Friday, June 9, 2017

Hops in Southeast Louisiana

We have a friend over in England who brews the most excellent beers...... He's been doing it for over 20 years so he's got it down pat. 

We had the pleasure of hanging out with him and his lovely wife in May and although we didn't get to see him brew up a new batch, I helped him polish of any number of existing barrels! And saw a little of his 'operation'. Which brought us to the subject of ingredients, namely hops.

These are the grains added to bitter the flavor, if that's the word I should use. I've been curious about them because they are stunning to look at as the climb a line 10' in the air! They look a bit like the kudzu devouring Georgia.

Who wouldn't want to try to grow these in the garden!? But will they thrive in our humidity? Our relentless late-summer heat? Our bugs? And if they do, if they will produce, what then will I ever do with the tiny cones?

Well, I 'll worry about that bridge when I get there. But in the meantime, Let me show you what I have been up to since our return from Portsmouth, England.

I found a website, Thyme Garden, that was selling off the remainder of this year's rhizomes...... and with the vast selection they offer, they were down to a precious few and only one day left to order. (In fact, I may be a little late altogether in this project for much this year, but what the heck. The roots will have a full year to grow and spread.) So, I chose 4 varieties, Nugget, Brewer's Gold, Kent Golding and Sterling and bought 2 roots of each. I'm big on hedging my bets.

It is entirely possible none of them will take, or only one of each or both and all! You just never know...... but I like a good challenge!

So, While I waited for them to arrive, I ordered 4 obelisks and scoped out a place in the Back Two that might give them the best chance at survival here in Louisiana. 

These are 8' obelisks from Gardman USA and they come 2 to a pack from Amazon. Putting them together was not easy but I did it alone.

It makes for thirsty work! Good thing I have beer...

And here they all, 4 soldiers ready to be planted.

This is the spot in the back where we have selected to be the optimal planting location. This is facing dead East so they will received full-blast morning sunlight. Here, John has prepped the ground with holes filled with Black Cow and our compost, making hills for drainage and is planting the 4 obelisks. We did NOT change the composition of the underlying soils which is primarily clay with a high acidity. Next year, I will send off a sample to test the pH.

This morning, I strung up nameplates for each variety and planted the roots.
Here is the northerly view and this stand of pine trees will provide a windbreak from the fierce winds we get. What you cannot see is just off the left is an enormous Live Oak tree which will give the bines ample shade from the late afternoon sunlight.

So, once we get some green growth, I'll post updates. This could end up being nothing more than a folly but if that is the case, I'll have 4 obelisks to use elsewhere.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter 2016

It's been 40 days and time for True Confessions.

Back on Ash Wednesday, I told myself to go 40 days without alcohol or 'sweets'. Sweets I defined in my head as pastries, donuts, cake, chocolate, candy, ice cream, pie. You get the picture. Alcohol is straight-forward. 

With two exceptions, I stuck with it. One late afternoon, I had my first fall..... it was about 3 weeks into the time-frame. It had been a challenging day and I was more than irritated and came home grumpy. There sat the bottle of red, open. And I went for it. 

I poured 3 oz. and took a swig. Do you want to know.... it tasted dreadful.

Now, that surprised me! I thought it was going to be just what the doctor ordered. But, it was so off-putting, I put the glass down and washed my mouth with water. 

A week or so later, we are at a function and the wine was pouring freely. I went over to the bar and asked the keep to pour a short glass of white. (wasn't going to try the red again!) I let it sit there and looked at it while having a conversation with John's boss's wife. We talked about Lent and she said I had no business messing up with I had started. I sniffed at the aroma wafting from the glass. But the more we talked, the less I wanted it. So, eventually, when she suggested she could take it off my hands, I slid the untouched glass over and thanked her. That was the last time I even thought about alcohol, other than in broad terms.

Now, the other failing, if I want to think of it in that term, was last Tuesday, when I partook in banana pudding, triple chocolate I don't know what & Key Lime crepes. We were out with friends celebrating a birthday and when it can time for dessert, I went for it. No lie, I ate my not-fair-share and probably then some. It was so good. 

Totally different experience from the one I had with wine. I was hoping one bite would mentally turn me off of another but, alas, I know what lights up the pleasure zone in the cerebral cortex.

But 40 days come and go, and here it is Easter.

What to do? 

Well, with the exception of staying clear of sweets and alcohol, I didn't change any other aspect of our diet. I am pleased to see that without exercise or reduction in the quantity in consumption, I have dropped 8-10 lbs. 8-10 because depending on the time of day, I fluctuate this much. And now that I have LOST it, I don't want it to FIND me again!

I don't think I will (I pray I won't!) be resuming my consumption of alcohol now, at least not to the degree as before! Same with sweets. 

But today, now that I can, I will bottle the 2nd carboy of pear wine from our haul last year. I think syphoning the first bottle is going to get me drunk.

Monday, February 22, 2016

End of the First Quarter

As I go through with this "giving up" attempt, I find it's not as hard as I thought it would be.

Wine is very likable, when done in small doses and I thought I was imbibing in that manner. Until I read (online... always dangerous) that a woman is 'allowed' 21 units a week. Ok, I'm down with that... 3 glasses is the most I drink anyway.

Ah ah ah.. not so fast, sister! 1 unit ≠ 6 oz. No No NO. my friend..... 1 Unit = 3OZ!  So technically, I was drinking a weeks worth of my 'allotment' in 2 days. Yikes, indeed.

And no wonder the pounds have been creeping up on me the past 5 years. Empty calories indeed.

Speaking of calories.... I have found that I am eating less as a result, as well.... cravings are in check. That's unexpected. I thought I was going to substitute the 'lack' of one thing for another, since nature abhors a vacuum, or so it's said.

Now, here's the kicker..... although I have NOT had sweets or alcohol in 12 days, the weight remains the same. Pants are looser, face is thinner. Weight remains the same.

So, I don't get it..... oh well.... 

Also, this has NOT been hard to do. Even when at a restaurant or with others how are imbibing.... it's al good. I think fasting would be more difficult to manage because, let's face it.... I do like to eat. Cook and eat.


So, it's a problem at times..... but pretty soon here , it's going to time for Spring planting and working out in the vegetable gardens is more physically demanding than working on quilts.

Speaking of, here is one I just took of the frame. It's from last year's Block of the Month, Snapshots for St. Jude's Hospital.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

I'm Not Catholic

No, I'm not. My Grandmother from Sicily was Catholic and she raised her son in the faith.

I don't know much about Catholicism... nothing really, but I do live in a predominantly Catholic state and appreciate much of the traditions as far as one can witness them from the street.

Like the St. Joseph's Altars... so special. And Easter. and of course, Christmas although neither of those are celebrated exclusively by Catholics. In point of fact, they are welcoming to everyone who wishes to partake in all of these celebrations.

Mardi Gras has come and gone and yesterday was Ash Wednesday. As I was driving my errands, I heard someone report that there are now drive-thru stations for Christians who wish to receive the ashes but don't have the time to walk into the church.

 At first, I thought "sign o' the times!" and then I reflected how sad that is...... so busy in life that a solemn moment can't manage to fit within. "I'll just drive-by and grab a sandwich, drop off a deposit and get my forehead marked." (Sloth)

And then this made me think about the Lenten season..... the giving up of something one likes or does or whatever for 40 days. I have never done that. Well, except for smoking. I've given that up ALOT over the years and have been smoke-free for many years. So that's a good thing.  (Uh-uh-uh! That's Pride, right there on display!)

The idea of self-denial is tough.... "what have I done wrong that I go and punish MYSELF!"  (Pride)

In this case, nothing (I hope). But then, that would be to think of it as more as an affront or even a 'challenge', so trendy these days. CHALLENGE!  I think Life itself is much of a challenge.... why am I off in search of yet another? (Pride, again)

Then, I said to myself.... "well, Self, you could 'give up' wine in the evening (or whenever the urge strikes and lately it's been striking often!). Ok,,,, 40 days without wine. OR any alcohol." If you're giving up a vice, go all the way. (Greed)

But what about that other vice o' mine: sweets. that tooth is rather long. I don't usually go after King Cake during the Mardi Gras season but this year, this year......

..... I bought 3. And I BAKED 2 more. I ate most of this, by myself. (Gluttony).....(So much Gluttony)

So, on a tele-chat yesterday morning with my aunt, I presented this dilemma (what a dilemma! right?)  to her. Do I give up alcohol or sweets?

And do you know what the devil replied in return? "Why not both?" 

The only response I could come up with was to stare at her. I just went from one extreme to the other in the blink of an eye. (WRATH!!)


Why not?

Yesterday was Day One. And I had no trouble whatsoever. Not even when the kind waitress gave me an Andes after lunch. I slid it back across the table and said, "Lent." It's code around these parts. 

And no wine, not even a good-bye drop. 

I'm actually looking forward to tomorrow: Fish Friday. Bring on the catfish. (and we're back to Gluttony)

This morning, awaken fresh and lighter, I breezed through the Facebook feed and saw something fabulous.

During the 40 days of Lent, I should go through my closet and remove an article of clothing (in good condition) that can and will be donated to a shelter. BRILLIANT.

And so, this morning, 2 articles will be placed in the box. Baby step, my friends. Baby steps. I wonder if my man will do this, too? 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

It's Off The Machine

Before I begin, I have to state: I am so tired. I do not remember a time when I was more tired. I can hardly hold my eyes open to type this...

I just took the quilt off the rails and the yawning and achy shoulders and everything tells me I should not even attempt trimming off the excess fabric and batting.
I'm going to bed!

Okay, It's Nov. 8 and the quilt when on the machine on Oct. 15. This means it's been under way for 3.5 weeks and I have spent almost every day between working on it. A little here, a lot there.

What has taken the longest is not the actual stitching but rather the deciding on the designs I wanted to try to make. After I had blocked in all the 'negative space' squares on point, I waited to see how it looked before deciding on the filler stitches between them.

 Above you can see how I treated the lattice work and how the circles push down the background.

After the good night's sleep, I felt ready to tackle the trimming up. The quilt measures 86.5" square and is the widest one I've done on the Tin Lizzie 18.

Now, all that is left is to figure out how I will bind it. I'm leaning on using all the leftover strips from the fabrics I used in the center. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

And In Full Disclosure

I am a cluttered quilter.

But I'll get to that fact in a moment... bear with me.

One thing about quilt making that I've had issues with is hiding the threads that invariably come with machine quilting. Doing a pantogram or all-over design gives you the ability to start and stop somewhere off the quilt but when you work on custom-quilting designs, you start and stop wherever is best for the overall quilt. This means you end up with lots of threads all over the place and these must must must be hidden in the center of the sandwich, hopefully snug in the batting and unobservable from the front.

Burying threads is very easy, but time-consuming and can be hard on the back if you wait til the very end to do this. Recently, I began burying as I go and all you need is a 'self-threading' needle and a small pair of snips.

Slip the needle in right where you see the threads and out somewhere where there is thread-work already created or, anywhere you know you're going to add more. This is because you want those threads to get secured and not work their way loose over time.
Now, pop the threads through the eye of the needle (there's a space at the tip-top where they just pop in and don't easily pop back out. Over time and use, this gets worn out and can also break. They don't last forever.)

Pull the needle through the fabric and drag the threads out the other side....

.... and snip away the excess. Easy-peasy... and use a small square of batting to drop the snipped threads on or they'll end up all over the place.

If, over time, you get in the habit of doing this as you finish an area, you won't end up with hours of burying threads when you take the completed quilt off the rollers.

Now, here is where we return to the first sentence: I am a cluttered quilter and this is what the quilting frame looks like on a good day.

You can see I have a magnifying glass, screw drivers, tweezers, bobbins, paint brushes, markers, rulers and sheets with quilting designs. AS I say, this looks pretty organized than it usually does.... but look at all those nifty places a teeny tiny needle can get lost in and usually does!

I have spent an inordinate amount of time searching for the little devil because I can't seem to put it in the same place every time I use it but now I have the perfect solution:

This is the Needle Nanny and Peeper Keeper, a 2 in 1 magnetized device that snaps securely and easily on my shirt and keeps track of the needle. I can slip my reading glasses in the loop instead of on top of head, as well and it looks like a cute little brooch. 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

West African Peanut Stew

I remember, years ago, watching a talkshow host (could it have been Dinah Shore? ....way before there was an Oprah or a Martha) interviewing a woman who taught the audience about this West African stew using peanut butter and heavy spices and okra.

I remember being intrigued.

From that time forward, whenever I think about okra, this recipe-memory surfaces but until today, I never pursued the activity of making it.

This morning, while out in the garden harvesting the penultimate crops, my mind once more resurrected the image and I could swear I was smelling the fragrance of a dish I have never tasted. So, I searched the innertubes and found lots of recipes to follow.

And I do mean, LOTs of recipes and they were all variations on the theme, so while I have never tasted this dish before, I want to set about making a meal using what I have on hand & (obviously) tastes great.

What is even more exciting is learning that eggplant features in the recipes!!!!!! Well, whaddaya know!!! I have all that and then some... check it out.
There are 3 different variety of eggplant we planted in the spring and two are only now bringing forth the little Japanese eggplants. The bushes are large and multi-branched but the fruit is tiny, almost absurdly so but big on taste and texture.

I start with this!

I have selected about 20 okra fingers and enough eggplant to chop & measure (about 1.5 cups of okra and eggplant each).

Bacon grease
1 finely chopped onion
1 Tbls minced ginger
1 fat clove finely chopped garlic
1 finely chopped bell pepper
1 small finely chopped hot pepper
3 - 4 tbls catsup
1  coarse chopped sweet potato or butternut squash
1.5 cups eggplant, cubed 1"
1.5 cups okra, sliced into 1/2" rounds
3 cups chicken stock
3/4 cup peanut butter
* Penzeys Berbere Spice
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 coriander powder

In a large stock pot, saute' the onion in about 2 -3 Tbls of bacon grease (you can go olive oil if you must) for 3 minutes, and add ginger and pepper. Saute' a further 3 - 4 minutes and add all the spices. Add catsup and peanut butter. Stir well and you will see the ingredients begin to stick to the bottom of the pot. Add the stock and stir until well-blended.

Now, add the eggplant  and cook for 10 - 15 minutes. 

Add okra and sweet potato or butternut squash. (I substituted out the potato because I have lots of squash from the garden and they have the same texture.) Cook low, for a further 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to be certain nothing sticks on the bottom.

Oh, man is this ever good! I was concerned, too, because while researching I read reviews of some of the online recipes; some people gave them high scores but others were downright abusive: "I threw the whole mess away!" really? in the same recipe? Could it be that bad with those ingredients?  No. It is aromatic, creamy, packed with flavor, exotic and I can't wait for lunch tomorrow.

Chunked chicken pieces can also be added for more protein but as a Meatless Monday, this is great as it is. Go vegetarian and use anything other than the bacon grease.
Serve with couscous or basmati rice.

* Addendum - Berbere spice is a blend from Penzeys Spices which includes fenugreek, cumin, allspice, pepper  etc. It is an amazing blend that just transports me to another continent every time I use it. I went this route because the various recipes had a laundry list of stand-alone spices, most of which are in Berbere so I just cut to the chase.

If you buy and use this spice for the first time, disregard the use instructions on the back where it suggests starting with 1 TABLESPOON and adding more. Oh dear God, no. Most people will find that so hot that it will kill off the flavors of anything else that happens to be included. I learned this the hard way. Sneak up on the heat......

I like the spices from Penzey Spices. I was introduced to this brand just after Katrina and have to say the flavor and freshness is outstanding. You can order online or find shops in large cities (except New Orleans, for some reason. I guess they don't think we're much into food down here).

HOWEVER, the political agenda coming from this business in some emails and catalogues is way over the top. If you don't want me to buy your spices because I disagree with you, I can accommodate that. I don't need to pass a litmus test to be deemed worthy.  Just sell me the spices and leave me alone and in return, I won't proselytize you or the employees. Really, I just want to cook, and spread the fragrance and share. 

"Can't we all just get along?"

huh..... I just received another email...... and it's perfectly neutral. Thank You!