Set in stone
Saturday September 18th 2021, 10:11 pm
Filed under: Food,Knit

So we did, we went to Mutari, and I got their Costa Esmeraldas bar because that’s long been my favorite (Dandelion buys beans from that farm too) and those two put in chocolate and sugar and nothing else, whereas the Manoa we tried has some cocoa butter. They’re all great.

As we headed out I picked up a long-stalled hat project and saw why it had been on timeout so long–hadn’t I ever counted those stitches? How did that happen? I ripped it out, cast on again with the single-ply wool arguing with the bumpy road, and with great satisfaction finished the ribbing for the new hat at about Scotts Valley. I considered what kind of patterning–but, nah. I wanted to keep looking at the redwoods we were driving through. Mindless stockinette it was.

Meantime, remember how I love stone houses?

Someone made their kids a stone tree house. With stained glass (-ish) windows no less. Photos 28-30.

The perfect place to retreat with a good book or yarn while keeping an eye on the kids. (Hey Mom that’s MY tree house!)

The perfect little cool-grandparents retirement cottage, both of them.



Dairy-free, too
Thursday September 16th 2021, 10:17 pm
Filed under: Family,Food

Dandelion Chocolates in San Francisco sent out a newsletter a month ago that, among other things, talked about a new bar they’re coming out with in the new year from Hawaiian-grown beans that they’d swooned over and bought 300 kg of. How often do you get to buy American-grown chocolate? But the flavor! That’s what had really grabbed them.

Then they said if you don’t want to wait that long to try it out, here’s our friends’ start-up over there and they’re using the same beans in their Mililani bar.

So of course I was tempted. How could I not be. I looked up Manoa Chocolate. I put that bar in my cart, I took it out of my cart, I told myself this was silly, I can make my own chocolate, I tried to forget about it. I ground up two pounds of stashed nibs to distract myself away from temptation: the tempering was total amateur level but the flavor made up for it and several weeks later we’ve slowly nibbled through a good bit of it.

And then Michelle was coming home, which meant a trip to Mutari’s in Santa Cruz would be coming up, and I wondered how Manoa’s would compare.

Science. You can’t learn if you don’t experiment. Right?

But I did not expect it to arrive in a box inside a zippered chocolate-decorated tote. Beautiful packaging that one would be quite happy to put to use.

Michelle tasted their chocolate hazelnut spread and pronounced it *the* best. Less sugar than Dandelion’s, more hazelnuts. Definitely this one. And the bar! This and this, she said, these are what she wants for Christmas.

Me, too.

Best pre-made chocolate splurge ever.



Maxwell’s smart
Monday September 13th 2021, 10:33 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Friends,Garden

Note to self: Saturday is when I planted the four Rainier cherry pits a friend’s kid had saved for me because they were so good, along with two of my five Anya kernels. Yes that’s out of season, but they had chilled long enough to stratify and I think I needed to make a declaration of hope towards the future against the twentieth anniversary of 9/11–and I so want to be able to give that twelve-year-old a cherry seedling of his own in thanks for his wishing I could have cherries that good all the time.

There’s also a possibility that his family will move away in the next year, so I knew I needed to hurry. They’re the ones who polished off my favorite apricots at my request because we were leaving town to see grandkids for the week, and they saved the kernels so I could plant some more.

But those cherries from Andy’s farm! He had to save their pits for me, too, even if his mom wasn’t so sure–and so it was just the four.

Coming winter light levels are why I only experimented with two apricots to see if I could get a jump in growth on next year, but the cherries? Every one.

I have this secret ingredient for after the Root Riot plugs help them sprout…

I mentioned to Michelle that the Anya apricot grown in lobster compost from Maine totally skunked the other seedlings in height and growth after I’d tried different soil types. Five and a half inches (oh but it tried), 24″, and then 43″ for the Maine event. Such a stunning result.

My child for whom evolutionary biology was her favorite undergrad class cocked her head a bit, looked me in the eye, and cracked, I *assure* you they did not evolve in the same environment! (Wikipedia link to the Fergana Valley along the Silk Road.)

Well, no. But it just goes to prove that everything goes better when you’re serving lobster. The stone fruits are just the cherries on top.



And the bee-eat goes onnnn…
Monday September 06th 2021, 10:45 pm
Filed under: Food

I always thought I should try this but I wondered just how many squirrels would suddenly show up if I put a jar of honey out in the yard. Even with the lid on. I could just see them trying to wrestle or chew it open.

None, turns out, although it was only one afternoon. I did have a fair amount of smoke dust to wipe off it at the end of the day, which shouldn’t have surprised me but it did.

They say not to microwave it. They say a pot of hot but not boiling water will do it, and for me it’s never done it. Putting it right next to a pot of soup boiling away for hours? Not that either.

But by golly a black lid, direct sunlight, an unseasonably 93F day in September, and that crystalized year-old honey was now as runny as the day the hive was rather sorry to see it go.



Figs and peaches
Friday September 03rd 2021, 8:37 pm
Filed under: Food,Garden

About this many a day now. Early September in the garden.

Which reminds me, I ought to be opening up the first pomegranate soon to see how the little geodes are coming along.



Post-op get-well basket
Sunday August 29th 2021, 9:55 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends

The elementary-school-age son of friends had had to have his appendix out, they told us; he was home now.

This is the family I gave Anya apricots to just before we left town to see the Washington grands and they’d carefully saved all the seeds for me. At the insistence of one of the boys, the pits from the rare-variety cherries he’d eaten, too. I was charmed and quietly told the parents that when the dad finishes his PhD I’m hoping to send them off into the world with a potted cherry tree grown from their son’s thoughtful gesture.

I couldn’t make their younger son’s stitches heal faster but I know they love a good fruit, so I could at least distract him a bit. I offered peaches bought yesterday at Andy’s; they said, Yes please!

I put just a couple from my tree in there with them. I confess the ones I’d tasted so far were drops (so many drops) and they weren’t great, but I figure when it falls off the tree into your hands as you walk by then it’s pretty much trying to claim it’s as ripe as it’s going to get and I hoped those would live up to my memory of them. It’s been so dry and the smoke blocks the UV and interferes with the sweetening of the fruit.

Walking up the stairs to their apartment, box in one hand, cane in the other, I watched in dismay as an Andy’s slipped out and bounced down to a story below. I pointed that one out as needing to be eaten first.

They’d once brought over their orange Flemish Giant for us to pet, the easiest-going rabbit you could ever hope to meet. And big!

I did not know they had two bunnies. Nor had I ever heard of a Lionhead. It looked just like the cute little gray fluffball at the top of that page, with A. explaining that she’d just clipped its fur around its forehead so it could see. It was adorable.

It was willing to let me pet it for a little while but only a little while and it was not willing to accept a walnut from me yet. I was a stranger. It was going to take more than one in-person time. It did not believe in instantly trusting all big things like its housemate, and that’s okay.

As we adults were talking, the younger son slipped away to the other room, reappearing a few times with a bounce (man, I never looked that good after surgery. Kids are amazing. But he’s too young for the covid vaccines and I kept my mask on.) The twelve-year-old stuck around a bit longer.

I said something to him about my Indian Free peaches not comparing to Andy’s and he looked at me steadily, munching away on one of mine, and pronounced, “It’s better.”

I don’t know if he was being sweet or if he just lucked out on a really good one but he most certainly made my day.



A little camp out
Tuesday August 24th 2021, 9:07 am
Filed under: Family,Food,Life

The kids had a small fire pit set on the patio, well away from anything that you wouldn’t want it near and as it was getting going I was pulling out the very few weeds I found at the edge of the lawn–no need to let those go to seed.

I was offered the fire as a way to get rid of that handful quickly. The kids got into the spirit of this way of being helpful and I found myself with Hudson holding something long that had fallen off I think the neighbor’s tree into the yard and was going to do the same after me. If he’d stood it upright I think it would have reached about to his nose. Even trying to balance that in that little fire pit was going to be…problematical.

One of the reasons kids do dumb things, according to a lecture we went to by a neuropsychologist years ago, is because the nerves in their brains haven’t fully developed the myelin sheath around them–not till between 18 and 21. What that means, he said, is that they physically cannot intuit that if they do this then that will happen.

To which I would say, though, they can be taught it specific instance by specific instance.

Now, my handful of weeds wasn’t going to be a problem but what he’d come up with quite likely was so I said, I don’t want to put anything in that could shoot flames up my arm.

He kind of went, Oh, with his eyebrows as he considered that and learned something new.

And so, his young cousin having shown me where it was, we went past the garage to the compostables bin and he threw mine in there for me, too.

Then the kids were offered a bag of marshmallows, a box of graham crackers, and a Costco package of Hershey bars and the means to have at it from enough of a distance. The classic campfire dessert right there at home with their four cousins.

Turns out my daughter-in-law and her sister hadn’t heard our honeymoon story about the skunk and that’s always a fun one to share.

And then–ohmygoodness! After waiting his turn and cooking his marshmallow and making his s’more, there was Parker: offering it to me!

I don’t eat a lot of sweets anymore as my age catches up to my metabolism, but that one demanded to be enjoyed and praised and I tell you, it’s been a long time since a Hershey bar tasted that good. That s’more was perfect in every way.



Sugar splurge
Sunday August 08th 2021, 8:37 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Recipes

I needed to use up that cream so even though we definitely didn’t need to eat such a thing, a recipe for Instant Pot creme brûlée got the better of me.

I even found where the rack to the thing went back when I was moving everything out of the termite guys’ way. Separated the eggs, started whipping the yolks, reached for that cream and opened the carton.

Holy moly guys nope nope nope.

So I fudged it. 2% milk with melted butter? I wasn’t at all sure of this, so only a tablespoon’s worth of the fat we suddenly really didn’t have to eat but hey we’ll see what we get. Seven minutes on low pressure, half an hour on natural release, ta daaah…

Huh.

What we have, I told him, is hot egg nog. But it’s cooked!

Well? He asked. Where is it? I’d like some! (Have I mentioned I love that sweet man? He’s a trooper.)

He also got almond meringues from the egg whites because if you’re going to do Christmas in August in the kitchen you might as well go full-on weird.

Those turned out to be worth repeating.

Almond meringues:

Four egg whites, beaten till frothy with about a quarter teaspoon cream of tartar, then 3/4 c powdered sugar and a tbl or so of plain sugar, then when that gets to pretty stiff peaks, beat in 1/3 c almond flour and quickly start doling it out on parchment paper over a cookie sheet. 275F, and the original recipe I totally fudged from because I didn’t have slivered almonds said 35 minutes but I left them in longer, didn’t hear the beep, don’t know how long it was, but I still put them back in for another five.



Chocolate notes
Saturday August 07th 2021, 10:25 pm
Filed under: Food

The last batch of chocolate I made really didn’t temper. Day by day you could see the lines of some other crystalline structure spreading and deepening: we had polka dot chocolate. Tiny little circles all across, more so than any previous batch I can think of.

Except for half of this bar and most of that one that tempered very nicely. Go figure.

But it turned out that that made a perfect version for crumbling chocolate over his yogurt because all those tiny polka dots fell apart from each other in perfect round tiny bits.

Which meant–I mean I knew we were getting low, but–

You ate all the–we don’t have ANY chocolate?? We NEVER don’t have chocolate!!

Okay, actually, we did, but it was all chocolate chips and wafers for cookie baking and most of it was from before we bought the melanger. Still usable for that but not what you’d munch on.

Even with a migraine, he put up with the noise again. Desperate times. The interesting thing to me was how painfully loud it didn’t sound this time: I guess I’m getting used to the new hearing aids after all; I had thought the recruitment effect was almost gone and having that going made it clear that it’s not quite, but almost. It was loud, but it didn’t hurt. This is a good thing.

Twenty-one bars and a batch of Hershey’s kisses-looking ones in a silicone mold because I made an extra half pound this time (now how did that happen) and it had to go into something.

So we’ll see how it goes. But we’re not out of chocolate anymore.

Note to self: Chocolate Alchemy’s Organic Blend #3 of cocoa nibs (preroasted, though I usually roast my own) is so good–and then it has a sharp acidic zing at the end. We like it but not everybody will. Strong stuff.



Fruit in the desert
Friday August 06th 2021, 10:13 pm
Filed under: Food,Garden,Wildlife

The first late summer fig. I was amazed that I’d missed seeing it turning brown the day before. I was more amazed the critters hadn’t seen it either.

Figs are hard to get into those plastic clamshells because it’s hard to shut them around them, and they’re not great anyway because the things don’t breathe and the fruit gets hot so the texture ripens before the flavor does and it just hasn’t proven the best solution. (I mostly use them on the apples, they seem to be best for that.) But that’s what I had. That and the citrus spikes, which were already out there. I debated going and grabbing one.

Wait…

Paper. It breathes. It hides. Right? Cut the bottom open to widen it so you can slide it over and the fig can still get some sugar-producing sunlight while no beak could reach that far down. Let’s try it!

And for 24 hours it actually worked.

Then in a total rookie move I went outside just real quick in the afternoon to check if the fig was fully ripe yet–and whichever bird it was saw what was beneath and saw what I did and saw how to get at it. No squirrel touched those spikes. Mockingbird or scrub jay, take your pick. It was probably gone the moment I stepped back inside, but I know it was fast.

So now I have to think up something else for the next one, but it was worth a try. Tape?

Meantime, shared by Andy’s Orchard, here’s an article on Native American peaches in the Southwestern desert from before most Natives had ever heard of white men.

Peaches.

I sure did a double take, how about you?

Four Corners, the Grand Canyon, before their trees were cut down as part of the plan to decimate Natives’ food sources and culture. Peaches. Not quite like ours–they had more nutrition. From seeds from the Spanish near the Rio Grande centuries before that were quickly spread north across the tribes.

A few were not found and survived. A descendant of the man who protected them is working on bringing them back to more of her people.

I asked, Do you/will you grow any of these?

Andy’s Orchard (presumably Andy himself) answered, More research needed.

But as one of the reporter’s sources noted, those would give great root stock for growing other varieties in the desert, too.



Just peachy now
Friday July 30th 2021, 10:29 pm
Filed under: Food,Life

(Side note: the tall apricot seedling is 35.5″ now. It is outgrowing the 54″ cage I ordered two weeks ago like a teenager outgrows jeans.)

The plumber:

I sent a camera down, he told me, because it was so bad. Those tree roots are a lot worse than they were.

Then he explained something that blew my mind: These Eichlers. They have asbestos in that pipe, and it weeps moisture and attracts the roots.

Asbestos?? Why on earth would they put asbestos in a sewer pipeline? Much less something that in any way leaks. Okay, it was the 1950s, but still.

It’s just from this point to the street, so you’re not exposed to it.

(Me in my head: except when it backs up and I’m stuck cleaning up after it.)

He told me that, as we knew, that main line is going to have to be replaced–but he also said he thought that we should be able to put it off till maybe next year (which for us would be really nice at this point.) But that it would be about fifteen grand to do. He doesn’t do that job but he could give me a good referral.

My next door neighbors had to do that two years ago. The friend four doors down did last week. I guess when your homes are old enough to sign up for Social Security it’s just how it is.

Thank you Bernie, we nevertheless have running water again, and turning the waiting washing machine on felt so good.

I celebrated (since we needed to replenish the supply) by going to Andy’s.

His normal presentation is everything laid out in cases with the peaches in a single, cushioned layer and you pick and choose gently however many of whichever type from the boxes, but, covid and you wouldn’t want what a bunch of people might have touched, so unless you order a case of a single variety touched only by the picker, they’re on display in small boxes with the fruit stacked like this.

I bought a nice flat case last week. Today I wanted variety. And a Cherokee tomato.

And I have the freely running and draining water to wash them with.

 



Red orange, purple white purple yellow orange
Friday July 23rd 2021, 10:43 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends,Life

We ran out.

I checked before I left, and yes, please, she’d always, always love a case from there.

And so I came home from Andy’s with a big box of peaches for her family and one for us.

But when I went to deliver theirs she had a particular thank-you in mind: Satsuma plums from her tree, an orange zucchini, a yellow cucumber, a purple onion, white eggplants, all from her garden.

There’s got to be a colorway in merino out there to match.

I exclaimed over the bounty; she said well I’d driven all the way down there and back, and we both came away feeling like we got the better end of the deal. But best of all: we’d had a chance to connect and say thank you.

Thank you Andy for that.

 



The jewel box
Wednesday July 21st 2021, 10:52 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends

Twenty-nine inches! Six inches in nine days! With the height of the pot that new 54″ cage isn’t going to last very long. That’s fine, plenty of other things need to be kept from the cottontail.

The other thing that happened yesterday, after the tree crew left:

I had an appointment with the audiologist, trying to fine-tune the new aids and check the fit after the manufacturer had re-molded the painful left one.

Towards the end I pulled out a small cardboard box filled with paper towels scrunched a bit like decorative tissue paper and inside, a perfect Sierra Rich red peach.

She did this little gasp and told me, My husband and I were just saying we had to find a *good* peach!

I said that the paper towels were because she was going to need them.

So now they know where to go.



Toss it back to the grizzlies
Monday July 19th 2021, 5:32 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Garden,Life

(Lillian ducking into the sunbeam.)

Back when Sam and her family lived in Anchorage, she took us to an ice cream shop, Wild Scoops, that sold local flavors including from fruits I’d never heard of. Salmonberries? Birch syrup? What kind of flavor is Fireweed?

So I ended up buying a cute little 2 oz jar of salmonberry jam as a souvenir to go with my scoop so I could taste that, too, and a small jug of birch syrup by mail after we flew home.

The syrup was okay. I don’t need to buy it again. The jam was sugar+pectin+an orange color to it but no berry flavor I could discern and other than the fact that it was a local thing and a novelty to us, there didn’t seem to be much point to it; let the musk ox and moose keep the berries.

Fast forward a few years. We were at a kiddy park with Mathias and Sam in Washington State July 5th where there was play equipment and a bit of grass surrounded by deep, lush trees and a short trail along the fenced perimeter.

Cherry trees! That’s why all the happy robins bouncing around! Clearly a holdover from when that whole area had been prime cherry and berry farmland a hundred years ago; the now-feral trees dangled Rainier-esque solid yellow and who knows what dark red promises mostly well out of even my 6’8″ husband’s reach.

But we managed to bend some branches downwards enough and we got some and shared them around and they were delicious. Sam pronounced that moments like these were why she was glad they had moved there.

She had already told us that blackberry bushes were the devil, that they ran rampant all over everything with their thorns: the Pacific Northwest’s version of kudzu with an offering but an attitude.

And then I pointed out a berry bush. The leaves were a lot smaller than the blackberries her husband had cleared away from their side of the fence at home; I wondered what they were.

Oh those are salmonberries, she said, a park ranger told us that.

Very small. Half the usual thumbcap depth at best of a red raspberry. Tasteless. Seedy.

And the color. Suddenly I knew.

Some garden catalog three or four years ago had had a spiel about a woman who’d found an abandoned farm that had had red raspberries and blackberries and had found something else growing down by the creek that she thought must be a hybrid of them of some kind. The thorns were a lot shorter. She’d taken some cuttings home. She’d tried growing her new variety in good soil, bad soil, sandy soil, clay soil, and it grew in everything! And now here they were offering this rare find to their customers! In high demand!

I’m a long way from being a knowledgeable gardener yet, so foolproof sounded good to me and I ordered one. I grew it in a large pot, because I do know enough to know that thorny berry plants like to take over the world and I wanted it contained.

I got a few stubby shallow little berries with not much flavor–well, any, really. I figured the critters had eaten them before they’d gotten ripe or big yet. Right? I kept waiting for them to grow into, y’know, proper raspberry shapes. They didn’t.

I got maybe two whole berries to myself last year, but this year the plant grew a lot more and produced more. But the fruit didn’t change at all.

They’d sold me a salmonberry plant and didn’t even know enough to know that that’s what it was and I certainly didn’t. But there is no question. I recognized that plant and that fruit in that park because it was growing in my back yard and knew that it was only a matter of time, and a brief time at that, before I’d be ripping mine out.

All those pretty leaves it took so long to bother to produce.

I confess I’m still giving it (increasingly brief) sprays of precious California water to keep it alive. I guess it’s just plain hard to assassinate a plant you’ve nurtured, even one that would rather stab you than feed you.



And then it all had to go and roll around in the mug
Sunday July 18th 2021, 10:21 pm
Filed under: Food

Used the optional plain Greek yogurt because I had some. Danger danger Will Robinson, no talk of egg/peanut/yogurt will make up for the fact that it came out a cross between cake and mousse and was very good at a time when I’m trying to avoid random acts of dessert-type baking. (I put in 2, then 2 more, then 1 more teaspoon of sugar in each, so, 5 tsp and not their artificial sweetener and they did not come out super-sweet.)

But really, justifying that as lunch–protein, yeah, that’s it!–when we could have had peaches if we’d wanted something sweet. Actually we did that, too.

My husband is innocent. Me, not so much.

(Coming back to add: a few days ago the county asked everybody to go back to wearing masks in indoor public places again and today nearly everybody at church was doing so. I’m so glad.)