Monday, January 30, 2012

Meatless Monday; or, Watch Out, Cucumber!

I found myself feeling decidedly in the mood for something lighter over the weekend, and while some turkey lettuce wraps were good for an evening, it made me suspect that I needed an overall change in my nutrition. Not a dramatic change—I'll still be eating lumps of homemade pecan fudge—but a nudge in the right direction.

What I decided on was Meatless Monday. One day of abstinence weekly to help pep up my digestive system and get in a few nutrients I might otherwise zoom by on my way to the meat.

So I started out my Monday filled with anticipation. I had rye flakes for porridge, and, along with banana, blueberries, milk, maple syrup, and a few hazelnuts, they made a sumptuous breakfast.

Many people think a hot cereal is too much trouble in the morning, but I'm pretty sure they just haven't worked out the lazy girl way to do it. What I do is put quite a lot of water and a fairly generous helping of oats into a pan (for those who need ratios, a minimum of 3 to 1—lots of this water is going to cook off), put on low heat, then go and drink my coffee and smoke about fifty cigarettes. As long as the heat is low enough, the oatmeal/rye/wheatberries don't burn, and you don't have any trouble getting a good hearty breakfast!

Over the weekend, I definitely had pickles on my mind. Not the kind that have been languishing in a jar forever, but fresh pickles. They seemed to be popping up everywhere, including over at Make Grow Gather. With excitement, I brined up a bowl of fresh carrots that have been getting tangier and more delicious every day since. As you can see, I didn't really peel them, just scraped them a bit and washed them well.

Finding a basic brine recipe isn't hard, but here's mine:

1 c. cider (or rice wine, or even white) vinegar
½ c. water
1 generous tsp. sea salt
2 tsp. peppercorns, juniper berries, and perhaps a bay leaf (feel free to experiment here)
A small handful of complimentary herbs like dill or thyme
2 tsp. sugar
1 c. vegetable of choice

Heating the brine first is a good idea because it helps the salt and sugar dissolve and makes the spices more pungent. So combine everything but the vegetables and herbs in a saucepan, bring to a rapid boil, then allow to cool slightly. Arrange your vegetables and herbs in a glass jar/stoneware crock/non-metallic bowl/old butter tub, then pour the brine to cover. Refrigerate for at least one hour. Eat within three days.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Library Thing

For those of you who've managed to miss the wonders of Library Thing, here is your wakeup call. You know how you love fiddling around with your books and sorting them by genre, by author, etc? Now you can keep a virtual catalog of all your books and sort them any way you please!

But Library Thing is a lot more than just a cataloging utility. Library Thing is a community. It feels, sometimes, a little bit like wandering around naked as you add all the odd things you read because one's bookcases are just a little like one's soul or genitalia: super private.

But at the same time, wonderful forums and groups lead to wonderful exchange and debate. I have long enjoyed the What Are You Reading Now? and Go Review that Book! groups. It's wonderful to peek into what others are reading and share their excitement as they talk about their literature.

For academics, this can be a particularly rich way to discover others in your field. I stumbled onto some wonderful people just by looking at who shared the many texts on Victorianism and readership that I have.

Best of all, there's the Early Reviewer program! Recently released books are offered on a limited basis to those willing to review them within the community. The books are usually matched to you based on request (obviously) and also how well they fit in with your collection. So you're likely to get something you're at least somewhat keen on.

Overall, it's a wonderful tool, community, and opportunity for those of us who take books seriously.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Dish Gardening

Inspired by a recent article in Martha Stewart, I decided to put together a decorative dish garden. My mother helped kickstart the project by digging out a lovely, shallow soup tureen, and then I was off to the garden center to pick up materials. I bought charcoal, orchid bark, orchid food, button fern, some other houseplant, a decorative accent, and three orchids (what extravagance!). The photo below is what my raw materials looked like.

The poor orchid is soaking in a pitcher of water to loosen its roots so I could pull the exhausted potting bark out and put in fresh stuff. I don't think that orchid will want to be watered for a month.

I began my dish with a layer of gravel at the bottom to provide drainage, then some charcoal to keep the pot fresh. Root rot is not on the agenda here.

Because the orchid woman was so vehement about needing to keep the roots tightly bound, I replaced the orchids in their little cups, but trimmed the cups down so that they wouldn't be visible. This will keep the roots tight and the arrangement pretty.

Then I tucked smaller plants like the button fern and the whatchamacallit around to provide stability and also variety of height and texture. (I was going to include myself more in this photo, but I was showing WAY too much cleavage!) While the orchids were well packed in bark, the other plants have little pockets of the soil that they prefer. Finally I covered the whole with some attractive mossy stuff and added my decorative accents.

My decorations, as you can see, are a wee little bridge that I bought at the garden center, along with an old marble frog. I like the "landscapey" effect of this arrangement, and I'm keeping it next to the kitchen sink where it can get sunlight and humidity. Next I'd love to try a terrarium arrangement under glass (I have a lovely cheese dome that would work perfectly), but I think I need to do more research before I prepare a whole ecosystem. I'd also probably have to do some woodland raiding for moss.