Thursday, February 28, 2013

Inspiration - One Who Cannot

"There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot.  These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot." - Aldo Leopold
"Fleeing the City"
At the suggestion of one of my book club friends we recently read A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There by Aldo Leopold.  I was not too far in before I realized that I'd actually read it before as part of my environmental studies program in college.  Still, its worth reading again.    It is a quite lyrical and inspiring book of nature writing.  Leopold has some great concerns and ideas about nature and conservation, many of which I share with him.  He writes with such a local eye and eloquent hand that I quite admire the book and its lasting legacy in the conservation movement. 

For you see I, like Aldo Leopold, am also one who cannot.  One who sees that technology is great, but not at the expense of all that is wild and wonderful.  Who can get distracted for hours by birds and flowers.  Who want fewer roads into the forest, even if that makes it harder to get there.  Who want wolves in the web of life that surrounds us and polar bears on the ice even if mine own eye never sees such a bear--just to know that it is there.  That remembers that nature supports industry so industry should be respectful of nature or in the end it seals all our fates.  Who know that joy that is being alone in the forest, yet never really alone.  Yeah, I'd like to think I am one of those. 
"Holy"
(This is my favorite of all the collages I've created)

A few Snowy Scenes

We really were blessed in that though a lot of snow fell our travels to Colorado were safe and fairly non-stressful.  The drive down had a few icy and windy spots, but Matt is a driving champ and managed it no problem.
Travel stress aside, snow is so enchanting!  It makes everything so beautiful, so bright and clean.  Really, really bright actually!  I forgot my sunglasses in Montana and boy....it was bright with all that snow to reflect off of.  I thought I might nearly go blind.  Which reminds me....I still need to find my sunglasses.  They are MIA somewhere.

On his visit from California, Mother Nature thought she'd thoroughly reacquaint Adam with snowy, snowy winter.
There wasn't really any snow on the ground when we went to bed, but when we awoke....

Hostin' My First Swap

I've attended a lot of clothes swaps with my friends, but I'd never hosted one before.  It was really fun and gave me a great excuse to bake lots of tasty things to eat, all of which was very well received.
Start diggin' in! 
I don't remember why....but its fun!
We had a ridiculously huge, messy clothes pile this time.  It was huge!  Where do all these clothes come from?  I know for a fact that many of them just keep returning to the swap and go home with someone new....only to be returned again to the next swap.  Its pretty funny.  "That was mine."  "I took it home once"  "I did, too!"  "Who brought it today?!"
A woman I'd only just met pulled this dress out of one of her bags for me.  She thought, even though she'd only known me for about five minutes, that it would be something I'd like.  Boy, did she hit the nail on the head there!  I love the bright design and it has long pointed sleeves.  I did opt not to keep the little green beret though.
Chelsey (on the right) made this costume modeled by Stephanie.  She is a Party Animal.
A couple people had to try it out....and someone, though I cannot recall who, did take it home, too.
Odd things always turn up at our swaps, too.  Like a used travel toothbrush that no one would claim.  A goose statue that didn't have a head.  One lone slipper that never found it's mate.  A Valentine card.  A random piece of children's clothes. A plastic bear with a parachute.  You know, stuff like that.

Peanut Butter Szechuan with Tofu

I have always been a fan of spicy Asian dishes.  Growing up we had one Chinese place in my hometown and I always got  Kung Pao...ALWAYS...and the spicier the better.  (Or I should say that is what I always ordered once I stopped ordering grilled cheese sandwiches off the "American Menu," which was my go-to as a very young girl when Chinese food seemed too weird.)   I later learned to adore General Tso and Szechuan dishes a tremendous amount as well. 

So, I've been revisiting some of my cookbooks at late.  Many I bought and marked recipes in years ago, but my tastes have broadened and changed since then.  I am finding many more recipes to try now that didn't interest me much back then.   Its been really fun to page through them and dream and plan all the tasty things I want to try to create.

One of the revisited cookbook was one I bought many, many years ago now called Peanut Butter Planet in which every single recipe calls for peanut butter in some way.  Hummus made with peanut butter instead of tahini.  Sweet Potato and Peanut Stew.  Apple-Peanut Butter Pancakes.  And so on.  At the time I was convinced that peanut sauce was heaven on a plate.  I was eating it like crazy because I was so enamored with its rich, creamy, filling decadence.  So when I saw Peanut Butter Planet in the $5 bargain bin, I snapped it up.

In this book I recently noted a  Szechuan dish that I had never tried before.  Always keen on finding an awesome new stir-fry meal we busted it out last week.  It was quite wonderful--a nice creamy sauce with a tad bit of kick.  Just right perfectly up my alley.  We marinated some cubed tofu in it for a few hours and cooked them up to toss with the veg and rice, using the leftover marinade to dress the whole thing.   Yuuuuummmmmmy.

Peanut Szechuan Sauce

1/2 C water
1/4 C peanut butter
1/8 C tamari (or soy sauce)
2 t brown sugar
1 t ketchup
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 t ginger root, minced
2 t crushed red pepper flakes (or just toss in a couple dried cayenne peppers)

Combine all ingredients and heat through.  Toss with stir-fry or use as a marinade.  The cookbook suggested thickening the sauce with 1 t corn starch in 1 T water, but we didn't feel like it needed any thickening.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Start of A New Season

It is technically a bit premature, but at my house it always feels likes spring is here when the first new seedlings poke their green little heads out of the soil. 
It is such a happy, hopeful sight.  The promise of new life, a new growing season, a new year full of opportunity and wonder, a mark of time passed.  Can it already be nearing March?!
I am eager for fresh veg and herbs and all the goodness that the garden brings and each year I am amazed to realize that all those things start as such tiny little seeds.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Watercourse Foods - Oh My Goodness

Matt and I don't eat out.  Its not really a vegan thing, its a cheapskate thing.  Seriously, every time I eat out I look at the prices and am aghast.  I realize that its about more than the food though.  Its the experience and luxury...and not having to do dishes.  But, still, I think its crazy.  Or maybe I should say, I am just too frugal and I know how to cook so dining out is not for me.  Maybe if a person knew nothing about cooking great food it would have more appeal to just let someone else make it.  I sometimes forget that a lot of people don't really know how to cook.  Also, while there is usually some vegan option at most restaurants, eating out in Billings is just less fun, regardless of the price, for us because of that.

But, twice we were asked if we would go out to some nice vegan restaurant while we were in Denver over the weekend.  We said no both time because in all the years we've been traveling to big cities with vegan restaurants we never have--going back to that cheapskate thing again.  We always pack our own food.  It just easier. 

But, the idea was planted and I had just been to a vegan restaurant with my sister in December and thus the awesomeness of the experience was still fresh in my mind.  So when Matt expressed interest in the idea I fully encouraged it.   A little google search informed us that a highly reviewed veg resturant was less than a mile from our hotel.  So we went.

Oh.  My.  Goodness.  Watercourse Foods, what a heavenly restaurant.

I enjoyed the warm, bright atmosphere.  They had very amusing animal themed art or animals doing human things like a bison sitting under a tree with a cup of tea.  And the food was phenomenal.

It took us like 20 minutes of pouring over the menu to figure out what to get.  It'd been more than seven years since we had to sit down and make such hard decisions!  Its so much different than going to a resturant where there are one or two vegan friendly choices.
Matt got chicken-fried seitan (which was huge, crunchy, and fabulous...and I don't usually dig seitan that much), with mashed potatoes, and green bean casserole (which was made with fresh, beautiful beans) covered in country gravy.

I got a dish called Amsterdam Hash with was grilled vegetables and scrambled tofu served over chunky fried breakfast potatoes and topped with gravy (man, oh, man was that good gravy).  

Then we split a freshly made raspberry milkshake.
We'd talked about getting something from their dessert case, but we were just too full.

We had NO trouble cleaning our plates!
We tried to stop again for breakfast on our way out of town, but alas, they only serve breakfast Friday through Sunday and so they weren't open yet and we went home empty handed, or stomached, as it were.

I think this might be something to look forward to on future journeys though as we both raved about it for the entire day.  And into the next, for that matter.

Going Furthur with Adam

We've just returned from a magical four days down in Colorado.  Yup, magical.

We saw four totally rockin' Furthur concerts.  Matt and I saw a Thursday night show at the Ogden Theatre in downtown Denver.
We'd never been to the Ogden before and it was quite the experience.  It was a very small and intimate Furthur show than I am accustomed to.  The band was so close.  It was awesome.  Boy, was it packed in there, too!  A friend who goes there with some regularity said it seemed really oversold.  I had nothing to compare it to, but it sure was jam packed.  We got a spot on the balcony after trying to squeeze in on the floor and then deciding against it when we realized we'd have no room to get down and funky in.  It was a good spot in the end and I'm glad we landed there.
Matt and I went to the Denver Natural History Museum.  We saw a 3000 year old mummy.  She had her face unwrapped and I could see her teeth and eyelashes.  It was amazing and freaky as all get out.  I also saw one of those hooks they used to pull the mummy's brain out of its nose....talk about freaky!  They big exhibit was on mammoths and mastodons.  It was super interesting with the highlight being a cross section of a large tusk.  They grow in cones so that you can see a years growth rings just like with a tree
 
The next day we ate at the most fabulous Watercourse Foods and then popped over to the airport to pick up Matt's brother, Adam, who had flown in from California for the remainder of the concerts--three more nights at the First Bank Center, one of our favorite venues.

Our friends Josh an Derek drove down on Friday and we all roomed together.  Those boys are a hilarious combination.  I laughed until I cried.
We sang and played guitar.
We swam in the pool and soaked in the hot tub.
We went to a beer/liquor store that was 25,000 square feet--a veritable superstore of alcohol.  For beer connoisseurs like these fellas this was quite a treat.
Me and my boys: Josh, Adam, me, Matt, and Derek.
We played Scrabble.
We had good weather the days that people were driving and crazy snow the days we were down there.  We've always been blessed with good traveling weather on these winter tour dates.  We've been quite lucky in that regard as traveling across Wyoming in February can always be a gamble.
It was so, so, SO great to have Adam with us this run.  This is the fourth year Derek, Josh, Matt, and I have gone down there for shows in February.  But, this is the first year Adam got to join us!  I love Adam like the brother I never had and I know Matt misses him very much now that he lives so far away.  It was just the absolute best cherry on top of our concert-going sundae that we could have had. 
The band had a couple of surprise guests join them which added a special element.  I am very partial to the keyboard player and when he had a second fellow join him they just tore up those keys.  It was a climbing, soaring musical whirlwind.  And Furthur with a fiddle is something I would never had anticipated.  Oh, how I like fiddle.
Furthur never disappoints us.  They bring such a radiant, positive energy to the stage and each concert is a truly unique experience.
Wanna take a listen?  The shows are freely available on that great resource known as the Internet Archive:
Thursday at the Ogden
Friday at the First Bank Center
Saturday at the First Bank Center
Sunday at the First Bank Center

I absolutely love that Furthur (and most of the bands I enjoy) are free sharing and encourage people to come and tape their shows for others to listen to.  I can hardly describe the joy of being able to relive the experience via these audio recordings.  It is so awesome.

What an all around, out of this world, exceeding my expectations vacation we had.  Totally top notch.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Our First Cold Frame

Matt built his first cold frame a couple weeks ago.  It turned out quite well and has proven to be an interesting little science project already. 
He's been taking temperature readings at various points in the day on thermometers both inside the frame and nearby outside of it.  He has thermometers that record the highs and lows for a 24 hour period.  Its been quite pleasing.  Even with outside temperatures of 30 degrees F  to 50 degrees F the temperature inside the cold frame thermometer showed a inside range from 30 degrees to 78 degrees.  Certainly warm enough for leafy greens!  Matt is glad that is retains heat so well because he can see a couple flaws in his design--things he'll do differently next time--but flaws or not it seems to work.  Superb. 
 
Matt would basically just love to garden year round, not to mention eat fresh veg all year.   While our growing season is long enough by Montana standards, it is apparently not long enough for Matt's.  Fine by me.  I like garden fresh greens.  I bet I'd really like garden fresh greens in December.  Plus he thinks we'll be able to start other seedlings earlier using it as a little greenhouse for our flats of sprouts.

In addition to its function I was impressed in that Matt also managed to construct the thing using all material that we either had laying about or from the local Habitat for Humanity ReStore.  I've said it before and I will say it again:  that place is amazing.  They had hinges for $ .50 and that were made in America.  They also had handles, which Matt mounted on the sides of the frame for easy portability, for $ .50 each.  The lumber was some that had been left behind when the previous owner of our house moved out.  The caulk was some we had from some other project.  The window we found sticking up out of a dumpster last year (or maybe even the year before that).  There were several more, too, which we still have in store in the shed so I foresee more cold frames in our garden in the future. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Inspiration Thursday - Happy Talk

A couple of the students who work for me are involved in a local production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific.  Matt and I both enjoy musicals and neither of us have seen this one so we are planning to attend later on this month.  As a matter of sheer coincidence I stumbled upon a copy of the original Broadway cast recording on record in the library's book sale last week.  Its seemed fortuitous.  So, I took it home and we've been getting a little preview of the music.  Its very good.  There is a line from the song "Happy Talk," that keep getting stuck in my head.  It is not only a catchy melody, but I think a very, very good sentiment, too.

"You've got to have a dream.  If you don't have a dream, how you going to have a dream come true?"

I am certainly a dreamer so this lyric really appeals to me in its truth and wisdom.  You gotta dream!  And dream big, I say.  I dream of so many things (seeing the grand canyon, having a self-sufficient garden, working from home, learning German, publishing a book, curing my arthritis, making all my own clothes, learning to play lead guitar, camping in the Yellowstone backcountry, etc).  Maybe I won't get to all of them in this short length of time I've been given.  Maybe my dreams will change along the way.  But, where would I be without them to strive for?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Bye-Bye Taters

So we polished off the last of the potato crop from 2012 this morning for breakfast.  (With some leftover homemade pizza, you know, part of a complete balanced breakfast.)
We're pretty pleased with how long they lasted, especially since we were eating them nearly every day for the past several months.  We're also more aware of just how many potatoes we'd need in order to make it all the year round on our own supply.  It would be a lot of potatoes. 
But, even though the basket is now all empty we are still very pleased with the harvest and how well they kept.  And we're looking through the seed catalogs already so those soft, sweet new potatoes will be ours again before we know it.  Can you believe its already nearly the end of February!?

Monday, February 18, 2013

A Bonnet Like a Lime

While I was "watching" the Super Bowl I made great progress on a hat I'd been working on.  I actually made it twice.  I took it apart just a few rows from the end the first time.  It looked dreadful and the number of stitches on my needles didn't match what the pattern was saying.  So, chocking it up as practice I just unraveled it and started over.  I must say, I love this aspect of knitting.  Its so forgiving. Just unravel and its like it never happened.  It takes a lot of pressure off me as a newbie. 

So, funny story, I decided to try and knit this hat after seeing this post from Jamie at the Ngo Family Farm.  Her little girl looked so charming and cozy in that bonnet it made me swoon and wish that I had a bonnet of my own.  Which caused me to pause...could I get away with wearing a bonnet?  Could I make a bonnet and see?  Were there patterns for adult bonnets or just sweet little babes like Jamie's?

Turns out the answer to all three is yes. 

I found a pattern for what was being called a "prairie hat," over at Ravelry which seemed like it would suit the bill for my knit bonnet experiment.  Even the second time around I still managed to get lost in the pattern and thus had to wing it a little as I went.   I made it in lime green because that was the yarn I had on hand.  Its actually two strands of green used together as I didn't have any yarn heavier than worsted weight.   It makes it a rather....bright...bonnet, but still.  At the Super Bowl party I made one of the other guests laugh.  He asked what I was making.  I said a sort of bonnet.  He said "Like the Amish?"  And I said, not exactly, but sort of.  He then laughed and said, "In lime green?!"  I do have a second one cast on in some black that I got at the thrift store already though.   

Its quite warm because it cups my face so well, tucking in my ears completely.  I can pull it forward on my head and have brim to shade my eyes as well, but its not as warm that way.  And while I am not nearly so cute in mine as that sweet little girl, I do quite like it. 

This is the first hat I've ever knit.  I got a lot of good practice out of it, too.  I learned a new stitch and finally grasped the point of doing both k2tog and ssk which I sort of though did the same thing and couldn't understand why I'd need to know both.  I'm all around pretty pleased about it.
I have knitting fever....its all I want to do.  Now that I've branched out from the wash cloths I am keen to see what else I can do!   Perhaps a bonnet with a button strap under the chin instead of ties.  There were actually a surprising number of bonnet patterns on Ravelry.  Who knew?!  Its not just me that wants one!