Thursday, February 18, 2010

Garden Started!

It is a really foggy morning here in the bay, and the first thing I did when waking up was to check on the new seedlings that I planted yesterday. It was colder last night than I had hoped, and it seems like it may be a bit chillier than I would like for the next few nights. I had to replant them into their permanent homes right away as they were growing up too fast for their starter medium. I built the new tower for the cucumbers and zucchini that I planted. I am not sure if it is good enough, nor is it really tall enough I am sure, but they were the longest dowels I could buy at the store we went to. I guess I could just run them along the railing if needed. Hopefully the neighbors don't complain!

Only two of the beans seemed to have germinated. Once they broke through the dirt, they were the size you see now in two short days. I am hoping that the other beans are working slowly under their starter medium and will surprise me soon. I would hate to have such a bad batch for germination. When looking at the medium pots, I do see some small roots that appear to be coming from the beans, but they could be pieces of roots from the other ones that grew out and into the other pots. Hopefully they are the new roots! I am also pretty sure this trellis is not going to be tall enough. My Dad says that I can run the beans up and then back down and up again over the trellis. We will have to see how it works out. Perhaps more will be using the balcony railings!

I am growing peas this year. Last year I tried beans only, and got bush beans at that rather than pole beans. I am hoping that the cool conditions we have here are hospitable for this variety. They seemed rather happy when I looked at them this morning. They had a great germination rate and showed up quickly in the starter medium. I actually really love looking at their lacy style of leaf pattern. I was also surprised at how firm these seemingly delicate leaves actually are. After planting these seedlings yesterday, I watered them with water that was mixed with root stimulator. I hope that they take root and grow well. Now that I know that I have vine varieties, I am going to attempt to train them to trellises this year. I am not sure I can make the larger zucchini and cucumber listen to me, but I will try.

Yet to come are more bean plants, the tomatoes, peppers, and some herbs that I started. The herbs are up and small as well as the tomatoes, but the peppers have not shown up at all either. I may have to start them again, we will see. I am also going to directly seed green onions, radishes, beets, and perhaps some really old lettuce seed that I have been kicking around. I will keep you updated as to the balcony garden process.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

New Dance Bag

I am happy to report that the bag is finally fully finished. I found a great button to finish it off and also worked on fixing some of the issues with the ties that I had. I am really enjoying using it, and I think it will be even better now that it has a closure. This bag looks absolutely beautiful from any angle. I love this fabric! I also like how the bag looks when it starts to get filled with items. The bag goes from a very flat design to a lantern type design.
I also like that this bag used up some stash items. The ties are a scrap of satin cord that I had lying around. The straps are scrap pieces of black linen that I have started to fall in love with. Linen is quickly moving to the top of my list of fabrics I like to work with. When I say linen, I also mean real linen, not a linen like blend with polyester. Linen is wonderful as it takes on a softer texture the more it is used and washed. It is also wonderfully breathable. I recently even switched over to linen for all of my fighting tops for Belegarth as the breath ability is unbeaten for me in the hot climates of our tournaments. The interior of the bag is also made out of scraps of black cotton fabric. I always seem to burn through the black fabric, and this season was no exception. I have quite a few black synthetic blends that I cannot seem to find uses for as I have become such a convert to the natural fibers. They just look better, react better, and are more comfortable to wear. This does not mean that I am not still a believer in the occasional stretch fabric here and there, but overall, I really cottons, linen, bamboo, and some animal fibers like alpaca.

I also have found that I am really into the same manufacturer of Japanese style fabrics. The last time I went into Stone Mountain and Daughter, I found this wonderful fabric in the remnant bins. We needed new pillows, and I thought it could be a good option. I also thought it would make a wonderful choli if Dan did not like it for new pillows on the couch. It turned out he did, and I figured out that I could potentially swing both pillows and a choli if I cut smart. I used the remainder of the left over linen for the backings of the pillows. I am happy to finally have new pillows that I can wash seeing as Dan and I tend to fall asleep on them every weekend. I can also easily remove the pillow forms and get new ones when they wear out and keep the beautiful covers. Overall I am really happy with how they came out

Also, I got featured in a SF Etsy team treasury on their blog. It is located here for those of you that want to take a look. It is a treasury based on Chinese New Years!

Today I am hoping to get some early plantings done for the balcony garden. Some of the seeds have taken off so much I cannot wait any longer. Hopefully I can dig up some good packaging peanuts soon, so I can get on this planting.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Where I've Been and What I've Been Doing

Needless to say, last week was really, really insanely busy! I am sure you noticed this since I made no postings last week. I have been running around doing all sorts of fun things and having more food adventures with Annie. I am going to give out a warning to the squeamish now, this posting contains pictures of sausage making. If you are meat adverse, now is the time to consider if you want to keep reading this posting. The last picture before the meat ones will be of the balcony garden seedlings, so know that is your cue to exit if you don't want to be subjected to the meat photos.

Last week was mostly centered around Wednesday night's Student Salon performance. I decided on Sunday night that my coin bra was suddenly not up to par. I had the lofty goal of taking it all apart and redoing it in time for the Wednesday night performance. Needless to say, I got the old bra taken apart, new materials purchased, but no new bra in time for the salon. As we speak, the buckram lined bra is uncovered, with only the shoulder straps in place and all the adornments are zipped away into plastic bags. I am hoping to pick this back up tonight with my chronic Olympic coverage habit. I did get a picture or two of myself after the show. I am going to part with tradition, and post a picture of myself on the blog. Please ignore the red eye as I am not able to edit it out well enough for it to not look weird.

It was my first time in a Fat Chance headdress. I was so excited to get to wear it, and while hot and a bit itchy, it was a very neat piece of costuming. I think that perhaps I will have to wear one sometime at Belegarth. I do have to admit that it changes your dancing slightly as your center of gravity is a bit off from where you are used to having it due to the extra weight at the top of the body. It also helped to drive the point home about air space around your head, neck, and shoulders and reinforced the need for gentle arm curves in all moves.

Other things were busy this week too, mainly all the plants are springing to life.I am wondering if I started them a tad too early as they have really taken off fast! The Aerogarden was an overall success. The seeds have all germinated except for the chives. I find this to be no real loss as the chives in the window box seem to still be clipping along. I think that they are going to get stripped out of that box and placed into their own pot that I can bring indoors during the winter. The dill has taken the lead, but the mint is not too far behind. The basil is just starting to peek out, but I am sure it will spring up fast soon. The roots are already showing out of the sponge medium. The window box greenhouse has been very successful. Most things have sprouted and are already ready for transplanting. The tomatoes can use more time in the indoors and then into temporary pots inside, but the peas, cucumbers, and zucchini are already rather large. I am wondering if I started them a bit too early! only two of the beans have germinated, and I hope that at least four others sprout soon. I would like to get them into the trellis as well. I am wondering if I should take the zucchini and cucumbers into their permanent pots and trellis now and then baby them through the nights by bringing their pot indoors after sundown for a while. The herbs are also started, and this time I am determined to keep my Mediterranean herb plants happy. I bought some vermiculite to try to dry out the soil faster so they do not get so water logged again. I am also adding packaging peanuts into the bottoms of the pots this year to promote better drainage. The peanuts are lighter, so the weight of gravel or something along those lines will not be a factor on the balcony. It is also a nice way to recycle something that otherwise will take up landfill room. I hope that I can scrounge up some more soon as the planting is going to really take off soon, and I need to get the drainage systems set up.

Ok...... Now on to the Sausage! If you are not a meat person, now is the time to sign off, and I will see you again soon! If you are a meat eater, read on to Annie and Amy's adventure in sausage making!

Annie's beau works on one of our many watersheds, and they have many invasive species that must be eliminated from the habitats. One such creature are the wild pigs that roam around rooting up the soil and disturbing earthen dams and the like. This rooting also destroys habitats and plants, so they have a person who comes in to remove these pigs. We happened to have one such pig be offered to Annie and Ian, and my logical conclusion was to make sausage out of it. Annie found a great recipe for wild boar sausage, and while we had a sow, we figured it would work just as well. We had 15 pounds of meat and jowl fat to grind together and then place into casings. Annie pressed the KitchenAid grinder into service.... literally. While not a great grinder, it did at least get the job done after a long time. Thankfully Ian helped as I was not there for this tedious process. She mixed the meat and fat with red wine, whole fennel seeds, toasted fennel, local sea salt, and fresh cracked black pepper. Our taste portion was amazing. It smelled so good, and I had visions of this sausage on pizza with caramelized onions dancing in my head!

After a night soaking up all the flavors, Annie made the tip out to Oakland to stuff the sausages into their natural casings. You truly do not realize how much meat fifteen pounds is until it is staring you in the face. We then opened up the casings we had bought two weeks before starting the project. They smelled rather rank and awful. We were not sure if they were still good. I had read out on the web that they would smell, but this seemed unreasonable. So, we went on a trip back to the butcher to make sure we were not going to kill ourselves and loved ones with bad casings for the sausage. Needless to say, we were giggled at and informed that, yes, they do really smell that way. It was fine to use them. So, we returned back to the house and began the set up. The KitchenAid had the food grinder attachment placed back on, and the sausage stuffer placed on the front. The casings were then slipped onto the front, we tied it off and started stuffing. After a while we got the hang of it and things went really fast.

A few words on the KitchenAid attachment for stuffing the sausage. We had a few problems in the middle of the stuffing process. One of these problems is that the attachment does not house into the machine very well. Once we were getting the hang of things I was pushing into the attachment too hard, and it ended up slipping off the machine twice. If you are getting a hang of the stuffing process, don't push harder to make things go faster, just take the machine up to level 4. It goes just as well as two but faster, and you can keep using the same amount of pressure as before. Also, it is really important to not put too much meat into the hopper at a time. One inch balls of meat worked beautifully, and it never seemed to clog up or anything for us as happens to other people. The other thing I would also say is to not over stuff your sausage. Yes immature jokes can abound here.... I know we made a lot when discussing this project! While I have not tried mine yet as I am trying to adhere to the curing process, Annie has cracked into some of hers. She had problems with the cooking time as there was just too much sausage to cook, and being a wild pig, we need to make sure that the meat is thoroughly cooked due to all the nasty illnesses it could be carrying. Overall, this is a project I would do again, especially if we get free meat like we did this time. I am also not sure if my opinion of this project would change if I had to grind all that meat and fat together. I think Annie would have to give a better opinion on that side of the project. We ended up with a lot of sausage though, and if you are going to tackle something like this, I say make a big batch! I will update you all on what they turned out like after the curing is over, and we eat some of them.

I hope this really long posting helps to makeup for the silence last week. Look for finished bag pictures tomorrow and more garden pictures as that gets set up.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Seeds Have Arrived!

Both shipments of seeds have finally arrived! Today I am setting out to plant them into the starter pots and mini greenhouse. I cannot wait to see these things take off! Every winter, around this time, my Dad starts his garden in the basement. He gets out his mini greenhouses and sets up the lighting rig. Timers are set, and seeds are sewn to get ready for the vegetables that will go into the ground in spring when the frosts pass and the weather turns to warmer times. Here in California, I wanted to stick to the same kind of schedule even though I do not have to worry about frosts. I do have to worry about sun on the balcony! I am hoping that starting the seeds this soon will be an advantage over last year's very late start but also not too soon so that they dwarf due to not enough light yet. Here is to hoping.

I am starting blue lake pole beans this year. I bought beans last year, but they were bush and mislabeled as pole beans. They went nowhere and fast! I am hoping that this year yields better results with actual pole climbers. I am adding peas this year as well to the trellis system. I picked out the Lincoln variety for their short height and and hopefully large yields. For tomatoes this year, I am going to try out Romas. I really wanted to try one of the cold weather varieties, but they seem to not do as well as promised by the seed companies. Most people out here choose Early Girl, but I wanted to give these a shot and see how they do. I am thinking about planing two plants since last year resulted in a low turn out. I just do not think that it gets warm enough overnight for tomatoes here, but I wanted to give it another shot. I also purchased Bell Boy green peppers. I learned from my parents that you really need to plant those in pairs for the best results, so I am going to get another pot and plant two of them this year and place them close together.

A new addition to the garden is going to be beets. I bought Perfected Detroit beets. I am going to get a round container and plant a few at a time. We are not extreme beet fans, but like to have them on occasion. I figure as soon as they are ready, I will pull them and then start some new seeds. By the time those are then fully grown, we will be ready for more.

As a new choice this year, I picked Spacemiser zucchini. They are supposed to have a short vine and be good climbers. I am going to make another trellis this year for them and the cucumbers to climb up in their own pot. For cucumbers, I picked Fanfare. These are also supposed to work well in containers, so I am hoping to get some good yields out of these two choices. I hope, however, that I will not get so many that I am bringing them where ever I go trying to give them away to whomever will take them.

While I am doing the herbs indoors in the Aerogarden, I wanted to try to do another herb garden outside with some of the plants that I love to use that are not included in the Aerogarden kit. I need to get myself a new sage plant, as the old one has just run its course. I also bought new oregano and marjoram to plant with it as well. I am thinking of doing a Mediterranean themed planter with all the plants that like slightly dry and sandy soils. I am also going to plant a small pot of cilantro. Now that I know that you have to resow it every now and then, I think that I can get a good, consistent crop out on the balcony. I also have decided against planting any basil out on the balcony. I think it is the main attractor of the white flies that eat up everything, so I thought I would just spare myself the agony and grow it in the Aerogarden only. Speaking of which, things have really progressed on that front:

At this point, the dill has really taken off, and the mint is full of new growth. The thyme has sprouted and will most likely be ready to be uncovered soon. The parsley also is starting to grow at a rather slow rate. The only thing that has not gone anywhere is the chives. I still have some good ones growing out on the balcony that may get their own small pot. I love fresh chives on many things, so maintaining a supply is a must. Ok, I cannot wait any longer, I am off to plant some new vegetables!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Lilliputian Lemons

The Meyer lemon tree has been pretty happy over the winter months here. I am quite relieved as the balcony does not get any direct sun over the winter. Not knowing this when we bought the tree, I thought my biggest problem would be the cold nights, but the lack of sun was actually more of a problem. The tree did come inside for some of the months of November and December when the nighttime temperatures were close to freezing. Once it warmed up a bit again, it went right outside. While I loved having it inside, having to contend with the moths that were constantly sprouting out of the dirt was not something I wanted to put up with for very long. We harvested one of the lemons two weeks ago for our Dutch Baby pancake, and when I went outside to check on the lemons, there was one more to pick. It was so tiny, the name Lilliputian Lemon sprang to mind.

In getting ready to take this picture I found that I have misplaced my ruler for sewing, hence the lateness of this posting. I have turned the entire house upside down looking for the ruler to find no trace of the thing. It is pretty disappointing as I am working on a project for myself, something I honestly do not usually do. I am making myself a dedicated dance bag. I usually just use one of the canvas bags that I take to tutoring or the store or places like that, but I am constantly worrying that I have forgotten to slip my zills or foot covers or some other small item into the bag. Then the bag checks begin, where I dig around while walking to catch the train to a dance session hoping whatever I have decided is missing is actually packed. It almost always is! So, to ease my troubles, I am making a dedicated bag that I know will always have those items inside. This will also help to curb the neat piles of organized items that tend to fill the Fabulous Pants sewing space... usually resulting in missing items.... like my now missing ruler! I have decided to wait for Dan's fresh set of eyes to look with me tonight and to instead lose myself in this delightful dance bag project. It is easy to forget the lost things when you are working with something as beautiful as this fabric:

Well there are bags to be sewn, living rooms to be cleaned, and headdresses to be practiced. I guess it is time to quit fretting over lost tools and start sewing. Making lemons into lemonade so to speak! New dance bag, here I come.

Monday, February 1, 2010

In the Wrong Era

There are times when I realize that I am a person born in the wrong era. No time is this more apparent to me than when I receive shipments of supplies. Like the Medieval manor lady, I tend to make large orders of my spices in the fall and my tea in the end of winter. I know that these are not necessarily the traditional months for doing this, but I do make these orders in bulk to last my year. The tea shipment showed up this past week, and it was greeted with much excitement. The tea supplies had run low; the tea box looked barren and unloved. Luckily with these boxes arriving, we could fill it back up to capacity. In fact, I ordered so much variety this year that there were not enough spaces for all the kinds of tea I purchased.

Other indications of the coming spring are also happening. I have made my seed catalog selections and sent in the orders for the balcony garden. They should be arriving this week, and I will be starting the seeds as soon as all the shipments arrive. I did, however receive the replacement parts for the Aerogarden and start that back up.

I have chosen to start the herb seeds, and there is already progress:

The dill has grown large enough for the cap to come off, and the mint has also reached the same stage. I am pretty sure all the others have germinated, and once they are big enough for the lids to be removed, I will start the basil.

Needless to say, I tend to straddle the two eras and pick which things I find most convenient. I do love some of the romanticized images of things, but overall, I do enjoy the comforts of the modern era. Speaking of the modern conveniences, the list program is producing some great results; today, however, not so much. I guess I should get down to the first item on the list: sewing a new bag for my dance items!