Monday, May 27, 2013

the perfect bean for me

Tipper at Blind Pig and the Acorn recently invited me to participate in a Sow True Seeds bean planting project.  It simply involves planting some lovely organic heirloom beans in my garden, taking some pictures and reporting back.

By the way, I use the expression "my garden" loosely. Very loosely.  I live in a woodsy spot, and although the goats have been working very hard in recent years to create a clearing, I still spend a lot of time in April and May squinting up, looking for little gaps in the canopy that may allow enough light through to support vegetable plants.

Then I dig a little hole between the rocks, making a spot for for a few seeds and plants.  I try to do this without breaking another shovel handle.

So, it's a little spot here, and a little spot there. And everywhere there are countless insects and critters just rubbing their little feet and paws together in anticipation every time they see me out there with a shovel, a water jug, and a look of optimistic determination.

Naturally (because of that optimistic thing), when Tipper kindly invited me to join in on the bean project, I was delighted!

And Tipper found just exactly the right beans for me:

I opened the package at the letterbox, and started laughing while standing right there on the road.

I am still laughing!

My standards for seed have expanded. Now it's not just "organic" I want to see on the seed's organic and lazy!

And now that the sun is shining at last, I will be puttering away in my patch.  It was 34F when I got up this morning, but I hope for better things from now on.

Fingers crossed.

Except when I'm swatting at the clouds of blackflies.  Can't do that with crossed fingers.  It makes the blackflies laugh while they are biting me.

And here are a few of my first lazy beans, having a soak before planting, to give them a little headstart.

Because the way I garden, seeds and plants need every little bit of an advantage they can possibly get.  Good luck, little beans!

By the way, in case you aren't familiar with "greasy beans" - the name refers to the way the bean pods look shiny, due to a lack of the fuzz typical of other green beans. Here is a fuzzy bean:

And  one day I hope to have a greasy bean comparison shot!

There are apparently many, many, many varieties of greasy beans from the Appalachian region and thereabouts, where families have grown their own special favorites year after year.
For generations.
Sometimes, for hundreds of years.
If you google "greasy beans" it will be a fun adventure!

What are your favorite green beans?
Have you ever grown greasy beans?
If so, can you please send some bean-growing good thoughts my way?
My beans and I thank you!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Rain, Day 4

Welcome to my saturated world.
Since Tuesday night, it has been raining off and on.  
Mostly "on."

During a brief lull this morning, I grabbed my camera and hurried outside to take a few snaps to share with you.

I hope you like the color "wet."


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A dark and stormy random drawing

A still-saturated world on a morning walk

At midnight I was awoken by a massive rainstorm, with thunder that just went on and on and on.  It seemed unlikely that sleep would be returning anytime soon, so I fluffed up the pillows, downloaded a couple of free audiobooks from my regional library, and enjoyed some P.G. Wodehouse while the storm provided background drama.

Oh, and while the books were downloading I did one other thing: I went through the comments on the May Giveaway post, deleted any accidental duplicates, and tallied up 57 entries.

Fifty-seven readers who like colorful sock yarn...I am delighted!

I used the generator to turn the numbers 1 through 57 into a random sequence.  The top number was 43, so I counted down the comment list to the 43rd.

The winner is:  Nicole!

Nicole wrote: I would love to win! I am not a sock knitter, so I would make some awesome, colourful hexipuffs out of it :)

That sounds entirely awesome, and I will be looking forward to seeing your results, Nicole.  Please send a picture?  :)

(And who knows...if you aren't happy with the patterning on the hexis, this yarn may inspire you to join the legions of addicted sock knitters.  Mwah hah hah....)

Thank you, one and all who entered.  It was hard not to reply, but I thought having just your comments under that post would make it simpler to count them and do the drawing. And it did.  But I loved your comments, especially the ones that made me laugh, and the one from LindaVK on rav who liked the Postcard from the Paddock post enough to email it to other people...thank you, Linda! That comment really made my day!


Saturday, May 18, 2013

ya gotta break some eggs

Really must pull myself together here...I promise you babygoat naming and a kitchen tip, then - surprise!! - I give you astronauts and the International Space Station.

Catching up on earthly matters now!

First, please join me in the kitchen, for a recipe and a tip.

Have you ever heard the bizarrely obvious expression, "Ya gotta break some eggs if you want to make mayonnaise"?  Well, I have been making my own mayonnaise (after breaking the necessary eggs) for several months now.  Homemade mayonnaise is easy, quick, and delicious.  Bonus: the extremely simple recipe has room for flexibility and experimentation (= fun!).  As long as I have a blender and a few simple ingredients on hand, I may never go back to storebought.  If my blender breaks, I'll try using a whisk...that's how good this is.

Mayonnaise typically contains raw eggs, which I understand may not sit well with everyone.  I believe there are also "cooked" mayo recipes, so if you have experience with that method, please feel free to share in the comments.

Meanwhile, here's how I do it.

First, blend thoroughly:

2 eggs, largish
1 tsp mustard (dry)
1 tsp salt
4 Tablespoons vinegar (I've been using apple cider vinegar)

Then, with blender still running, slowly drizzle in:

1.5 c vegetable oil

The whole process takes maybe a couple of minutes.  I love it when the mayonnaise suddenly emulsifies like blender goes zzzzzzzzzz, zzz,zzz,zzz,z...z...z...and it's done.

I have been experimenting with mixtures of oils (such as half safflower, half sesame; half olive, half sesame, etc.) and also various types of salt.  So far, each batch has been different and each has been good!

When I used olive oil, the consistency remained a bit thinner (there was no z...z...z), but instead of tinkering with it, I decided it would be a fine component for a salad dressing if I didn't use it for sandwiches (which I did).  I wonder if olive oil made the difference?  It could also be the variable size of the eggs from my hens.  Will experiment further!
And here is the related "tip" - it's about breaking eggs, and it's something I heard in a recent podcast from David Leite, author of The New Portuguese Table.

I stumbled across David's blog several years ago, whilst spending hours googling in an attempt to figure out why my caldo verde (literally, "green soup") never seemed to taste quite the same as the caldo verde I ate nearly every day in Portugal.*

But no soupy sidetracking (or soupy twist!) here; back to eggs.  You probably already know that an easy way to remove eggshell fragments from a bowl of eggs is by using one of the shell halves as a scoop, right?  Just like an easy way to separate egg whites and yolks is by pouring the egg back and forth between halves of the eggshell, retaining the yolk as the white slips into a waiting bowl.  That thin, sharp edge of shell really does the trick.

But this new (to me, anyway) method of cracking eggs helps prevent eggshell fragments from the get-go.

Ready?  Here it is:

instead of cracking an egg against the edge of a bowl,
try cracking the side of the egg against a flat surface.

I know! 
Totally non-intuitive, right?
Sounds like a guaranteed way to make a horrible mess!

Well, I've been doing this for weeks now, and not only have I not made a mess, but I haven't had to scoop out a single shell fragment.

Hold the egg like this, and tap the side firmly against a flat surface.  I've tried using the kitchen counter, a flat plate, and the bottom of Piper's dish.
Guess which one was Piper's favorite.

The graphically-implausible result: instead of cracking roughly along a line (blue), the egg cracks in a sort of crater (yellow). I don't know why this works to prevent fragments. It may be physics. Or it may be magic. Like the mayonnaise.
If you decide to give this egg-cracking method a go, please let me know how it works for you.  I'm not sure if there if will be a difference in storebought and homegrown eggs, but maybe together we can gather some information.

Last but by no means least:
the two baby goats now have official names!

I like to choose names based on what is growing, budding, or blooming when the kids are born.  Violet's baby seemed to be born with her name, but it took a while to determine just the right name for Lily's baby.  Now they are both answering (well, sort of) to their names, so it's time to (re)introduce them to the blog.

With just a little bit of fanfare then...

tatata DA taDAHHHHH!!!


here with her mama, Violet

and Tsuga (with her mama, Lily of the Valley) 

Who is holding who in place? Hard to say. I think it's mutual.
Speaking of the kids, I know there has been a shortage of pictures lately.
I'm sorry.  It is not for lack of trying!

Remember when it was easy to get a fairly nice image?

Look!  It's a baby goat being still!!
It is much harder to get nice images of the kids at the moment, because now if I stand in the paddock they consider it an open invitation to climb up my legs, and if I am anywhere near their level, sitting on a rock for instance, they either climb up my back or leap without warning into my lap or even onto my shoulders.  Sambucus will sometimes sit quietly for a minute or so, but Tsuga is simply explosive.

A few days ago, in a last-ditch effort to get her in focus, I tried holding her on my lap with one hand while I held the camera in the other hand.  Rookie mistake!!  Tsuga sat still for a couple of shots, happily chewing on my scarf.  Two seconds after this picture was taken, she suddenly threw her head back and caught me right across the throat with her little rock-hard skull.  Before I could move, she flung her head the other way and got me full on the mouth.  Why?  She was trying to see what was behind her.  Because it might have been something interesting.  Tell you's really, really hard to get a good picture of the kids at the moment!

*  I never asked David about the soup (I think I may have been a bit shy about commenting on blogs in those days) but after extensive experimentation I have since come to believe the reason my caldo verde doesn't taste the same as the caldo verde I ate in the Ribatejo is because I am eating it in Massachusetts.  Further research is clearly in order.

P.S.  Still a couple of days left to enter the May Giveaway! Good luck :)

Monday, May 13, 2013

space and time

This is what my laptop screen has looked like lately:

    Like hundreds of thousands of people, I've been following International Space Station Commander Chris Hadfield for months, as he has posted image after unbelievable image on Twitter: @Cmdr_Hadfield

    On Saturday, I watched NASA's realtime video stream of Flight Engineers Tom Marshburn and Chris Cassidy making repairs outside the International Space Station.  The spacewalk lasted over five hours, through multiple day/night sequences.

    I found it absolutely riveting.

    And speaking of rivets, I may never again use my power drill to drive screws without picturing - if just for a moment - those giant white astronaut gloves using a similar tool for a similar task.

    I have reason to believe this will make my tasks seem much simpler.
    The livefeed from the NASA website is the center window on my screenshot above.  When it is not showing the interior of the spacecraft (or the sudden solid bluescreen which makes me go "Oh nooooo!" every time it appears) it is the view from the space station.  I have been following that view in tandem with the live map of the ISS location (upper left window on the screenshot).  

    It has been breathtakingly wonderful to watch (amazing!) Here from (magical!) There from (comfortable!) Here.  Last night I was watching, mesmerized, as the blue and white of sea and clouds moved smoothly past beneath the ISS.  Suddenly I recognized the Red Sea! and central Saudi Arabia! and the edge of the Persian Gulf!  Then the NASA screen went solid blue again...oh nooooo! 

    Yesterday there was a Change of Command ceremony, in which Commander Hadfield handed over the keys (I'm paraphrasing) to Commander Pavel Vinogradov.  As Commander Hadfield repeatedly gestured with both hands, each time leaving his wireless microphone floating in place, I had to wonder:

    how many things will he drop on his first days back on Earth?*

    Because today, Chris Hadfield is one of three ISS astronauts preparing for their return to Earth.  After 146 days in orbit, Hadfield, Marshburn, and Flight Engineer Roman Romanenko will be boarding the Soyuz module and waving farewell to the crew on the ISS.  The return trip in the Soyuz, from departing the ISS to landing in Kazakhstan, is expected to take less than three and a half hours.

    Can you imagine?

    When was the last time ANY air travel took you only 3.5 hours?

    I expect to be staying close to my laptop til late tonight.  I don't know how much NASA will stream live, but my fingers are crossed.  There is nothing quite like this real-time visual stuff.  I won't say "riveting" again, but, well.
    (It is.)

    Anyone else following the International Space Station?
    *If he keeps tweeting from Earth, maybe I'll find out.

    Friday, May 10, 2013

    May Giveaway!

    In just a few days it will be 4 months since my first blog post, and I'm having a lot of fun so far!  I enjoy reading every comment, in fact I'm tickled to bits when you find my posts and pictures interesting enough (or silly enough) to comment about!  Thank you so very much. 

    Since January, readers have visited from places that stir my imagination: from Brazil and Romania, from Australia and Pakistan, from Portugal, South Africa, Ireland, Russia, from all over the UK...the list goes on and on.

    Places I have visited in years past, and places I would love to visit.

    Places I've learned at least a little bit more about, thanks to readers' comments, and their blogs.  It makes the world seem smaller.  And friendlier.

    This morning I noticed that there have been 6,897 separate "pageviews" here, which simply staggers me.  Thank you for sharing my tiny bit of this smaller, friendlier world!

    So, what do you think? Time for a celebratory giveaway???

    I'm thinking yarn...

    First idea: a skein of the yarn so many people commented on back in January.  The yarn that turned into these socks, which you've probably forgotten:

    I know, anything so bland and dull is easy to forget, right?

    Off I go!  To market, to market...

    Oh dear.  This jolly yarn, it turns out, is no longer available!  This particular Opal is discontinued.  Out of print, so to speak.


    I'll have to think of something else for the giveaway.
    How about we give away those 'adorable' baby goats?   I am SO sick of everyone making a fuss over those little paddock-rats.

    Oh, erm...did I say that out loud?  No, wait - I'm a dog!
    Whew. That was close!
    Oh, no, Piper, I can hear your thoughts on the baby goats loud and clear, every day.  And those adorable little goats are staying right where they are.  Here, have another chewy beef treat.
    And maybe one more.
    Good dog.

    But in other news, whilst going through one of my big plastic storage boxes of yarn...look what I discovered!

    Gosh, i
    t actually DOES look bland and dull in that picture, doesn't it?  Let's take it outside in the natural light.

    THAT'S more like it!

    Now, as you can see, the ballband has been removed and a few yards of the yarn were unwound and then rewound loosely around the skein before being stored in this ziplock bag.  The unwound yarn suggested that some of the yarn had been used, and my initial excitement at finding the Actual Yarn of my Giveaway Dreams turned to disappointment.


    I couldn't remember ever knitting with any yarn from this skein.  I think after making the first pair of socks, I may have unravelled a bit of this second skein to try to figure out if it would be possible to duplicate this kind of self-patterning yarn as one of my dyeing projects.  (The answer, as you may have guessed from a closer look at this yarn, is NOT VERY LIKELY!)

    So, could it be a complete skein, suitable for giveawaying?  Could it?  Just to be on the safe side, I weighed the yarn.  It came it at just a whisper over 100 grams, so it seems safe to call this a complete skein.


    One skein.

    Enough for a pair of these:

    These adult woman-sized socks are knitted quite high - easily midcalf.  And even with the few yards sacrificed in order to start the second sock at the same point in the yarn pattern as the first (to make them so matchy-matchy), there was plenty of yarn in one skein: 465 yards per 100-gram skein.  That's what I call a generous skein of sock yarn!  Thank you, Zwerger Garn!!

    Opal Zirkus/Circus
    by Zwerger Garn
    Fingering / 4 ply
    75% Superwash Wool, 25% Nylon
    465 yards / 100 grams
    Colorway #2005
    If you would like to win this skein and knit a nifty pair of socks that will enchant your friends - oh, go on, you know you want to! - just leave a comment on this post.

    Easiest socks ever. The yarn is doing all the work! could make multiple pairs of darling little child-sized socks!  Or some other project entirely - a hat?  a cowl?  the pockets and trim on a grey sweater?  Oh, I can't wait to see what the winner will decide to do with this yarn!

    Nuts and bolts: 

    • Leave a comment, right here, do!
    • Make sure I will know how to reach you if you win.
    • Enter by midnight (EST), Tuesday 21 May.
    • Drawing will be done after morning chores (aw, those adorable goats!) on Wednesday the 22nd.
    • I will post the winner's name here, so please check back, just in case an email or Ravelry PM or whatever is delayed through the mysterious workings of the internet!
    • If for some reason I don't hear back within 48 hours of posting the winner's name here, I will draw another name.

    Three bits of good news:

    1. This giveaway is open to everyone, everywhere!  
    2. You are very welcome to share the giveaway or link to this post or whatever you like, but you don't have to follow this blog or tweet the giveaway or pin it on Pinterest or like it on FB or anything.  (I like simple, don't you?)
    3. I will happily mail the yarn to the winner at any address on the planet.

    Good luck!

    Tuesday, May 7, 2013

    fresh greens

    Fresh greens, and lots of them!

    I've been going out in the early morning, after chores, to photograph the greens.

    Don't you love watching the new growth on trees?
    The buds and flowers and foliage?

    The initial fragility of the leaves and needles that will be relied upon to support the tree never fails to amaze me.

    Every year, it amazes me.

    Here in New England, there are shapes, colors and textures that appear for only a very short time each year - weeks, or even days.

    Would you like to see some?

    I winnowed down from about 80 images, because you may have other things to do besides looking at pictures of leaves.
    And needles.

    But do you have time for just seven?

    White Birch (Betula papyrifera)

    Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea)

    North American Beech (Fagus grandifolia)

    White Ash (Fraxinus americana)

     Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)

    Black birch (Betula nigra)

     Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)
    Ahhhhhh.  Isn't that a breath of cool morning air, after chores?

    Coming soon: 
    goat updates (and names to be chosen!)
    a handy (yet unlikely) kitchen tip
    and a special yarny giveaway!

    Friday, May 3, 2013


    It wasn't exactly a "New Year's Resolution," but this year I have been making an effort to have a few fresh flowers in the house at all times.

    An occasional trip to the local florist shop has provided colorful carnations and aromatic hyacinths:

    But now the flowers are homegrown.

    And glorious!

    For many years I did not like to cut flowers, especially as the survival rate for my plantings is very low.  (It's a combination of poor soils, low light, and my not-green-at-all thumb.)

    Then I realized something.  The hardy survivors, these scattered clumps of healthy, flowering plants are usually seen - at most - once daily.

    In fact, there have been years when the short-lived blooms had already come and gone before I thought to look for them!


    But this Spring, when I cut flowers and bring them into the house, they are seen and truly appreciated.

    Dozens of times.

    Every day.

    Seems like a good idea!
    I wonder how many of my other routines could do with a re-think.


    How about you?  Are there any routine things you have begun to do in a different way, and found it to be a wonderful improvement?  I'd love to hear about it!