Wednesday, May 30, 2007

If it weren't for the ants...

I've always hated peonies. Their name bothered me (I teach high school, any word that sounds that close to a part of the reproductive system just won't work), they were overly showy, but mostly they disgusted me because they were always covered in ants. Who in the heck wants to plant flowers that get swarmed by ants? It all seemed very odd to me and so, like mums, peonies went into the category of Plants I Can't Stand (perhaps on some appropriate fall day I'll post about my dislike for mums.)

The first year that Andrew and I lived in our house, we enjoyed watching what popped up in our garden that first Spring. A few owners ago, the house was inhabited by a woman who was a member of the horticulture society and was very fond of white. We have a white azalea (pointless, if you ask me, considering all of the amazing colors that azaleas come in,) a white bush which we almost yanked out to expand the vegetable garden until we saw a minute version of it selling in the local garden center for $150, and (of course) white peonies. I was pretty bummed when I recognized the familiar ball shaped peony heads that first Spring. Stupid peonies, I thought. Stupid ants. It wasn't until I researched ways to get rid of the ants that I learned that there is a wonderful, important relationship going on between the ant and the peony.

The peony, you see, is covered in a wax that prevents the flower from opening. The ants eat the wax and allow the peony to open. I am such a dork, that knowing that this was a mutualistic relationship going on my yard (it doesn't take much to get a biology teacher going, I guess) ended my distaste for the flowers.

It is important to remember that insects are good and necessary. It is hard to remember this when they are crawling inside the house, are found in large numbers anywhere, or could potentially sting. But still, in some way, they are important. As long as I just keep telling myself this basic fact, peonies will always have a place in my nerdy heart.

Oh, and I guess on second glance that bloom is kinda pretty after all.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Nothin' says "Memorial Day" like...

...stuffed artichokes? Well, in our house it apparently does. I'm daring to go where few bloggers have gone before shots!...but I feel it's only appropriate on a day off when we finally have time to cook real food. I'm still working on perfecting stuffed artichokes so that they taste like my dad used to make (of course, we dipped every leaf in butter then, so maybe that's the secret), but I must say that any food preparation that ends up more like a craft (stuffing each and every individual leaf just "so") is fine by me. Andrew prepped his own artichoke and when he got to the stuffing part and made nothing more than a holy mess, I and my faithful companion, Mr. OCD, took over. I basically made a modified recipe of the Tuscan stuffed artichokes from Joy, but used fresh leftover bread and my first parsley harvest from the garden.
For dessert we poached some pears with orange juice, cinnamon, clove, cardamom (which rocks my WORLD) and maybe a little booze and although this photo looks like a tad slimy, trust me when I say that it was good. Like, I'm leaning WAY back in the office chair right now to give my belly plenty of room, good.
As with any holiday weekend, I got way less done than I had intended. I still have a mountain of grading to do and am stressing about writing exams, I STILL haven't gone to American Apparel to pick up tshirts to print for my latest gocco project (hint: it has to do with food and how I can't handle any meat unless it's grass-fed because of this book), I still haven't started the prep work for my embroidery project for Sophie. But I did finally get rid of the cat pee smell in the bedroom from when the cats peed on a corner of the rug. When all else fails, rip the freaking rug up. Luckily we have pretty hardwood underneath, so it wasn't too traumatic (my first house: miles of snot-colored shag rug with about 45 years of dust and dead skin cells that made me nutso to pull out) AND a new project emerged: painting the floor with some crazy design. I'm poking around on the web right now for inspiration and so far have found this and this. And this mosaic site which has nothing to do with painting floors but I WANT this in my house somewhere. And thus, I will continue on in my quest to make us the most cursed previous owners ever when whoever buys this house from us has to reverse all of the wacky things we've done:)

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Au naturale

We are SO lucky this year to have a robin nesting in our boxwood. It's a crazy location for a nest, since it's located right on the path that runs along the side of our house to the shade garden. I'm constantly lugging the hose and garden equipment back and forth to the front of the house and now that it's warmer, we're definitely outside more. But Andrew noticed this nest a few weeks ago, and I've been watching the mother tend to it every day. It's just not tall enough for me to peer into from the ground, and so I waited until the mother flew away and quickly got out a ladder and snapped this photo. I have to say that I knew it was a robin's nest and so I knew the eggs would be a beautiful blue, but that still didn't stop me from having my breath taken away when I first got a look at these beautiful eggs. They are so perfect. I think I might be a little gaga over them because robin's egg blue is the color I happen to be into right now (we're currently putting up swatches of the color on our living room wall) but still, for such an everyday, run-of-the-mill bird, those are some sweet lookin' eggs (I'm also into the soundtrack of Urinetown right now and think I just swiped one of the lines: "You've got a sweet-lookin' head, Bobby Strong!") And here was my color creation today. I'm planning on making an embroidery project using some of the Stitchettes from Wee Wonderfuls for Sophie's moving away present. I ordered a white and beige linen, and only the white came. So I tea-stained half of it today. It's a subtle color (the original fabric is towards the rear of the photo) but each strand of the fabric picked up the color differently so when you look close up, it has a nice, rustic feel to it. I remember in 4th grade using natural dyes (beets, red cabbage) and loving the process: there is something very rewarding about using a plant to create color. Well without planning it, I guess that's the theme of today's blog: the colors of Nature. Now if I could only use those eggshells for a project once those robins are done with them...

Monday, May 21, 2007

I. Made. This.

Somewhere along the line, my Dad (that's right: Dad!) showed me the basics of a sewing machine and everything I've made is a result of just messing around and learning from mistakes. I have my great-aunt's Singer from 1917 (with the original store receipt!) and love the sound it makes when I'm sewing away. What I DON'T love is that it doesn't sew in reverse. About a year ago I made my first bona-fide outfit...this dress from Betsy Ross. Once I got to the zipper, my trusty Singer failed me...zippers had only just recently been invented and, alas, the zipper foot was not an attachment that came with my machine (and my great aunt purchased EVERY attachment that was available). Enter: my Singer from this century (weird that I can say that, huh?) WITH zipper foot:) Anyway, this is the first piece I've built from a no-frills, if-you-don't-understand-the-directions-why-are-you-even-sewing pattern. And what I thought was going to be impossible to decode was actually not too hard. I got a little stuck with some of the directions around the sleeves but after many re-reads, I managed to figure it out. I learned that pin tucks are way easier for me to manage when created by hand and pinned in place and that the world does not end when you actually cut the pattern pieces out of the tissue paper (that was a stupid hump that took me a while to get over with this multi-size pattern invention.) And I also made the mature decision to actually pay attention to the grain when cutting, because that must be what grown-up sewers do.

So here you have it, a cute top that will be re-made in multiple fabrics, I can assure you. I don't know if you can see it in the picture, but the sleeves and hem are tipped with this wonderful vintage lavender bias tape (bias tape = God's gift to those who sew, I believe) which I got when I bought an old stuffed-to-the-brim sewing basket at a yard sale last year. The fabric is from Reprodepot, I'm sure...but I bought it a long time ago and it's no longer there. It reminds me of those light sensitive photo papers that we used to play with in Lower School. This is the pattern I used and it's got lots of options for sleeves and necklines and all so I'll be kept busy. The only change I made was that I sewed the body pieces together to make a slight a-line (and the bias tape was my addition.)

I have been away from my blog for a while because I dropped my camera. Um, don't ever drop your camera. It took me a long time to switch from 35mm to digital and I only did because Andrew finally bought me a very nice digital camera that looks (and even sounds) like a "real" camera. When we went to the store to have it looked at, they tried to convince me to buy one of those little box digital cameras for the same amount that it would cost to fix mine. I never realized how I love to cradle my camera, or how perfectly it fits in my hand when I'm shooting until being faced with the decision to not fix it. I guess I felt that about my 35mm but all the bells and whistles on the digital camera made it easy to forget quickly when I made the transition. Well, anyway, I have a loaner right now that is big and clunky and sucks down battery juice and I'm just not inspired to photograph as much. That, and my usual indoor photo spot is no longer good - the big maple in our backyard has filled in with leaves so very little light comes into that room anymore. Sob, sob. I'll try to be better about taking some shots with the clunker so that I can keep this blog rolling:)

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Growin' 'shrooms

We did it! After months and months (and months...) of caring our mushroom logs, we were rewarded with this beautiful shitaake. This is the ONLY mushroom we got, but if you had any idea what we went through to get it to grow, you'd understand why we will be opening a good bottle of wine when we cook this bad boy up.

About a year ago we (OK...I...this was my crazy idea) purchased two logs inoculated with shitaake spores. To care for these logs, they need to have a certain humidity level. To water them, you must use non-chlorinated spring water. For the past year, we have been purchasing spring water, not for our consumption, but for the enjoyment of our logs. Every two weeks we soaked the suckers in water, every day we spritzed them. Every once in a while we "shocked" them by soaking them overnight in ice water (of course, I put all of the ice in little baggies to ensure that no chlorinated water touched the precious logs.) We followed the directions pretty carefully, and shocking is supposed to incite the spores to grow into mushrooms. Once we got one little nub that we thought looked promising, but after a few days, it turned black and shrivelled to nothing. In short, we were crappy mushroom growers. As the weather started getting warmer, we threw them outside and continued to water them (did I mention that I have also been collecting RAIN WATER for these guys??) In early Spring, we had a freak cold snap, with snow and everything: that did it. The logs froze over, we ignored them, and thank goodness Andrew noticed the mushroom growing one day because otherwise we probably would have completely missed it.

They say that mushrooms grown on logs tasted a million times better than those grown on poo (which is what you get when you buy them in the store.) When our logs arrived, they had a bunch of mushrooms on them and Andrew and I can attest to the fact that this is indeed the case. We stir fried them up in their own juices and they were so buttery that I was convinced Andrew had cooked them in butter. These were the BEST mushrooms we had ever tasted. It's a good thing that the logs came with those mushrooms, because they would have been in the trash LONG ago had we not known how wonderful the fruits of our labor could be. So it's really true - mushrooms grown on logs are better than those grown on poo, and soon we'll be tasting one more of them.

made. by k.d.