Saturday, June 26, 2010

Here They Come!

The tomatoes are finally ripening.

Sure, they're coming in slowly right now, taking their time.  But before we know it, we'll be awash in them, struggling to keep up and unable to keep count anymore.

Kind of like birthdays, huh?

The cayennes have already passed the "oh, how cute!" stage.  They're hanging off the tiny foot-high plants like beans. 

(You'll have to excuse my overexposed pictures; it's been awfully sunny around here!)

No point in counting anymore; might as well just enjoy the plenitude.

Here's a bit of what I've been enjoying so far on this Big Birthday Weekend:

  • More of my favorite blue flowers greeted me as I left for work on Friday morning.

  • A coworker brought me a piece of cake--plus one to share with Miss Chef.

  • My brother called all the way from London to wish me a happy birthday.  Now I have to figure out how Skype works before the rest of the family follows him there.

  • Miss Chef and I enjoyed another mind- and gut-busting meal at Passion8.  I finally got to have stuffed zucchini blossoms!  Verdict: yummo.

  • My nephews called to sing me happy birthday, and inform me they'd gone to see Karate Kid "in your honor."  See why I need to get Skyped?  (Skypey?  Skype-alicious?)

  • Michele of Bosky Acres shouted "Happy Birthday" across the market this morning, making me feel popular--but then followed it up with "old lady!"

  • Natalie of Grateful Growers, hearing it was my birthday, gave us a discount on our brats.  Score!

  • I gave myself the gift of time to (mostly) finish weeding the garden.  Then I made Miss Chef go outside and admire it.

  • Right now, Miss Chef is whipping up a decadently non-local, non-organic, Michael-Pollan-unapproved mystery birthday cake.  It seems to involve a box of chocolate cake mix, marshmallow fluff and cream cheese*.

Above all, I shall continue to enjoy the fruits of our labors.  It's summer, and the living is good.

left to right: sungold cherry 'maters for salad, multitudes of basil for pesto, and blackberries for...well, they don't need a reason.  They're blackberries.

*Correction: Miss Chef has just informed me that the cream cheese and marshmallow fluff are for a fruit dip.  The cake mix is for the cake.  I told her I was a bit disappointed.  But chocolate will make it all better.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Time Management: A Picture Essay

Finally, I have arrived at the lighted end of the tunnel.  For at least three weeks, I'll be working only one job, leaving at least some of my weeknights free.  Which is a good thing, because I'll be better able to enjoy my chock-full weekends! 

Still...there should be more time to stop and smell the flowers.

balloon flowers (which don't have a smell, but are still worth stopping to see)

This weekend, we're having a dear friend from "down Mobile way" stop in for an overnight visit.  She's recently retired, and spending most of her summers driving around the country to visit her children and grandchildren.  I told her she's having the retirement I dream of!  This week she's driving up to the northeast to meet two teen granddaughters and fly them off to London.

Isn't she a cool Grandma??

volunteer yarrow and black-eyed susans decorating our patio: side benefits to no-chemical lawn "care?"

Next weekend, Miss Chef is hosting a birthday party for me!  I honestly didn't really want a big party, but when you turn 40, people want to make a big deal out of it.  Maybe I can serve enough sangria to convince them I'm only 35??

Is my youth withering like the pea vines?  Hark, there is new growth in there...where did those beans come from??

Oh, I see.

And the weekend after that, my parents will arrive for a visit.  They were part of the impetus behind the party, but had a once-in-a-decade family reunion up north to attend.  So they'll stop by here on their way back.  It will probably work out better that way; it seems every time they come we have some big event underway.  This time we might just hang out and can tomatoes!

sungold cherries

This was all sounding a bit stressful to me, with everything else we had going on: overtime, volunteering at the farmers' market, keeping up with the garden...

from left to right: bean "teepee," 3 kinds of peppers, boxwood basil, 3 kinds of tomatoes..and a healthy sprinkling of weeds!  Notice Miss Chef already found time to yank out the broccoli plants?

But we have finally taken a step to make our lives easier.  Well, Miss Chef has.  She got a recommendation, made the call, and signed us up with a housecleaning service!  I had resisted the idea for a long while, partly because of the cost (we're already paying one neighbor to feed & walk Rosie one day a week, and another neighbor to mow the lawn), but mostly out of guilt.  I mean, c'mon, can't we manage to at least keep our own house clean?

But  Not with two jobs each.  Even with one full-time job, I've come to the conclusion that the whole stay-at-home-wife ideal of a sparkling-clean house is unhealthily unrealistic.  How much does it really matter if there's dust on the bookshelves?  I'd rather spend my free time bonding with my wife and dog, and growing and cooking healthier food.

a miniature forest of feathery carrot fronds--now if only the roots would DO something!

And...maybe hanging out with my blog friends a little.

Is there time for walkies in there??

I hope you have enjoyed this close-up look at our little corner of paradise.  Please don't leave without enjoying dessert!

blackberries coming ripe, a handful at a time...nom, nom, nom!

Happy weekend, y'all!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

"Free" Friday

Please excuse any weirdness with the layout; I'm trying one of Blogger's new templates.

I took a vacation day Friday.  Unwillingly, because this was not a day devoted to vacationing.  It was, instead, a day required to Get Things Done.

The most important of which was this:
Ugh.  Double ugh.  And please understand that by "ugh," I mean something much less pleasant, much stronger, more offensive.  No, not that, something stronger!

Note the time on this ticket?  I arrived at the office before 9:30.  That's right, it took me TWO HOURS just to get in the door.  And the only reason it was even that fast was because I was simply renewing my license.  The poor people moving in-state, taking driving tests, or doing anything slightly out-of-normal were still standing outside when I left--an hour after this ticket was printed.

I would guess-conservatively-that there were 100 people both in line and inside the office, waiting to be served.  Assuming a three-hour average (which, again, I would consider a conservative estimate), as well as travel time, each person there lost at least a half-day's productivity.  That's 50 days.  Almost two months of work days.  And that's one day, at one of four offices in the city.

So, every day, Charlotte loses eight months of manpower to NOTHING.  Standing in line.  Grousing, reading, texting, pushing down the bile of being talked to like a recalcitrant six-year old.  No wonder our libraries are closing, our schools are bursting at the seams and half our streetlights are out.

The one bright spot in all this bureaucratic waste was that everyone in line that I spoke with was very friendly.  Very little of the "me first" selfishness we all demonstrate once we actually get into our cars!  (And yes, I'm as guilty as anyone, I'm ashamed to admit.)  It really made the wait so much better; we all supported each other by sharing the little bits of information we had gleaned about the whole process.

And ya know the most important thing I learned?  It's possible to make a frickin' appointment!!

So, yeah:  UGH!

Back at home, waiting for Miss Chef to get back from her half-day at the goat farm, I stepped outside to take a good look at the garden.  We pulled the remaining radishes last week, and now it's about time to pull out the peas.  And, after I cut the last little headlets of broccoli, I finally gave Miss Chef permission to pull those giant plants out, too.

Of course, I had to show her it was worth leaving them in a couple weeks' extra!

See?  $3.99, right in our own backyard!

After Miss Chef got home, we headed on over to Restaurant Depot.  If any of you saw Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, you may remember an episode where he went to a US Foodservice warehouse.  (That episode was stupid, because Jamie acted like he didn't know what kind of supplies he could get from them.  Pu-leese, he knew damn well what was in there.)

Anyway, they showed an enormous refrigerated warehouse filled with meats, cheeses, produce etc.  That's the kind of place Restaurant Depot is.  It's like a Sam's Club for professionals, and I get entrance only because I'm with Miss Chef.  Imagine if a third of your local warehouse store was walled off and chilled to 40 degrees, then stacked floor to 50-foot ceiling with huge portions of food.  Entire wheels of cheese, sides of meat, cases of parsley, crates of dried figs.  Oh, and at one end of that chilled area, put in another wall and chill that part down to well below freezing.

Now walk through there in shorts and a t-shirt. *grin*

Ok, they do have puffy coats available for patrons, though we didn't need them this time, as we stayed out of the giant freezer, and we were both enjoying the extra-strength air-conditioning (well, at first, anyway). 

I love going to the Depot, because they have a truly unimaginable variety of restaurant supplies: glassware, dishracks, beans of all colors, chef jackets, cleaning solutions, knives, slurpee syrup...all the way down to napkins, stirrers, and those red-and-white checked paper hot dog holders you might get at a ballgame.

So much awesome under one roof!

Here's a taste (ha!) of what we brought home:

That's 15 pounds of honey (for honey-walnut goat cheese), 35 pounds of canola oil (to mix with olive oil for  feta marinated with sun-dried tomatoes) and 36 pounds of kosher salt (for everything).  This is all for Miss Chef's employers, but we also got an industrial-sized roll of plastic wrap for us.  We figure the old one lasted us six or eight years, so we're good on saran for a while.

Never fear, though, our day was not entirely lost to chores and errands--and I did save the best for last!  Miss Chef also took a personal day from the restaurant, and on these rare nights off, our minds always turn to sampling what other places have to offer.  One of my students had mentioned a newish restaurant called Georges Brasserie.  Notwithstanding their clumsiness in reversing what would otherwise be a perfectly French name, their French-bistro style menu had piqued my interest.

As had this photo from their website:

Oh la la, how charmingly Franshe!

This part of the interior also looked taken straight from the background of a Renoir or Toulouse-Lautrec painting:

So I made reservations for three, having invited a friend along.

How was the meal?  Good, but not as good as it should have been.  Miss Chef pointed out, as we analyzed the meal on the way home, that it's incredibly difficult to do the kind of menu they have with the enormous dining area there.  I'd guess it's three or four times the size of Chef Adam's 50+ seater.

I know you're dying to hear what we ate, right?  Ok, so here we go:

panko-encrusted soft-shelled crab (very good)
red and yellow beet salad with goat cheese (good, if a bit skimpy)
tarte flambée with caramelized onions, bacon and crème fraîche (good, but not very interesting)

Main courses: 
boudin blanc with red cabbage and pureed potatoes (very good, though the boudin was a bit dry--Miss Chef found it bland but we other two liked the flavor)
salmon filet with fava beans and morels (cooked well beyond the mid-rare requested, but still good; veggie side was skimpy again)
escargot with puff pastry and pesto (good, though the pesto was bland and had suffered under the broiler)
lamb sausage with figs, couscous and feta (Miss Chef and our friend thought the sausage was dry, though the figs and couscous were excellent)

profiteroles (excellent; as Miss Chef said, "they nailed that pastry")
lemon tart ("correcte" as the French would say, but no better--and Miss Chef was made livid by the skimpiness of the $6 portion and insultingly bland presentation--four drops of raspberry coulis on a fingerprint-smeared white plate.  Still, it was house-made, and I thought the crust was particulary good.)
dark chocolate mousse (again, good but not very interesting.  And, compared to the weeny lemon tart, far too much for me to finish.)

In the end, we did have a generally good meal, enjoying a nice Sancerre with it.  Aside from Miss Chef's extreme unhappiness with her dessert, the other major shortcoming was the service.  It wasn't terrible, but it was slow, and the server didn't seem to listen very well.  Just small things, like not asking about splitting the check.  Plus, he had stupid, greased up spiky hair, which didn't seem to fit with the ambiance they were going for, and made his general smarminess that much smarmier.

On the other hand, a slight miscommunication about our wine selection, combined with Miss Chef's complaint about the lemon tart, got us 50% off our bottle of Sancerre!  At least the manager seemed ready to take charge and listen to his guests--he truly went beyond what was necessary to make us happy.  If only he'd take Mr. Smarm in hand for a little re-education.

Still, I haven't had boudin blanc in a long, long time, and there's a half portion of chocolate mousse in my fridge right now, so I'm satisfied with our experience.  And that's another restaurant checked off the list--with many more to follow, no doubt!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Quiet Sunday

It seems to me that there are some few people out there who consider shelling peas something to be listed under "chores."  This I cannot understand.  Perhaps they were children living on farms, where acres of peas came ripe at once, requiring hours of shelling.  Or, more likely, they refer to black-eyed peas, which in my book are a kind of bean.

Beans as a chore, I understand.

But these sweet peas, or English peas, or whatever you want to call them, are never a chore for me.  Sitting down at the kitchen table with a big double handful of crisp plump pods is a quiet delight.  I look forward to having a few minutes to focus on nothing but popping the blossom ends, peeling the two sides apart from each other, and discovering what each pod has to offer.

I get particular satisfaction from these perfect, eight-pea pods, aligned evenly on each side.  I love to watch the peas pull apart, sliding out from between each other like military men in formation.  Sometimes I'll even open and close the pod several times to see how they fit together, marveling in nature's exquisite engineering.

Last weekend we had our first harvest big enough to serve peas as a side on their own.  While Miss Chef steamed them with some butter, I went to the garden to harvest some volunteer dill.  We planted dill three or four years ago, and haven't had to plant any since.  This year we've wrestled the dill weed population down to one plant.  Wish I could do that with the rest of the weeds.


I waged war on a small nest of fire ants by our front door this morning.  For the past week, I've been slowly weeding our front bed, which was turning into lawn.  Every weekend morning and some evenings--when it hasn't been raining--I plop my butt on the sidewalk and clear another two or three feet.  Last night I was almost done when I re-discovered those blasted ants.

This morning I used an old wives' trick of pouring boiling water on the nest.  It doesn't work instantaneously, I can tell you that much.  But it did distract or damage them enough to allow me to pull those last few weeds that remained.

Then, as I stood up, surveying my finally cleaned-up bed, I spotted the flower whose picture graces the top of this post.  I think it may be the most beautiful color I've ever seen.  How's that as a reward for a job well-done?


I haven't been able to settle to anything today.  There are multiple laundry baskets in various stages of cleaniness sitting in the living room; the kitchen counter is full of dirty dishes, we have a light swarming of fruit flies, and there is a lesson plan brewing somewhere very, very deep in my head.  But all I can think about is growing things.

So I took my camera back outside.

Here is an updated garden photo.  The peas are fading, and the radishes are flowering--oops.  We've harvested almost all the broccoli.  I made Miss Chef leave the plants for a second harvest--smaller secondary heads are already forming for one or two last meals on our table.  Beets and carrots are coming due, and now the garden almost seems to be holding its breath in anticipation of tomato season.

Miss Chef's herb garden in front, with our small beds behind.  They mostly have tomatoes, with a couple of fennel plants and some basil for company.

Speaking of basil, I love this boxwood basil Miss Chef bought this year.  We have several varities: sweet, purple, thai.  But this one's compact growth is a winner in our tightly-packed garden plot.  I think the neatness of its natural shape also appeals to my OCD side.  (And those weeds were pulled immediately after this picture was taken, lol!)

First tomato!  Well, no...actually, this is technically the third tomato.  I had already harvested two this morning, before I took this picture.  Sungold cherry tomatoes--most delicious ones out there.  Can you see my lovely black-eyed susans in the background?

Can you see them now?

What do you imagine is going on here?

Two years ago I planted a $1.79 packet of seeds next to our perennial echinacea patch.  Today, I have a gorgeous, self-sustaining (I hope) patch of wildflowers.  If you try enough different things in your garden, you'll eventually get lucky!

Rosie, my constant companion, is always excited about going outside, chilling by the jasmine in her own patch of shade.  But all this picture taking sure is boring.

Thanks for stopping by.  What's ripe or flowering in your neighborhood?