Friday, October 16, 2020

Sarah's Quarantine Adventures

By request, I am posting in this blog again to document the natural spaces I have visited/hiked in during the pandemic, to help others find COVID-safe places. Part of my inspiration are The Great Georgia Quest and ATLNature. I plan to include practical information (restrooms, crowds/width of trails for peace of mind re: COVID or, if you are like me, sometimes walk dogs), pictures, and maybe some hiking stories. I'm not sure yet.

I intended to go through my old posts first and un-publish every remotely embarrassing post. I did not manage to do that. So if you choose to go through the archives before I've reviewed them all, I apologize for some of the things I wrote in my twenties. Many of the posts simply read as first drafts, unedited, rambling. Some include language or thoughts that I am a little embarrassed about, and I have to remind myself that I had different world experience at the time.

Before the pandemic, I had spent my weekends and other days off going hiking. When I first learned I would be working from home for a couple of weeks in March and that epidemiologists considered outdoor exercise to be safe and beneficial, I thought, why not use the extra time I'm saving by not commuting to go hiking even more? I started to fit in a couple more hikes a week before or after work. As things became more uncertain and scary, these walks in the woods became more and more essential to my well-being. My work can be stressful, even more so in a public health and economic crisis, and I often need a quiet natural space as something like a reset button for my mind, so I can return indoors functioning and serving my community more effectively.

I have always enjoyed hiking. I started hiking regularly, as often as possible, in 2018 when I was diagnosed with asthma, which I developed after being ill with pneumonia during my last semester of law school. Rather than decide I was not going to exercise (asthma trigger), I decided I wanted to start exercising and getting healthier. Then I had the flu in 2019, and where my asthma had been mostly under control, it was like I was starting over. With appropriate medical treatment, my asthma is under control. I have been cleared to go to parks and grocery stores and such. I mention how bad it was before, however, as background for why I have made the hiking choices I have made - seeking out places that aren't crowded on weekends and wearing a mask, even outdoors, except when no one is nearby.

In no particular order, here is a stream of consciousness list of the places I have visited in 2020. Most of these are places within a 90-minute drive of East Point, where I live. You may notice that very few are in the North Georgia mountains; my spots tend to be concentrated in South Metro Atlanta to Middle Georgia. Eventually, I'll do a write-up of all of these. I have not linked to the park pages because that would take a long time. One day I'll edit this and add links to the park pages and my write-up. For now, you can email me or leave a comment if you have questions about any of these places.

1. Cochran Mill Park - have not been since early March - in Chattahoochee Hills (South Fulton County)
2. Chattahoochee Bend State Park - a favorite - outside of Newnan (Coweta County bordering Carroll County and Heard County)
3. Indian Springs State Park - a favorite - south off I-75 (Butts County - I believe this is Middle Georgia)
4. Dauset Trails - near Indian Springs State Park
5. High Falls State Park - south off I-75, near Indian Springs State Park, but in Monroe County
6. Piedmont NWR - Allison Lake Area - near but south of Indian Springs/Dauset Trails/High Falls (Jones County) 7. The Ridge Nature Area - Fayetteville, GA (Fayette County)
8. Morgan Grove Nature Area - Fayetteville, GA (Fayette County)
9. Lake Horton - Fayetteville, GA (Fayette County)
10. Sams Lake Nature Area - Fayetteville, GA (Fayette County)
11. Nesmith Preserve - Fayetteville, GA (Fayette County)
12. Line Creek Nature Area - Peachtree City, GA (Fayette County)
13. Flat Creek Nature Area - Peachtree City, GA (Fayette County)
14. Lake Peachtree - Peachtree City, GA (Fayette County)
15. Newman Wetlands - Lovejoy (Clayton County)
16. Reynolds Nature Preserve - Morrow/Lake City (Clayton County)
17. Some trails adjacent to Reynolds in City of Morrow that I forgot the name of (Clayton County)
18. Panola Mountain State Park (DeKalb/Rockdale/Henry County area)
19. Arabia Mountain (DeKalb/Rockdale/Henry County area)
20. Big Haynes Creek Nature Center - Conyers (Rockdale County)
21. Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center/Clybel WMA - Mansfield/Shady Dale (Jasper County)
22. Hard Labor Creek State Park - Social Circle, or so (Walton and Morgan Counties)
23. Fort Yargo State Park - Winder (Barrow County)
24. Red Top Mountain State Park (Bartow County)
25. Constitution Lakes - Atlanta (DeKalb County)
26. Connally Nature Park - East Point (Fulton County)
27. Sykes Park - East Point (Fulton County)
28. Brady Trail - College Park (Fulton County)
29. Rogers Bridge Trail - Johns Creek (Fulton County)
30. Clyde Shepherd Nature Preserve - North Decatur (DeKalb County)
31. Fort Mountain State Park - Chatsworth (Murray County) - This was almost two hours away
32. Cascade Springs Nature Preserve - Atlanta (Fulton County) (not since 2/29/20)
I will update if I remember something I've left off the list. If you have questions or comments about any of these parks, any you would like me to do a write-up of first, or suggested places I should visit, leave a comment!
I leave you with a photo from Sweetwater Creek State Park on the evening of June 8, 2020.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Happy 2017 Monday Night Brussels Sprouts

On Christmas Eve, I wrote the following: I'll get my Brussels Sprouts Party Dip recipe up for you, readers, if not in time for Christmas, then in time for New Year's Eve. I'm so sorry. Can we say that was the old me, the 2016 me? and that 2017 me will be different?

I'll tell you about the Brussels sprouts dip, but first I want to tell you about my day! It was so productive, a great way to start a week, a month, a year! A morning commitment lasted until almost noon, so it seemed counterproductive to go to the office when all of the work I had to do could be done at home. I've been working from home for about two weeks, and I'm still not used to it. I keep feeling like I need to tell someone, except I am the boss. I work very effectively from home, sometimes more effectively (because I'm not doing mental calculations like, "I need to finish this thing so I can leave at that time so I can stop at the store and put the laundry in the machine and what am I going to wear tomorrow? Gotta make time for ironing." NO! I can go to the store before it is crowded and then work late, or not, because I'm not losing any time to a commute. (Not that my commute is long. Also I like my commute; I ride the subway and it's my designated time to read a library e-book on my phone.) This parenthetical has gotten out of hand!) but I still feel guilty about it. I expect that will end at some point.
Anyway, I have signed up for the January Cure, which I also did in 2014, and found it life-changing. To my relief, today's assignment wasn't to go around the house making lists of what was wrong with every room, but instead to completely clean and reorganize a drawer. After mulling over what drawer could possibly be reorganized without prompting the need to empty and organize additional drawers, I knew what it had to be. My desk drawer, specifically, the middle drawer right under where I type, where I got into a bad habit of throwing and stuffing things. I do want the drawer to be a temporary holding place for things I often need, such as eyeliner, bobby pins, and knitting tools, but I think from now on, I need to set a designated day of the week to put all those things back where they belong. Behold my newly organized desk drawer:

And thus my desk became a calm place to work with positive feelings associated with it.

In addition to cleaning out my desk and working, I took some time to go through neglected cookbooks, both to find a recipe that would help me use my sourdough starter (more on that later—the sourdough is becoming a big part of my life now, a new member of the family, a very fun hobby) and to pick out what green soups I'd make this January. Something about January makes me want to make soup, especially green soups from Love Soup by Anna Thomas. Green soup would require a trip to the store, since some mysterious creature has eaten a lot of the kale and chard in my garden (in some cases just removing the leaves, which lay scattered around the plant—who or what would do this!?), and plans to walk to the market were dashed by late afternoon heavy rain that never stopped, and has turned into a thunderstorm. I opted not to drive to the market but rather to shop from my fridge, to instead try Potato and Tomato Soup with Sage from Love Soup (here are some other blogs that have written about that soup, or a modified version of it), to use a big bag of out of season tomatoes before they went bad. (I find that out of season tomatoes are just fine when oven roasted.) I have enough fresh sage to try Green Soup with Sweet Potatoes and Sage (a modified version here; also this blog/podcast is great if you like plants, nature, or food) after I go to the market tomorrow.

To serve with the soup, I made Sourdough Crackers from Zero Waste Chef, which I've been making quite a lot due to all of the sourdough discard accumulating in my life. This time I used butter in place of the oil and put flax seeds on top. They were delicious with sliced kashkaval.

After all this, I still had time to clean the kitchen and start a loaf of sourdough bread (trying a new recipe from The Tassajara Bread Book, another old favorite that somehow became neglected) and feed my sourdough (before I read that I'm actually supposed to feed it from the bread dough sponge tomorrow; whoops.) And I finished a library book (audiobook) while doing all of this!

And it wasn't even 9pm. I sat down, realizing that my house was clean, my breakfast and work lunch were made, and I still had time to read a book. I know this won't last; work will get busy. But compared to other first Mondays in January—the last three I remember trying so hard to get ahead, to get healthy food made (like green soup) and the house and stuff I needed for school and work ready in advance, not finishing before 10pm, feeling run down. I felt so delighted experimenting with sourdough tonight; perhaps it's the science experiment feel of it, or perhaps it's a strong appreciation for having so much more time and freedom over my own schedule than I had during law school.

In less fun news, I have poison ivy! On Christmas weekend, it was sunny and in the 70's, and I finally had the opportunity to tackle a section of the yard I've been tolerating for three years, a section where unraked leaves accumulate because the mess of English ivy and other vines trap the leaves and tear at the rake. Finally I had the time and energy and perfect weather to rake the leaves and pull up the invasive plants that occupied that part of the yard—English ivy, Japanese honeysuckle (and in that dark space, it doesn't even flower!), and dreaded privet. Happily I pulled English ivy and honeysuckle vines from the ground, without irrational fear of copperheads. Happily I pulled English ivy off the trees! Except it wasn't all English ivy. I, a botanist who knows better, who wanted to clear that section of the yard partially because it is full of poison ivy—I who know that dormant winter poison ivy looks like brown nothing but is still just as potent—was pulling up vines and carrying them to a wheelbarrow wearing garden gloves with my sleeves rolled up. Stupid, stupid, stupid. And wintertime poison ivy is worse, even if it is just a little on my forearms, because in the winter you wear scratchy sweaters. This is how I've found myself in the middle of the night Googling various hippie remedies for poison ivy, desperately reading websites I'd normally disregard as unscientific. At least it will clear up in a couple of weeks. Let me be a cautionary tale. When pulling up vines in the winter, remember what that spot looked like in the summer, and wear gloves and long sleeves, at minimum.

On that appetizing note, I promised I'd tell you how I made Brussels Sprouts Party Dip

Brussels Sprouts Party Dip

I had to bring an appetizer to a holiday party, and forgot all of the party foods I had ever made. Friends kept suggesting my Brussels sprouts, but I argued that those were more of a dinner party side dish than an appetizer. A few people suggested serving them with toothpicks, but if I can't be bothered to flip the Brussels sprouts, do you really think I want to stick each sprout half with its own toothpick?

The hostess suggested, "artichoke dip" or something. I thought about dips. Artichoke dip. An elaborately fatty asiago cheese and sundried tomato dip I used to make for college parties, the recipe for which seems to have disappeared off the Internet. Spinach dip. Spinach dip...other vegetable dip...Brussels sprouts dip!? A blended Brussels sprouts dip!

The Internet has thought of it already. I found inspiration from the Minimalist Baker and Closet Cooking. From Minimalist Baker, I got the idea to include shallots and cook chopped Brussels sprouts in a skillet. From Closet Cooking, I had the idea to roast the Brussels sprouts. These recipes also made me think of a less heavy artichoke dip recipe I'd made in college, Heidi Swanson's Baked Artichoke Dip with a silken tofu and yogurt base, instead of mayonnaise and sour cream. I combined the three inspirations, coarsely chopping sprouts and cooking them on the stovetop in a cast iron skillet with chopped garlic and shallots, while a few halved Brussels sprouts and halved shallots roasted in the oven, mixing everything except the halved Brussels sprouts with the tofu and yogurt base from the Baked Artichoke Dip recipe, Parmesan cheese, and a few dashes of Tabasco. Unfortunately, I didn't measure enough to write this up as a clear recipe. I planned to decorate the top of the dip with roasted Brussels sprouts and more Parmesan cheese, as an indicator of what was in the bowl.

Then I had the idea to arrange the Brussels sprouts halves into the shape of a Christmas tree.

Fa la la la la! Isn't it beautiful? Well, it tasted good.
All pictures in this post taken by me and CC 2.0.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

A few ways to make Brussels sprouts: Prologue

Hello, what readers remain after my series of long hiatuses.

Not Brussels sprouts, but in the same family.
From my garden.
(If you're just here for the Brussels sprouts, scroll down to the next heading. Enjoy some plant and cat pictures as you make your way!)

I last wrote that I was starting a solo law practice, specifically a civil rights practice. I have not figured out how my blogs will continue and coexist with my new career. A long time ago, I decided this blog would contain as little as possible about law or politics and my opinions on those topics. I didn't want to alienate readers who might disagree with me about the law, but with whom I could still share valuable, meaningful conversations about gardens and recipes (and life). Even readers who did agree with me, I imagined, were not coming here for my opinions or politics, but for the pretty flowers. This is how I treat Instagram and wish Facebook would be for me — a place for everyday life updates and calming things, like botany and recipes. No matter how active we are, it's okay to want a refuge from the news.

It's frustrating when sad news or angry political opinions creep into those refuges (which happens with my Facebook timeline no matter how much I try to curate it.) Actually, it's more than frustrating; it's unsettling when I've tried to step away from sad news or things that make me angry, to remind myself what else is out there, to recharge, gain perspective, gather energy for the next battle, and that reflective time is interrupted by what feels like an angry shout. I don't want to give my readers that feeling.

New cat! More on that later.
Additionally, so much has become political that wasn't, and I argue, shouldn't. So as much as I'll try my best to stick to flowers, food, and everyday life, what I write about flowers, food, and everyday life might still take us out of the politics-free refuge. This is just where we are today. I'll do my best. (That said, I'll opine plenty on my law blog, when I regain the energy to write in it again. I tried to keep that mostly opinion-free, but I've decided that's unnecessary and difficult. As long as I respect others' opinions, I think it'll be okay to state mine.)

In the past, I strove to keep anything about law school or work off of this blog because of vague concerns about my professional reputation. I say vague because these concerns were tied to nothing specific and were probably overcautious. I'm pretty prudent when it comes to writing about work, and as soon as I finish my law firm website (which currently is—intentionally—a blank gray page), that business will be Google-able, just as this blog is. There's no secret. Potential clients will know how much I like flowers, and people who follow me for pictures of cats and flowers will know how strongly I feel about civil rights. And most likely, it won't hurt my professional reputation to write about my recent struggle to get my email client to stop crashing. (I initially wrote "my recent email problems," but then realized even those words are politically loaded right now!)

Writing about the adventures of starting a new business, separate from the law and opinion side of it, might be something people want to read. Even my weeks-long struggle to keep my email client to stop crashing and stop filtering important messages to spam, a struggle that made me feel incompetent, could be entertaining and maybe helpful to someone else in the same position.

For example, there's a post on my law blog that I wrote because it was assigned for my blogging class, a "personal reflection." I wrote about the self-doubt that plagued me during my second year of law school, how I was beginning to doubt I should be a lawyer at all, how I was initially turned down for my first civil rights job, but eventually got it, and then everything became clear to me—that I should practice law, and it must be something with a social justice focus. I hated that post. I hated making that part of myself public. But the response to that post has made me leave it up; readers, particularly second-year law students, thanked me for writing it, because they were experiencing similar self doubt. So maybe I will write about my e-mail troubles and impostor syndrome, in case it helps some other new small business owner or new lawyer out there.

I haven't come to any conclusion yet except that I still want to write. I need to write! When I've blogged regularly, I've been a better writer, especially professionally. I need to keep practicing my storytelling—how to be succinct, how to edit, how to turn a dull topic into an interesting narrative.  Two things in particular which have had a firm hold on my mind are topics that immediately put a listener into a state of boredom. Eyes glaze over the minute I say the words, "malpractice insurance" or "problems with my e-mail." But these have been the theme of my November and December. Since they've managed to keep such a strong grip on my mind, there must be a story here. Why are they important to me? That's where the story lies, and if I can figure out how to tell the story, I can figure out how to make any story interesting.

Not Brussels sprouts, but in the same family.
From my garden.
But today's story isn't about malpractice insurance or email. It's about Brussels sprouts. And why I rarely post recipes on this blog. When I actually create something, instead of following a recipe, I often don't measure, and I rarely test a recipe enough to feel like it's fair to post it here. I know from experience how maddening it is to try something from a food blog and have it go wrong. I'd hate to give that experience to anyone!

However, plenty of readers could read my lists of ingredients and approximations of technique and figure out what to do. So instead of waiting until I have time to track measurements and test recipes, I'll write up my non-recipes with a warning that they're imprecise.

 The Part That is Actually About Brussels Sprouts

While I couldn't find a picture of
my late 2007's Brussels sprouts,
I found this picture of that tiny kitchen,
with a de-sprouted stalk on the window.
It is the time of year for Brussels sprouts. At some point in the past nine years, I became known for making Brussels sprouts. In 2007, living in a very small apartment in a poorly insulated house in New Brunswick, New Jersey, I tried both making and eating Brussels sprouts for the first time. I can't find that first recipe I tried, but I recall taking a lot of unnecessary steps like cutting an X into the sprouts and blanching them, before pan-roasting them. So much extra work! But they were delicious; my roommate and I were sold. The Brussels sprouts obsession had begun.

At some point, I settled on Heidi Swanson's recipe for Golden-Crusted Brussels Sprouts. I made them for my family Thanksgiving and Christmas, and then my parents and grandparents became Brussels sprouts fans, too. Subsequent Thanksgivings and Christmases, my grandparents would request that I bring the Brussels sprouts. When I'd visit my parents, they'd request Brussels sprouts. Sometimes I broke away from the usual recipe. I found reference in this very blog to making Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Figs in 2009; I described it as "autumnal perfection." I have a memory of experimenting with a new Brussels sprouts recipe for my mom and dad, quartering them and frying them in with bacon, shallots, apples, and maple syrup. I can't imagine that was bad, but I don't recall ever making it again. The simple version is the best, so why make extra work?  Halved, pan-roasted on both sides, topped with Parmesan cheese—the perfect Brussels sprouts preparation.

In recent years, grew to resent being the bringer of Brussels sprouts. I grew to hate systematically halving them and laying them in the pan, making several pan-loads in order to have enough little sprout halves for everyone. I hated flipping them carefully with a spatula, only to have some mischievous sprouts excited by the heat of the pan, bounce in the air and flip themselves back over. Every year I'd think, "It's easy! Just cut them them in half, lay them flat, flip them, put grated cheese on top!" I can even buy pre-grated (but fresh!) Parmesan cheese from my neighborhood market. And every year I'm reminded that despite the low number of steps, even when the cheese is already grated, making these sprouts in volume is time-consuming.

This post is too long for me to include all of the ways to make Brussels sprouts that I planned to write about, so I'll end with just one, and save the other two for their own posts. The next two posts will be my own "non-recipes" for Brussels Sprouts Party Dip and something I have no better name for than Monday Night Brussels Sprouts. For today, I'll end by sharing my new way to make everyone's favorite holiday party Brussels sprouts—oven-roasted on parchment paper.

I will always be grateful to Susan of Farmgirl Fare for the gift she brought me in 2013, a Facebook update linking to Quick and Easy Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Lemon and Parmesan. This recipe changed my life, and if you are the friend or family member perpetually assigned to make Brussels sprouts in volume, this recipe will change your life, too. Something about the parchment paper makes the Brussels sprouts cook in the oven, on both sides, the same way they would cook in a cast iron skillet with babysitting and flipping. But on parchment paper, there is no flipping. No wicked sprout halves turning themselves over in the pan! You just cut the sprouts in half, toss them with your preferred oil and seasonings, lay them face-down on parchment paper on a cookie sheet, and bake them! Then toss them with lemon juice or Parmesan cheese or whatever you want.

No flipping! Life-changing Brussels sprouts! Give them a try! And I'll get my Brussels Sprouts Party Dip recipe up for you, readers, if not in time for Christmas, then in time for New Year's Eve. Thank you for reading, and happy holidays (each and all of them!) to you!

Koko under the tree.
All pictures in this post taken by me and CC 2.0.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

I Have Writer's Block. Here Are Some Pictures.

It is finally cool enough — but not too warm — to eat breakfast outside.

This was just for two people.
If I did not have writer's block, I could write about most of the items on that table. Are you curious why there is a pile of cardboard in the background? It is going to outline new garden pathways, and, with wood mulch on top, serve as a weed blocker.

One place I have felt creative is the kitchen. I have been using up odds and ends and scraps and leftovers everyone is tired of, to make new meals that everyone likes. That is a leftover mushroom soup quiche with cutting board remnant bread crumb crust. I strained the vegetables and rye berries out of the soup; combined them with cooked shallots, garlic, and broccoli to form the quiche filling; and used the remaining broth from the soup as the liquid in the quiche crust. I have started to make tart crusts without looking at a recipe, just throwing stuff into the stand mixer....with mixed results, so maybe don't think of this is as a great I do not have a recipe other than "some rye flour, because there were rye berries in the soup, some all purpose flour because I just wanted things to be easy, some bread crumbs from the container in the freezer, some rolled oats, some butter and olive oil and then the soup broth (reheated) added while the mixer was going until it formed a ball, sort of, and could be easily formed into a press-in crust. I thought about par-baking it but changed my mind." The ingenious idea to use bread crumbs to make an easy press-in pie crust came from Mollie Katzen, the section on pie crusts in The Enchanted Broccoli Forest. (Here's a link to someone else's adaptation of Mollie Katzen's recipe, if you'd like more guidance. Or you can just get The Enchanted Broccoli Forest from the library and flip to the section on pie/tart/quiche crusts. Or buy it! It's one of my most-used cookbooks.).

At the beginning of law school, a friend and I discussed giving this blog a theme — Torts and Tortes — about the ways I save time and money and manage to cook healthy food while a law student, a person extremely short on time and looking to save money. It never materialized during law school, but I guess I could write about that stuff now. Bread crumb tart crusts and leftovers quiches were two of my most-used time-and-money-saving cooking techniques throughout law school.

I do not know how I became this frugal. I don't know where I learned this. I want you to know that I see that, from the outside, some of these things I am about to tell you seem a little much. I know what you are probably thinking, and I understand. I think it's a little crazy, too.

There is a plastic quart container in my freezer of collected breadcrumbs. After slicing bread on the cutting board, we sweep the crumbs into the plastic container. Before throwing out the bag that store-bought bread came in, the teaspoon or so of crumbs gets dumped into the plastic container. Whenever bread is fixing to go stale or moldy before we can use it, into the Vitamix dry blender it goes, and from there, to the plastic container. It doesn't take long before we have enough bread crumbs for an easy press-in quiche crust. My husband once admitted that, the first time he saw me dumping crumbs from the cutting board into a specially-labeled container in the freezer, he thought this was one of the weirdest, most unnecessary things he'd seen me do, but that the quiche crusts soon changed his mind.

(Sometimes you have to toast the bread in a skillet or low oven before the blender step.)

And then the quiche custard. We buy gallons of milk, because it's only like, a dollar more than the cost of a half gallon. Then begins the rush to actually use the entire gallon before it goes bad. When it goes bad, it just gets dumped into the garden bed designated for tomatoes because maybe that will add calcium to the soil and that way it's not a total waste (?). If I remember to make yogurt, none of it goes bad. Another way to use up that milk is to make quiche custard. Sometimes I made large quantities and froze it, making dinner really easy when law school got really busy.

But here's where the super-frugal-potentially-too-far part comes in. After blending things in the VitaMix, or chopping things in the dry blender (such as onions, grated Parmesan cheese, or stale bread into bread crumbs), and being unable to get every little bit out of the blender even with a spatula, I will put some kind of edible liquid into the blender to get every last bit of food out. Sometimes this is oil and vinegar, to make salad dressing. Sometimes this is milk, and then with that herb-Parmesan-onion-flavored milk, I mix some eggs and make quiche custard.

(A few weeks ago, I accidentally broke a Pyrex pie plate. I par-baked a bread crumb crust on a too-high temperature. 450F. That was really stupid. Then I put the pie plate on a heavy wooding cutting board that probably had a tiny bit of water in it somewhere. Within minutes, the pie plate cracked. It did not explode, but tiny glass fragments fell all over, and I had to throw out a lot of food just in case exploding Pyrex micro-fragments had flown into it. Better safe than sorry. The cost of food is less than an emergency room visit. (Of course I mean "put in the compost" when I say "throw out." ) Luckily, the quiche custard was still in the VitaMix, perfectly covered and perfectly safe from flying glass. Also, this was twenty minutes before company was set to arrive and I was still in my pajamas. The quiche custard became a scramble! Brunch was saved!)

This next picture is an okra blossom that opened up last week. I know I'm supposed to rip out my summer vegetable plants right now. I know this okra blossom is unlikely to turn into anything edible. But it's so pretty, and I have nothing else to plant in the beds right now, and I like to think that by refusing to take out my vegetables until first frost, I'm helping pollinators!

This is an emotional cat who runs around the house, crying and trying to cuddle with people, at the sound of arguing, children crying on TV, loud laughing (which I hypothesize she interprets as arguing), people discussing the news (particularly politics (particularly this election (thankful it's almost over))) (which often gets loud enough to sound like fighting even if it's just a lot of vehement agreement), and most music. I think the cat thinks most singing is also crying or fighting, some kind of conflict. Since we lost our old cat Mimi (which I have not written about), this cat has been even more emotional. (Don't worry. We took her to the vet to confirm she was not ill. The vet confirmed that she is perfectly healthy but "depressed" and "lonely." We are in the process of getting another cat, one the same age as Kokusho, with a sweet personality.)

A year ago, when this emotional cat was showing signs of separation anxiety (crying when I would pick up my keys and bag to leave for school and work, licking soap), I discovered two things that calmed her down. First, I made a bed for her atop the printer atop the file cabinet next to my desk, so that when I worked at my desk, she could feel like we were hanging out, and maybe not be so upset when I left for a long day of classes and work. Second, by accident, I discovered that this cat loves Icelandic folk singer Ólöf Arnalds. (So do I. This song is a favorite of the cat...and me, too.) My routine last fall involved studying at my desk in the mornings with this album playing over and over again, while the cat happily blinked and rolled around in her "house" atop the printer atop the filing cabinet next to my desk.

I forgot to explain Koko's "house." It's just a soft cat carrier that Koko loooooooooooves. We often place it wherever we want her to sit, to distract her from some kind of mischief. It works.

Anyway, I have been on a 90's music kick. The cat merely tolerates Tori Amos and P.J. Harvey (despite the playlist she made on my computer last year). They don't make her cry or run around the house. Last week, after buying a CD at a concert, I discovered 90's music that has the same effect on Koko as Ólöf Arnalds — Mortal City by Dar Williams. I have not yet tested other Dar Williams albums.

A pile of warm laundry AND Mortal City!

In my opinion, the last day of summer in Atlanta was October 20th. It took this long for that pineapple sage, above, to bloom. When I first learned of pineapple sage, I was told (in New Jersey) that it was a September bloomer. Maybe extreme late October blooming is normal in Atlanta. I have no idea. Do you?

This is a creation I made after reading recipes for Tamale Pie, after thinking, "Can I use masa harina to make pie dough?" and googling madly. It was also a cheap-person-use-up-leftovers creation. From the aforementioned brunch (the one with company and the broken pie plate, not the one for just two people pictured above with the leftover soup quiche), we had a huge quantity of leftover collard greens. With more pot liquor than I knew what to do with. (I only have a vague idea that you do stuff with it besides dunk cornbread in it. Y'all, I am from New Jersey.) I learned here that masa harina uses a lot of liquid (makes sense - like when making tortillas!), so instead of the tablespoon or so of cold water that you throw into regular pie crust, I used a cup or so of reheated collard green liquid as the liquid in this haphazard tamale pie dough. The remaining collard green liquid was used to soak TVP, a frugal person ingredient that I like to use to supplement meat in hamburgers or add meat-free protein when I'm in a hurry and don't want to soak beans. I (sort of) use this recipe. (Also, we often using meat broths as the liquid for TVP, or bacon fat as the cooking we are not at all vegetarian.)

Mmm. TVP. I love that spatula with my name on it.

Tamale Pie (sort of)

And because it wouldn't be a post on this blog without some mention of pickles:

I didn't even crop this to make it look nice.

Remember a few months ago, I wrote that I couldn't figure out how to get carrot daikon pickles to stand up and fill a jar efficiently and attractively? I was silly. It's easy. You lay the jar on its side, lay the tall skinny vegetable in the jar, roll it gently to get the other side, carefully turn it upright gently, poke rebellious pickles with a chopstick to make them comply, then dump the brine over top. This was based on the recipe for snow pea and lemongrass pickles from The Banh Mi Handbook by Andrea Nguyen, another favorite in my house. You might think that with a title like that, it would be a single-purpose cookbook, but no. It is one of the most-used, up there with The Enchanted Broccoli Forest. It's a collection of recipes for different marinated meats and tofu/tempeh, pickles, sauces, mayonnaises, and other condiments which are great on banh mi, but can be adapted to many other dishes, too.

I've also started rereading this favorite blog, Crazy Aunt Purl, starting from the very beginning and working my way through the archives. When I feel compelled to check Facebook or burned out from reading about the election, I retreat back to 2005 and I feel better. I highly recommend this blog! I still miss mid-2000's blogs.

There is no natural end to this ramble. Bar results come out on Friday, and I am no longer writing cover letters. (A post lingering in my drafts folder is about how I was having trouble writing in this blog because I was so sick of writing about myself, writing so many cover letters applying to jobs.) That is because I got accepted into a program that will help me start my own solo practice. Instead of applying to jobs, I am making my own (with lots of help) and realizing a BIG DREAM. I think stress about both of these things (bar results bad stress, solo practice good stress!) is what has given me writer's block. I haven't decided how much I will write about being a lawyer here, or how my law blog will factor into my practice or how much I will keep writing in my law blogs. For now, it's just Torts and Tortes and cats and plants.

All pictures in this post taken by me and CC 2.0.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Sunday Morning Baked Eggs

A difficult gardening season is winding down. The difficult summer—hot and dry—is over. This was the first year I've ever said, "I can't wait for fall." And it's here!
We still have plenty of gardening time left in Georgia. Our pepper plants are still producing. The Egyptian walking onions, having walked all over the front and back yards this summer, are producing green onions now. We have herbs—flat-leafed parsley, curly parsley, sage, basil, Thai basil, rosemary, thyme, red shiso, green shiso, ngo om, sorrel, pineapple sage, catnip, chives, lemon verbena, and oregano. We have perennials to plant. Many of the flowers are still flowering, like this annual, re-seeding red salvia, and the pink zinnias in the background.
Red salvia. Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0.
But now it is cool enough to have the windows open. It is cool enough to sit outside even after 9am. It is cool enough to be outside all the time! Luckily, my husband just made this storage bench for our front porch. Now we have more seating for entertaining, and instead of a chaotic mess of garden gloves, tools, and plastic pots that blow around the neighborhood every time there's a storm (sorry, neighbors!) and cause me to spend the next couple of days running into people's yards saying, "Is that my pot?" and trying to grab the pot and run away before being we just have an attractive bench. (Gate and chair setup is so that we can keep the door open, for air circulation, without worrying that the cat will get out.)
Husband's storage bench and my junk on the table. Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0.
 (Which she can do, if she's on her leash.) (That mysterious mound in the background is our attempt at hugelkultur - a post for another time.)

Cat on a leash on a purple porch. Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0.
We had breakfast on the porch this morning, these baked eggs I am about to tell you about. I logged into Pinterest last night for the first time in months, and was inspired by the first pin I saw! Mexican Baked Eggs from Closet Cooking. I didn't actually read the recipe - just glanced at the ingredient list and thought the idea of something like eggs in purgatory, but with refried beans instead of tomato sauce, sounded delicious and perfect. Just skimming that website transformed me from overwhelmed to inspired! I had a ton of cooked kidney beans that I didn't know what to do with, half a can of tomato paste that I didn't know what to do with, and a selection of peppers and onions from the garden. I cooked the bean mixture last night, and assembled it all in the pan this morning.

 A Sort-Of-Recipe for Baked Eggs in Beans

I warmed some oil in a skillet, and added a little chopped garlic and chopped onion—it was just some teeny Egyptian walking onions, so these aren't necessary and could be replaced with shallots. I cooked the alliums in the oil. Then I added the beans - about two cups of cooked kidney beans, plus their cooking liquid (which I had saved in the jars where I stored them, post-cooking.) I added some chopped peppers from the garden, a mix of cherry bomb and some mystery pepper that isn't very hot. As these cooked down, I added about 2tbsp tomato paste and then I started adding spices. I dumped in some Adobo seasoning, Italian seasoning, and carrot powder and celery powder. (These are the results of having a juicer and an Excalibur dehydrator and refusing to throw anything away, ever. I started saving the pulp from the juicer, dehydrating it, and grinding it in a spice grinder to use as seasoning/a soup stock add-in.) Once the vegetables had softened and the liquid evaporated into a thick sauce surrounding the beans, I turned off the stove, put everything back in the glass jars that had housed the beans, and put in the fridge. (I cleaned the skillet, too.) (Had I used a different cooking vessel, I would have put a lid on and put the whole thing in the fridge, but I hadn't planned that well.)

In the morning, I re-oiled the skillet, warmed it up on the stovestop, and dumped all the bean filling back into the pan. Once that seemed warm (after a few minutes), I created wells and walls to keep the eggs in place. The pre-baked picture demonstrates shows the bean barriers better than the post-cooking picture:
Before the eggs were baked. Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0.
I let this cook on medium while the oven pre-heated to 350F. I put everything in the oven and checked on it every ten minutes. To my surprise, the eggs looked cooked after only 20 minutes. I turned the heat to warm, threw some scallions on top of the pan (pre-chopped from another recipe), and went outside to gather some fresh herbs for embellishment (because Adobo seasoning, Italian seasoning, and carrot and celery powder were not enough!)
Still getting stuff from the garden! Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0.
(The new storage bench also makes a lovely backdrop for garden harvest pictures!)
Baked eggs and kitchen clutter. Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0.

Basil, sage, oregano, and flat-leafed parsley were chopped and added to the top of the pan, after it all came out of the oven.
Baked eggs close-up. Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0.

This is a perfect time of year. Warm, but the air-is-soup humidity of summer is past. We can still get (part of) breakfast from the garden, and we can enjoy it outdoors!

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

More rain, more pickles

This posted was written, edited, and eventually abandoned in June. Now that the bar exam is behind me, I am publishing it.
Inside a tunnel of art, looking out a window, at Howard Finster's Paradise Garden. Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0.

I've been meaning to tell you about the trip I took with my husband to Paradise Garden earlier this month.

Rain falling on Paradise Garden. Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0.

I've had a few ideas. A general post about my love of environmental art or folk art, which I discovered after moving to the South (where such art is abundant.) It would have included pictures of other folk art we've seen in our travels, such as the Alabama Museum of Wonder. Or pictures from Storm King in New York (not folk art at all, I think, but maybe environmental art, as it is a sculpture garden. I don't know what I'm talking about. Feel free to correct me, real artists/art historians), which we visited sometime before we moved to Georgia.

More view of rainy Paradise Garden. Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0.
I love the look of nature and manmade objects coexisting or juxtaposed. I love taking pictures of it. I love the way the art is not just the sculpture, but the experience. I love the way it changes every time, yet in a way is dependable. You can go back ten years later, at the same time of year, and despite the changes in the world and yourself, the plants and the weather and even the insects and animals are similar.
Rain-soaked sculpture by Howard Finster, at Paradise Garden. Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0.
I thought about doing some research first, getting books about Howard Finster from the library in order to incorporate some of his own words into a post about seeing his work. Many of these were woven into the introductory video shown at the garden; many seemed relevant, comforting, or otherwise worth pondering and sharing, but I didn't want to use misquotations from my head, mangled by time and memory. So for now, I'll share some pictures, and leave the well-researched post for another day.

If you're within driving distance of Summerville, Georgia (in the northwest of the state, near Rome and about forty minutes south of Cloudland Canyon), I recommend visiting Paradise Garden. It's beautiful and delightful.

Photo of green mango achaar in progress, by me. CC 2.0.

The time for day trips as bar exam stress relief is drawing to a close for me. Instead, the outlet for my anxiety has been domestic projects. Above is a picture of my attempt at lacto-fermented pickled green mango, turmeric root, garlic, and cherry bomb chili pepper. The seeds are cumin. The story behind this is that my neighbor, a cashier at the market where I was buying green mangoes, asked me if I was going to use them to make pickles. I replied that I was planning to make green mango salad.

As a side note, one of the weird side effects of bar stress has been developing wild cravings for fruits and vegetables. This has something to do with a belief that doing healthy things will help me retain information, or at least combat the awful stress stomachaches I was getting at the beginning of bar prep season. On this particular day, I became fixated on green mango salad thickly sliced green mango in a light dressing (like maybe lime juice and a little fish sauce?).

But my neighbor rattled off, from memory, his recipe for pickled green mango. Just pack them in a jar with salt and turmeric and leave them on the counter for three days.

I perked up. I had just read something about the benefits of lacto-fermented stuff for people with angry stomachs, and I had tried a similar green mango pickle about a year ago. That recipe involved oil, and the whole thing was just an unappetizing, oily mess.

My neighbor informed me that I could use oil, but I didn't have to. Just salt and turmeric, and after three days, I could add chili and garlic and cumin if I wanted.

I went home and commenced Googling. Eventually, I skimmed a section in Sandor Katz's Wild Fermentation, a gift I'd gotten for my husband. He accused me of getting this as a Rollerskates for Grandma present. I protested that he had, at the time, an interest in making fermented hot sauces.

("Rollerskates for Grandma" is a phrase invented, I think, by one of my grad school friends in Portland. This friend has a brilliant way with words, of clever phrases and comparisons. She uses the phrase "Rollerskates for Grandma" to describe giving someone a gift that is really a gift for yourself. I think this can be either a gift you'd rather have, or a gift you get someone else so that you can use it. Since my husband and I share both a house and certain hobbies, this phrase comes up quite a bit.)

Sandor Katz, or at least what I'd skimmed, assured me that this kind of pickling would be no big deal. If the something went wrong, I'd know. There would be mold or a bad smell. I could then simply skim off the mold or compost the whole mess, then start over.

And so I packed the slices in as much kosher salt as I could find, with some tiny cubes of turmeric root. I used a plastic bag full of salt water (the Internet said so, okay?) to weight everything down.

After three days and some more Googling (which told me that lacto-fermented stuff could stay on the counter for up to six days), I added garlic, cumin, and chili pepper. I had begun to suspect that I'd used too much salt, so I thought adding more vegetables would even things out. I added water to keep everything covered, and left it on the counter for another three days.

Kokusho is suspicious of countertop pickles. Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0.

The resulting pickles taste of nothing but salt. I haven't thrown them out; I'll probably add them to something I'm pureeing instead of salt, in case I can get some kind of lacto-fermented benefits from that. I've since learned that it's okay to use saltwater brine, that one need not cover the produce entirely in salt, to keep out bad germs. If you're wondering why this wasn't obvious to me, keep in mind that my head is currently being filled with the intricacies of the Rule Against Perpetuities and miscellaneous powers of Congress; in order to retain things like when the rights of a third-party beneficiary to a contract actually vest, I have to force out a little common sense.

Friday, June 03, 2016

It Finally Rained (Plus Pickles)

Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0. Baby okra plant.

      Several days last week, rain was predicted, typically at noon. I waited. Sometimes, I watered, but mostly, I waited, not wanting to waste resources or over-water and rot my plants' roots.

Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0. Iris leaf (blurry).
      Sometimes noon would bring clouds, a heavy dark layer and heavy, humid air.
Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0. 'Rutgers' tomato plant.
      It was supposed to rain last Thursday. It was supposed to rain this weekend. It was supposed to rain on Monday. It finally rained yesterday, a different Thursday.
Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0.

Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0. Do Chua.
      In the evening, I made carrot and daikon pickles (do chua), using a different recipe than I have in the past from a blog I discovered last week when trying to find vegetarian dumpling recipes that didn't necessarily involve tofu. (Not that I have anything against tofu; I just don't always have a package in the fridge that I don't have other plans for. What I do tend to have on hand are dried beans.) It wasn't just the recipe for mung bean dumplings, but the writing before the recipe about the author's life, which drew me in. I immediately wanted to read more of this blog, The Viet Vegan.
     This is the third do chua recipe I've tried. In Portland, my husband and I went through a brief banh mi phase. I don't remember what recipe we used, but I'm sure it involved grating the carrot and daikon. Last summer, we started to work our way through some of our cookbooks that were sort of neglected. We started with Delightful Thai Cooking by Eng Tie Ang, and switched to her Delightful Vietnamese Cooking, and very quickly became fixated on this book. Her do chua recipe involves chopping, not grating, the carrot and daikon. The resulting pickles seemed huge to me, and even though they were good, I thought maybe I'd done something wrong.
    I went to the First Oriental Market, a small market near my house. It deserves its own post, because it is sort of magical seeming. First of all, it looks small, but the inside is deceptively large. Second of all, it's no H-Mart substitute for when you don't feel like going to Buford Highway. They carry things that H-Mart does not have. Third, they always have different things, including plants for the garden, and fourth, the women who work there give great advice. Sometimes I go there with a shopping list and a plan, but sometimes I go there just to see what jumps into my basket. (Usually, it's a plant.) It's where I got my shiso plant last year, which reseeded into many beautiful shiso plants.
     Back to the pickles. One day last summer, I had grand plans to surprise my husband with banh mi, all component parts made from scratch. I'd made baguettes, mayonnaise, and probably some other things I'm forgetting, but I was second guessing my do chua. So I stopped at the market and asked if they had carrot and daikon pickles in a jar.
     "People usually make that at home," was the puzzled response.
     "I tried that," I replied. "But I don't think I did it right. They're really big and they're kind of smelly."
    After clarifying what they smelled like (sulfur, radishes, that brassicaceous smell), the woman confirmed that I had done everything right. I wasn't supposed to grate or shred the vegetables. They'd be too soft! They're supposed to be crunchy! And that smell was normal. She told me that some people open the jar outside and wait ten minutes.
     Even though my husband and a friend called them "fart pickles," everyone agreed that despite the smell, they were great on banh mi.
    I'm not sure what compelled me to try a different recipe. Is it because I was excited to find a new blog? What I mean to say is, I wasn't concerned about the "fart pickle" issue, but I'm happy to report that this most recent batch of do chua does not smell like anything unpleasant. Also, they are delicious. I've eaten about half of the contents of a pint jar.
     I recommend The Viet Vegan's recipe for do chua. It was easy and fun, and the pickles are delicious! Even though I waited too long after buying the daikon, so the daikon matchsticks are not crispy and don't stand up straight in the jar. Notice how beautiful The Viet Vegan's pickles are, standing nicely in the jar. I hope to someday develop the skill to arrange the pickles neatly--mine are jammed haphazardly in the jars.
Shiso and Asclepias tuberosa.Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey.  CC 2.0.
     That is one of the shiso plants that re-seeded from the plant mentioned above. The last draft post from that summer is a long-winded story about buying it and impulse-buying other herbs with it. I love the way the purple shiso and orange butterfly weed look together. Finally, this morning, I got a picture of them that didn't include ugly sidewalk or random garden implements.
     When I bought that shiso last summer, shiso wasn't regularly available at any nearby grocery stores, so having my own plant feels special, like a botanical blessing. The orange butterfly weed growing next to it is also one of my favorites in the garden, a plant I grew from seed and has thrived, despite my initial low expectations. I planted it before I'd had much success with anything grown from seed, when I thought of myself as a terrible gardener. It too feels like a botanical blessing. Seeing them together next to the front walk, I'm momentarily taken away from studying stress; it is replaced with a brief calm and a surge of happiness.