Raised Gardens and a Chicken-Wire Memory

May 11th, 2011

I started gardening in raised beds last year. Special thanks to my neighbor Terry who built them for me! This year I’m adding four more beds.

Simple raised bed tips:  1)  Use screws, not nails, to connect the boards. They’ll hold together longer.

2) Brace the corners.

Before filling with 1/3 peat moss-1/3 vermiculite-1/3 mixed variety compost, I lined the beds with newspapers to discourage weeds and chicken wire to discourage burrowing animals.

(A side note on the chicken wire: Always reminds me of  homecoming parades in our small town in South Dakota. Instead of flowers as they use for the renowned Rose Bowl parade, we stuffed fluffed-up paper table napkins in the chicken wire to create our creations.

Coming up with the design was great fun! Really!)

But, I digress. Gardening season is here and I’m ready!

 

 

 

 

Information Exchange

February 8th, 2011

Dialed customer service tonight, the dreaded call that is something like spinning the globe to see what country lands under my index finger. When someone answers with awkward English and a corresponding unlikely name like Ashley or Justin, my patience drops precipitously.

Tonight, the guy’s English was good with a little New York-ese sprinkled in. He didn’t give a name, but sounded like he was off-shore. He was helpful. We got through most of the details needed to solve my problem. He asked for my email. It’s related to this domain name, marygunderson.com. He stopped and said, “How did you get that? It’s your name!” There was wonder in his voice.

“I got the domain name.”

“What? How?”

“I registered it. Where are you?”

“Egypt.”

“OK,” I paused, imagining the miles in between. “Here’s how to do it. It’s a brave new world and Egypt is one of the best examples.”

“Don’t make fun of my country,” he said, not unkindly.

“Oh, no, I’m not making fun of you or your country. I wish you all well and a government that works for everyone in Egypt.”

“Yes,” he said, quietly, wistfully. “Yes.”

I gave him the url of my domain registration site. “Search your name and see if you can register it. Then, get a web host and you’re on.”

There was a moment of silence.

“Huh.” More wonder and a bit of delight.

We finished the work at hand. He had solved my problem, his English was excellent, the protesters in Cairo’s Tahir Square seemed close to me here on a subzero Farenheit northern winter evening. I promised him an excellent rating when I received the customer service evaluation email.

Wish I’d asked for his favorite Egyptian recipe.

Epiphany!

January 7th, 2011

Today, January 6th, is the 12th day of Christmas, celebrated as the day the Three Kings, the Magi, brought gifts to the infant Jesus and his parents.

The word epiphany has come to mean, as well, remarkable meaning from a common occurrence.  It can be as simple as sharing a bowl of soup. Wishing you an abundance of everyday joy and insight all year long.

Peace on Earth:  an idea whose time has come.

Mary

Just Right at Home

September 8th, 2010

Gale Steves has more than a hunch. She has an educated observation that wherever you live right now might be just right. You see too few closets and no decent office space?  Gale sees where there’s more storage and how you can set up a working space, all in the home where you are.

For a wider glimpse of Gale’s work, see her recent column at aarp.com. For a 360-degree vista, check out her book, Right-Sizing Your Home: How to Make Your House Fit Your Lifestyle (New Century Design).

(Full disclosure: Gale hired me as an editorial intern for her as food editor of “American Home” magazine when I was a pup in the workforce. She’s an amazing source of good ideas, the latest trends, and just plain fun. And, she’s still a friend and creative professional quite a few years later.)

Gale has right-sized her own home, a NYC apt, and influenced design choices for millions, currently as a home consultant, formerly as editor-in-chief for “Home” and in key positions in New York’s publishing world. She sees home in a practical light, encouraging you to make the space work for you instead of trying to live up to outdated definitions of a particular room or piece of furniture.

Nothing like a True Friend

September 5th, 2010

A dear friend passed away a few weeks ago. I wrote about Martha in early May (See May 6, 2010). By coincidence, kismet, or simply how things have a way of working out, about the time of Martha’s passing, my octogenarian mom lent me the book, A Walk by the Sea, written by Joan Anderson, known hereafter as ‘the author.’  Mom had received the book from a friend of hers to whom Mom has been a mentor. They are true friends.

The author is a 51-year old woman at a crossroads in her life when she meets Joan Erikson, who with her huband, the psychologist, Erik Erikson, formulated elegant theories of human development. The author met Joan as they each walked on the beach near their homes. Joan, then 91, became a beacon to the author toward how to live the rest of her life.  Joan Erikson’s friendship along with her vibrant outlook and zest for life, helped the author to make bold new choices  and move into a productive, creative tension between action and contemplation. It’s a sweet spot of balance to live into, never to hold.

Martha and I became friends when I was just beginning my professional career as a writer.  She was into her second act as an interior designer. The corporate position she left behind had brought recognition and creative satisfaction. As a prelude to her independent design business, Matha traveled around the world absorbing color, texture, and light.  For the next 37 years, she gave back the color, texture, and light to her clients and to her friends.

Martha was a beacon to me, though as in all friendships, at times, I resisted her wisdom. Long will I draw upon her wisdom and belief in the ‘right idea. as well as knowing when to wait and when to act. But, always, move toward action.

Part of the celebration of a friendship across the generations lies in that the elder can openly receive the younger, not only as a mentee, but as a true friend. The author illuminates this with joy. I am thankful for Martha’s friendship and the lessons of being a friend to her.

Luscious tomatoes…and not-so-welcome critters

August 26th, 2010

For the first time ever, I wanted a BB gun.  I wanted it bad.  First it was the rabbit, the one with a head and back full of lumps, probably tumors. The four-foot chicken wire fence around the raised bed garden put an end to the rabbit(s) nibbling on peas and sunflower seedlings. I thought I was home free.

When the first tomato turned red, I wanted to leap for joy.  When I checked it the next day, I wanted to find the critter that ate it. I suspected a raccoon, crawling up the trellis and reaching in to hold it firmly while she (he) took large bites out of both the giant Romas and the Russian Blacks.

I let go of my BB gun fantasy long enough to search the internet for another idea.  I found a suggestion to sprinkle Epsom salts and black pepper around the garden.  For good measure, I sprinkled pepper on the leaves and tomatoes, as well.

The carnage hasn’t stopped, but my efforts seem to slow the rate of loss.  I’m picking the fruit when it begins to turn red and adding more pepper, as needed.

Masters in Action

May 6th, 2010

Among the masters in my midst are Martha Nichols and Susan (Sue) Palmquist.  Martha, an interior designer, is a longtime friend who has helped me make my successive homes more lovely than I could have done myself.  Besides her skills in putting together all the design details, I call her the Color Empress.  To see Martha consider colors for a room is akin to watching Dale Chihuly invent his glass creations or Olympic gold medal figure skater Kim Yu Na soar over the ice.

I’ve recently gotten to know Sue, Martha’s collaborator in many projects and friend of many years. Sue, co-owner of Sawhill Kitchens in Minneapolis, designs kitchens as a maestro who first listens to the client’s vision and then, makes sure the range plays well with the sink, that the backsplash complements the countertop and cabinets, and there will be room to open the refrigerator door all the way to remove the crisper drawers.

I watched these masters in action last week. Imagine an equally supportive game of tennis between two of the very best. Martha and Sue each have true joy in what they do and the highest standards of excellence.

Not only does Susan make kitchens that work, she’s a wonderful cook. She made us a Roasted Vegetables and Orzo Salad and served it with baked chicken breasts.  My contribution to this lunch was bread and chocolate chip cookies. Here’s Sue’s recipe:

Roasted Vegetables and Orzo Salad

Cut the following vegetables into 1-inch cubes, squares, or pieces:

  • 1 eggplant (medium size)
    1 red pepper
    1 yellow or orange (or both) pepper
    1 red onion
    1 cup green beans

3 cloves garlic – minced
1/3 cup good olive oil
1-1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1 pound orzo

Dressing

1/2 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice – approx. 3 lemons
1/3 c. good olive oil
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Final additions

6 scallions, minced
1/2 c. toasted pine nuts
3/4 lb. feta cheese (crumbled or diced)
20 – 24 fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips (chiffonade)

Heat oven to 450 degrees F. Place eggplant, red, yellow, and/or orange peppers, onion, and zucchini in baking pan. Toss in 1/3 cup olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. Roast about 30 minutes until browned, turning once.

In medium saucepan, cook orzo according to package directions. Drain, rinse lightly, and place in large bowl. Add the vegetables along with all the scrapings from the pan. Meanwhile, make the dressing and add to the warm orzo & vegetables.

Just before serving, add scallions, pine nuts, feta cheese, and basil chiffonade.

Serve with roasted or grilled chicken breasts.  Makes about 10 servings.

Rites of Spring: Rhubarb

May 6th, 2010

Rhubarb tastes best to me when I pull it myself and cook it right away. Always pull from the root plant to get the ‘good end.’ I’ll be replacing my small, unproductive rhubarb patch this year. In the meantime, I watch for stands of rhubarb that look as though the owners have more than enough of the stuff or simply don’t pick it. I look for the pale green bulb, meaning the plant has “bolted” or gone to seed. The stalks taste best if it has only just gone to seed.

I’m not shy to inquire about the rhubarb. If the answer is “no,” no problem. But, it never is.  Yesterday, I was granted permission to pick what I wanted and got enough rhubarb for two pies and some sauce.

Adding eggs to rhubarb pie makes a creamy filling that balances rhubarb’s tart, sour flavor. Sugar is essential, of course. My mom’s recipe came from the Better Homes and Gardens “Red Plaid” and the Betty Crocker “Big Red” cookbooks she received as a bride in the early 1950s. Alas! Neither the latest BHG book nor the latest BC book still has the recipe. My copy of the Pillsbury Kitchens Family Cookbook, 1979, has it.

A side note: in my first job, I helped test the recipes for the dessert section of the Pillsbury book, working with experienced home economists who contributed to my development as a cook and food writer. Later I wrote as a staff food editor for Better Homes and Gardens magazine and worked often as a freelance food writer for the Betty Crocker kitchens.

Rhubarb Crumble Custard Pie

Adapted from the Pillsbury Family Cookbook, 1979.

9-inch single crust pastry

4 eggs

1½ to 1¾ cups sugar

¼ cup all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon nutmeg

5 cups sliced rhubarb, ½-inch pieces

Oatmeal Crumble:

½ cup firmly packed brown sugar

½ cup oatmeal     TIP: I use a mix of  steel-cut and rolled oats.

¼ cup all-purpose flour

¼ to ½ tsp. nutmeg

3 tbsp. butter

1/2 cup chopped nuts of your choice:  pecans, walnuts, almonds

Heat oven to 400 degrees F.  Place pastry crust in 9-inch pie plate.

TIP:  Pastry cooks most evenly in pottery or ceramic pie plate than in glass or metal.

In large bowl, beat eggs. Stir in sugar, flour, and nutmeg; mix well.  Stir in rhubarb.

In separate bowl, prepare Oatmeal Crumble: Stir together brown sugar, oatmeal, and flour.  Cut in butter with pastry blender or two knives. Stir in chopped nuts.

Spoon rhubarb mixture into pastry. Flute pastry edge. Sprinkle filling evenly with Oatmeal Crumble. Bake in 400 degree oven about 70 minutes. Place aluminum foil collars around pastry edge to avoid over-browning. If it browns too fast on top, place a sheet of aluminum foil loosely over top. Bake until golden brown, filling is set, and mixture bubbles. Makes 8 servings.

Korean Sushi: My Neighbor’s Kitchen

April 26th, 2010

I have the great, good fortune of living next door to a family that loves to cook and eat as much as I do. They’ve introduced me to Korean cooking. Most recently, I walked into their kitchen to see kimbap (also spelled kimbop and gimbap) under construction from a pot of cooked, seasoned rice, sheets of nori, and long-thin slices of English cucumber, chicken sausage, imitation crab, and fermented daikon radish.

With daughter Hailey nearby prepping the ingredients, the mom, Mary, smoothed the sheet of seaweed, nori, on a bamboo rolling mat.  Then she added a helping of rice seasoned with sesame oil, green onion, and rice vinegar.

 

I took small bites of the kimbap slice. “You must eat it all in one bite,” came the instruction: Mary, Hailey, Dolan, and Jada demonstrated. I did the same with my cheeks bulging, chewing all the way.  Delicious!

Garden-in-Progress-1

April 15th, 2010

My sixth garden is underway. The first two yielded not much, each lasting a season. By the third, I had years to make a garden that satisfied me and pleased visitors. The first year of Garden #3, I gardened with a friend who had big dreams for a vegetable garden. For the next seven years, I planted and tended mostly flowers, both perennials and annuals, and had a few tomato and pepper plants. I hauled barrels full of free processed cattle manure from the nearby ag university to my very dense, clay soil. I left that enriched, created garden reluctantly. For the fourth garden, I was confined to a small townhouse plot,

my request to expand voted down by the townhouse committee, many of whom voted for more rock landscaping at every opportunity and a minimum of green plants. This I remedied by moving to a small house with gorgeous chocolate-cake-like soil about five blocks from the Missouri River.

After another seven seasons I left this well-developed garden, again reluctantly. Too bad such things are impossible to transport, even if you take a few cuttings along with the move.

I think of the current garden, Garden #6 in a longer time frame. My gardens mark not quite all the major moves of my adult life. I’d like to stay put now, relieved that my footloose ways are calmed and my hummingbird heart has found a perch.

My mom’s good friend from childhood gardens this year, knowing that she’ll have hip-replacement surgery in the fall. In her early 80s, she doesn’t want to miss a summer of gardening. I understand. Neither do I!