Wednesday, June 29, 2005


The s.o. and I have been bitten by chiggers! We have developed giant, weeping red welts--several on each of us. Nothing stops the itching! For the love of all that is good and merciful....


Tuesday, June 28, 2005


I have never been one to look a gift horse in the mouth. Still, I am in a tizzy over the extreme productivity of certain garden plants in the family Cucurbitaceae. I foresee another round of cucumber pickling tonight--everyone gets pickles for Christmas this year! And the yellow crookneck squash is overwhelming in its exuberance. We'll really be in for it when the zucchini hill starts producing!

I started my morning by making two loaves of tender, savory, oniony Squash-Parmesan Bread (a recipe from Marian K. Towne's A Midwest Gardener's Cookbook, because if a Mennonite woman from South Dakota doesn't know what to do with extra squash, who will?). And then I made the cake below, which I very loosely adapted from a recipe in the same book. It's excellent--very similar to my mother's chocolate-apple cake--and I highly recommend it.

Of course, we will also be having squash as a side dish with our chicken dinner tonight...


1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 c. sour nonfat milk (made by adding 1/2 tsp. fresh lemon juice to regular nonfat milk)
4 Tbs. cocoa powder
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt (more or less to taste, and depending on whether your butter is salted)
2 c. grated yellow crookneck squash
dark chocolate chips and chopped walnuts for the top

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9x13 cake pan.
Cream together butter, oil, and sugar. Add remaining ingredients (except the toppings) and mix until just combined. Spread in pan and sprinkle lightly with chocolate chips and walnuts.
Bake about 45 minutes, until a knife or toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.


• We have one of those gravity-operated water dishes for our pets--like a hamster bottle, sort of, or an office water cooler. As they drink from the bowl, more water glugs down from the bottle above. Last night I walked into the room to find that the bottle and the bowl were empty, and Taxi the cat was hitting the bottle repeatedly with her paw. This struck me as a very human impulse: GIMME BACK MY 50 CENTS, YOU STUPID MACHINE!

• No more donating blood for me, I fear. I went in to the Red Cross yesterday to give a pint and had a pretty bad time of it. I fainted in the chair and the whole "crash team" descended on me with fans, cold compresses, and juice. Half an hour later I was finally allowed to stand up and go to the cookie table, but once I was there the combination of the juice and the Nutter Butters started to nauseate me and I nearly fainted again. At one point I was trying to fill out a raffle form and had to stop halfway through because it was too difficult and my hands wouldn't stop shaking and the blackness kept closing in. It was a really long time before I was deemed safe to drive home. The only mitigating circumstance was that I had finished giving the entire pint before I went under, so they will be able to use the blood. (If you don't finish, they throw it out.)

I don't understand why I had so little trouble last time and so much difficulty this time. I ate a big lunch before I went into town: a turkey pita sandwich and a hearty serving of roasted sweet potatoes. I drank lots of water, too. But now I've been poking around on the internet and I've found that other branches of the Red Cross--not ours in the U.S., but elsewhere--recommend that you not give blood if you have low blood pressure and tend to become faint when you stand up too quickly. That would be me: Miss Ninety Over Sixty.

• Big jackpot at the Goodwill store. As some of you may recall, I've slowly been collecting the classic Time-Life Foods of the World cookbook series, both the hardback picture books and the little spiralbound recipe books that go with them.* There are 28 volumes, and they're revered by chefs everywhere (and plagiarized by a surprising number of cookbook authors). The recipes are authentic, and they work. Before I went into town yesterday, I was in possession of two of the hardbacks (China and India) and a stack of about 16 spirals (China and India again, plus a host of others including Great Britain, Provincial France, Spain and Portugal, Middle Eastern, etc.).

So before my "draining" experience, I stopped in at the thrift store and was overjoyed to find 12 of the hardbacks. Some of the covers were pretty rough, and the Japan volume's pages were loose. But they were by and large in excellent condition and cost me $2 apiece. Included in the stash are all of the American regional volumes (my favorites, if forced to choose, are probably Northwest--which has berry and fish indices--and Melting Pot--which has Sicilian pizza and cannoli and which visits the Greek immigrants in Tarpon Springs, Fla.!), as well as some picture books that match spiralbounds I already have.

Now if I can just find that elusive Africa volume! Taking it out of the library was just a teaser. I want my own.

• Blackberry season is going into full swing, just as the blueberries are starting to tail off (amazing how that works, isn't it?). We've already had a truly divine batch of blackberry pork ribs and a lovely blackberry-apple cobbler. But I can tell we're not even at the halfway point. And the s.o. has found the motherlode on one of his fishing expeditions. Bring 'em on!

* The spiralbound books have more recipes in them than the hardbacks do, but the hardbacks give you all the cultural background to know what you're making. To get the whole experience, you really need both. Oh, and yes, I know I can get them on eBay, but in the name of frugality I'm waiting for them to pop up in thrift stores. They can be found there surprisingly often.

Monday, June 27, 2005

You, too, can make science

Take the MIT Weblog Survey

A walk in the woods, vol. 2

We went for a walk on our property yesterday to see if the mayapples were ripe. The answer was no, but it was moot anyway because so few of them had set fruit. No matter. We had a wonderful walk least until we were chased out of the woods by a marauding deerfly!

See more photos from our walk here.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Garden on full blast

And this isn't even all of it! It won't all fit in one photo frame.

By the way, we harvested our first red tomato today! And yesterday we had roasted green tomatoes and sweet potatoes at dinnertime--a great combination.

Here be watermelons

These are the latest volunteers. I swear I didn't plant watermelons this year! But I'm not complaining.

I was wrong

Japanese beetles do eat kudzu.

Now eat hearty, you bugs, and you won't have any room for garden plants!

Thursday, June 23, 2005

A walk in the woods

This evening the s.o. suggested we go for a walk in the nearby National Forest. He's looking for a quiet little fishing hole or undiscovered stream bank where he can relax in the evenings and fish for our supper. So we put Gracie the Foster Dog in the car and drove five minutes west.

Along the way, Gracie (who loves to hang her head out the car window) tossed her stuffed bear out onto the road. "Argh," the s.o. said. "We'll get it on our way back."

We turned off at a dirt road near the Shiloh Baptist Church. A short distance down the road, the s.o. pointed at a path and said "Pull in there." And there was the nicest sign I've seen in recent memory:


"Invited"! Isn't that welcoming? I feel as though I should write a thank-you note to the Forest Service for that.

We walked for nearly an hour. The main path didn't end up going anywhere, so for a while we tried an ATV trail that crossed it. We still didn't find a stream or fishing hole, but we saw so many beautiful sights along the way. Hickory nuts dropping from the trees, raccoon tracks in the mud, tiny crawfish in the puddles. The air was still and cool, and the trees towered above us. It was so peaceful and pretty.

When we got back to the dirt road and started driving, we spotted blackberry bushes along the shoulder. We stopped and picked about half a pint, reveling in our good luck.

Back on the main road, the sun was dropping toward the horizon, glowing bright red. Briefly, we pulled off at a different dirt road. We located a disused U.S. Forest Service campground--fodder for a future exploration.

On the way home, it was difficult to locate the stuffed bear. Finally we found it by remembering that it was just east of a dead deer.* I halted the car and the s.o. jumped out to collect Gracie's toy. There were no treadmarks on it, but it was missing its legs.

She didn't mind.


* Yes, I know this sounds like a Jeff Foxworthy joke. "You might be a redneck if you use roadkill as a landmark."

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Whining about whining

This is a really delicious salad, and it goes well with dals and other hearty, spicy foods.

I would probably never have tried it if I hadn't had (a) a surplus of really good, fresh cucumbers, and (b) a cup of leftover fresh pineapple chunks from making a pineapple pie. I needed something to use those things up ASAP, and this was perfect! And of course I had fresh jalapeƱos available, too.

What I'm about to say doesn't necessarily reflect the comments on this particular recipe, but I've been meaning to say this for a while, so here goes. I'm always amused (and, okay, a little annoyed) when people leave comments on Epicurious that say things like "I followed the recipe exactly, except I changed almost every ingredient and cut corners on the cooking methods, and then I was shocked to find that it sucked." Creativity is great and should be encouraged, but if you make alterations, you're NOT ALLOWED TO WHINE.

No one is immune from these tendencies, of course. One of my cookbooks bears a badge of shame--a page describing a Spanish rice recipe where, many years ago, I scribbled "Left out the olives and cilantro. This was bland and needed something!"

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Put up or shut up

Two ways I took advantage of the garden's bounty this evening:

(Yes, this is my second batch, but they're so good! Even after this, I still have enough squash left over for a soup tomorrow.)

2 c. shredded yellow crookneck squash
2 large eggs
1/2 c. vegetable oil
3/4 c. packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground mace
1/2 c. golden raisins
1/2 c. chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Oil a 12-cup muffin tin or line the cups with papers.
In a large bowl, mix together the squash, eggs, oil, brown sugar, and vanilla. In a smaller bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and mace. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir until just combined. Fold in the raisins and walnuts.
Spoon the batter into the cups of the muffin tin and bake 25 minutes, until golden brown.

Makes two pints.

jalapeƱo peppers, washed and sliced
2 c. white vinegar
1/2 c. water
2 tsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. mixed pickling spices

Pack pepper slices tightly in two sterilized pint jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Combine vinegar, water, salt, and spices in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Pour boiling-hot liquid over peppers, again leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Wipe jar rims and screw on fresh lids. Process 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.

Around here we call it "exercise"

It happens at least twice a year: Some chunk of creosote gives way in one of the chimneys, and with a thunk and a twittering, suddenly we have chimney swifts in the house.

We got two of them this afternoon. I heard them tumble into the dining room fireplace, and then it was only seconds before Silver started barking. The birds took wing and landed on the curtains. Taxi, up in the very top of her kitty tree, swatted at one of them and very nearly nailed it.

There is an established routine for dealing with a SWIFTS IN THE HOUSE crisis. I gather up all the pets and shut them into the bedroom (provided the birds haven't found their way into the bedroom before I get a chance to do so). Then I open the front and back doors and start bothering the birds with a ceiling-fan duster until they find an egress.

This time, the first one was easy. It perched in the hem of my old winter coat and hid its head in the fabric, possibly figuring that if it couldn't see me, I couldn't see it. I gently picked up the coat and carried it out back, then gave it a shake.

The second one was a real challenge. It landed on our framed Thunderball soundtrack LP, way up high on the wall, and I had to try to dislodge it without knocking the record off its hanger. Then it cowered in the kitchen blinds for a while, and then it whacked itself on the head pretty hard by running into a wall because, let's face it, chimney swifts are crazy-good insect hunters but are really not all that bright in most other respects.

Finally I managed to shoo it out onto the back porch and close the kitchen door. Ten minutes later, I had still failed to teach it the difference between "screen" and "no screen," but with some dumb luck I sent it on its way.

I always roll my eyes and carp a lot when this happens, but secretly I don't mind it because I get to see the birds up-close and personal in a way I never otherwise would. They return my gaze with their coal-black eyes, and I can see their tiny chests heaving in fear and exhaustion. I feel concern and pity for them. Talk about a nasty surprise: One moment you're snug in your bed, and the next--whoops! Alice in Wonderland!

Anyway, they're both outside again, and they'll have some infrastructure work to do this evening.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Hooray, but also ugh

This week I had noticed a sudden onslaught of Japanese beetles, so yesterday before dark I put out a Bag-a-Bug. I just looked in it and there must be a hundred beetles in there.

Can anyone tell me why they don't just climb back out of the bag? Are they just too drunk on beetle pheromones?

Can't keep my eyes open

Right now I'm making a big pot of coffee because I just awoke from a late-morning nap and can't shake my grogginess. It was my own fault.

I started the day by gathering produce: a basket of pickling cucumbers, the last of the sugarsnap peas, and about a half-cup of perfect blueberries. While I was away last week the s.o. had made blueberry buckwheat pancakes with the berries that were ripe at the time, so I got it into my head that I wanted to do the same thing. I heated up a pan, got the syrup out of the fridge, and started mixing the batter. As I worked, I popped raw berries into my mouth every so often as the urge hit me.

Well, you know how it goes. Three giant carbohydrate bombs later, I passed out on the couch. Will I ever learn?

Saturday, June 18, 2005

There is no delicate way to say this

On Wednesday I cooked with fresh fenugreek leaves--brought home in a cooler from an international market in Nashville--for the first time. I used them in the greens-and-potatoes dish that I mentioned in my last post. I liked the results pretty well.

Ever since then my armpits have smelled like curry.

Thursday, June 16, 2005


1. Got garden back in control.

2. Made two quarts of refrigerator pickles, using all but two cucumbers. (Recipe: Fill jars with cucumber and sweet onion slices, then pour over a mixture of sugar, white vinegar, white wine vinegar, and celery seed, mixed to taste. Should be quite sweet. You will be surprised by how much sugar you need. As its name implies, this is kept in the fridge, not canned for posterity.)

3. Replenished eternal and much beloved jar of pickled beets.

4. Made batch of cucumber and radish raita to go with last night's Indian dinner (which, by the way, used all the beet greens in a greens-and-potatoes kind of thing). Didn't like the raita much. Will go back to usual banana/coconut/mustard seed raita next time. But hey, it's always worth it to try something new.

5. Made batch of squash muffins, using the "Muffin Madness" recipe in The Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home.

6. Put away all the specialty groceries I got in St. Louis at Trader Joe's, World Market, and Penzey's, none of which we have here.

7. Last but definitely not least, made a really good batch of fresh peach sorbet in my new CUISINART ICE CREAM MAKER, which I got at a thrift store in Chattanooga. It rocks. New toy! New toy! Woo!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Send help

This is what my garden was up to while I was away. (This, and a lot of weeds that I had to pull!) The s.o. says it rained just about every day. Everything went absolutely apeshit.

In my absence the s.o. drove the deer away by hanging little bars of deodorant soap all over the garden. Apparently deer are hippies and can't stand the smell of the stuff. Without the deer, there's no way the insects and slugs can keep up with the abundance. They have essentially been promoted beyond their level of competence.

If, in about a week, you hear a quiet keening noise, it will be me, done in once and for all by about 100 tomatoes ripening simultaneously.


How do I explain what I have just gone through?

It was three years since my last Twangfest. You have to understand that I am old school at Twangfest. I was at Twangfest 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6. Talk about having a history with people! I have known these folks for nearly a decade. I count many of them as my best friends in the world. The ones I have only just met seem to have that kind of potential, too.

One of my roommates was also at Twangfest 1 and 2, but we hadn't known each other very well back then and hadn't seen each other since. She came out of the bathroom one morning wearing a shirt that looked oddly familiar and said she'd won it in a Twangfest auction many years ago. I asked her to describe the other clothes in the lot and it turned out they were all mine. Great minds, etc.

I made pies for everyone on Friday night instead of going to see Big Sandy and the Fly-rite Boys. (I'd seen the band before and my legs were starting to hurt from too much standing around on concrete.) I knew I was among My People because when I mentioned rhubarb, they didn't say "Eh?" like most people do. They said "RHUBARB! I LOVE RHUBARB!"

Inevitably, we are less wild than we were nine years ago. (I personally don't tend to party till dawn anymore; I'm more likely to hit the wall at, say, 3:30 AM, and quietly disappear to my room.) But that doesn't mean the Howard Johnson's doesn't have a lot to put up with. The after-hours parties are legendary. The Twangfest committee always reserves a conference room for that purpose, but the participants spill out into the pool/courtyard area anyway and raise a ruckus all night.

I had trouble sleeping. No matter how late I went to bed, I'd snap awake at 7:30 or 8:30 in the morning. I'd come out and sit by the pool so as not to wake the roomies, and I'd see these poor benighted hotel workers cleaning up beer cans from the pool, the bushes, the roof.

I returned home to find that I'd caught a cold (not a nasty one--just your garden-variety sneeze-o-rama that you catch when you usually don't come in contact with people and then suddenly come in contact with hundreds of them) and that I'd lost two or three pounds. I feel as though I ate constantly while I was in St. Louis, but then again many calories at Twangfest tend to come from drinking, which is something I don't really do anymore. I did eat some jello shots and have a couple of glasses of champagne, though. Not on the same night.

I'm not explaining this very well. There was music and talking and hugging and...well, it was just great. I danced to the Supersuckers (which is really saying something because I DO NOT DANCE) and I loved Brent Best's new material. I thought I'd seen the Bottlerockets so many times that I'd be bored by them, but I wasn't bored at all.

I am going to Twangfest 10 next year and I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys music and has a sense of fun. And now I am going to fire up my e-mail and see what horrors await...

Monday, June 06, 2005

Service interruption

I'm leaving tomorrow to attend Twangfest in St. Louis. I'll be gone until next Monday. I might post. I might even post pictures. But I might not, either.

I hoed a bunch in the garden so I can be assured it will be somewhat manageable when I get back. I don't want a repeat of last year, when I lost my grip on it by midsummer. It looks quite nice and neat now, and there are eggplants, yellow crookneck squashes, and maybe even tomatoes that should be ready to eat by the time I return. The deer have already done their worst (again) to my beans, okra, chard, etc., so I don't anticipate any further surprises there.

I was also encouraged to find that one of my cucumber plants is fruiting like crazy. There are pickles in our future! Oh, and my zucchini--just planted this week--is coming up.

Jeez, this turned into a boring farm report, didn't it? Right now I'm too tired to write any more...

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Attack of the orange goo

A few comments boxes ago, Kat remarked that mangoes make a giant mess when you slice them. "Good thing it's worth it, eh?" she said.

Indeed. So imagine the state of my kitchen yesterday evening after I chopped nine cups of mango for a homemade facsimile of Major Grey's Chutney. You see, we really like MGC. A lot. And it costs $4-something per 9 oz. at the local grocery. (If ketchup cost that much, the fast-food economy would grind to a halt!)

So the price of the commercial chutney gives us pause, because we're frugal and like to DIY when we can. My thought was, okay, mangoes are on sale for 78 cents each, so let's give it a try.

I think the homemade MGC is good. In fact, I think it's really good, if the orange goo that was all over me and everything I touched is any indication. But I'm letting the jars age for a little while before I pop one of them open.

It is a known fact that, sticky mangoes or no, canning leaves your kitchen utterly trashed. So when I bought the mangoes, I also bought a three-pound bag of apples so I could put up some apple butter. It's not much more trouble to can two things than it is to can one thing.

Here's the final count:
4 pints chutney, plus one half-pint
4 half-pints apple butter

The apple butter is goooooood. We are eating it on some of that multigrain bread I mentioned a while back.

I suspect that other people's Friday nights are a lot different from mine.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Practical matters

I awoke this morning and went walking in the garden, only to discover a disgusting profusion of proto-cucumber-beetle maggots munching on the already holey leaves of the eggplants. Damn--I must have missed a batch of eggs. Well, to business, then. Time for damage control.

It is amazing how much you can accomplish with a wood shim and a baggie. The wood shim is to scrape off bugs, maggots, and eggs. The baggie is to catch everything so it isn't in your garden anymore. My personal preference is to collect all the nasties in the baggie and then use the shim (or my foot) to squish it all against a rock. It's times like these when I wish I had chickens like Maggie does. They would have really enjoyed all the icky stuff and the life cycle, as they say, would have been complete.

Other than that, all is well out there. No more deer raids so far, which either means my deterrents are working or the deer have a lot of other tasty things to eat because of the rain.


Dogs like crepes. From now on Silver and Cairo get to split the Ugly Crepe (there's always one in every batch, while you're still tweaking the thickness of the batter and the hotness of the pan).

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Rain, rain, rain

It's like living in the produce display case of a grocery store around here, I swear. Four days in a row of rain and counting. The garden is too squishy to hoe and the yard is full of sucking mud.

The rain has caused or abetted the following events:

(1) Comfort food. Turnip risotto, chile con carne, apricot tart.

(2) Walks in the woods. The tree canopy keeps the rain off and the temperature is perfect for hiking. The s.o. especially likes to go into our woods with a pair of pruning shears so he can maintain the paths--and create new ones--as he walks. We followed our stream onto the neighboring hunting preserve and found a fantasyland of mayapples. We are going to go back later in the season and pick the ripe ones for jelly.

On one walk in the woods, the s.o. nearly trod on a timber rattlesnake. I saw it first (I always see snakes first; chalk that superpower up to my years of fossil-hunting, which gave me the ability to pick out hard-to-see objects in natural environments). I screamed my Snake Scream ("uuuuuuuaaaAAAGH!") and the s.o., not knowing what he was about to step on, treated me to a delightful performance of his Bee Dance (which looks like a crouchy hippie dance, except faster and with the legs lifted much higher). The snake was sluggish from the rain and didn't give us the time of day. Our friend who is a surveyor says that in all his years of tromping around the Georgia woods, he's only ever seen two timber rattlers, so we had a rare sighting indeed. The practical upshot of this event is that we have been making fun of each other in passing, around the house:


*Bee Dance*

It's good to be able to laugh at yourself, n'est-ce pas?

(3) Muddy dog. Our foster dog Gracie is having a tough time of it out there, and is bored silly because the rain keeps her confined to her doghouse or (when we decide to dry her off) the crate on the back porch. So we finally braved it and brought her in for an Encounter with the other dogs. Miraculously, nothing much happened. Gracie humped Cairo a lot and he wasn't crazy about it, but then he can't be expected to be over the moon about it, now can he? Silver and Gracie didn't actually show much interest in each other, which is as good as I think we're going to get considering how tightly Silv is wired around other females. Taxi the cat got in a couple of good, hard bitchslaps.

So I guess we'll try that again sometime soon.

(4) New plantings. The spring lettuce had gotten bitter and the arugula had bolted, so I ripped it all out and replaced it with mustard greens and collards. There are a few summer lettuces in progress, so we'll see how they tolerate the sun when it comes back out...if it ever does.