Um, so, I've heard the stories of squash mutation, but now I see the the evidence and believe. I did plant muskmelon, aka cantaloupe. I did not plant acorn squash. I did plant cucumbers, heirloom zucchini, and yellow summer squash. So what the freak is this?! When I sliced it open, it smelled like cantaloupe with the texture of zucchini and the shape (obviously) of acorn squash. Is this proof of squash's infamous habit of cross-pollination? Or is this some marvelous fruit squash that I planted unconsciously, perhaps in my sleep? Can anyone solve this garden mystery for me?


Garden Friday Fail

So, I haven't done one of these in a few weeks, but one of my fails is my poor note keeping. I have mysterious things growing in my garden that I can't quite identify: musk melon? acorn squash (I didn't plant any of those, did I?)? giant zucchini? I have tomatoes whose labels got bleached out in the sun and now are unidentified. So now I have a bit of a mess, rather than the meticulous notes that I wanted to keep, indicating a green thumb's expertise observations of her garden in a zen-like, holistic manner.
Fail! (But isn't she pretty?)

more goodies from the garden

My sunflowers are blooming splendidly, and the honeybees love them. And I love them. And the whole world loves them. I no longer work evenings; the summer restaurant job is behind me and a new school year with a full-time, permanent position faces me. So I am sleepily enjoying my garden in the evenings now, which may mean more photos, more naps, reading, eating delicious home-cooked dinners in the dome, and more out-door movie nights (Mr. B built a huge movie screen in the back yard out of plywood).
In addition to the long-awaited blooming of the sunflowers, I am finally about to start harvesting stuff beyond greens. I have squash, mysterious mysterious squash growing, including an almost-ripe zucchini. I have tiny little green beans (at last! at last!). Tomatoes are getting some color, and the peppers are popping. I have my salsa recipe and white vinegar on standby. Plus, I cleared a bunch of bramble to make the harvesting of blackberries easier with hopes for blackberry wine and sorbet and cobbler. We're also getting our second crop of salmon berries, and the berries are plump and sweet. I continue to harvest chamomile every day, and I'm also harvesting nasturtium and marigold seeds.

Here's an orange-fleshed purple smudge tomato starting to show some of its purple smudge.
Here's a ripe tomato that I've lost the name of, but that's okay because I work with the woman who gave me the seedling last spring. But yay, a ripe tomato!
Speaking of tomatoes, I'll soon be harvesting currants as well. Little tiny currant tomatoes have been quite the journey. The plants are quite lovely, the tomatoes are tiny, and everything about this plant took patience. The seeds took so long to germinate that I'd rather given up hope on them, and now I have two lovely currant plants fruiting like crazy. Harvest season is almost upon me!


peaches (no this is not a pop song but my garden is starting to sing)

August has brought me mixed emotions about my garden. I'm not quite sure why or how to articulate it. My mistakes glare at me. Certain areas are a disorganized jungle that I love one day and shake my head at the next. Companion planting gone wild. Problems seem to crop up lately, caused by the heat perhaps. Aphids on calendula, mysterious spots and possible diseases on certain plants, and the green tomatoes that taunt and tease and never seem to ripen.

But then there are the joys of the garden and of the season. Fresh salad made with kale, nasturtiums, green onion, the last of the peas, braggs, olive oil, and some lemon juice. Yogurt dips using home-grown garlic and dill. Peppers are starting to come in, which means time to get harvesting and chopping those up for hot sauce. Soon, I'll have green beans (finally!) and summer squash.
Then there's the success of my first-ever solo batch of jam. We went out to Sauvie Island to pick peaches, which I jarred, dehydrated, and jammed. The jarring was also my first solo mission into home canning, so while they don't look perfect, they look yummy enough for winter smoothies. The dehydrated peaches are like fruit roll-ups for gourmands, and the peach jam? Oh hell yeah. I only made 5 8oz. jars, because we don't eat much jam. But I have a feeling we'll eat it more often now.

Here's my recipe (note that I used no pectin):
1 quart peaches
1/4 cup water
1 cup local honey
2 cups sugar
I dipped the peaches in boiling water for 30 seconds and then iced water for 30 seconds to peal them easily. Then I sliced and mashed them with my potato masher. Then I added the water and sugar and got them boiling. I turned the heat to medium and stirred and stirred while they slowly boiled and thickened until reaching 220 degrees. I let it cool slightly, and poured the jam into clean jars. When the jam was completely cooled, I put the jars into the freezer.


summer reading

One of the first novels I read this summer was Aryn Kyle's The God of Animals, a book left for me by my neighbor on my doorstep, dog-eared and much loved, and I could see why. There's a slightly disturbing quality to this novel. The writing is quietly beautiful, not overly showy or lyrical, but with moments that seem almost cinematic. Perhaps the novel is slightly disturbing because it's about normal people, in all their fucked-up-ness and in all their beauty. It's a pragmatic tale, in a sense, because one doesn't finish it loving or hating humanity. Rather, I bow down to how beautifully humanity can be portrayed.
I tried and tried and tried, but Le Divorce by Diane Johnson is just not my thing. Ironically, I chose this novel because I'd heard stellar things about how it was written, and that's precisely why I just couldn't finish it. Although I still might, eventually. But the narrator seems to be endlessly telling and telling and telling about her life in Paris. It's like listening to an endless techno track with the same beat with no hook, no drop. I just couldn't get into it. Not that this is a bad book, by any means. It just didn't ever grab me.
 Oh, Isabel Allende! When I think of writers I love, her name is one of the first that comes to mind. While I did like House of Spirits better, Eva Luna is almost as wonderful, as magical, as rich in narratives and lyrical language. When reading Allende, one steps into a magical world rich in spices, aromas, ghosts, warriors, love, and all with a political backdrop both ominous and hopeful. She deserves her spot in the cannon of great magical realists of South American literature.
This novel perhaps tops them all, with its staggeringly beautiful, lyrical writing juxtaposed next to the street jargon and slang of the two narrators (and the way Diaz makes the vernacular lyrical). But the language isn't its only beauty. His protagonist, Oscar, defies cultural stereotypes, fitting more neatly into the stereotype of the white nerd, except that he's Dominican, not white. These race issues are explored through the characters' varying definitions of what it means to be Dominican. And all of this told in the shadow, the curse, the fuku of Trujillo. This novel, an epic family narrative, is about the victims and survivors of Trujillo, the scar of Trujillo, and the beauty and pain of being a Dominican, whether still at home or part of the diaspora. In part, it's a novel about finding peace within oneself and it's also a novel about returning home.
This carefully written novel is about the fall of the British empire, the descent of the old families of influence and rise of the middle class and the building of the suburbs. It reminded me quite a bit of Remains of the Day for that reason, and it depicted the psychological and physical decline of these upper class characters. Therefore, this novel deserves more credit than being merely brushed aside as a spooky story. But it also is a spooky, gothic story (reminding me a bit of Poe and Hawthorne), bone-chillingly spooky at times, and a bit of a mystery that the reader has to solve for herself in the end. For Waters leaves many clues, but she presents no firm resolutions for her readers. However, the clues point to a rather surprising answer to the riddle that jars the reader in one of those delicious ways that remind us why we love a good story.



While driving from Erie to Carlisle, PA, we spotted this field and had to pull over for a few quick snapshots. This photo was taken in Perry County in a large valley in the Appalachian Mountain Range, an extremely rural county notorious for only having one traffic light. People from there are often made fun of as hicks, but I've always loved the twisting drive past dairy farms, old limestone and brick farm houses, and fields of sunflowers. To me, it's one of the loveliest spots in Pennsylvania: lush with vegetation, rolling hills, and the mountains as a backdrop.


project chamomile and more about tea

After several attempts, including a start that bit it, I finally, from seed!, got my chamomile to grow. And while gone, the plant tripled in size. One of my daily gardening tasks is harvesting, which my darling friends did for me while gone. Every day, I pick the flowers, preferably the ones with the plumpest centers, and put it on newspaper to dry. After drying for two days, I put it into a glass jar. How much will I be able to harvest at this rate by the end of production? I'm hoping I won't have to buy any chamomile all winter long. Fingers crossed.

Yesterday, I made some delicious iced tea, like surprisingly delicious. I didn't try any until this morning, and was wowed. I didn't measure well, but here's a rough recipe:

I steeped two sprigs of fresh lemon verbena for about 10 minutes. Then I added two tablespoons of dry, loose leaf jasmine. A couple of minutes later, I added about 3 or 4 tablespoons of organic chung oolang (loose leaf black tea) and let that steep for 3 or 4 minutes. Then I filtered it, added local honey, and diluted the tea in a large pitcher with filtered water. Yum! My family drinks a lot of iced tea, so I gained a renewed taste for it while I was back home.
It's been an emotional and inspiring two weeks. I am back in Portland feeling a bit listless and homesick, wishing I could transplant my entire family here (I do not miss the humidity of the east coast!).  My visit with them seemed too short, and I woke up this morning anxious to see them again. I'd like to spend more time with my aunt and mom, learning how to sew. I'd like to spend more time with my other aunt, exploring her garden. Instead, I will do the next best thing: I had the idea of showcasing some of their talents and passions here on my blog in upcoming posts. There's my great grandmother, the witch. There's my uncle, the orchid grower. There's my grandfather, the photographer. And that's just a start. People are amazing in their energy and will to create.