Rainy Day Minutiae

Rainy days are rare here in Tucson. Last year was a drought. So far this year, there’s been lots of rain due to an El Nino weather pattern; it’s been unusually wet.

I started my rainy day by making some yummy chocolate chip/dried cherry/walnut scones:

Then I swam laps in the rain, something I don’t get to do too often; and as it was cold, no one was in the pool.

Then I learned a new fiddle tune. I wrote it down, not because I’m note-dependent, but because I’m making myself a tune-book of super tunes I’ve gotten from friends, it’s a tribute I suppose: I’m very lucky in that some great players have shared tunes with me over the years. Plus, some of these tunes I really don’t get to play with anyone around here. So, this helps me remember them. Maybe one day I’ll live in a place where I can play these tunes with someone, or play them at a session. How cool would that be?

Today’s tune is the Leitrim Lilter by Charlie Lennon. This blog is in the public domain, and while it’s unlikely Charlie would ever see it, I just want to apologize to him anyway for my transcription. There’s a tune-book of his that goes with his CD Musical Memories, in which he’s transcribed his tunes, and it’s a given he’d do a much much better job than me in writing down his own compositions! Now that I think about it, I’d like to get Charlie’s CD and book. I’d like to know the story behind the tune.

Then…the day just disappeared. Why does time go so fast? Suddenly it was dinner time. I cooked up some polenta; one part water to one part organic polenta. I brought the water to a boil, slowly poured in the polenta, and stirred at a boil for 3 minutes. Then, off the burner:

I added chopped scallions, garlic, salt and pepper, and 1 Tbsp olive oil and turned it into that pyrex dish above, which I’d brushed w/olive oil:

That baked for 30 minutes at 350. I then washed yesterday’s kale and beet greens from the River Gardens farm stand:

The greens in the colander got dumped into a pot of boiling water, and they cooked on medium-high for 5 minutes. I saved the water the greens were cooked in; I’ll use it for soup or just drink it–it’s not that disgusting sounding, it actually tastes pretty good with a dash of salt and it’s good for you, too! I’ve always done this, but then I heard Michael Pollan talking on CSPAN (yes, I am a dork) about his new food book and apparently this is one of his recommendations, too; so maybe more people are now doing what I’ve always done.

Anyway. The cooked greens I rinsed w/cool water, squeezed a bit, and then tossed them in the wok with a bit of bacon schmalz. Just a tablespoon. But even that was too rich; I think I’ll stick with plant-based fats next time. Here is my rainy day meal: polenta, beet greens and salmon:

Bike Ride to the River Road Gardens

I rode my bike this morning the 4 miles to the River Road Gardens, where there’s a vegetable stand Saturday mornings; there’s also CSA shares available at different times of the year:

I bought some beets and kale, they just fit in my bike bag:

Yum! I’m happy to be biking; like I said in earlier posts, my belly dancing seems to be reducing my back pain so I’m expanding my repertoire of physical activity, moving beyond long dog walks and swimming (which I don’t do with my dog).  Next week I hope to start a bike commute to work a couple times a week (it’s just 6.5 miles one-way) before the heat sets in. If it happens, there will be photos here.

Belly Dance Hip Scarf

I’m still going to my belly dance class. I think it’s helping my low and mid-back pain. I’m feeling in better shape. It’s hard work!

In a move that has me flashing back to my kindergarten ballet recital, I agreed to participate in my belly dance class performance. At least I won’t need a tutu. But I will need a hip scarf; this is the one I’ve picked; it’s sparkly, but it doesn’t make my hips look smaller, and no, you don’t need to see how it looks on me. At least, not yet!

Aphid Attack

I’m not really the most mindful gardener. If I thinned my lettuce–and pulled up the old lettuce plants–I’d probably get aphids later in the season.  Supposedly the abrupt presence of an aphid colony indicates a garden out of balance. Oh well. Every February when we have our first warm spell of 3+ days in the 70s and mild nights my beautiful winter lettuce crop becomes…..inedible. At least for me. It’s impossible to wash off aphids and I don’t like a salad with little things moving around on the leaves.

But, if you’re a chicken, it’s a different story. I picked all my lettuce the other day, loaded it into 5 gallon buckets, and gave it all to an administrative assistant at the hospital where I work: she has chickens. Apparently, her chickens were very happy with the–to them–inexplicable bounty.

I picked most of my kale in the other bed, washed, chopped and froze it; it’s aphid-free at this point, and, I must say, extremely yummy steamed and eaten with nothing added.:

The tomato cage is in the bed for nights when there’s a freeze; I just throw an old bed sheet over the whole bed and the cage props it up. Some poppies have self-seeded in the bed, too. There are also scallions and pansy volunteers.

March 15th is about the last frost date in Tucson; then I’ll plant my summer plants: tomatoes, beans, cukes for pickles.

Tucson’s Best Window Installation

As I’ve just indicated, my life after work lately has been pre-occupied with the 2010 Winter Olympics. Even though the coverage is awful.

The other reason I haven’t posted much, though, is because last week I got new windows (made by Window Depot, a local business) installed in my house.  I am very home-oriented, and am willing to scrimp and drive an old car with no air-conditioning in order to save money for my house. Here’s a view of one of my old windows, made in the 50s:

Here’s another one. By the way, I can’t stand these windows; most of them don’t open and dust and dirt blew in through the casement cracks.

And, just to make it clear how ugly my windows were, here’s another window that got replaced:

One of the unit clerks where I work told me about a father-son team who’d installed her windows recently; she highly recommended them. Rob and Tom Saunders. They did a super job. Plus, they cleaned up after working, too. That was an unexpected bonus. I came home from work last Tuesday, and they’d popped in the bedroom windows:

The next day, the windows in my sewing room were replaced. The very yucky sills were taken out and replaced, too. You can see why I haven’t gotten any sewing done lately. The sticker on the window is for the 2009-2010 tax credit, which allows me to get 30% of my cost back from the government next year for installing energy efficient windows.

Here you can see my sadly very ignored art quilt reflected in the glass. And the gaping hole that will later in the day be a beautiful window sill.

Here’s the view from the front: 3 of my 8 new windows. Don’t they look great? Plus, they’re cleaner and way more energy-efficient. And they make my home quieter. I’m SO HAPPY. Anyone who wants windows installed, contact me and I’ll forward you Rob and Tom’s contact info. And, they do more than just windows.

Finally….the old windows. I can’t believe I put up with them for over 5 years. Yuck.

Shaun White’s Air Guitar: Thanks for the Laugh!

I love winter sports and every 4 years I go crazy watching the winter Olympics. There are a lot of objections I have to the institution of the Olympics; and also to the classist nature of the Winter Games–it’s not a racially or economically diverse competition: not many kids have access to ski slopes and, once adults, the type of health coverage for multiple knee surgeries and top-notch PT.

But once I get past that, I really enjoy the great competition and inherent ideals of the Winter Games.

It’s been a painful Olympics though, for me as a viewer because NBC’s coverage is AWFUL. At times like this I wish I lived in a more enlightened place with a live feed of all events, no commentary, just a straight feed: like, in Canada.

Instead, we in the States have….NBC….and endless McDonald’s and Walmart commercials.  And almost exclusive tape-delayed coverage of….mostly Americans. Well, Canadians, too. But any other nationality only gets covered if they’ve had a spectacular wipe-out. The commentary is largely patronizing, too. I wish they’d just leave it up to Bob Costas, who’s quite smart.

Enough will be said about one of the most stunning performances at the 2010 Winter Games:  Shaun White’s super-human half-pipe tour-de-force. What probably won’t get the credit it deserves is Shaun’s fun, spirited air-guitar riff at the end of the national anthem during his gold medal ceremony. It was absolutely hysterical. It was like a court jester had hopped up on the podium, doing what jesters do best: poke fun at everything folks in authority take seriously. Finally, for once, someone brought  something other than….traditional dull patriotism to the ceremony. It was really inspired.

NBC cut most of the original full-on air guitar out of their online replay: I guess they found it too embarrassing. Which is too bad because I’m certain Shaun White delivered their highest ratings. You can watch the air-guitar here, but you have to be quick to catch it; it’s at about 4:46 on the clock, during “the land of the free”.  You’ll also have to download a Microsoft video player (if you don’t already have it) and watch a commercial first. I hope someone posts something better on Youtube soon; but so far, there’s nothing worth linking to.

Thanks for the fun and irreverence, Shaun. I need all the laughs I can get.

A Joke from Aunt Mary

My Aunt Mary of Hingham, Massachusetts, who I hope will be joining me in Newfoundland this summer for the Port Kirwan Come Home Year (she was born there) sent me the following joke last week:

During a recent Password Audit at the Bank of Ireland it was found that Paddy O’Toole was using the following password:


When Paddy was asked why he had such a long password,  he replied:  ”Bejazus! are yez feckin’ stupid? Shore Oi was told me password had  to be at least 8 characters long and include one capital”

Canning Rhubarb: Like I Don’t Have Enough to Do

Well, there it is: all the frozen rhubarb from the Grasslands freezer (see my last post) with nowhere to go once the Grasslands shut down. I took  it home with me Thursday; I couldn’t really stop myself, because I love rhubarb and in Arizona, rhubarb is rare. I know it’s a weed for so many of you out there, but not here.

Luckily, since my freezer at home is small, there were some left-over canning jars at the Grasslands as well:

So I took the rhubarb  home….to can and save for later.  Even though a day of canning cuts into my fiddling and art quilting. And even though it’s been a long time since I did any canning. In fact, I’ve never canned on my own, it was always something I did with my mom supervising me.

I also took 2 big steel pots from the Grasslands. When I got home Thursday night, I put the rhubarb in a big bowl and mixed it with several cups of (organic) sugar and let it sit over night to draw out the juice; Friday morning, I quickly cooked it down, juice and all  (in batches) in a small steel pot. Then I put all the cooked rhubarb in a big steel pot, and set that in an even bigger steel pot with hot water to make a double-boiler, and I let the rhubarb cook down for about 3 hours.

I adjusted the sugar a few times until I liked the taste. Hint: rhubarb needs a lot of sugar, though I don’t like things really sweet so I probably use less sugar than the average person.  I think I had about 50 cups chopped rhubarb and I probably used 10 cups of sugar. I was aiming for the consistency of a rhubarb sauce, which I will use in cakes or even in my morning oatmeal. This is what the end product looked like, after 3 hours:

Then I rinsed the canning jars in hot water (with a little bleach) and then rinsed again in plain hot water, and then let dry in the dish rack:

I packed the hot rhubarb sauce into the clean jars, here’s the first jar:

Then I wiped the tops of the jars off with a damp clean dish cloth, and placed the rubber-coated lids on top–I keep the lids in a pan of water while I work so that they’re wet when I put them on the jar, that helps increase the rate of seal. I learned that trick from my mom. Then I screwed on the ring.  Here’s the hot water bath:

I didn’t have a wire rack for the pot. The jars rested on the bottom of the pot, and were covered in water almost up to the rim of each jar, as you can see above. I brought the water to a boil slowly, never going higher than medium-high to get the temperature up.  I used a Calphalon heat diffuser plate which my mom gave me years ago; it’s very handy for keeping a protective surface between your heating element and your pot bottom: here it is on the front left burner:

When I remodeled my kitchen last year (thanks to an art quilt that I sold; and, yes, it sold for enough to remodel my kitchen) I deliberately avoided getting a smooth-top ceramic stove.  There’s a lot of cookware you can’t use on that surface (such as cast iron) and it’s hard to can on it as well. Although electric isn’t as good as gas, old-fashioned electric is better than ceramic-top electric.

But I digress.

I let the jars gently simmer for 30 minutes, then took one pot (9 jars)  off the burner and put the second pot (6 jars) on. I let the jars cool in their respective pots for several hours, and I listened with a great deal of satisfaction as I heard the gentle, solitary “thunk” as each jar sealed. If you’ve never done any home canning you don’t know what I’m talking about. Trust me when I say it’s satisfying to hear the thunk. Because if you don’t hear it, something went wrong and you have to start the hot-water bath all over again because you have a failed seal.

Here are my 15 pints of rhubarb sauce. YUM!