Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Hot Fun In The Summertime


 I don't think I've done an update on the garden in a while so I thought I'd show ya'll how that is going and include a new recipe I found that came out very well I thought.  The garden is really producing well this year, especially the tomatoes.  I guess the cooler weather this summer has not hurt them after all.  In fact, it may be helping some, I'm not sure.  Anyway, I got scads of them, even with the Romas kinda being a bust, what with them coming out so small.  Now, I did pick up a box of local tomatoes from a farmer at the market the other day.  My Rutgers were just not coming in fast enough to can in any decent batch so I thought I'd help them along.  Plus, they were local and the guy offered the box full for $5.  It was about 15 pounds of tomatoes, or more so that was hard to pass up.  I combined them with a good many of mine and got a sizable batch of marinara sauce to can, for now.  I still want to put up plain tomatoes for soups and a good bit of salsa and hopefully, now that my tomatoes are coming in at a faster clip, I may can do it with all my own stock.
We are getting a fairly good corn harvest but not near what I got a couple of years ago.  I've always been under the impression that corn was pollinated by the wind, rather than bees, but I am beginning to wonder if it's not still helped by the bees.  See, the last couple of really good corn crops I got were 3-4 years ago and I remember distinctly the bees were just swarming the corn those years.  This year and last year the corn was mediocre and I have seen very few bees on it.  So??  I know it is very going to be some bad s#*!t if the bees keep dying.  I notice fewer and fewer honeybees at my place each year.  Fortunately, I have lots of mason, bumble, leafcutter and such bees and other tiny pollinators, so we still get pretty good crops, but the honey bees do so much for large scale crops.  And people just keep right on spraying their *$%@#%!! Roundup and whatever, which they are pretty sure is what's killing the bees, combined with other fungicides and herbicides.  Maybe when their kids and grandkids are starving to death in another 8-10 years they may start to care.  Or not.
The peppers, raspberries, onions, beans and pretty much everything else is doing well too.  Even getting some nice sweet cantaloupes this year!  Yum!  Not sure if my watermelons are going to have time to ripen but we'll see.


 So, here is the marinara sauce recipe.  You can double, triple or whatever to get enough to can if you want, or just make a batch to eat now!

Basic Marinara Sauce:
 4-5 lbs fresh, ripe tomatoes, peeled and seeded (about 12 cups).  I also run mine through a food processor just a little because I like a smooth sauce.  But do whatever you like.
2 yellow onions, peeled and diced (about 2 cups)
5-6 cloves of garlic, minced  (about 2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons dried herbs (basil, oregano, thyme etc.) mixed, total
1/2 cup red wine

In a large soup pot, heat 2 Tablespoons olive oil.  Add onions and cook slowly on medium heat until they start to carmelize.  They should be evenly brown and soft.  Add the garlic and herbs and cook for 5 minutes.  (Dried herbs hold their flavor much longer than fresh so if you want to use fresh add the herbs right at the end of cooking the sauce.)
Deglaze the pan with the 1/2 cup of wine and cook for 2 more minutes.  Add the tomatoes with juice and stir well to combine.  Bring to a simmer and cook on low for t least 2 hours or longer depending on water content.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
This recipe yields about 2.5 quarts.


 Okay, now here is what I did.  I tripled this recipe basically, maybe a tad more, and I added probably 1 tablespoon of sugar to the whole batch to cut down on the acid.  I also did not have any red wine at the time so I skipped that step.  It came out fine.  For such a large batch I let it simmer for probably 5-6 hours and came out with 6 quarts.  Just keep tasting it about every hour until it gets to the concentration and flavor you want.  I thought it was very yummy.  Oh, I also used a little parsley instead of thyme but use whatever herbs you like best.
When I felt it was ready I poured it up into hot, sterilized quart jars, capped and ran through a hot water bath for 30 minutes to seal.  I can't wait to try it this winter!  Well, I can wait plenty for winter to get here but you know what I mean! lol!
EDIT!!!!!!  It is apparently, no longer safe to water bath can any tomato based product or tomatoes themselves as they are no longer the way they used to be.  (Along with most everything else in this world)  It is advised to only pressure can tomatoes from now on.  Look it up.  Do what you want but don't blame me.


Since I had everything going that day I also canned 6 quarts of peaches and 5 half pints of peach jam.  We are getting yet more rain today but tomorrow is supposed to be clear and I hope to put up a good bit of salsa and pickles.  If ya'll are interested I'll give you my recipes for that.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

An Exceptable Level Of Ecstasy


Photos courtesy of the Alys Stephens Center.
Those of you who have read my blog for some time might have picked up on the fact that I am a big Lyle Lovett fan, in that you may have recognized his song titles in a good number of my post titles.  Funny though that I had never gotten the opportunity to see him in concert.  Well, thanks to my sweet husband, I got to cross that one off my list this past week.  It was a very close call however, as we didn't get tickets until almost the last minute.  Jack normally does not accompany me when I go into Birmingham to make my pottery deliveries but for some reason he went with me a couple of weeks ago.  As we were going into one of my stores he happened to notice a sign posted outside...something about Lovett being in town soon.  Now, I never saw a thing, that's why it was so lucky Jack was with me.  When I'm on errands like that and thinking about business, it's like I have blinders on.  Mr. Lovett could have been standing in the store and I might not have noticed.  We checked again on the way out and sure enough, that's what it said but the concert was very soon.  My heart dropped because I figured it was already sold out.


As soon as we got home that evening I pulled up the venue website and Heavens to Mercatroid!!  there were still a few tickets left!  We had to actually sit in 2 different rows (Jack was right behind me) but we could still see and talk to each other before the show started.  And what a show!!  It was a wonderful concert; maybe the best I've ever been to.  I must give praise to the Alys Stephens Center though, and it's designer, because that is really a fabulous concert hall.  I don't believe there is a bad seat in the house and the acoustics are astounding. 


Mr. Lovett and his band must have agreed because they played for about 3 hours, which from what the Stephens Center said, is about an hour over.  But boy, was it ever appreciated and to top it all off he closed with my just about favorite song of his, You Can't Resist It.  So, thank you Mr. Lovett for making my night; heck, my whole summer!
Ya'll know this has not been the best year so far for me, so that was one reason I think I enjoyed it so.  We came into town early to see Jack's new grandson and then had a nice leisurely dinner at one of our favorite restaurants before the show.   Everything about the day and evening was so relaxing and fun and will make for a happy memory for years to come.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Improvise, Adapt and Overcome


After I read Pablo's comment in the last post I admit, I felt kinda bad.  I didn't mean to sound so gloomy.  It was just my usual pissing and moaning that comes and goes about like the phases of the moon.  I have noticed for some time that the demeanor of this blog had been changed and I guess it occurred to me, finally,  that some of the emotion was gone that used to be here.  I used to rant a good bit about Wal-Mart and rampant consumerism and all that sort of thing but I guess I've lost my taste for it.  Oh, I still hold all the same beliefs I used to (believe me), and I've never been under the delusion that my opinions ever influenced anybody, but it has just felt like beating a dead horse I suppose.
I've been frustrated with my body and it's apparent attempt to cause me misery at every turn.  And with the doctors that really seem not able to care any less.  I've come to the conclusion that 90% of them are just legalized drug dealers anyway.  If you can't or won't take their drugs they seriously have no knowledge of anything else to do.  To give you an example of how desperate I've been lately for some relief I actually tried 2 different prescriptions and a couple of doses of steroids.  The 'scripts had bad side effects and after 5 days I had to stop.  Do the docs have any alternative plan or treatment?  Nope!  Just nothing.  So, I've been trying to figure it out myself.
Another honest confession; I've had trouble writing posts for probably over a year now.  I have trouble organizing my thoughts enough to write, as you can probably tell.  ha!  I forget a lot.  My hand coordination has gotten worse and I spent as much time correcting my typing as I do typing.  I drop things a lot  that I used to have no trouble holding on to.  But I know, I know!!, that I am so much better off than many people.  I can still do most anything I want to do.  Maybe not as fast as I used to...but I can do it!  It is life though.  You adapt, you get by, you figure a way.  I think I have figured out some stuff and I am working on improving.

The garden this year is a good example of all this.  It's been so cool here that things are not like they usually are.  I have yet to harvest enough okra to make a dish for supper.  That's unheard of for mid-July in Alabama.  The tomatoes are finally coming in but I haven't had enough to can yet.  My Romas are very prolific but very small, like plum tomatoes, so I have been drying them instead of canning.  I've never tried that before but I can't bear to waste them and I think the chickens are even getting a little tired of tomato scraps.  The potatoes didn't do a whole lot but I had a good harvest of garlic and the rhubarb is still hanging in!  The first round of figs got wiped out by frost but they actually sprouted again so we'll have figs but very late in the season.  The cukes got borers in them so I may not get to make many pickles this year but amazingly enough the squash is untouched.  And it goes on and on.  We will make do with what we did get, maybe buy enough to can of what we didn't get and we'll try it all again next year.  I know I've learned a thing or two from this season that I can hopefully remember next year.

Really, things not going your way are often a blessing.  Makes you look at stuff from a new angle, try things you've never tried before and that can end up being a very good thing.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Summer Of Discontent


It occurred to me that I don't seem to rant or "vent" as much as I used to via this outlet.  Of course, having constant male companionship doesn't leave my evenings open as much as it used to and the darkened hours when you are alone are a fine time to conjure gripes and tirades.  Honestly though, I don't know if it's that Jack has had that much of a calming effect on me or have I reached the conclusion of what the hell does it really matter anymore.  The storms and aches of the past few days are about enough to convince me of the latter.  Actually, I had felt pretty good until today.  We have had somewhat hot but sunny days and I have finally caught up on some pottery orders.  But the lightning came again today, jarring the earth and my sore bones along with it.  Perhaps there is something to the electromagnetic fields that accompany the downpours.  Or perhaps it's just the side effects of a new round of prescriptions that I don't want to take to begin with.  Whatever the reason, I have what can best be described as, a crappy attitude.  A sore ass, as we used to say on the job sites.


The gardens are enjoying the water and I'm grateful not to have that extra work.  Not that I have to worry much about it.  Jack tends to take care of the garden growing and I pick up for the harvesting.  The chickens make me happy yet and somewhat fill the hole left by Grendal's passing.  I make a point of going out at least once a day to sit amongst them on one of the many large rocks in the yard.  As soon as I am seated Susie and PeePee usually come running in their awkward, penguin-like trots to be the first one up in my lap.  It is physically impossible to watch them and not smile.  After they make themselves comfortable they proceed to chatter away while I scratch their backs.  Occasionally they will stop and look right at me, as if they are expecting a reply and in those moments I always feel somewhat self-conscious at my obvious lack of understanding.  I take a stab at what seems to me to be the same sort of chirupping sounds but as they resettle in their position on my leg and nod off with a shake of the head, I believe they are just resigning themselves to the fact that I will never learn to talk properly.


My good Russian friend came out Friday and brought her class of 4 art students so they could learn a bit about clay work and make a couple of small things for themselves.  Sveta is a lot of fun and always insist on bringing food when she visits, and I had plenty from the garden, so we had a nice lunch after class.  I'm not sure how much they learned about clay but the kids learned what a good, honest-to-goodness, real tomato is supposed to taste like and that may have been more important anyway. 
So, they are calling for more rain in the week ahead and I hope they are wrong for at least part of it.  I hope this fog lifts off my head also and lets a little sun shine in.  I could use a bit of sunshine.

*Edit:  I have temporarily removed the word verification and we'll see how badly I'll be inundated with spam. lol!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Knock On Wood


I've really been trying to make a concerted effort lately to finish up a lot of half-started projects around the house, organizing and decorating in areas of the house that are mostly finished.  To that extent, I've gotten a couple of new pieces of furniture and some art and photos framed and hung.  I figure it will all help motivate me to keep plugging along to finish everything.  Now, this sideboard is not new at all really.  It was built sometime in the 1920's and has been in our family since then.  No one else seemed to want it but we didn't want it to be given away or get messed up so I took it to use in the living room.  My grandmother's husband was the warden at Kilby Prison in south Alabama for a number of years in the 20's and this piece was built by a few of the inmates at the time, so it makes for a good conversation piece.  It's probably the only material thing in my family that has much value.  Anywhoo, it had been stored away for years so I got it out, cleaned it up and refurbished the finish a bit.  Basically just re-oiled it and cleaned some stains off of it.


So, now it is our entertainment center I guess you would say.  I can't stand to see dvd's and that sort of thing so we can hide at least part of Jack's overly large movie collection.  I replaced the plain glass in the doors with architectural glass and replaced the drawer pulls with bronze ones that matched the knobs on the doors.  I did make a little removable shelf for the bottom to put the stereo system on.  I've always liked the sideboard as it has a vague Craftsman style to it.  It's fairly well made and still in excellent shape too.  Now I just need to trim out that one last window to the right of it.  Ugh!


Now, we will not speak of how long this little cabinet has been hanging around in the basement but I finally got it cleaned up and finished, installed the hinges and door, etc etc. and hung it in the bathroom.  I thought it came out nice but I think I want to replace that glass with a colored/ textured something kinda glass because the clear, textured just still shows too much of what is in the cabinet.  I had thought about making a very simple, stained glass window type panel for the door but for now I just need it done and functional.  I can do the other a couple of years from now.  Maybe.
So, that is just a bit of an update.  I am trying hard to keep my motivation up and I've been feeling pretty good lately so that helps.  Seeing more and more finish work done helps a great deal too because I can see just how cool things are going to look all finished.  My cabinet maker guy is going to be back out in about 2 weeks to measure for the built in bookcases that go beside the fireplace so that area is shaping up nice too.  It's really going to be great!  I'm excited about it!

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Soaked


Well, we have certainly had plenty of rain this summer.  I phrase it that way so that it doesn't appear to be a complaint.  And I really am not complaining but let's just say...the garden plants are probably the only ones happy at this point.  Everything is doing well; I have to pick every day, sometimes twice.  Except for the tomatoes.  Just not enough sunny days for them to ripen much and I am really, really looking forward to some good homegrown maters. 


Stupid me had accidentally planted cantaloupe where I thought I was planting a bunch of pickling cucumbers.  Turns out it was about half and half so I'm still going to get my pickles but also going to have a crap load of cantaloupes.  That's okay though.  I just hope they are good!  The cukes are what you see growing up the trellises there and the 'loupes are growing around the bottom.  Corn is up and making ears and even my onions are doing really well.  I should have a good crop this year.  Everything in the middle of the garden does well.  The edges not so much.  (I think that was most of the problem last year with the onions) I must add a good bit of chicken poo in those areas this winter.



This is one of the Golden Jubilee tomatoes.  I planted all my maters about 3 feet apart this year with a good dose of chicken poo and 4-5 egg shells.  So far they are all very healthy and loaded with fruit.  I was able to pick one of these yesterday but still want to let it ripen a tad more before I cut it.  I guess I picked it more out of extreme paranoia that something might happen to it more than anything.


The blueberries did well this year and are winding down now.  I got a little over 2 quarts in the freezer for the winter and we ate a bunch.  Oh, and I took a big bowl of them to Mama.  Two of the raspberries are winding down a good bit too but the third variety is just getting started and it is the one that makes really large berries and lasts until fall.  I didn't mean to get that many different kinds but it is a happy accident I suppose.


My rhubarb in pots and the one in the cold frame are doing great!  This one I can keep in the shade most all the time and move it around the deck for rain to water it.  The one I had actually planted in the garden died recently and it has not been very hot this year.  In fact, this week has been in the mid to high 70's.  Unheard of coolness for Alabama in July.   So anyway, this makes me wonder if maybe it is richness of soil more than heat that kills the rhubarb.  Because I bought varieties that are supposed to be doable in the south.  See, the soil here and in the coldframe is very richly amended black soil; the garden is more sandy and lean. 



And speaking of rain, ya'll know I told you in one of the last posts that I had missed the annual daylily sale they have one town over because we were in Mobile?  Well, there has been such an abundance of rain that the nursery just has an overwhelming supply of daylilies and they had another 1 day sale!!!  With even better sale prices!  Yay!  I was excited.  You got a free 1 gallon lily just for showing up and they had free ice cream and drinks so Jack decided he might ought to go too.  To check out the ice cream, you know.


I have wanted one of these near black varieties for a long time and they had this one (Night Wings) marked down to $5 each!  That is a very good price, so I got 3.  I got 2 of the yellow one below.  It's called Big Rex and the blooms are very large.  I planted these alongside the drive but further down, away from the house.  I believe I have filled up the driveway flower bed and am now making another one further down.  I'll show ya'll later.


I also bought a lace cap variety of hydrangea called Lady In Red.  The foliage is supposed to turn red in the fall.  I think I am going to have to start my design and plantings for the back of the house because these hydrangeas need to go there in order to keep the deer off them.  Maybe. 


The nursery also had more drawings for free plants and guess who won again!!  Not me!!  Jack won.  You may remember he won this huge snowball hydrangea a couple of years ago.  Well, he won again and you could pick between a daylily or hydrangea, so I said get this pink one.  I didn't have one like this so it'll be an eye catcher.  I said it is too bad Jack's luck with the lottery isn't as good!


I have started several times to post before now but have just felt awful with this bad weather.  Stormy weather for me often brings migraines and aches and I have also been going to my physical therapy, so I've been sore from that too.  I think those people are masochistic.  At any rate, I have felt like hammered hell a lot of the time but have managed to do a few things here and there.  I have quite a bit of pottery going but it's so humid and wet here that I'm having a lot of trouble with it not drying so I can fire it.  Got a dehumidifier running in my studio now.  I have also done a bit more on the mosaic.  I know that all may have looked pretty rough to some of ya'll but it's going to look good I think.  I can see it finished in my head and I forget that not everybody else can or even has any idea what it is supposed to look like.  I mean, I haven't even shown a sketch or anything.

So, here's hoping for some dry weather and high barometric pressure!!  and I'll be back with much more progress hopefully.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Stuck


 Well, I finally have a house post for ya'll!!  I finally got up the gumption to start the fireplace tile and have been steadily working on it for the past week or so, in between pottery, gardening and such.  I am actually a little further along than what you see in this photo.  About 2 more runs of tile and I have started the mosaic that will be in that blank space over to the left.  Yes, all that smashed pottery will be put to good use.  There were a number of reasons that I chose to break this up with a mosaic.  First, I think they are pretty and I wanted to do something different and creative.  Secondly, in placing these tiles out so that they wrapped the corners the way I wanted them to, it was going to make the spacing between them just a fuzz larger than I really wanted.  3/8" was really the max that I could justify with looking right.  By laying the ends the way I wanted and working inward, I could leave a strip in which dimensions didn't matter.  Oh, and I didn't want to cut tiles if I could get away with it.  There is nothing wrong with cutting them but with the area etc. I would have come out with pretty small cuts and just wanted to avoid that.  I wanted to stick with whole pieces for the looks.


 As it is, the spacing didn't quite come out as I imagined, although it's close.  See, natural tiles are...well..natural.  Even cut they may not be exactly the same size or totally square.  I have found differences of up to 1/8" and I really didn't expect that.  Maybe a better quality tile would have been more accurate, I don't know.  I will use a dark grey grout on this so that will also minimize how much you notice the irregular spaces.  For the most part I have been able to use these cool little spacers to keep it all in line but I have had to fudge some here or there.  I made sure to establish at least 2 control lines (1 vertical, 1 horizontal) before I ever started to help keep the tiles laid level and plumb.  Actually, I have 4 lines at this point but it never hurts to keep a check on that.  These spacers, by the way, just pull out when the adhesive is set up and you reuse them indefinitely.  They are also 2-sided; one side is a space just for a slot and the other is a spacer for intersections of 4 corners.  The adhesive also sets fairly quick so I only spread enough to set 4 or 5 tiles (6x6) at a time.  You have about 10 minutes working time, maybe.  That may seem like a lot but when you are adjusting and tweaking it goes pretty fast.  Or it does for me anyway!
You can also see from this photo what I meant about the corners.  I did not want the edge of the tile that turns back to show.  The edge of the face tile shows from the side but that is more attractive, to me, than the other.  Basically, when you are standing in front of the fireplace wall, you will not see any of the edges of the tiles.  There are many ways to do corners though.  You can run some type of edge cap of another material such as wood or steel corner molding, another type of tile etc. etc.



 In this photo you can see a bit more of the unevenness of the spacing but it will be covered up by the fireplace unit.  See, I don't have any problem showing my stuff that doesn't come out exactly right.  Everybody makes mistakes or has things that don't do exactly what they thought they would.  I honestly thought the tiles would be more accurate in size so that was a learning lesson for me.  At any rate, I have been able to control the spacing better in areas that will show more, now that I understand the material more.  Plus, it's a natural stone.  It is just going to have variations.  Don't want variations??  Use a manufactured tile.  I had to cut a few tiles to fit around the gas lines and anchors that hold the unit in place.  This was very simple just using a 4" side grinder with a diamond wheel.  You can use it dry too for such small cuts.  I just had to nip out a notch here and there.  For whole cuts I will use a wet saw for tile.
So, there is the beginnings of that.  I'll have some more on it soon.  Hopefully.  If you would like to see a more in depth or closer look at how I did something please let me know.  I'm not sure how well I explain things so please ask questions if needed or tell me to clarify.