25 April 2010

hidden treasure

from our friends' house, you walk down past their garden, beyond the fire pit, through some high brush (stop to smell a may apple blossom), and turn right when you get to the clearing.

from there, you head down the hill, through the woods, where you'll find lots of wild edibles, in case you need a snack. sky is an expert forager, and he identified more plants than i can hope to name now.

cosmo and i especially enjoyed the trout lily leaves, and the lemony wood sorrel. in fact, cosmo abandoned his "cheesy crackers" for the tasty leafy greens, and that's saying a lot! at the creek, sky and cosmo turned over rocks to inspect salamanders, water lice, and some strange, gray water worm that only eyes as keen as sky's could spot.

after crossing the creek, we wound around another hill (stop to try on some velcro plant),

past a cow pasture, where (legend has it) one cranky cow hangs out, and she could decide to charge, so we had to be careful. we clung close to the tree line, passed through a wire gate, when suddenly, a small green building appeared--our destination: the children's library in the woods.

the door was unlocked, and we stepped into an utterly charming one room cabin, lined with old children's books. there were a couple of desks, some comfy chairs, and a wood stove. one wall was mostly windows, perfect light for reading. cosmo had selected a few books to donate, from his collection, so we wrote a note to that effect, and left it with our books on the checkout desk. cosmo cruised the shelves, found some familiar titles, and we nestled down to read some dr. suess that we hadn't seen before.

a rain shower made a lovely pattering sound on the tin roof, and we were happy to be sheltered in that magical space. when the rain let up, we checked out a few books, donned the paper rain hats that sky had crafted, and headed back down the trail. checking out books means we will for sure get to come back sometime.

cosmo rode in the back pack, for most of the walk back, but wanted to get down at the creek, and snacked on more sorrel on the hill. he also got to pick up a beautiful turtle in the meadow. by that point, the rain had picked up, and we needed to walk back quickly.

i'm still wondering if it was all just a dream.

one piece of evidence we brought home with us was this single morel specimen. i fried it up almost immediately, and we enjoyed it's wild and meaty flavor as an appetizer to this couscous dish, topped with freshly snipped pea shoots.

i can't share all my secrets, but i can offer this recipe:

Couscous with Raisins and Pine Nuts
from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything

2 1/4 cups Vegetable Stock, store-bought vegetable broth, or water
1 cinnamon stick
5 cardamom pods (or more)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/3 cup raisins or minced dried fruit such as apricots or figs, or a combination (currants are nice)
1/3 cup hot water or stock
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 1/2 cups couscous (i like to use the israeli kind, or "fat couscous" as we call it)
Minced fresh parsley or cilantro leaves for garnish (or, barely cooked pea shoots, if ya got 'em)

1. In a small saucepan, warm the 2 1/4 cups stock with the cinnamon, cardamom, salt, and pepper while you prepare the other ingredients. Soak the raisins in the 1/3 cup hot water or stock.

2. Place 1 tablespoon butter in a small skillet and turn the heat to medium. When it melts, add the pine nuts and cook, stirring occasionally, until they brown lightly, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

3. Place 2 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan and turn the heat to medium-low. When it melts, add the couscous and cook, stirring, until it is coated with butter, about 1 minute. Strain the stock or water and add it all at once. Bring to a boil,then turn the heat down to its minimum. Cover and cook until all the liquid is absorbed, 5 to 8 minutes. Drain the raisins and gently stir them in, along with the pine nuts and remaining butter. Fluff with a fork to break up any lumps. Garnish and serve.

24 April 2010

mouth on fire

now i know what to do with fist-fulls of cilantro when it has over-wintered, and is huge and bolting, and there are no tomatoes or peppers available to make salsa. i made a cilantro and mint chutney from madhur jaffrey's world vegetarian cookbook, and WOW was it yummy.

i snuck into jack's garden across the street, and snagged a bit of his mint (which he has in abundance, trust me), and used one of the dried hot chiles we have hanging in our kitchen (which came, originally, from some other neighbors). this chutney was plenty hot, and worked really nicely against the spicy/sweet peach chutney i canned last fall. i made my favorite curried cauliflower dish, as a vehicle for the chutneys, and we had it on a nice jasmine rice with some not-so-great store-bought naan. that little dollop of greek yogurt did little to put out the fire in my mouth. a meal like that leaves me feeling slightly euphoric. thank you, capsicum.

here's the recipe:

Delhi-Style Cilantro and Mint Chutney
Hari Chutney

From World Vegetarian, by Madhur Jaffrey

Jaffrey's note: ...Generally, when we use cilantro, we use only the leaves. Here you may use the slender stems as well. The same applies to the mint. This chutney may be kept in the refrigerator for at least 2 days, but it is best the day it is made.

2 well-packed cups fresh cilantro
3/4 well-packed cup fresh mint
3 to 4 fresh hot green chiles (or 1 good, hot dried chile)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Generous pinch of ground asafetida
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Combine all the ingredients as well as 1/2 cup of water in a blender (or small food processor). Blend, stopping and pushing down with a rubber spatula whenever necessary, until you have a smooth paste.
Makes about 1 cup.

[i missed that part about the 1/2 cup of water, which may be why mine didn't get as smooth as i would have liked. but no matter. it tasted great.]

21 April 2010

garden tour

i took a trip down memory lane yesterday, revisiting old posts on rake shovel hoe, my now defunct garden blog. i am so thrilled to have that record, especially the photos, of my early gardening days. what's funny is that my excitement has not waned in the least. if anything, it has grown. here's a sampling of what's going on in the garden so far:

the peas are up, and climbing the trellis i made for them.

i may have created a harvesting nightmare, but, as usual, i plunged into the planting and making of the pea trellis without a clearly thought-out plan in mind. at the moment, these are cosmo's most closely watched plants in the garden. he likes to observe their little tendrils griping the twine, and climbing. but, he is also looking forward to the peas, and keeps asking when the plants will make pods. he's also asking about the husk cherries, which i have now taken to calling ground cherries.

those have been started indoors (along with peppers and tomatoes), but won't go into the ground until mid may, or so.

has anyone eaten tender pea shoots? i recently had them on a dish at a fancy restaurant (pictured here, on top of yummy stuffed peppers that my sweetheart made), and was so impressed i had to grow some myself.

of course, i read up on how to grow your own pea shoots AFTER, i had already started mine. i did everything wrong, but they shot up in about 4 days anyway, and now, less than a week later, they are ready to harvest!

as much as i despise having a big white tent in my garden, i am pleased with how happy my cabbages, broccoli, brussel sprouts and kale are doing under cover. the cabbage moths just flutter about the garden, wishing they could get inside, to lay eggs on my lovely brassicas. they, too, want their offspring to dine on my broccoli. DENIED!

the arugula and cilantro that over-wintered out there (in the cold frame) is already bolting! no worries though, we have more of those started.

we've already begun to enjoy a few salads from our baby greens, and the butter crunch lettuce is starting to take shape. though the carrots and beets were planted almost a month ago, they still seem so tiny.

one of the beds of rye cover crop was getting so tall, i decided one evening to trim it. with some clippers. why? not sure. these things just occur to me.

the next day i turned it over, so i'm not sure what the point of trimming it was, but i enjoyed myself. i planted some hairy vetch in there a bit too late in the fall, so most of it didn't make it, but i did notice a few strands of it in there. now all the rye is turned under, and it will be ready for corn, pumpkin, and beans (three sisters) plus okra, cucumbers and dill in the other bed. some of these have already been started indoors, though we have run out of space under our grow light. a sunny window sill will do, at this point.

the onion sets i planted are up, and look great, as does the garlic, which is getting big. i planted a row of morning glories along the side of the woodshed, and a few sunflowers. it might be too early for those... guess we'll see.

remember the great wall of tomatoes last year? well, the bed they were in now has tomato plants popping up like weeds, ALL OVER! the rye is supposed to suppress seed germination for a while. clearly that window has closed!

our landlords have four large beds of perennials, mostly flowers.

while i enjoy them immensely, i just don't have the time to invest in weeding them. currently, they are over-run with weeds. i got a hold of some free wood-chip mulch in my neighborhood, so i've been loading up the trunk of the car, hauling it home, and spreading it all over the perennial beds. i'm not sure if it is exactly the right kind of mulch for them, but it's what they get. life is too short to worry about other people's flowers.

especially when there's a vegetable patch to endlessly fuss over.


apologies for the lousy color on these photos. for some reason, all the photos are showing up in blogger over-exposed, no matter what they look like on my computer prior to being inserted in a post. go figure.

16 April 2010

living in an architectural rendering

maybe you're not familiar with what i mean when i say "architectural rendering." they are drawings that architects make to allow the general public, or clients who need to be sold on an idea, to imagine the future new building, or urban public space, and how it might be used. sometimes they are straight up drawings, or water colors. they include trees, and landscaping, and people inhabiting and interacting with the space.

this is actually one of the renderings for the b-line trail.

when i was in school, we would make slick hybrid drawings, using photos of the existing site, insert a drawing or computer rendering of our designed intervention, and then we'd stick in some scaled figures (referred to, lovingly, as scalies) which were usually cut out of magazines, scanned, and then reduced to the scale of the drawing.

from a project i did with bill rankin-- in nice, france

we would choose figures in action poses-- skateboarding, riding a bike, pushing a stroller, jogging--or a group of youth, gossiping on park benches. sometimes we'd pose people in the studio, doing specific actions related to our project, and use photos of our own for scaled figures.

in any case, the drawings are always idealized notions of what this thing is going to be, who will be using it, and in what manner. well, this week i had the bizarre experience of riding down bloomington's b-line trail, from city hall/showers plaza, to where it ends on second street, near kroger, and seeing an architectural rendering of the B-line trail, turned into 3D, real-time, lived space. and, i was IN IT.

this was taken on another day, but you can see what i mean

there were people jogging with ipods, pushing baby carriages, skateboarding, bike riding, studying historical markers. youth were gathered on park benches, smoking cigarettes, and texting. some guys were playing hackey-sack, dogs were being walked, couples were stolling, holding hands, or talking intimately on a bench, under a shade tree. i saw a guy carrying four kroger bags, full of groceries. the trail was being used for actual transportation, as well as recreation, leisure and fitness.

the weather was perfect, and i was capping off a rather idyllic day of community involvement. i'd started the day meeting with the project manager for the middle way house's new wings project-- discussing how i'm going to get the cubbies for the child care area built this summer. then i went off to one of mother hubbard's cupboard's community gardens, and put in a couple of hours there, thinning lettuce and radish seedlings, and talking compost with other volunteers. after a lovely salad of micro-green thinnings, plus some spinach, arugula and violet blossoms from my own garden (topped with the last of the easter eggs), i jumped on the bike and headed down to city hall, for the first annual meeting of the bloomington community orchard. at the meeting i saw the inspiring orchard design sketches, stunning photos of the many varieties of fruit trees being researched and chosen for the orchard, and we voted in the by-laws for the brand new organization.

riding home, through that picture-perfect urban trail scene, i couldn't help but believe, at least for that moment, that what we imagine and hope for, really can come true. sometimes.

14 April 2010

anatomy of a clothing swap

i've been to a number of clothing swaps over the last year or so. before i moved here, i had never been to one, nor had i even heard of them. now, i find that i rely on them for most of my wardrobe. lucky for me, they happen pretty regularly in my community. in case you've been invited to one, are considering hosting one of your own, or you just wonder how they work, i'd like to let you in on a few of the ingredients for a successful clothing swap.

first of all, you need to invite a lot of women. this increases the chance that there will be a variety of sizes and styles of clothing. before i had been to one, i feared that i would be surrounded by tiny women, and there would be nothing in my size. that has never been the case. while you might be nervous about inviting too many women to fit in your house, don't worry. a bunch of them won't be able to make it, and it isn't like other parties. the place is going to be cluttered and chaotic anyway, so it's okay if it is also crowded with women.

you'll want to have snacks and beverages, so be sure to ask those invited to bring something yummy to share. some women will go-all-out and bake something, others will bring some sparkling water, or apple slices. there will most likely be a nice spread of delectables. the last one i went to was also labeled as a tea party, so the snacks were in fancy dishes, and they served tea and coffee. i've also been to night swaps, which featured wine and beer.

before you go to a clothing swap, you'll want to cruise through your closet and drawers and weed out all that stuff you haven't worn in the past two years, and pile it all into baskets or bags. you can also take the opportunity to gather any clothes you child has outgrown.

in some cases, the clothes that each guest brought, are dumped in a big pile, in the center of the main room, or multiple piles, un-sorted. no one looks through the pile until everyone has arrived, and then the host says the word, and everyone digs in at once.

another strategy is to attempt to sort the clothes, as they arrive, into rough catagories: pants, sweaters, skirts/dresses, jackets, tops, shoes, unmentionables, and kid's clothes.

in either case, at some point, the event descends into a free-for-all-frenzy of clothes flying off, and on, and a few women running around in bras and underwear, while others discretely retreat to the bathroom, or designated dressing room (hopefully with a full length mirror). some choose to just take the clothes they're interested in home with them, to try on in private. if it doesn't work out, just bring it back next time. i have seen a few items show up over and over again.
i often pick up wool sweaters that have either been shrunk already, or that i can use for making felted crafts.

i've noticed that i get inspiration from other women's fashion choices. someone will put together a few items in a way i would have never thought of. i get more daring in my choices, and take home things i am not completely sure i will wear (after all, everything is free!). a too short camisole might end up looking great over another shirt, or i could take-in these adorable, light-weight pants, and they'd be perfect. i usually walk away with almost as much as i brought, and in the stack, are one or two pieces that become favorites. last fall, i found a gorgeous, chestnut colored, cashmere sweater, which fits me perfectly. it became my sweater-of-choice all winter long.

occaisionally, i find i'm not really in the mood to hunt for clothes. but a house full of half-naked women, talking, laughing, enjoying food and each other's company, is something i needed even more than a new outfit.

the regularity of the clothing swap has changed my addittude towards my closet, from scarcity to abundance. i no longer cling to clothes i never wear (but might some day, if the stars align just right) or clothes-that-don't-fit-me-but-i-hope-they-will-soon. it's easier to let go, when i know i will find something better. Plus, what i bring to the next clothing swap? it just might become a friend's new favorite. last time, i brought a zip-up, charcoal-colored hoody, that i've been hanging onto for years, even though it has never felt right on me. it is in great shape, but too heavy, and a bit too small for me. i finally decided to let it go. early on in the clothing swap, i noticed someone wearing it, and i heard her say "i'm never taking this off!" i ended up finding a roomy, extra-soft, navy blue, pull-over hoody, that i can honestly say is the hoody of my dreams! perfect exchanges like that happen all the time at clothing swaps.

so, don't hesitate! organize a clothing swap today! it's a great opportunity to clean out your closet, recycle, get quality clothes for free, and bring all your lady friends (and their lady friends) together, for fun-with-a-purpose.

this message paid for by clothes swappers of america.

10 April 2010

sleeping through the night.

as most of my few readers know, i don't usually get too personal on the blog. this may be a slight departure from that standard.

lately, i have been dealing with a form of insomnia. this has never been an issue for me in the past. i have had some wacked-out sleeping patterns in my life -- what with architecture school, where 4-6 hours of sleep a night was the norm, and all-nighters were a regular occurrence. then there was the grave-yard shift at the university library, which i'm not sure i ever really adjusted to. at one point in my life, when i was working in a cabinet shop, in the middle of a record-hot summer (no air conditioning in a wood shop), i would come home, go directly to sleep, and then get up around 3am, have a meal, and enjoy the much cooler, wee hours of the morning for my time off from work. when cosmo was an infant, i was awakened many times throughout the night to feed him. but i have never ever had trouble falling asleep, nor have i ever had a problem falling back to sleep, if awakened. i never felt sleep deprived when cosmo was a baby. i am not someone who takes naps in the middle of the day, but when i am tired, i can fall asleep almost anywhere.

however, recently, this has changed. if i am awakened in the night, usually by cosmo getting up to use the bathroom, i have trouble falling back to sleep. it can take two hours, or more, and sometimes i just give up and get out of bed. the worst part of it is what happens to my mind in those dark hours of the night. i start to worry. about everything. or, just one thing in particular--obsessively. one night it might be student loans, another night it will be some minor task i forgot to complete, or someone i failed to correspond with, who is awaiting a reply. or, i might worry about the tone in my voice when i scolded cosmo for something the day before. whatever it is, it gets blown entirely out of proportion. the other night, i worked myself up into a panic over details of a project i have promised the middleway house, which is far from completion, and barely even started. i became so distressed that i bolted out of bed, then felt incapable of doing anything about it, and fell back onto the pillow, sobbing. i could not stop my mind from racing and reeling. it was like i was in an altered mental state. carl calls it nocturnal anxiety. i finally calmed myself, and began to count backwards from 100. i had to do it twice through, and i also sang cosmo's lullaby songs to myself, but finally, i did drift off into sleep again.

in the clear light of day, none of the things i worried about seemed so bad. i no longer have the pressing sense of urgency, nor the feelings of inadequacy. the night before just seems like a bad trip, or something.

so, i have been asking myself: what is the cause of this new, disturbing trend? could it be aging? i have heard that our sleep patterns can change as we get older. could be diet, or caffeine consumption. i have also speculated that there are things i am stressed about, which i am not fulling dealing with in my waking life. could be all of those, plus other factors.

i have looked at some self-help sleep websites, and considered their lists of suggestions for better sleep. last night, i began to implement some of the ideas, and had plans for what i would do if i couldn't get back to sleep. i am happy to report, that i slept through the night. i never cared about that term when cosmo was a baby. it seemed like THE-most-important-thing to so many people. everyone would ask, "is he sleeping through the night?" it didn't matter to me, because we were all well rested.

now, the phrase has a whole new meaning. for me.

03 April 2010

april showers

this morning's rain couldn't keep us from the first outdoor farmer's market of the season. cosmo got a honey straw, and made his traditional visit to the spiral fountain. since the water hasn't been turned on yet, it was actually nice to have the rain.

harmony school student's were having an art show next door, and i was quite impressed with a number of the pieces shown. these delicately crafted wire and paper structures were suspended from the ceiling with golden balloons and fine thread.

here's cosmo, slipping ever-so-carefully, between two configurations of paper airplanes, moments before getting scolded by one of the harmony teachers. i can see why he was concerned. it was a fragile piece, but cosmo understood that, and was passing through without touching anything. the gentle breeze he generated, actually enhanced the work, in my humble opinion. but then, i have always been a fan of art installations that invite interaction.

tomorrow is easter, and we are ready with dyed eggs, and anticipation of our neighbor's annual egg hunt and polka party. i wonder if the cops will be called again this year?