Monday, July 29, 2013

Sunflowers and Meatloaf Cupcakes

Why, oh why, did it take me five years to grow these?
I've got the really big ones, the mediums, the one's that are supposed to be red... and they are spectacular! 
 The big ones are so tall. Here is one - to give you an idea - I am standing directly beneath this one looking straight up. It is so tall!
There are a lot of buds still on the stalks so I will have them for a few weeks longer. There are enough that I can cut some for me, for friends and still not worry about having depleted the lot.  I will have to figure out how to keep the seeds for next year. I definitely want to grow at least this many next year. 

 In other news, I had a fun food adventure.
We have many historic cookbooks at work and one came through the lab needing a box that was from a senior citizens community center in South Philly. There were several interesting recipes, but the one that caught my eye was "Meatloaf with Mashed Potato Frosting". Wow. And I thought - yuck!
Of course I brought this up to the room at large and Leah says, "oh yeah, I've seen that - like - meatloaf cupcakes. They put green peas on the top for sprinkles." And she was serious.
Leah is leaving us after five years to go to graduate school. I will miss her very much. She was a big part of developing the conservation lab. Under those circumstances, farewell parties must be planned... and of course what will I make? Meatloaf Cupcakes!   
I don't have my mother's meatloaf recipe, and quite frankly, while she was a very good cook, it is okay that I don't have this one. I've never missed it. But if I'm going to make meatloaf cupcakes they do have to be good. I browsed the interwebs looking for recipes and sort of compiled some basic ideas and then I remembered my trusty "America's Test-Kitchen Cookbook" This is the "Ol' Reliable" Cookbook. It gives you the basics and it always tastes good. So I decided that was the one I'd go with, but of course with my own twist. 

1/2 lb. beef
1/2lb. pork
1 onion
3cloves garlic
1 T thyme
1 egg
1 stale roll soaked in water and 'wrung' out.
1/2 t salt 
1/4 t pepper
1/4 c chopped parsley
1 med-small zucchini shredded
2-3 small carrots
(the veggies should total a scant cup)

Mashed potatoes ( your way)
1 bag peas (frozen or fresh - doesn't matter) 

Saute the onion, garlic and thyme, allow to cool. Combine all ingredients well. Line muffin tins with foil cupcake thingies. Divide mixture evenly. Bake at 350°F for about 20 minutes until they smell done. In the meantime, make your favorite mashed potatoes - (potatoes, 1T mayonnaise, salt.) When the cupcakes have cooled a bit 'frost' them with the mashed potatoes and top with the peas 'sprinkles'. These were a big hit for everyone who tried them. I was even surprised. And they are fun! A little meal all-in-one. :)

Sunday, July 28, 2013

One morning in July...

The Morning Glories have started blooming.
I'm glad my evil plan of having them hide the ugly-falling-down-house behind me is working out. It makes me so happy to look out the window in the mornings and see these blooming.  I don't really care that they are a weed... they are so much prettier than what is there. 
Speaking of "what is there"... the sunflowers are exploding. The echinaceas are almost finished, but the sunflowers... They are beautiful at the moment. What a luxury to be able to cut some and enjoy them on one' s kitchen table. In the background is the most fragrant bunch of herbs! Turns out- the best way to make a home made bouquet is to add ALL  of the fragrant herbs in one's garden. (especially rosemary).

Some other maintenance work has taken place as well... 
FINALLY some progress on the porch! I sanded a bit more than half of the remaining planks that need water-proofing. Then I stained them:    
I'm not quite finished, but I'm so close! So close... I'll get there soon! 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Summer Heat = Harvest

Hot hot hot. Very hot. Hot enough for me to drag an a/c unit for the window in the studio and gerry-rig it up so that I can stand to be down there. That of course includes the table top fan going at full blast as well as the ceiling fan.  We keep being promised thunderstorms but alas, nothin' yet. 
In the meantime, the garden is lovin' the heat! Things are growing and blooming and bearing fruit like nobody's business!  I am equally proud of all of these so in no particular order: 

I harvested the heirloom garlic Melanie gave me last year.  She gave me two heads of her precious garlic. I planted the cloves and now am the proud gardener of 26 heads of garlic:
They smell SO good. 
But they seem much smaller than what Melanie gave me. Maybe that's to be expected. I decided to pull them because the above-ground part looked like it was dying. I didn't want anything else to get my precious garlic. Maybe I pulled too soon? I guess I don't think they'll grow more if the green part is dead. Maybe I didn't cut the scapes soon enough? Maybe I need to add more fertilizer to the soil? Who knows. Maybe this is just what happens?   

While harvesting the garlics guess who came to investigate: 
But he wasn't interested in the garlic; he was more interested in the freshly tilled earth. 
Unfortunately, cat pee is not nutritious to the soil.  Maybe that's what happened?  More worrisome still is that is that when he got up there was nothing there. Sigh. I hope we're not dealing with a serious health problem. There is always something...

Here is a nice shot of both the garlics and the next plant that is making me very happy at the moment: 
I bought two varieties: the Burpless Beauty and the Armenian Cucumber. The Burpless Beauty is producing like there is no tomorrow.  Four yesterday, four last week and a few more on the vine for next week. That is just fine with me. 
Favorite way to eat cucumbers: 
slice cucumbers very thin (a Cuisinart is a good thing here)
put them in a bowl and salt them down ( add at least a teaspoon or more of salt - let them sit for at least an hour at room temperature - dump them into a sieve and rinse well. Why? This helps get rid of the gassy water. Even if their burpless beauties - I don't trust that.) 
Place rinsed cucumber slices into clean bowl. Add (adjust to amount and taste) 1/2 cup Rice wine vinegar, 2 Tablespoons sesame oil, and at least a full Tablespoon chopped dill - I usually do two. Add salt if needed. Stir, refrigerate until cool. 
Perfect hot summer food. I could eat it by the shovel-full. Okay, that might be excessive, but it's really yummy

With the Garlic gone, the cucumbers have room to spread out. They are really crawling and insisting on climbing on everything, including sunflowers! After pulling the garlic I rearrange the rogue shoots and hope that they stay put. 

I'm not sure what is going on with the Armenian cucumber, but it is not doing a thing! Well - that's not entirely true... it is making flowers like there is no tomorrow, but no "fruit". While I was rearranging it today, I accidentally crunched a leaf -and oh boy! - the scent of that leaf! Yum! The most fragrant cucumber smell I've ever smelled. I really wish it was producing. But maybe I need another plant? Maybe the right bug isn't pollinating it? I'm not really interested in pollinating the silly thing by hand - although it's worth a try. It IS taking over the garden, you'd think for the amount of real estate it's taking up, it would pay for itself. Humph!
Last week I got a nice plateful of goodies: tomatoes, two cucumbers, one garlic, and in the background, wads of parsley.
In addition to the beautiful parsley I've got an interesting basil. It has tiny leaves. Here it is in front of the parsley.  It smells amazing! I finally cut a few sprigs last night to put in the tomato onion salad (more on that later) and wow - it's good. Especially because you can just chop it as is. The stems taste yummy too. They are tender enough not to be a distraction. 
I really hope this one goes to seed so I don't have to buy another plant next year. I saw a flower today and so I'm going to keep an eye out. 

Last year I bought some mustard greens from a nursery. They were delicious! I let the plants go to seed because I remember the hills I grew up with in California. Wild mustard grew in abundance and made the hills brilliant yellow. It would look as though someone splashed bright yellow paint all over the hills. It was so dramatic, my mother once took us up for a "photo shoot".
Now I wonder... was that edible mustard? Was it really mustard?
My plants re-seeded themselves and I found them all over the yard. In the fall I really didn't care. Come springtime, I was hording the precious plants that sprouted. Moved them to the right beds and let them go. I wound up with four plants this year. The flowers don't seem as dramatic, but then again, it was only four plants I had this year. I decided to harvest the seeds. I did a bit of research online which said they needed to dry on the plant. Okay - did that. Then I cut them all. There are a lot of youtube videos about how to get to the seeds. So I followed those instructions and wound up with:
I'm still contemplating what I will do with them. Plant several dozen? YES! But I still need to do a bit of research on how to make my own mustard to see if I can do it. Why not? 

One other lovely thing in the garden at the moment, Beautiful sunflowers: Yes, I've got several beautiful sunflower plants. This one is by far the biggest! I bought a seed variety called "Giant - something-or-other" And yep - there they are. the plants are at least 8ft tall. I should organize a photo shoot so you can see how tall they are, but you can see the wire headed to Mr. El's house which is well off the ground.
 The local bumble bees are very interested in the sunflowers. Every time I take a look there is one wandering around on the face of the flower.  
Last week I took this image, before the flower had fully bloomed. I just can't resist posting it because the right side of the image - the texture is so beautiful! Even then, the bumble bees were zooming around.  
I planted another variety that I 'm not sure what it is? But it is producing some lovely blooms as well. Smaller and not as interesting to the bumble bees, I'm still not going to cut them for inside bouquets because it seems that flowers don't like a/c either.

I had a beautiful vase full of echinacea (cone flowers) and within a day they were wilted. Normally they will last a week in the vase.

Jacques was happy to watch me do all the gardening last night from the dignified perch of his deck:   
Poor guy, he is still not interested in the heat, nor the a/c.
We are both looking forward to a massive thunder storm to clear the heat. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

How I Spent my Summer Vacation....

by Moi!

Or rather, How I Finally Organized My Studio.  
I took this week off. We had Thursday and Friday off anyway so might as well take the whole week. It was a much needed break. In the studio - this is the nightmare I was dealing with. Yes, of my own creation, but only because I was working with what I had. Four shelves on lath and plaster and drywall. Not a great support to hang heavy books.  But I'd finally had enough. I knew I had fantastic books in there and I couldn't find them! So I cleaned everything off:
and did something smart. I put everything in front of the flat files that I constantly need to get into. This accomplished two things: 1. I didn't get sidetracked with stuff in there and 2. I had to get on this project because very soon I NEED to get in there.
 Took down the boards, stained and polyurethaned them. And mind you, this was all that the beginning of the week when it was still raining every afternoon. I'm surprised they dried so quickly. It was incredibly humid.  In between coats while waiting for them to dry, I sorted books by subject. 
The only place to put them was lined up down the hallway. The art history/art information books by far outnumber the rest. But subjects of catalogs, (museum, and artist), metaphysical, cartography, shoes, origami and fiction, all made respectable piles as well. 
Then to work:
Thank to the fabulous West Philly Tool Library, I checked out a miter saw, table saw, and circular saw for the week. The drill is mine - don't think I could function with out it. I did have to go to Home Depot and buy new drill bits. Mine are almost 20 years old and are dull as dish water.
And a few days and a lot of sweat later (there's no air conditioning on the first floor), voila! Shelves!

 And loading them back up:
 There are still some empty spaces and then there are some places where some more shelves could be added. We'll have to see when I want to tackle that - drilling holes for anchors causes so much dust! and I'm not looking forward to pulling all the books out again.  I did realize I needed one more shelf on the bottom. So I have added that, just haven't taken pictures yet. But that space is all filled in too. 
I'm so happy every time I look at those nice neat shelves! Progress! :) Then of course the cleaning had to happen so I mopped the whole front of the studio and the floors are practically sparkling. And while I was at it, I took the circular saw out and chopped down all of the plywood from the kitchen demolition so I can put it out on the curb bits at a time so the garbage will take it. It's nice to have that consolidated a little bit too. 
And then when I came to a particularly large piece of ply wood, I walked past the basement entrance. A few years ago I painted this door but it sure didn't hold up. I figured it was pretty rotten and tried to test it -
promptly poked a hole right through the wood with my finger.  
Since I had all of the tools and a 4x8ft sheet of kitchen floor linoleum covered plywood, I thought - hmm, maybe I should take this opportunity to put a new layer on this door:

haha -  just kidding! Of course I didn't put it on that side up! How dreadful! I flipped it over so the wood side is up.
There are a few nail holes in it, and I need to put some weather sealant on it too. Just one more project to put on the list. 
 Jacques inspected and approved - I just didn't have my camera out fast enough. 
 I was also supposed to have some friends over for grilling, but for many reasons that didn't materialize. However since I was all prepped and ready to go, I grilled anyway.  Outside in the garden the wind was blowing really well and so it was rather pleasant.  Towards the end of the evening I was cleaning up and I spied this beautiful web on the laundry line. It had to be close to two feet in diameter. She wasn't quite finished so I watched for a while and tried to take pictures, but it's hard to see those things especially in the dark. 
 I hope you all had a happy healthy and relaxing 4th of July!