Sunday, March 20, 2011

What Tangled Webs We Weave...Introducing Non-Native Species

If it weren't for Shakespeare, I wouldn't have reason to write this post, but if there was ever a reason to loathe the man, it would be for his repeated mention of Starlings.  You see, some genius back in 1890 decided that North America needed to have all the species of birds mentioned by Shakespeare, so he released several dozen Starlings in Central Park.  Starlings are now considered a non-native invasive species numbering around 200 million, and that, my friends, is just about how many holes have been pecked into the side of my house by these pests.

This weekend Mr. JP and his dad spent the better part of Saturday up in the attic repairing the holes that have been pecked--a few large ones, and MANY small ones where they started but perhaps lost interest (mostly above my bedroom window).  Funnily enough, there were no nests in the attic.  They seem to have been adamant about getting just the right spot, and they tore out a lot of insulation.  After all the work of patching holes, Mr. JP and I went out this morning upon hearing fluttering at the window, and there were MORE HOLES!  I'm exasperated to the point where I'd like to cover our siding in electrified mesh, but his mom offered us her bobble-head owl that is supposed to deter other birds as an alternate solution.  Note that Starlings are not protected under The Migratory Bird Act, but I have to get rid of them humanely.  I say if certain unmentioned states are allowed to get rid of convicts using electricity, then I can get rid of a small number of an invasive species using it...but that's a can of worms I'd not care to open with law enforcement.  Thus, my interim solution, the styrofoam block and a permanent marker.  I drew huge eyes on two blocks of styrofoam and mounted them on some gardening stakes.  I put one of them up high and one of them in the lawn, hoping that the eyes will scare these things away until we can pick up the owl.  I pray that it works and that I don't go out tomorrow to find shreds of styrofoam and a flock of laughing Starlings lined up under my window.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Gardener Has No Groceries

A little green for St. Paddy's Day!
I've been stricken with migraines since Monday, which has put a serious damper on the grocery shopping.  Mr. JP is a sweetie and has no problem going to the store, so he stopped on Monday to pick up necessities, but it is too much to ask him to go more than once a week.  Plus, I am the coupon queen, so my hair stands up when he brings home things like the biggest box of brand name dryer sheets he can find when they aren't on sale and he didn't have a coupon...not to mention that we had two boxes in the closet that I had bought when there were on sale, but I digress. 

Sharing a meal around the table in the evening, even though it is just the two of us, is very important in our house, so even through the migraines I always try to have something on the table.  It is only a few minutes of our day, but it is a time for us to connect over food, share meaningful conversation, and be grateful for each others company.  Here's what I came up with from our stock in the pantry and the freezer:

Migraine Meal #1:
On Monday, which is a day off from work for me, I put a whole chicken in the crockpot and while it was cooking I quickly whipped up some sloppy Joe's using ground turkey and Manwich.  I like to spice it up a bit, so I put Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder and chipotle chili powder in with the sauce.  Served over potato rolls which have been toasted and dusted with garlic powder, this is a super quick meal.  I steamed a bag of frozen veggies for a side dish.  The cooked chicken went straight into the fridge, crock and all, to be dealt with when my head wasn't searing.  Mr. JP says my sloppy Joe's are the best he's ever eaten.

Migraine Meal #2:
Tuesday was a terrible day at work, suffering with a lingering migraine and dealing with all sorts of issues (whose days at work aren't full of issues, right?).  Miraculously, I pulled through the entire day and even survived the commute.  While I was on the bus, I texted Mr. JP and asked him to chop up an onion (that's always his job).  I actually didn't know what I was going to make until I got home and went pantry diving.  Here's what I came up with:

Green Chili Chicken Rice Bake
Cooked chicken breast and 2 thighs, diced
One medium sized onion, diced
One red pepper, diced
One package pre-sliced mushrooms, chopped
One can of green chilies
One can of green enchilada sauce
Rice (enough to make about 5-6 cups)
Shredded cheese

  1. Start the rice.  I added cumin and chipotle chili powder, along with some salt and olive oil while it was cooking.
  2. While the rice is cooking, saute the veggies until the onions are translucent.  Add the chopped chicken and diced green chilies.  I added a little salt and garlic powder to the concoction until it tasted decent.  Pour in about 2/3 of the enchilada sauce, and heat the mixture thoroughly.
  3. Spread the rice in the bottom of a casserole dish and top with the chicken mixture.  Top this off with the rest of the enchilada sauce and sprinkle with shredded cheese.  
  4. Bake @350º until bubbly.

This recipe actually makes quite a bit, especially just for the two of us, so I made 2 casseroles and froze one.

Migraine Meal #3:
Mr. JP was on his own on Wednesday night.  I had been feeling pretty good all morning, but drank a Diet Sunkist soda with lunch and was sick within an hour with severe nausea, light sensitivity, and light-headedness.  At one point I nearly passed out while putting away some Hubbard squash puree I had prepared earlier in the day.  The pain was so bad it made me ball up in bed with tears streaming down my face.  I think dinner consisted of PB&J.

Migraine Meal #4:
After dealing with touch and go migraines all week, I called off from work today.  I've had good hours and bad hours today.  I thought I was permanently improving until I went out to enjoy the beautiful 60+ degree weather this evening.  Some deer went running through the forest and Bad Dog, who was supposed to be on her way into the house, nearly jumped the 6' tall fence with back claws on the top of the gate.  I yelled and she turned around to look at me and fell off the gate into the yard (she wasn't hurt, in fact, this dog feels no pain!).  Thank goodness!  I have no idea if I would have ever gotten her back, and even though I joke about taking her to the pound, I'd be devastated to lose her.  The stress jolted the migraine back into existence, so Mr. JP was in charge of putting together the ingredients I found in the freezer/pantry this afternoon. 

As you can see, we are fond of the casserole/whatever-bake.  I found a bag of homemade pasta sauce that a friend of mine made from his garden produce last summer (flavored with fennel, it is AMAZING).  We had an apple hardwood smoked chicken sausage and a little frozen spinach.  In the pantry I found a box of whole wheat pasta shells, and there was a little feta and parmesan cheese in the fridge.  Voila!  Pasta bake!  He just sliced and cooked the sausage while the water for the pasta was boiling, added the spinach and sauce and heated it until the noodles were done.  Then he put the al dente noodles in the sauce mixture, added a little feta, scooped it into a casserole dish, topped with the Parmesan, and baked until it was bubbly at 350ºF.  I gave directions from bed.  When it came out of the oven I had to take a picture.  Even though my head still feels like a Leprechaun is trying to chisel its way out through my eye socket, I managed to eat a little bit.  We had to turn out the lights over the dining room table.  Unfortunately, it was not very romantic!

The point of all of this is, a well-stocked pantry and freezer are crucial for those times when you are too sick to head to the grocery store but you have to find a way to feed your family.  Luckily I have a charming fiance who doesn't mind a little grocery shopping and cooking now and then.  He is a hard worker and I just work part-time, so I really try to make sure that I'm holding up my end of the work around the house.  By stocking up when items are on sale (chicken, sausages, frozen and canned veggies, sauces, pasta and rice), we can get through a week of bare bones grocery shopping and still have really delicious food on the table almost every night (plus leftovers for lunches).

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Spring has Sprung!

This is what was poking through the ground a few weeks ago when I made my first trip to the flower bed with a load of compost.  Since then I have gotten a fever for growing, and am in severe denial that the USDA Hardiness Zone Map says I am in zone 6.  We must be in at least zone 7, because...well...I want to be!

Seedlings of tomatoes, peppers, basil, leeks, herbs, flowers, onions, and what-nots are incubating in my "lab" in the basement under my newly constructed shop light system.  Pictures to come, but the babes say they are not ready for their formal debut.  I took a peek today, and the tomatoes are already starting to get tiny sprouts of their true leaves!  It must be that extra special love I've been giving them by spraying them with rain water. 
Daffodils and Heuchera
In the garden, I saw my first two pea sprouts this morning, and the radishes all popped out of the ground at once after last night's beautiful rain.  The turnips are coming up under the greenhouse plastic that I've stretched over their raised bed, and lettuce is coming up, too, from the seeds I scattered last Fall, when I was wondering what would happen if I just put a few seeds out in late October...

Happiness.  Until the birds get the freshly sprouted seeds (please God, no!).

Friday, February 25, 2011

Time for transformation

Like most gardeners, I have been dreaming of spring throughout this long winter, longing for the fresh fruit and veggies of those warm and sunny days that seem so far out of reach this time of year.  However, when the winter blues have you down and the freshest produce from the grocery store can't hold a candle to wilted lettuce from your garden, there's nothing like the comfort of eating bag after bag of Cadbury mini-eggs.  These candies must be consumed rapidly and often due to their seasonality...yes, I just wrote that I have been gorging on chocolate.  And I feel awful, both mentally and physically.  I have been hunkering down eating sweets like I'll never have another chance again.  What I know is that I've been filling myself with garbage, so it is no surprise that I am cranky, irritable, suffering from migraines, and generally miserable.  Hours spent in front of the computer playing Farmville have led to sedentary ailments like stiffness and weight gain.  I've beaten myself up over this too many times to count, and still I find that I'm lacking motivation. 

For someone that has no problem hauling load after load of compost, spending hours weeding, shoveling, planting, mending and maintaining the yard and garden, I would think that simply engaging in an hour long walk wouldn't be that hard to muster, but I find no purpose in putting one foot in front of the other unless they are on their way to the garden shed!

That being said, this weekend is supposed to be in the high 40's and low 50's.  One of the first beautiful weekends that make Spring feel like it is really on its way, and not just a hallucination induced by pounds of sugar and fat.  Today, I will pull on those old work clothes (hoping that they still fit) and trudge out into the soggy yard to grab the wheelbarrow and the shovel.  I have some compost left over from the fall that I will haul up the hill to the front yard and mulch into my flower bed, which already is showing signs of brave daffodils and hardy Heuchera. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

A few moments to spare in this whirlwind of life

Happy New Year!  It has been a long time since the last post.  For a few more weeks I have true leisure time, the last I will have until after the wedding in October.  My last semester of graduate school will start in a few weeks, and I can't wait for it to begin so it can finally end!  This has been the longest three years trying to finish up my Master's piece by piece.  One of my best friends is getting married the week before my graduation, so I will enjoy a nice quick trip out to Washington State, and will finally get to show hubby-to-be how beautiful it is out there, and why I long to return.  Then there will be a blowout graduation bash, followed by Memorial Day at the beach house, and madness will ensue.  We are getting married in October, and already I have a bit of a Dad-zilla, who is inviting guests right and left and hounding me for blocks of hotel rooms.  I never thought it would be my dear Pops who would push me over the wedding planning edge, but Daddy-O, our venue can only hold 130 people and we'd like to invite some of our friends!  xoxo!

Anyway, with a bit of free time on my hands right now I've been cooking and sewing and reading, thumbing through gardening catalogs and dreaming of spring.  I have also been spending MUCH too much time online playing silly Facebook games.  I saw a post on one of my favorite blogs, Little House in the Suburbs, about TL's Grandmother's embroidery and it made me really wish for my supplies I had back when I was 10 and learning needlepoint in 4-H.  I emailed my Mom to see if she still had any of my old projects.  The point of this whole ramble is that people used to have time to sit in a chair and do fine needlepoint, even though they had to make their bread without a machine and had to slaughter a few chickens to cook them up for the big family (I have no idea if TL's Grandmother did this, but I know mine did).  Sometimes when I cry about not having enough free time, I have to stop and count up all those hours I spent on silly things, like Farmville...

Enough about that.  Here are my current projects:
The Yard Sale Wrap Skirt, pattern from Weekend Sewing by Heather Ross.  I've never made a garment before, and I'm self-taught when it comes to sewing with a machine.  I learned how to make a beautiful French seam, but when I had put all the panels together, the skirt didn't even begin to wrap around my hips...hello seamripper, my old friend...

Garden Apron from One Yard Wonders by Rebecca Yaker.  I just cut out the pieces today from a wonderfully fun print I've had for a year and didn't know what to make with.  It is a nice heavy quilting weight cotton by Michael Miller: Giraffe Garden in Grey.  It calls for making three yards of seam binding, so I'll be giving that a shot with a scrap of unknown but matchy stripey material.  I made a quilted oven mitt (again from the One Yard Wonders book) right before Christmas, which was my first attempt at quilting anything, and at sewing anything with a binding.  It went okay, especially for the first time. 

I have an ugly blue laminate dresser from IKEA that was either free or extremely cheap, and I read somewhere where you could refinish this using spray paint.  I'm going to give that a try when the weather is nice enough to take the piece outside and sand and spray.  I would love to cover the top in a self-healing mat so I could buy a rotary cutter and have a surface to cut on.  I will be putting the dresser in my little sewing room to hold the ever increasing bundles of fabric. 

Next up on the list are some gardening tunics that I just love in the Weekend Sewing book, along with some fabric headbands.  I got some beautiful cotton lawn fabric that washed up so soft and nice, in 4 different colors and patterns.  My intention was to make several of the Yard Sale Wrap Skirts and several tunics, but seeing how I've already stalled out on the wrap skirt due to a sizing issue, I'm not sure I'll accomplish all of that before the gardening season begins.  That's why I asked for these for my birthday (coming up in March).  I've always wanted a pair of gardening overalls, and how cute are these where the pant legs zip off to make shorts?  And padded inserts in the knees?  That eliminates the need for me to make a kneeling cushion (except that the laminated fabric section has so many delightful patterns, I might have to make one or two anyway!).

Tonight I made my first ever loaf of pumpernickel bread with rye flour grown right outside the town where I went to college.  I ordered a supply of Cream of the West from Green Barn Organics, and picked up a sack of rye flour and pearl barley while I was at it.  The bread was amazing, especially when dunked in my savory Hubbard squash soup seasoned with cardamom and cayenne pepper.  I love that we are still eating from the garden in January!