Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Garden Picture Show

The balcony garden is exceeding last year's version. The plants are much taller, greener, and in general happier than the year before. I think part of the reason for the success is that the plants started here in the Bay area climate rather than the plants I got last year that started in the hotter part of the outer Bay area and then summered in the cool area of the Bay. I think this has resulted in happier plants over all. The jasmine is now blooming again. I am happy to see that it is happy on the new trellis, topiary form that I got for my birthday in April. The flowers smell so great that I hope to get outside and read next to it sometime soon. It is all dependent on the costuming getting done in time for Chaos Wars!

The zucchini plants are mixed results. One plant seems to be very happy. It is blooming constantly, and while I have no male flowers for the female ones, the fruits seem to be doing fine. The other plant is in some sort of distress. It is developing blossom end rot, and I am not quite sure why. I was told that I was over watering them and that is why it was occurring, but now that I have cut back the watering there is still no improvement. I also read that it can be a problem with the plant's ability to take up calcium from the soil. I am not sure if my early flooding of the roots have caused this problem, but I am sad to see this happening again. The fruit look good and then they turn soft and black on the flower end and then fall off. I hope it is not something fungal or bacterial that will spread to the other happy plant.

The violets are starting to come along. I started them from seed, and I am glad to see that they seem to be taking off. I cannot wait to see what color the flowers are going to be for each plant! I am waiting with great anticipation as the package of seeds is a mixed variety. I hope to get some interesting color varieties. I love the purple and whites, but I also would love some golds or oranges. I would especially love a red velvet style like the ones my Dad got from a nursery when I was home visiting. They looked just like a red velvet cake! They were beautiful. For now, though, I am playing the waiting game. I hope to be able to press and sugar some of the flowers eventually for cake decoration.

The old lettuce seeds that my Dad sent me have been doing better than I thought they would. They were quite a few years old, so I did not expect any germination. It was a great surprise when quite a few came up. Only one of the original plants survived the week we were gone without water, so I planted a few more, and those have now poked their heads out of the soil. Hopefully they start to grow larger so I can harvest some leaves soon. I love their deep purple color at the tips and the bright green bottoms. I am not sure that the lettuce gets enough sun during the day to fully reach its potential. The white roof of the meat smoking building next to us is helping quite a bit with the reflection to add some light during the day, but there is very little direct light.

The beets seem to be happy in the box. The greens seem to have stopped growing, and I hope this is a good thing. I hope this means that the beets are forming and growing underground and not that something is wrong. I know that the boxes are quite small for beets, but I am going to pick them when they are young and small. This will keep them from being woody, but it is also convenient since the box will not accommodate large ones anyway.

The radishes from round one are almost all gone. I have replanted seeds in the holes of the old plants. There are still a few in the box that never developed radishes, so I need to pull them out and plant some new seeds there as well. It is fun having a crop like radishes as they grow quickly and are a tasty reward for little work. I also have some scarlet green onions that are in this box. They are slow growing! I am thinking about starting some more seeds right now so that I can get a second crop perhaps before the end of the growing season. These are still too small to be picked, and I think that they suffer from the lack of enough direct sunlight as well.

The Meyer lemon tree has suddenly gone into bloom all over the place. I am acting as a "bee" pollinating the flowers with a cotton swab as they open. I am slightly worried as the leaves are still quite sparse on the tree. Hopefully it gets more lush soon. I this flush of flowers as a sign that the feeding I am doing to the soil is helping the tree out. It was dropping leaves left and right, so I started the feeding as recommended in my gardening book. This resulted in the flush of flowers. I hope that once the initial flowering is over that this food helps the plant to grow more leaves. If anyone has any pointers about the leaf loss and how to get them back, let me know.

On a side note, I wanted to congratulate the USA world cup team. You game we quite the heart attack this morning, but I am glad to see that we are through to the next round! Now to beat England and advance on to the Quarter finals! Today I advance to day two of week five of the Couch to 5K. I am slightly intimidated by this day, but I felt the same way about Monday, and it went very smoothly. Here is to hoping the same for today. I also hope to finally, and I mean finally finish up my 25 yard black skirt. I need it for a Sunday performance, so I am running out of time. That is the focus today! Check back tomorrow for skirt progress notes.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Lots Going On!

There is a lot going on around the shop and life lately. I have been so busy between crafting, Fabulous Pants, gardening, and watching the World Cup. I have been uploading items to the Fabulous Pants shop lately. I finally have the olive filigree pants uploaded to the shop. I have to say that I am really in love with this fabric. It is a very beautiful tone of olive, and the border on this sari is really quite stunning. I am hoping to get my costuming done for Chaos Wars quickly so that I can move on to another pair of pants for the shop. I am thinking about starting on another pair of purple pants, but there are also some red and raspberry fabrics that are also calling for my attention. It is hard when you are surrounded by such beautiful fabric to pick the next one to work on.

On Friday, I met up with the lovely Dreah, and we worked on making some pickles. It was her first time pickling, so it was a fun experience. We made a sandwich slice style pickle, and I think I may really like these as they have a slight sweetness to them. The brine has both brown and white sugar in it, giving it a real depth. There is also mustard seed and celery seed in the brine, which are also favorite spices of mine. I cannot wait for them to cure, so I can pop them open and try them out. I did not find the pickle crisp in time, so hopefully they are not too soft. We did soak them in ice water for a while, so hopefully this mitigated this a bit. I wished we had more time that day to do the full three hour soak, but that just was not possible. We would have been canning long into the night had we followed that.

On Sunday, we had some culinary goodness. We started the morning off with crepes and World Cup soccer games. I had mine filled with Nutella and bananas with chocolate sauce in one and homemade apricot jam in the other. Dusted with a little powdered sugar, it was a delicious way to start off a day. I am a big fan of crepes, and they are not as hard to make as people make them out to be. I make my batter the night before or even the morning of if I have enough time to let it sit for a hour in the fridge before it is time to make them. I like to spike the batter with some amaretto liquor for a great overtone to the crepes. Perhaps someday I will make a tutorial for making them.

We then moved on to a great pizza! I think it was one of the best pizzas we have made to date. I used a ball of the lean bread from the freezer for the crust. It works out well and is really convenient. We used store bought sauce, and I hope to change this soon. I have a recipe from one of my canning books that I would like to try out. I hope that it is a sauce we like because I would love to find a sauce that we really love that I can make rather than buying sauces that we just find okay. Once I find a recipe I love, I will share it.

Today I am hoping to make some actual progress on my newest 25 yard skirt. I have been "working" on it for a long time. Today I need to actually work on it... that is if World Cup does not get in the way too much. I hope to get my arrows repaired during the game and get them packaged up for shipment for Chaos Wars. Also, I want to get my new belt design started. I want to test it out at Chaos Wars before introducing it into the shop. I am taking some balcony garden pictures and will have them posted for you all tomorrow.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Chocolate Pinstripe Pants

I know that I promised garden pictures, but lately it has been too cloudy for pretty pictures. I will however share this picture of the chocolate pinstripe pants that I listed yesterday in the Etsy Shop. I like the variety that this new listing gives to my shop, and if some of my new pairs of pants will photograph well in this location, I am sure I will use it as a back drop again. I am currently editing the pictures for the olive filigree pair that I showed a few days ago. I hope to have that finished by the end of the England v. Algeria match. Once they are finished they will be up on Etsy. Once the clouds clear, I will take updated pictures of the balcony garden for the Monday edition of the blog. Also, I have a canning date today, so look for pickle pictures next week as well.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Baked Goods

Ah baked goods! They are the reason why I am now jogging three times a week. I love them so much, and I cannot be stopped from making and eating these treats. I can however monitor their size. This pie is in the new lineup of mini baked items that I am making. It helps me keep the size of my portions smaller. As with the mini cakes, this is a mini pie. I found a 6" pie plate on Amazon, and this size plate uses a pint jar of the cherry pie filling I made. It also takes a single crust recipe to make a double crust pie! It makes me so happy to also not have a huge pie sitting around that we get sick of before finishing it. I also made a fancy top to the pie by using a mini cookie cutter to cut heart shapes out. Sadly, the filling did bubble out of the outside hearts, but the center one remained clear as to what it was.

I also made zucchini bread this week. I used the first zucchini that I successfully grew out on the balcony. I planted a zucchini plant last year but was unable to get any zucchini successfully off of that plant. This year, I think I will do better as they are in a deeper container, and I know not to water them quite as much. There are several more zucchinis growing on the two plants now, and I cannot wait for them to get bigger so we can have more bread as well as grilled and fried zucchini for dinner.

Interestingly enough, there were no seeds in the zucchini, so the bread did not have as much juice from the squash. It turned out a bit dry, and while I would like to blame it on the squash itself, I also think I over baked it a bit. Even with these setbacks, I still feel it is the best zucchini bread I have ever made since I grew the squash myself with no help from anyone but nature.

The balcony garden is doing much better this year, and I will take pictures this afternoon to share with you. Lots of things are blooming and producing. I have eaten almost all the radishes, and I am planting replacements as I pluck each one out of the dirt. I hope to get three or more harvests out of them.

On the couch to 5K today, I kept with it and finished out strong. I am really proud of myself. I did not let myself slink back to week three. I feel so refreshed and recharged to take on the day. Speaking of which, there are projects to be tackled, World Cup games to be watch, Long Now to be attended, and a kitchen floor in need of a good washing.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Rainier Cherry Jam

Last week I finished off our cherry picking adventure by making jam out of the Rainier cherries. It was interesting as I was worried the cherries would not have enough pectin to gel the jam completely. I am not sure if the pectin or the complete and total boiling I did of the fruit and sugar that made it actually solidify into a jam. If it were not for the peels I left in the jam, it would have been outright jelly.

Making this jam was interesting as it foamed and would boil up quite high in the pot. It would rise so quickly that I had to lower the heat under the pot resulting in a really long boil time to reach the jellying point. The fruit, for the most part, disintegrated into juice only and there seems to be no real body to the jam aside from the peels, which are what is floating to the top of the jars. The jam also was really runny for a while, and I was concerned that I would have cherry syrup rather than jam. As the jam cooled it did solidify, and now it is a very solid jam that does not move much, so I guess those fears were unfounded.

Last week was spent mostly at home in Illinois visiting family and friends. It was great to get to see some of them and spend some real quality time talking and catching up. It was also nice to get in some Midwestern things I missed. I ate at Portillo's and listened to song birds. I dug in the garden with my parents and went to Grandma's house. I even got to have my storm, and while I did not want to be caught in it during my 14 mile walk with Christine, it was still nice to hear thunder and see lightning.

I was proud of myself for mostly keeping up with the running plan while on vacation. While I was not able to keep the food end of my getting in shape plan, I did run on Wednesday and try for a long walk on that Saturday. I came back and moved on to week 4 yesterday in the couch to 5K plan. It seems like such a big step up, but I am determined to not back down like I usually do. I am going to keep going on week four and then move on to week five next week. Today I am watching World Cup games and trying to get some personal sewing projects started for Chaos Wars. Well the Brasil/North Korea game is starting, so I am off.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Bowls of Cherries

This weekend was filled with joyful and fun events. Friday night we went to the DeYoung museum to see the end of the quilt exhibit. It was neat to see some Amish quilts from Arthur on the wall of a museum. It made me miss all the quilt auctions I have attended there and the beautiful quilts that were always offered. We also saw the newest exhibit that is visiting from France highlighting the beginning paintings of the Impressionists. It was a great show, and some of my favorite paintings were there for me to see in person and up close. It was also nice that we went on the Friday night as there were few people in the gallery when we were in there, so you could spend some good quality time with each canvas. On Sunday I went to a friend's baby blessing ceremony. It was beautiful and very relaxing. The setting was just gorgeous, and the women there were so friendly and wonderful. The above picture is of the blankets I made for the new baby we are all awaiting. They were fun and quick to make. I got the wonderful idea for them from a knitting group friend's blog. Brilliant and easy! I did mine a bit differently though by doubling up the fabric for each blanket. That way there was the pattern on each side of the blanket.

Saturday was my favorite day of this fun filled weekend. Dan and I went cherry picking in Brentwood. I was on the hunt for sour cherries. There is only one place to find them in the Bay Area from my research, so we headed out to Bacchini's Fruit Tree for their Montmorency cherry trees. They had more of them than I thought, so my panic to get there before they were picked clean was a now calmed fear. Ladders were at a premium since these cherries are a taller tree compared to the sweet trees. Having a tall husband was very much appreciated. Once a ladder was abandoned, I seized it and began picking high up in the canopy. Most people were there for the sweet cherries and not the sour ones. It was fun to hear people come into our grove all thrilled that here were "tons of unpicked ones here." Then they would undoubtedly taste one and exclaim how awful and sour they were along with the obligatory "Who wants these!" comments. Those of us on our ladders and with in eye contact range would look at each other with knowing smiles and laughs. It took us a few hours, but at the end we had 11 and a half pounds of sour cherries and three and a half of Rainier cherries for jam.

After getting some lunch, we drove home, and I set to work pitting. Cherries went into the sink to be cleaned and rinsed, stems were pulled, and then they went into the hopper of the pitter. The pitter I bought from Noropro was very good. It went through all 11 and a half pounds of cherries in a quick two hours. It beat doing them by hand any day! The big keys to keeping the pitter working was to make sure the metal plunger did not get clogged with cherry flesh or skins. Also, making sure that the plunger had some vegetable oil on it for lubrication was also key to clean and easy operation.

I loved that most of the cherries stayed whole! The only thing that told you there was no pit any longer was the two small holes in the cherry. The other fun thing was all the tiny X's that the pitter made of punched out cherry flesh where the pit was extracted. The pitter was also more gentle to the extra ripe cherries than I expected. very little juice was in the pit hopper each time I had to empty it out, and there was also little juice in the finished cherry bowl. This resulted in my having to smash the cherries in the colander to get the four cups of liquid I needed for making the goop part of the filling.

It was my first time using Clear Jel, and it was interesting. I would recommend that you whisk together your Clear Jel and sugar before adding in any liquid. I did not do this and just added the liquid to the unmixed powders which resulted in lots of clumps I had to beat out of the mix. Once it gelled up, it was super thick and hard to stir. Next the cherries went in all at once, and the stirring became even more difficult. I tried to stir as best as I could with out making a total mess of the stove. Then it was into the jars for canning. I ended up with two quarts and five full pints with almost another full quart in the fridge. I cannot wait to make a pie with it once I get back from my trip this week.

Today I am off for jogging day one of week three. I hope it goes well. This week is usually the last successful week I have in the program, and then I usually repeat the week or just stop all together. I am determined to do "week three" once and then move on to week four next week! The Rainier cherry jam is on the list of must do things today. I also have a birthday gift to finish for Jozef and some house cleaning and prep to do before I depart. It is going to be a busy day, but I am sure I can get it all done... especially with that handy dandy pitter!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Gearing Up for Canning Season

Canning season for me will officially start this weekend. I cannot wait. This year I have added two new pieces of equipment for my canning plans. I bought this used food mill to make tomato sauce, juice, and paste this year. It is just like the one that my Mom and Dad have, and I am looking forward to using it. While I would love to make applesauce with it as well, Dan and I both like the chunkier style applesauce, so that means no food mill for making that. I am looking at perhaps making some berry jam with it as well to chop up the seeds a bit more than just jamming the whole berry. Hopefully I can get some pointers and instructions from my Mom when I go home to visit.

I also went and bought this cherry pitter from the kitchen supply store yesterday. I went to get one off the shelf, as I knew right where they were due to my wanting one since pitting the 5 pounds for cherry creek beer two years ago. When I got to the shelf, to my dismay, there were none there. The was not even a tag for the place where they would be. I walked the rows looking for the pitters, no luck. I finally asked one of the people who worked there and wonderfully they had some in their stock room. I could not have been happier seeing as I would like to kick off canning with cherries this year. I plan on doing 4 quarts and 4 pints of sour cherry pie filling, a batch of sweet cherry jam, a batch of Rainier cherry jam, and if I am feeling crazy, a batch of white cherry jam. I of course will make the obligatory fresh sour cherry pie. Today I have to calculate the number of pounds of each I want to bring home for canning. I am sure it will be a lot. I plan on taking a comfortable chair into the kitchen and putting the new pitter to work.

Today I am off for a jog. It is day three of week two. I hope I can make it through as I am really sore from back to back jogging days and a killer session at Fat Chance last night. You wouldn't think doing the orbit for 45 minutes would make your legs this sore, but it does. Then I am going to do the usual Friday housework of laundry and kitchen cleaning. I am also hoping to get the birthday present for Jozef finished off today. It is a lot to try to accomplish before heading into the city for the art museum, but I hope to get most of it done. Now, to get things accomplished!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Jogging, Canning, and Art Oh My!

Jogging has been going.... pretty well I might add. I am only through day two of week two, but I am feeling pretty good about myself. Jogging outside by the waterfront is turning out to be way more motivating than the workouts I used to try to do in the weight room of the old apartment. There is so much to look at that it takes my mind off of the running itself. I look at the city and the fog, the sailboats with their bright or stark white sails, and the container ships when they are in port. I have to say that I am liking the running skirt. While the shorts underneath are still a bit creepish, the skirt keeps all that covered up, so I am less self conscious about it all. It is also really comfortable to run in for the most part and looks rather nice. I feel way more stylish than just running around in some ill fitting shorts. The only disappointing thing was that the zipper broke on the key pocket the first day I used them. I am looking to repair that today if I can get the key back onto the teeth. My first attempts were thus far unsuccessful.

I am also gearing up for the fist major canning operation of the season. This Saturday I am going to go cherry picking. I have found a place with sour cherries, and I am so excited to finally be able to make a sour cherry pie! I miss those so much. I have already purchased my clear jel and cannot wait to try out my first canned pie filling. I am also going to work on a couple varieties of cherry jam. I am hoping to do small batches of bing or dark sweet cherry jam of some sort, Rainer cherry jam for my Dan, and perhaps some white cherry jam. I also introduced Dan to the concept of spirited cherries. I think they would be a unique addition to his Manhattans, so I may also be canning some of them. I am going to go to the kitchen supply store this afternoon to buy a cherry pitter in order to prepare for this onslaught of cherry goodness. I usually do my pitting by hand, but I think with these huge plans I will need the faster mechanized method to get through them all in the weekend before heading home for a quick family visit.

I am also pumped to go to the DeYoung museum tomorrow night! We are going to go and see the Paris exhibit of the Impressionists. I cannot wait to see this awesome display of some of my favorite painters. It will be nice to get to see some pictures in person without the expense of flying to Paris. I also want to go and see the Amish quit exposition before it closes to give me the inspiration to finally start cutting my first quilt. I have always admired the bold colors and unique use of shapes that the Amish quilts embody. Our current quilt on the bed is a handmade Amish quilt I bought at an auction back in Illinois when we lived near the Illinois Amish country. While my first quilt will not be the typical solid color combination of the Amish quilts, I hope it is crafted as well as the one I bought... with modern conveniences of course. I am going to cut by hand, piece by machine, and quilt by hand. I figure it is a good mix for my first quilt. This is also going to be a challenge since I cannot strip piece my quilt. I am making it out of scraps, so all the diamonds are going to have to be cut individually by hand and then pieced and sew together. It seems daunting, but I am sure I can do it.

Well I am off to finish up some gifts for people and perhaps pick up my black skirt before giving in to this new quilt project. There are also some costumes to be made before the end of July when I leave for Chaos Wars. So much crafting and homemaking, so little time!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


Baking Updates

Lately the cakes are going gang busters! It makes me joyful and thankful that I have started jogging for exercise. If I had not started that, I am sure it would be a sad state of affairs. This was a lemon layer cake that I found the recipe from, yet again, the wonderful people at Cook's Illustrated Magazine. For this recipe, I had to make lemon curd for the filling. It was interesting to work with eggs in that kind of concept and to get experience in cooking with out cooking the eggs as a separate element in the whole package. There is nothing worse than cooked pieces of egg in your curd. I also had to learn to make a seven minute frosting variation for the frosting. That time I did cook the eggs on the fist try, so I had to take another stab at it. The frosting turned out rather meringue like. It was delicious, and also worked well in the small cake halving territory of things.

Bread making has been rather so so. I have been trying to make the San Francisco sourdough recipe from my Peter Reinhart baking books. The loaves are turning out with a good crust but way too dense. I am wondering if I need to cast off my "purist" dream and do his mixed method with both starter and commercial yeast. I will try that once I return from a trip I am going to take and post those results here.

Garden Update:

The peas finally decided it was too hot for them and turned yellow this weekend in the pleasantly warm weather. I pulled them out of the trellis and planted a few more bean plants. Hopefully they sprout and catch up with the rest of the pack soon. I tried soaking them to give them a faster germination rate, so hopefully I helped them along. The tomatoes are crazy this year. One has grown out of the cage already, and the flowers are blooming away.

I found some aphids trying to attack my tender and small herb plants, so it is back to the soap spray regiment to rid myself of the pests. I am glad that I happened to catch them early. There were few of them and not the large swarms that I usually find later when the damage is already done.

The zucchini plants seem to be really happy this year. One plant already has four small zucchini and this other larger one:
I also tried some of the radishes from the box in a pasta salad this weekend. They were great. Just the right amount of hot and not very burp educing. The other plants are trucking along and looking rather happy. I even noticed a new little shoot in the zucchini plant box from a replacement cucumber that I planted when the other one started to die while I still had hope for a cucumber season. I guess I should not have given up so easily. This shoot is rather shaded by the now large zucchini plants, but one can always hope for it to shoot up and claim its own place.

Shop News:

I took several shots of the new pairs of pants at the end of the week. Here is the olive filigree pair in a rough picture. I may have to take some more pictures of this pair today as I am not sure the ones I have will be good enough. I am also awaiting a few new supplies to start some samples of new projects. I cannot wait. What about the old projects I keep saying I will complete? Well I am still working on them actively. After a "rewiring project," I can now work on things at night. Our apartment, while awesomely spacious and full of electrical outlets, is a challenge for being able to plug in a light by the couch in the middle of the room. It creates a trip wire which is bound to inspire an accident. This weekend we ran the wire for a large power strip under the side of the area rug ending behind the couch and bookshelves, so now I can have light to work on things in the living room when we are watching the television or movies without cords running everywhere. This also hides all the laptop cords as well, making the room look much more pulled together and less chaotic. I expect my productivity to increase quite a bit with the new light for working.

Life News:
This weekend, Dan and I cut the cable... literally. We decided that we no longer wanted to pay for cable when most of the television we watch is over the air, PBS, or available on line for free. Why pay for something that is free right? We have fully signed on to Boxee and Hulu for most of our television as well as using a new high powered antenna in our front office window. I have to say, the picture is amazing; the HD looks better without the cable. I know that sounds bizarre, but the picture quality is better due to it not being compressed down by the cable company. My PBS cooking shows have never looked so good! I am also hoping that this increases my productivity as well since I will not be a slave to my want-to-know addiction to the 24 hour news cycle. Cutting the cable means no 24 hour cable news. Already I am feeling a bit lighter.

I also found my new running shorts solution over the weekend. I am going to try out my new running skirt! I will let you know how it works out for me in tomorrow's installation of the blog. For today's goals, I want to get my jog done, make up some baby shower gifts, hem some pants for a friend, start back on my personal black skirt, go to dance class tonight (really actually go), and work on some falls or the belt when I get home. Lots to do and hopefully with fewer distractions I will get it done!