working on her comprehensive exams for her PhD, and her dog lost an eye last Friday - it's been a tough week. A quick walk did us both some good.

Four leashes, six different walking speeds, several bathroom stops, and we were finally at a point where we could let them run free.  

Our cast of characters includes the very photogenic, of course, Myosotis:

Next, there were Emma and Stevie. Stevie always made it to the ball faster than Emma, no surprise. Stevie wasn't quite sure what to do with the ball once he got it, but he always knew the one who got there first was the winner. After scooping up the ball in his mouth, he'd trot around like hot stuff... I think he just liked having a pretty lady chase after him.

I figured it wouldn't help his ego if I were to share that all Emma was thinking was, "Give me the ball. I've got to have the ball. Please? Can I have the ball? Just for a second... I really need that ball. Gimme the ball. Ball. Me. Give me the ball."

Lastly, the star of our show was the one-eyed wonder, Buddy:

You can see he's... um... only got one eye now. But, along with that eyeball, he lost a pretty big brain tumor, so we're all cheering for little Oyster Breath (affectionate nickname... the dude's 14 years-old, so I suppose he's allowed some seriously bad breath.)

And, then there was Marnie. I've noticed that I seem to take pics of friends with hats on and the brim just causes trouble with shadowing the face.... So the best shots are with their heads down... Oh well.

Monday, March 24, 2008

every day's like Christmas around here

There's bread in the breadmaker, and I made mom's mac and cheese for a pot luck last night - but instead of updating you on the details of what's been going in my belly, I'm going to give you updates from the greenhouse. From yesterday. Which means everything probably looks totally different, but I'm pooped and this will have to do. When it comes to that greenhouse and the Burpee catalogue and the Lowe's and my fingers in all that dirt, I feel like the kid in the candy store that just can't get enough and then collapses after the sugar-high crash only to rouse herself a few hours later to devour candy bars and twizzler sticks and red hot fireballs ALL OVER AGAIN. It's crazy, but it's so so much fun.

That's all of it minus the three trays of gerber daisies, confelowers, and holly hocks that I started on the last two trips out there. I'm tempted to list everything we've started (I'm keeping a garden journal to document my gradual disconnect with reality), but I'm too embarrassed that you'll judge the girl who knows little-to-nothing about gardening for her over-indulgent seed-planting. And I figure if I write in third person, you'll never know who that is...

I will give you a list of what's sprouted though: patio princess tomatoes, dahlias, petunias, lobelias, oregano, cabbage (golden acre - the reds haven't done anything), romaine, leaf lettuce, and geraniums. Once the starts poke their first leaves through the soil, I draw a diagram of the tray in my journal. That way, I can track what's been there for a little while and what's brandy-new. After hearing my excitement level sustain itself in squeals day after day, the handyman commented, "Every day's like Christmas around here." It's true. It's better than Christmas. Those seeds are so tiny. It's amazing to think that anything can grow from them at all!

The dahlias are getting bigger.

The lobelias will need to be thinned soon, I guess. These were seeds that I shook haphazardly on top of the container - almost like salting a big ol' plate of potatoes. Looks like I got a little close to the side of the tray. Have I mentioned the tininess of it all?

The handyman took some raspberry starts and threw them in a bucket with some random dirt. If "random" doesn't raise flags, the caption for the last picture is. "Hey, I think there are aphids in here."

(The raspberries were quickly moved outside and to the handyman's home where he said words of magic and sprinkled fairy dust to make them all better... Or something like that.  I'm still learning.)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

green tip #1 - get a pig

No, this is not some George Clooney suggestion for a pet. The pig I'm referring to is quite different.

Our lovely town used to recycle glass, but when fuel prices went up, it became to expensive to drive it to Bozeman (at least I think that's where it went).

And, though I am not a big drinker, my passion for all things food-related includes microbrews with meals. The end of the glass recycling program put a big damper on my Bayern Dancing Trout with bison burgers or Big Sky Mooose Drool with pizza. I just hated tossing bottle after bottle into the garbage. There are some places that offer a few varieties of high-quality beer in cans, but I quickly grew tired of the lack of options. It's like being forced to eat one flavor of ice cream for months - I couldn't do it anymore!

Ah.... but then a solution presented itself. Many breweries offer pig services, and there's one just a few blocks from my house called The Kettlehouse. Their Double Haul IPA is great, the Coldsmoke is fantastic, and the Lake Missoula Amber absolutely delicious - the amber being a favorite around here. All of which are often offered in the pig.

Now, to explain this whole pig-business. The pig is a reusable beer container that holds 2.25 gallons at a time. Everything stays fresh and comes out carbonated via a self-inflating pressure pouch. Unlike growlers which come in large juice-like, glass containers (but are also reusable and a good idea if you don't want a pig taking up residence in your refrigerator), the pig lasts as long as you need it to.

Without further ado, here is a pig:

This particular pig has been living in my fridge since early December. Unfortunately, I haven't been around much the last few months, and the handyman has been under the weather and not drinking as much when he's over here. So, I do think I've found somewhat of an expiration date - three months might be a little long to let that pig sleep in the cold box. Tonight I'm swapping this one in for a new pig.

Because, after you put down a deposit (ours was $20) for your pig, you take the empty back and trade it in for new one that runs about thirty bucks. It's a little pricey up front, but you don't end up opening more beers just because you want a little more. Instead, you go fill half a glass from the pig to enjoy with the last few bites of that lasagna...

Friday, March 21, 2008

more winter wonderland


I awoke to more snow this morning.  It's not really enough to shovel the sidewalks - my least favorite chore.  But, there are a few of us eager to dig in the dirt a bit, and snow just makes that a little more challenging.

Here's what our part of the earth looked like this morning:

After morning chores at the greenhouse, I decided that this Friday was a perfect day for an omelet, homefries, and decent coffee. So, I skedaddled over to Food for Thought for breakfast to go, and enjoyed nibbling while I had to sit at the computer this morning.

No new starts have poked through the dirt yet. Just in case you were wondering.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

a bicycle built for two

So, I'll start with a quick picture of Kit and myself at Bernice's this morning.  I almost cropped the top portion of the picture, but the handyman deserves a little attention - his facial expression says it all.  (Though he has been caught smiling at little bundles of joy in the past, it is a special occasion almost as infrequent as the sighting of a dodo or ivory-billed woodpecker or some other such rare bird.)

And, as the title suggests, there is a tandem bicycle in my life.

It is no secret that I was quite wary of bicycles until recently - everyone knows I'm terrified beyond all reason or logic. As the scenery rushed past me and my yellow cruiser during the first days I owned my bike, every push of the peddle brought me closer to the patch of oil or distracted driver or faulty street light that was surely going to be the demise of both me and my cycling career.

No disaster occurred, and a year later, I can actually breath deeply while riding even though I'm more cautious than I suspect I need to be.

But, then there's the "divorcycle." No, the handyman and I are not bethrothed and not planning any such occasion, but the tandem has earned much cursing with this particular nickname. Maybe I will share some of the funnier, more embarrassing moments later, but for now I will conclude this post with the season's first ride on the tandem.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

a baby in the greenhouse - part II

I know I psyched a few people out with my last "baby in the greenhouse" post, but this time is different... These really are MY "babies," and I am so proud of them!

The handyman and I went to the greenhouse early this morning - 'round seven o'clock. Then, I drove him to class, and since I've been out of town for the past two days for work, I promptly took my over-traveled self to the couch for a nap.

I should also admit that during my last report I mentioned that the geraniums had germinated. Not so. I didn't check my garden journal, and though I remembered the dahlias and geraniums each had their own but also shared one tray, I forgot their exact whereabouts. I actually have four or five dahlias, not geraniums. That's okay because the geraniums just take a little longer... they'll be here soon.

Now I need to show off my "babies." First are the dahlias and then there is one pic of a teensy-weensy petunia. The petunia probably has ten or twelve little friends who have shown their little leaves, and I am thrilled. Since these aren't actually children, I have no problem saying that, above all other starts, the petunias are the cat's pajamas, and if they die, my heart will break.

The color is a little warm because the lighting is absolutely terrible early in the morning. Photoshop is my friend, but I've yet to master all her tools...

We ended up running errands this afternoon and headed back to the greenhouse to make sure the handyman's experiments hadn't dried too much. (And, of course, I wanted another peak at my starts!)

The tiniest petunia.  At least I hope it's a petunia. I'm going to be dreadfully embarrassed if someone comments that it's a weed!

We took a drive so the handyman could pay his car insurance, and I got this shot of the stately Mr. Myosotis.

The last shots are of a table that I'm thinking about buying. When I got my current job and realized I'd be working from home, I looked high and low for a desk that I liked.  I wanted something simple, no drawers, no turned legs or fancy elaborations - just something classic with a helluva work surface.   I couldn't find one anywhere.  Then, one day, my dining room table caught my eye, and I saw it in a completely different light.   I seduced it into my office where it has lived happily ever after as my desk.

All of this is fine and good, but now I don't have a dining room table - hence the quest. On our errands today, I had the handyman check out the joinery on this table, and it has sadly been vetoed. Nevertheless, I had taken pictures so I could better imagine it in my dining room. If you're in the market for furniture, I would not be bashful about bringing a camera to document your search. I've found it to be particularly helpful...

Monday, March 17, 2008

updates from Saturday night

So Saturday night, I had a lovely time with the girls and discovered the most amazing wine-bottle opener I've ever seen. I decided I had to take a picture to share. Kira got this as a gift from her brother, and my search to find an identical one on the internet was fruitless. There were several similar options when I searched "table top wine bottle opener." If you know a connoisseur who consumes his/her fair share of vino, I highly recommend this. I, however, am not that connoisseur, and I will simply enjoy Kira's again next time I'm over there.

The greenhouse update is that I have 2 geraniums that have popped up. Either 3 petunias have come up, too, or I've got some weeds (most likely weeds, but I'll muster up some hope).

Erik and I put in eggplant, some oregano, a tray of sweet onion and a tray of red onion, cabbage (we were a little late on this one), bell peppers, leaf lettuce, and romaine.

I'm surprised I forgot to get a picture of the geranium sprouts, but I promise to have one next time. Have a great Monday!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

forgotten coffee ice cream


The coffee ice cream gets churned.

I made the batter LAST Sunday, and I'm wondering if there were little fridge fairies that cast a spell on my batter to make it churn into such a small amount.  The recipe said it makes a quart, but I came up quite short of that.  It does taste DELICIOUS, and I'm definitely going to use this recipe again.  But... I will double or even triple it.  The final outcome was almost exactly a pint.  There's certainly more satisfaction in making my own versus driving to the store for some Ben and Jerry's, but I have to be real - I need a little more return on the effort.  So, doubling or tripling it is.

Also, when I made the batter, I stirred in double the ground coffee, and I think it's delightful... I'm a bit of a coffee-fanatic though.  If you like your coffee flavor in reasonable doses, disregard the last suggestion.

I should also mention that the other two batches of ice cream I made took a full twenty minutes to solidify. This recipe took a whopping five minutes. I couldn't even unload the dishwasher before I had to go turn the stirrer off!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

chaos and cookies

So, Sunday night, I set out a gazillion ingredients and got to work making a double batch of chocolate chip cookie dough and a batch of coffee ice cream batter.   The cookies were for a workshop on Tuesday - I kept the dough in a ziploc bag and baked Tuesday morning.   The ice cream is for myself and has yet to be churned.

I had originally intended to title this "coffee ice cream: part 1."  But really, my part 1 is terrible.  The pictures didn't come out well at all, and the ones on Elise's page are fantastic.  I don't want to discourage you from trying this, but it's pretty labor-intensive.  When I got my ice cream maker, I had this dream that I'd pour in milk and sugar, and homemade ice cream would magically appear.  Nope.  Not even close with this recipe.  Lots of heating and stirring and steaming and steeping... 

But, I consider this round of ice cream an experiment, and I'll let you know if it was worth the effort.  Stay tuned for the part 2 that's really part 1 because this post is just about chaos in the kitchen.  Consider this post an endorsement to be messy and go crazy and take on way more than you think you can do on a "school night" no matter how tired you know you'll be on Wednesday (or how tired you should have known you'd be).