Monday, September 2, 2013

A Point-to-Point Kayak Trip

The boys and I went on a point-to-point kayak trip this morning.  Usually we start and finish our kayak adventures in the same place, so this added some excitement by traversing new (to us) waters.  It also introduced the concept of "coordination," as we had to coordinate drop-off and pick-up times and locations with Mom.

We began our trip at a boat launch in the Susquehanna River, and planned to meet up with my wife at our town park, which is where we normally kayak.

It is in the kayak that I really know how much my kids are growing.  Our draft is getting quite deep.  And the two of them together weigh almost as much as me.

U.S. Route 40.  Another discussion on our voyage was "perspective," as in "we see this view almost every day, but usually we see it from bridge level."

Stopping to skip rocks on an island at the mouth of the Susquehanna River (Garrett Island).  Perryville, MD is in the background.

An old bridge support at the mouth of the Susquehanna River, with Havre de Grace, MD in the background.  I love the tree.

An Amtrak train crosses the Susquehanna River's most downriver bridge before her waters empty into the Chesapeake Bay.

Geese buzz our flank.

My younger son, who will do almost anything to forego a nap, fell asleep near the end of our trip...

Arriving at the town park, our voyage complete, we just had to wait a few minutes for Mom to pick us up.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Tortellini Time

I was inspired to try making tortellini this week.  With a few changes, I followed this recipe and was pleasantly surprised with how easy it is to make tortellini (CAVEAT: by easy I mean it is something edible that I was able make without causing too much disruption in our house - and does not mean I just whipped up some five-star restaurant-quality tortellini).

My younger son loves pasta and he was happy to help roll the dough.  Once rolled (to what we thought was thin enough) I cut the dough.  Unfortunately we don't have a round cooking cutter, so I improvised and used a wine glass...

I don't have the tortellini fold perfected, but there was noticeable aesthetic improvement from the start of the process to the end.

And dinner did resemble tortellini...

The first batch of anything is always more of a learning process, and I'm fortunate to have an easy crowd that puts up with my food experiments as of late.  The biggest tortellini lesson I learned from the first batch is to roll the dough in smaller sections in order to be able to roll it thinner.  Dinner wasn't bad, but the tortellini was a little bit doughy.  But this is something that is definitely worth trying again, and it doesn't take very long to make.  Cheers! 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Swamped with Books

I like to read, although much of my reading is done in the evening, in bed, and as the last activity of my day before sleep overcomes me.  Thus, it usually takes me a week or two to read an entire book. 

I get most of my books from the library.  Occasionally the books I want are checked out and I’ll have to wait several weeks in the queue.  So, when I was recently 7th in line for one book, I figured it would be safe to reserve another book.  And when I was 5th in line for that book, I figured I could reserve another book.  This strategy ordinarily works just fine and I never am long without the book of my choosing.  Today, however, my strategy blew up when the library notified me that all three of my reserved books were ready for pick up.  Now it looks as if I just might have to forego sleep to finish these books within three weeks:

The Ultimate Guide to Permaculture, by Nicole Faires – truthfully, I probably won’t read this book cover to cover.  But I will read many sections that are applicable to my skill level and available resources and take notes for further research.  I learned about soil blocks in a similar book.

Catch-22, by Joseph Heller – I never read this, but the phrase and meaning is so common, I figured I should.

Orange is the New Black, by Piper Kerman – I heard people talking about a new TV series by the same name and was surprised to learn it is based on Kerman’s real life experiences.  I find out about a lot of good books in this manner; Winter’s Bone, by Daniel Woodrell, is one such book.  I was reading a movie review of The Hunger Games and the critic praised Jennifer Lawrence's (who played Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games) talent based on her role in Winter’s Bone

And with that, I’ve got some reading to do…          

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Fall Planting

We've had success in recent years planting spinach and kale and other cool tolerant plants for a fall harvest.  By success, I should clarify that to mean seedlings that survived in their struggle against the wild animals.  And by wild animals, I guess I mean stray cats.  Um, I mean stray cats that find our neighborhood to be a good place to be a stray... mitigate the loss due to the "wild animals" we got a soil block and started our fall plants inside. We start our seeds inside for the spring, but this is the first time starting seedlings inside for the fall.

I like the soil block maker for several reasons, but mostly because you have to get your hands dirty.  On the more practical side, I like how we'll no longer need to find little containers to start seeds.

For our soil mix we used soil from the garden mixed with finished compost, worm castings, and vermiculite
Now we have lettuce, kale, and spinach seedlings growing inside, as well as more basil and cilantro that we'll continue to grow inside.

Or maybe we (and several of the neighbors) could just stop feeding those "wild animals."  

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Fat Cat Heir of the du Ponts

We visited Longwood Gardens for an afternoon last weekend.  We visit a few times each year and it is usually a relaxing time.  The boys love the elaborate tree houses, my wife really likes the conservatory, and I just like the vast fields of flowers and the ponds and fountains.

Longwood Gardens got its start from Pierre du Pont, who purchased the property with (probably only a part of) the fortune he amassed while leading the DuPont Company.  It's an interesting story.

Mr. du Pont had this house built, complete with an adjoining conservatory.  At the entrance to the house was a fat cat.  Most cats can really let people know that "you are only here because I let you," and Mr. du Pont's cat fit that bill.  "Annoyed" is what I think his bubble caption said.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

It's a Bug Eat Bug Kind of World

Man, I love nature.  While I was at work today, my wife was checking the garden beds and found this:

It's a tomato hornworm (bad) with wasp cocoons (good) protruding from its body.  I've seen hornworms, but never as a visible parasitic host.  That's a picture to remember next time I'm having a bad day, because things could certainly be a lot worse!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Fruits (and Roots) of Our Labor

Although unruly, our tomato plants are big producers.  We've been filling several bowls every few days with tomatoes, which is amazing as my kids are off-the-vine tomato eaters - they even eat the roma tomatoes like apples.  And the little grape tomatoes are splendid.

We made our first batch of salsa with the homegrown tomatoes over the weekend, along with peppers, garlic, and onions from the farmers market.  I had to check out several stands before finding the peppers; many of our farmers have had substantial crop loss due to the unusually wet summer.  Growing potatoes in pots this year is what likely allowed us to harvest potatoes at all.

Chester the neighborhood cat checks on the progress of the potato pot harvest

We harvested just over twelve pounds of potatoes.  To increase future yields I'll plant the same quantity, but in more pots.  I think our plants would have enjoyed more space (or volume...).  The potatoes we harvested look nice with purple skins and very light purple flesh, and they have a nice flavor that is somewhat different than the varieties we commonly see.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Cats, Kids, & Kraut

Cats, Kids, and Kraut.  That's what I am thankful for today.

On Sundays I volunteer at the local animal shelter and clean the cat area.  I always like going there as I find it refreshing in a way.  Yes, the work is rather dirty, as one could imagine, but cats (and any animal in my experience) don't lie.  If a cat doesn't want to be around you, you'll have no trouble interpreting the language. And for the cats that do actively seek human interaction, it is really something to be swarmed by twenty or more cats at once.

Earlier this month, some of the other volunteers built an enclosure around the porch of the building so that the cats could enjoy some outside time.  While I was cleaning today I saw a car stop in the middle of the road while the driver stuck his head out the window to take a picture of the "cat porch."  That made me laugh.

When I returned home from the shelter, aside from eating lots of tomatoes off the vine (which I am kind of bummed about because I hoped to preserve them; but at the same time, eat up boys, and learn what good food is), my younger son found a beet that I had completely overlooked.

For lunch, I scooped out some of the sauerkraut that has been fermenting for the past two weeks.  Even more wonderful than its tangy terrificness, both my boys ate it on their own.  We have a rule in our house; you are not allowed to say that you don't care for something without trying it first.  With its pungent odor, I wasn't going to force sauerkraut on my kids, but they wouldn't be allowed to say they didn't like it either without first trying it.  To my surprise, while my eldest was thinking of the best way to try it (on his sandwich), my youngest started eating straight from the bowl.

I am ecstatic, to say the least, that my first batch of kraut turned out so good.  I only scooped out enough for the next day or so, then I'll probably scoop the rest into jars and refrigerate (or maybe I'll just let it keep fermenting until we eat it all - which probably won't take that long).      

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Like a Broken Record

I have a pretty good memory when it comes to numbers and dates (I love baseball stats although I haven't seen any part of a baseball game, other than local Little Leaguers, all year - nor do I care to).  However, I have a pretty poor memory when it comes to what shirt I wore yesterday, or say, how much distance I should allow between plants.  Each spring I get over zealous with the tomato transplants and think, how much space could these little plants need?  And every summer I end up with something like this:

In early May I'll even contemplate adding a few more, after all there seems to be plenty of space.  By June, though, it becomes apparent by both physical observation and my wife's advise of "you may want to do something with your tomatoes," that I have once again failed to recall the lessons of last year's tomato experience.  Now, the plants are healthy and producing (so maybe I am just very good at maximizing yields per area!), but getting to all of the nice and ripe fruits becomes an all out quest.  Alas, I see the usefulness of recording good "field notes."  But how does one make sense of information written in plain English rather than spreadsheets full of numbers.  Electric and water meter readings, odometer readings, dollar signs, and baseball stats: beautiful!  A handwritten entry in a notebook indicating plant spacing, with a follow-on entry indicating LEAVE MORE SPACE: baffling.  Something I must remedy...


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Welcome Home!

After visiting at "Camp Grandma" for the past two weeks, my wife and sons returned home yesterday. I really missed them and I took the day off from work today so we could spend some time together.  The boys and I went kayaking.  Our town's park is about two miles from home and has a nice access point to launch the kayak.    
 We have a sit-on-top kayak, which works real well as it allows both boys to ride with me while I paddle.  This was our first kayak adventure of the summer and, not being a weekend, we only saw two other boats in our vicinity.

Although cloudy, and with a few sprinkles, I love how the water and sky become almost one at the horizon.  The picture below is looking south from near the top of the Chesapeake Bay.

While on the water we saw an eagle.  It's not uncommon to see eagles here, but still impressive to see them somewhat up close.

The boys were pleased to see that the grape tomatoes are ripe for picking now that they are home.

After lunch, they helped me add fresh compost to one of the garden beds.  I plan to plant leafy greens in this bed in another month or so.  Peas and carrots grew in this bed during the spring.

While the boys and I were kayaking, my wife, who is much better with a camera than am I, caught this gold finch enjoying the sunflowers.  If I could only get her out on the kayak, she probably could have captured a nice picture of the eagle we saw...but until then, you'll just have to believe me when I say we saw an eagle.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Sauerkraut! (well...the initial attempt)

I had to go into town to pick up some chicken supplies today.  On the way home I stopped at Harman's Farm.  I occasionally see Mr. Harman at work, in fact last week he brought in a big bag of peas from their abundant harvest to share.  My wife is a high school teacher and taught one of the Harman kids.  Buying local definitely has an impact.

I bought three head of cabbage for sauerkraut, and twenty cucumbers and an onion for more pickles.  This is my first attempt at sauerkraut, but as I'm interested in the biochemical processes that transform raw ingredients into the foods and drinks we know and love, it seems to be the next natural step.  As I was researching how to prepare sauerkraut, of concern were numerous comments about lead content in many home crock pots.  Apparently, in some models, the paint contains lead.  We don't use our crock pot too often, but knowing that lead is absorbed by children much more readily than by adults, I purchased a lead test kit just to be sure.

Our crock pot doesn't contain lead, at least as indicating by the test kit, and I feel a little better about the crock pot meals our family previously ate.  And now I feel safe using the crock for fermenting cabbage.

I never liked, no, strike that, I absolutely hated sauerkraut when I was a kid.  Certainly our sense of taste changes as we age, but I also think my mom probably bought canned and pasteurized sauerkraut, which doesn't taste nearly as good as the real deal.  I remember being in my early twenties, when at a German restaurant, being baffled by how much better the sauerkraut tasted, and, shhhhhhh, I actually like it.  And now, sauerkraut is something I very much enjoy and am excited to "possibly" have right here at home.  The hard part will be the waiting while the little super bugs do their jobs...So, I am looking forward, with great anticipation, to about three weeks from now when I'll check the flavor to make sure no bad bugs thwart my attempt at homemade sauerkraut.


Sunday, June 30, 2013

Yes I Can

With the aid of a library book and some spare time on a Saturday afternoon, I just canned my first ever batch of anything!

I headed out to the blueberry farm early Saturday morning, and was able to pick eight pounds of blueberries in about an hour.  From the there I went the farmers market and bought cucumbers and onions for pickling.

As this was my first attempt at canning, I learned a lot about the setup and having everything in the right order during the first batch.  After that, it seemed to go quite smoothly.  It just takes a little time.

Of course I will withhold total excitement until after I taste this stuff in the coming weeks and months.  But the process is logical.  Very much like a chemistry project where everything must be done in the proper order and at the precise moment (although with canning I think the timing is a little more forgiving).  The tally for the weekend: 10 pint jars of blueberry pie filling and 4 pint jars of pickles.    

Friday, June 28, 2013

Don't Worry, Bee Happy

The volunteer sunflowers bloomed this week, and when I got home from work this afternoon the bees were busily going about their own work.

Although we have blueberry bushes, they are still small and only good for collecting a handful at a time.  I planned on going to a blueberry farm this evening because they are only open for limited times, and I have a lot to do this weekend.  The farm is only about fifteen miles away, but at about two miles from home a large storm blew in.

And then it, I turned around  Of course, it wasn't raining at home.  Weather is fascinating in how localized it can be.  I might be able to pick blueberries tomorrow, but the farm is only open until noon, and I have other engagements prior to that.  

Well, instead of blueberries I ended up picking purple beans for dinner.  I just love how the purple stands out from the green foliage.

The seeds we planted last week are all coming up nicely.  The two rows on the left are more purple beans.

The beans are vibrant green on the inside.  Once cooked, the entire bean is green.

I have found immense satisfaction in growing and preparing my own food.  Nothing fancy, but with the exception of the store-bought mustard and ground pepper, tonight's dinner was all fresh; bread was baked on Wednesday (although the ingredients - except the honey - were store-bought), beans and basil were picked today, and those are some of today's eggs.  Bee Happy.  Cheers!