Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Daughters, Grandkids, and a soon to be Son in Law

Our #2 daughter, Loren, that lives and teaches in Austin, came home to visit this past week for several days.  She and her guy are expecting their first child (to be born in late February).  Jonathan is in management for a grocery store in Austin, so knowing he can't get off for such a long trip during the holiday season, they came for a visit now so that we could meet and get to know him a little bit.  We hadn't seen Loren since last November.

We had a great little family dinner with 3 of the 4 daughters -- Loren, Rhiann (the oldest), Cree (there on the right) and the two grandkids -- who were very excited to see Aunt Loren -- and she was excited to see them!  Hannah, college girl, was disappointed that she was too far away (other side of the state at her college) to make coming home practical.

Loren insisted that as an extremely athletic and fit preschool teacher, she was perfectly safe in giving Ari and Aydan pony rides.

Looks like Aydan will remain the only boy in the family (I and all of my sisters have all girls), as Loren's baby will be a girl, whom they plan to call Kemper.

Aydan got a new "fire fighter" themed umbrella and rain boots set and insisted, with his button up red corduroy shirt and decked out in the boots, that he was a fire fighter and now he was ready to fight fires (with his "gumbrella" to protect him from the water hose I guess.

Aydan stayed over for the whole weekend, so lots of fun in the driveway with Aunt Loren and Uncle Jonathan.  It was kind of cold and rainy for part of their stay, but Jonathan kept saying how much he was loving all the rain and cold (so different from Austin and where he grew up in Texas).

They brought their 5 mo. old puppy, Olympia, with them -- who got along great with Trixie and Champas (the cats, however, were horrified and kept a low profile all weekend).  At times, with 3 dogs, 2 cats, the grandkids, and Loren herself (who is VERY high energy despite being pregnant) it was a definite 3 ring circus.

We had a wonderful baby shower (which I did not manage to take one single picture of) while she was here, with some of Loren's college friends and some of my friends and their now grown children who have been part of our homeschool "family" since Loren was 6.

Looks like we will be working in visits to Austin over the coming years!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Flowers from Cans and Favorite Garden Places #4

Back in May we were at the beach in the Seaside/Seagrove area of Florida between Destin and Panama City.  Within Seaside is a public charter school and a garden that serves both as a school garden and a community garden.  I love to walk around it every day we are there, and the students, faculty, and their community volunteer gardeners always invite me to harvest whatever I want while we are there (and I've been known to pull a weed or two if need be).

The garden is circular, with raised concrete block framed beds surrounding a center open area with benches (for teaching and demos).

A canopy shades the center area (it is Florida, after all!  Notice the cheerfully painted plastic pots, the stakes with painted flowers from cans, and the large wooden plant labels (every plant was labeled in Spanish this year).  Towards the rear is an outdoor cooking and demonstration area.  The first day we were there, there was a banner over it saying "Seaside Community School Welcomes Emeril", who evidently had been there that week.

Some of the beds are quite narrow, but abundantly planted.

Along some of the fence are colorfully painted wooden birdhouses (from Hobby Lobby or Michaels I think) -- very cute grouped together.

There is even a hydroponic garden.  But it was those tin can flowers that caught my eye.  So a while ago I decided to make some myself.  I only had one large can and several small ones.

I cut the cans, primed and used some cheapo paint from the mistake section at Lowe's, along with some other leftover paint.

I'm not super happy with the colors -- but I didn't want to waste paint I really like in case the whole thing was a flop.  I need to decide whether to go on and hang them on the fence outside, or protect them from the weather over the winter and keep them in the screen porch until spring.  I can see how this must have been a good project for a group of middle school aged kids.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Salad Table -- Let's try again!

Back in January I planted up the salad table my husband had made for me for Christmas, with seeds of lettuce, kale, pak choy, and other greens -- they germinated, made it through a few freezes (with a cover), but then just seemed to sit.  The little seedlings stayed small and soon the seeds planted in the open garden in March far surpassed them.  The salad table, planted with seeds in winter, in potting soil on hand with little amendment, was a failure.

So, now it is time to see how it does for an "autumn/winter season" (rather than "winter/spring").  This time, with better soil and soil amendments, I overfilled it to accommodate settling, and planted starts from a local store -- lettuce and pak choy.

The photo above was taken shortly after planting about 2 weeks ago.  The photo below was taken yesterday:

The plants seem to be thriving and look pretty good.

I am hoping that it will be easier to keep the lettuce producing here than in the main garden through the winter -- and easier to pick from, as it is conveniently right outside our kitchen door.

Over by the main garden I have a pot planted with stir fry greens and another with chard, both of which  were from seed.  Since they are in pots I can move them to heat islands around the house and driveway if we get a severe freeze.  I'll be taking a harvest of the stir fry greens this week, cutting about an inch above the soil, so they can grow back for another harvest in a few weeks.

I also have broccoli plants tucked in corners in my various garden beds.  Last winter was so mild the broccoli grew throughout the entire winter, uncovered!  I wished I had planted more -- so this year I have quite a bit.  Since the cabbage moths aren't about in the winter (or scortching heat!), the harvests are much better here -- even if we get severe freezes the broccoli will soldier on if I remember to give them a little cover.

I wasn't able to plant malabar spinach this spring, but I had one plant come up from self-sown seed very late this summer.  It really is not enough to get much of a harvest from, but it is making berries so hopefully they will ripen and seed themselves and I will get a good stand next summer without having to locate and purchase seeds or starts (neither of which I was able to find locally this year).

So, the seeds are planted and germinated, baby plants are snuggled into their beds, I have row cover ready for the winter -- autumn is more than the metaphorical "second spring when every leaf is a flower" (Albert Camus), but is literally another spring for the gardener.

Linking to Tuesday Garden Party at An Oregon Cottage

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Paneer Part II

Here is how I used the paneer that I made:  a dish of Palak Paneer (or Saag Paneer) using the paneer and two large gallon ziplock bags of mixed turnip and mustard greens.  I sauteed the paneer cubes first, before using them in the recipe:  chopped greens sautéed with lots of ginger and garlic, then simmered in a tomato and cream sauce, with cumin, coriander, and garam masala and the paneer cubes.  I think it would have been better with spinach than turnip and mustard greens, but it was pretty yummy as it was.

On the left is Chicken Tikka Masala -- chicken marinated in yogurt and lemon juice, with Penzey's Tandoori Mix, broiled, and then mixed with a tomato and cream sauce with garlic, cumin, pepper, and paprika -- it is exceptionally good and even better for lunch the next day!

And of course brown basmati rice to soak up all of the good sauces!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Indian Paneer

Don't you love it when you follow internet instructions on something like "Indian Paneer" making, and it comes out great!

Paneer is Indian cheese.  The texture is a lot like tofu, and can be used in the place of tofu if one wants (and it sure is a whole lot easier to make than tofu!).  However, I like to use it the way it is meant to be -- in Indian dishes.

Right now I have a LOT of greens in the fridge -- turnip and mustard greens, not to mention pak choy, from our CSA, chard, spinach and kale from my garden and the grocery.  I need to use some of this up pronto -- so I thought, how about some panak paneer (or saag paneer, as it's sometimes called).  Any kind of greens (saag) can be used for this -- one of my "must gets" when we go an Indian restaurant.  The paneer part is the Indian cheese.  They don't have paneer in my Kroger, or Aldi's, or Costco.  We do have a good number of Indian/middle eastern markets around -- but that would mean a special trip, and who knows how expensive a box would be?  A check of Amazon revealed sale prices of around $5.00 for a pound, with $10.00 or more shipping!!

A quick google of making paneer showed that home-made paneer is considered far better in quality and flavor (i.e. only the pitiful and those that have no access to an Indian aunt/mother/mother in law buy it from a store), and that it seemed doable.

Only 2 ingredients needed:  whole milk and lemon or lime juice (if you use vinegar for the acid, it becomes Mexican Queso Fresca).  No rennet.  No special equipment.

I bought a gallon of whole milk from Costco ($2.67), put it in my big red stockpot and set it to boil.  And waited and waited, stirring, while it came to a boil, and waited and stirred, and stirred and waited, and then turned my back for a minute to check email on my laptop sitting on the kitchen table.  And you know what happened then.  What always happens when you lose patience with waiting for milk to boil and go do something "for just a minute".  The milk rose up and frothed over the side as I sprung back to the stove to stir it down and remove it from the heat.  All was not lost, but don't let it do that if you can help it.  I ended up with some scalding on the bottom, so my cheese has brown spots in it -- but I figure that is just charm and extra flavor.

Anyways, hopefully YOUR pot of milk will come nicely to a boil without boiling over or scalding on the bottom.  As it boils, add your acid tablespoon by tablespoon, until the milk breaks (I think my gallon took about 5 tablespoons).  Continue heating and stirring gently until the whey (kind of yellow-greenish) totally separates out -- all of this took maybe 5 or 6 minutes.

Then pour the contents into a colander lined with cheesecloth and set over a large bowl.  The whey drains into the bowl and the curds are caught in the cheesecloth.  Let drain a few minutes then wrap the cheesecloth over the top and place a weight on it (I used a large jar of beans) for an hour or two.  After that, take the weight off and place the paneer in the refrigerator for another hour or two.  Then it looks like this after you unwrap the cheesecloth and set the paneer out:

Then you can cut it into cubes and use in recipes.  It will store in the refrigerator for about a week, and I have read that the paneer cubes can be frozen.  Some of the whey can be used for the next batch of paneer, and is also good to use in baking.

See how nicely it cubed up?  It was very firm.  I will sautee the cubes for my palak paneer tonight.  One gallon of milk yielded a bit over 1 pound of paneer.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

October Calendar Pages

I can't believe I've managed to keep up all the way through October with the 366 Calendar Challenge on The Kathryn Wheel.

Here are my September pages, all filled in -- I really think this was my favorite set of pages so far -- I've never painted flowers before (or much of anything "picture-wise", other than backgrounds), but I just love the way the hollyhocks turned out.  I used a book, called "Fast and Fun Flowers in Acrylics" by Laure Paillet, that I had bought some time ago after reading about it on Barb's Nature Blog (that blog is such a great resource for anyone interested in nature study and nature journaling).

For October, I covered the pages with this black lace patterned duct tape (which actually does not stick as well as one might hope!  My 15 yr old informs me that is how it often is with the "fancy" duct tape aimed at crafters).

The glare from my light over the kitchen table is difficult to deal with in the photos.  It's currently very October-ish outside -- raining and in the 50's.  And to think it was 90 degrees less than 10 days ago!

I drew and cut out the letters for October, glittered the edges with silver stickles, and attached the letters to the page with pop-up glue dots for a little dimension.  The dates are written beside each journaling circle in silver ink.  I added some swirls around the pages with the stickles.

I can't believe there are only two months left in the year!  Be sure to visit The Kathryn Wheel and view all of the other participants' calendar pages linked up at the bottom of the post.  And if you are a homeschooling parent, or just a parent wanting tips on appreciating and making art with children or for yourself, as well as ideas for nature study and nature journaling, check out Barb's Nature and Art blogs.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Altered Book Club art for September

I participate in a monthly round robin in the Altered Book club I'm in.  Each member picks a theme for their book, and then the books get passed around for everyone to do a spread in, in turn.  The theme for the book I had in September was "Nursery Rhymes".

First I scribbled on the pages with brown, green, and black watercolor crayons, then activated it with a paint brush.  While the pages were still wet I smooshed them together, and then pulled them apart -- which gave a very earthy, bark like look.  My nursery rhyme was the "Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, going to the garden to - eat - worms" chant, which I made a copy of from a book I had bought off the sale table at Borders years ago for super cheap called "I Saw Esau" (full of tongue twisters, obnoxious chants, and word plays of childhood).  I drew and painted some worms and stuck them on with those pop up thingies, and glued on a bunch of fall leaves from the dollar store.

A couple of pictures cut out from a gardening catalog, along with the words "let the worms do the work" completed the spread.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Early Autumn Garden

hummingbird vine in full bloom

It's been a while since we've done a garden tour so here's an update on what's happening here at Chickadee Garden.  This summer has been very hot and dry, and with launching #3 daughter off to college and settling into a new routine of homeschooling with only one child left at home, occasional babysitting of grandchildren, and working on several new endeavors -- I'm afraid both the garden and the blog have felt some neglect.  But today is a chilly, rainy day -- daughter #4 is upstairs doing her algebra assignment, with the rain I can't get out and set in the fall garden plants I purchased -- so here I am.

tulip magnolia
Remember my tulip magnolia back in the spring?  It had blossomed out quite early, with record warm temperatures, but then got zapped by a frost that blackened all of the blooms.  During the late summer it made new flower buds (the drive to reproduce and make seeds is very powerful), and now it is blooming, with the leaves still on the tree.

Not as floriferous as in the spring -- but still very nice.

A gerbera daisy I rescued from the "dead and dying" mark-down section at Lowe's -- it has limped along over the past month or so, but now seems fully revived.

perennial ageratum (a eupatorium)
We have a narrow strip between our driveway and the neighbor's driveway, that I have filled with common daylillies (cars can drive over them, they don't need extra watering, and are just tough as nails).  Blue flowered perennial ageratum comes up amongst the foliage, self seeds and spreads, and also needs no care.

This photo shows the blue color a bit better, in the strip by the sidewalk.

This is some perennial helianthus (sunflower), which comes up next to the rose "The Fairy", which has bloomed throughout the summer.

The "Knock-Out" rose has also bloomed all summer long.

I have native passion vine that comes up every year around the mailbox and by my front arbor.  This time of year finds it covered with the caterpillars of the gulf frittilary butterfly.  Passion vine is the only plant the caterpillars can eat.  No passion vine, no gulf frittilaries.

The pond is looking good.  There are several leopard frogs that live in it, along with some mosquito fish and comet goldfish that I threw in when I thought the mosquito fish had died off.

We have made some progress in the backyard, having fenced off the back for the chickens, so they don't rampage everywhere.  The 3 new girls and the 3 old ones all play nicely together now.

Still working on painting the new coop.

And after the heat and drought of this summer, decided not to try to grow grass in this shady part of the backyard, but just keep it covered with pine straw (a la Florida style landscaping).

It's finally quit raining so hard outside, so I'll hit "post", take the dogs out, and check on the chickens before it starts back up!

Linking to Tuesday Garden PartySunny Simple Sunday