Sunday, May 31, 2009

First Place

When my oldest son was five or six, he used to take Acrosports near Kezar Stadium. His favorite thing to do after the class was go across the street and run a lap around the track. I think he liked this part even more than the gymnastics class. It was important that I watched him the whole time he ran, and he liked it when I cheered for him when he made it to the finish line. I remember watching his short legs pumping as he receded from me, getting smaller and smaller. It was strange and unsettling to see the little speck that was him moving way across the track when he was farthest from me, because in fact that was about the farthest he had ever been from me, by himself. But I knew he would stick to the track and round the curve to return to me, coming in first place every time. He never told me what was going through his head as he ran, but I imagined that it was a vision of crowds cheering "Go, go!"
Fast forward to ten years later. My son is competing in the All-City high school track meet at Kezar Stadium. He has the fastest frosh-soph times going into two races. He wins them both, easily. At least, he makes it look easy. But I know those grueling training runs of five and ten miles, sprints up Kirkham steps, and interval training all spring weren't easy, because when he came home from them he would grunt, drop his backpack and fall on the couch, only to wake up when dinner was ready. I missed the last race of the meet, the 4x400 relay. He was the anchor for the frosh-soph team, and I heard how they were in 2nd place after the third leg, but he pulled ahead and while the whole track team chanted his name, ran to first place. Not many of our dreams get realized so concretely, in the very spot where we first dreamed them.
He did come back to me after winning the race, and let me take his picture with his medal. He was happy about winning but didn't make his ultimate goal, to beat the meet record. He has already decided what his goal is for next year, when he runs varsity: make it to the state finals. That's what you do after you realize a dream: dream up the next dream. And go off to hang out with your friends.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Ladybug Larva

I pulled a head of (organic) romaine lettuce out of its plastic bag in the fridge today and found this on it. A week ago I would have flicked it off into the sink without much thought. But today I got excited. It's a ladybug larva!
I've been thinking about ladybug larva since I read that they will eat more than a thousand aphids before they are full grown. These guys can really do some damage on an aphid colony. I began to wonder what they looked like, since these larva are obviously something I want to pamper if I find them in my garden. It was easy to find photos on the Web and I've been keeping my eyes out for them, especially since I pulled out my sugar snap peas last week and there were quite a few aphids on them.
This larva on my lettuce was still alive--even after a couple days in the fridge. I ran outside and gently placed it on some parsley, after snapping a portrait. I hope he (she?) makes it.
I wonder if the organic lettuce people have thought of using ladybug larva as a marketing tool?
"Free ladybug larva in every package!" "From our garden to yours!"
Just a note: there were some tiny ladybug larva turds in my lettuce, too, so it's a good idea to wash it, even if it is organic.

Friday, May 15, 2009

How My Parents Learned to Eat

I read this book to the ESL class where I have been volunteering, and it was a hit! I was very pleased. This class is at a community organization that runs a "welfare to work" program and the students are learning English in preparation for jobs. Over the course of the semester, I have seen them get much better at speaking and listening. The idea of reading children's literature to ESL students came from my friend Lynne, who teaches ESL. The teacher said I could do a presentation on a day when she had to do testing, so I did some research and came up with this book, which works well for a number of reasons. The story is told simply, but it's a story with more levels than just the child's point of view. The author tells about how her parents met, when her mother was a Japanese schoolgirl and her father was an American sailor. Each of them is anxious about eating properly according to the other's culture (using chopsticks vs. using a knife and fork), but they practice on their own and figure out that they can do it. I see it as a metaphor for becoming comfortable with another culture. The subject matter is of interest to these students, and the book is not too sentimental for adults.

After I read it aloud, we talked about it a little, and I was impressed that one of the students pointed out that the book never says whether the characters are speaking in Japanese or English. I asked them what they thought, and they said they thought they were speaking a mixture, sometimes Japanese, sometimes English. I had assumed the characters were speaking English (shows my prejudice!). Then one student raised his hand and asked, "Teacher, can I come up and read the book?" I wasn't sure what he meant but then I figured out that he wanted to practice reading aloud. So he came up to the front of the room and read a page, and each student in turn came up in front of the class and read. One of the others said afterward, "I need to do this every day!" It was really great to see how they were proactive about their own learning.

One thing I've learned from doing this volunteering is that it is not easy to speak slowly and simply but still show respect for the students as adults and not insult their intelligence. Also I discovered that it is a skill to choose ways to say things that are simple and avoid convoluted constructions and idiomatic expressions.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Urban Farmer

This is $50 worth of drip irrigation supplies that I bought a week ago at The Urban Farmer store. I was getting tired of moving the hose around the raised bed every 20 minutes since I have been putting it on low to water deeply. Last year I used a sprinkler but I just wasn't satisfied; everything seemed to get dry after a day which meant a lot of the water was evaporating. I went to the store originally looking for a soaker hose, but they talked me out of it. In fact it took me two trips to consult with the urban farmers there, show them my sketches, decide what I wanted, assemble the supplies, and purchase them. (That might seem a little pathetic since we're just talking about a 4'x8' raised bed. Well.) In between I had to measure and consult with my husband, who suggested that we attach the pressure regulator at the raised bed, rather than at the hose bib, so we can unscrew the hose and use it for other things and not have the plastic tubing running across our patio. Good idea. But after I bought everything, I noticed that I was stalling on actually putting it all together. Could it be that I was...lacking confidence? I had drawn some diagrams based on the urban farmers' explanation of how it was all to go together, but it was seeming like one of those tinker-toy, Lego-assembly things that I usually leave to the men of the house. That meant I had to plunge in. Today.
Ta-da! Two hours later (okay, maybe a little more than two hours), it was done. I turned it on and it works. There are five emitter lines on each half of the bed so I can move them around; right now they are a little disorganized and need to be staked down. It will take some time for me to play around with it and make sure they are getting the water where they are supposed to. We (the urban farmers and me) designed it so that I can shut off one half of the system because often I plant one side and wait a while to plant the other side. I am going to plant things differently to make the best use of my new irrigation system. I did not buy a timer; I think I can manage to turn on and turn off the hose. My red oak leaf lettuces and Lollo Rosso lettuces are doing well. There are also some beets in the shady part in the back.
I picked a half pound of sugar snap peas today. The pea plants are burdened with peas and it's a pleasure to lighten their burden. The romano starts I planted are growing in their cage.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Garbanzos con Espinacas

That's all the Garbanzos con Espinacas that were left after dinner tonight. It's kind of hard to photograph leftover garbanzos and make them look appetizing. But they were delicious; very Spanish flavor, with olive oil, fried bread, garlic, pimenton, saffron, and sherry vinegar. The full recipe, from Jose Andres, is in a link from the previous post about beans cooking. The only things I did differently were 1) cook the garbanzos in the oven for about 1-1/2 hours instead of on the stovetop; 2) substitute chard for spinach; and 3) grind the bread and garlic in the food processor instead of messing with the mortar and pestle (thanks, Mom, for your suggestion on that one). We ate it with sausages and bread, since the boys like meat.
Here's my fancy new RED camera. My husband is very eager for me to try the video feature so he is buying a memory card for it that will be big enough to hold video.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Dragon's Gift: The Sacred Arts of Bhutan

Today my husband and I went to see the Buddhist art and religious objects from Bhutan at the Asian Art Museum, since the exhibit was closing today. Many jewel-toned thangkas illustrated scenes from the Buddha's life; others featured bodhisattvas and other deities and Buddhist teachers, saints, and abbots. Video screens showed ritual dance that is the means of transformation of wrathful deities into benevolent beings. My favorite deity is Avalokiteshvara, the Compassionate One, whose head split into eleven pieces because he gazed upon so much human suffering. Amitabha, the Bright One, helped him create eleven new heads out of the pieces, and one thousand arms with an eye on each palm, so that he became stronger. In a thangka in the exhibit, Avalokiteshvara is depicted with a piece of fruit in each of his one thousand hands, which swarm around his head like a thousand juggling balls. I was also glad to see the fierce, warrior deities like blue Vajrabhairava (see above). Perhaps they are responsible for protecting the culture and religion of Bhutan from vanishing. I feel grateful that we could see this artwork and glimpse the spiritual expression of this remote culture.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

New Things Growing

A purple poppy exploded in our front yard. We've been growing these poppies for years, ever since my husband saw one in, ahem, someone else's yard and harvested one of the dried pods. There were lots of them and the plants seemed a bit abandoned, so ... I think it's ok. He sprinkled the tiny seeds on the ground in our yard and, like magic, up they came. Most years he sprinkles a few more seeds around, or sometimes not at all, and they still pop up every year. This photo is the first one I took with my new camera that I got for my birthday: a Kodak EasyShare 10 mp with a nice big 3" LCD screen. I still have a lot of playing around to do with the different modes, etc.
A few weeks ago I planted a bunch of new starts in the raised bed. I keep meaning to go out and photograph them but I haven't done it yet. There are romano beans, Lollo Rosso and Red Oak Leaf lettuces, and some new chervil. Also I sprinkled some more beet seeds around and they have sprouted already. This last week of rain was sent from above just for gardens: gentle and warm, it moistened the soil every day just at the time I was beginning to crank up the watering schedule. Looks like tomorrow the little sprouts might needs some irrigation again.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Walnut Tart

This is the homeliest tart I have ever made. It was billed in Gourmet magazine as "PĂ©rigord Walnut Tart" and my son was reading the magazine and saw the recipe and said, "We have to make that!" So we did. For a walnut tart, it is a bit light on the walnuts. There is only one thin, genteel layer of nuts. And the photo in the magazine shows a darling little tartlet piled high with mahagony nuts. Hmmmm. Well, the tart is scrumptious, but needs more walnuts. And that white bomb-blast looking patch on the tart? That's white sugar, that the recipe said should be sprinkled onto the top of the tart before baking. It's certainly not for sweetness since the tart is already tooth-achingly sweet. And it does nothing to gussy it up, since carmel and walnuts need no gussying. I say, leave it off. And that's what I said in my review on the epicurious site, if you want to see the recipe for yourself. (For some reason my review hasn't posted yet--it should be the first one!)
I call my tart "Woodland Walnut Tart" since the walnuts are from trees on our friends' farm in Woodland.