Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Montana Grown Pineapple

It sounds crazy, right?  I mean, pineapple just don't grow in Montana.  We're pretty far from anything resembling "tropical."  But, leave it to Matt to want to try something crazy like this.  He loves to grow anything slightly purple potatoes, black tomatoes, red carrots...and pineapples in Montana.  He's been talking about this since we first spotted one fruiting in a local gardening store.  "Is that a pineapple?!" we asked.  The employee looked at us like "Um...yeah, what else could it be?"  It was small, about the size of a grapefruit maybe, but still, a fresh and local pineapple....Matt was highly intrigued.
We'd tried a couple of times, quite unsuccessfully, in the past year.  It takes a leafy top that is fresh and very much alive, but frequently by the time the pineapple fruit is golden, ripe and ready to eat that top is starting to die off.  Thus, the roots never formed before the plant died.  But, the third time is the charm we hope.  I'll let you know in like two years!  (I hear that is how long it takes before the plant fruits.)
This is about 2 months of root growth.  We planted in soil it right after this photo.

We just carefully cut off the leafy top when we cut up our pineapple and placed it into a wineglass filled with water to root.  And slow and surely it did root.  And the green part didn't die!   It seemed like it was only going to root on one side at first, but eventually the other side got to business too.  It took about two months from the date we started for the roots to be several inches long all around the base.  We then transplanted it into soil in a little pot where it now resides. 
Maybe pineapples don't belong growing here, but I bet if we actually end up with one it will be out of this world awesome.  I mean, even a fresh pineapple in Montana had to be picked and shipped here from a great distance.  This would have to be the freshest I've ever had, albeit probably the smallest, too.  I absolutely adore the taste of fresh pineapple and it is so fun to experiment with new things.  So, win-win.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Bloomin' and Growin'

 "I just wanted to be able to see things growing from the house....and now you can"
Matt was very excited to show me the progress of the vegetable patch upon my return from a long weekend of sewing with my mother and sister.  Its a perpetually amazing thing to me how quickly a seed goes from nothing to just barely visible upon close scrutiny to several inches tall, just like that.   You could NOT see any of the plants in the garden from the windows of the house when I left.  And now you can.  I didn't realize that that was one of our gardening goals, but I must say that I agree with him.  It was quite satisfying to peek out the bedroom window this morning and see the bits of  sprouting up green all over the dirt.
I've never grown rhubarb, but man!  That thing is gigantic already!  (background) It is a speedy grower.  When we moved in (a little over a month ago) it was scarcely poking above ground.  The strawberries (foreground) are really looking good too.  Rootstock always looks dead and so I find it amazing that is soon enough looks like a living thing again.  We are pinching off the blossoms so that the wee plants can focus on roots this year and thus be more productive.  I do hate plucking off flower though....even if it is for the best in the long run.
Did I ever mention the raspberry bed?  I know I mentioned strawberries.  I must say the raspberries are pretty unimpressive at this point.  It looks like we are growing a bed of sticks.  But, give it time....I can already taste those berries in future summers!  Raspberries are my favorite of all fruits.
A wide view of the garden space, now almost completely cleared of random junk and piles of grass.  The beds are (right to left):  #1 peas, spinach, kale, arugula  #2 strawberries and rhubarb  #3 raspberries.  If Matt was here he'd tell you the names of the specific varieties of each that he chose, but I don't remember off the top of my head so I'll just leave it generalized.
Matt, talking to me at length and with helpful, illustrative hand gestures about how the sun passes over the yard at different points of day and the neighbor's tree's impact on sun penetration, etc.  He is so cute in his obsession.....
A few of these green onions will be in dinner tonight.  We're hoping this is the year of the onion.  We've not been terribly successful in past years, but try, try again!
I don't know what it is, but I sure like this flowering back yard tree.
I like flower that look like little this.  How nice that I already had some planted for me!
When I left on Friday only a couple of these beauties were opened.  They are such a captivating color I think.  Not quite peach, not quite orange.  They look sort of like a sunset in tulip form.
This was my favorite photo of the ones I snapped this morning.  It shows the little purple guys, the tulips, the trees, the fence, even a hint of the grape hyacinths and bleeding hearts towards the rear.  I can already tell that I am going to enjoy having enough space for actual FLOWER beds.  So much prettiness...and I think this world can use all the pretty it can get!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

In the Spring Garden....

A nut, split down the middle, revealing a heart.  Update:  It is a Black Walnut.
Butterflies skipping across the grass.
A very sharp looking robin on the hunt.
The very first of our tulips opening up to show some color.  Orange.  Matt's favorite color.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Carmalized Onion Pizza Sauce

A few month back Matt and I bought a frozen pizza at the co-op.  I can't really recall why now.  Maybe they were on super discount or something.  Or maybe we were just splurging off the gift card we received at Christmas.  Instead of a tomato based sauce this pizza had a caramelized onion sauce.   Oh, my it was scrumptious.  But, since we're not really the type to buy frozen pizza Matt and I just had to set about to make our own.  We've now successfully replicated it a few times so I thought I'd share as it is so delicious.

To caramelize onions all you have to do is chop them up and very, very, very slowly cook over low heat.  I am not sure this is 100% accurate, but here is my understanding of how it all happens.  Water, containing natural sugars, is released from the onion as it is cooked.  Cooking very slowly allows the water to evaporate off leaving behind the sugar.  As the onions continues to cook, ever so slowly, the sugars start to brown resulting in a sweet and creamy onion taste.  The whole caramelizing process take about 30-45 minutes, though I imagine you could go longer so long as it doesn't start to burn.  The onions just get sweeter and tastier as you cook them.  It must be done over very low heat or things just start to burn and it ruins the sweet, awesome flavor.

Just starting to brown...
Half-way brown....
Nice and caramelized.
We used 3 baseball sized onions for our pizza, which served four people, two slices a piece.  I don't think a fourth onion would have been too much though.  The pile of onions significantly shrinks in the pan as they cook down so sometimes it is hard to gauge how much onion to chop, but caramelized onions are yummy in all sorts of things if you happen to make more than your pizza needs.
Now here is hoping that our onion crop is better than last year.  I'd love to give this pizza a whirl with all homegrown veggies this year.  I bet it is even better still.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Bedroom Rainbow

I have a quartz crystal on every window sill in my house.  I don't know why exactly, that is just where I felt they should go.  In all the portals, to catch the light.  The crystals were a gift to Matt and I from a friend who believes extensively in the mystical and healing attributes of stones.  The quartz lived on the sills at our old house, too.
But they never made rainbows until last week.  Matt and I were still in bed when I spotted the spectrum on the wall.
There are three of them, really, and all are a bit off the standard color spectrum to the eyes of Matt and I.  It isn't just Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Violet.  The blue is on the end and the violet in the middle.  Or there isn't a blue at all and it is replaced by magenta.  There are usually two bands of green.
Two are wide smears, about as wide as both my hand which I discovered by sticking my hands on the wall under the beam of color.  Every time they appear I feel compelled to stick my hands into the colors.  I think it looks hands all rainbowed, tie-dyed, if you will.  The sun feels nice as it warms my hued fingers.
And it feels rather magical.  Colored light...what an extraordinary gift.  Vibrant colors made by sunlight passing through clear stone.  Isn't this world just incredible?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Homemade Flour Tortillas

I think that everything is better somehow when it is homemade.  I literally do not think I can come up with one example that defies this rule.  I think that cooking from scratch is just about every definition of the word.


Geodes are cool.  We have several placed around our house because Matt and I both enjoy them, and rocks in general, so much.  I love the contrast of the dazzling, sparkly interior crystals against the rough, and rather plain exterior.   Uncracked they are pretty unremarkable.  I'd probably walk right by one if I wasn't looking for it.  Like many things they teach the important lesson that we shouldn't judge based on surface appearance never know what glory might be hidden inside!  That is good to keep in mind I think for rocks and people, amongst other things.  : )

Matt and I actually got to crack these particular geodes open.  It is a little bit like opening Christmas presents.  You don't know just what you'll find inside until you open it.  It was super exciting.  We bought the uncracked geodes at a gem shop in an old church building in a teeny-tiny town we stumbled upon during our megavacation last fall.  

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Buying in Bulk, Eliminating Trash

Buy in bulk and using reusable containers is one of those life changing, world view altering type lifestyle changes.   Fairly simple and straight forward, but radically different from the standard of our culture.  It is one of those things that can make me feel like I am in on one of the best kept secrets of food shopping there is.  Now you can be in on the secret, too!

Making bulk shopping a priority was one of the changes I was prompted to embrace by reading No Impact Man which I read last year.  Before No Impact Man I had bought a few things in bulk, but as I said, it wasn't a high priority, not say as high as buying organic was.  I also never brought my own reusable containers with me to the store relying instead on the plastic bags the store provided.  Thus, I hadn't ever broken free of the disposable packaging cycle even when I did buy in bulk.
After a visit to the landfill last week--where I was utterly shocked and horrified by the amount of plastic bags (both packaging and grocery) floating around and stuck in every bush, outcropping, and fence-- I am so, so, SO glad that I am not supplying them to the landfill willy-nilly, without a thought, any longer. 

Disposable one time use products now fill me with a sense of sorrow.  I can credit No Impact Man with that attitude shift. I can't believe we think it is perfectly acceptable to make everyday items out of petroleum to use once and then bury.  It boggles the mind, but I then remind myself that I'd never really thought too much about it until last year and I am a trained environmental philosopher.  In school we were more focused on wildlife conservation and water pollution, invasive plants and climate change, etc.   "Big things."  We didn't really talk about stuff like how much plastic we throw out everyday and how that might be related to all those "big things."   I'd figured that I was doing pretty good compared to the cultural standard so I didn't bother myself too much with what would become of the plastic wrapper around my organic, ready-meal.   I mean, it was organic at least!  But, as I've told Matt comparing yourself to something poor isn't exactly motivating.  I mean, of course I am better than terrible, but the question is can I still grow and expand myself beyond even further?  Can I do more?  Can I be happy with less?  But, I digress.

I suppose I thought it would be too hard or too expensive to buy in bulk.  That I'd never remember to bring my jars and bottles. That I'd never be able to afford it.  That it didn't really matter.

But, that isn't the truth of the matter I've come to learn. 
It is shockingly--shockingly-- cheap to fill your own jars.  Polenta is nearly twice as much at our local co-op when you purchase it pre-packaged rather than in bulk.  Montana-grown, pesticide free oats cost $.99 per pound, cheaper than you'd find Quaker Oats which are neither local nor pesticide free.  It cost less than $.50 to fill a standard spice jar with most of the green herbs--oregano, sage, basil, Italian seasoning.  That beats even Wal-mart.  And these are organic herbs, too!  Without any plastic waste!  Or any waste at all, really!  I am just giddy about this.  Wait, wait, mean its cheaper, better quality, AND better for the planet?!  How is that for awesome.  Even if you never buy anything else in bulk I seriously, seriously recommend you look into buying herbs in bulk.  Spices are a little bit heavier and thus a little more expensive, but it is still a bargain compared to similar quality and quantity of product.  And the uber-cheap herbs help balance things out.

It is easy to bring your own containers to the store once you develop the habit to do so (and you will develop the habit if you wish, especially once you've forgotten a few times and have to resort to plastic bags again with frustration and a twinge of guilt).   We just round up jars and tins and load them into the re-usable bag before we head out for the store.  Or, if we are really on top of things, we place the empty containers directly into the reusable shopping bag to await our next trip to the store without the risk we'll forget them since we NEVER forget re-usable bags any more.  Remember, you can train yourself to do anything....even eat broccoli!  : )
If you are of the creative persuasion  another perk of bulk shopping is that you can also make neat little labels for your bulk containers, like these I made for some of our spices.
In addition to herbs we are able to purchase bulk soap, soy sauce, oats, pasta, beans, tea, oils, honey, baking soda, popcorn, nuts, granola, carrots, cauliflower, mushrooms, peanut butter, grains, lentils, seeds, cocoa powder, salt, and more all without disposable packaging, mostly organic, and some from local suppliers, too. 

I think that is amazing.  Just amazing.   It makes me happy.  It makes me feel a little delightfully quaint, too, as the shopping experience seems like a blast from the past compared to self-checkout stations at the chain markets.

Just in case you are truly new to this whole thing here is a basic breakdown of the procedure. 
#1  Bring in your clean, empty container.
#2 Take it to the checkout stand and ask the clerk to weigh it for you.  They will probably ask if they can write the weight (the tare weight) on the container.
#3 Fill with whatever it is you are buying and label the container according to the store's requests.  Our co-op uses the bin numbers of the product while our local health food store uses the price per pound. 
#4 Return to the check stand and go through the checkout process like normal.  When the clerk is ringing up your bulk items they should subtract the tare weight so that you are not being charged for the weight of the container, only what is inside.

And that is all there is to it.  It really is a simple and easy change to make and greatly reduces the amount of trash generated in the kitchen.  It might also save you a few bucks and improve the quality of the ingredients you are purchasing.  While I know this means of shopping isn't available everywhere I'd urge you to check out what is possible in your area.  It is one of those things that makes me shake my head and wonder why I didn't discover this sooner!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A Gardening Weekend

It was 80 degrees F. last Saturday.  80 degrees.  Crazy.  Sunday was not nearly so warm, but that was just fine by me.  Spring is the season of perfect temperature...not blazing hot.  I mean if its already 80 in springtime what will summer have in store!?  We took advantage of the glorious weather both days though and got much gardening done.
It was the Spring Work Day at the community garden.  Over 40 people came to pitch in and the work went quick and easy.  We got so much done and it looks so great.  I am really excited to be a more active member of the garden this year.  I am even going to take minutes at the garden committee meetings.  I am excited.  They are great people to work with and, as I told Matt, we actually DO stuff at the meetings.  I am sick of meeting that are all talk and no action.
Sunday was spent working at the new house.  The flowerbeds, once uncovered from dead leaves and other debris is home to quite a number of perennials.  We've never really had room for flowers before.  I'm going to have to do some research to learn all about them  I know a thing or two about vegetable gardening, but flower gardening is whole different story.
There is a flowering bush at the end of the driveway.  When we moved in the bush was nothing but sticks and buds.  In a matter of literally one day a majority of the buds opened revealing the pale pink glory.  The bush is a buzz with bees of all shapes and sizes.  I tried to take the photo of a enormous bumble bee, but I was too slow.  While we were watching and listening at the bush I learned that those mammoth bumble bees are among Matt's favorite in the insect kingdom.
Bless Derek's heart!  He volunteered to come over and double dig with Matt.  We didn't ask.  We weren't even hinting around for help.  It was all him.  What a great friend.  

And I am sure that Matt is loving having Derek and his brother, Ryan, to talk to about gardening.  To share in his excitement.   They each put in a garden space last year. 
We planted strawberries and peas, several varieties of each.  We've never grown fruit before.  It was one of those things we said we were always going to do when we finally settled into our own place.  And now we have!

The previous owner left us a wee row of onions...they were about the only part of the garden space that looked anything like a garden, you know, as opposed to a dumping grounds for grass clippings and debris.
It looked pretty good once we were through.  The soil looked inviting and felt nice....a vast improvement that will only continue to improve as we work to make the soil better than it was each and every year.  I make no attempt to disguise the fact that the fellas did all the really "hard" parts.  I basically planted things in the wake of their double digging, and brought out water and beer to drink while they labored.
The bed on the left is peas and the previously mentioned onions.  The bed on the right is strawberries and rhubarb.  One of these beds is not much smaller than all of our space at the rental.  We are delighted!
Then, while I finished up dinner the boys left for the store, returning with a couple of season spring/summer six-packs--one quite appropriate for the day, don't you think?
I've specifically not shown many photos of the garden space because I've got the mind to do a side-by-side before and after here in a few months.  There is still much to do, but great progress is being made. 

We met the next-door neighbors while we were out working in the yard.  The tell us the garden used to be a real gem, until the previous owner and that they were really excited that gardener-types had moved into the place.  Well, that makes two of us.  We're up for the challenge.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

What I've Found

I am not really sure I can articulate, even to myself, why I started blogging exactly…what I hoped to gain or share or find by doing so.  I don’t even really remember what was going on in my head those days right before I started blogging—what made me just take the plunge and share so much of myself online.  I know it had something to do with the fact I’ve always been a writer.  I’ve got notebook and journals going back to my childhood.  I’ve always enjoyed stringing together words. 

I know it also had something to do with my general dissatisfaction with Facebook—which is the main form of online communication amongst my peers.  I wasn’t sold on it though.  It seemed to me so quick and trivial.  It wasn’t a way of sharing like I wanted my communication with friends and family to be.  I also imagine starting to blog had something to do with the fact that in researching on the web I frequently found myself on blogs for years.  Knitting, sewing, baking, cooking, gardening, green cleaning, and on and on and on.  I’ve found loads of blogs which have always been a great resource for all those things, even before I knew what a blog was.   But, I was only a voyeur, not a participant at that time.

Or maybe I could subconsciously sense that a community was secreted away in there, somewhere.
One thing is for sure though, I did NOT in a million years expect to make such meaningful connections with people…dare I say friendships.   I never expected to be so happy for the triumphs of people a state or an ocean away.  But I am.  When one’s husband was waiting to hear about a long-awaited job prospect I could not have expected to feel so hopeful and excited for them, but I did.   I’ve genuinely grown to treasure these people—my readers and those whose blogs I read.  In an admittedly limited way I feel I know them.  I know about their favorite seasons and favorite foods, favorite birds and favorite holidays.  We recommend books and products that past the test of time and sustainability and I trust in their advice on these things because they are not just strangers offering their review.  These are people I’ve grown to know.  We share births and deaths and anniversaries and the correlating emotions that ride along with them.  We relate advice and tips for running a home or managing a garden—sharing in all the challenges, frustrations, and joys and successes.  I admire the people who are willing to share their challenges so openly, in addition to their joys, because we all have our struggles and it feels good to be reminded we’re not alone in that—even if the challenges we’re reminded of are about getting green tomatoes to ripen when frost comes early or having knitting projects come out a little “wonky.”  The mixture of ups and downs makes their blogs so real, so honest, and so valuable.   Those are probably my favorites. 

I also guess that I could also say that I also never really expected anyone would read what I wrote.  I mean, it is pretty every-day sort of stuff and I am no expert on any of it.  Why would they?  It all goes back to the first paragraph and my confusion over why I started blogging in the first place; I didn’t really think anyone would read it.  I wasn’t sure if I should write it, but for some reason it felt right.  (Maybe the fact I didn’t think anyone would read it was a factor that actually encouraged me to start writing it).  None the less, people did start to read it.  I was quite surprised by how many members of my extended family have told me how much they enjoy my posts.  That they like to know what I am up to.  That I inspire them with how happy I seem to be living my life.  That they tried out a recipe I suggested.  I figured my sisters would read, I thought my parents might.  Maybe I should have expected my aunts and cousins would be my readers too, but I didn’t.  But even more shocking than my family was how many total strangers from all over the world started reading and commenting, creating a dialog with me.

I felt like I was actually making a (perhaps small) positive difference in other people’s lives, which to me is the height of success or accomplishment.   I already knew that the blogs I was reading were a positive influence on my life.  But, giving is even better than receiving.

That said, I have gotten SO much from my blog-friends (yes, that is what I call you).  I’ve learned about exotic fruits and vegetables that I’d never even heard of and of places where snorkeling and raging tropical storms are regular occurrences.  I’ve learned about making your own household products from beer to calendulla balm to vanilla extract to laundry soap.  I’ve learned that Coinstar machines generally have a few coins left behind in the tray, and it’s worth checking if you happen to pass by one.  I’ve learned about all sorts of things that are fascinating, but that I’ve no interest in personally, like making cheese and how to successfully make and utilize cloth diapers for babies.  I’ve learned about foreign cultures—foods, holidays, houses, traditions, hobbies.  I get a real kick out of the difference between UK and US English.  I couldn’t begin to count all the things my blog-friends have taught me. 
So, where is all this going?  Mostly I just wanted to express my gratitude I suppose.  I am so thankful for finding all of you and so thankful to those of you who have found me.  The sense of community I've found through blogging was beyond the scope of what I could have hoped for when I published my first post.

And I also wanted to offer a very specific thank you to the kind and gifted Pen from Kindred of the Quiet Way for the parcel, coming from all the way across the Atlantic, which waiting on my doorstep when I returned from the library yesterday.    The apron fits perfect and I am so thrilled to use it.   And the autographed books were an absolutely delightful surprise and am sure I'll enjoy them greatly, as I did In Celebration of Simplicity.  And then there was the handwritten note.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t receive many of those.  That note was so sweet, just a simple little snapshot of another simple, extraordinary life.  And I felt so very blessed.   Thanks, Pen.  It made my day.