Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Signs of spring

The first daffodils opened a couple of days ago and the hellebores and pussy willow are in full bloom. Spring has arrived!

Sun is shining and it looks like it's going to be a good day to transplant some of these kale, cabbage, spinach and broccoli seedlings. If I have any energy left, I'll plant some potatoes as well.

We had a light frost overnight which didn't seem to hurt the leaf lettuce starts, so I'm going to take a chance and get them planted as well. The weather for the rest of the week shows night time temperatures in the 40's and if we get a late frost in April, I can always cover them with remay.

It will probably be another "no studio" day. So far this week I've only managed a couple of hours in there; but that's about par for this time of year with all this garden and seedling work added to my usual cooking and animal chores.

The past two days I've been glued to the computer, watching live feeds from NCECA. I don't know if there will be any more today which would be a distraction but a lovely one. Yesterday I got to plant a few perennials when they broke for lunch; but the rest of the time I was thoroughly enjoying the free workshop and discussions.

Dinner's going to be a simple linguini with pesto sauce and a salad. After seeing a news report this morning that eating a small amount of chocolate daily reduces your change of a heart attack by over 40%, I'm adding it to Jim's shopping list today. :-) Between the health benefits of wine, coffee, and chocolate, maybe Woody Allen was right in the movie "Sleeper" - that all the things we thought are bad turn out to actually be very good for you!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Oatmeal bread

Since I was up at 4 am, I decided it was a good morning to get another loaf of oatmeal bread made. This loaf is a bit better looking than the one a few days ago; but I'm still getting uneven raising in that bread machine, on some loaves. 

We decided to drive to Asheville Friday, which is always an all  day trip. Our aim was to buy some fresh seafood, have lunch at the Mexican restaurant and pick up clay at Highwater, which was out of Phoenix. Last time I was in there they were out of clay as well. Why don't they just buy another used mixer, I wonder. If I were younger I'd be mixing my own again; but at 70, I've become wise enough to resist that temptation, so  I wound up getting couple of boxes of a white stoneware which I also use.

We've been eating blue shell crabs, steamed clams and fried shrimp the past 3 days. We have definitely saturated our seafood itch! It was so good to find a source for really fresh fish and seafood. They will be seeing us pretty regularly.

Besides husband and animal care, gardening, indoors and out, cooking, there has been no time for studio other than a stolen hour or so the other day to throw a couple of bowls and mugs. Seedlings are sprouting and need to get planted, others need watering, moving outdoors and back in on very cold nights, feeding and transplanting. I've lost quite a few from damping off which has never happened with this expensive seed starter; and I don't know what has caused it this year. Hopefully enough will make it through OK. All the kale, cabbage and broccoli are doing fine and need to get transplanted in the garden later in the week, along with onions and leeks.

It was a gorgeous day yesterday, and  I finally got some heavy duty outdoor gardening done after a couple of morning hours of indoor seedling care and planting. I dug in some metal supports, mixed up some planting medium and planted a couple of red raspberry bushes, a low, fragrant sumac bush, a couple of climbing roses, then pruned the rest of the other non climbers and did some weeding.  Now there are only 2 old climbers to prune. Saying I was totally wiped when I came in, is an understatement, but I still had to muster enough energy to make steamed clams in a wine, garlic, herb broth, for dinner.

The rain today made this another indoor gardening day again with more seedling care and planting. I also got three of the four varieties of potato seeds I'm planting this year, cut and curing.  That was followed by a short stint in the studio before dinner to trim the couple of pots I threw a few days ago. I should be able to get a bit more studio time in tomorrow. There was too much else to do today, including baking bread. I even found time after lunch to read a couple of pottery magazines that have been sitting here for weeks.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Whole wheat loaf

This light whole wheat bread tasted fine; but you sure do get funny shaped loaves with this bread machine. What the heck is that knob on the top of the loaf! LOL

It's been a busy few days dealing dealing with seeds, planting, weeding, and bread baking and no time for studio yet! A whole bunch of old seeds sprouted two days ago and I had to spend the day planting them, and then I wet down another bunch which may begin to sprout in the next 5 days or so.

Yesterday was a gorgeous warm, sunny day, so instead of the studio, I headed to the garden and put down some organic fertilizer on several planting beds, did a bunch of weeding, and unloaded and stacked 14 bags of mushroom compost and manure. Checking the sun, around noon, I realized I had to change my garden plan so those high sun requirement plants were in the right place, so I measured all the beds and make a graph and started on a new companion planting plan for this year. We joined friends for a Tapas/Spanish wine dinner at the Knife and Fork, which was delightful. My favorite tapas was the little steamed clams with sausage and veggies.

Today was the day I planned to plant a few perennials and transplant some cold weather crops but it looks like the rain is going to be here any minute, so I'll be indoor gardening again.

Yesterday Jim picked me up a bunch of replacement grow lights and I need to get them changed out this morning. I'm planning on a simple pasta dinner tonight, so I may even have time for some studio time after lunch, which will be nice.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A day to rest

Each morning I quickly check the peat pots to see if any new seeds sprouted overnight. This morning there were some Opalka, San Marzano, Campbell's and Italian heirloom, tomatoes and artichokes that peeked through overnight, as well as a couple of cippolini onions and leeks. The Bok choi seedlings were early sprouters and now they need to get separated. I'll probably do that after dinner when it will be less stressful for them.

It's damp, cool and windy - a precursor of the rain that's expected, so it looks like I'm going to have another day or to wear my magnetic belt and rest my strained back and catch up with some paperwork.

We just finished a huge breakfast of corned beef hash and eggs and now it's time to read the Sunday papers. We were hoping to watch the finals of the tennis from Palm Springs this afternoon but Charter cable in our area decided to play a woman's softball game instead. Wonder who does their programming schedule over there! On days like this I wish we still had our old satellite dish! We're big tennis fans and we really looking forward to Andy Roddick's final match. I was hoping that Fox sports might stream the match but after checking their web site it doesn't appear that they do that. :-(

Saturday, March 20, 2010

First day of spring brought glorious weather

I'm so grateful that mother nature decided to make this first day of spring sunny and warm. Despite a bad night (up at 1am with headache and not able to get back to sleep till after 4 am), I couldn't resist the call of the garden. So I donned my wide brimmed garden hat to protect my skin from the discolorations that are a side effect of this antibiotic I'm on, and headed out to do some weeding and hand spread a bag of calcium on my vegetable beds.

I was too tired to do much more; but it was a start. Hopefully, after a good night's sleep, I'll be able to give the garden more time tomorrow.

My latest planted seeds are starting to sprout and now I'm trying to figure out where to put them all!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Hellebores and other garden news

Spring is ready to break through. These hellebores look like they will be opening any minute!

Yesterday I got out in the garden to do some pruning and early weeding and decided also,  to tackle the old grape vines which probably had never been pruned - what a mess! I watched some you tube videos on grape pruning before hand, but none that I watched was too helpful with these arbor grown Concord grapes. I did find out a lot about grape pruning and growing. There are two pruning methods used for various types of grapes.Commercial growers thin the grape clusters and snip the bottom of the clusters to get bigger grapes. They also remove some leaf cover before the grapes ripen, etc. But, and it's a big but - these old vines of ours are such a tangled mess I can't figure out what to cut or how! I figured out that the main truck is called the cordon. This morning I'll watch a few more you tube videos (there are a lot), and maybe I can get a clearer picture on how to deal with the tangled mess.

The only video I found on arbor supported Concord grapes said to leave the pencil thin burgundy colored  stems; but the only burgundy colored stems on those vines were parts of wild blackberries!  On top of that, the area under the arbor was another sea of a tangled mess of wild blackberry vines that I had to cut down. The worse part of it all is that this arbor was built for munchkins. It's so short that I can's stand up all the way under it making it doubly difficulty to maneuver or see anything. Needless to say, by the time I got back to the house my back was killing me. Also, one of the vines is either died or is dying. The main trunk is split and rotted, so I may just have to cut it down and plant a new, healthy, seedless variety.

Last year I planted a new, different variety grape; but it's too early to tell how well it fared it's first winter.

I worked on that vine till 4 o'clock and then came in to make a pot of mushroom bisque for dinner.  Soup is a comfort meal for me and one that I needed last night!

On the bright side, it's going to be a beautiful, warm, sunny day today, so after breakfast I'll water indoor plants, tend my seedlings, drive to Johnson City to do some food shopping at Earth Fare and plant shopping at Lowes. I'm looking for a yellow climbing rose and the new yellow knock out rose and fish fertilizer; and I'm sure I'll find some other goodies to add to the cart.  I always do!

My original plan for the day was more pruning and garden clean up; but I'm too weary and sore from yesterday so that will have to wait for another day.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

More seeds planted

 Here's the latest group of planted veggie seeds. Later today or tomorrow, I'll try to get some of the perennial flower seeds planted now that I have most of the early veggies started. The less hardy fruits and veggies will be planted in another couple of weeks or more.

We had a great corned beef and cabbage dinner with friends last night, followed by Irish coffee for dessert, in the living room, while we watched the Three Irish Tenors video (that is when we weren't chatting away). It's the same ritual every St Patrick's day -same meal, with either watching "The Quiet Man", or "The Three Tenors" afterwards.

Some of my seedlings sprouted over night so I've moved that flat to a south facing window in my office - one of the only two non obstructed south facing windows in the house that will get late morning and some  afternoon sun. Yesterday I moved the cabbage, broccoli and other hardy veggies to porch to harden off for a few days before planting. I do so love this time of year!

Looks like it will be a good afternoon to do the rose and some other pruning. I still have another couple of weeks to go on the latest antibiotic for this eye/sinus infection, so I need to don my silly, wide brimmed, hand painted floral designs, lavender, gardening hat so I don't get skin discoloration from this medication.

I'm gearing up to get in the studio Sunday or Monday at the latest. I'm soooooo ready!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Seed starting and gnocchi update, change in Gougere recipe

ATTENTION: I forgot to put the amt of water in the mushroom gougere recipe, so for those who said they want to try it, I added the water to the recipe in the original post. It's 3/4 of a cup of cold water.

As I mentioned the other day I was going to make my first batch of gnocchi. It was a lot of work and frankly, not worth the effort. I told Jim for all that trouble I could have made pierogi's which are a much better use of mashed potatoes and flour! I once had gnocchi in a restaurant and wasn't that fond of it, but since I've been on an Italian cooking kick, I thought I'd try home made, hoping they'd be better. The gorgonzola cream sauce was a winner and gave some punch to an another wise boring dish.

Yesterday was an indoor gardening day. I planted the large tray of seeds above - everything from tomatoes to bok choi, made a rough garden plan for this year and got a lot of older seeds wrapped in wet handtowel  paper and baggies to test their viability. Today I'll start some more veggies and put some of my older cabbage and broccoli seedlings outdoors to start hardening them off. The greenhouse window is a bit overcrowded and I need to make room for these latest seedling once they sprout. After it warms up a bit in the afternoon I need to prune my butterfly bush and maybe spent a few minutes on other garden cleanup.

If any of my local, gardening friends want to try some new seeds, I'd love to share. Seeds like lettuce and peppers don't last long and we can only eat so much! So give me a call, come over and sit and have a cup of tea and we can go through my huge seed stash.

This time of year I'm usually splitting my time between studio and getting ready for the spring planting season.  With Jim doing so much better, I think I'll finally be able to get in the studio by next week; and I'll only be about 100 feet away if he needs anything. I'm skipping the spring studio tour so I'll be able to work without the stress of getting a firing in before the beginning of June. There's still a lot more work to make to fill the kiln.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Mushroom gougere

Here's last night's mushroom gougere.  Someone requested the recipe a while back, so I'll post it below.

Tonight I'll be making my first potato gnocchi with a gorgonzola cream sauce. After that lovely chicken cacciatore recipe from my latest Italian cookbook, I decided I wanted to try more of her recipes and try some things I've never made. Since it's definitely not gardening weather, other than the care and feeding of houseplants and seedlings, it's been a good time to do more cooking.I've been on an Italian kick - made an escarole, potato, turkey sausage soup the other night which we loved. It's a recipe I created by taking the best of a few other recipes. It's definitely one that is going in the recipe box.

Jim and I went to Asheville the other day and bought a new bed - a Tempurpedic, which we hope will allow him to get out of the recliner and sleep in a bed again! He drove both ways and didn't seem the worse for wear. We even had dinner out Friday night and he made it through all three courses without much more than feeling a bit tight in his back.

Yesterday I got my potato seeds, but it looks like potato planting is going to have to wait till the end of the month when, hopefully, the weather will be more cooperative and that will fit planting during the waning moon, which my local friends and neighbors tell me is the time to plant potatoes. Supposed if you don't plant at the right time you get a lot of leafy tops and only a few potatoes. Who am I to disagree with people who have learned to garden this way, through observing nature, for centuries!

Here's the Mushroom Gougere recipe: Serves 4 with a salad or a side vegetable like steamed asparagus, or broccoli.

1 small onion, peeled, halved and sliced
1 carrot, grated coarsely
8 oz button mushrooms, washed and sliced
1 tsp tikka or mild curry paste (if you can't find either, you can use a mild curry powder to taste; but only add a little at a time till you reach the taste you want)
2T all purpose flour
1 1/4 C milk
2T fine chopped Italian parsley
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
2T flaked almonds

For the gougere(choux pastry part of the recipe):
3/4 C cold water
1/2C all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
6T butter
3 eggs, beaten
3/4 C diced Gruyere or aged Gouda cheese (I use Gruyere)

Preheat oven 400F. Grease a shallow, round, ovenproof dish, about 9"

Make the choux pastry: First sift the flour and salt onto a large sheet of waxed paper.
Next, in a large saucepan, heat the butter and water until the butter just melts (don't let the water boil!). Then fold the paper holding the flour and dump the whole thing, at once, into the water, melted butter mix. Keep the heat under the mix and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mix is no longer lumpy, and starts to pull away from the sides of the saucepan. Once it reaches that stage, set it aside to cool for about 10 minutes.

In the meantime make the filling: Sautee the prepared carrot, onion and mushrooms in the butter for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then stir in the curry paste or tikka, then the flour. Stir well, then add the milk, mix and stir and cook until it thickens. Lastly, add the chopped parsley.

While the filling is cooking, when the choux is cooled enough, beat the eggs and little by little, add to the choux pastry mix, beating well to incorporated. You may not need to use all the beaten egg. You want the mixture to pretty stiff. Then fold the cubed cheese into this choux mix  and then pour the mix into the baking dish, forming what will look like a wide, donut ring on the inside of the dish. Then pour the filling in the center; and bake 35 -45 minutes until it has risen and is golden brown. About 5 minutes before it looks done, sprinkle the almond slices and bake another 5 minutes.

This is a delicious and very rich dish. A tossed salad goes well with it. Enjoy!

Monday, March 08, 2010

Oatmeal bread

Here's the new  oatmeal bread I just took out of the bread machine. It's definitely not a pretty loaf, but it tastes really good; and the house smells incredible! I think it's going to make a nice toast. I need to check out the instruction booklet again and find out why the color is uneven.

While the bread was baking I headed for the garden and planted those two thornless blackberry vines that I've been meaning to plant. I'll have to replant them when I get more compost because the soil has a lot of clay in it. After that I decided to check out the cold frame and found a bag of compost I didn't know I had, so I cleaned out the cold frame and dug the compost in and now I have to figure out if I want to plant something in it or just use it to harden off some of my seedlings. Maybe it's time to google "cold frame planting" and find some useful tips.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

I did it!

It took a while but I finally got it together. I only have one wrench of the right size, so I had to struggle with it and a pair of pliers to do the job! Now all I have to do is get some high octane gasoline and add the oil and I'll be ready to go!

Jim got a great report from the osteopath yesterday. Only 7 weeks after fracturing 9 vertebrae and his sacrum, he's healed enough for her to do a full osteo treatment. He has another 7 weeks to go with limited activity; but he's doing great; and the best  part  is that he doesn't have to have surgery!

A couple of blackberry plants arrived in the mail, but I think I'm going to wait till tomorrow or Monday when it's expected to be a bit warmer, to get them planted.

It's time for lunch and then I think I'll look for a new bread recipe to try in the bread machine and then give myself a break with my new Mother Earth News and a pottery magazine that's been sitting her a couple of days.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Mantis tiller - my new toy/tool

The ad said I'd just have to attach the handle. Yeah, right!  I'll try to tackle assembling it later this afternoon.

We finally have  a sunny day with no snow in the forecast and we're expecting temperatures in the high 50's over the weekend, so I'm going to try and tackle pruning the ancient grape vines up the hill Sunday or Monday. I don't think the previous owners ever pruned them.

Last night the possum was back feeding on Tommy, the feral/abandoned cat's food. What was so funny to us was that Tommy was sitting very comfortably about two feet away while the possum ate his dinner. He didn't seem threatened by the possum, but seemed to just be waiting patiently till the possum finished. When I opened the door to scoot the possum away, who by the way, looked at me as if to say "Can't you see that I'm eating here!", timid Tommy ran away. Fortunately he came back this morning for breakfast. Hopefully he's learned not to wait till dark to come back for dinner, because once dark descends, I'm taking the food back in to the house!

Got a bunch of my veggie seedlings separated and transplanted this morning and finally got around to planting some penstemon seeds. The hummingbirds love them!

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Chicken Cacciatore

Lidia Matticchio Bastianich's Chicken cacciatore recipe was a winner. Even Jim, who said he never had a chicken cacciatore he liked gave it a ten.  Thank you Lidia! This was my first time cooking chicken cacciatore and it wasn't until it was almost finished cooking, that Jim made the "I don't like chicken cacciatore" proclamation. It's a good thing he didn't say anything earlier in the day or we would have missed a lovely recipe! I served it on a bed of spaghetti - so good! I can't wait to try more recipes from that book.

Yesterday I got all my new recipe cards sorted and most filed. I just need to get one more double recipe box just for my Indian and Italian recipes.

I ordered a Mantis tiller the other day, to help with my gardening. Hopefully, having the machine do a lot of the soil prep will keep  my damaged neck and back from acting up. I got the model with the Honda motor (Ebay was the cheapest place I found). That model is a bit more powerful than their standard model; and the other benefit is that I won't have to mix the fuel. It's lightweight enough that I'll be able to lug it around the garden myself.

We're doing takeout from our local seafood restaurant for dinner tonight, so I'll be able to use my afternoon time going through more of my paper piles and continue searching ebay for a vintage, double recipe box.  And maybe there will be time to tend my veggies seedlings a bit, which I think are getting ready for their first feeding. First I have to check if I have any fish fertilizer left over from last season.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Nice textured teal glaze

Here's a new glaze of mine #8486V# B. It has a very intriguing teal color and texture. The dark strip on the right is from the 2% iron lip under the glaze. I often put this slip on my white stoneware or porcelain tiles. On darker stoneware, I'll often put a strip of white porcelain slip on the tile. This test is on Loafer's Glory, a porcelainous type stoneware, fired to cone 10 in my soda kiln. Here's the recipe if anyone would like to try it. The color is a bit more on the teal side than is showing on my monitor.

#8486V# B Cone 10

18.3 Kona F4 Soda spar
10.5 Whiting
11.0 Ferro Frit 3195
 8.3 Talc
12.2 Neph Sy
21.7 Silica
  1.8 Fluorspar
13.5 Tennessee SGP#1 Ball Clay
  2.7 EPK

B color: Add 0.5% Chrome oxide, 0./5% Cobalt carb

Domesticated and wild critters have all been fed, we've had our oatmeal breakfast (snowy, cold mornings definitely calls for oatmeal), and I've made tonight's dinner decision - Chicken cacciatore from Lidia Matticchio Bastianich's cookbook, "Lidia's Italian-American Kitchen".

I also took all my spices off of one shelf and cleaned, organized and rearranged everything in alphabetical order. I have more of these shelves to do but first need to get more staggered, wired shelves. I keep the most used spices in the cupboard next to the stove and the more International spices, i.e. Indian, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, etc. in a different cupboard. The next job of this morning is to file a whole bunch of new recipes followed by catching up with some snail mail and other paper work.

We're still getting some snow flurries, so it doesn't look like we'll head to town to pick up the mail today. It's a good day for sitting near the fire and working on the paper piles till dinner time.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

My quiet green, Hamada clone, test tile

Here's another green glaze test from my last soda firing. This is my take on Hamada's green. I can see where this would be a nice glaze to use over my flashing slip with some wax resisted areas. The contrast between the glaze and flashed areas should be nice and I can probably use the resisted area as a backdrop for some of my black decorating slip brushwork.

Now that Jim is getting around a bit, I'm getting ready to spend some time in the studio as soon as this cut on my finger heals completely. Those loppers cut deep!

Yesterday was food shopping day. We were out for over 5 hours just making a couple grocery store stops, a quick lunch and another stop to pick up our mail. Where did all that time go! Fortunately with such a big lunch, neither of us wanted a regular dinner so I just make some buttered, parmesan, popcorn with a sprinkling of cayenne.

Trish, here's a link where you can find a no knead bread recipe as well as 2 nice videos about it: I haven't forgotten about your request for the curried mushroom gougere - will try to get to it soon!

There are also videos on yout ube with the originator of this method, Jim Lahey. He only uses white flour, whereas the fellow on the video link from Breadtopia, uses some whole wheat along with the white.

We're expecting snow again - looks like it's going to start any minute. Glad I took the chicken/shrimp gumbo out of the freezer yesterday for tonight's dinner.