23 December 2010

hard crack

we made lollipops!

making hard candy is pretty simple. just a few ingredients, brought to the "hard-crack" stage (300 degrees F) and then poured into a candy mold.

the trick is to avoid stirring the mixture, once it starts boiling (something do do with sugar crystals?). just let it sit there and bubble until it gets to 300. it does take a while. once you get there, remove from heat, add your flavoring (in our case, vanilla-cosmo's request) and then pour before it cools down.

homemade hard candy that looks, feels and tastes like store-bought, makes for one happy little boy!

certainly not nutritious, but tons of fun for everyone.

16 December 2010


oh dear. the holidays are upon us, and i had really hoped to post something about cosmo's birthday before now. he turned five in november. that number always loomed, in my mind, as a huge milestone. it's the point where they move into official kid-ness. not a baby anymore, not a toddler anymore, and barely even a pre-schooler.

cosmo had a wonderful birthday. we had a nice after-school party for him, with 5 kids he chose to invite. it was hard to let go, and let him decide, but since he had opinions, and he doesn't always express preferences, i thought it was important to honor his choices...even if it meant some of my dear friends' children were not invited. gulp.

we had a low-key party, where the most exciting part turned out to be chasing each other around with blow-out noise-maker-party-favor-thingies. talk about cheap thrills! the next day, he came down with strep. the scarlet fever strain. poor little thing. he was mostly couch-ridden through thanksgiving, but was all better in time to go to TX, for an early xmas with nani and family.

this also marks the fifth year of this blog.
five years.
'nuf said.

so far, my favorite thing about five-year-olds is the helpfulness. i was expecting this, or at least hoping for it, and, remarkably, it arrived, like clock work. cosmo has a new found interest in helping out, and the competence to actually BE helpful. i will savor this while it lasts.

21 November 2010

bugs bummin' me out

the grey cabbage aphid is destroying all my brassicas! the kale was hit the hardest, but now they are going after the beloved brussel sprouts, the young cauliflower, and i even saw a few on the arugula! it makes no sense. i had never seen them until this fall, and they came on strong. my russian kale was lush just a month ago. they attack the young, tender, new leaves, which basically stunts the growth of the plant, and eventually kills it.

since i garden organically, i am used to hand-picking pests off of my plants. it is one of the benefits of having a small, back yard garden--a person can usually notice and keep up with pest problems. i started by removing these vile creatures with my bare hands, sort of sweeping the leaves with my thumb. but now i just blast them with a strong stream of water from the hose.

it gets them off the plants, but i have to keep doing it, every day. i finally gave up on the kale, and pulled it today. i hope to save the brussels sprouts and califlower, but i don't have a whole lot of hope.

in other bug related news, fruit flies have found my worm composting bins--both at home, and at work. again, this is a new phenomenon for me, and started in the fall. at home, they migrated to the kitchen, too. we have tried everything, including removing any possible food sources cleaning meticulously (and drying everything), plus trapping them with vinegar. we have reduced their population immensely. lately, we "vacuum" them up with the back of a hair dryer. it is strange, but effective (and secretly satisfying).

so far though, i'm not really finding any answers about the worm bin problem. experts say to bury the food scraps in the bedding, or to wrap them in newspaper to avoid attracting fruit flies. i always do one or both of those things, and have never had a problem. now, i still do those things, and i have a fruit fly infestation, and it is not going away. it is especially problematic at work, as i am trying to get the vermiculture system established, and this is a huge set back.

your suggestions and/or commiserations welcome.

10 November 2010

for the love of brussel

this is what i was dreaming about on february 12, 2010.

that's when i planted the brussel sprout seeds, under a grow light in the basement.

we finally had some for dinner, two nights ago--almost 9 months later!
how they made it into those little tiny, tightly-packed cabbage balls, considering all the pests and drought the season thew at them, is a mystery to me.

i have a few wasps to thank, for keeping the cabbage caterpillar population under control (plant dill & fennel to attract them to your garden).

they are so yummy when they're fresh, and i've heard that the ones that come from california aren't as sweet, because they never go through a frost. ours have, and you can definitely tell.

07 November 2010

NYC [in a day, on a shoe string]

my dear friend from grad school is getting married.
it's a big deal.
they live in brooklyn.
the wedding is in jersey.
we are flat broke.
we go to the wedding.
we drive.
we camp in the hills of western new jersey.
there is miniature golf and an arcade.
the wedding is lovely.
cosmo cuts a rug on the dance floor.

(not our campsite)

next day, we take a train to the city.
it rains.
there is a long elevator ride to a foggy view.

(like a seasoned commuter)

the MOMA is mobbed.
never mind, there is art all around.

and subway rides.
and hot dogs.
deli counters.
news stands.
a small dog in a rain coat.
a bike made of bamboo.
and a long car ride home.

(congratulations l + s)

(special thanks to alan, for loaning us the iphone, so cosmo could play doodle jump. it came in mighty handy.)

23 October 2010


well, apparently i cannot walk and chew gum at the same time. ever since i got this full time job, can't seem to manage to keep up with things like blogging, and cleaning the house. i know that many of you moms out there have been doing it ALL, all along. i admire you, and feel truly privileged to have had this time away from the work-a-day world, to focus on cosmo, our home and family, and to pursue the things i love.

the good news is that i still get to follow my passions in my new job. i'm working for a non-profit, and i get to do things like set up a roof-top kitchen garden, build rain barrels, raise worms for compost, design edible landscaping, and do space (and even menu) planning for a small take-out cafe.

i am not complaining, and am thrilled to have work. there is an adjustment period though, for all of us. cosmo is handling it all pretty well, and carl is uber-competent in his stay-at home-dad role. mostly it is difficult for me to accept that i cannot do every. single. thing. that i did before. i still try to, and am reminded about how much more efficient i become, the busier i am. but i have been forced to prioritize, to let go, and to say no. i'm sure it's good for me.

we have had our share of fun times lately, and i think i'll just go photo-essay-style to catch up.

cosmo started montessori in late august. he loves it, we love it. it seems to suit what kind of kid he is, and he took to it readily. this week is children's evening (open house) and i can't wait to see what he chooses to show us in his classroom. at home, he is into games: board games, card games, computer games, and ones he makes up, with, say, over 500 wooden poker chips i found for him at the free swap. he reads almost anything now, and has lots of interesting questions, like why do spirals go round and round, and never end? or, how do you think about nothing? makes me wonder if maybe his is a bodhisattva, after all. he has crossed over into a delightful stage, of being almost helpful, often cheery, chatty, and thirsty for knowledge. he started doing a little reading to himself, in the car (mostly he reads with us, to us--does not yet curl up on the couch with a good novel), and the books he chooses for this are not usually stories, but non-fiction books about subjects like geography or outer space.

here he is with carl's 12 year-old nephew, clem. he like to say "i'm a lot like clem," and by that he means, reading to himself. luckily, he still loves being read to, and is currently absorbed in the magic tree house series.

he got to ride a horse for the first time, at a birthday party, and is crazy for miniature golf. here he is pictured, putting, in the beauty and serenity of the jellystone campground and RV park, just south of town.

we visited the chili woman's farm, where cosmo fed a llama, and complained about wanting to go home. we participated in the annual hub ride fundraiser, for mother hubbard's cupboard. even though we took the shortest (4 mile) route, it was a bit rainy, and there were some hills.

so, we did a lot of walking of the bikes, and coaxing cosmo to find the strength within himself to finish. i was nervous about being out on roads, where cars are, with such a new rider (truthfully, i thought i might have a heart attack).

by the end though, i think we were all glad we persevered, and didn't have to call the SAG wagon. plus, cosmo got to meet a parrot, who also went on the ride!

cosmo accompanied me for some tabling at a sustainability event on campus. i got to strap a rain barrel to my bike rack, and cosmo got to dye a silk scarf with indigo leaves. cosmo also demonstrated, at that event, that he is beginning to overcome his shyness. he made friends with a group of young men, all on his own, and cried when they left without him. he also kicked a ball around with a kid and his parents.

i entered the salsa contest again this year, hoping to hold steady with another third place ribbon. but this year was carl's turn to shine. he made a hoosier harissa, from our own dried chili's, and it was to-die-for. i can't believe he didn't get first in the specialty category (he won third).

the following weekend, i convinced him to make more, and serve it with some other middle eastern/north african specialties, plus homemade pita bread, baked on the grill! they cook so fast, and puff up beautifully, without fail. so simple, even a child can do it.

dear friend, alan, shows off a perfectly puffed pita

Pita Bread

Makes 8 pitas

3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 Tablespoon sugar or honey
1 packet yeast (or, if from bulk, 2 teaspoons yeast)
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups water, roughly at room temperature
2 tablespoons olive oil, vegetable oil, butter, or shortening

Mix the yeast in with the flour, salt, and sugar. Add the olive oil and 1 1/4 cup water and stir together with a wooden spoon. All of the ingredients should form a ball. If some of the flour will not stick to the ball, add more water.

Once all of the ingredients form a ball, place the ball on a work surface, such as a cutting board, and knead the dough for approximately 10 minutes (or until your hands get tired). If you are using an electric mixer, mix it at low speed for 10 minutes.

When you are done kneading the dough, place it in a bowl that has been lightly coated with oil. Form a ball out of the dough and place it into the bowl, rolling the ball of dough around in the bowl so that it has a light coat of oil on all sides. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel and set aside to rise until it has doubled in size, approximately 90 minutes.

When it has doubled in size, punch the dough down to release some of the trapped gases and divide it into 8 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, cover the balls with a damp kitchen towel, and let them rest for 20 minutes. This step allows the dough to relax so that it'll be easier to shape.

While the dough is resting, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. If you have a baking stone, put it in the oven to preheat as well. If you do not have a baking stone, turn a cookie sheet upside down and place it on the middle rack of the oven while you are preheating the oven. This will be the surface on which you bake your pitas.

After the dough has relaxed for 20 minutes, spread a light coating of flour on a work surface and place one of the balls of dough there. Sprinkle a little bit of flour on top of the dough and use a rolling pin or your hands to stretch and flatten the dough. You should be able to roll it out to between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick. If the dough does not stretch sufficiently you can cover it with the damp towel and let it rest 5 to 10 minutes before trying again.

Open the oven and place as many pitas as you can fit on the hot baking surface. They should be baked through and puffy after 3 minutes (illustrations and more info here).

Or, put a baking stone on the grill, and cook them outside. as long as there's enough heat, it should work fine, since they cook so quickly. we closed the lid, and checked on them every few minutes. we have an inexpensive charcoal grill, nothing fancy.

the garden has done well, despite the drought. did you know that okra can reach heights of 13 feet? we have pickled it, fried it, made bindi masala, and many other yummy dishes with ours. you can get rid of the sliminess, trust me, and it is delicious.

note: the okra pictured here are pretty, but way too large to eat. you have to pick them when they are under 2 or 3 inches long. they grow quickly, it's difficult to keep up.

some seeds refused to germinate in mid-summer, which made for a weak fall garden, and some crops (like red-russian kale, for instance) flourished, only to be recently attacked by strange, gray aphids like i have never seen. the plants are strong enough to recover from it, and my brussel sprouts have been defended from cabbage worms, by the predator wasps that buzz around the garden. i learned in the grow organic educator series (GOES) class that i am taking this fall, that those wasps are attracted to umbel flower sets, like dill, fennel, and queen ann's lace. i'm taking the course at a discount, since i volunteered to take care of the refreshments for the class each week (basically, coffee and tea). it pushes me to bake something every wednesday, not because it is expected, but because i enjoy it. truth be told, i don't need much prodding to bake.

i made a lattice-top apple pie last weekend, and a lovely pumpkin persimmon pie today (the pies are for us, not the class). sometimes i bring cookies (pictured: currant jelly thumb prints), or a sweet bread that carl has made. the class is fantastic, and can lead to a master gardener certification. more importantly, i am learning a tremendous amount. it's the perfect time to take such a course. after three years of hands-on in the garden, now i am ready to hear from some experts about specific techniques and approaches, and to find out what makes a compost heap do its thang. it's fascinating stuff, and i find my self buzzed and energized after each class, though it makes for such a long day.

we're in full-on fall mode here, saving seeds, drying peppers, gathering persimmons, and apple picking. cosmo's doing his part, putting dry leaves in the compost bin.

i'm trying to put the garden to bed, but it keeps producing. after at least 100 lbs of tomatoes harvested, there are still more coming. we have a nice crop of lettuce, arugula, and carrots for fall, and i'll be planting the garlic any day now.

there's more to tell, but i must stop here, to make sure this gets posted. i hope to write about our road/train trip to NYC, next time. oh, and i want to post about this awesome outdoor pizza oven that our friends built...so, stay tuned!