Monday, June 28, 2010


I haven't been sitting inside much lately. The long-neglected yard has been beckoning, and then you know how it is: one project leads to another, and another, and another.

This morning, though, is already pushing toward 100 degrees so pulling the shades down and trying not to move seems like a good idea. Plus, my twitter buddy Kyong tagged me with this little questionnaire. I am so new at blogging that this feels like having a neighbor come by with a casserole. 

Thank you, Kyong! Here are my answers:

1. What's your staple meal (i.e., what meal do you cook most often when you can't be bothered to be adventurous)?
We eat a lot more pasta than I'd like to admit--typically pasta, olive oil and grated parmesan cheese, with steamed broccoli on the side. It's fast and mindless, and we all like it.

2. What do you want to be when you grow up?
My unschooling self is fine with the idea of continuous development, and my strong Myers-Briggs "P" aspect balks at having to be pinned down. But truth be told, I feel pretty grown up already and happy with where I am: home-centered with the kids.

3. What book are you reading at the moment (if any)?
I'm reading Shakespeare by Another Name by Mark Anderson. It explores the premise that the works attributed to Shakespeare were in fact written by Edward deVere, the Earl of Oxford during Elizabeth I's reign. This is an old idea, first proposed by Thomas J. Looney in 1920, and Anderson makes a thorough and compelling case. It's a great read.

4. How do you relax?
When I'm at home, I'm constantly looking at things that need to be done. I relax best going out somewhere--a friend's house, a restaurant, the park, a beach.

5. What color are the interior walls of your home?
We have had many colors in here, but as of last summer, the walls are mostly various shades of green.

6. What is your guiltiest pleasure?
I was going to say that I don't think 'guilty' and 'pleasure' belong side by side, but in fact, I always feel a little guilty enjoying myself without at least some of the family around. I also feel guilty if I play Kwazi's Quest for too long!

7. What time is bedtime and getting up time?
That would be midnight and 7 am, almost every day of the week.

8. How long do you spend reading blogs (per day or per week)?
I go through periods of heavy blog reading and others, such as lately, where I read almost nothing at all. If a blog has an email subscription option, I will always take that over having to subscribe via a reader since I do check email at least daily.

Now it seems I am supposed to tag others. I wanted to tag the 12 kind followers of this blog, but I haven't been able to figure out how to get to them. Is it because I'm using Draft? I can't seem to click through to anyone.

So if you are reading this blog and have any inclination at all, I would love to see your answers to these questions--or to any others that may appeal to you (Myers-Briggs P). Please let me know if you do.

And stay cool.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

calendula on father's day

This is my dad's hoe. He always called it a "chankoh," but I can find no references to such a tool online. He told me it was something they used when he was growing up in Singapore.

Dad loved to garden, so when he died unexpectedly in the spring of 2008, we gave out seed packets at his service. It was a hard year for all of us, but the kids and I did manage to empty a few packets into some dirt. Sometimes we remembered to water.

Fortunately, one of the seed packets contained calendula. When the kids were small, I kept calendula spray in the fridge for cuts and scrapes. It is reputed to have antiseptic properties, and it doesn't sting. Calendula, it also turns out, is a determined flower; growing is what-it-does.

Here is calendula in March:

And in April:

Last week the petals had dropped off, so I pulled the plants.

A close-up of the seed heads:

And finally, after a few sessions of clipping and sifting...

...we can start all over again.Yes, these flowers and seeds are descendants of the original seed packet handed out at Dad's memorial service over two years ago. The calendula plants have lived with us all this time.

With any luck, we will always have them.

Friday, June 18, 2010

more about blackberries

Yesterday S and I went out to pick in our rapidly dwindling patch only to find many berries drying up on the plant. Negligent watering and forgetful pickers, I suppose.

He was disappointed that we didn't have enough berries to make another pie, so when friends called to say they were going to pick marionberries at an organic farm nearby, we drove over and joined them.

Picking on a well-tended farm with rows and staked canes is a different experience from rooting around the thorny prickles of a wild-growing bramble, but a few things remain constant:
  1. You need a bucket with a solid bottom. Paper leaks, and plastic bags send the berries to the bottom in a mush. A hat is also a good idea, and if you are wild harvesting (or in our backyard), a single thornproof glove to push prickly canes out of the way is also useful.
  2. Walk and pick in one direction, then turn around and walk the opposite way. A surprising number of berries are more visible from a slightly different angle.
  3. Berries which grow in the shade are the best. In direct sunlight, they can dry out quickly. It's worth lifting canes (see #1, above) to find hidden berries underneath.
  4. Picking to eating ratio is approximately 3:1. Unless you are a certain unnamed child, in which case the ratio is reversed. (If you're paying to pick, it's good to remember this when you take out your wallet.)
  5. If the same unnamed child is colorblind, you'll get as many unripe berries as ripe ones. It may help to remember that the berries ripen from inside the triad out; that the calyx, or little cap on top, is going to look lighter when ripe; and that really ripe berries won't need to be tugged at very hard.
  6. Berries last only a few days in the refrigerator, and do best spread thinly--otherwise, they start to juice themselves from the weight. You can also freeze them in a single layer, then move them to a freezer bag for easier storage.
  7. And it turns out you can also use those dried-out berries. Last night I picked everything that was overripe, threw the dried ones into the blender, and cooked everything together with water and sugar to make a blackberry syrup (strained after cooling). I suppose it could be used for pancakes or ice cream, but this is what we'll be doing with it on hot summer days:

A Most Refreshing Blackberry Soda

Pour a little blackberry syrup in the bottom of the glass.
Add juice from a wedge of lemon and stir together.
Add ice.
Fill to the top with soda water.

If you're anything like me, you will already have thought about muddling some mint leaves in with the syrup, substituting lime for lemon, adding a splash of rum, and calling it a blackberry mojito. Cheers.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

berries from the yard

Let's put it this way: no garden society is ever going to ask us to be on their tour. We don't even have a real garden, really; we have a yard. A tumbledown yard with leaning fences, old pallets, piles of broken concrete, weeds, and brambles.
 But at this time of year, the brambles sport olallieberries.
The center berry always ripens first. I wonder why that is.
"Quickberry! Quackberry! Pick me a blackberry!"1 When the cap loses its green color, the berry is ripe and will practically drop into your hand.
And in half an hour, we can fill a colander.
Pie is just a double crust filled with a mixture of berries, sugar and a little flour to thicken. My older son and I love blackberry pie above all others.
But my go-to berry dessert is this cobbler shortcake from the back pages of Sunset Magazine, June 2000, and credited to Patricia Yee of Concord, California.
Below is an exact transcription, but I'll add that it's an incredibly forgiving and flexible recipe. When I don't have buttermilk, I'll substitute plain yogurt. When I don't have lemon zest, I'll use only orange, and vice versa. I've also left out the zest completely and forgotten or reduced the sugar. Since we keep hens and have odd-sized eggs, I often throw in an extra one for good measure. The cake always comes out fine.

And though it would churn up easily in a food processor, I think what I like best about this recipe is that it goes just as quickly mixed by hand in a couple of bowls. At the end of a long summer day, there is something peaceful and relaxing about making a simple dessert by hand.

Berry Cobbler Shortcake
prep and cook time: about 1 hour

2 cups all-purpose flour
about 1-1/3 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1 teaspoon grated orange peel
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
about 3/4 cup butter, cut into chunks
2 large eggs
2/3 cup buttermilk
2 quarts berries, rinsed and drained (use one kind or mix several), such as blueberries, boysenberries, loganberries, olallieberries, raspberries, or hulled strawberries
1 cup whipping cream

  1. In a bowl, combine flour, 1 cup sugar, baking powder, lemon peel, orange peel, baking soda and salt. With a pastry blender or your fingers, cut or rub in 3/4 cup butter until coarse crumbs form.
  2. In another bowl, mix eggs and buttermilk to blend. Add to flour mixture; stir with a fork until evenly moistened. Spread batter in a buttered shallow 9-by-13-inch casserole.
  3. Slice strawberries, if using. In a bowl, mix berries with 1/4 cup sugar. Spoon 3 cups berries evenly over batter. If desired, sweeten remaining berries with more sugar to taste.
  4. Bake cobbler in a 350 degree oven until browned, 30 to 40 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, in a bowl with a mixer on high speed, whip cream until it holds soft peaks; sweeten with about 2 tablespoons sugar to taste.
  6. Cut warm or cool cobbler into 8 portions. With a wide spatula, transfer portions to plates. top equally with remaining berries and whipped cream.

When I was a kid, my friends and I sometimes picked blackberries roadside. They grow in the most difficult places: down steep creekbanks, over asphalt, around chainlink fences. They grow wild and sprawling without any need for tending. I suppose that's why they grow in our yard.

I love our yard.

1from one of our kids' favorite picture books, Jamberry, by Bruce Degen
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...