Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Poem in Your Pocket

Oh dear, it's Poem in Your Pocket Day, and I almost missed it! To celebrate the end of National Poetry Month, the organizers--whoever the heck they may be--encouraged people to carry a poem with them today. Or, if that wasn't practical, to share a poem with others.

Well, I still have a few hours, so I'm gonna post you all a poem anyway! This is an Emily Dickinson poem whose cadence of the first lines stays with me always. I dedicate it to Lisa at Laughing Orca Ranch, and to anyone who's planting anything this spring.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all.

And sweetest in the gale is heard--
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea--
And, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Here's wishing you all a Friday filled with hope!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Baby Steps

Apparently, I need to learn how to walk again.

Two weekends ago, I had a painful hip "episode." I've had them very occasionally in the past, for years, and have always thought it was due to a pinched nerve, along the lines of sciataca. It mostly bothered me when I was trying to find a comfortable sleeping position, as any way I lay eventually put weight on something that made it hurt. It would generally go away after a day, and seemed to bother me less when I weighed less.

Well, two Saturdays ago, it felt kind of like a kink that needed to be worked out. So I forged on ahead, working in the garden with Miss Chef. (Note to Liz: plant tomato stakes first, then the plants.) As it turned out, that was the last thing my hip needed, and after repeated crouches, kneels, and bendovers, I ended up hobbling across the lawn to a patio chair, wincing as I told Miss Chef, "I have to quit."

It sucked. I wanted to transplant seedlings! But--OUCH! It really was painful. And it didn't go away the next day; I had pushed too hard, and it took me at least three days to be able to move normally.

Okay, I thought, you really do need to lose weight, if this is going to keep happening. By the end of the week, I felt better, resolved to cut down on the Cokes--yet again--and life went on.

Sunday morning, I mowed. I was fine, trying to be conscious of pushing the mower with my muscles, instead of my back. Something I had to figure out on my own, having never used a push lawn mower when there were Big People around to tell me these things.

Sunday afternoon, my hip started hurting again.

Uh oh.

Somehow, as Miss Chef and I made our rounds that afternoon to the grocery store, Home Depot, and the drugstore, I figured out the real problem: I have lousy posture. It wasn't until I finally tilted my pelvis forward, seeking relief from the sharp twinges, that it all went away. Pinched nerve? Maybe. Bad posture putting pressure on the wrong parts of my support structure? Most definitely.

Now, don't think this was news to me. I've always known my posture was lousy. As I was growing up, my parents frequently commented on it; how could I forget? As a teenager, of course, I discounted most everything they told me.

Over the years, however, I have occasionally tried to improve my posture. I'd ask friends to remind me if they saw me slouching--then either they'd forget, feel uncomfortable bringing it up, or I'd find it too annoying to continue. I took yoga classes for a year or two in grad school, which undoubtedly helped, without my realizing it. But outside of school, yoga got expensive, and I got out of the habit of using the videos I'd bought, or even using the breathing and standing techniques I'd learned. Leaving teaching for an office job was the final knell; sitting correctly is even harder for me than standing correctly.

But even during my posture-centric moments, I was never really sure of how to align my body. This feels right, I'd think, standing in yoga's mountain pose, and then the instructor would say "Lower your shoulders" or "Lift your chin," and I'd think, Oooo, no, THIS feels right. Every time I thought I felt the right balance, I'd forget to keep my shoulders back or my butt tucked in. I just couldn't get the whole thing to stay together.

I can't figure out why I never naturally learned good posture. I took ballet as a child, and rode horses for a couple of years as a teen. Both of these required attention to body position, and I credit them both for giving me very good balance. Slump on horseback, and you won't get far. But a decade later in yoga, while I found the balancing poses relatively easy, I still couldn't get it straight. My body, that is.

So now that my almost-40 skeleton is demanding better treatment, I have no choice but to figure it out. As I pace around the pond with Rosie, I concentrate on hips forward, rib cage up, shoulders back. Thirteen times a day at work, I haul myself up once again in my chair, pressing my butt back and stretching my spine upwards. And each time, I feel it: the opening of my chest that allows better breathing; the assured erectness of my back that exudes confidence, the easing of the waistband that's no longer trying to suck in abdominal muscles I've forgotten how to use.

And I wonder if this time, I'll see it through; if my good posture will finally feel natural someday, so that I can stop thinking about it. I sure hope so, because it's awfully hard to concentrate on pelvis position at the same time as judging whether Rosie's about to suck up that goose poop.

I'm not entirely sure why I felt this was a subject for a blog post. It's just that I feel so weird, not walking with my own stride. Instead, I feel like I'm waddling, or squeezing my ass together so tightly, people will think I'm trying to make diamonds. I feel so awkward, ungraceful. And I hope that it will become natural, that someday soon I'll be able to stretch out and walk easily, as I did as a child, running across grass in bare feet.

Of course, I was probably slumping when I did that.

Biscuit update: If you're interested in the recipes for any of those biscuits from Saturday's post, point your browser to the Matthews market website'll also see a couple of photos by yours truly. Yee-haw, I'm famous!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Market Report: April 25, 2009

First of all, yes, I've made a few changes around here. I've been thinking for awhile about changing the name of my blog, ever since I coined the name "Flartopia" in some post or another. I thought it would be more fitting, since I've moved away from a sort of editorial focus to more of a daily journal describing what goes on in my little corner of the world.

Besides, it'll make the URL easier to remember.

I also wanted to freshen up the look a little, though honestly, I'm not so sure about this green background. Maybe it will grow on me--if it starts giving you all headaches, seizures or nightmares, please let me know and I'll switch it back!

Ok, on to the report!!

Yes, today was the Biscuit Bakeoff! Miss Chef and I signed up as market volunteers over the winter, and today was our first "gig." We were asked to arrive at 8:30...which, since we needed to get some shopping done, meant we had to show up even earlier. Please keep in mind that we live about 30 minutes away, so as to get the early-morning perspective right here.

I set my alarm for 6:30--6:00 would have been better, but I just couldn't face another morning getting up in the dark. We were aiming for a 7:30 arrival time, and got there about ten 'til eight. Not too bad, considering Miss Chef and her Chef went out after work last night to a 24-hour pastry shop. I think they had a good time, but Miss Chef and I were both pretty sleepy when she was telling me about it this morning, so that's about all I'm able to tell you about that.

Anyway, there were two sets of biscuit-baking honors up for grabs today. The first was to be awarded by four professional judges: two area pastry chefs--Christine from Down Home Baking and Laura from By Lucille--along with Kathleen Purvis, the food editor of the Charlotte Observer; and Peter Reinhart, pastry chef, restaurateur, author, Chef Instructor at the Charlotte campus of Johnston & Wales, and--I just recently learned--a James Beard Award winner for his book The Bread Baker's Apprentice. So, he's pretty much a national expert on all things bread. I kind of wished I had entered, just so I could say Peter Reinhart liked my biscuits.

The second set of prizes was to be awarded via a "People's Choice" vote by any market-goer who cared to participate. That's where Miss Chef and I entered into the picture, along with two other volunteers. Our job was to cut up the biscuits in bite-sized pieces and put them into tiny paper cups for voters to sample.

The biscuits were divided into two categories: traditional and specialty. There were only seven entries total, down from twelve last year. Here's one of this year's entries in the traditional category:

And yes, they did taste as good as they looked! That nice white towel sure didn't hurt appearances none, either. Click on the picture to biggerize it; they look even better up close.

Here's one of the specialty biscuit/scones:

I think these were called chili cheese scones, or some such. I didn't want to try them, because you could see the bits of green chili in them, and I am a total wuss about spicy foods. But Miss Chef really liked them, so I had to give them a taste. I don't know how the baker did it, but it had all the flavor of a chili and absolutely none of the heat. And believe me, I would have noticed.

So after all the entries arrived, we four got to work cutting 'em up, while Peter Reinhart gathered quite a crowd at the next tent. As far as I could hear, he was explaining what makes a Southern biscuit a Southern biscuit, and what makes a good biscuit good. Other people kept wandering past our growing piles of biscuit bites, reaching out for samples while we politely informed them--over and over again--that we weren't ready yet. I mean, we did have knives in our hands; it could have gotten ugly.

Then, finally, Peter released the wolv--I mean, public to come sample and vote. I was glad to be inside the ring of tables; even with four of us, it was still less crowded than out there.

I have to say, I wondered at 8:30 why there were four volunteers called in for this event, but by 9:30 I saw the wisdom in that decision! We worked pretty steadily keeping up with demand, answering questions, and failing to stop the little boy who stole two whole biscuits right under our noses. He was darn cute, and if I hadn't been so busy, I would have demanded he let me take his picture as repayment.

These scones above were in the specialty category. I don't know what their official name was, but they had lots of spices, particularly ginger. As you can see, they were very popular.

This was not the biscuit thief, but I loved how serious he was about making his final selection.

It seemed only about 10 minutes later when Mr. Reinhart told the voters to finish up; we were still completely surrounded by people lined up with ballots in their hands. The organizers rushed folks through, gathered up the ballots, and went off to an empty corner to tally up. We stopped cutting and started tasting, once we knew all the votes were in.

After a little confusion and hustle, Peter Reinhart announced the winners. Here he is below, in the center of the group. I don't know who the guy on the far left is, but I'm sure you can tell the two pastry chefs there (from whom I generally buy my market-morning breakfasts--thanks for the brioche!). To the right of Peter are Kathleen Purvis and Pauline Wood, the official Market Manager.

We didn't get any numbers, but I'm thinking the traditional category was an easy win--those towel-wrapped buttermilk biscuits I showed you at the top took home the prize, both from the judges and the public. The ginger-scented scones won the specialty category, again from both sets of voters. I can't remember who got 2nd and 3rd prizes; the sun was getting kind of hot and we still had some cleaning up to do!

On our way out of the market, we stopped to say hi to Miss Chef's whom I will now just refer as Chef Adam, because it's getting annoying writing it the other way. We headed over to the restaurant, which is across the street from the market, so I could find out if they were going to need me to bus tonight--the regular busser got busted by her parents for running up her phone bill, so they yanked her out of her job. (No, it doesn't make sense to me either--how's she supposed to pay the bill now?) I still don't know if they'll need me, but they've only got another hour to call and let me know, so hopefully I'll be able to chill tonight.

After all, I used up all my naptime messing around on my blog!

Epilogue: Yep, I got to stay home tonight and entertain the dog! Plus, I found some other pictures I took this morning, so I'll toss in some beautiful radishes, free of charge. The farmer at the booth was so sweet; when I told her I wanted to take a picture of her radishes, she grabbed a spray bottle to mist them for me. I tell ya, it's no wonder we enjoy the market so much!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Bear With Me...

Working on some changes case you hadn't noticed. It make take a few days!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Before and After

I don't know if it's Spring Fever or what, but I have been a lump all week! However, I felt terrible at the thought of being absent from the blogging rounds, so finally mustered up some energy to put an idea into action.

Thanks to this blog, I've been chronicling spring around here with unprecedented detail. As I've been delighting in new growth and the changing seasons, I can't help but wanting to share these changes. So I've put together this little Before & After album. Although, this isn't really After yet, at all, it's what we've got for now!

Going way back to February, you may remember my excited It Snowed! post (which I'm too lazy to link to):

Today, this Rose of Sharon tree has some new clothes:

And I'm quite sure you remember all those luscious tulips in the cutting garden Miss Chef planted for me:

Yes, well, so.....they've been cut, what can I say?

Remember my cute little torches running up the walkway?

They finally flickered out...but the gallardia in the background is already showing some color! Wow, that's early...thanks gallardia!

Ok, let's go check out the veggie were the peas about a month ago:

And today...hard to get the same shot, the beans are kind of in the way now:

Here's a bonus pea shot, 'cause I'm so excited about their finding their way up the trellis Miss Chef built:

Anybody remember the arugula sprouts? I swear they looked like this for about 3 millenia:

But now look what they've gone and done!

Here's that smart-ass bouquet I made for Miss Chef, out of the naturalized mini grape hyacinths she's at war with:

And they turned into:

Ha ha! No, I'm just kidding! These are chive flowers--Miss Chef says you can use them as garnish...and maybe some other stuff. I wasn't paying too much attention, I confess.

And last but not least, the brave little gerbera daisy that was my sign of hope from my fail post? That's the picture I put up top. And today:

The more things change, the more they stay the same!

Happy weekend, everybody!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Tag, I'm It!

Alix at Casa Hice tagged me to play this "8 Things" game. I guess tag is a better analogy than, say, the flu, huh?

Anyway, once tagged, you get to post your own lists of 8 things. I like this one; it challenges me to give my life a good solid look, and focus on some positive things!

8 Things I Did Yesterday
1) Read the Sunday paper and clipped my coupons
2) Helped Miss Chef transplant tomato seedlings into the garden
3) Started Rosie on her new diet of half-canned food, per the vet's strong recommendation
4) Played around in the internet; got 7 comments on my last post!
5) Went with Miss Chef to Marble Slab Creamery for her strawberry and strawberry fix
6) Took the trash & recycling out to the curb before nightfall.
7) Cooked dinner for Miss Chef & myself--oversalted the mashed 'taters, but the chicken was good!
8) Watched the end of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and all of Desperate Housewives.

8 Things I'm Looking Forward To
1) A week's vacation in July
2) Completely paying off my credit card--TODAY!
3) Harvesting the first peas out of the garden
4) Mother's Day--I'll either be visiting Mom, or hostessing at the restaurant again
5) Mom's visit this summer to help with Miss Chef's Great Canning Days
6) The day in the distant future that Miss Chef finally pays off her student loans
7) The day in the distant future that our red maple tree is big enough to shade the front door
8) The next farmers' market

8 Things I Wish I Could Do
1) Travel once or twice a year for a week or more
2) Spend nights & weekends with Miss Chef
3) Like seafood & vegetables
4) Go snorkeling
5) Replace 25 lbs of fat with 10 lbs of muscle overnight
6) Train Rosie perfectly
7) See my niece & nephews more often
8) Live somewhere I could have chickens

8 Shows That I Watch
I had to cheat a little, as we don't have cable, and have tried to cut back on tv.
1) Extreme Makeover: Home Edition
2) Desperate Housewives
3) Two and a Half Men (syndicated reruns)
4) Scrubs (syndicated reruns)
5) The Office
6) local news (sometimes)
7) Mystery Science Theater 3000 (old taped shows)
8) Alton Brown's Good Eats (on dvd)

Now I'm supposed to tag 8 other people, but I don't usually have enough bloggers to tag, so I'm just gonna say, Hey, if you think this is fun, do it in your blog, too!

Tag, you're it!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Dog Day Afternoon

Once again we had a perfect weather weekend. I got my mowing chores done Thursday evening, went to the farmers' market with Miss Chef Saturday morning, and did my vacuuming and dishes after she left for work. I sat outside in the back yard for a while with Rosie, enjoying the neat-looking garden and wonderfully cool air.

But I had plans for her, I did. I was taking her to every dog's dream--an off-leash dog park! Charlotte has 4 or 5 of these wonderfully generous places. The one closest to us is in the William R. Davie park. It's about a 20-minute drive, but I figured it would be worth it to give Rosie a deliriously exhausting good time.

After all, every time we see another dog on our walks about the neighborhood, Rosie becomes fixated. Every bit of diligent training flies out of her head as she strains at the leash or tries to drag me backwards where all the fun is going on, Moooommmm....

Fine--let's go; I'll let you off the leash and you can sniff all the dog butt you like, for as long as you like.

Guess what? It was kind of a bust. A few pictures are all I need to show you:

See all the dogs and people back by the picnic table? Notice which way Rosie is pointing?

" C'mon, Mom, let's get going."

"I don't know how to read, but I know this is how we got in here."

"It's hot! Turn on the AC, and let's hit the road already!"

Seriously?? This is what she does?? There were dozens of dogs of all sizes, colors and personalities. Some wanted to sniff butts, some wanted to play, one really really wanted to practice his puppy-making skills, but little Miss Asocial wanted none of it. She was more interested in what the dogs left behind than in the dogs themselves.

Plus, she was being fussy about water. There were buckets, bowls and even a kiddie pool throughout the park, but she turned up her nose at all of them. I could understand the brown water, but c'mon--you're a dog! And you're wearing a double-thick black fur coat. I know you're thirsty. I finally dumped out a bowl of water and refilled it fresh for her; she suffered to drink from it only while I was crouched down in front of her. When we got back to the car, she proceeded to down an entire bowl and a half. From her own, personal bowl.

However, I did achieve one goal: as soon as she got settled down back home, she sacked out in the living room. At least she won't be bugging me for anything tonight!

On the other hand, I kinda feel like sacking out, too. I guess walking around a 5-acre park is some kind of activity all by itself. We'll try again soon, and maybe I'll bring Miss Priss her own private water supply. Don't be surprised if the other dogs turn up their noses at you then, missy.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Missed Opportunity

Oh, man, I was so excited! I actually cooked for myself last night, all by myself, without any help from Miss Chef. Well, I did call her from work before she left the house, to make sure I had the technique correct. But that was it; she wasn't even home when I made my dinner.

And it turned out good. I made some chicken leg quarters flavored with an apple-ginger compote (or, rather, some of Miss Chef's applesauce mixed with ginger and a little salt), garlic roasted potatoes and broccoli with cheese on it. The chicken browned up beautifully, as did the potatoes, and the bright green and yellow on the rest of the plate was a nice counterpoint.

It looked amazing--at least, for me--and I wanted to take a picture of it, to show that I can cook almost as well as Miss Chef, when the stars are properly aligned (and to show Alix I can eat my vegetables!) But after searching high and low throughout the house twice, I couldn't find the camera anywhere. How frustrating! I considered trying the scanner, but decided the ensuing mess wouldn't really be worth it.

So I had to make the sacrifice, and sit down to dinner without preserving for eternity my chef d'œuvre. And let me tell you, it tasted as good as it looked. Too bad I couldn't share it with you. The apple-ginger infused the meat even better than I'd hoped, I finally seasoned the potatoes enough to make them irresistable, and there sure was a lot of cheese on that broccoli.

As it turns out, Miss Chef had taken the camera with her to the goat farm on Monday, and never quite got it back into the house. Figures. I guess that just means that I'll have to try to cook another fantabulous meal for myself, and make sure the camera's around when I do it. The picture I used to head this post isn't even the aftermath of my small triumph; I took that after one of Miss Chef's delectable repasts.

I was going to leave you with some more flower pictures, but guess what? I still can't find the camera.

SOMEbody's gonna be in trouble...

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Chef's Holiday: Easter

6:30 am: alarm goes off. Six hours already? After a late night last night, and an early alarm today, she definitely needs a shower and some coffee.

7:01: She re-wakes up and hustles to the shower. No time to make coffee.

8:00: Arrive at work; Chef's already there. Is the coffee ready? Oh, I love you Chef!

9:00: Front-of house staff starts to arrive. Lights go on in the living room as they start to set up. Still prepping in the kitchen, already sweating and swearing. "Dammit, who took my spray bottle?"

9:12: "Oh, there it is. Glad I didn't say anything to Chef about his taking it."

10:00: Chef leaves the kitchen to go over the menu and prices with the servers. His final comment: "Good luck."

10:23: The first customers come in the door. Show's on.

10:35: The first tickets hit the window. Ugh; the kitchen hasn't done brunch in months; how does this go again?

10:42: The window's filling up with tickets. "Shit, I need powdered sugar... where is it?"

10:43: "F&*%!! I'm out of powdered sugar!"

11:13: "What the...hey, keep your shit off my station."

12:05: "Table five is up!"

12:07: "Hey, server, Table 5, let's go!"

12:11: "Table five, get this shit outta here; it's dying!"

1:37: The last table is seated--not that the kitchen knows this; the tickets are still flying in.

1:42: Front of house starts placing orders for Family meal.

1:48: Argument with a server over a bacon side that Miss Chef knows he already took out. He insists; Chef digs out the last remaining crumbs of bacon and slides it across the pass. At which point the server says, "Oh, wait; you're right. Here..." slides bacon back "...keep it and put it with my French toast." Miss Chef struggles to resist throwing a knife through the pass.

2:17: Last entrée goes out. Start working on family.

2:30. Start stacking up plastic-wrapped family plates in the window. Still four tables of guests lingering in the dining room. Pantry cook prays they don't order dessert.

3:10: The last table is finally gone. Service staff sits down to eat; mimosas all around! Kitchen staff is still cleaning.

3:30: Chef announces to the whole staff that he's hidden six dozen plastic candy-filled eggs in the parking lot. Miss Chef holds back the crowd in the hallway with the garbage cans she just emptied, until everyone has gathered. Then she makes a mad dash out the door ahead of everyone--most importantly, ahead of Mr. Bacon the server.

4:00: The kitchen staff finally sits down to eat. The fresh fruit is gone. Who do you have to %$#@ around here to get a beer?

4:02: Front of house staff is gone. Kitchen staff mostly stares at each other blearily for a few minutes before recapping the day and talking shit about the servers.

4:30: Finally, it's time for the kitchen staff to leave--except for Chef; he's always the last one out. Miss Chef stops in the kitchen to grab her stuff, and finds a paper bag with a takeout box of pie in it. She thanks Chef, jokes about having a threesome, and heads on out.

6:50: Miss Chef enjoys a lovely Easter dinner of nachos and a cherry Icee while watching Monsters vs. Aliens at the movie theater.

So, what's a chef's wife to do?? Why, sign up for hostessing duty...which is how I got so much inside poop on the day's events. And why I know more or less when the first and last tables were seated. And why my own Easter dinner consisted of popcorn and a cherry Pepsi.

Normally, Miss Chef has Mondays off, but Michele of Bosky Acres has offered to pay her to come out to the farm to make another batch of goat-cheese caramel sauce. Once again, we'll be eating dinner out. But I have hopes for a better menu than last night!

Note: all times and quotes are approximate, and subject to my interpretation for maximum dramatic effect. And the cartoon is actually pretty close to the truth; Chef loves sending crazy notes out to the staff like that, and I wanted to send one in to him just like the one above...only I wasn't sure they weren't too busy back there to appreciate it. Next time...

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Failure IS an Option!

Several weeks ago, fellow blogger Liz, reigning Queen of Eternal Lizdom, excitedly announced the onset of her family's first-ever gardening project. I was also very excited; not only was there going to be once less patch of useless grass kept alive, but two children were going to get down and dirty with their food.

Of course, I offered Liz any help I could long-distance, and she promised to bombard me with questions (still waiting, but I hear it's still pretty wintry in other parts of the land). At the same time, she--and several commenters--mentioned their ineptness with growing things. "I kill everything" seemed a pretty common refrain. "No, no!" I wanted to say, "you just gave up one season too early!"

In the meantime, I keep posting all these lovely pictures of our garden and flowers, where everything grows strong and green, and nary a weed can be seen. And I, too, get those "I can't grow a thing" comments.

You do realize the power of editing, right?

Well, for Liz and all those who are down on themselves about their botanical abilities, I present to you, our own personal Gallery of Failure.

Exhibit A is actually the first picture up top. If you scroll back up, you'll notice at least 15 empty little pods. (Go ahead, I'll wait here for you.) Oh, yes, we planted stuff in them. It just didn't come up. And what you don't see is the five or ten that started growing an alarmingly vigorous mold just when the seeds sprouted. Those got tossed immediately. But these others...hey, maybe we can reuse them.

Exhibit B:

This is our raised bed where we planted the spinach. I count about 5 sprouts. For some reason, we just haven't had real good luck with spinach. But Miss Chef had some Swiss chard that needed somewhere to go, so this is one failure we've turned into an opportunity. (The chard is in the darker spots; I just put them in there today.)

Sometimes, the failure really is our fault...Exhibit C:

This was once a lovely little azalea bush that we simply didn't water enough while it was waiting to go in the ground. We also waited far, far too long to get the bed ready. I thereafter instituted a rule that no plants were to be bought until a bed was prepared for them. So I guess this failure ended in a lesson learned.

Exhibit D:

Last year we had two extra tomato plants that didn't fit in the garden. We thought we'd just raise them in containers on the patio. But container tomatoes need LOTS of watering. Neither one did well, and the fact we never did anything to support them pretty much signed their death warrants. Granted, they'd be dead by now anyway...but notice we failed to clean out the pot, or even pull that great big thistle out??

This failure? Pure laziness. We might even end up doing it again this year.

Exhibit E:

Snapdragons. Did well in the ground. Not so well here. This failure is, I believe, an example of "right plant, wrong place." Even failed experiments yield some kind of result. Maybe we'll plant a shade-loving herb in here this year.

Oh, and there's so much more I could show you (if only I had pictures; what kind of nut goes around taking pictures of their own failures??). There was our first garden, which was planted waaaay to densely, ending up in a solid patch of tomatoes and squash that shaded everything else. There were the 33" tomato cages that were too small for the plants. The dried-out houseplant still sitting in its pot in our bedroom (vurry bad feng shui, I'm sure). The potted sago palm I've had for five years that just...won't...grow.

I recently pulled out a book Miss Chef had picked up off a sale rack for $1.99, about growing herbs & vegetables in North Carolina*. It's a great book, well-organized and full of information. I wanted to share this part of the introduction with all you timid or despairing gardeners:

"Gardening success can be summarized in just 3 rules:

1. Know your plants.
2. Know your site.
3. Even if you ignore the first 2 rules, plant anyway!"

Now, maybe that only applies to North Carolina...but I doubt it. Look, I guarantee that some of the stuff you plant won't make it. Or it'll just sit there and look sickly and never really amount to much. And you'll probably kill something, by overwatering, or underwatering, or stepping on it by mistake when you get all excited about the peas coming up. But plants are pretty good at what they do. They've got all the instructions they need. Sure, study up; buy lots of books and magazines; they can surely help.

But if you get overwhelmed by pH measures, fertilizer balances, pesticides and fox urine...just go back to the basics: dirt. sun. water.

The plants know what to do.

And every once in a while, you'll get a hopeful little sign to keep plugging. Miss Chef put in these gerbera daisies two years ago. They did dreadfully that year--again, we didn't keep them watered--but lo and behold, they're perennials now! Thanks, little daisy!

*The North Carolina Fruit and Vegetable Book, by Walter Reeves & Felder Rushing. (2002) Cool Springs Press, Nashville TN.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


It happens every year--I have every intention of sitting down and getting through my taxes in February. And every year, I find myself at the beginning of April with some reason for not having started them. This year? Some confusion about whether or not I had to buy Turbo Tax. I won't go into details; it involves Miss Chef's mom, a trip to Alabama and more information than anyone needs to know.

Suffice it to say, I didn't get my copy of Turbo Tax until this past Sunday. Afternoon. Late afternoon. And while I did sit down as soon as some of my other chores were taken care of, and get to work, I didn't finish them. It's like the project Miss Chef undertook earlier that day, of replacing a waterlogged outdoor outlet: you always have to go get something else before you can finish the job.

For her, it was silicone sealer. For me, a SC state tax form (I switched jobs exactly a year ago, and my former employer was just across the border). It wasn't 'til we were lying in bed that I pondered aloud, "I wonder where I can go to get a form?" and Miss Chef once again flashed that brilliance I've always admired: " about...the internet?"

Oh. Yeah. Good idea, Miss Chef!

So, to keep a long story from going epic, I actually managed to finish up my last state forms Wednesday night, and post them this morning! A full week early! YESSS! *pats self on back*

I know I'm being silly, but it really made my day to know those envelopes were in the mail; that my job was done. (Yes, I e-filed federal; I'm not a complete and total dinosaur.) As stunningly brilliant as I may be with words (wink), I'm equally dull when it comes to numbers. Their patterns just don't fall into place for me.

As a result, since the advent of the dreaded Multiplication Tables, I've avoided math whenever possible. Balance my checking account? Quicken, or a calculator. Figure out a tip? Pass the check across the table to Miss Chef (plus, I prefer to let her decide how good or bad the service was; she is in the industry, after all). Taxes? Oh Lordy...

In our early years together, Miss Chef very graciously, and somewhat patiently, sat down with me to guide me through the process. You see, in my early adult years, I'd been lucky enough to "inherit" my parents' accountant--a family friend and church member who not only did their taxes, but also those for my dad's business, and for my brother and I as we moved, lived and worked abroad, and moved again. But around the time I left graduate school, inherited some money from Grandma, and started investing and saving for retirement, our trusty accountant retired. (Hmm...could there be a link? Nah!)

So there I was, set adrift without someone to hold my hand through the vicious, federally-backed army of number-hungry forms. I was utterly convinced that I would forget to carry a 1, and end up in a federal prison.

No, seriously.

I could just imagine the agents going through my returns with me, one sitting too close, with nasty coffee breath, the other standing behind, just out of my line of vision. They both are wearing sunglasses, even though we're in a somber interrogation room. The seated one leans in and asks, "Did you really think $902 and $1236 equalled $1338? Did you think we wouldn't notice!?"

Man, I must have been traumatized by a math teacher somewhere along the line...

Anyway, while Miss Chef tried initially to gently lead me through my returns, she quickly became frustrated with my unexpected regression to infantilism; my literally whining and crying when I couldn't figure out the answer to a question. I read every one of Turbo Tax's prompts thoroughly, pondering if there were any chance I had forgotten some kind of retirement income I might have made during the year. ("Does interest earned in my 401(k) count, honey?")

Every year, she probably dreaded the advent of tax season nearly as much as I did. She would also often wait until close to the final days, but would drive me mad by sitting down one day while I was at work, and having hers done by the time she was gone for the evening. What?? So quickly? And no signs of trauma? No wrinkled, tear-stained worksheets? No spilled drinks or scattered office supplies? It's NOT FAIR!!

And you know, I still think a lot about filing taxes is just not fair. Every year, Miss Chef has to listen to me rail against the intolerable complexity of our tax code, which results in tens of pages of forms, schedules and worksheets for a typical taxpayer's return. It's been a long, long time since I've been able to file an EZ form, but is that any easier? I wonder. And I always think about the uneducated, or those just above the poverty level; of the millions with less time and fewer resources than I, who have to go through the same process.

I have the money to buy Turbo Tax--sure, you can get the free federal form, but what if you work several non-benefit 1099 positions--making you essentially self-employed? What if a relative died, or you lost your house to foreclosure, or you're sending a child to college? Is the free version complete enough to cover these cases? Or, even more basically, what if you don't have a computer at home that can support that memory-hogging software?

Sure, you can go to WalMart or H&R Block and get your taxes done for $30 or so. But, why should anyone have to pay anything? This is a responsibility put onto us by the federal government. If the federal government wants to ensure equal access for all, why is this annual ritual, which is required of the vast majority of citizens, almost impossible to do without spending a fair amount of money? (Sorry, folks, but for me, $20 is a lot of money! Don't come to my door selling magazines for your baseball team; it simply doesn't budget.)

Well, this year, Miss Chef didn't have to listen to my rant. First, she wasn't home most of the time I was working on my taxes. Second, I actually made it through by myself, with very little difficulty--not nearly the usual motivation to rage against The System. I even had to do my SC form by hand, literally--pen, white-out and a calculator. And not a single tear, wrinkled form or tuft of hair torn out.

I credit this phenomenon to two facts: first, I have been doing my own taxes long enough to finally realize that very few of those weird income and credit situations apply to me, and that I won't be jailed for a a math error. Second, I have now been working in finance for over two years, and am learning that numbers can be shepherded into some kind of order. It actually is starting to make some kind of sense!

Finally, I have reached an end. I have my taxes done early (barely), without trauma. Finally, Miss Chef didn't have to step in even once to get me through it. Finally, I have attained another level of adult competency.

Finally, my returns are in the mail, and I will be confidently prepared to face the juggernaut again next year.

And FINALLY, this happened today, too:

Japanese magnolia, specifically Alexander magnolia

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Freeze Warning

Wuh-oh! All is not sunshine and warmth here in NC. At least, not yet. The past two years we've had a hard freeze around Easter, and it looks like this year is going to follow that pattern. I finally learned my lesson last year, and we have delayed planting those eager little tomato and bean seedlings. But I still scrambled around after work tonight, covering a few things here and there.

Brussels sprouts are a new plant for me, so I figured I'd protect them. The peas I planted last fall survived a few hard frosts, and it's only supposed to get to 32 or so tonight, so I figure these guys under the trellis should be okay. Dunno about the potatoes in the back, but I didn't have enough pots to cover them, so we'll find out the hard way, I guess. (That's garlic right in the front.)

On the other hand, I was excited to use the cold frame lids that Miss Chef and I just finished off last weekend. These are the mini raised beds we made from a falling-apart planter; we saved two of the sections to use as lids, and nailed heavy plastic over them. We were going to use plexiglass, but sheez, that $tuff is expen$ive! The bricks are holding down the corners that rock up due to warping. Hey, it works, and it only cost us $7. Plus, y'know, we still have about 50 feet of that plastic left.

Even the herb garden got a little attention. I'm not sure how some of these guys do in the cold, but I know cilantro is fragile, and Miss Chef was so excited about her lemon thyme I decided to use my last pot on that one! Like the frog on top of the pot? It was a decorative bit on a trellis, but fell off this winter. Now the little guy's earning his keep.

Well, got lots to do inside now, so that's it. Tomorrow afternoon it's supposed to go back up to 62 degrees. Are we done yet??

Update: When I left the house this morning, I had to scrape my windshield, but there was no frost on the grass. So I think anything close to the ground stayed above freezing. But you never know--two years ago this week, temps dropped into the teens, causing millions of dollars worth of damage to local fruit crops.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Reflections With a Weed-Eater

With a high of 70, negligible humidty and full sun, today was ideal for being outdoors. Although I had obligations during the day, I spent the latter half of the afternoon doing yardwork. We're already falling into our summer pattern: Saturday morning market, lunch together, then Miss Chef heads to work and I either work in the yard, or stay inside feeling guilty about not working in the yard.

I can't stand the summertime heat and humidity here, but in this lovely spring weather it feels righteous to be outside keeping things trim. It's still early in the season, so I don't feel the pressure of catching up on tasks I put off too long. I'm also trying to teach myself to just focus on one thing at a time, instead of trying to do everything on my list all at once. When I succeed, I remember that I actually enjoy working in the yard. If it's not too hot.

I mowed the front yard last night, so today I edged along the drive and sidewalk. That, along with last night's clippings, left a wide green splash down the driveway. Pain in the butt time.

You see, we don't own a leaf blower, and I just don't want to spend the money on one, partly out of principle (partly out of stinginess, too, but only partly). I regret having to use a lawn mower, but am realistic enough to know I won't be doing my quarter acre with one of those scissor-action manual mowers from a century ago. And yes, we have a weedeater, too; an electric one, not that I'm convinced that's much better than gas. I just didn't want to have to bother with mixing gas and oil.

Leaf blowers, however, cross the yard power-tool line for me. Mowers are noisy, yes, and so are weed-eaters. But there is something about the whine of a blower that is piercing, even half a mile away. It's probably because the sound of mowers is so familiar, but I find that soothing, at a distance, knowing someone's home, in the yard, taking care of the chores. Leaf blowers remind me of professional landscapers at a business park; much less relaxing.

I'm not writing a diatribe against leaf blowers; that's been done and folks are free to make their own choices. Heck, when my neighbor occasionally is gracious enough use his on our driveway, I certainly don't complain! (Especially when it's hot outside.) But today, with plenty of time and great weather, I was satisfied enough with my little straw broom. There's something very soothing about the regular swish, swish back and forth, watching the green bits fly off to one side, gathering into a neat pile.

I often think about my reasons for sticking with a's relaxing, allows me to really experience my neighborhood, and it's awfully good for those core muscles! I also think of the concierges in Paris, sweeping off their stoops and bit of sidewalk in the morning; or of the street cleaners there with their witchy-style bright green brooms. I bet they'd do a better job of it than I do. For all their noise and clamor, I have to admit that leaf blowers do a much more thorough job than my broom and I.

Anyway, I spent a good twenty minutes up and down the driveway, letting my mind wander to the brush of straw on pavement, in companionable silence with the dog lying on the lawn. My intent was to write about some of my ponderings out there, but dang it if I can remember any of them! Later, in the backyard, the regular weighted swing of the weed-eater let my mind wander again. Some of my musings were about the beds I was trimming around; the cutting garden that served as a watermelon bed last summer is completely different now that it's filled with tulips.

The rest of my thoughts? me.

Well, I guess you'll just have to enjoy my descriptions of yardwork, rather than some surely amazing insights it brought me. I don't mind that I lost my thoughts; it was still relaxing. It served the same function as dreaming--letting your mind wander undirected through whatever it wants, making random connections and odd observations. In the morning, we wake up and forget it all, but our brain is cleared out of some distracting obsessions, and ready to focus on something new.

So, instead of more armchair philosophy, I'll end with some new stuff to focus your eyeballs on--Alix, you said you love tulips, so here ya go!!

Miss Chef said this picture is cool, because it looks like our entire yard is full of tulips. It's now the background on our computer. I like to change it up and surprise her. I wish I could publish this bigger. Does anyone know why only the first picture of an uploaded group can be "biggerized?"

♪ She is...pretty in pink...♪

This is similarly colored to my "little torches" out front, but has feathery fringed edges. Miss Chef just bought a mixed bag of bulbs to plant this bed, so each one is a lovely surprise!

I am enamored of the color of this beautiful specimen. It contrasts so wonderfully with the rich green of the foliage. And it just looks so quintessentially Easter!

Finally, here's a picture of my little torches, lighting the way up the path. Two petals dropped today, so I needed to capture them before they go out!

Oh face and ears feel a bit warm. I bet I got a slight sunburn. In April! It's a far cry from the snowbelt.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Tulips & Pizza

Gotta catch up again...had a fun, kinda busy weekend. Took a lotta pictures. Didn't have time to upload them or post anything. So today I'm gonna unload a whole lotta pics on ya! Whoo hoo!!

That one up top is a tulip from our front walk. It's a little washed out because of that beautiful sunlight, but they are yellow with red edges. They look like a row of little torches running along the sidewalk to the front door. Some of the torches didn't come up, but they're still cool.

This and the next one are in Miss Chef's cutting garden with the hyacinths. Those blue beauties are fading, and the tulips are taking over. She really did a great job with spring color in there!

And speaking of Miss Chef, here she is hitting that herb garden before the plants have even had a chance to settle in.

This weekend, she bought some more oregano and a lemon thyme plant she is most enthused about. It does smell amazing. We also saw some pineapple basil at Home Depot. It really does taste like pineapple! Crazy, man.

Rosie is almost as camera-shy as Miss Chef. "You can't see me...I'm ignoring you..."

So, the reason Miss Chef was out there gathering herbs was 'cause we had an impromptu pizza party on Sunday. A friend of hers from culinary school--we'll call her Chef Tia--who recently moved to the other side of town, wanted to do something with us. She suggested she bring down some pizza dough she had just made, and we do lunch.

Of course, you know with two chefs in the house, these were no ordinary pepperoni pizzas....

Chef Tia rolled out individual crusts for us (notice the tiny amount of counter'd be amazed if you saw the kitchen Miss Chef makes her masterpieces in):

A little tossing action:

Meanwhile, Miss Chef and I gathered the toppings:

Let's see if I can do this sort of left to right. Top(-ish), nearly out of frame is some Bosky Acres goat cheese, then a roasted red pepper sauce, some fresh chives and herbs, an olive spread. Middle-ish, we have local oyster mushrooms over dried tomatoes, our homemade pesto from last summer, and caramelized onions. On the cutting board we have potatoes, bacon, and Miss Chef's hands, which are not to be consumed on a pizza!

(I helped a little...chopped the herbs and onions, and of course, made pesto last year. Just thought I should point that out, for my own honor.)

We each assembled our own's Miss Chef sprinkling some of that goat cheese onto hers...looks like she's already got wilted spinach, potatoes and bacon on there. This week, she's been running a lunch special at the restaurant of potato, bacon and goat cheese pizzas. I made myself one at our party, and it was pretty good, but the potato texture on top of the pizza crust texture was weird to me.

And here's Miss Chef's finished product:

I also took a picture of mine, but it didn't look nearly as good as this. Naturally!

So, well, that's about it. Not much of a conclusion to this one. Except that now I'm hungry again, just from looking at this pizza.