Saturday, June 28, 2008


Yesterday Jeremy skipped worked and we went strawberry picking. We went to Bauer Berry Farm about 30 minutes up north. We left at 6:30 in the morning so we could be at the farm right when the fields opened up. When we arrived there was already a line to get in! There were also a lot of people in the strawberry fields picking already.

We were directed to a row of strawberries and we began picking. The morning was cool and overcast so it was perfect for berry picking. Here I am trying to decide whether to eat the strawberry or put it in the tray.

In the end we had picked 40 pounds of strawberries!

We drove home with our precious cargo in the back seat. It was a wonderful ride home with the smell of so many strawberries wafting through the car. Jeremy went to work for the rest of the afternoon and I got to work hulling berries. I froze at least 20 pounds (probably more). The frozen berries will show up through the next year in smoothies, bread, breakfast cereal, and wherever else we can think to add strawberries!

After a long day of picking, cleaning, hulling, and freezing strawberries, what better treat than fresh pound cake, fresh whipped cream, and strawberries straight from the field?

But wait! That's not all! That's only half the berries accounted for. Saturday afternoon we washed and hulled more strawberries, mashed them up, and cooked them up for jam. Here I am stirring the pot.

After the jam has gone in the jars, Jeremy put them in the hot water bath. (Thanks to my mom for all the canning supplies!!)

Strawberry Jam!

We're not sure how these turned out yet - though they did all seal. We're going to open one tomorrow at breakfast and see if it jelled enough and if it tastes okay. If it worked and tastes good, we'll probably make another half dozen 1/2 pint jars tomorrow.

But we still have a TON of strawberries! Since picking them we've had them on salads, on pound cake, alone straight out of the fridge, and we've given away containers to family, friends, and co-workers. The fridge is still packed out with trays, pots, bowls, and various other containers heaped full of strawberries.

I'm sure I'll be freezing more strawberries before the weekend is over....

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Dear Ruth

Hi Ruth,

I’m making your bread again today. I just can’t believe how good this bread is – and it turns out so well every time! I’m so glad you shared the recipe.

I bought the Netarts Friends Church cookbook years ago and was so excited to see the recipe in there. I was intimidated though because the directions were so vague and unhelpful. Sorry – but they were. It’s what happens when you know how to make bread so well you don’t have to trouble with the details. You just needed the basics of how much of what ingredient. I needed the recipe to be spelled out in every minute detail! I got some advice from a friend and made the bread. It turned out well, of course, and was just the way I remembered it. That was probably six years ago now. I hadn’t made the bread since then.

I just moved to Minnesota a couple months ago and I’ve been unemployed. Nothing like unemployment to spur one on to fantastic tasks! I dug out a bread recipe and went for it. It was a disaster. I didn’t realize the yeast was “quick yeast” so I handled it wrong and killed it. The dough was cold and tough and didn’t rise so much as a millimeter in two hours. It was devastating. I rolled the dough out flat and made crackers out of it. Lots and lots of crackers. We still have some left. Then I got smart and pulled out your recipe. It worked perfectly again! In fact, I let the bread rise for too long the second time and my loaves ended up collapsing in the oven. I didn’t even know that was possible!

I make my loaves a bit bigger than you made yours. I still remember those Saturdays when I’d come over to help clean and dust and work in the garden. You always had a loaf or two of that bread around, though I never actually saw you baking it. I may have been young, but I knew you were cleaning up before I came over. That always made me laugh, and I didn’t mind. You would busy yourself with something and I’d start cleaning the bathroom, then move to dusting and vacuuming everywhere. Joe would usually be asleep on the couch. We joked a bit about his ‘after-breakfast nap, before-lunch nap, after-lunch nap,’ and so on. At lunchtime, Joe would join us in the kitchen. You sliced up beautiful thick pieces of this bread and laid out sandwich fixings. Wow those were great sandwiches. Then I’d get back to work and Joe would get back to napping.

I heard Joe passed away a couple years ago. I was amazed he made it so long. Maybe it was all those naps! More amazing is that he outlived you by so many years. I’m sorry I didn’t get to see either of you again after I moved away. I enjoyed our Saturdays together and I’m glad I have this wonderful bread recipe to remember you by.

I’ve got to get going now: the dough needs punching down!


Monday, June 23, 2008

I've been working on the...compost bin

Moving out here we were excited to pull out our kitchen scraps pail again. Seattle actually picks up yard waste, kitchen scraps, and compost year-round, but at our last apartment they chose not to use that service. It was painful throwing out food scraps for 6 months!

There are two store-bought, black plastic compost bins in the back yard here, but we quickly realized we wanted to do things a bit differently. We planned to build something like this, a three bin compost bin. This way we could keep rotating the compost and hopefully make dirt faster - in time to pile it on the garden in the fall after the crops are in and before it starts snowing! Then during the winter Jeremy is thinking about vermiculture: composting indoors with worms.

Years ago in Seattle, some fellow house-mates acquired a bunch of wooden pallets and constructed some compost bins out of them. It was quite the process but I still convinced Jeremy we could find some pallets and that would be the way to go.

We picked up some pallets several weeks ago and Jeremy was otherwise on the hunt for wood. One day he came home excited that he had spied some wood in a dumpster behind a store. Here he is climbing in to check out the situation:

We didn't end up salvaging that wood, but we had enough with the pallets at home.
Jeremy deconstructed some of them using a big hammer and enormous crowbar. It does sound like someone working on the railroad - which made the family upstairs offer to sing that song to us.

Jeremy designed what the bins would look like, and I helped with the manual labor. After taking apart several of the pallets, we had a few left to patch up:

Then we put them in place in our chosen spot in the backyard:

We tipped all the pallets onto their faces and nailed the back-side on:

Then we tipped the whole thing into place against the fence:

Isn't it beautiful!

Here's Jeremy constructing a bit of a cover for it. The front part of the bin can be removed one slat at a time to make it easier to turn the compost and to get it out when it has become dirt.

By the end of the day on Sunday, we had our beautiful three-bin compost system complete. It feels good being a "weekend warrior, do-it-yourselfer."

Saturday, June 21, 2008

How does your garden grow?

Ours is growing quite well at the moment. Here are a few updated photos you can compare with the first shots:

Two of our tomatoes and some bush beans:

Two kinds of kale, chard, and brussels sprouts:

More tomatoes, squashes, cilantro, mint, and some marigolds tucked in for good measure:

Dill, fennel, parsley, chives, and a lot of lettuce (hiding under the white shading):

Our first tomato!!

Scarlet runner beans:

Christmas lima beans and rattlesnake beans:

Something out there really likes our christmas lima beans and most have been chomped to the ground. But anything with a bit of green left is, miraculously, pushing on and trying to grow still!

Blue lake pole beans:

Our peas in front, including some more blue lake pole beans on the far side, some marigolds, and some basil which is still very tiny.

We have flowers!

And peas!!!

Friday, June 20, 2008


Yesterday afternoon we received our first delivery of our CSA. One of the farmers himself showed up in a van and carried up boxes and boxes of vegetables to put on our front porch.

For our first delivery we got several beautiful bunches of lettuce, a big bag of fresh spinach, chives, garlic spears, green onions, some herbs, and two tomato plants.

CSA, for those who don't know, stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and has been gaining some popularity over the years. Basically, we pay money directly to a farm and they deliver their produce directly to us. Actually, everyone involved in this CSA takes turns driving up to the farm, picking produce, packing boxes, and then bringing the boxes back to the drop-site. We are only one of the drop-sites in Minneapolis for the Philadelphia Farm and there are many other CSAs supported here (nearly 30 I think).

At Local Harvest you can look up a CSA near you.
CSA info from the government.
And a little more reading material about CSAs.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Weekend Report

Last weekend Jeremy and I left lovely spring/summer-time Minneapolis and headed back to a cold, early-spring feeling Seattle. Ironic, isn't it? Seattle actually got snow in mid-April and I hear the first week of June was one of the coldest on record. It's also been raining non-stop (which is more unusual than you may think).

But for some clouds on Friday and early Saturday, the weekend turned out to be glorious and all our friends thanked us for bringing the lovely Midwest weather with us.

We had a packed out schedule. Friday we arrived at Seatac a little after 3:00, caught a bus into town, and then transferred to another one which took us to the Madrona neighborhood. Our wonderful, wonderful friends A&D were letting us stay in their guest room and also borrow a car! We tossed our suitcases inside, said hello to the dog, and I quickly changed into a slightly nicer outfit. Then we raced off to the University District.

We met my brother around 6 for an interesting Thai dinner and then drove over to the University of Washington campus for graduation, where we met up with my mom and two sisters, and I caught up with fellow cohort classmates B, L & others. My mom handed over my cap & gown & hood and I dressed right there on the square.

At 7:00 all of us graduates were herded into a windowless room in Meany Hall and given some brief instructions as to how the evening would look. The first comment was: "If any of you will have to go to the bathroom between now and 10:00 - go now because we aren't going to let you out of line later." At which more than half the graduates turned and left in search of the bathrooms!

Finally it was 8:00 and we were marched out of our holding room, through hallways and up stairs and into the auditorium. After welcoming comments, presenting of awards, and keynote address, we finally made it to the actual graduation.

I think the masters ceremony is so much better than undergraduate. In the first place there are way fewer graduates to go through! When I got up to join the line to the stage, I looked way up and saw that my husband and mom were both gone! They're missing it! I moaned. But then I saw a flash and realized my husband was just a few feet away snapping pictures. And my mom turned out to be on the other side of the stage waiting to take pictures as I made my way across the stage. I gave my name card to the announcer who read my name. I walked forward a few feet and handed my "hood" to one professor and two other professors helped put the hood over my head and attach it in the right way. I walked forward a few feet to have my hood "fluffed" (that's what they called it!). Then I shook hands with the dean, received a little congratulations certificate, signed the graduate book, and posed for a picture. Phew! I guess it doesn't get any more official than that: I'm a graduate!

We all returned to our respective hotels, houses, etc for a good nights' sleep before another long day. Jeremy and I met my brother for a brief breakfast at 8:30. After he left for work we stopped by the University Farmer's Market to pick up mushrooms, fiddlehead ferns, garlic tips, some beautiful chevre from our cheese-man, a bunch of flour from a local farm, strawberries, and cherries. Then we jumped in the car and ran down to Voula's to meet the rest of my family for second breakfast.

After breakfast we went over to Pike's Market and checked out all the sites, including buying a set of baby clothes for my little sister's munchkin. Then it was Greek spanakopita & yeeros from Mr. D's Greek Delicacies, Russian piroshkies from Piroshky-Piroshky, and some sweets from the Three Girls Bakery. We said goodbye to my family (who was driving back to Portland/Salem) and we drove up to Greenlake to meet A at Zoka. Jeremy thinks they make the best Roibos tea so we had to go there to buy a big bag of it.

We had a lot of fun catching up with A and getting job advice. After tea, Jeremy and I walked down to Greenlake for a little stroll. Some yards in Seattle have the most incredible bushes of rosemary and other herbs. As I've said here before, we just don't get rosemary bushes in Minneapolis. It's a pain having to buy rosemary in little plastic boxes from the grocery store - so rosemary was on our list of things to get while in Seattle. Meandering down to the lake, we'd occasionally pass a yard with a big bush of rosemary or sage spilling out onto the sidewalk. After the briefest glance around to make sure no one was around to sound an alarm, we'd surreptitiously break off sprigs and branches and bundles of herbs. We made off with quite a bundle!

On our way to meet friends for dinner, we stopped by M&L's house to see how they were doing. They've been doing a massive renovation/remodel on their house for some time so it was great to get a tour of the nearly-complete house. Then we drove up to Maple Leaf to one of our favorite restaurants, the Maple Leaf Grill, to have dinner with J&R. Good times, good times.

Earlier that morning I had received an interesting phone call from E, a former roommate of Jeremy's in Seattle.
"Hi E, how's it going?"
"Great. I was just trying to call Jeremy but the number didn't work. Uh...we got a package in the mail for Jeremy so we're just trying to figure out what to do with it. Maybe we should mail it to you guys?"
"Oh," I said with a smile. "We'll just come pick it up."
"You're in town!?!"
"Yep, we're in town for graduation."

So after dinner we walked over to E, M & A's house to pick up the package. It turned out to be a birthday present (about a month early) from Jeremy's grandma. It was very bizarre that it arrived on the very weekend we were in town. Strange [cue Twilight Zone music]....
So we got a bonus visit with E & A and A's two crazy cats.

Sunday morning we had arranged breakfast with our hosts A&D so we could actually hang out with them while in town. Their weekend schedule was just as busy as ours! We provided strawberries and Jeremy made omelettes with fiddlehead ferns, garlic tips, fresh herbs (read: rosemary), and cheese. They were amazing, and we had a wonderful & wide-ranging 2-hour conversation with our friends.

Next we were off to North Seattle Friends for church and saying hello to numerous friends. Lorraine, the pastor, had even put together a little card and gift and brought me up to the front of the church to share about graduation, life in the midwest, and future plans.
After church we picked up some food for a picnic and went to a park with T, H & S. T & S took turns running S over to the swings and slide (since S is 2 years old and into that sort of thing). We had a great lunch and fun catching up on all the news.

We said goodbye and then Jeremy and I ambled over to the Picardo Farm P-Patch for a brief tour of the patch. The bounty and size of the patch is incredible. We jumped in the car again and headed down to Columbia City, home of A&G and their two goofy dogs. A&G had recently moved into this house and A wanted advice on what was growing in her backyard. We identified a huge bolting spinach patch, rosemary, sage, thyme, and catnip. A was kind enough to let us swipe some more herbs before we left. After munching on fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies, local cherries, and a few glasses of wine, A took us to the main street in Columbia City and showed us some of her favorite developments. We eventually said goodbye and Jeremy I ducked into Tutta Bella for a very tasty dinner.

We took a scenic route home and got some wonderful views of my mountain: Mt. Rainier.

At home we worked on packing birthday gift, graduation gifts, random acquisitions, and lots of food into our luggage. We had both brought extra bags and a cooler so everything fit perfectly. After a lovely breakfast on Monday morning, A drove us down to the airport. Goodbye Seattle! Hope to see you again soon!

Squirreling around

The ultimate goal:

Yes, the squirrels are quite desperate to get into this bird feeder hanging on our front porch. They've climbed everything they could and it's just too far for them. I am a bit surprised having seen some pretty fantastic squirrel-leaps. But we've had the feeder up for a month or two and no squirrel has made it into the feeder. They're relatively content with eating the seed...or just digging holes in the garden and planters.

p.s. It doesn't look like this anymore here - these pics are from the beginning of May. We now have all our leaves and grass and flowers and more green than you could imagine!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Rhubarb Recipe

It has come to my attention that some of you actually wanted the rhubarb muffin recipe. Oops! Here it is, courtesy of one of my favorite recipe books: Muffins, by Elizabeth Alston. This has been made Jeremy-safe which means it doesn't use refined white sugar or white flour and doesn't use as much sweetener as the recipe called for - but it is still amazingly tasty!

Rhubarb Muffins

1 1/2 cups diced fresh rhubarb (discard leaves) or 2 cups frozen sliced rhubarb
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 heaping tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 large egg
1/4 cup honey or maple syrup (the real stuff!)
3 tablespoons red currant jelly (or some other seedless variety)
1 cup milk
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

If you are using frozen rhubarb, spread it on the counter for a few minutes until it is thawed enough to dice. We like a combination of some finer pieces and some bigger pieces, but the size is up to personal taste.

While rhubarb thaws, heat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease muffin tins. This will make about a dozen muffins.

Thoroughly mix flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl.

In a medium-size bowl, whisk egg, honey or maple syrup, and currant jelly until smooth (jelly will not completely dissolve.) Whisk in milk, butter, and vanilla. Stir in rhubarb. Pour over dry ingredients and fold in with a rubber spatula just until dry ingredients are moistened.

Scoop batter into muffin cups - an ice cream scoop works really nicely for this. Bake 20 to 30 minutes, or until light brown and springy to the touch in the center. Turn out onto a rack and try to cool at least 15 minutes before serving - unless you can't keep your husband or housemate or whoever from devouring them straight out of the pan.

Happy baking!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Home preserving: Asparagus

So Jeremy has this dream of self-sufficiency which not only includes our lovely garden (which is doing well) but also includes freezing, drying, canning, and otherwise preserving lots of vegetables and fruits when they're in season.

Asparagus has been in season lately so we got a whole ton of it to preserve.

Here's the big box o' asparagus:

Here they are chopped up and sorted in to certain sizes - which determines how many minutes we'll blanch them:

Aren't they lovely?

After blanching we packed them in freezer bags and popped them in the freezer. Now in the dead of winter, we can have asparagus soup!