Sunday, May 31, 2015

End of May Catch-Up

I started a post last weekend (or possibly the weekend before) that was called "Weekend Catch Up."  I thought, if I don't have a specific, focused topic, I'll just write about a few things that are happening and an update on some of my creative projects and maybe it will be boring, who cares, just write and and actual catch-up on what's going on.  A few weeks ago, I started something.  But like so many posts on this blog, it never really got finished.  The following will be a collection of those fragments

Monarda hybrida 'Lambada' started from seed this year; Asclepias tuberosa 'Hello Yellow' in the background

From the draft post - some thoughts about projects and law school and time management and life:

Now that the school year is over, I should be able to catch up on some projects.  What will most likely happen instead, what always happens, is that I jump into every project I've been wanting to work on for the last ten months, and then get overwhelmed, and then choose just a few to focus on.  Maybe I'll come up with a better organizational and prioritizing system, as one of my first projects, and avoid the usual chaos.

Plus, I no longer have that feeling like the next ten weeks are MY LAST CHANCE to work on projects for awhile.  First, projects got put off because I was studying for the LSAT.  Then applying to law school.  Then packing up my life and planning to move across the country for law school.  Then 1L year, supposedly the hardest.  Whoops, actually 2L year is busier.  Well, it sounds like even if I pile on extra coursework and volunteer work and academic projects, 3L year still won't be as bad as 2L year.  People talk about "having weekends" during 3L year.  So, I don't have that rushed feeling, that this summer is MY LAST CHANCE to do all the things I want to do.  Now I have the rest of my life...unless I decide to get another degree.  (No.  Do not let me.)

This is still true.  Part of what influenced that, I think, was that I hadn't started (okay, hadn't found) a summer position yet, and while I am very good at filling my time productively and I think I have above average time management skills, I was starting to get a little stir crazy being home all day.  While I am good at working from home and making my own schedule, I have learned that I do best with at least a little bit of structure.  I will be working from home today, incidentally, and am thrilled to have that balance of sometimes working from home but also having a flexible schedule and an office to go to.  (I also have an aversion to writing about my current work or school on my blog, always have, except in vague terms or code.  Some people can do it; it's not my style, and I'm not going to try anymore!)

The projects catch-up I started then is slightly out of date.  I was working on a secret baby project, which is now finished (but still not given to the parents; I'm afraid of it getting lost in the mail, and may try to either deliver it in person or give it to my parents if/when they come to visit.)  I had written:  I would love to work on something for myself.  I'll write a longer post about that sometime.  The second half of 2L year became a time when I could only handle easy knitting projects, because so much of my capacity to think was being directed toward other projects, and now I'd like to get my brain working on some lace or something.  Oh, every once in awhile I work on a rag rug, too, made of unwearable garments torn into strips.  It's been over a week since I finished that baby project, and I have made very little progress toward working on something for myself.  [Here is where I will deviate into territory that only my knitting readers will find interesting.  Non-knitters, scroll down.]  My summer goal is to work on the things I've been putting off, but wanted to do.  Things that will make me happy and also not involve buying anything new (other than needles/tools), things that I already own the yarn and pattern for and have had on my queue and been dreaming about making.  In 2013, I went to the Rose City Yarn Crawl and, because I was having a really shitty February, I treated myself to a lot of potential projects.  It is now 2015, and I am making slow progress on even starting those projects, but the yarn for each is in its own Ziploc bag that is LABELED with the pattern.  (Yes, I occasionally tell myself I'm allowed to change my mind and use it for something else.)  I think I've only completed two of my RCYC13 projects, both of them shawlettes.  If you are curious, here is one shawlette and another shawlette.  I was wrong, I actually completed a cardigan from my yarn crawl haul shortly after the crawl - it's here (don't mind the awkward pose - it was to show the sleeve detail but still fit in the frame.)
From my two-week old draft:
I have some sewing projects in mind, particularly a carrying case for my tiffin made out of old pant legs (but somehow in a way that it looks chic, and NOT like it is made out of pants) and lined with insulating fabric that I got months ago.  There are some embroidered gifts I'd like to make as well.  No progress on this yet, but I do have an office to which I can carry that tiffin.  Although I'm not taking MARTA, so the carrying case isn't necessary - just the insulated part (because the fridge in the office is currently not working.)

Sunset over Scottdale after a stormy day

Next, I started a Kitchen Projects update, but it became clear that this would become a long post.  The shorter version is that I have rediscovered a series of cookbooks that I really loved in college, about ten years ago.  In college, I was really interested in ethnic food, in going to restaurants to try new things and in learning to make things, both to replicate something from a restaurant and to make something I could only try by making at home.  It's funny how much has changed in ten years; things that weren't available at stores or restaurants then are much more common now.  If I was staying with my parents for a summer, it was much easier to find a cookbook and try to teach myself to make Vietnamese food than to go get it at a restaurant, because the Vietnamese restaurants were a long drive away.
But the cookbooks and even recipe websites (because there weren't even as many food blogs!) weren't very helpful.  It was my impression that they were giving instructions on how to make complicated stuff you would get at a restaurant, not just a regular Thai dish someone could make on a weeknight.  If I got an interesting ingredient at a grocery store, such as tamarind paste or galangal root, and tried to Google what to do with it, instead of finding simple preparation or ideas or just "tamarind goes well with ____", I was finding crazy complicated recipes that sometimes involved buying more things that were hard to find in rural Sussex County, or my least favorite--recipes nested within recipes.  Where one of the steps incorporates by reference a recipe and it's not a simple one like a five-ingredient hot sauce--no, it's some complicated thing that might involve overnight steeping or weeks of fermentation.
I'm so happy with the way things are now.  When I had a surplus of galangal (I bought large amount that was 50% off) two weeks ago, Google, as well as common sense, told me that I could just make a simple syrup out of it, which would go well with fruit and ice cream and soda water and cake.  If I were unfamiliar with how to use, say, tamarind, the Internet would now tell me that you can just use it in place of lemon or lime as a twist on a recipe.  Try it in a vinaigrette!  Try it in a smoothie!  Try adding it to a barbecue marinade!
But ten years ago, when it was not so easy, what came to my rescue were the books of Eng Tie Ang.  Sadly, they are out of print.  Ms. Ang wrote the Delightful Cookbooks series; I owned Delightful Thai Cooking and Delightful Brazilian Cooking in college, and at some point in Portland I found Delightful Tofu Cooking for practically nothing at Powell's.  I just completed the collection by getting Delightful Vietnamese Cooking and Delightful Chinese Cooking with Amazon rewards points.  The purpose of these books, which are about twenty years old, was to provide people with what someone in Thailand or Vietnam or China or Brazil would make on a normal day.  Some recipes are more complicated, weekend fare, but many recipes in the book are simple things one can throw together on a weeknight after work and school.  The recipes were designed to be somewhat healthy--with oil content cut down to what was necessary, not crazy restaurant levels.  (Although I did just make a recipe over the weekend that included deep-frying tapioca-flour-battered pieces of beef.  I had never deep fried anything before that!  A new kitchen world has opened up for me--although this may not be a good thing!)  They were also written based on what ingredients people could actually find either in a Western supermarket or mail order.  So one thing I noticed was that all of the recipes using galangal call for dried, powdered galangal.  Since the market I go to only sells fresh galangal, I've had to adapt the recipes a little bit!
I'm not sure what made me pull the book off the shelf and start looking at it again, but once I did, I found myself bookmarking many recipes to try.  As a result, we have eaten homemade Thai food at least three times a week since classes ended (because even with finals studying, I do projects like this to unwind--a thing I like about the finals period is having lots of flexible time and scheduling myself the way I want to), because I like trying these recipes and because my husband is still saying that he doesn't think he'll ever get tired of Thai food.
Since everyone I have told about these cookbooks seems interested in it, I will post later about what we've actually made, but that's a post for another time.  Tonight we are having green curry with shrimp for dinner.  A surplus of cilantro led to me making green curry paste last week, and we found Alabama shrimp (yes, semi-local seafood) at our local market for $4.99 a pound!!!!!  $4.99 a pound!!!!!
In other kitchen projects, I started some experiments with honeysuckle blossoms (inspired by the existence of Cathead honseysuckle vodka, mostly, a bunch of honeysuckle vines along the backyard fence) and I learned to make tortillas from scratch.  This was to make the breakfast tacos from Heidi Swanson's Healthy Breakfast Ideas, which were trending (was trending?) about a month ago.  Those breakfast tacos were how I got through the last part of final exams and seven days of Trial Techniques class.  When I have an update on the honeysuckle experiments, I'll post something, and if I can find a way for it to be not boring, I'll post about making tortillas.

The last thing I wrote about in my May catch-up was about the Myers-Briggs test.  I will save that for another time.

Another picture of the same stormy Scottdale sunset.

P.S. This was posted on May 31, but was written a few days earlier.  The delay was in remembering to upload some pictures. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Clafoutis Made Vegan, The Actual Recipe

One of the most common ways that people come across this blog is by searching for vegan clafoutis recipes.  Unfortunately, the four-year-old post that Google takes them to, Clafoutis Made Vegan, describes how I changed a family recipe, without including the actual recipe.  The actual recipe--not vegan--is one post earlier, as an example illustrating my Thoughts on French Cuisine.  The recipe is missing important details.  My mother provided those details in the comments.  To help out those Googlers, to save you the trouble of having to combine the text of two blog posts and some blog comments, here's my family clafoutis recipe, the original, and my vegan-ized family clafoutis recipe.

NOTE: This is not the vegan recipe.  This is the regular one, updated to include important information for some reason left out of the family recipe.  For the vegan version, scroll down past the picture of an unbaked clafoutis.

2-3 EGGS
a pinch of salt

MIX AND ADD FRUIT.  Fruit can be sour cherries (also known as "pie cherries," and purists insist you DO NOT pit the cherries), sliced pears, bananas, strawberries, or pretty much any fruit you want.)  This recipe does not tell you how much fruit to use, and for that I apologize.  As my Thoughts on French Cuisine have shown, my French family recipes are vague on important details.
COOK IN A PIE PLATE AT I don't have that. oops. 450F for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 325F and continue baking for 45min-1hour, or when cooked.  Again, this is vague, but I have provided a picture of the clafoutis cooked and uncooked, which might help.

Uncooked clafoutis.  Perhaps this will give you an idea of how much fruit to use?

Picture of cooked clafoutis goes here.

Now, the vegan version.  You only need to replace the eggs and milk.  Soy milk might have too strong of a flavor.  Almond milk is ideal, in my opinion, because almonds and cherries are closely related taxonomically and their flavors complement each other.  If you try this with soy milk or other non-dairy milk, please share the results in the comments--I'd love to know how it worked out!

CLAFOUTI-MIMA's Made Vegan by Sarah

2-3 FLAX SEED EGG REPLACEMENTS (see recipe below)
a pinch of salt

Recipe for 2-3 Flax Seed Egg Replacements
2-3 tbsp of flax seed meal (or flax seeds, freshly ground.)
6-9 tbsp of water

Put the flax seeds in a bowl.  Slowly add the water and beat it into the flax seed meal.  Keep whisking until the mixture gets gelatinous and starts to resemble egg whites.  See (3:1 ratio of water and flax seed meal--whisked until it gets a gelatinous texture, like egg whites.  See The Post Punk Kitchen for clearer instructions.

Vegan Clafoutis Directions
Mix all ingredients, and then add fruit of your choice.  Fruit can be sour cherries (also known as "pie cherries," and purists insist you DO NOT pit the cherries), sliced pears, bananas, strawberries, or pretty much any fruit you want.)  This recipe does not tell you how much fruit to use, and for that I apologize.  As my Thoughts on French Cuisine have shown, my French family recipes are vague on important details.
COOK IN A PIE PLATE AT I don't have that. oops. 450F for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 325F and continue baking for 45min-1hour, or when cooked.  Veganizing does not change the baking instructions for this recipe.

To Make Gluten Free
Clafoutis is not like bread.  It's a pancake-like batter poured over fruit.  I have never made it gluten-free, but I imagine it would be easy, that most gluten-free flours would work.  Almond flour would certainly complement the cherries.  Teff flour would be lovely with peaches or fall fruits, and I imagine buckwheat flour, with the right fruits, would be nice, too.  I'll update this if and when I actually bake a gluten-free clafoutis.

This is what a vegan clafoutis looks like when it is baked.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Garden Crazy

At this time of year, my garden occupies a large part of my mind.  I always want to spend more time in it than I am able to, and I wonder if I would ever get tired of being out there.
I hope that this summer, by June or so, I will be able to spend less time out being in the garden just because I feel like I have to.  I hope that the work of last summer and fall and this spring will have laid some kind of foundation, that that was high startup energy that will result in just maintenance work and optional projects for the rest of the summer.  Last summer, my husband and I turned most of front lawn into plantable space.  He built three raised beds, we built a hugelkultur-style bed (experiment), and the two of us spent a great deal of time digging up the weeds and grass on the front hill so that it could instead be planted with flowers.  This was because I wanted more space to grow things from my endless garden wish list, and because both my husband and landlord (that's right, we are doing all this work and change to a rental) opined that mowing the lawn on a hill sucks.
By the end of last summer, we had a (zany) colorful paradise of sunflowers, zinnias, cosmos, one very aggressive yellow summer squash plant, and a few perennials concentrated in areas like the space around the front walk and a little border garden by the front of the house, under some hedges.  Nearly everything that was on the hills died out with the first frost, leaving our hills totally bare, susceptible to erosion, weeds, and repopulation by the lawn.  In the fall (and into the winter and almost spring, it took us so long) we mulched that hill with oak leaves shredded by our lawnmower.
Spring returned, and while our neighbors had daffodils and azaleas blooming, we had a lot of bare, golden-brown leaf-mulched hill.  And with heavy rains and wind of Atlanta springtime, leaves and mud washed down the hill and away, revealing dirt and making room for weeds.  Something had to be done.
So, this summer's project, in addition to trying to grow some vegetables in the raised beds and continuing to turn our deep shade backyard into a "woodland garden," is to get some attractive things with sturdy roots onto that hill.  I want to cover the hill with things that are beautiful and strong--plants whose roots will keep the hill from washing away; perennials to hold onto that hill all winter and return, bigger and stronger, next spring; annuals to fill in the gaps; flowers to attract pollinators and beneficial insects that will defend the vegetable garden; plants that are tough enough to live on a hill of rocky, red, clay-y, nutrient poor Atlanta soil; color to make passersby happy; and habitat to support wildlife.  I have planted (actually transplanted as well as encouraged the spread of) wild clover both for its roots' adaptability to poor soil and its nitrogen-fixing qualities, to help make the soil better for next year's plants.  I have planted a buckwheat cover crop which will theoretically do the same thing, but I've never planted it before so I don't really know what I'm doing.  It has nice white flowers, though!  I have planted flowers and herbs and even vegetables on the hill; I am testing to see what survives despite the odds.  I am happy to see that the leaf mulch has attracted worms to help aerate and fertilize the soil.  I am happy that when I dig a hole to plant something new on the hill, the first several inches of soil are brown, not red, which makes me think that even in just one season, a period of less than a full year, our work has managed to improve the soil.  Even though it is a rental, I want to leave this place neater than I found it (even when you drop out at the Brownie level, this Girl Scout lesson remains embedded in your mind).  I want to leave the soil healthier and the little outdoor space over which we have control a healthier place for wildlife and people.
Perhaps most of all, what I enjoy about my garden is hearing neighbors and strangers (because people driving through our neighborhood, sightseeing, often stop their cars to talk to me in my garden) say that seeing our garden makes them happy.  It makes me happy, but it was an unexpected reward to learn that it makes others happy, too.

Buckwheat cover crop with white flowers.

Butterfly weed aka Asclepias tuberosa, started from seed last year.  It died back completely, as did a happy yellow cultivar Asclepias in another part of the garden.  It died back to the point that there was no trace of these plants aboveground, and having never grown Asclepias before, I didn't know if they were coming back.  I was pleasantly surprised to see them return bigger than ever.  This one looks like it's getting ready to flower.  It will have orange flowers and attract monarch caterpillars and butterflies.
 One side of the front hill, with a few perennials and a lot of seeds planted.
 The other side of the front hill.  Last summer, my husband built a stone staircase and an arbor (on top of the hill, on the left, partially in the picture).  At the top of the staircase, on the right, is a lavender plant that overwintered successfully.

More pictures and specific plants planted will be in a follow-up post at some point this spring/summer.