Thursday, December 26, 2013

My Aunt Bess

Aunt Bess (right) with her sister (Aunt) Kate

Everyone has an Aunt Bess. Or should have one. Or at the very least, an Aunt Maude. You know, the one from whom you inherit things. Cool things usually, but not things that you really know quite what to do with.

Well, my Aunt Bess left a recipe for homemade mustard which is hard to beat. My dad loved it. Even as a kid, I loved it. And now that it is the season for salmon with mustard sauce, or crab with mustard-mayonnaise dressing, or even roast beef with mustard-horseradish sauce, it's time to share her wisdom with a wider audience.

I looked up my copy of the recipe but somehow I was doubtful that a mustard recipe would call for flour, so I double-checked with my mom. Turns out I was wrong: many mustard recipes - especially those including beer - call for either flour or cornstarch.

This annotated version comes directly from Aunt Bess, via my mom:

Aunt Bess's Mustard (original recipe from Bess)

6 level Tbs Coleman's dry mustard
6 level Tbs flour
6 level Tbs sugar
6 Tbs herb vinegar* (about)
1 level tsp turmeric
1 tsp dry mixed herbs

Mix dry ingredients together and add herb vinegar. You may need a little more. Place in jar and refrigerate overnight to blend. Keeps forever in fridge.

Herb vinegar:

1 quart white vinegar
1 tsp dry mixed herbs

Heat to boiling and allow to cool. One whole clove garlic may be put in also if desired.

If I remember correctly, she did not use Italian seasoning herbs - more like French herbs - tarragon, parsley, etc. types. I used plain white vinegar once without the herbs and boiling, etc. and it wasn't nearly as good. Likewise, only Coleman's mustard has the right flavor.

Enjoy. And Happy New Year!

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Very Last of the Last-Ones-on-the-Vine

Photo taken on December 5, 2013 

Given just how cold my tootsies have been this past week, it's pretty apparent that our lovely, long drawn-out Indian summer is finally over. Dang. And no rain in the forecast, either.

Anything that is going to keep growing this winter will just have to be happy tucked in under those row covers.

Purple Viking potatoes harvested on December 10, 2013

So who likes freezing? The Top Hat blueberry went all pink in the cold weather.

Photo taken on December 14, 2013

Friday, November 29, 2013

Shameless Plug #5: Pets and People by Carla Reed

Know someone who has everything?  Oh no, s/he doesn't… Yeah, yeah, s/he has the this and the that and the other, but now that we have arrived at the Season of Shopping (SOS), all of this matters.  'Cause you're supposed to come up with something else, something new, something very cool and different, for that special someone.

A few suggestions:

First up, travel to a non-Christian country for the month and avoid the entire issue. That is what my best guy fervently hopes for each year, conveniently forgetting that scary food poisoning episode in Thailand a few Christmases back. Or maybe, in his belief system, a near death experience is just a minor trade-off. You'll have to ask him.

Marbles the ButtHead, 1990-2007
Secondly, don't give your loved someone a pet, unless s/he has already agreed, and gets to pick out the animal. (That means you, Ann. And Kira concurs.)

But if you ignore that advice, or if s/he already has a pet, consider a pet portrait by Carla Reed. I met her when she was making the most fabulous lampshades; she went on to design and paint many of the fabrics that, over the years, have been wrapped around our bodies and lives. Heck, she even painted Marbles, the Butthead of the World, so she can paint anything.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Bees, Bees, Bees, Please

Everyone has heard about the hard time bees are having these days, what with the high rents and slow job growth…  hmmm, that's not what I meant to say.

Actually, I bet they're not too concerned about rents and they already work for free. So we just have to stop killing them all off. Yes you, though perhaps not intentionally. In truth, probably quite unwittingly.

Fact is, a recent study has determined that the pesticides (neonicitinoids, or "neonics" for short) involved in honeybee colony collapse disorder have been found in plants sold at local nurseries, especially those big boxy plant sellers.

Wanna know more? This article in Oakland Local does a terrific job of explaining the issues, as well as gives some good advice about how to avoid poisoning your favorite friends in the yellow-and-black jackets.

Honey from "our" Bees
Wanna do more? MoveOn has a petition which asks Lowes and the Home Depot to stop selling neonics. And Friends of the Earth is also sponsoring a petition calling on Washington to restrict neonics.

Wanna really do something? Check to make sure that you are not using neonics in your garden regime. Buy your plants from retailers that do not sell plants which have been subjected to neonics.

For example,  Berkeley Hort, is looking into what pesticides its suppliers are using. The nice people there plan to continue the investigation and work to ensure that their plants are not toxic to bees. And I called up Annie's Annuals: the answer there was, "We have our own hive here, and would never do anything to harms the bees."

Finally, if you are really brave, you can grow many plants from seeds. It's not hard (ahem, I'll tell you my experiences with tuberous begonias another day) but it does take a bit of time.

Now wanna know a secret? We had a beehive this year. It came with its own beekeeper. And the pint of honey we received was the best. Sadly, the queen swarmed and now the box is empty, but we're looking forward to a new bee family moving in next spring. The rent? Really, really cheap.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Powershift 2013

I'd never heard of Powershift, the on-line "community that seeks to empower and serve as a hub for the youth climate movement." But my nephew Ian and some of his fellow high school students were raising money to get to it's conference in Pittsburgh in October, so I became a little bit better educated.  Here is Ian's report on the conference:

"Now that It's been about a week after I got back from Powershift, and I think now I can truly talk about the experience.

We left Friday at 9:30, and began the infamous road trip.  Seven hours, and a few paperbacks later, we reached the church we would be staying at (The Calvert Memorial Presbyterian Church), dropped off our stuff, and rushed over to Powershift. Unfortunately, sign-ins took a while, but finally we got in to see the keynote speakers.  At about ten, we all boarded the bus (about $70 for all of us, bus fare is expensive) and fell asleep in the church floor by midnight.

The next morning we woke up at six, took the bus into Pittsburgh, and started the workshops at 9.  The workshops were a whole variety of topics, some panels, some discussions, each about a hour long.  

I learned about the social justice aspect of environmentalism (a theme that would come back in every panel), fracking, nuclear power, and a powerful movie called "Bidder 70".  Wrap it up with a classy dinner and more amazing keynote speakers, and I call it a day.

Sunday we woke up at six again, got some bagels and coffee, and headed down to the convention center for the caucuses.  The caucuses were group chats for people fitting under the description of the caucuses.  I went to the high school one as it really was my only option, and we talked about the problems we were facing and the people who were causing them.

Next were more panels and discussions, where I learned more about the dangers of nuclear power and a interesting concept know as "Shared Economics".  After lunch and more panels, we sat down for the last keynote speakers, including Bill Mckibben!  We wrapped it up with a live music performance, and got back to the church at 12ish.  

There was going to be a large rally around Pittsburgh the next day, but we had to leave in order to make it back for school the next day.  

I hope that covers it all!  Email me back with any questions you have.  Tell Michael a report on my art progress is coming soon!"

Photos courtesy of Ian Cullings
Author photo courtesy of J. Lawrence

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Calories on the Street

We love the San Marzano tomatoes and do not readily share them with anyone but close friends. So when I spotted giant caterpillar poops (really they were still "pooplets," but relatively speaking, they were enormous) under the plants, I knew I had a varmint.

In fact, I had two. Tomato Hornworms. One was almost 5" long. Both were completely yucky. And almost impossible to locate on the vines because of their protective coloration. But if you just look up from the trail of poops (and stifle the squeam-factor), you can eventually find 'em.

And then what to do? They're just too big to squish (you'd never get the mess off your shoes). So I pitched them into the yard waste bin for pick-up later in the week. Let the garbage guys deal with them - they get paid for this kinda stuff.

And then I got to thinking...

These babies must pack a lot of calories, probably some usable proteins and, after eating all those leaves and a coupla green tomatoes, a fair amount of vitamins and minerals. Not that I was planning on eating them, mind you. I'm still not sure about this new idea of cricket bars, which apparently do a good job of disguising the bugs inside. Truth to tell, I'm not even sure about the old timey energy/power bar units. I think they all taste pretty nasty.

But what about my friends' chickens? Chickens love caterpillars, right? So I scooped them back out of the bin, packaged them up in a small paper carton and sent them off to the ladies for lunch.

Hah! Such a sad story. Unlike these birds - the local Oakland gals were afraid. Afraid of a coupla green squishy bugs. So much for Oaktown 'tude...

Monday, October 21, 2013

Go Take a Hike....on the New Bay Bridge

We did. And can recommend it, especially before the old one is completely gone. 'Cause after all these years of traveling over it, you've never seen it look like this before: totally empty. Privately, I wonder if someone will pay enough to be allowed to film some apocalyptic, car-chase movie on the bridge before it is all torn down...

To get onto the pathway, we used the Burma Rd./Maritime St. trailhead near the Port. We went on a weekday morning (be aware that you must walk from the parking area back to the intersection - the way is not obvious - but the trailhead actually starts back there.) and parking was easy. Dress in layers: we started out all bundled up but by the end, were both sweaty hot.

And that's because it's a looong walk. Or at least much longer than I was expecting. Everything I read about the trail mentioned "2.2 miles." But that doesn't count the nearly 2 miles of walking before you can actually get onto the bridge. So count on nearly 8 miles round trip, and on being starved for lunch by the end.
But that little detail didn't stop lots of people from enjoying the outing.  I counted about the same number of bicyclists as pedestrians, the majority of whom were women. Yup, surprised me, too. 

Also along the way we came across an art class from a local elementary school drawing the old bridge, an entire fleet, organized in small pods, though, of parents, grandparents and babysitters pushing strollers, and more than a few older goofballs like us.  Many of the people on the trail were a little giggly, probably because it seemed pretty darn unusual to be walking above the bay.

Everyone had a camera, and stopped repeatedly to take photos. The "real" traffic was also stopped for some of the time, but I doubt they were having nearly as much fun as we were.

Friday, October 11, 2013

I Hate:

 Getting my nails clipped
(even though I get treats afterwards)

photo courtesy of Sari Kulberg

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Amaranth, the Showstopper

Amaranth is once again being touted as the next big thing - a superfood even - but it has been around since before the Aztecs and the Incas lost out to the Spaniards. In the 70's, the Rodale Institute tried to pitch amaranth as the grain of the future, but without much success. This summer I just had to try it: not so much for the superfood aspects, but because I had never tried growing any kind of grain before, and this was a very easy place to start.

Amaranth starts really small - the seeds are so tiny that they cook down into a porridge. When they were still young and tender, we ate the leaves - think "mild spinach." Even better, think "Greek diet."  I convinced the neighbors to try some, and they thought the amaranth was alright, although they found the stems a little tough. (Yeah right, try rainbow chard if you want tough stems.)

Some people apparently add the young leaves to the salad mix, but do not try this at my home. Nor rainbow chard in any form, for that matter.

But amaranth sure knows how to grow. Within a few weeks, the plants were no longer suitable for greens (the seed heads were already forming). Instead they became the Purple Sensation on the block. I met more people over the question of just what the heck was growing up front. And the queries only increased as the number and size of the flowering seed heads expanded.

Ultimately, the plants topped out at about 6 ft., with at least a 3 ft. spread (naw, once again, we couldn't use the walkway. So whose dumb idea was this anyway?)

Be aware that those tiny seeds easily drop from the flower heads, so if you plant amaranth, expect to find many, many, many seedlings coming up next year - just in time for a spring "mess o' greens." No worries, though, they are very easy to pull out.

Many gardeners grow amaranth for the wonderful, long-lasting bouquets they produce. The flowers can also be dried for year-round floral arrangements. (Can be, but not by me. I already have enough things that suffer from a lack of dusting.)

So eat the leaves and share the bounty with your friends and neighbors.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Go ahead. Play with your Food

It's completely ridiculous, but the ridiculous in me (a big, big portion here) simply had to plant the dark red ("Outredeous") lettuce evenly spaced between the bright green one (Black-seeded Simpson"). 

And those shallot tops that just won't die down? Turn them into an aromatic bouquet for the desk.  Keeps the pests away and later on, they can be used in an omellete.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Updates: #3

The Discover and Go program, available through the Oakland Public Library and other local libraries, still works for me.  Free entry into the Aquarium by the Bay, the Academy of Sciences and the Lindsay Wildlife Museum, for example, really saved this month's budget.

At the Aquarium, the coolest items included the jellyfish tanks and the octopus. I had heard that the Aquarium was kinda rinky-dink, but it was far more interesting than I was expecting. (Maybe the free entry helped.)

So why were we aware of entrance fees? Well, aside from the fact that some of them are pretty high (I know, the costs of blah, blah, blah justify...) we had a young visitor, our nephew Ian, who wanted to see everything.

And although the weather was foggy and cool, the Bay Bridge out of commission and the fireworks show canceled, we persevered. Heck, we even went to Tahoe, suspecting that it might be a little smoky from the Rim Fire, but never ever imaging that it would be sooooo bad. No hiking for us.

Princess came out of hiding once Ian left. She has never been keen about visitors, hates it when the doorbell rings but somehow always seems to know the precise moment when those evil strangers are gone.

Whew! Still with me? Well then, Kevin is doing just great, and planning on going back to work asap (yeah, he likes to keep busy).

And if you need some retail therapy now that the back-to-school madness is over, Kathy Kenny and a few friends - Las Tres Amigas - are putting on a trunk show this upcoming weekend.

Oh yeah, and did I mention the tomatoes? Finally, finally, finally, something is happening out back. And this year, they are pretty tasty. We switched from Stupice to Glacier, and they really were glacial in ripening - ninety days? C'mon. But I'll try them again next year, no prob. 'cause they taste so good.

Lastly, it was a great party at Velvet da Vinci in celebration of the marriage of Tom and Mike! Yessir, it was a fun time, and it was had by all. Congratulations and Best Wishes!

Jellyfish photo courtesy of Ian Cullings

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Summer Bounty for the Rest of Us

Since retiring, I have made two lampshades. Or rather, I've re-made two small shades which were old enough to be attending junior high, but I don't think that really counts as working.

Instead, I've been slaving away into the yard. Ahhh, yes, the Zucchini Sex Goddess has been re-deployed. In fact, that ZSG tried to expand her area of expertise and work her charms on a gourd plant - close cousin to the zuke, that blooms even earlier in the morning - but to no purpose. No girl gourds came to the party.

The blossoms on the gourd plant are quite pretty, though - white instead of goldfish-orange. So we all pretended it was just fine to grow a flowering vine. It doesn't really matter that there will not be any gourds this year, right?

But there are beans, beans and more than enough beans to make up for the lack of a few stupid gourds. This season's choice was Fortex pole beans. Great results. And the neighborhood crowd pleaser? Watching the vines grow up the trellis in the front yard (more about trellises another time).

I like my beans mildly flavored (none of that hearty, chewy beany-ness of romanos for me). If you feel that same way, I strongly recommend Fortex. Then you get the entertainment of designing and building a trellis, too.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Summer Bounty

The catnip (nepeta cataria) I planted this spring

is now ready for primetime...

Just ask Princess.

(And Kevin wishes to thank you all for your kind thoughts and messages. He is doing well and expects to be home next week sometime.)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

In the Kitchen

Private home in the Markha Valley

I've been spending a fair amount of time in the kitchen these days. I would like to say that it's because of the bountiful tomato crop, but I'd be lying. Zucchini, sure, but if the tomatoes show up for Thanksgiving, it will be a miracle. And I will be grateful. 

Other kitchens I've been visiting? The photo to the right is of a Ladakhi kitchen in the village of Yurutse (alt. 13,500 ft.), a "village" of one family, with three generations living together. We stopped for tea and a rest on our trek in the Markha Valley. The family was very kind to this tired and slightly sick traveler.

An important feature of the Ladakhi kitchen is the imposing metal stove. It is not only used for cooking, but for heat during the long winters. Surrounding the stove are cabinets containing beautiful brass utensils, cooking pots and food storage containers. Many of these items have been handed down for generations.

The kitchen also serves as the living room, dining room, playroom and, sometimes, even as a sleeping area. In fact, much of Ladakhi daily life is carried out in the kitchen. Sound familiar?

Many families in the Markha Valley now use outdoor solar cookers, especially for heating water for the generous rounds of tea which are consumed each day. Since the traditional stoves use animal dung - hand collected - for fuel, there are obvious advantages to the solar cooker.

Our traveling kitchen consisted of two gas burners, set up in a large yellow tent (smoked to black on the inside. It could have been declared a toxic waste site. Makes burning dung seem like a plausible option after all...). Our cook's meals were astonishing in their complexity, range of flavors and sheer tastiness. Needless to say, the tent also served as the dining room on windy nights, the storage area, and the bedroom for our helpers.

Gelsim cooking dinner

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Relax. Think positively. Praise is Vital.

Kevin, my brother-in-law, is going in for heart surgery on Friday.  So, if you have some spare time to think good thoughts, please do.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Oh Man! Not Another Art Project!

As we all know, sharing is hard - one desk, two computers, two people. Engaged in on-going and never-ending negotiations. So finally, I took my computer and moved downstairs. No desk, though.

Craigslist was no help. And my new workroom is so tiny that only a small desk would work. Enter Ikea, with a small solid wood dining table . Very pale, very sturdy, very basic. Some fine tuning was clearly in order.

A little bit of sanding, a little wash of stain to darken the wood, a few coats of sealer, and the table top was ready to join up with some glass tiles leftover from the kitchen backsplash project. Lots of leftover tile from that job. Heck, I even had leftover adhesive.

It only took a week or so to get the tiles glued onto the table. Of course, all four corners of the table are perfectly square. But these are "art" tiles, so they are neither the same size nor thickness, nor square...  You just have to do the best that you can. After all, it's a damn art project, right, not fine building?
Professional assistance became essential in assembling the table. Though I confess it's hard to follow the instructions when someone is lying on top of them. At least I was allowed to use the screwdriver. That way I could attach the legs backwards a few times all by myself.

Voila! Now all I need now is a chair...

Monday, July 22, 2013

Trekking in the Markha Valley, Ladakh..... Say Where?

After nine years without having to travel halfway 'round the world, we blew it. We became convinced that returning to Ladakh to go trekking in the Himalayas was absolutely essential. Silly, silly us.

Door-to-door: over 33 hours in transit. Altitude: from sea level in Oakland to 11,500 ft. in Leh, the capital city of Ladakh. And only up from there. But we really loved the place then. And, for all the challenges, it truly was worth going back once more.

I am very happy to give our team -  Gelsim, Jigmet, Dorje and Norbu  (l. to r.) - full honors, because without them, quite literally, we wouldn't have "gone the distance" (+/- 70 miles). And it sure wouldn't have been anywhere near as fun, or as interesting, or as tasty.
And to the rest of the team - names unknown - without whom none of us would have wanted to keep on going. They carried everything, including my lunch some days, when I wasn't hungry enough to haul any extras for seven or eight miles up 1000 feet or more. Usually more, and often straight up.

We camped out and hiked for ten days. A typical morning started with hot tea at the tent door, followed by bowls of warm water for washing and a large breakfast eaten outdoors in the bright sunshine.

Then we were ready to walk:

Upwards, with fabulous views of the early light on the Ladakh Range.

Along the Markha River (that's me and the teams near the water), where barley has been cultivated for centuries. There are no roads in the Markha Valley, meaning no cars, no traffic, few bridges and great quietness.

Most of the sounds came from the wind moving through the willow and poplar trees which are found anywhere there is water. And from the bells which all of the horses were wearing - we called it the Ladakhi Pony Gamelan.

To the top of  Gongmaru La (la means "pass" in Ladakhi) at 5200 meters (17,050 ft.), one of the few places where there is cell phone reception. From there, in one direction, you can see all of the Ladakh Range. And beyond. In the other direction is the Zanskar Range.

Past chortens constructed by villagers (a "village" can be as small as one or two families).

And back down alongside the barley fields. The white tents in the distance are parachutes donated by the Indian Army. They now serve as summertime tea houses for trekkers and other travelers.

And back into a newly set-up camp, where a snack of hot, milky tea and biscuits ("cookies" to Americans) was always waiting. Followed by a nap. Otherwise, how could you do it all again the next day?