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Ok, you may or may not agree with me on this when you find out what it is, but let me tell you…

THIS STUFF IS AWESOME!

(ok, it may have been the huge amounts of butter and olive oil, combined with a chaotic day, and the decadence of cooking this ONLY for me and not having to share for once…)

I got the idea from a book I just finished, The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball.  Kimberlie mentioned it in a 7 Quick Takes a few weeks back as a “why I never want a farm” kind of read.  I read it for the completely opposite reason: I want a farm.  Badly.  I’m not getting one any time soon, but we had a possibility that fell through for a job change… and now I realize how much that desire never died.

The book is an interesting read.  There are occasional recipe descriptions (but no actual “1 cup of this, 1 tsp of that…”) and lots of farm life.  For the morally sensitive, yes, she sleeps with him before he proposes (the food gets more descriptive time) and moves in with him more than a year before the wedding… and then nearly leaves him right after the wedding.  But, finally, she does realize something plenty of us need to realize: travel or running from marriage or running from the committment of the farm isn’t the solution.  We’re most afraid of ourselves, but hiding it under movement and committment avoidance.  In the end, she goes home from her writing assignment in Maui, dives back into the farm and her marriage, and then wrote a book about the entire experience. 

Anyways, when the author first met her future husband, she cooks something like this for the farm crew, although I think she said she used kale.

Poached Eggs in Swiss Chard

one baby leek or several scallions (sliced, white and green parts)

big bunch of swiss chard (stems and leaves, sliced into ribbons)

half a stick of butter

olive oil

balsamic vinegar (I used pomegranate-infused)

eggs

leftover shrimp scampi (Optional.  DH made it for my birthday; the shrimp had garlic, thyme, and even more butter.)

slices of homemade bread

Dubliner white cheddar (or any other sharp white cheese; I think orange cheddar would be the wrong flavor for this)

1.  In a small frying pan, melt the butter.  Add sliced leeks and saute until soft.

2.  Pile in the chard, stem pieces first.  Cover (I used my dinner plate) and let cook down slightly.  Drizzle generously with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Stir, re-cover, and cook until limp.

3.  Make a bit of a well in the limp chard mixture.  Think “nest”; the pan should not show through the bottom.  Crack an egg into each nest.  Re-cover and let the eggs poach.  (I nestled some shrimp in between the eggs at this point.)

4.  When eggs are white and cooked through, but not hard, you’re done!  Serve on top of thin slices of homemade bread (mine had a seed mixture in it).  Top with thin slices of the cheese.

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7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 136)

Last Sunday, several people at church commented to the kids about summer being “half over”… which it isn’t for us, since we homeschool.  In fact, it’s all over.

You know how they tell you that the population of the South didn’t really start to increase significantly until the invention of the air conditioner?  They aren’t kidding.  There are reasons for this, and August is the main one.  So, instead of listening to a month of, “But I don’t want to go outside!  *whine*  It’s too hot!” we start school at the beginning of August.  This has the lovely secondary effect of us being done with school by the beginning of May, when the weather is frequently lovely and the garden needs a ton of work.

All that being said, I offer (in homage to teachers past who seemed to love the old standby): What I did on my summer vacation, by the Political Housewyf

1.  I made an awning.  Three 2x2x8 treated pine poles, pipe strapping (DH insisted I shouldn’t screw the poles directly into the dock walls), six large screw eyes, six D-rings, a package of huge grommets, some PVC pipe and the stand from the failed patio umbrella (to hold up the fourth corner, where I couldn’t install a pole), and yards and yards of fabric (on sale!).  The D-rings stay in the grommets and hook quickly into the screw eyes.  It takes about two minutes to walk down to the dock and put it up.

And this view is part of why I haven’t gotten a whole lot of blogging done lately…

2.  I read Eats, Shoots, and Leaves.  The cover has a panda with a smoking gun running away.  (If you don’t get it, you need this book!)  I loved it and discovered that some of my odd punctuation practices would be considered proper in British punctuation but not American.  Thanks to my high school English teachers (who were better at imparting grammar than enthusiasm for Shakespeare), none of the grammar rules was new to me, but the book is very funny.

Sticklers of the world unite!  You have nothing to lose but you’re your misplaced apostrophe’s apostrophes’ apostrophes!  (Contrary to what some of you may think after reading my blog, I do know grammar rules… I just choose to break them upon occasion.  And I shall continue to do so. 😉 )

3.  I killed a whole lot of trees doing adoption paperwork.  Our dossier finally went to China in June, got assigned the all-important log-in date (LID) quickly, and… now we wait again.  We hope to see our LOA from China before the end of August, which then triggers- get this- even more paperwork.  But at least we got some updated photos.  (No, no photo here.  Yes, everyone else does, but “everyone else” usually has a adoption-specific website that doesn’t get into criticizing certain governmental policies.)

The good news is that I have rediscovered the joys of the Rumor Queen’s website, populated by number crunching waiting parents who, like me, want more info than the adoption agencies are usually willing to commit to.  (The agency says, “Well, it could be four to six months…” and the number crunching waiting dad says, “The average for the year, over two hundred familes, has been 74 days.”)

4.  I made sushi.  No, no raw fish (which is technically sashimi, a subset of sushi).  A trendy little sushi place in Richmond (I don’t think we’re cool enough or left-leaning enough for it, honestly) had a special one time we were in there on our way back from running adoption paperwork in DC.  They called it Kong’s Lunchbox, and it had tempura-fried banana, peanut butter, and grape jelly in a sushi roll.  The kids adored it, which is why what was supposed to be a photo of happy kids eating sushi has no sushi slices in it.

Ah, there it is, along with some tempura-fried figs and pickled ginger.  Good stuff.  (My DH informed me that the tempura-fried okra was not acceptable.  I suspect it’s because the tempura doesn’t coat heavily enough to disguise the vegetable.)  (Tempura-fried green beans are really good, too.  Start with fresh, raw ones.)

5.  I grew rice, although, really, it’s very low-maintenance, so I can’t claim much credit.  It started out tiny and pathetic.  Recently, though, I told Empress to stand behind it to show off how tall it is… except that you can’t really see her in the photo, the rice is so tall!  So, I took another shot with her in front of it.  The rice seems to take up a ton of water; I’m not keeping it full of water constantly, because of mosquitoes (I let the top of the soil dry just a bit in between floodings), but it does get watered every few days in this heat, especially since it is in a windy location (it makes the nicest swishing sound in the breeze), which could be causing it to lose water faster.  Just this morning, I found a fat, bulging part that is about to erupt into the seed head!  Woo hoo!

6.  I spent way too much at my friend Jen’s favorite local yarn store in DC, Yarn Cloud.  Yarn stores are usually nice, but this one is gorgeous!  Well-lit, easy to navigate, and the yarn is well-arranged.  What do I mean by well-arranged yarn?  Some was stacked neatly on shelves, but lots of it was hung on peg board display hooks, which encourages you to touch the yarn… which is how my bill got so big.  Once you start petting the yarn, all kinds of wonderful projects come to mind, and oh, that linen blend feels interesting and…  (If you’re on a strict budget, DON’T PET THE YARN!)  The priority right now, however, is to get the baby’s blanket on the loom: a single-ply silk blend weft on a plied silk blend warp, both in a gorgeous, deep shade of red.  Yes, photos will be forthcoming whenever I get going.

7.  I pulled my SIL’s Christmas present out again.  It’s an embroidered map of Middle Earth.  I spent more than an hour tying knots to make Mirkwood last night, and it’s nowhere near done.  (As I told her, “The forests are taking hours each, and that’s just the small ones on the fringe of the map that don’t figure in the stories.  I’m not sure I like you this much…”)  I had been avoiding it, because I couldn’t figure out how to do mountains.  I think I figured out a decent solution, but you’ll have to wait for a photo; it’s just too unfinished right now!

As always, I’ve been a bit wordy for “quick takes”, but there it is!  Go check out Jen at Conversion Diary for a weekly dose of 7 Quick Takes from her and dozens of other bloggers.

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Go to the happy place…

It’s amazing how badly a week off can go.  But it did.

Since I come here to get away from my usual stresses, let’s just go to the happy place:

White peonies and near-black irises.  Gorgeous, long-lasting, and sweet-smelling.  (and already gone, here in the SE corner of Virginia.)

There, I feel better; I hope you do, too.

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The Spring Garden

I’m happy to say, I am finally measuring progress in something more than centimeters in the garden.

Remember those aluminum raised bed corners?  Well, I never put the end caps on (they appeared to be semi-permanent once you tapped them into the holes).  So, I used the holes.  My tea plants (which I nearly killed by ignoring the “they don’t like wind that much” line in the instructions) got a burlap wind screen.  (That’s Empress’s “cute look”, in case you couldn’t tell.)

Yes, that bed is mostly onions and bok choi… the tea plants just aren’t all that big right now and the leafy greens are.

At the other end, I used leftover deck screws to make pegs for a bean trellis.

And then there’s the lettuce patch… which has suddenly gotten completely out of control.  It will get beans on a trellis, too, which will hopefully provide enough shade to keep the lettuce from bolting longer.

That’s swiss chard in front (Bright Lights).  So pretty, you want to figure out how to eat it… but we have to eat the lettuce first.  (It’s been chicken ceasar salad every other night around here.)

And that’s it… whoa!  Under 200 words.  I must be coming down with something. 😉

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7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 120)

I’m wimping out this week.  I have some scattered thoughts, but they’re all in photos, so I don’t really have to write.  🙂

1.  I took Diva shopping at the thrift store.  (Maybe I won’t be so jinxed because it was cheap; otherwise, she seems to outgrow everything I buy her within two weeks!)  Yes, I bought her slide-on bright orange high heels.  Yes, she isn’t even nine, yet.  DH says I’m getting soft in my old age.  (Notice the shocked boys behind her.)  At least they keep her from running in her church clothes.  (Which was part of her selling points to me on why I should buy them for her.)

2.  Oooh!  Seedlings!  (Better late than never; I started weeks late this year.)  That cute thing is a hedgehog; it’s a medieval watering device.  There’s a hole at the top of the stem and a lot of little holes on the bottom.  Submerge it in a bucket of water until the air is all out, hold the stem ridge in your fingers, and plug the hole with your thumb.  Ta da!  The water stays in until you remove your thumb because the air can’t get in to let the water out, and it’s nice and gentle for seedlings.  Plus, it’s cute and it was on sale. 🙂

3.  Empress just turned four.  She wanted pink, purple, and princess everything.  And she wanted her castle cake to have a garden.  (BTW, the chocolate cake recipe on the Swan’s Down cake flour boxes is really, really crumbly; it’s nearly impossible to ice!)

4.  Couldn’t get the plastic tiara to stay, but we’ve got jewelry and gloves!  She’s fun to do stuff for- she spent the entire day squealing in delight.

5.  Why you should own an art projector, reason #96.  My mom sent an e-mail with this Chinese lady for Empress’s birthday.  I was going to just do the woman, but wound up doing a background.  (Yes, the fish didn’t come out very well.  An excellent example of why I use an art projector instead of freehand most of the time!)

6.  Oh, yeah, I had a birthday, too.  It isn’t quite so exciting at my age, is it?  I couldn’t get the brownie to come out of the pan, so I iced it in place with a nice little garden.  Rice growing in a paddy, beans on trellises, tomatoes growing up stakes, some random herbs, two bales of mulching straw with gardening tools, and some huge pumpkins.

My DH is annoyed, but yes, I made my own cake.  It’s more fun, and it tastes better!

7.  I just realized Crash didn’t make it in, so here’s a great shot of him from Williamsburg over Christmas.  Everyone in the historic district decorates; this one was in the historic district but not one of the buildings that is open to the public.  So, the residents were freer to decorate how they liked: big framed Constitution in one window, eagle cookies hung in the greenery, and a neat interpretation of the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag with the snake made out of a piece of rope and the words spelled in cinnamon sticks.  Very nicely done.

And a row of nicely graphic pouches of tea from the Williamsburg shops over the door.  Just in case you didn’t get the reference.

Go visit Jen at Conversion Diary for more 7 Quick Takes!

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Digging Progress

My brain was about ready to explode from adoption paperwork this afternoon, so I went back to digging…

Ok, actually, I finished these a few days ago.  The space between the fence and the top wall is just barely more than two lawnmower widths wide, which made it a pain to mow.  After killing the grass (or trying to), five or six layers of newspaper, and a layer of landscape fabric, the boxes were assembled on top.  Paths in between the boxes are covered in small rocks or pavers.

The corners are 12″ aluminum corners from Gardeners’ Supply.  The website said to put the in-line connectors every four feet, but the printed instructions that came with them said every six to eight feet, so I tried that.  We’ll have to wait and see if that creates a bowing problem.  The corners are about $30 for a set of two, so I tried to stretch the cheaper wood instead of over-ordering the corners.  I also couldn’t find cedar, which is rot-resistant, so I used plain pine.

So far, I’ve planted the far box in wheat and lettuce.  Both of these crops seemed to be highly attractive to the muskrats, so I’m hoping that the fat rodents can’t make it up into the boxes.  The edge of the nearest box is filling with one 99 cent end-of-season hyacinth and some bulbs moved from crowded spots elsewhere in the yard.

On the other side of the path, I was going to leave the area empty for the year.  I figured I’d wait and see how the corners held up and whether or not the eight foot boards were ok or if they needed to be cut and joined with more in-line connectors.  Then DH commented on how funny it looked with one side full of boxes and the other side just showing the landscaping fabric.

So I ordered another set of corners and connectors.

By that time, I was finally running out of the five cubic yards of compost in my driveway, which posed a problem: now I had another fourteen by four foot box to fill and not that much compost left.  Then I had a brilliant idea (or at least I thought so): the last box is going to be a Chinese-themed garden.

I filled the eight foot section with compost; it will have tea plants (they’re a particular subset of camellias), cilantro (important for hot pot and noodle dishes), bok choi, and some scallions.  The six foot section has a special purpose: I have a pond liner being delivered tomorrow to make it into a rice paddy.  Rice likes wet soil at least; full flooding isn’t absolutely necessary, and occasional draining is actually good for the rice (some sites say it seems to promote tillering, where the plant puts out more seed-bearing shoots).  I grew some in a pond pot on my patio table last year; it’s very pretty, if difficult to thresh.  (Southern Exposure Seed Exchange sells two types of rice, as do a few other places.)  I’m also going to see if the plants from last year will re-sprout from the old roots (some websites say that rice will re-grow from old roots for at least a few years).

Last year's rice, getting plump in the sun.

The raised beds present all kinds of great possibilities when it comes to turning them into cold frames for the fall.  I didn’t tap in the corner caps, so I’m going to see if I can make frames that fit on top that use those holes in the corners to anchor it securely.  And I’m going to cover the rice paddy in plastic to heat it up so I can plant my rice pretty much as soon as I decide how best to secure the pond liner inside.

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I got most of the dirt out of my fingernails (yes, I own gloves, but don’t always use them), but the cracks in my hands didn’t come completely clean.  Oh, life is good!  (and five cubic yards of compost and my raised-bed corners coming tomorrow, and a three day weekend to boot: woo hoo!)

I started turning the garden over in earnest today.  I can’t believe I thought for years that I could get away with just scratching in some composted manure from the plastic bags at Home Depot and let the roots do the rest!  Now, I double dig (two shovel depths, straight down, everywhere) and add leaves and compost every year.  (The kids got a pile of clay to make things out of.  I certainly have enough clay to play with, if I dig down far enough.)

I just finished ordering my seeds, and I have come to two conclusions:

1.  There are just too many options out there.  I received more than a dozen catalogs, but only ordered from two.  And really, do we need a hundred slicing tomatoes to choose from?  I really think a few dozen would be sufficient.  Of course, one of the catalogs I ordered from has nearly a page and a half of their catalog dedicated to various okras (Southern Exposure Seed Exchange- good for those of you who, like me, have long, hot, humid summers that stress many plants).  And I’ll be planting at least ten varieties of lettuce again (most of it not all-green, and NO iceberg! (I think they called it that because iceberg tastes like water.))  I have some leftover Florellenschluss (Flashy Troutback), and I ordered Yugoslavian Red and Revolution, but Drunken Woman was sold out… ok, maybe a few options are good.

2.  The more I pay attention to my food and seeds, the more ticked off I get.  In this particular case, the problem is F1 hybrids.  Basically, these are first generation plant crosses.  Much better than the GMO seeds (Genetically Modified, sometimes with genes that didn’t even come from plants in the first place, much less that species), but still problematic.  Why?  Because if you save seed from an F1, most of it will not have the characteristics that you chose it for.  Essentially, selling F1 hybrids forces you to buy new seeds every year.  The old heirlooms and other longer-than-one-measly-year crosses have had most of the variations bred out of them.  As I’m trying to save more seeds and avoid paying so much for seeds each year, this is becoming more important to me.

So, what’s going to be growing this year?  Some highlights:

Painted Mountain corn: eat it fresh, dry it and grind it (mmm… grits!), parch it (dry pan roasted).  It looks like the beautiful Indian Corn sold for decorations in late fall, but much more edible.  Now, if I can only protect it from the muskrats…

Lettuce!  Watching a guest about to douse his salad in Caesar dressing, I warned, “Look out; my lettuce actually has taste!”  Looking dubious (but learning he’d better listen, since he also hadn’t believed me when I walked across the deck with a basket and scissors saying, “I’m going to go get dinner,” returning with mounds of leaf lettuce), he tried a bite, then agreed that this lettuce didn’t need so much dressing to make it palatable.  Did you know that something like a third of lettuce (pre-truck farm days) in the US used to be reds?

Swiss Chard: I’m growing enough to freeze this year.  We had jambalaya tonight (a great, huge, “I’m busy digging in the garden and want leftovers for tomorrow night so I don’t have to cook” kind of dinner), and I really, really missed the chard and wished I’d put some up before the freeze killed the plants (in milder winters, they’ve gone all winter without dying back… back when I had no idea what to do with them and mostly ignored them).

Potatoes: I was going to order (at around $12 for a two pound bag) some, but decided I’d try my luck with the store varieties.  Since many stores now carry blue potatoes and the occasional fingerlings, as well as the wonderful Yukon Golds and reds, why pay $6 a pound plus extra shipping?  Why grow potatoes, you’re asking?  Southern Exposure Seed Exchange had a large warning on their potato page last year: if you eat fresh-dug potatoes, you will never want to go back to those things from the store!  They are not exaggerating: the fresh-dug ones are sweeter, creamier, cook faster, and their skins haven’t hardened up yet.

Great.  Now it’s after midnight and my mouth is watering.

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