May 18, 2011
Oh, frabjous day!
I ordered this lil’ jobbie last week. This showed up on our stoop this afternoon, weighing about as much as the child my neighbor just gave birth to – an even eight pounds. (Happy birthday, Ingrid! Congratulations, Heather and James!)
Up there was the classic Clean Platter Comparison Lemon, for scale. This thing is large. What is it, though?
It’s 1200 pages. The frigging thing is enormous.
It could conquer Tokyo.
IT IS THE PROFESSIONAL CHEF – the handbook of The Culinary Institute of America, eighth edition. And now it is mine.
They say you don’t need to go to culinary school if you own this book. Let’s find out, I suppose!
August 12, 2010
In the course of my brief experiment with agriculture, I have come to enjoy gardening a great deal.
Indulge my bourgeois frothing for a second, please: I very much enjoy the feeling of working in the earth, of trimming and pruning and making things grow. It is a work, it seems to me, unrivaled in its honesty; I love the idea that I can help coax something green (or red, or orange, whatever) out of the ground. I can often be found in my garden in front of the house, filthy, on my hands and knees, coated in mud, weeding or trimming or making the dirt squish between my toes (there is something to be said for gardening barefoot.).
Okay. Rank sentimentalism over. However, I do not recant for a minute my belief that gardening is cheap, easy enough, and immensely enjoyable.
I began the garden in June of this year, eyeing our sandy, tufted, long-ignored lawn, with an intent to rip it all up and build a plot in its place.
“You’ll need to rent a rototiller,” my mother had said. I was just getting established in the house, didn’t know anyone then – I asked around at the local hardware stores – the ones with nurseries – and they didn’t rent ‘em. I’d have to drive 40 minutes into another town to rent a rototiller, spend some 80 bucks, and lug the great big thing about somehow in the spacious but relatively shallow trunk-space of my compact automobile. This wouldn’t do.
There is a very particular kind of laziness that sets in when a man does not keep regular hours. Don’t get me wrong: I work, but I keep no set schedule. I have no office save for my own home, or wherever a writing surface happens to be. This laziness compels me not to leave Michigan City just to rent a rototiller.
“Do I even need a rototiller?” I asked myself. “Hell, what good are they, anyway?”
The gardener’s manual I bought suggested that a gardener rototill her first plot, because to till by hand on unbroken ground was a “backbreaking labor.” Heh.
“Hell,” I thought. “I could surely stand a little of that, couldn’t I?” I ran over to Big Lots, bought some work gloves and a pitchfork, and made ready to strike the earth! (Sorry.)
That weird amalgam of laziness and heretofore-unblossomed cheapskatery drove me to till by hand. I would not recommend such a chore for one person, for a garden exceeding, oh, 25 square feet. My garden is about 30-some square feet, and, well, while my back remains unbroken, I don’t think I’d do it again so readily next time. Lukcily, I don’t need to: the ground only needs to be broken up to a depth of about a foot the first time you till it, so I read, and after that, it’s more superficial tilling to aerate the topsoil.
I mixed in three bags of organic soil, pitchforked it all into an indistinguishable mass, and started prepping for planting. I also started composting around this time, rescuing lawn clippings, dead leaves, and vegetable leavings.
My garden began with four tomato plants and a dusting of herbs; a little market opened up near my house, and a woman there sold plants that she had started from seed, ready to plant. I bought two varieties of tomato – Sweet Baby Girls (a cherry tomato), and Black Krim (a Crimean Black tomato). I also bought three kinds of peppers – sweet bells, an unidentified chile, and habaneros. I planted the tomatoes, caged and staked ‘em.
Well, it didn’t look like much at first.
Some of my neighbors took to calling me Farmer Dave, though I hadn’t much to show for it (I think they were making fun of my exuberance. I deserved it.); all I had was a scanty patch of brown dotted with green.
I decided the time was right to stake a claim on my garden as mine. And what does a garden need? A scarecrow! Yes. So I dug this old wooden goose out of the basement and installed it in the garden. Its wings flap in the wind. I am certain that it terrifies the crows, because I have yet to see a single one.
Then the first flowers started appearing on the tomatoes! And then tiny buds! and then TINY TOMATOES! HA! Sweet victory! “Go, go!” I cried (What. You’re supposed to talk to your plants. Shut up.)
Then I bought the cucumber plant. You’d think this would be a zucchini story. I bought a zucchini plant. I planted it. It grew. Big whoop.
But I get the feeling that my fairly late start (mid-to-late June) has retarded somewhat the growth of my zucchini monster. It’s still manageable, but I don’t have fruit yet; it might have to do with the heat of the late summer. I don’t know. I’m not an expert.
No, the beast to rear its head was the cuke, man. I fell into my daily watering routine once the garden was laid out and planted, and sometime in July, the cucumber began to slither. I had anticipated my zucchini doing something immense and terrible, so I planted it alone in the corner, away from the rest of the plot. I reserved the cucumber no such space; do recall this is my first time growing anything.
Some little tendrils sprang out from the vertices of the plant, wrapped themselves into tight helixes, and spiraled up into cute green peaks. But others lit out for open space and found it occupied, taken up by tarragon and thyme. So the tendrils snaked ‘round the stems of these herbs and commenced throttling them.
In the cucumber I have a plant that does its own weeding. of course, it also tried to wrap its little tentacles around its own stem. Plants are dumb.
So I moved my tarragon over a ways, and disentangled the far reaches of the cukevines from my thyme (which, ladies, no man may steal). Problem solved. Except that the cucumber is, like spiky. It has thorns! Why did nobody tell me this? I thought cucumbers were, like the least offensive vegetable you could grow, but the thing that sprouted forth from the spent flowerbud was this wicked green truncheon-looking thing, the sort of prop that a leather-clad prod in a bad sci-fi movie from the 80s might use to menace Kurt Russell (or perhaps Patrick Swayze, in Steel Dawn. God, what a … no, there are no words.).
But does not a plant have needs, like unto a man? Doth not drink, not eat? As far as I can tell, a plant needs nitrogen at its roots for sustenance as much as it needs water, sunlight, and oxygen. I’m no agricultural engineer, but I think, if I remember my nitrogen cycle correctly, sympathetic fungi at the roots of a plant convert the nitrogen into other nutrients, which the roots sop up. I think.
Anyway, my little plot was doing splendidly, but I wanted to ensure a good yield on my crops, so a few days ago, I decided to amend my soil. I wasn’t going in for the big-bag fertilizer; it made me uncomfortable – I’m just not sure where that stuff comes from. So, like I said, I composted, and after about six weeks, my eggshells, potato peelings, and carrot shavings had turned into rich damp earth (thanks to a plastic garbage can and a coupla handy worms. I haven’t completed my rotating compost tumbler yet. Patience, friends, patience.) I layered this goop, this wet, handsome earth (and to my surprise, it smelled wonderful. I quite liked it) atop the roots of my plants and watered it assiduously, muttering, “Drink, my children, drink!”
I am preparing to harvest my first cucumber now – it began as a terrible, spiky bolus, a wicked, prickly cactus-babe. Now, mature, it has begun to mellow. Its prickles have de-prickled. Now there are only tiny bumps.
The chiles are surprisingly fiery. And adorable. Can you help me identify them? The card that came with them just called them “Chili Pepper Red – HOT”. And that’s not a thing.
The tomatoes – the few early adopters of red faces and vine-retiring dispositions – have been the sweetest I have ever tasted. It’s enough to make a fellow wish for a bumper crop.
Beach Glass Count (I sorta slacked off with this): 202 pieces.
June 21, 2010
An immense, comma-shaped storm struck Northwest Indiana and Southwest Michigan on Friday afternoon, thwacking the region with 70 mph winds for a brief but terrible several hours. Just shy of 100,000 homes lost power, though nearly all of them have power again now; myself, I regained power only at around 3 AM this morning.
Wasn’t good. Compounding the ungoodness was the arrival of my parents, who brought with them a lot of perishable food; we had figured that power would be restored in a matter of hours. We were wrong. It was hot and uncomfortable, and we had to keep running out to buy ice to stuff coolers and the freezer with coldness.
That said, I got a lot done with my parents here! I did most of the major planting in the garden (post to come), I cleaned up a good portion of the house with Mom, and I… *snif* this is almost painful to say:
I cooked the rest of the pork roast. Remember that IMMENSE hunk of meat from a few entries ago? I only bought it about two weeks ago, and had it in the freezer. I got about six or seven separate dishes out of it, I’d say, and the way in which I’ve been preparing pretty much all of it (long, slow braising or simmering) tends to cook out most of the water and break down the collagen in it, and that takes out a goodly portion of the weight; I’d say, of the 16 pounds of pork I started with, I ended up with 6-8 pounds of cooked meat. But the point still is that I have a crap-ton of carnitas in my fridge. Yeah, that recipe will come, too, along with recipes for mango salsa and a fairly basic guacamole.
With power finally restored this morning, I celebrated by baking some French bread in my (BRAND NEW) oven (! post to come about it later); I brought a loaf over to one of my across-the-street neighbors as a gesture of hello-I-am-living-near-you-ness, and she, in return, granted me the privilege of using her compost! I have not yet built my enormous, terrifyingly wonderful PICKLE BARREL COMPOSTER (see this post). I happily took her up on her offer; I think that probably means I have to give her more loaves of bread, but I’m perfectly okay with that.
Beach Glass Count – 120 pieces!
I don’t really feel like saying anything else of substance today, because I’m really tired – I started clearing out another part of the basement, I did some gardening, and I drove nails into wood today, just like a grown-up would. I also even sawed something. Very briefly. It made me feel exceptionally manly. Again, very briefly.
But hey! Let me tempt you with photographs of blog entries to come!
Thai red curry!
Newly-installed magnetic knife rack!
A morning walk to (and along) the beach!
CARNITAS (and its attendants, Guacamole and Mango Salsa). Oh my god I think you will like this recipe. (Note to my fellow would-be food photographers: shoot in natural light as often as possible!)
June 12, 2010
Once I get the basement squeaky-clean (which, I think, will take a mop), I’ll begin making my homebrew.
But I checked out the Shoreline Brewery and Restaurant on Wabash St., here in Michigan City, because they’ve got a homebrew shop. I don’t have any empty bottles yet, and though I’ll probably buy a six-pack or two of beer in the next couple of weeks, I know I won’t have enough to bottle 5 gallons of beer, so I might need to buy some empties from them (although I’m sure I could convince my neighbors to save their empty bottles for me instead of putting them in the recycling bins.).
But during my visit, I had a nice chat with Tiffany, the woman who was running the homebrew shop; she invited me to come out tonight to meet a bunch of the local homebrewing crew, who get together at the brewery to talk shop and hang out every week or so. I might make some friends out here! Is my status as a hermit threatened? (Does that really bother me?)
June 7, 2010
I woke up uncommonly early this morning. 5 AM. Sun was scarcely up. Thinking now, I’m not sure if it even was. I left Highland Park at 6:02 AM, and reached Michigan City at 7:44. The Skyway was completely empty. I felt like a road god – it was fantastic.
Now, it’s been about two years since I last posted on this blog, but let me tell you: things are about to change around here. I’m going to try blogging – if not every day, then at least three times a week.