Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Nutty Butternut Stir-Fry

This is a fantastic little dish that is a blend of stir-fry and curry.  Since I thoroughly enjoy both stir-fry and curry it is a match made in heaven, if you ask me.  The spices are not what I'd usually use to flavor a stir-fry and butternut squash is certainly not one of my go-to stir-fry vegetables.  I got the idea for a butternut stir-fry from a vegetarian cookbook that I received at Christmas, but took my own liberties with it as far as the sauce goes.  I am quite pleased with the results.  This was our last butternut in storage from last year.
 Nutty Butternut Stir-Fry

1 C raw cashews (or other nut)
1 small onion (or leeks or shallots as available)
2 t ground cumin
2 t brown mustard seeds
1 t garam marsala
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 C orange juice
1 t brown sugar
1/2-1 t salt
butternut squash, peeled and cut into cubes
oil, for cooking

Heat oil in pan over high heat. 
Stir-fry the nuts until they are golden and browning.
Remove from pan and set aside on a piece of paper to drain excess oil.
Add more oil to the pan if needed.
Stir-fry the spices and garlic until they are fragrant and the mustard seeds start to pop, probably 2-5 minutes.
Add the cubed squash and stir-fry until tender and browning.
Add onion and stir-fry another couple minutes.
Add juice, sugar, and half the nuts.  
Let simmer and cook for about five minutes.
Serve over rice or noodles topped with remaining nuts.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Sewing Retreat Bookended With Beer and Boogying

I am just coming off a tremendously fun and jam-packed weekend.  I think I may have officially entered the busy season--something fun to do nearly every day.  Winter is our slow, mellow, relaxing season.  Spring is when it starts winding up to a feverish pitch.
Matt, his brother, Ryan, and I went to the 2nd Annual Montana Spring Brew Fest on Friday.  It was a madhouse.  20 Montana craft breweries serving more than 70 different Made In Montana beers to a wall-to-wall, elbow-to-elbow crowd and some rockin' music.  It was great.
And Matt's folks kindly picked us up afterwards so we could all be sure to get home safely--no matter how many beers we sampled.  And we ended up sampling quite a few.  There was a watermelon beer that I swooned over.    There was a black IPA that made my mouth feel and taste disgusting.  There was a jalapeno infused beer that was spicy and green tasting...which is weird to say since green is a color, but still!  It tasted green...there is nothing else to it.
I probably would have been wiser to not stay up late beer sampling since I had to get up at 6:00 a.m. to get ready for a full weekend of sewing with Matt's mom, my mom, and some of her church friends in a near-by town.  But, clearly, I am not wiser.
Sharon and I drove over and met up with the rest of the ladies at a little house specifically set up for sewing retreats with sewing desks, ironing boards, cutting stations, and eight single beds.  There were seven of us and we sure got a whole lot of sewing and laughing in.  Its wonderful to sew with such a brilliant collective mind.  There is always someone around to offer a suggestion or advice.  I got another dress all sewed up and started on my very first quilting project.  I am not sure quilting is for me though...there is a lot of math involved and that is not an area I excel at.  Plus, I love making clothes.  Who knows though maybe get hooked on quilting, too.  From what the other tell me this is entirely possible.  Maybe it would help me get better at math.
Sharon worked on a bird quilt and completed a number of partially finished projects she'd brought along like baby blankets and hanging hand towels.  My mom worked on a graduation present jean quilt and finished alterations on my wedding dress. (Have I mentioned yet that I will be wearing my mom's wedding dress which my grandmother made for her when she married my dad in the '70's?  It needed a few repairs and adjustments to make it right for me, but I love it.)  Everyone else worked on one quilting project or another.  There are some absolutely stunning quilting patterns out there.
There was a little baby to snuggle, great meals to eat, and an overcast weekend perfect for staying indoors and getting crafty with friends.
Sharon and I returned home Sunday evening.  I would really have liked to eat dinner and go right to bed, but I was also super excited because my friend Sean's bluegrass band--Ted Ness and the Rusty Nails-- had come to town to play a couple shows.  So instead of catching up on my sleep Matt and I had a fire on the patio and relaxed a bit before heading out for the night and staying up too late once again.
But, it was worth it because I miss seeing those boys and they have gotten really, really good since the last time I saw them play.  They used to all live in Billings and so I saw them perform a lot, but since they're out of Missoula now it was August the last time I saw them.  They have a new bass player (because the original bass man was the only one who didn't move).  I liked him.  He had a really nice singing voice.  They played a bunch of Grateful Dead tunes which is always a winner with Matt and me.
I am worn out with good times.  Thank heavens I have mellow plans for the rest of the week.

Monday, April 28, 2014

A Stroll In the Garden

I was away for the weekend. When I got home Matt took me on a little garden tour. This is one of those pivotal times of year where changes in the garden happen over night. One minute the chives and tulips are just barely poking up their green shoots and before I know it the chives have filled out enough that we can start using them again and the tulips are on the cusp of blooming. Its amazing.
The Bleeding Hearts have bloomed. The plant is much smaller than last year though for some reason. They always make me think of my mom.
Two varieties of plum have set blossoms on their spindly little branches. We don't plant to let any of the trees set fruit this year so they concentrate their energy getting strong, vigorous roots and limbs first.
We rotated our garlic to the front bed this year. It seems to be growing great in the company of the herbs and flowers in that bed. The Johnny-Jump-Ups are so cute and the chives, oregano, mint, and sage have filled out enough to be picked. I am really, really excited to have fresh herbs again. The dried stuff from last year works through the winter, but we're excited to have the fresh, living version again.
We're trying to be better about succession planting.  We hope this not only makes better use of our growing space thus increasing our yield, but also helps stagger out the harvests so we don't have an abundance all at once which we must then scramble to eat and preserve.  We've got bok choy that are nearly ready to eat in the foreground.  They were started indoors and transplanted outside.  We then planted another patch next to it directly into the soil.  Hopefully they will be ready after we've gobbled up the first wave.  There are some cauliflower which we transplanted outdoors over the Easter weekend in the rear.
We still have half of a bed of carrots in the ground from last year.  They still taste great.  We're pretty much over the moon about how well they kept.  Its wild to think that we planted these carrot seed more than a year ago.  We planted the other half with cauliflower.
The peas are poking up.  Matt was happy he got all his support lines strung before the plants were even a couple inches tall.  It seems we often wait too long and those baby peas really seem to benefit from having something to grab on to as they're getting going.
Cabbages, broccoli, and cauliflower.
A sea of spinach under a low tunnel.  We're going to try the tunnels this year to see if we can keep those pesky leaf miners out.  They ruin so much of our spinach each year.  In theory though they cannot get to the leaves through the tunnel and just move along elsewhere.  Here is hoping!
The apple trees are starting to get leaves and flower buds, too.  Judging from the rich pink bud they're going to be quite a pretty addition to the back garden.
Grow little garden, grow!

Once Upon a Time...

...Matt was planting seeds and dropped a seed packet--spilling its contents onto the ground.  And this is the result.  We should thin it, but it makes us laugh.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

A Itty-Bitty Home Orchard

This will be our third year gardening at our "new" house.  Each year we've added fruit.  In 2012 it was raspberries and strawberries.  In 2013 it was blueberries and red currants.  This year Matt had his heart set on planting a handful of fruit trees.
He hoped to buy them from a local nursery.  He wanted fruits that stored well.  He wanted trees that were hardy enough for Montana winters. But, he found the offerings from our local nurseries to be either non-existent or wanting so he sort of stalled on the project.  Then he thought he'd waited too long looking for local trees that he missed the shipping window for some he'd been eyeing the seed catalogs that have been steadily filling the mailbox since January.

Much to our surprise we then found a selection of fruit trees at Costco, of all places--including varieties Matt had been researching.  They were affordable, readily available, and most listed the root stock the tree had been grafted on.  There were a few varieties for sale there which, upon further research, proved to only be hardy down to zone 5--not zone 4.  But, we didn't buy any of those trees.  It pays to do a little research and resist the lure of the impulse purchase!
We ended up selecting five semi-dwarf fruit trees--three for the front yard and two for the back.  We measured out 20 feet between each tree and are going to try a sort of extreme pruning protocol so they remain small and manageable for easy picking with maximum fruit yield.
We got two apple trees--a Red Haralson variety that was first introduced in the early 1920's and Honeycrisp which is my personal favorite apple...even if it is a noobie--not being released for general cultivation until the 1990s.  It is, as the name would suggest, just so darn crisp and sweet.  I think its just the perfect apple for eating raw.  Its pretty much the only apple I buy in a store.  They are sure expensive though.  I look forward to having my own supply years from now.  Both apple varieties were bred by the University of Minnesota.
We also got a Reliance peach tree, a Mormon apricot tree, and a multi-fruit plum tree.  We've really, really wanted a peach tree ever since we were shown the one just down the road in Park City.  That sun-warmed, succulent, tender peach was the best one I ever tasted.  Matt tried to sprout one from the pits of that Park City tree, but they each molded and ended in failure.
The plum tree had a list of possible varieties, but we won't be able to tell which are grafted on our tree until it actually sets some fruit.  It will be interesting to compare the different varieties for eating, canning, and storing.
Hooray!  Now we've got our own itty-bitty home orchard.  Now we've just got to be patient and watch it grow up around us.  We're super excited about it.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Geysers, Grizzlies, and Gray Jays

Sheepeater Cliffs.
Its interesting to think that when Yellowstone National Park was created it was not really for the purpose of wildlife at all.  It was all about the forests, geysers, mudpots, mountains, waterfalls, hot springs and so on. 
Grotto Geyser.
The place needed preserved from commercialization and ruin, but the animals were just sort of a plus.  This is particularly interesting because I now think that wildlife is possibly the greatest components of attraction for many people who come to the park.  It is definitely an attraction for me, but not the strongest one, I don't think.
These two nearly parallel streams in the Artist's Paintpots area were totally different colors due to different mineral composition in the water.  I thought it was tremendously interesting.
I am sure it is the blessing of living in Montana my whole life, but I feel I am more enraptured by the geysers which rocket countless gallons of water into the sky for often hundreds of feet or the multicolored array of microscopic life which color the many pools and hot springs into unbelievable, rainbowed, tropical bodies of water.  I've never seen anything like that before.  
Grand Prismatic Spring.
Meanwhile, most of the places I've ever hiked are in bear country.  There are marmots in the rimrocks north of my house.  I have seen elk and bison and bald eagles my whole blessed life--certainly not every day or anything, but still...as long as I can remember.  I have never seen mud boil anywhere but Yellowstone though.  I have never seen geysers anywhere but there.  That is newest to me and so most dazzling and miraculous.  I could watch geysers all day long.  I try to memorize the colors of each hot spring and pool.  But, then, as if that wasn't good enough there is the wildlife, too...like a cherry on top of a spectacular sundae. 
A there-is-a-bison-in-the-middle-of-the-road traffic jam.
And, oh, how my breath still catches in my throat occasionally at the sheer volume of wildlife in the park.  They are seemingly everywhere you look.  Each meadow reveals something--so it seems.  Each hike flush with a symphony of birds.  Massive herds of elk just yards in the Roosevelt Arch.  Gigantic black ravens circling the seating area at Old Faithful.  Coyotes across the Firehole River in the Upper Geyser Basin.  Eye-catching mountain blue birds as common as sparrows in town fly every whichway. 
Bighorn sheep near the Yellowstone River Picnic Area.
I feel such amazement myself--despite the fact I've seen coyotes and things my whole life--that I find myself wondering how people who've never seen these creatures before do not just burst at the seams with delight!   Its sometimes astonishing for me, like when we watched an aerial battle between a bald eagle and osprey, both swooping and turning with powerful speed and grace that was just breathtaking--but I can only imagine if it was all brand new.  Perhaps it’s like what I feel about watching geysers erupting for me.  A spectacular and spiritually charged sense of unreality.  Or maybe like how it felt when we watched those wolves hunting last year.  Magic and wonder.  Sheer delight.  A sense of privileged and honor at being able to witness life playing out in such a sublime, unfathomable place in such beautiful and bizarre ways.
Grotto Geyser.
But, its not all moose and wolves in the park.  Mammals are cool, but for me, birds are even cooler.  We stop and watch the small birds along trails and roads and people all gawk as they drive by, but never stop...there are no bears or elk or anything big and impressive that they can see and so they continue on by.  I am dazzled by the small, sometimes more so than the opposite.  It like a hidden gem when I can find these amazing, slight creatures who are always so adept at hiding and moving quickly.  Its not every day that I see mountain chickadees--the masked bandit cousins to the black capped variety that live in my yard.  A couple years we saw our first ever harlequin ducks and in 2013 our first Williamson's sapsucker.  Small is beautiful.  And so often underappreciated.
Gray Jay.
We did start one bird frenzy when we were stopped and observing a pair of sandhill cranes though.  A half dozen or so other groups of people stopped and joined us.  But, that is not all too surprising as sandhills are quite large...a bird "worthy" of taking note of and easy to spot, one which can be observed without binoculars.  They are stunning.  As a side note, sandhills stain their feathers that rust color with iron rich soil while preening themselves.  They are naturally grey feathered.
Common Mergansers (female and male).
I love watching wildlife.  I always have and I always will.  Sometimes at Yellowstone though it can be a bit intense.  I enjoy it as a personal experience.  I do not enjoy watching people get senselessly close to wild animals.  Or the absolute madness that ensues when there are big game near the roadside.  But, you can get away from all that just by getting on your feet and hitting the trails.  And then Yellowstone seems to have more wonders than could possibly be experienced.  We watched seven major geyser eruptions and many more smaller eruptions in one single solitary day.  We added two new birds to our lifelists two weekends in a row last year.  Its like paradise.  I love it there.
Morning Glory Pool.
The landscape and geology is so dynamic and expansive.  The wildlife so abundant and diverse.  We're planning our first park trip of 2014 at the moment over my birthday.  I can't really think of any other place I'd like to kick-off my 30th year of living this blessed life.  I am bubbling with excitement....like a mud pot. 
Boiling mud at the Artist's Paintpots.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Our Easter Holiday

I hope you all had a very nice Easter celebrating and sharing with friends and family!  We hosted Easter festivities at our place for the first time this year.  It was such a beautiful day.
We painted cornstarch "eggs" on the patio on Saturday. 
We painted a few bunnies and chicks, too.
Keleigh had an Easter egg hunt.  
My aunt and cousin (well, actually they are my mom's aunt and cousin so my great-aunt and second cousin??) came over for a visit.
Matt's parents joined us for a meal (falafel, mashed potatoes, roast asparagus, carrots sticks, salad, and apple crisp) in the afternoon sun on the patio.