Thursday, July 30, 2009

Crochet Summer Camp

Maybe it's exaggerating to call a 3-hour workshop on how to crochet a summer camp. But ever since my kids lost interest in going to summer camp, I'm all over it--and this is probably the only "summer camp" experience I'm going to get this summer. Picture a room with lots of scrappy art projects pinned up to the wall in the corner of the large warehouse wonderland that is SCRAP. Around 15 women of many ages, sizes, and orientations seated around 3 tables are gazing at their crochet hooks, crocheting intently. There is conversation--about how to get your teenager off the couch in the summer, about someone else's wedding presents, about spouses and significant others, about raves and concerts and other tantalizing snippets I didn't quite get the gist of--but it all happens with eyes fixed firmly on the crocheting.
I felt a little sorry for the guy who wandered into the room and exclaimed cluelessly: "Oh, knitting!" There was a little silence, and then the teacher answered briskly, "Actually, it's crocheting." To make up for his gaffe he feigned interest in what we were making and leaned in to look. "You're making skullcaps," he said. "They are crocheted caps," she corrected him. "This is a workshop space." He got the message.
I won't say I'm an expert crocheter now, but I did learn the basic stitches and started following the pattern to make the cap. Except I ripped out most of what you see above and started over since it was beginning to look more like a placemat. I don't really know why I'm picking up another craft, since I hardly have time for the sewing and scrapbooking projects I've started and not finished, but crocheting is different because you can bring it with you. It only takes a ball of yarn and a crochet hook. It takes less mental attention than any other craft I can think of (I've never tried knitting) and the repetitive hand movements are pleasurable. After several hundred stitches, my hands are getting the feel of it. Maybe I'll just keep ripping out the same yarn and starting over.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Recipe for a Cold July

If you've had just about all the cold, windy, foggy weather you can bear out here in the foglands of San Francisco, here's what to do:
1. Go over to Rainbow Grocery and buy 5 lbs. of Early Girl tomatoes ($2.49/lb.)
2. Make Georgeanne Brennan's recipe for roasted tomato sauce and fill your home with the smell of thick, summery tomatoes.
3. Pretend you are in the Central Valley, next to a Hunt's tomato factory. (I used to live in Davis, where the Hunt's plant made tomato sauce in the summer and the whole town was filled with the hot, thick, sweet smell of simmering tomatoes. That factory isn't there any more.)

Since I can (almost) never make a recipe without tinkering with it, here's my adaptation of her roasted tomato sauce recipe. If it sounds good to you, check out her version and a couple of other recipes for using summer tomatoes. (It's always entertaining to read the comments. People have strong opinions about tomato sauce.)

Roasted Tomato Sauce (adapted from Georgeanne Brennan)
5 lbs. Early Girl tomatoes
2 cloves of garlic, minced
4 thyme sprigs
1/2 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
1 tsp. coriander seeds
1 tsp. fennel seeds
1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp. olive oil
Juice of one lemon
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup minced shallots
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Put the whole tomatoes in a roasting pan. Sprinkle them with the garlic, thyme, rosemary, coriander, and fennel. Drizzle with 1/4 cup olive oil, lemon juice, and balsamic vinegar. Roast until the tomatoes are collapsing, about 45 minutes. Heat the 1 Tbsp. of olive oil and saute the shallots until soft. Add the tomato mixture and the white wine. Bring to a low simmer and cook until the tomatoes are thickened, about 45 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool a bit. Then put through a food mill to remove skins and seeds (or puree and strain). Add salt and pepper to taste.
This made about 5 cups. I froze two freezer bags with portions for 1 lb. of pasta, and am using the last cup fresh.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Just One More Galette

I think this is the best one of the season. I found an older man with a little boy (his grandson?) selling cartons of Blenheim apricots at the farmer's market last week. I bought a couple of pounds and instantly wished I had bought more. We enjoyed every last one.
It was really nice to come back to our garden and see everything growing. I harvested my first Romano beans, and they were delicious. The horrible thing is, after producing about 20 fat green beans, this week the plants are looking terrible. The bean pods are shriveling and falling off before maturing. The lower leaves are turning yellow and falling off, too. The upper leaves look like they need fertilizer so I gave them some fishmeal tea. The Emerite and Tongues of Fire beans don't look quite so bad but they are also a little pale so I gave them some fishmeal tea, too. It has been very very cold and foggy this week (the temperature gauge at City College said 39 degrees this morning at 9:30 am) so maybe they are in shock over the change in temperature. I read that beans really don't like cold weather. I am in agreement with the beans. I feel like my leaves are about to turn yellow and fall off, too.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Backpacking in the High Sierra

We just got back from a 5-night backpacking trip in the Sierra Nevada. We hiked from Rock Creek up over Mono Pass and into Pioneer Basin, then back again. We were above 10,000 ft. nearly the entire time, so the sun and wind were intense. Some of the landscapes we passed through were barren, like the moon, such as Mono Pass above. We had to skirt the snowfields on the way in, but five days later on the way out it was much less snowy. We also hiked through beautiful mountain meadows, like this one below Ruby Lake.
Above 10,000 ft there were not so many flowers blooming since it was still early in the season. Or rather, there were many flowers blooming, but not so many of the showy ones like Indian Paintbrush and Shooting Stars that are so familiar to me. I have a divine new field guide, The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada by John Muir Laws, which I believe includes every living thing--plant and animal--living in the Sierra Nevada in gorgeously detailed watercolors. So I spent a lot of time stooped over looking at tiny alpine plants growing in the crevices of the granite and discovered a tiny world. I think I have seen many of these plants before, just never really looked at them that carefully or wondered what they were called. Like Rosewort, an early spring flower that is almost like a succulent.
Or this Oval-Leaved Buckwheat, which is magenta before it blooms and then turns white when the buds open.
Or these two rock garden flowers that I thought were the same, except now I know the first is Granite Gilia, and the second is Alpine Campion.
And this lovely White Heather (also known as Cassiope) that inspired this from John Muir:
Here too... I met Cassiope growing in fringes among the battered rocks. No evangel among all the mountain plants speaks Nature's love more plainly than Cassiope.
I did see it but didn't stop to photograph it, so here's the photo credit for this image: © Br. Alfred Brousseau, Saint Mary's College.

Yes, I love the bright purple and pink Penstemon and sunny Mule's Ears, but on this trip I began to see what John Muir meant when he compared Cassiope to an evangel--a messenger of good news, even gospel. They and the other plants growing on the rocks are the embodiment of a will to live. They are small, so it is easy to think of them as delicate or fragile but in fact they are much tougher than me. They survive in the harshest of climates: sun and wind and cold are brutal and their growing season is short. When I lie down on the granite and look closely at them--their leaves, their stems, their blooms, their seeds--I see perfection.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The High Line

My mom just sent me these photos of her visit to the High Line in New York City, a brand-new park created out of an abandoned elevated train line that will be 1-1/2 miles long when fully complete. A gardener, she especially noticed the plants, which were carefully selected to look like weeds and planted in natural groupings as if they had just sprung up. With its views of the city and artful landscaping, the park was wildly successful from the moment it opened. It is so popular they have to limit how many people can go up on it. There are many stunning photos on the website.
I really love this plant selection (and the whole concept of making a destination park out of an abandoned track) and I had a sudden revelation that this is what I want to do in our front yard: plants that look like weeds, but aren't! And some old railroad tracks! I wonder if my husband will go along.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Admiring the Beans

My favorite plants in my raised bed right now are my bean plants. It's partly because they are all healthy right now, no mysterious holes or pests, and growing fast. But bean plants are more interesting than, say, lettuce, which just gets bigger and bigger and then bolts. Bean twist and twine, they flower briefly and then suddenly where there used to be a flower, there's a bean. The bean grows longer and fatter and then it's ready to eat.
I have Romano beans, my favorite kind of green bean to eat, which I planted from starts in late April. They have taken their time to get established and have only grown about 18" high, but they made yellow flowers a few weeks ago and now beans are forming, some already 3" long. On hot days the Romano bean plants rotate their leaves so the top surface is perpendicular to the ground and only the thin edge of the leaf is facing the sky. I knew sunflowers turned their heads to watch the sun, but I never knew beans could rotate their leaves like that.
The photo above is the Emerite beans, a variety of French haricots verts, those thin green beans they sell for an outrageous amount at Tower Market. These are pole beans, and you can see them twining in the photo. I had to keep tying them onto the tomato cage that I'm using for their support, and it took a week or so for them to finally start twining. There are a few lovely lavender blossoms on them now. They are supposed to grow up to 8' high. I have an arch of PVC pipe for them to twine onto once they reach the top of the tomato cage.
The last start I planted just ten days ago are Tongues of Fire beans. These are shelling beans kind of like cranberry beans, with red speckled pods and a reddish bean (I think). You use them in soups or salads, cooked fresh. I can't tell if they are going to twine or not.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

First Flight Lesson

It is very satisfying to be able to give someone something you know they will love. My husband and I had the chance to give our son an introductory flight lesson for his 14th birthday. At least, that's what I called it. My son called it "my first flight lesson." Note what that implies.
Anyway, it was as thrilling as he thought it would be. He had a wonderful flight instructor from Oakland Flyers who was chatty and warm. He and my son did the whole pre-flight check together, while I took photos, then they walked me back to the terminal and they flew over the Bay in a tiny 152 Cessna 2-seater for an hour. My son got to handle the controls (the pilot did, too) and take photos from 2,000 feet up. After many his hours on the Flight Simulator game, my son knew pretty much what all the controls on the dashboard were. In fact, during the pre-flight check, the pilot said, "I'm not so sure you need me." But a revelation to my son was the actual physical feel of the yoke, the wind pulling on the plane, and how much force it took to hold the plane steady. He said his arms were tired after the flight (and I don't think he's ever heard of Henny Youngman). All evening he was reliving the experience, like what the fog looked like from above, what the control towers said to them, and how it was a little choppy coming in for the landing, and what a good job the pilot did bringing it down with a little plunk. My husband and I got several extra hugs that evening, and the statement, "That was the best present I have ever had and I will remember it for the rest of my life."