Sunday, May 31, 2009

Birds flying high you know how I feel/Sun in the sky you know how I feel

St. Louis is actually having a full-fledged spring this year. Gorgeous sunny and warm days, so clear, crisp and blue they seem impossibly beautiful. And the best part has been the deliciously cool nights, so unlike actual summer here with our stiflingly hot nights. It will be short-lived, there is no doubt, but in the meantime I am enjoying every moment spent outside. I don't even care that I have to be double medicated on Claritin and Benedryl at all times. It's just that nice.

Of course, this kind of weather ushers in grilling season and I have been cooking outside for weeks now (and have been rather negligent in reporting the results). Tonight was a rather good result: chicken thighs, grilled and then coated with a terikayi glaze I stirred up, satay noodles (thanks, Trader Joe's!) and an experiment that turned out well - Asian Caesar salad. It seems unlikely, but spinach, crispy onions, bean sprouts, mandarin oranges and homemade dressing actually worked. Really well, in fact.

Before I even took the chicken off the grill, I was calling it Candy Chicken; the glaze was caramelizing on the grill grates, stringing out like spun sugar. I hate that I love sweet savory food because I know it's wrong. But if loving it is wrong, well, I don't want to be right.

I still love my job (though I do have an interview for a more permanent position that I really want - fingers crossed!) and the fact that I'm getting a super tan is just icing on the cake. While I complain when the department is disordered I have to admit that I do really enjoy putting it back into shape. It is satisfying to see everything pretty and orderly again. Today it was so gorgeous that I was compelled to take some photos at work. While watering these lilies, I was struck by the contrast between the orange petals and the blue, blue sky.

The foxgloves were standing high and proud so I stuck my little mobile camera in the midst to get a shot.

This lantana actually looks prettier in the photo than in real life. The pots of it seem kind of straggly, though I'm sure they will fill out eventually.

Elegans is one of my favorite hosta varieties with its powdery blue-green leaves.

On Friday I came home from work, went outside to sit on the deck and didn't come back inside for over eight hours. I'm working on (in my head) a blog entry about being able to sit and do just about nothing for long periods of time; someday soon. Olive insisted on coming out, so I harnessed her up and let her join me. Here she is enjoying the old shower curtains waiting to be discarded.

Even though I find it amusing to refer to Olive as the cat who is most likely to be plotting my death, we have a pretty good relationship. She is also the one cat who seems to understand proper posing for photographs. A couple choice shots from the day:

As Steve says, Olive has more facial expressions than any cat he has known. It's true!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Cheese, Wonderful Cheese! Oh, and Eggs.

Last week I was the delighted recipient of some gorgeous mohair locks delivered graciously by Jason and Larissa Rook. Along with the locks, they brought along a dozen fresh eggs, a very nice bonus. You wouldn't thing there would be such a difference between home grown eggs and the store bought variety, but yowza! there is. Check out the glorious orange-gold of the beaten eggs. An omelet beckoned for Saturday lunch and I used my favorite combination, had in a restaurant in San Francisco when I was in high school: onions, mozzarella cheese and sausage.

A couple weeks ago I came across a recipe for farmer's cheese that seemed simple but I hadn't any time to try it. Saturday dawned with a cheese-flavored light bulb going off. The recipe had few ingredients: a gallon of whole milk, salt and lemon juice. First step was to bring the milk to a simmer after adding a teaspoon of salt. Next time I would add more salt. Damn, a gallon of milk is a LOT of milk once you pour it all in a big pot. It seemed to take forever to get the milk to boil and I could feel it scalding to the bottom of the pot. (I still haven't managed to scrub the browned milk out, so keep that in mind if you undertake this recipe.) Perhaps I had the heat too high in my impatience to get the milk boiling. While I was waiting I juiced two lemons to get the requisite 1/4 cup of juice. I actually had a bit more than that, but decided to just use it all. Once the milk came to a simmering boil, I turned off the heat.

Next I added the lemon juice to the hot milk. According to the recipe, big curds were supposed to immediately form, leaving a watery, yellowish liquid (the whey) behind. Unfortunately, I only got a few squishy curds forming, so I decided to add a splash of plain white vinegar to further encourage the curds. And, voila!

I lined a colander with cheesecloth and poured the hot curds and whey (hello Miss Muffet!) into it. I must admit it was pretty exciting to see the creamy white curds formed in the colander.

After a little more draining, the curds looked firmer and drier.

I let it sit and drain for quite a while, maybe an hour, but I still thought it could be more dry so I tied up the cheesecloth and left a loop to hang from the sink faucet for further draining.

After letting it drain for another hour or so (and with some squeezing to get rid of the last bit of moisture), I had decided how I wanted to flavor some of the cheese. At this point I had, of course, sample a curd or two and was quite happy with the creamy taste. The texture was quite like ricotta, though a bit drier. I kept a portion plain, which I plan to use this week in some sort of pasta dish. Another third I flavored with fresh lemon juice and zest, plus a bit of garlic and salt. I whirled it all in the food processor with a splash of milk to make it creamy rather than crumbly. The third bit i pressed into a small glass coated in olive oil, freshly ground pepper and fresh chopped chives.

I hadn't remembered to buy any sort of bready medium to spread the cheese upon so I made a simple round white loaf to go along. And the cheese was good! The creamy lemon flavored was the favorite. Both the flavored cheeses were definitely lacking in salt, hence my resolution to add more in the simmering process.

So this is totally easy and it's very satisfying to make your own cheese.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Slide down beside and wrap you in stories/Tailored entirely for you/I'll remind you/We exchanged a vow/I love you I always will

A few weeks ago, a friend posted a note on Facebook about her feelings on the nature of love. I disagreed vehemently with some of her points and I knew that I needed to contemplate why and write my own thoughts down. She believes that you cannot call anything 'love' that hasn't been honed for years, and that is where we part ways.

I certainly do not disagree that a love grown over years, with all the attendant good times and bad, tragedies and triumphs, excitements and the everyday humdrums, is a very special love. Special and important and probably even necessary. A long-term love is the blanket you wrap around yourself. It's comfort and security, intimate understanding and, if you are lucky (and I am) excitement and passion. But I don't believe that it's the only kind of love that counts, that is important, that infiltrates your heart, that makes your life richer and better. To deny any other kind of love than that carefully honed long-term stuff is cheating yourself out of a lot of excitement, happiness and, yeah, sometimes heartbreak.

I suppose this makes me sound a bit like a love junkie and I can't deny that accusation. I relish love in its many forms. While I may fall in love quickly and simultaneously, sometimes fleetingly, I do not fall indiscriminately. But I have never cut myself off from those feelings, because no matter if they last a week, eight months or 20 years, they are real, they count and they matter. Every experience is a learning experience, though I will freely admit that not every one ends happily. With every love I have learned something about myself and a myriad of things about human nature. Have I gotten hurt? Oh gosh, yes. I've cried a river of tears. Have I hurt others? I'm certain. But would I trade those experiences for an intact heart? Never. You know the saying: Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

What is love? Can it be defined? Should it be defined? I would argue that it doesn't need definition. Love just is. I'm satisfied with the "I know it when I feel it" explanation. I feel it in my heart; it beats faster. My stomach has butterflies. My mind wanders. All of these the symptoms of the glorious rustlings of a new love. Love, with a capital L, is whatever it means to you. Your own personal definition is all that matters, and if it takes years for someone to earn your love, then I suppose that's how you must live your life. I just believe it doesn't need to be that complicated or that tortured.

I can't imagine fighting love. So many people withhold giving their love, as if they have a finite amount in their heart and must dole it out in tiny, miserly portions. Why should saying the simple, magical words "I love you" cause so much distress, so much agita? In thinking back, I'm fairly sure I have always been the first to utter the phrase in my relationships and a long time ago I made myself a promise to be pure when I told someone I loved them. By that I mean that I would say the words simply because I felt them and wanted my feelings to be known, not because I wanted to hear the words echoed back to me. I have been happily lucky (or one could say I've chosen my recipients well) that love has been returned to me. It seems so elementary to me that sometimes I have a difficult time understanding how one could do anything else. You feel it, you say it. Simple. There are no negative repercussions. And so what if someone doesn't say it back right away, or at all. Does it change your feelings? (Now I can't deny here that if your feelings are not returned, love might perhaps diminish eventually. But it doesn't mean you didn't feel it initially. It doesn't mean it never existed.)

Who can deny that the world takes on a more sparkly sheen when a fresh love is bubbling through the veins; that nuisances and annoyances can be shrugged off easier; that life viewed through the proverbial rose-colored glasses is just better? Loving is fantastic; being loved is extraordinary. If there is a connection, follow it through on its logical, or illogical, path. You may be surprised at the joy and sheer goodness you can invite into your life. Can you ever have too much love? It seems absurd to even posit that theory because my answer is a resounding "No."

Whew. Now that I got that out of my system, what else has been going on? I haven't managed to take photos of much that I've cooked lately, except this pate. By nature of its main ingredient, pate is never pretty. So get over it and eat it already.

I've been taking a lot of photos at work with my mobile. I rather love the quality I get from that little camera. It amazes me, actually, that it takes such nice, close up photos. These hen and chicks were so beautiful that I had to photograph them. And today when I saw only one pot was left, I had to buy that beauty for myself.

We received gorgeous ageratum yesterday, and a new batch of lovely caladiums, plants I've long loved.

The greenhouse looked really nice the other day so I captured a photo of it.

I think it's the presence of hostas that make me so happy (again). I was feeling a little stressed at work today and I went to the hosta aisle, where it is always shady and cool, took a deep breath and before I knew it I was smiling and calm. Hostas are magic! I was showing some to a customer the other day who kept referring to them as "hostages". I could barely contain my giggles as I thought about her telling her friends that she had put some hostages in her yard. Hee!

I brought home another lavender plant this week, a more traditional English variety. It is pretty too, dusty and bluish compared to the verdant green of the other.

I have high hopes for it and the creeping thyme already present in the pot. What an intoxicating scent will come from those two!

Tonight I slipped outside to photograph a bit of the storm and to explore using a flash in the dark. Those types of photos always remind me of Roxy Music album covers and some of the other hyper-colored photos of 7os. I will definitely be exploring further as these were just snaps taken before I got soaked and chilled in the wind and rain.

I think I especially like how the natural greens pop in nighttime flash photography. I can't wait to do more.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Cause it's breaking my heart, it's breaking my heart/And it's breaking my heart to pull out the rain

OK, yeah, it's been awhile and I've gotten out of the habit. I blame Facebook (again), as it has taken all of my public posting attention lately.

I have taken a lot of photos lately, of food and work and pets; I'll post some of them here. It is officially grilling season and I have begun to cook dinners outside. One of the first was grilled chicken thighs and asparagus. I made a nice, quick potato salad alongside, adding a dab of Baconnaise for extra flavor.

The other day I had some sort of meat pulled out of the freezer, but I suddenly got a severe craving for beans. I prepped a pound of dried pinto beans, then added them to the pressure cooker along with big chunks of carrots, garlic, a couple jalapeno peppers and some smoked pork slices. Thinking the finished soup might need a touch of acid, I made a gremolata of sorts from chopped tomato, garlic, parsley and hot pepper vinegar. It was a satisfying bowl of soup, most definitely.

I frequent the Deals near work as a source of these giant bottles of sweetened, lemon tea (I am getting rather addicted to this stuff and I rarely drink sweet tea) and the other day I saw a great bargain of individual frozen fish packages and bought some rockfish (a fish I'd never heard of before). I decided to bread and pan fry it (yeah, I know, not so healthy, but tasty). Note to self: add more salt to a flour coating than I think is necessary. I never get it salty enough. I halved and quartered some baby potatoes and sauteed them in a really hot pan. I wanted them brown and crispy on the outside and soft and creamy inside. They almost tasted sweet. In other words, perfect. I was short of green vegetables so it was green peas on the side.

I am really loving my job. This is probably the first time in my life I actually love my job. Don't get me wrong, I've had jobs I liked okay, or more correctly, I liked who I worked for and with but the jobs themselves, meh. Putting trays and pots and racks of flowers and plants attractively in the places they belong appeals to the part of me that likes order and precision. In the corporate world, it seems like most jobs are never really done; you just do your piece of the puzzle and you don't get that satisfied feeling at seeing something through to its true end. At this job, entire tasks are completed many times a day and I find that seriously refreshing and very satisfying. Yes, I'm sometimes stiff and achy when I get home, and the plants are wreaking havoc on my allergies (but, let's face it, that would be happening no matter what), but I am happy. It figures that this is a temporary job.

Besides the work being enjoyable, I get to be surrounded by the beauty of all sorts of flowers and plants. Standing in the aisle with the hostas, where it's cool and shaded, I can feel myself become calm and peaceful. I also tend to end up doing a lot of work in the greenhouse. It's hot in there, but I like the quiet and the relative seclusion. When new hanging planters are delivered, they arrived wrapped in cellophane which we have to remove. By nature of a lot of plant being stuffed into a smaller amount of plastic, flowers and branches of the hanging plants naturally fall off and the process of unwrapping leaves the area around our feet littered with the most beautiful trash. Fuschias, huge dragon wing begonia blossoms and petunias made such a pretty pile of debris that I had to photograph it.

Some lavender came in the other day and I became obsessed by it. I led practically every customer who asked for help over to it. I even bought some for myself; the first time I had bought anything from the garden center. It smells divine, a much more citrusy scent than the traditional lavender. It is called coconut ice and will have pink and white flowers rather than the hazy purple variety.

I can't wait for it to blossom!

I am drawing and painting, slowly, a triptych of sorts for Stephanie to adorn her new walls in Denmark. I need more hours in the day.