The Thrill Is Gone

It is now mid-October and I think it’s safe to say, summer is over.  The clouds rolled in this past weekend, as did some much needed rain.  I’ve picked the rest of my tomatoes, which are ripening on top of the fridge, and picked the rest of my peppers, which I need to pickle.  Then it’s bed-time for the garden.  What a time we had.

Tomatoes on top of my fridge

Tomatoes on top of my fridge

But the fun’s not over!  The leaves are completely amazing right now, as is the color of the sky, especially first thing in the morning.  The squirrels are busy busy, the birds are flying outta here, and I’m busy making Halloween costumes.

Walking home from school in the leaves

Walking home from school in the leaves

Nadine is going to be Princess Leia for Halloween, so I am making her a long white dress from a pattern I got for 65 cents at Value Village.  This is the first time I’ve sewn from a pattern since I made a bride’s maid’s dress for my sister’s wedding in 1990.  Check it out.

Maureen's wedding party

Can you guess which one is me?

That v-shape waist-line and those puffy sleeves were not easy.  I’m sure I smoked a few packs of cigarettes trying to get through that.  (I quit in 1995.) And thank goodness for the beautiful floral pattern (which is in style again), which hopefully detracted from the giant cold sore I sported on the day of her wedding, and which thankfully you can’t see in the pictures.  But I digress…

Miles will also be wearing a Star Wars costume this year.  He wants to be Captain Rex.  I have no idea who Captain Rex is, as I am not familiar with any Star Wars movies released after 1985.  Apparently he’s from the Clone Wars and looks like a storm trooper, but with even more stuff.  I’m not sure how we’re going to pull that one off, but I’m sure something will work out.  It always does.

Last year we had a bit of a dilemma with Miles.  He insisted that he wanted to be a naked mole rat for Halloween.  Are you familiar with the naked mole rat?  If not, click here.  Or here is a short video, that’s not quite as scary, that will also give you an idea.

Miles’s idea was that we would find some pink and wrinkly material to make the body out of, and then we’d make some little ears, and get some fake buckteeth.  I kept telling him that I didn’t think people would get it (in fact he might be quite misconstrued), but he didn’t care.  Fortunately, about a week before Halloween, Miles and his dad were watching Phineas & Ferb, and Todd said, “Why not be Perry the Platypus?” and Miles said “okay”.  Allelujia!  So Miles was Perry the Platypus and Nadine was a gruesome mummy, and they were adorable.

Halloween 2012 mummy and perry the platypus

Let’s hope we can say the same for this year.  Stay tuned…

The Thrill of Gardening

Like I mentioned in an earlier post, we are having the most amazing Indian summer here in the Pacific Northwest, and it has done wonders for my garden (and our moods!)  I have been picking oodles and oodles of ripe tomatoes, and I continue to harvest zucchini and peppers.  I’ve recently planted lettuce, leeks, chard, spinach, and brussels sprouts that are all thriving.  Woo hoo!  Does it get any more exciting than this?!

Probably.  But last year I didn’t get a single red full-sized tomato.  And since it was my first year with a vegetable garden, I was unsure what to do with all those giant green tomatoes.  Fry them?

Last year we had to take down a small but unwieldy cedar tree to build a higher fence.  With the tree gone, we now had a big empty sunny space, perfect for a vegetable garden.  I asked the guys who cut down the tree to save the logs and keep them long.  Then I took a day off of work to build my garden.  With the help of Miles’s skateboard, I dragged those logs around and made a big raised bed.  Then I filled it with soil mixed with the compost we’d been brewing for years.  Now I was ready to plant.

Nadine and I sprinkled seeds, and planted tomato plants.  I built potato towers (directions from Sunset magazine), threw in some starter potatoes, and covered them with hay and compost. Miles transplanted his little sunflower plants he grew in preschool.  Then we watered, and waited.  In no time we had lettuce and radishes sprouting, and the thrill was on.

My first vegetable garden

Last year’s garden

Last year's potato tower

Last year’s potato tower

Miles and his sunflower

Miles and his sunflower plants – which grew to about 8 feet!

That year we had a pretty good harvest of green beans, potatoes, lettuce, carrots, beets and cherry tomatoes.  We pretty much had a tomato jungle because the vines took over and grew everywhere.  And I learned a lot.  But most importantly, my passion for gardening was ignited.  And the kids got into it too.

This year I changed things up a bit, and expanded a bit.  We also grew zucchini, peppers, snap peas, purple string beans, and purple heirloom tomatoes (which are currently selling for $7.98/lb at the market!)  I harvested more potatoes, and way more tomatoes.  Again, I learned a ton, and kicked off a new hobby – pickling, canning, and preserving.

This year's potato towers

This year’s potato towers

Potato tower bounty

Lift up the potato tower and uncover the bounty

I grew so many pepperoncini peppers and  jalapeños that I pickled them.  I thought it would be hard, but it was a piece of cake, and totally fun.

Pickled pepperoncinis and jalapeños

Pickled pepperoncinis and jalapeños

And as I’ve been overwhelmed with tomatoes, I decided to try and make salsa so I could use both my tomatoes and peppers.  I haven’t tried any yet, but it looks beautiful.  Here’s the recipe I used, from the book Preserving Nature’s Bounty by Frances Bissell that I got at the library.

Yummy salsa recipe

I also discovered roasted tomatoes.  Holy moly, these are so amazing.  Being home all day, I can slow roast tomatoes for 10 hours in a 200 degree oven, and they make the house smell so good.  I froze some of the roasted tomatoes, but they are almost too delicious to not eat up right away.

The other night we made home made pasta (so easy and so much fun for the kids) and I took some roasted tomatoes out of the oven, threw them into the Cuisinart, and voila, the best tomato sauce I’ve ever had.  I also roasted a bunch of cherry tomatoes to use on home made pizza.  I just put a bunch in a cast iron pan, tossed with olive oil, chopped garlic, salt and pepper, and roasted on high heat (400) for about 25 minutes.  I usually use pesto as my base for pizza, but using the roasted tomatoes instead made the best pizza by far.  Unbelievably delicious.

Roasting cherry tomatoes

Roasting cherry tomatoes

Star Wars squinkies guarding the tomato tops

Star Wars squinkies guarding the tomato tops

I also learned that you can freeze cherry tomatoes.  First you spread them on a cookie sheet and freeze them for a few hours that way.  Then you can slip them into a zip lock bag (they sound like glass marbles when you do), and they won’t stick to each other in the freezer.  I’m super excited to be able to use them this winter, when crock pot season starts.

Yesterday I spent some time weeding and cleaning up the vegetable bed, and even though the tomato plants are turning brown and losing their leaves, there are still a surprising number of tomatoes left.   I wonder how long this will last.

Still more heirloom tomatoes

Still more heirloom tomatoes

But there is a chill in the morning air, the leaves on the trees are now the most amazing colors and dropping fast, so the end must be near.  Pretty soon I’ll have to plant a cover crop and put everything to bed for the winter.  But I’ll have my jars of peppers and salsa, and a freezer full of tomatoes, to remind me of my bountiful summer.  And I’m already planning next year’s garden in my head.

Oh, and I just wanted to add a comment that Miles made the other night when he was eating his salad.  He said, “Mom did you buy this lettuce?  Because I only like to eat the lettuce you grow.”  I made him eat his salad, but inside, I have to say, I was kind of proud.

Foraging for Berries

Blackberry bushes are a blessing and a curse around here.  Their berries are so delicious and plentiful, but they grow like wild and are incredibly invasive.  People sometimes have to hire goats as a way to clear out the blackberry invasion.  But Seattleites seem to love picking blackberries, and in most of the public places where they grow, they get picked as quickly as they ripen.

This year, however, I discovered the hidden mother-load.  All around Todd’s shop are acres and acres of blackberry bushes that nobody seems to know about.  So this year, I went a little blackberry pickin’ crazy.  I turned the kids and some of my friends on too.

There is a Zen-like peace to blackberry picking, especially when there are so many, and your bucket fills so quickly.  You develop a certain rhythm, and your mind relaxes.  Then, when your buckets are all full, your arms all scratched up, and your hands are a deep shade of purple, an extreme sense of accomplishment comes over you.

Why is this berry foraging ritual so satisfying?  Maybe it’s some primeval tie we have with our hunter-gatherer ancestors.  Maybe it’s the thrill of free food.  Or maybe it’s because they are just so darn delicious.  It’s probably best not to think too deeply about it.

So, what did I do with all of those blackberries?  I shared them.  I made blackberry crisp, blackberry waffles, and blackberry syrup.  And best of all, I made ten jars of blackberry jam.  YUM!  This morning we had home made biscuits with blackberry jam, and this afternoon I gave a couple of jars to my friends, who seemed thrilled to get them.  Love it!

I haven’t tried it yet, but I used this Blackberry Lime Jam recipe from Sunset magazine, which tasted amazing before it went into the jar.

Blackberry Jam

Last week I went back to pick some more blackberries, but mostly they were shriveled up and done.  Ah well.  Now that fall is here, it’s time to forage for mushrooms anyway…

Estate Sale Dresser

Another weakness I have is for estate sales.  I love them.  Not just because I like looking at the stuff, I also love checking out the houses.  It takes incredible strength of will for me to just drive by an estate sale sign, and not follow the arrows to the sale.  This year I hit only a couple of sales, but got some really fun stuff.

Nadine and I were at a sale early in the summer and I bought a dresser.  It was $40, but they took my offer of $20, although I should have listened to Nadine and gotten them down to $10.  Oh well.  It was ugly, but big and made well, and perfect for the kids’ room.  Here’s what it looked like after I took the knobs off:

Estate Sale Dresser Before ShotEstate Sale Dresser Knobs Before Shot

The one week the kids were at an all day camp, was my week to get projects done.  I started this blog, started working on the website for Todd’s business, and painted the dresser.  I took the paint off the knobs, painted the dresser all white, then cut contact paper into shapes, stuck them on the dresser drawers, painted the drawers blue, then peeled the contact paper off.  Here’s the final product:

Estate Sale Dresser After Shot

I totally love it, and am super excited to get the kids’ room organized after they go back to school.  (Tomorrow!  Woo hoo!)

I also bought an old bread box at the estate sale, and spray-painted it blue.  I’m going to use it to store paper.  I am also excited to organize my desk area.  Here’s the before and after on that:

Bread Box BeforeBread Box After

Roadside Furniture

I find it irresistible.   Unless it’s a soaking wet couch or made of plastic or icky laminate, I can’t resist pulling over and checking it out.  A lot of times I don’t take the item, I just fantasize about the possibilities.  Other times I throw it in the back of my station wagon.   And that’s how I’ve furnished a lot of my house.

Last fall, as I was driving down town with a girlfriend, I noticed a guy taking furniture out of motel on highway 99 and putting it on the curb.  It looked kind of funky (in a good way), so I pulled into the parking lot.  The guy said that he just bought the motel and was getting ready to sell all of the furniture, but that I could take what I wanted for free right now.

It was furniture that looked like it belonged in a cabin by the lake, and I imagined refinishing it and putting it in the back yard next to a fire pit.  So I poked around and found two chairs and a table that I liked.  The funny thing about the tables was that many of them had screwed onto them a little metal box with a plug.  Apparently that was the device to make the bed vibrate.  Classy!  (I didn’t take one of those.)

The chairs sat in the carport until this summer, when I took them out and found a nice place for them in the yard.  My plan was to stain them the same color as the deck and get new cushions made with outdoor material.  But as I was sitting in one, it collapsed and I fell with to the ground.  Then when I moved the other one out of the way to mow the lawn, part of the leg came off.  What the?

Motel Furniture Before Shot

So, did I throw the darned things out?  Noooooo…  I spent a day gluing and clamping them back together.  But I decided not to spend the time sanding them down and refinishing.  I just made some simple cushions, and called the project done.  And they came out great.

Motel Furniture After Shot

Nadine reading in the new chair

On Wednesday when we got back from Victoria, my mother in law was at the house with the kids.  She said, “Those chairs you made are just so nice and comfortable.  But when I was sitting in one reading my book, the leg broke off.”  Seriously?  Now what?  Hmmmm…