Monday, May 23, 2011

Oatcake Fiction

    Nathanael and I enjoy reading to each other in the evening while dishes are being washed or pecans being cracked. Most of the time the book captivates us enough that we find other times to read, like having one person brush their teeth at a time, which is one of the current methods as we read Sir Gibbie by George MacDonald. It is best if there is some activity going on, because if we choose to read while just sitting, especially before bed, Nathanael needs to watch me carefully to make sure I am legitimately awake...actually even if I am the one reading, I may in fact be sleeping. During graduate school I read an entire chapter of Harry Potter to my roommate Lucy while she knitted, and despite the pages having been full of excitement I could not recall a single thing that had happened once I stood up to get ready for bed.
     Most of the books we read together are classic literature, and we especially enjoy the unabridged works of George MacDonald. His novels are the epitome of fiction which does not leave your brain to sit idly by, but engages it to play with philosophy, expand vocabulary, and envision situations and scenes rich with detail and feeling. I know some people who only read non-fiction, but I think they would appreciate a book such as Sir Gibbie, The Castle Warlock or Malcolm as evidence that edifying truth can often be more poignantly delivered through substantial fiction than through biography or historical reflection (though no author conveys the whole truth of course; some are much closer than others).

A friend gave us a neat little notebook where we record the books
we've read and movies we've watched...with ratings of course.
     Since George MacDonald was Scottish, his books are mostly set in Scotland with characters who enjoy Scottish fare, and quite often oatcakes. Nathanael would probably have made a good Scotsman back in the day. Of the 30% of Nathanael that is not water, about 60% is oats. We enjoy our oats in many forms around here. We nearly always have hot cereal, often have granola around for a snack, and sometimes we sprinkle oats into the crackers or sour dough bread. And whenever Nathanael needs to pack a lunch and we have no bread or convenient eaten-cold foods, he packs oatcakes and goes merrily on his way. Oatcakes are a plain food, and very healthy tasting, which I enjoy and Nathanael could eat every day. They're not junk food. I think they are an excellent medium for butter and jams, or savory spreads, but Nathanael delights in them just as they are with their roasted oat essence as the main attraction.

Scottish Oatcakes
from A Feast of Scotland by Janet Warren
1 1/3 cups Old Fashioned Rolled Oats
1/4 tsp baking soda
a pinch of salt
1 Tablespoon of Butter or Lard (Oil would probably work out alright)
6 Tbs hot water (approximately)
A bit of flour to dust the rolling surface; any variety will do.

1. Mix the oats, soda, and salt together.
2. Melt butter and pour into the center, then add enough water to make a stiff dough. Stir briefly with a wooden spoon.
3. Turn the dough onto a flour dusted surface and knead well. Divide in half, and roll each into an 8-inch circle about a quarter of an inch thick.
4. Cook the oatcakes in a dry, heavy based frying pan. They should take about 3 minutes on each side and be golden brown and slightly crisp. Alternatively they can be baked at 325F (160C) for about 30 minutes.
Serve with butter, honey and marmalade for breakfast or with soup and cheese for lunch.

Do you read to each other in your family (or with your roommates)?
What's on your summer reading list?
I would love some good recommendations! (And yes, we read non-fiction too!)

Friday, May 20, 2011

A bounty of Dill

Nathanael and I have been having a very fun time sharing our harvest with our friends and neighbors. When we have given them beans, peas, carrots, spinach or even beets, everyone is ready to share with us how they plan to use them. When it comes to herbs, however, particularly dill, most people have looked in the bag and said, "So how do I use this one?"
   I have to admit I am sort of in the same boat. I love dill, but I don't have a plethora of ideas to utilize it. My first thought is always pickles, but I do have a friend who always makes dill omelets. Our neighbor from Romania recommended tossing dill with other vegetables in a salad, and my dear walking partner from Iran told me she makes dill rice to go with fish (which I recommend by the way, especially with a flavorful brown rice and butter). But, despite the beloved fish and dill combination, I was really looking for a dish to recommend to everyone that would use things they already had...because we really have a ton of dill.

If I were a Black Swallowtail Butterfly (also known as Parsley caterpillar), I might spend my whole life surviving on the stuff, and wandering around looking resplendent. 

Papilio polyxenes asterius

These guys were rawists...dill-ists in fact, but had no recipes to share with me.

Inspired by the enormous bunch of dill I gave her, my friend Hannah discovered just the thing I was looking for. A very basic dill potato recipe from Veg Recipes of India. It is simple and quick, but also a perfect way to really appreciate the flavor of dill. The amounts are imprecise; you could spice it up, or add other root vegetables if you wanted to be creative*, but leaving it basic will also please your palate.  

Dill Potatoes yield 4-6 side servings
2 Tbsp canola oil
1 big bunch of fresh dill leaves, chopped (about 1 cup or more when hard stems are excluded) 
3 to 6 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/8 inch rounds
5-6 medium cloves of garlic, crushed or chopped
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/4 cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
salt and black pepper to taste

1. Heat a large, heavy bottomed pan. Add the oil, and once heated add garlic and saute for one minute.
2. Add potatoes and saute for a few minutes until they begin to soften, perhaps 6-7 minutes.
3.  Add dill leaves and spices, mix well. Then, add salt and 1/2 cup to 1 cup water, cover, and cook gently for 8 to 10 minutes. If the water dries up add more.
4. Remove the lid and cook until liquid has evaporated and potatoes are very tender.
Serve as a side dish, or with dal and rice or chapatis.

*Dill and carrots are related so they are also a delicious combination. Prepare them similarly, adding about 1/2 tsp of cumin seeds to the oil at the beginning, a bit of ginger with the garlic, and some powdered cumin and coriander with the other spices.

What recipe comes first to your mind when you think about having boatloads of fresh dill?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

New Under the Sun

Don't worry, I'm still around....
But it's been an exciting week and a half!

The day after my last post, Nathanael and I spend our ordinary Saturday in the garden weeding, harvesting, exploring, and getting stung by ants. I got stung four times each by four ants on my right wrist and bitten a couple of other places. Even though I was able to keep working for the rest of the day, by Sunday morning the blisters and swelling of my most of my right arm were putting a permanent wince on my face. I have never had any respiratory allergic reactions, and I wasn't feeling lightheaded, but when a red line I noticed on Saturday continued to creep up my arm on Sunday, I decided we should go to the doctor just in case it was blood poisoning. The doctor ended up giving me a steroid shot and prescribing nine things.
    To quote Nathanael,"I just want to know whether it's life threatening..."

I was not interested in feeling as though the ants never bit me, just preventing a more severe reaction. Needless to say, I talked to the pharmacy people and only ended up taking two of those things. Please friends, medicine can be very helpful, and often lifesaving, but lets not be crazy. Don't be over medicated or over medicate your children; your body can do most things on its own. Be especially cautious when it comes to antibiotics (which will kill your beneficial bacteria, one of your body's best lines of defenses, and also increase the rate at which superbacteria are created). And don't ask for them for when they aren't necessary, like for a cold or flu.
...I did (grugingly) end up taking the antibiotics they gave me so that I wouldn't get blood posioning, but I drank lots of kefir and tried to avoid sugar so my digestive bacterial friends would have all of the help they could get.

Nathanael completed his spring courses and their finals (with flying colors, as always). And due to the tendonitis-like state of my hand while it recovered, I did a lot less typing, and internet-ing in general...which was quite nice actually.

And what were my hands doing? Filling out the paperwork to accept a job! After looking for a position in my field for the last year and a half, I am excited about this one and think it will be a great new adventure. I will be an Environmental Scientist, occasionally doing field work, mostly managing data, and learning new things at all times. I will not have nearly as much time for visiting, cooking, and sewing, but it will be great to get some experience, a schedule, and you know...a quicker way to pay back those student loans...(yipee!!!)

There are yet a few weeks before the job begins, so I have been cleaning the house, tying up lose craft projects (not many of the millions, but it's a nice idea), and stocking up on homemade snacks.

No one could make a lemon squash look more dapper.

Yesterday I registered the car, registered to vote, got a new drivers licence, went grocery shopping, and picked up some necessary clothing items. I also got the pre-job entry medical exam, which took nearly two hours and included a full physical, urine tests, blood tests, vision tests, breath tests, a hearing test and a chest xray. I kind of enjoyed it all, but that hearing test makes you feel a little crazy..."Wait, did I hear that beep or imagine it?"

Do any of you have tips for me on meal planning and time management as I head into a whole new schedule?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Weekend Links: Batik-Mehndi-Paisley

Sister Batik on etsy 
I have always loved batik. So, when we were in Wisconsin and had a library system which allowed access to virtually any book, I thought I would learn a bit more about the history of saris.
The Sari: Styles, Patterns, History, Technique
Historically, the designs and colors on saris would denote the region they were from (a little like a tartan), and sometimes would include symbolic designs that might be chosen for special events. Machine printed fabrics are easier to make, of course, so they are popular now and usually the designs are chosen only to be pretty. Hand-dyed or beaded fabrics still take the cake in my opinion.

Back in the day, paisley was Europe's interpretation of the beautiful designs they had seen on Indian saris. So, ever since I read the book I have been thinking about that, and trying to come up with my own interpretation when I doodle. The latest was on an Easter egg. A batik of sorts.

I thought it was pretty good for a crayon....but I was humbled when I saw these amazing Mehndi inspired cookies by a baker named Fiona on Flickr (found via Epheriell Designs). Apparently they were just whipped up for a party, but I think they would make splendid wedding favors or cake replacements.

Really beautiful.

Now I think I need to work on those doodling skills a bit more. But in the meantime, if I were going to go into pottery, fabric making, or perhaps decorate a room, I would choose a few of the hand carved stamps from amandajames1 on etsy, who has a collection of antique Indian designs.

I might yet choose one (someday) and just use it on my handwritten correspondance.

Thinking about the heritage of beautiful designs in India made me wonder what kinds of lovely traditions have been passed down in other countries, and perhaps lost where industry has taken over. 

Do you have any heirlooms in your family that would be a good example of a heritage craft from your mother country (or the country of your ancestors)? 

Have you learned any of those arts from a relative?

I lace making and doilies might qualify...perhaps I should learn.

  Dolce Crochet on etsy

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

May Desktop Links

I love finding good sources of desktop wallpapers, and lately I have been on a calendar kick. Need something new for May? I have a few options for you...

First is TΓΌTsrus, where you can find a number of Adobe tutorials, has a smattering of May wallpapers from artists around the world. With 30 to choose from, you're bound to find something to make you smile...or if they all make you smile you could use one each day! (Yes, May has 31 days, but it's already May 3rd.)

Or, if you would rather think about in season food, visit the blog Chocolate & Zucchini and grab the wall paper they offer on the first of every month. While you're there you will also find some neat food tips, including the recent How not to Cry, which concerns onions. I don't know about you, but I will be trying their tip out. Last week I said to Nathanael, "If anything other than onions put me in pain every day I wouldn't stand for it."

If you want something chill and simple, check out MonkeyManWeb on Flickr, where you can already find jewel toned desktop wallpapers for each month of 2011.

And finally, if you aren't really into the calendar, but want a steady source of wallpapers that will raise your eyebrow, check out The Desktop Wallpaper Project from The Fox Is Black; a design blog where a wallpaper from a different artist is shared for free at least each week, and occasionally every day. Some are colorful, some are crazy, some are even emo. Flipping through the site is like visiting a gallery...I could get stuck on it for hours. (More of my favorites from their collection: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

Have you come across any neat wallpaper websites lately?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Cucumber Beetles

Elevenspotted Cucumber beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata)

Cucumber beetles are beautiful little creatures. Unfortunately, they love to munch on all varieties of cucurbits (cucumbers, gourds, squashes, melons, pumpkins, etc.)...and anything else they happen to land on apparently. Early on Saturday morning, Nathanael and I found them on the tomatoes, peppers, corn, beets, basil, peas...everything really. So despite how interesting they are whether spotted...

Striped cucumber beetle (Acalymma vittata)

or striped...

Banded cucumber beetle (Diabrotica balteata)

...or banded, (and all of them fast moving and attempting to escape the paparazzi), we had to do something about the thousands of them crawling around. 
So we did...we squished them. After about twenty minutes of doing it by hand, I said to myself, "If only we could vacuum them up." And then I remembered that Nathanael could with his entomology aspirator! So for about an hour more, Nathanael used that and I continued to turn my hands yellow and sticky. And you know what? I didn't mind at all, in fact I enjoyed it. Not because I enjoy killing, but I liked the idea that we were dealing with them ourselves and not in a way that will leave residue in our systems. (I was also glad they were pretty, unlike black aphids which aren't as interesting to squish.)

After all, I need to keep these cucumber plants alive and thriving.

Because cucumbers are wonderful. I can't wait to share them, and to make Greek food, and Refrigerator Pickles. This one will be ready before long...if the beetles can be fended off. Luckily once the morning had fully broken, the beetles started flying and the dragonflies came swooping in to devour them. Yes! I knew I liked dragonflies.

In other garden news, the basil thinks it is at home in Italy.

And this awesome beetle is sitting around looking like a space warrior.
I think this is the most amazing looking creature! (Nathanael told me what it was, but I don't recall...I may update with that info later.)

This caterpillar we found in the citrus trees (a pest to them), the orange dog swallowtail (Papilionidae Papilio), is disguised as a bird dropping and has retractable angry eyebrows, which pop out when you touch it and release a musky scent. Its scent apparently repels ants and flies which may want to bother it...but I just wanted to see its flashy accesories.

Amazing, no?

I have never been afraid of insects, but I am really coming to appreciate just how amazing and majestically they are crafted.

  How many are your works, LORD!
   In wisdom you made them all;
   the earth is full of your creatures.
There is the sea, vast and spacious,
   teeming with creatures beyond number—
   living things both large and small. 

 There the ships go to and fro,
   and Leviathan, which you formed to frolic there.
  All creatures look to you
   to give them their food at the proper time.
 When you give it to them,
   they gather it up;
when you open your hand,
   they are satisfied with good things. 

 When you hide your face,
   they are terrified;
when you take away their breath,
   they die and return to the dust.
 When you send your Spirit,
   they are created,
   and you renew the face of the ground. 

Psalm 104: 24-30
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