Spring, in Sum

The house finches have made their nest in the porch again, and every time we go out there we are met with a startled brown flutter of wings. If we dare to sit out there for longer than five minutes to try to enjoy the sunset or an afternoon beer, we are serenaded by angry chirruping from daddy-finch as he stares us down from his perch on the power lines over the driveway.

Bird's nest soup, anyone?

There are four babies in the nest this year; they keep mostly hidden, only popping their heads up when someone has swooped in with a snack. And to anyone who thinks that baby birds are adorable, I would just like to say: These guys look like terrible muppets, with reptilian flesh and awkward tufts of hair, living in a poop palace. It’s disgusting. But good fertilizer for the garden after they’ve left?

Every year I try to make a promise to myself: that I won’t buy any more plants or bulbs until I’ve planted the ones I already have. I am not sure why I bother trying to promise anymore, because as we speak, I have 11 fruit trees, 100 strawberry plants, 10 asparagus, 60 bulbs, and 18 other bare-root plants in need of planting. This, by the way, does not include the 8 flats of veggies waiting to go into the garden beds. Insert the sound of slow-clapping here.

In case you are not as much of a plant-lover as me: read this article, then go get some $1 trees from the Arbor Day Foundation.

My go-to salad of late has been a Thai-style spring roll salad (sans rice paper wrapper):Lettuce, cucumber, sprouts, avocado, imitation crab legs, shredded carrots, and puh-lenty of cilantro, dressed with lime juice and sweet chili sauce. I haven’t gotten tired of eating it yet, and I think that says a lot for something you eat 5 times a week.

In other food news: I recently discovered that I do not, in fact, hate pork chops. Turns out I only hated them because they were always cooked until they were dry & leathery. Try this: make a brine of 4 Tablespoons kosher salt + 4 Tablespoons honey + 3 cups water, heated until salt dissolves. Brine your chops (bone-in, for best flavor & best joke-making possibilities) for a couple of hours. Pat dry, season if desired (black pepper, garlic, herbs, etc.), sear both sides in a skillet, & pop them into a 400F oven for 8-10 minutes (or longer depending on the thickness of your chop) until done. Seriously, these were the best pork chops of my life. I don’t have a picture of them, or maybe I do but I can’t find it. What I do have a picture of though, is this:

A hamburger sandwiched inside two grilled cheeses. I am not ashamed to say that I ate this, and lo! it was delicious.

I just saw my next-door neighbor outside in her bedroom slippers, poking at fire ant hills in her yard with her feet. I think we can all agree that this is a bad idea, but for the record: I do the same thing too. But not with my bedroom slippers, which I don’t have anyway; I use my trowel and squat down watching the tribe of ants scramble and roil over each other for a few moments before moving (quickly!) away. I’ve been trying to get rid of them with a homemade fire ant killer, which consists of water, citrus peels, and dish soap. I can’t say for sure if it works, or if it just makes the ants mad & they move to a different spot in the yard. (I say ‘yard’ euphemistically, meaning really: a collection of weeds and bare sandy spots that we mow when it starts looking too unruly).

A couple of months ago I transplanted about 10 volunteer blackberries to a row in the yard next to the blueberries. The blueberries are blooming, in spite of the fact that I did nothing at all to help them after transplanting. The peach has blossomed & leafed out, & the kales & mustards are bolting in an explosion of yellow flowers. Phlox & anemones are blooming, & the irises are setting buds. April has been cooler than normal, but still: It’s spring! Time to get planting.

And then I woke up

Last night I dreamed that I was writing for The Onion, and the article I wrote was called, ‘Mother Nature issues recall on husbands: says, “They weren’t meant to snore so much.”  Women everywhere are thrilled.  Local wife says, “I mean, sure I’ll miss him, but I’m just excited to get a replacement model that doesn’t keep me up half the night.”  Class-action lawsuit is filed seeking damages in the millions of hours of lost sleep.

Chia & Oat Breakfast Jars

If left to my own circadian devices, I would sleep every morning until 7am–maybe a little later if it is cold and dark outside, or earlier when it is summer and the sun comes screaming through your windows–but 7am is generally the time my body prefers to wake up.

This was all well and good when I used to live by myself and didn’t have to be at work until 9am.  I had no pets, my commute to work was only 10 minutes, and I almost always had the time to come home and make myself lunch.  Back then, my free time in the morning stretched out to nearly two hours. I had time to read every section of the newspaper (well, except for the sports, blegh!), eat a leisurely breakfast, have a second cup of tea, water my garden, read a book, get ready for work, and maybe even think about what I was going to have for dinner that night.

Nowadays, however, my commute is much longer and I have to be at work at 8.  I don’t have time to go home for lunch, and the water at work is undrinkable (Castle Hayne aquifer, holla!).  I leave for work as though I’m preparing for battle; the bag I bring weighs about 12 pounds (I try to eat and drink out of glass containers) and is laden with coffee, breakfast, water, lunch, utensils, herbal tea, and sometimes maybe even a snack. (Update: I wrote this last part over 2 months ago; I have since found and started a new job, where the water does not come directly from the Castle Hayne aquifer. But I do, however, still bring my own water to work because we have a really fancy filter at home).

Some people have a morning routine; I have a morning ordeal.  The ordeal involves preparing and packing all of the above; taking the dog out; feeding the dog; making a lunch for Andy (if I am feeling charitable and loving); and remembering whether anything needs to be taken out of the freezer or picked up from the store for dinner.  Sometimes, if I’m lucky, I also have time to read a paragraph from whatever open magazine happens to be sitting on the kitchen table.

Obviously, the more of this I can do the night before, the less panic will ensue in the morning, and the better my chances are of getting to work on time.

Which is why I’m a newly-converted devotee of overnight oats.

I used to make smoothies for breakfast, but this involved way too much in-the-moment prepwork (clawing through the freezer for fruit; peeling a banana; chopping an apple; scooping out protein powder; tending to the blender while it blends and fixing it when the frozen fruit seizes up into one giant mass; pouring the smoothies and screwing lids on; and then cleaning the blender) and usually left me freaking out.

Now, I prep a whole week’s worth of breakfast in about 5 minutes on Sunday, and all I have to do in the morning is grab a jar from the fridge and remember to pack a spoon.  Blammo! Breakfast in a jar.

You can jazz these up however you’d like to, and experiment with different fruits and spices, and use whatever kind of milk you have on hand (or water if you prefer).  This summer I did a peaches-and-cream version and a wild blueberry one, and I bet an apple-walnut-and cinnamon version would be delicious, too.

You can eat these straight from the fridge, or if you prefer a hot breakfast, pop it in the microwave for 2 minutes and put a freaker on the jar to keep from burning your hand.

Chia & Oat Overnight Breakfast Jars (recipe amount is per jar)
~1/4 c. rolled oats
1 scant Tablespoon chia seeds (optional; these add a lot of bulk after soaking so if not using, double the amount of oats)
1 Tablespoon ground flaxseed (optional)
~2/3 c. milk of your choice (I prefer coconut milk or almond/coconut blend)
dash of salt
~1/2 c. fruit, cut into bite-sized chunks if needed
a pinch or two of spice (optional) (cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, vanilla, cocoa, etc.)
sweetener of your choice, if desired (I usually don’t sweeten mine, but good options might be honey, maple syrup, molasses, brown sugar, stevia, etc.)
Nuts, if desired (walnuts, pecans, slivered almonds, etc.)
In a pint mason jar, add the oats, chia seeds, salt, and ground flax, if using.  Give the jar a little shake or stir to distribute the ingredients a bit (otherwise your chia and flax may clump together).

Add the milk to the oats/chia, adding enough to generously cover the dry ingredients (if using chia seeds, err on the side of adding more liquid than you think–cover everything by about an inch).  Top with fruit, sweetener, and spices if using.  Screw on a lid and keep in the refrigerator until needed.

If you are planning to microwave these, you may want to wait until after microwaving to add your fruit (depending on what kind of fruit you’re using); berries tend to get obliterated after that long in the microwave, but diced apples/pears will hold up better.

A New Nickname for the Dog

The other night I dreamt that I found a stray dog roaming in the streets, a beagle.  Because I knew that Andy would be less-than-thrilled to become a two-dog household, I tried to make the dog too adorable for him to say no.

So I put a little hat on him and named him ‘Beagle Bailey.’

Which is now Snooki’s new nickname for the week.

I secretly think Snooki is part beagle. Unfortunately I cannot get her to wear a hat.

I do, however, think it is a great idea to (try to) make dogs wear hats.

Garden Snapshot 7.16.15

Well, Harper Lee must’ve never been a gardener, that’s all I can say.  Because if she had been, she would’ve been like, ‘f— you, mockingbird!’

I was all set to have a great blackberry harvest–there were handfuls of berries just outside my front door (literally! the vine has a foothold in the door frame, and I could’ve picked berries without ever stepping foot off the welcome mat) but then…as they were juuust on the verge of ripe, somebody started eating them, leaving juicy purpled splotches on the siding and porch floor.  I wasn’t quite sure who until one day I saw a mockingbird perched on a porch chair, his head cocked, giving the blackberries a sidelong staredown.  And then, swooop, he flitted over to the vine and started pecking.

And so, this:

Nylon mesh from an empty bag of onions

Except that didn’t quite work either; the bird, in his persistence, was still finding a way to peck at the berries and get them to somehow fall out of the mesh, and so I had to resort to a 10′ length of deer netting draped over the entire vine, which finally stopped the blackberry thief.

I think I always say this, but I can’t believe spring has gone by so quickly.  It always does, in a rush of seeding and transplanting, weeding and watering and re-seeding and then, the patiently trying to wait: for ripe tomatoes, for peaches, for cucumbers, for squash, for, in general, what is supposed to be the bounty of summer.

At this point in the season (for indeed, at this point we can actually call it a season), I feel as though I should be able to kick back; aside from a few stray weeds to pull and occasional watering during a dry spell, I feel like the garden should be able to take care of itself.  Instead, there are still beds that are overcome by weeds, and rows that need reseeding because (ahem!) I forgot to water them and they died.

I harvested the first (very few) of the potatoes; I decided I ought to do it soon after the plants died back so that 1)I wouldn’t forget where they were; and 2)I could have that space for growing other, summery things, like tomatillos.

Andy has a potato joke that I will now share: A widow is standing in the grocery store holding two small potatoes in her hand and staring at them.  She is looking kind of sad and weepy, and another lady comes over to her and asks if everything’s alright.  The widow holds up the two potatoes and says, “These remind me of my late husband.” The other lady says, “What, the size?” and the widow says, “No, the dirt!”

Anyway, it’s supposed to be a joke about testicles, but I’m not quite sure I think it’s funny.  Moving on!

The cherry and currant tomatoes are just starting their onslaught; the slicers have yet to ripen (although, in the doctor’s office the other day, I overheard an old woman describing in intimate, juicy detail the tomato sandwich she had had for lunch; and how there was so much left over that she was going to have the rest for dinner.  Which means two things: that someone, somewhere has faster-ripening tomatoes than I; and that, old people still do not understand cell phone etiquette.  I can’t decide which has been the bigger blow: tomato sandwich lust, or the one to my gardener’s ego.

At any rate, at least my plants are in the warm ground.  Last year I was sooo late getting them in; this year I’m pretty sure I was mostly on time with both the seedlings and direct seeding beans and squash.

However, a word on the squash: just last week, when the first tender zucchini was about to ripen, when it was looking on the vine the way that travel-guide brochure photos look of vegetables at roadside stands in Italy; I found a horrible thing: the squash vine borers.  Of course, right on time to ruin the harvest.

I’ve been trying to keep them at bay by squishing eggs and scraping out larvae with a straightened paper clip.  So far the tally is: 1 zucchini plant dead; 13+ squash vine borer larvae dead; 0 squash harvested.  So now you know where the record stands.  And you can imagine my frustration when, on the radio, Garrison Keillor extols how prolifically the squash grow in Lake Wobegon; how they have to keep their cars locked and windows closed for fear of people unloading their excess, mutant zucchinis through a cracked window.  Sure, I could be bitter about this; but I also remind myself that I don’t have to live through a Minnesota winter; so if that is the tradeoff, I’ll take squash vine borers any day.

Lately I’ve been glad that I’m not the type of woman who gets manicures.  Because this has been the state of my nails:

One of my coworkers once told me that the best way to get rid of dirt from under your fingernails was to take a shower and wash your hair; that the shampooing and scrubbing the scalp would scrub all the dirt out from the nailbeds; and I have to say: she was right. Not that I get manicures, or that I care about the state of my nails.  I’m just saying, that this is how they are.

About a month (or was it two?) ago I harvested garlic scapes and whizzed them all into a pesto; two weeks after that I harvested all the garlic, and boy, it was a mighty haul:I nearly filled a whole muck bucket (that’s almost 2 bushels, for you non-muck-bucket-owners) with garlic bulbs, some of which were as big as onions.  Now I’m just trying to talk myself into cleaning all the dirt off and finding a good place to store them in the house–a place that is not a muck-bucket, that is.

This is one of my massive garlics. It looks bigger in person. (that's what he said!)

I’ve been picking wild blueberries in the woods; it’s time consuming because the berries are so small and sparsely spaced, and yeah, if we were going to put a dollar value on my time, it would probably be cheaper to buy them at Costco.  But! Where else can you immerse yourself in the meditative act of berry-picking, and be alone in the forest with only your thoughts and the occasional birdsong? Instead, I can say I’m forest bathing (turns out that is a thing), and getting some ‘me’ time and free berries in the process.  I think that I may have also gotten bit by chiggers while I was out there, which I guess makes this into a win-win-lose type of situation.At any rate, the chigger bites have faded, but we are still enjoying the wild blueberries in our smoothies.  So maybe I will just pretend I got those chigger bites somewhere else.

Happy gardening, friends!

A Bit Like This

Nearly every day after school when I was a kid, I would go over to my best friend Ashley’s house and go inside without knocking. Their kitchen was a galley-style affair, with black appliances and a side-by-side refrigerator before the days when those were even really popular. The refrigerator was closest to the entrance and so, the first thing I would do when I went inside, sometimes before even yelling ‘Hey!’ up the stairs to Ashley, was to open the refrigerator and look inside.

Because my brother was a Type 1 diabetic, and because my mom was a semi-health-nut (the kind who made granola before that became a cool, hipster thing to do), the foods we had at home were rarely ones that I was excited to eat.  For instance: Frookies.  I am trying to think of how to describe the taste of a Frookie, because (in a ‘nam-style flashback sort of way) I still do remember the taste and the smell of them, but I am at a loss for words.  They were like a soggy unsweetened graham cracker, maybe?  Or perhaps I could describe them to you as: the only cookie in the world that, when you offer them to a child, the child will say “No thanks.”

In contrast, Ashley’s house always had Keebler Soft Batch cookies (that were best warmed for 8 seconds in the microwave on a paper towel) and Oscar Meyer bologna (best eaten folded in half, with many small bites taken out of it in order to create an abstract sort of meat-snowflake or a very creepy/sad rendition of a human face).  On the bottom shelf of the far corner cupboard was a gallon-size crock of Penrose hot sausages, neon-pink and alarmingly sour, their strange combination of pucker and heat that was enticing after the first bite, but too nose-wateringly overwhelming for you to finish even half the sausage.

And then there was the chocolate frosting.  It lived on a lower shelf of the refrigerator door, and this was not frosting that was leftover after making a cake or cupcakes; this was frosting that was bought specifically for eating right out of the jar.  So my afternoons usually started like that: with a spoonful of chocolate frosting which, taken straight from the refrigerator, had a taste and texture reminiscent of Christmas fudge.  It was not against the rules to go back and have a second spoonful of frosting, but if you did, you ought to get a clean spoon.  I don’t have to tell you that it was waaay better than a Frookie.

I still have the habit of fridge and pantry-snooping. When I go over to my parents’ house, the first thing I do is open the fridge and look on all the shelves; next I move on to the pantry, then the cupboards, and lastly, the freezer.  When I stay overnight with friends or family, I take stock of their refrigerators; if I’m staying longer than a night, it’s likely I’ll find out what’s in their pantry, as well.

It’s not that I’m even hungry; I just like to see what’s there and maybe, if it is something that sounds good or intriguing, I will (mentally) talk myself into having a snack even though, if I had been sitting at a table and you had asked if I wanted anything to eat I would’ve told you, “No, thanks.”

And this is how Andy and I got ourselves on a tabbouleh kick.

While visiting Aunt Suzy and Uncle Bert in Maine last summer, and rummaging through their pantries, in the dark forgotten depths I found two half-empty packages of bulgur; a dusty can of hearts of palm; a small and nearly-expired jar of artichoke hearts; and in the crisper drawer of their refrigerator, various vegetables that were quickly losing their crisp.

With just some boiling water, lots of chopping and can-opening, within twenty minutes we were all enjoying some healthy, hearty tabbouleh alongside our sandwich lunches.

And whenever I come across something that is made with whole grains and/or vegetables that Andy actually enjoys (i.e. does not complain about) eating, I make a mental note, and then I try to make that thing as often as possible.

Which is to say: our workday lunches have been going a bit like this: tabbouleh, tabbouleh, tabbouleh, tabbouleh, tabbouleh.  I make a double batch on weekends, and we scoop it into tupperwares and eat it all week.

I’ve been making it with quinoa for added protein instead of bulgur, also because I don’t ever have bulgur on hand but I always have quinoa (thanks, costco!).  I tried making it once using millet, but the texture of the millet after it had been refrigerated was unappealing (it was like the texture of cooked rice after it’s been refrigerated, i.e. sort of hard instead of chewy).  So, we stick with the quinoa.

Quinoa ‘Tabbouleh’ Vegetable Salad Recipe
3 c. cooked quinoa (or whatever amount you get after cooking 1 c. dry quinoa in 2 c. water; or what I usually just do is cook 2 c. dry quinoa/4 c. water and have some with dinner, and whatever is leftover goes in the ‘tabbouleh’).
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1 orange or yellow bell pepper, diced*
1 very large (‘hothouse’ type that is shrink-wrapped in plastic) or 2 regular cucumbers, diced
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
2-3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 Tablespoon dried parsley
1-2 teaspoons other dried herbs (I usually use a combo of thyme, oregano, and Italian seasoning)
1/2 c. crumbled feta
salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste
~1/3 c. pine nuts, optional but highly recommended; for garnishing
Combine all ingredients except pine nuts and stir gently until well-mixed.  Add a few pinches of salt and pepper, and more herbs/vinegar/lemon juice/feta if needed to suit your tastes.  Serve garnished with pine nuts.
*The color of the bell pepper is just for looks, really.  When I make a double batch I’ll use one orange and one yellow, but if all you have on hand is a green or red pepper, feel free to use that instead.

Saw a dead rat in the Bojangle’s parking lot.

I mean, I still went inside and ate, what do I look like, a health inspector?

Oh, North Carolina

Turns out that in the South, summer’s arrival is not determined by a date on the calendar, but rather by the season’s first sighting of a guy driving his pickup truck with no shirt on.

It wasn’t really David Spade

Some context clues in case you’re not from Wilmington: The Triangle is a local dive bar, and Bob Townsend is a local newscaster.  (Also, it should be noted that one of the Yelp reviews for the Triangle has what is probably the most apt description of any dive bar, anywhere: “If you don’t like it, go fuck yourself.”)Did I mention that I have ringworm? I’m going to blame the dog for it.

Please enjoy having this visual image stuck in your head

Andy:  Why is there so much pollen?

Me: Um, I dunno…it’s just that time of year.

Andy: But why is there so much of it?

Me: You mean like, Why is there pollen?

Andy: Yeah.

Me: That’s how trees have sex.  You know, ’cause it’s not like a tree can just walk down to the bar and find some lady to hump.

Andy: Huh.

Me: Pollen is like tree sperm.  Just think about that every time you go outside.

Andy: Oh god, that’s disgusting.

Me: Your car is covered in tree sperm!