Monday, February 28, 2011

My window garden, post 5 - shelves!

Yesterday was an epic of shelf making, and I forgot to take pictures of any of it (in my defense, my kidney wasn't feeling good at all.) We got a 4'x8' piece of 3/4 inch plywood from Menards, and Joshua drove it out to my parents. My dad helped us cut it into three 16" shelves, between 6-7 1/2 feet long each. Back home Joshua climbed the ladder a bunch of times, attached the three 1,000 lb shelf brackets we got at Menards, and tried to put up the living room shelf... and we discovered it was about 1/16 of an inch too long. We plugged in the portable circular saw and I took about 3/4 of an inch off the end. Joshua lugged it back up and it fit just fine.

Joshua also took down the plants in the dining room window, and got the new shelves slid into place. These were a little easier, it was just a matter of getting them up there and nailing them down. Then he lugged up the ton o' garlic and put the rest of the plants back.

Now all the shelves are ready and waiting for...

The new plants! The peas have started to sprout in earnest, and the beans and the okra are starting to show up as well. (See the three un-sprouted melons in the upper left corner? There's a story about that...)

We had a minor setback when I discovered just how bad our windows really were; I had set the seed starter next to our dining room window so it could take advantage of the heat coming up from the radiator. One morning I checked on it only to find ice on the side of the starter where it faced the window. Three of the melon seed balls were frozen on the bottom; I'm still hoping they'll come up, but we'll have to wait longer. Still... look at those peas!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Curried Roasted Squash Soup

By popular demand, I present my recipe for curried roasted squash soup; this was the soup we served at the wedding. I've reduced the amount compared to what I made at the wedding. I made the soup base a couple of days ahead and froze it, then added the cream after it was warm.

1-2 winter squash* (depending on size; if they are very large use one, small use two), halved, seeds removed
1 large sweet onion, peeled and quartered
1 head garlic, peeled
2 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and quartered
3-4 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth** (depends on how thick you want your soup)
1 bay leaf
1-2 teaspoons (to taste) Maharajah Curry Powder (this is my favorite pre-mixed curry powder for non-spicy dishes, but if you have your own favorite use that)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (I like true Ceylon cinnamon; its more complex and works better with savory dishes than common cassia "cinnamon")
1 cup heavy cream***

Preheat oven to 350° F. Put squash, onion, ginger on a baking sheet; put garlic cloves in the middle of a square of foil, drizzle with olive oil, wrap, and put them on the sheet as well (I like peeling them before roasting, as I find this results in less work and waste compared to squeezing the whole bulb after). Roast 45 min to 1 hour, until squash is very tender (check with a fork).

When squash is done remove everything from the oven and let it cool until you can easily pick up the squash. Scrape squash flesh from the skins into the bowl of a food processor, together with the onion, ginger, and garlic. Pulse until smooth, adding broth if necessary (if it's too thick to pulse). In a stockpot combine squash mixture with the rest of the broth and seasonings, and add salt and pepper to taste. Bring to boil over medium/high heat, then turn down to medium and simmer for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and add cream. Serve hot!

* I've also made it with summer squash; not as creamy, and you don't have to roast it quite as long, but its still very good. Summer squash with yogurt (or just without cream) is a nice summer soup.
**I like chicken broth, but if you want a vegetarian version, use vegetable.
*** This *could* be made without cream, but it wouldn't be quite the same. For alternatives you can leave the cream out for a vegan dish (when used with vegetable broth), for lower fat use yogurt, if you're feeling crazy you could even try something like vanilla Silk in it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

My window garden, post 4 - planting veggies

Today we planted the veggies. We ended up planting everything but the Lao Stripe eggplant. Maybe next time! The only thing missing here are the soybeans, which are sadly on backorder. I might have to wait a little longer for my edamame fix.

All the seeds!!

I set the seeds to soak while the kids were at school. Soaking helps some seeds germinate better. We're planting lots of peas and beans, less of the other plants that tend to have higher yields per plant. You can plant a lot of peas in a single pot too. They're ok being friendly.

We got a very large seed starter - maybe larger than we needed, but not by as much as I thought - we planted 20 pea plants. The kids were a big help. (Zander was a really big help, but wasn't around for the pic)

The seeds in their nice, warm new home. Here's hoping for some germination in the next 9-12 days...

Bonus pic:
The garlic keeps getting bigger. All the shoots are up except one, but it'll probably show up in the next day. I had to cover the tub with netting to keep the cats from gnawing on the shoots, hence the colorful thumbtacks...

My goal for the weekend is to get the shelves ready for the plants (the garlic needs sun!!), and I need to start thinking about how to trellis the peas and melons (the beans are bush habit, so that shouldn't be much of a problem.). The melons will be in the window, so it'll be a little more simple, but I'm still thinking about how to grow the peas up the shadier walls. I might have to cage the tomatillos, and maybe the eggplant, but the first thing will be the peas.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

My window garden, post 3 - planting the herbs

The herbs got here this week, in good shape (they shipped during the warm spell, which I'm sure helped.) I got pots from Fleet Farm, as well as lime and potting soil. The garlic was the first thing in the ground; I got a giant wooden tub for them, and planted seven large cloves. These were from organic garlic bought at county market; I chose ones who already had signs of shoots. I did this on Tuesday and today two of the green shoots are visible!

On Thursday the herbs arrived. The pistou basil was sold out so they replaced it with regular sweet basil; I'm ok with that, as that should assure that I have plenty of the stuff. The candy mint smells amazing, the rosemary is in great shape, as is the lavender (I can't wait to make lavender chicken!), and the aforementioned basil. The chives look ok; they're hard to kill so hopefully they'll bounce back. The sage looks a bit sad, but sage is a survivor too.

To start with, I put styrofoam packing peanuts in the bottoms of the potting containers; they work like rocks for drainage, but are much lighter (bonus with the height of the windows). Dad gave me a pretty giant bag; I had to sort thru them a bit to get rid of the meltable starch-based ones (biodegradable in this context is not so desirable). I used more for the plants that really like good drainage, the rosemary and the lavender especially. I also used different pots for the rosemary and lavender, where I could be sure they wouldn't just sit in water.

This is the candy mint, looking very happy.

The rosemary and lavender - well drained.

From closest to furthest: chives, basil, and sage. Now we'll just see how long I can keep em alive!

Last but not least, one of the garlic shoots. Yay!

Friday, February 11, 2011

My favorite female characters - I forgot some!

I forgot some! Important ones!!

Aerin - The Hero & the Crown
Aerin is basically the opposite of Bella from Twilight. She sees herself as gangly, awkward, and unattractive, and many of those around her see her that way too. Of course, she doesn't pout about it, but accepts it and decides that she doesn't care; she'll just go and train a war-horse and kill dragons and eventually save the whole kingdom. Oh, and fall in love with an immortal, become not quite mortal, and marry the king. This still is one of my very favorite fantasy books.

Trisha - The Girl who Loved Tom Gordon
Trisha is just a typical kid, who ends up getting lost in the woods. She survives what many adults wouldn't. Oh, and she loves baseball, esp. Tom Gordon.

Taarna - Heavy Metal
Taarna's just plain awesome, with her loyal bird-dino-thing, her muteness, her silver-haired gorgeousness, and her just friggin' amazing ability with a sword.

Pussy Galore - Goldfinger
Never before and never again would James Bond meet a woman who was older than him, pretty much as (or more) capable than him, and totally immune to his "charms." I always loved how she never seemed like she really "fell" for Bond - she just had an honest attack of conscience. I don't think she moped around the house waiting for his call after the events of the movie. She'll always be my favorite Bond "girl."

Scout Finch - To Kill a Mockingbird
I cannot believe I forgot Scout. She might just be my favorite female character of all time in my favorite book of all time. I can't say I've ever read or seen a character that was closer to how I felt as a kid than Scout. Everything about her is totally and completely perfect. I need to read this again...

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

My window garden, post 2

Well, I don't have any news on when my new plants will be here, but, I do have more news about the planning of the window garden. So far we have 2 very large rocoto peppers (one of them producing in abundance), purple sage, trailing rosemary, candy mint, Provence lavender, chives, pistou basil, and I've decided to try garlic. I've got to plant the garlic right away however, as it should have gone in the ground in October. Still, I've got a very large pot without any drainage to speak of, and garlic is as good as anything for those conditions.

I'm planning on filling the bottom of the pot with rocks, so provide some sort-of drainage; potting soil for the rest. The lower roots of the garlic like to be in water and the top likes to not be in water (according to my research anyway), so this should work. A sandy soil for the top would be ideal, but, I think it'll be ok.

Now, I'd like to try and grow some other things; but I'm not sure what. Some of the options are:
Vote in the poll and we''ll plant the top vote getters. I might just plant all of these anyway, but, hey. If you can think of anything else I should plant, leave a comment.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

My favorite female characters

I'm trying to make it thru the Twilight series. Now, to start with, this is difficult for me; I hate romance novels as they tend to be filled with pointless angst; I read all the Anne Rice vampire books and hated them (well, I liked Interview). So far the Twilight books are like Anne Rice light with extra angst - and I hate the main character, Bella Swan, more than I can put into words. Whiny, attention-seeking, disingenuous, completely dependant on the males in her life... well, I could go on, and I will, in a later post.

This got me thinking about my favorite female characters and why I liked them. So, without further ado, here are the ones I could think of off the top of my head!

The Bene Gesserit - Dune Series (the original ones, not the new crap)
The Bene Gesserit are amazing. From Jessica, who was much more complicated than "I had a boy for my man" (it had a lot more to do with her sensing that she could give birth to the Kwizatz Haderach), to Darwi Odrade, who broke the sisterhood's rules by allowing a "limited affection" - the Bene Gesserit characters are wonderful, interesting, scheming, awful, powerful, amazing, and thoroughly human.

Jesse - Toy Story 2
Jesse had me from her song, "When Somebody Loved Me." It still makes me cry every single time I see the movie. Jesse is a great character because her being a girl's toy is important to her - but she can still kick butt. One of the scenes that makes me happiest is when she lets the dog out, and Buzz is obviously attracted to her; I love that he's into her abilities.

Chetarra - Thundercats
Yeah, the show is all about Lion-O, but for girls, the show was all about Chetarra. She's shown as a fully respected member of the Thundercats group, with just as many skills in battle (and in her head) as Tigra and Panthro. Oh, and it was awesome having a woman role model that looked like a woman - and not a 12 year old boy. (Last comment applies to April O'Neil and She-Ra too)

Ripley - Alien
Of COURSE this list includes Ripley. How couldn't it? She's amazing! I know I once read a review of her character by Steven King, where he said that the worst thing she did was go back for the cat; that the males in the audience lost all respect for her when she did that. I couldn't disagree more (and not just because if she hadn't gone back for the cat she would have run into the Alien in the shuttle.). It showed a humanity that many action heroes lack. Blame it on an extra X-chromosome if you want; I don't know a single kid who has watched that movie and not yelled "THE CAT!! GET THE CAT!!"

Buttercup (and Blossom, and Bubbles) - Powerpuff Girls
Buttercup is my personal favorite, as I like seeing a girl who likes fighting and playing rough; it shows that there are more ways to be a girl than just Barbies and princesses. All of the girls show different ways for little girls to be little girls tho, and they are all accepted - and when push comes to shove, they can all kick butt.

The Bride - Kill Bill
Another obvious choice, the Bride from Kill Bill is awesome in every way. She can swordfight, do kung-fu, survive, get revenge for herself and her little girl, and in the end be a good mom. Seriously, what is not to love about this character?

Mariko - Shogun
Mariko is a woman who manages to get her way in everything, and is truly the center (and brains) behind Shogun. She tames the wild foreigner, gets her final revenge on her husband, and makes Toranaga Shogun. She's a deep and brilliant character.

Lois Lane - Lois & Clark (with honorable mention to Margot Kidder's in Superman)
This is by far my favorite Lois. Tough, take charge, changing the world with her stories, and only occasionally needing rescuing (and honestly, she rescues Superman as many times as he rescues her).

Livia - I, Claudius
Oh, Livia, could you have been any more evil? Well, yeah, you could, I guess; tho murdering your husband, your grandchildren, and marking your son down for death are pretty bad. But you always had the good of the Empire in mind. Livia is so awesome, so ruthless, and so scheming that she might just be the best bad guy - ever.

Satsuki & Mei - My Neighbor Totoro
Pretty much all the female Miyazaki characters are brilliant, but Satsuki and Mei are the first ones I saw, and still my favorite. They are just little girls, nothing more. Its really touching and great to see little girls act like little girls, and have little girl fears - like getting lost.

All the women - Amy Tan books
I can't think of a female Amy Tan character that isn't excellent. Some of them are much nicer than others, but none of them are a stereotype in any way. I love all of 'em.

Mrs. Frisby - Mrs. Frisby & the Rats of NIMH
Just an ordinary mouse, introduced to a world of rats who are human-level intelligent. Her heart and bravery are awesome (better in the book of course; there's no magic). And of course she may be the mother of a new race of human-intelligent mice. Which is just cool.

Motoko Kusanagi - Ghost in the Shell (movie)
I really like the Kusanagi from the movie; she is a female Rick Decard, unsure if she is real or made up.

Brawne Lamia - Hyperion cantos
Brawne Lamia is basically Sam Spade, except female. A private investigator, she falls for a beautiful client with a murder she needs to solve. Raised on a world with stronger-than-Earth gravity, she's strong enough to beat up anyone who gets in her way. A great turn-the-trope-on-its-ear character, and mother of...

Aenea - Hyperion cantos
Absolutely one of my favortie female characters ever, an architect and a possible messiah (tho she denies it). She's amazingly strong (not physically...), and the relationship she has with Raul Endemion is wonderful; it rings true, and is a real partnership between them. If I could make everyone read the Hyperion Cantos, I would.

Any that I missed? Who are your favorite female characters? Stay turned for my LEAST favorite female characters (yes, Bella Swan will be on the list).

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

My window garden, day 1 - I buy plants

I'm finally getting ready to really start my window garden going. Those who have been over this winter know that I've had two relatively gigantic rocoto pepper plants in my window since last fall, and they are still producing peppers... I'm not sure what's pollinating them, but hey, I'm not going to look a stupidly hot gift pepper in the mouth. (Seriously, these are habanero hot). You can see three of the larger new peppers in the pic, and at least 5 of the little bitty baby ones (and a couple of flowers)

There are many times I want other fresh herbs tho, so, I'm going to add a container or two. Today I bought some new plants from :

  • Purple sage - just like regular sage, only purple and less likely to bolt
  • Trailing rosemary - I'm really excited about this one, hopefully I can keep it alive. It does fine in dry conditions and sun and cold, so i think it might work out (note, last time I had rosemary it died... not enough water. Sigh). Having this drape down the wall would be awesome!
  • Candymint - a extra-sweet version of peppermint. I'm thinking ice cream!!
  • Provence lavender - I'm excited to have some fresh lavender around. The sage, rosemary, and lavender all have similar water needs, so I'm thinking a large pot for all of them...
  • Chives - You know 'em, you love 'em, and they are nigh impossible to kill. Love container chives.
  • Pistou basil - the only annual on the list; a very small container Basil. It'll either work or not.
So, now I must procure some more containers and wait patiently. And dream of the lemon tree I'm going to grow in here one of these days.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Salt & Pepper Chicken - NOMTastic

After the seasonal hiatus, I'm going to try and get back in the swing of posting on here. I'm still looking for more topics to post on, so if there's anything specific you'd like to see, please let me know!!!

Last night I was missing the salt & pepper shrimp and fish of the Chinese places in the bay area, so I decided that I'd try and approximate some of the flavors with chicken. It worked out.

A note on this: I grind my own rice flour. If you don't have grain mill, sometimes you can find rice flour at the store; I'm pretty sure Mustard Seed carries it. Its often in the "gluten-free" section. Cornstarch will do in a pinch, but its not quite the same. I serve it with plain white rice. I'm not including that recipe (unless someone really needs it).


2-2.5 lbs chicken breasts, sliced thin
1 cup rice flour
2 teaspoons fresh ground pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons five-spice powder (available in the Asian food section of the grocer; next time I'll grind my own, but star anise and Szechuan peppercorns aren't easy to find in Merrill)
1 head Bok Choy, chop stems 1/4" thick, chop leaves roughly
1 large onion, sliced
1 bunch green onions, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
2-3 tbs soy sauce
2-3 tbs rice wine (sake)

Put the rice flour, pepper, salt, and five spice powder in a bowl and stir to combine. Put chicken breast pieces in mixture, toss/stir until all pieces are thoroughly coated.

Heat about 3-4 tbs oil (I use mild olive oil with a little bit of sesame oil, but really, its up to you) over high heat until the smoke point. Put a handful of the coated chicken in it and toss/stir until golden brown, then remove to a plate lined with a paper towel. Repeat until all the chicken is cooked, adding oil if necessary.

Keeping the heat high, put the onion in the remaining oil, and add the chicken back in. Stir until tender, 3-4 minutes.

Add the bok choy, stir for two more minutes, add the green onion, stir for two more minutes until everything is tender.

Add the soy sauce and rice wine and stir quickly, making sure everything is coated. Serve!