Thursday, June 27, 2013



Have you ever found yourself saying “I need a vacation to recover from my vacation?”  That’s how I feel today.  Last night Miss Chef and I got back from a logistically confusing tour of the eastern states.  We left separately but came home together, so at least you know it ends well.

We each had a Part A and a Part B to our traveling.  Miss Chef’s Part A was to fly to Michigan for  a week with her dad and extended family (he lives in Alabama, but flew up separately).  Before she flew back to Charlotte, I left on my own Part A, which was an 8+ hour drive to southwestern Ohio.  It was finally time for my 20th college reunion.

Yes, we were finally those weird Alumni creatures who descend on campus and look old and get in the way and don’t understand how you’re supposed to order at Bagel & Deli.  But, being old and confused, we didn’t care.

I graduated from Miami University of Ohio (“Miami was a university before Florida was a state.”)  It might help your confusion a bit to know that the city in Florida was named after a different tribe than the Miami Indians who lived here—the southern tribe was the Maiyaimi Indians.  Which just goes to prove the superiority of the education available in Ohio, at least in spelling.

But I digress.  The drive, on my own, through three mountainous states and into a fourth, was not so bad.  I do really love the beauty of the Appalachians, so the unfolding scenery kept me quite happy most of the way.  (Except Kentucky.  Kentucky takes too long, and people like to drive slowly in the left-hand lane there.)

And then there are the idiots in Tennessee trying to take landscape photos while driving…

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Still, I was in a pretty good mood when I finally made my way to campus and found the registration area for Alumni Weekend at Goggin Ice Center.  Thank goodness for my smartphone, because not only had they torn down and rebuilt the arena since my days, but they’d relocated it across campus!  Maybe that’s a test to make sure the most out-of-touch and confused alumni don’t clog up the area too badly.

Fortunately, I’m still with it enough to find my way.  The entrance is quite impressive—this is over the skate check-out area and gift shop that face you as you walk in the front doors.

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You see, though having earned the nickname “Cradle of Coaches,” Miami’s football history has been very spotty at best.  So the students get much more excited about the hockey games, and an intramural sport called Broomball.  It has nothing to do with Harry Potter, and everything to do with amateur skaters falling down a lot.

Our check-in area was in the secondary rink area, which appeared to be for the synchronized skating team (which I didn’t even know we had, so I’ve already learned something about my alma mater).  I was quite impressed, but certainly not surprised, by the organization of the entire endeavor.

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My former roommates had already arrived and picked up my packet, so all I needed to do was buy a ticket for the next evening’s Taste of Miami event.  Soon I had found my way to the (new) campus apartments we were staying in and the welcoming hugs of the women I hadn’t seen for years.

Here’s a photo taken much later that evening…in a bar…by a husband who got his finger in front of the flash.

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I’m hoping to get a better copy from a different camera, but in the meantime, you can get an idea of the primary players.  There was a sixth member of our little troupe, but between work schedules and child care, she couldn’t make it.  Other than a few pounds on some of us (ahem), we haven’t changed all that much, I’m happy to say.  I know we could never pass for 19-year old students, but I’m quite ok with that.

None of us were involved with organizations sponsoring big events that weekend, so much of our time was spent taking campus tours (several new academic buildings in place, many new dorms going up, and they’re finally retrofitting the old ones with air conditioning!), wandering the 5-block uptown area and just generally catching up.

A view from one end of High Street.

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A future Miamian enjoying breakfast at Bagel & Deli.

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Skyline chili, a Cincinnati tradition.  If you haven’t had it, you’ll think it’s disgusting, but it’s a great combination of greasy flavors.  Yes, even better than pizza after a late night uptown.

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Speaking of which…

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I really took this photo to send to my brother.  He also graduated from Miami, and after my roomies and I found our other favorite haunts closed, crowded or creepy, we happened to end up at his favorite bar.  Not that, erm, either one of us spent all that much time uptown, in these kinds of establishments.  We were too busy studying.

By the way, Mom, you should be grateful that we got through there when we did.  In-state tuition plus room and board (freshmen and sophomores are required to live on campus now) is running at $23,000 a year.  While that still qualifies as a great bargain these days, there’s no doubt we got our money’s worth 20 years ago.

Saturday night was the Taste of Miami, just an open-bar food-station dinner / party that unfortunately was rained out from its central-campus location.  It was quickly relocated to the same ice rink where we’d checked in, so it was a bit crowded.  Still, we had great performances from a university jazz combo and the men’s Glee Club, augmented by alumni.


For me it had been 19 years since I’d visited campus, and I am very happy I made the trek.  Not only did I re-solidify my dear friendships, but I’ve gained new appreciation for the environment where I was able to finish (more or less) growing up in both safety and freedom.  Although today’s students don’t have curfews in their dorms, which are now co-ed, so obviously we missed out on some of that freedom stuff. 

After packing up and a last round of hugs goodbye, it was time for me to begin my Part B.  Miss Chef had left Charlotte the previous day to drive down to her old hometown of Fort Payne, to spend a few days with family and take care of a couple of legal details related to her mother’s estate.  I had decided that I might as well join her, but when I looked at the map, I noticed that it would be simpler to just drive straight there instead of of backtracking to Charlotte.  So we both drove separately and met at her father’s house.

I didn’t take any new photos on this drive through the mountains.  And I didn’t take many photos of my time in Fort Payne.  There were three young nieces around most of the time, so my hands were literally full.  It also explains why my cell phone now has pictures like this on it:

        June (7)              June (9)


And masterpieces like this:

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Yes, that’s Rosie sprawled out on the floor.  Since our usual dogsitter was busy, and the nieces kept asking about our dog, Miss Chef decided to bring Rosie with her.  She is an awesome road trip dog!

My birthday happened to fall on the last day of our stay, so we Miss Chef organized a little birthday picnic / party at De Soto Falls, part of a state park 20 minutes from the house.  Once again, I left my camera in my bag, but here is someone else’s photograph of the upper falls.  Above the dam is a small lake perfect for a swim on a hot Alabama summer afternoon.


It was mid-week when we finally loaded up our cars and prepared to caravan our way back to Charlotte.  It had been a fun and fascinating vacation, but after so much time away from home we were eager to get back.  First, though, there was more of this.

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Miss Chef isn’t fond of highways, or highway traffic, so she’s found a route that uses mostly state highways and takes us right alongside the Ocoee (“oh-KOH-wee”) and Nantahala (“nan-a-HAY-la”) rivers.  Since we weren’t on a schedule and we both looooove the mountains, it was very tempting to stop at several of the scenic pull-off sites or recreation areas.  But Miss Chef had a specific stop in mind, so it wasn’t until we were in western North Carolina that we finally pulled off at a roadside collection of pizza stand, BBQ restaurant and whitewater rafting outfitters for lunch.

We ordered a sausage pizza and watched the occasional rafters float by.  You sure couldn’t beat the view.

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A rain shower had passed through while we waited for our pizza, which left a heavy mist over the water.  The heavy humidity and overwhelming greenness made the words “tropical forest” spring to mind.  Then I remembered reading once that the southern Appalachians are actually a temperate rain forest.  On this day, the designation couldn’t have been more fitting.

After lunch, Miss Chef asked if there was a place nearby we could go on a short hike.  We’re not sure we followed the directions correctly, but we did find a nice access to the river at Patton’s Run, one of the rapids used by the many whitewater rafting organizations in the valley.





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My girls!

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We made a second stop at the Nantahala Outdoor Center, the largest rafting organization in the area.  We poked around the shops and picked up a brochure or two, and Miss Chef began her campaign to come back for the rafting.  The rapids are much, much easier than the artificial ones at the US National Whitewater Center…but I had already put my hand in the river, and that water is cold!!

So who knows, maybe someday I’ll be posting photos of us in one of those rafts.  Maybe just of Miss Chef.  For now, though, I am going to spend the last few days of my vacation at home, doing as much nothing as I can handle.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Update for Miss Chef

As you may have gathered from the title, this post is really for Miss Chef.  If you want to see how my garden is doing and/or what I've been cooking, please scroll down to the next post.

Thank you, and have a nice day.

Hi Honey.  Just thought you'd like to see how things are going here.  I took these pictures at 8:00 in the evening without a flash, how cool is that?  We got a good rain shower tonight just beforehand, so it made all the colors sharp and intense.

Anyway...the cherry tomato plant is now taller than I am.

It's got plenty of ripening tomatoes.  I gave a handful to the neighbors and told them to come steal more next week. I think the brandywine might have set more fruit, too.  Having the plants well-staked for once will keep most of the fruit out of dog and rabbit reach, I hope.  So far, so good.  I think Rosie hasn't figured out that the tomato plants in the new bed are the same as the ones that she's used to finding in the garden.

The raspberries are so very, very close to being ripe.  I don't know if you can tell, but I got some bird netting to cover them with.  I swear we have some in the shed, but I couldn't find it.  Anyway, we might get enough to freeze some??  I tasted one that looked ripe yesterday, and it was awfully bitter.  I didn't see any today that were near to being ready.

The rose of sharon tree started blooming.

I've had two ant-free days, after a bout of chemical warfare on Sunday.  I'm doing very well at keeping the place clean, so if there are ants when you come home, it can only be Rosie's fault.

She misses you too.  But not nearly as much as I do.

Now I have to go fold socks & underwear.

Travel safely.  ♥

Sunday, June 16, 2013

For Every Thing, Turn, Turn, Turn…

Before the rains started in a week or so ago, my peas looked like this:

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You’d think peas would welcome lots of rain, but a tropical storm is more than even they can use.  Follow that up with daytime highs in the upper 80s (30+ celsius), and they quickly gave up.  By yesterday they looked like this:

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Never has my garden given me such clear signs that It’s Time.  I usually nurse the pea plants along, watering every morning even as the foliage fades to light green and the production dwindles.  Not this year.  Though a few plants still had nice green foliage, there wasn’t a flower to be seen, which means no pods anytime soon.  And now our temperatures are supposed to climb into the 90s, so their season is clearly over.

Which means that it’s over for the broccoli, too.  I cut the last main head this week, and have been gathering the secondary ones from the other plants, but they too were dwindling in production.  They never did all that well; we had a freak week of 90-degree temperatures in March which confused the heck out of ‘em.  Even though I didn’t get much from the broccoli, I still managed to freeze a few bags of my spring crop—which is the first time I’ve had enough to do so.

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I weighed them—18 ounces of each.  Not enough to see us through the winter—or even the summer—but better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.  Good thing I’m not farming to feed the family!

Anyway, my main point here is that for once, I pulled out the spring plants before they became sad and decrepit looking.  I still had a little bit of a hard time with the peas.  The nurturing side of me hated to tear up and kill these plants I’d babied along from seeds to sprouts.  But once I got started, it was nice to clear out all the dead and dying foliage, making room for the summer plants to spread out.


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Ha, I just noticed Rosie wandering around in the background.  She finds my obsession with the garden strange and boring.


And after:

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The bed looks pretty boring, now, without the structure of the trellis. Maybe I should put a bench in there.  Or a giant metal chicken one of my friends recently found on a road trip.


Miss Chef would probably make me sleep out there if she came home to this!

In truth, my plan is for the squash and beans to fill in that space, though I’m not sure they’ll go the direction I’d like them to.  Now I’m also interested to see what this guy will do.

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This is the third squash plant, the one I didn’t really want.  Since I hadn’t planned for it, I stuck it in the middle of the broccoli, which I knew would be pulled out at some point.  Apparently broccoli provides good cover shade, because look at the difference between that plant and this one:

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There’s an object lesson on “right plant, right place.”  I’ll be keeping an eye on the little one to see if it manages to thrive, now that it’s got its own space.  Something of an experiment, though I wouldn’t mind if it continued to struggle, to be honest.

The broccoli and pea plants are now stashed in our compost areas (broccoli stalks are very woody, so they went on the brushpile in the back).  But as I was gathering up the pea plants into a bundle to carry them off, I noticed a single plump pod.  “Oh,” I thought, “You weren’t quite done.”  And then I started pawing through the foliage and found a second and third.  And by the time all was said and done, I had one last, tiny, harvest.

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And now, it’s time for summer!

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Oh, and I’ve also finished up the quarter, with no class scheduled for the summer.  I have plans for travel in the next week or two, and then who knows what I’ll get up to?  Guess you’ll have to stay tuned.


I went ahead and harvested the two biggest squashes (still babies), and along with the first week’s worth of beans and some chicken from the farmers’ market, I grilled up a delicious, healthy meal for one.  (Miss Chef is traveling this week.)

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Phew, I almost left you without making you hungry!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Peas, Pasta and Growing Things


Ah, the underappreciated marigold

A week later I’m still picking peas.  Every night after work, I’ve scuttled outside to examine the pods hanging from the rich green foliage, gently examining and squeezing each one to see if it’s nice and full.



And while it wasn’t until Tuesday, and she wasn’t feeling nearly as inspired after a day of teaching, Miss Chef did make the intriguing pea-centric recipe she’d recently found in one of her many food magazines.  It starts with pasta—homemade pasta in my lucky case!  Coincidentally, when she worked Friday night at Passion8, they offered her some leftover leek pasta dough they were going to throw out otherwise. Isn’t that a nice little perq?

Other than the pasta, there are really only two other things you need to prepare.  This one is brilliant—instead of tossing the pods from your shelled peas onto the compost pile (or worse, into the trash), put them into two or three cups of water, and simmer gently for 30 minutes or an hour.  This leaves you with a kind of pea stock (which does look more like a pee sample, but that’s quite enough scatalogical talk for this blog).  Also, while your pasta is cooking, blanch your peas (we had about 1 1/2 cups) and purée them—Miss Chef simply used a stick blender in our large glass measuring cup.

The peas turned a beautiful bright green color that the camera failed utterly to capture.  Plus the natural light was gone, so these food pics won’t look nearly as good as the real thing.  Trust me.

At any rate, simply put your pasta in a dish and plop some pea purée and some goat cheese on top.


I know, the puréed peas look disgusting, but they were really attractive in person.

I’d been out picking peas again, so Miss Chef cooked them off in the stock and tossed them into the dish, too.  The next step is to pour a little of that pea-pod stock on top of your pasta assemblage and stir…


…and it all melds into a creamy, tangy pea-y sauce.


Miss Chef wasn’t entirely satisfied with this dish.  She’d forgotten to salt the pasta water (which just goes to show how distracted she was that night), and added too much liquid, so our sauce was more like soup.  But I took the leftovers for lunch the next day and was very careful about how much stock I added, and I thought it was delicious.  I will look forward to making this for years to come, even if Miss Chef doesn’t want to participate.

Of course, they are my beautiful peas, so of course I feel that way.

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In spite of my pea obsession, I am getting a few other things out of the garden now.  The carrots are ready to pull whenever we want, and there are a few cherry tomatoes coming in, one or two a day.  And there are these lovely charmers I finally plucked out of the bed.

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Anybody recognize them?  They are simple, and are scattered unhelpfully along their branches, but they raise a lovely lilac-purple face to the sun, fading to a delicate pink after a day or so.  Even though they don’t particularly lend themselves to it, I used them as a graceful backdrop in this unassuming bouquet I hastily assembled.

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The bunched pink flowers are yarrow…and you can see my purple beauties rising from the middle.  Still don’t recognize them?  That’s because they are radish flowers!  Yes, I am learning that the radish is a most useful plant.  The flowers give way to dozens of small pods that recall the shape of okra.  I peeled one open and tasted the round green immature seeds inside, and they were a grand surprise—fresh, a bit sweet, but with that telltale radish flavor.

Only a couple of days after I’d pulled all the plants and tossed them onto the compost pile did I remember to google “eat radish seeds.”  I learned that the entire pods are edible, either raw in a salad or sauteed like any other vegetable.  The ones I pulled are all soft and wilted now, but next year, I will harvest them, too!  I think I like them even better than the radishes themselves, and they will provide the perfect excuse to let those purple flowers grace my garden again.  (Oh, by the way, the yellow flowers in my bouquet are from the broccoli that’s bolted.)

Now to the garden itself.  If you’ve listened to the US news this week, you may be familiar with the visitor who came through.  Her name was Andrea, and while she only brushed by us, she did drop many inches of rain over about three or four days.  I was quite happy the peas were getting all the water they would need to plump up those pods, but by Friday I was getting a little concerned about “too much of a good thing.”

However, late Saturday morning the sun finally broke through and scattered the clouds into our familiar Carolina blue sky.  So this evening I stood in my usual photography corner to document.

Here’s a week ago:

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And today:


It may look the same to you, but I see that the peas are just a bit fuller and higher than last week, and the parsnips have gotten noticeably taller.  (Also the radishes are gone, so now I can see the broccoli—which will be the next to be pulled.)

Last week the beans looked a little worn out from the sun, but today they are quite happy.  Small as they are, I’m considering starting to harvest from them already!

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These are a “haricot vert” variety, meaning they are to be picked young and tender and eaten whole.  They are the only green beans I am eager to see at the markets, so I was really excited to find a bush, heirloom variety of seeds this spring.  I’ve had trouble in the past with germination, so I planted three, hoping for two plants.  Of course, all three came up, so now I’ll be up to my ears in beans!  That’s ok, I’ll blanch and freeze them, and share any that I don’t want.  I work with a whole office full of people who don’t garden, but do enjoy fresh produce.

I may be sharing some squash too.

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The bigger one is only about two inches long, but again, I ended up with three plants when I only wanted two.  Clever packaging on the part of the farmers at the market, that one.  I’ve frozen squash in the past, but didn’t really enjoy eating it out of the freezer, so I may be leaving squash on doorsteps all over the neighborhood.

In the meantime, there are more peas to be picked.  I’m going to head out there now with my little basket, and leave you with this image.  I can see at least five pods; how many can you find?

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Are you familiar with John Grey, scruffy gentleman farmer of Wales?  He is the tenderhearted, straight-spoken host of a blog named Going Gently.  I avoided subscribing to his blog for years, because everybody was reading it, but I eventually got hooked, and I swear one day I’m going to find my way to his corner of Wales.

Now John recently posted what I’ll call an auditory video.  Which is to say, a video not meant to be watched so much as listened to, because we tend to be so visually oriented that we miss much of what our ears are capturing.  So he spent a minute or so on the grass, recording a hen clucking, traffic noise, Bingley the turkey gobbling, and a fierce canine defense of the property.  I found this a charming idea, and promptly went outside to record my own backyard noise.

What I discovered was that it all depends on the time of day.  The first video below was done on Saturday afternoon.  You can hear one neighbor’s decrepit air-conditioning unit in the background, and another neighbor’s dachshund sentries.  (At 0:55 and 1:10 you can also hear a hawk, though.)  In another video I won’t bore you with, there was a lawn mower, children shouting in play, and a leaf blower.

So I decided to see what Sunday morning sounded like.  You can hear yet another neighbor’s pool pump running, but mostly you hear birds.  What’s amazing is that in neither video do I seem to have captured a plane passing overhead—we live less than five miles from the end of the nearest runway at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport.  Maybe I did get one but I’m too conditioned to blocking out the noise.

Anyway, if you care to actually watch either one of these videos, you’ll also see a bit more of the backyard, with focus on, of course, the garden.