Sunday, August 30, 2009

Open-face Caprese Sandwiches

In my attempt to work my way through my giant stack of as-yet-untried recipes I am trying to make one new thing every week or so. This week: open-faced caprese sandwiches. (Well, Jenny - my brother's girlfriend - did all the cooking, I just supplied the recipe.) The verdict: very tasty, with perhaps a little less garlic next time. Here's the original recipe, compliments of Sunset Magazine (only the best magazine ever printed!):

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon minced garlic
8 slices (about 1/2 inch thick) crusty Italian bread
3 ripe medium tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
16 medium basil leaves
2 tablespoons balsalmic vinegar
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Prepare a grill for medium heat (350-450 degrees). Combine 1 tablespoon oil and the garlic and brush onto one side of each bread slice. Lay bread oiled side down on grill and cook until slightly toasted, about 2 minutes. Turn bread over, lay tomato slices onto bread to fit, overlapping if needed, then lay cheese slices over tomatoes. Cover grill and cook until cheese starts to melt, about 4 minutes. Transfer sandwiches to a platter. Put 2 basil leaves over each sandwich and drizzle with remaining tablespoon of oil and the vinegar. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Notes from our test run: We weren't able to find "crusty italian bread" so we used store made french bread instead and it turned out pretty well, probably a little softer (read: less crunchy) than the original bread would have been. We also used two different cheeses: a vegan mozzarella for Jenny and regular store bought part skim mozzarella. It probably would have been a little better with the fresh stuff but the stuff we had turned out really good too. We also skipped the balsalmic vinegar and drizzling the extra olive oil on top. So, try it if you want, whichever variation you want, and enjoy. There's nothing more summer than a caprese sandwich made with mozzarella and fresh tomatoes and basil from your garden...

Notes from trial #2: You don't have to own a grill! We did it in the oven using the broiler setting and it only takes a couple minutes - butter the bread, stick it in the oven for about 2 minutes or until the bread is a light golden, take it out, turn it over, put butter on the other side (I would recommend using either a spray margarine or melting a little butter and brush it on, as the bread is somewhat hard to handle when fresh out of the oven), add the tomatoes, basil, and cheese and put it back in the oven for another 2 minutes or so and it's ready to eat. When using the broiler, it might be better to put the basil between the tomatoes and the cheese so that it doesn't crisp up too much as it tends to do when it's on the top.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Simplicity, Part 2

Some thoughts on simplicity...

"Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful."

- William Morris

"The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak"
- Hans Hofmann

"Maybe a person's time would be as well spent raising food as raising money to buy food."
- Frank A Clark

"You have succeeded in life when all you really want is only what you really need."
- Vernon Howard

"Too many people spend money they haven't earned, to buy things they don't want, to impress people they don't like."
- Will Rogers

Thinking about simplicity

I have been thinking about simplicity lately. Well, I always think about it but I have been thinking about it more than usual the past couple weeks. I have a small piece of calligraphy written on white paper that says "I need very little, and of that very little, I need very little" and I think of this saying often, especially when going through my stuff looking for things to get rid of. I love it when things are clean and organized and the house isn't crammed with unnecessary things everywhere you look.

I used to think that living in the country on a farm would be the ultimate simple life: grow your own food, see the stars, spend the afternoon on the porch. That is, until we got our chickens, rabbits, and ducks. I now realize that a farm life might well be a good life, but it would not necessarily be simple. Take pitchforks, for example. How many do you need, do you think? One? That's what I thought, until I discovered that there is one for turning the compost pile, one for moving hay out of the chicken coop, one for garden work, and another one for moving large quantities of hay, straw, etc. That makes four pitchforks.

And then shovels: a small one perfect for planting perennials, a normal sized one for digging out and replanting larger plants and bushes, and a square edged one for cutting sod, edging paths, and moving small patches of snow off stairs, etc, and finally an actual snow shovel for clearing large areas of snow. In the pacific northwest we don't often get snow in the winter, but you can't get rid of the snow shovels because you can be assured that as soon as you do there would be a freak snow storm that drops a good foot or so of snow, even if it's in the middle of June.

And then the ducks: they need several water bowls spread out all over the yard as well as two pools - a kiddie pool for splashing in and a livestock tank so that they can actually swim without their feet touching the bottom. And then at feeding times you have to stay with them while they eat to refill the water after Minna has stepped in it and tipped it, and then refill the food after Minna tips it trying to get out of the water bowl. Oh, and to chase the chickens away before they can chase the ducks away and steal their food.

The rabbits are another story entirely: three rabbits and two cages. Suki gets along with Jojo and TJ, they get along with her, but they can't stand each other. They need run time (outside) and binky time (inside). They should have pellets and hay available all the time, and then greens as often as possible, but not too much at once and TJ and Suki love basil leaves but Jojo looks at it like you've just given him a worm (which is to say that he gives it a disdainful look and refuses to touch it.)

And this isn't even taking into account the dogs, cats and chickens. So the only conclusion I can come to is that, no, farm life would definitely not fall into the simple catagory, but then again, life without animals would be too dull to contemplate so I suppose I will compromise by having a complicated life as long as I can keep my home and belongings simple and clutter free.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

All's quiet on the western front...

So where have I been for the last 10 days, and did I manage to accomplish any of my goals from two weeks ago? Let's see... Finish knitting a hat, check. Read three chapters of my book, check - but just barely: when I'm stressed I tend to read organizing books instead of educational ones. Walk the doggo woggos four times... no check there - I flaked out and only did three walks. I also only managed to get to the gym twice instead of the three times I'd planned on going. And, finally, try making one new recipe: check. It was a blackberry yogurt cheesecake kind of thing that sounded a lot better than it turned out, so I chucked the recipe.

And what did I manage to accomplish last week? Dog walks, gym sessions, bike rides, or new recipes? Nope, nope, nope and nope, the reason being that my parents had gone camping for the week and thus were not home to stop me from starting some massive project that I have no hope of finishing before they come back. This happens often, every time my parents leave for longer than three days, actually. Telling my sister my lastest plan - to completely redo the front yard in the time between Monday when my parents left and Friday when they returned home - prompted her to reply that she was surprised that they let me stay at the house unsupervised when they went away and that perhaps they should invest in a babysitter.

"Relax! I can handle it - just pull out the weeds, move a couple plants, retain the slope and rearrange the plants. It'll look awesome." Famous last words. But then again, all of the projects I've started have been MASSIVE projects that would easily take a whole crew of people a good week or two to finish, and invariably my parents return to some half finished construction and/or landscaping mess. And yet somehow I never seem to learn and always assume that this project will be different.

By Friday I had:
- managed to pull out five large plants, two of which I replanted in the backyard, one of which was a tree we were getting rid of anyway, and the last two - a rhodie and an azalea - which I was going to move but didn't manage to get around to, so they sat strewn about the yard, one next to the lilies, the other plopped into the ditch at the base of the yard.
- spent so much time pulling weeds that I began to dream about pulling weeds at night, and somehow managed to fill two huge yard debris bins as well as five large lawn/leaf bags with all the weeds I'd amassed from the front yard alone.
- spent multiple tedious - scratch that: extremely tedious - hours picking out hundreds of small river rocks from the dirt and transporting them to the backyard.
- been working since Monday from morning til night, whenever I wasn't walking dogs for work, running on fruit loops cereal and not enough sleep to try and finish the yard in time.

And did I get it done in time? Well, of course... not. The most that I can say for it is that it's weeded, for the most part, but - as any gardener knows - any lack of weeds is a temporary situation at best and they always seem to come back bigger and stronger the next time.

So now, you might be thinking, I must surely have learned my lesson and will never again start some big project (redoing the front yard, ripping out the carpet in the basement, painting the whole downstairs, etc) while my parents are gone on one of their longer camping trips during the summer. And hearing that question right now I would have to answer: definitely - I have no desire whatsoever to do anything more industrious than cleaning the kitchen. But, knowing me, if you ask me the same question next month I will probably already be picking out paint colors or researching flooring options.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


After the extreme heat a few weeks ago the cold weather came as a shock. First just gray skies all day and cooler temperatures - not entirely unwelcome as everything (plants, people and animals) took a breath and recovered. And then, a couple days later, the rain began. It rained all afternoon, all evening, all night. In the middle of August. But then, this is the pacific northwest and rain here - no matter what month it is - can never really come as a surprise.

Growing up here, in Oregon, you develop a relationship of sorts with the rain. In a way it makes you feel almost cozy, somehow. Outside it is dark, cold, wet. Inside it is warm, the glow from the light is golden, and you are dry on the couch, curled up with a quilt, dogs sprawled around you and cats sleeping in the corner. Looking out the window at the street there is a woman in a raincoat, holding an umbrella and walking her dog. They are illuminated at intervals along the street as they pass under street lights, the light shining down on her, the dog, the rain. They seem familiar to me, almost as if I know them, because I have been where they are - walking my dogs at night, in the rain, under the street lights - and she will soon be where I am - inside her own house, drying off in the warmth and light with her dog, her family.

I am not struck by this feeling every time it rains - only on occasion, only once in a while. It will appear to me suddenly and remind me why I love living here, even as wet, cold, and dark as it is on winter nights. Which is not to say that I won't welcome back the sun wholeheartedly whenever it decides to put in another appearance, but remembering this relationship with the rain will make it easier to head back into the dark months that are coming around the corner, and probably much sooner than I would like.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Ducks, Rabbits, Dogs and Cats

It is 11:15 and I'm attempting to write while Minna nibbles at my shorts or my knitting, whichever she can get hold of, and Maggie is working on pulling all of my notepads out of my drawer. (Minna has now moved onto my dirty sock.)

Today: didn't take a shower until 9:30pm - ick. I hate waiting so long to take my shower, being much more a morning shower kind of person, but I am - apparently - even more a procrastinator kind of person. I attempted to work on the garden – I have been trying to pound in cedar shakes as a border for the pathways – but I have finally hit the gravel section that I have been putting off for as long as possible, and progress is now frustratingly slow. Every time I try to hammer in a shake it ends up running into rocks and then refuses to budge no matter how many times I hit it, prompting me to throw down the hammer, sit back and yell “piss!” or “crap it all!” (Minna has left the sock and moved on to the garbage bag hanging on the closet door, making a racket that is hard to think through.)

I made my famous (well, famous in my immediate family) pizza for dinner tonight – Pizza Margherita: tomatoes, mozzarella and basil; a pizza that has now spoiled any and all fast food pizzas for me, being itself far superior (according to me.) I spent the afternoon - while taking breaks from the garden - digging through my pile of recipes for a good cake recipe, and looking online for a good buttercream frosting. I am debating an attempt to make a birthday cake for my brothers girlfriend tomorrow. I see it turning out much better in my mind than I'm sure it'll turn out in reality. Should it turn out decently I'll try to post a picture of it.

Minna and Maggie have discovered the dog's water bowl in the kitchen and now regularly sneak out there to: first, drink; and second, dabble and play; and finally, Minna will hop into the bowl and I will find them in there, water all over the floor and Minna in water up to her ankles. (Birds, you may or may not know, have the same configuration in their legs that we do – their ankles bend back and their knees bend forward, so what you usually see and think of as a knee is actually their ankle. Their knees are usually hidden in their feathers and they walk most of the time on their tip toes.) I have already caught them once, and have just shut the door so as to prevent the second escape that they were working up to. The kitchen water doesn't bother me too much, it is the toilet that they discovered two days ago that I want them to stay out of. Minna has no choice: she can't reach the toilet, but Maggie is tall enough to get her head in there to play in the water.

The bunnies are reclining in their cages, having spent the day outside in the run and/or on the deck. They were given lavender and yarrow earlier in the day, basil for dessert (it is a favorite, of TJ's especially), and are now finished eating their expensive (but vet recommended) Oxbow bunny chow. They will probably charm me out of a few pieces of dried fruit or a papaya tablet before the night is out.

Mynx is inside somewhere but not in the room with me like she usually is because she is protesting the fact that I used the cable box (her latest designated sleeping spot) as a warm spot for the dough to rise earlier this evening. Aspen may or may not be in yet, which reminds me – I need to go check for him. (Elapsed time: 3 minutes.) It is a good night and Aspen came in as soon as he heard me calling – on a bad night I will have to go outside armed with a flashlight and a can of tuna to find him and then (hopefully) bribe him into returning home. (The ducks have finally settled down next to me on the floor - they would deny it if you asked them, but they secretly like being near me, their Mom, and will end up somewhere near me whenever I'm in the garden for any length of time.)

And where are the dogs? Kita is here with me, sleeping next to TJ's cage, in a corner away from the wandering ducks. Maia is in my room sleeping on the dog bed that I keep at the foot of my bed during the day, and Buddy – being very much a pillow dog – is sprawled out at the head of my bed, using my various stuffed animals as pillows. Thinking about the dogs reminds me of how negligent I've been lately: I have not walked them all week.

So, my goals for this coming week will be:
- Walks the dogs at least 4 times
- Read 3 chapters of my current book, When Elephants Weep by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson (I have already read The Nine Emotional Lives of Cats, Dogs Never Lie About Love, and The Pig Who Sang to the Moon, which I highly recommend, but he has written several others which can be seen here:
- Finish knitting one hat
- Go to the gym at least 3 times
- Try cooking at least one new recipe

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

About Peas and Ducks

Our house sits on, technically, about a quarter acre of land - a standard sized lot back in the 70's when our house was built - but, in practice, we also have a strip of land about 20 feet wide that runs the whole length of our property on one side. Officially, it is county land, but the county does nothing to maintain it and were we to leave it alone the weeds would be waist high in no time, so - after years of weed wacking it several times each summer - we finally decided, earlier this spring, to till the ground, pull out the weeds, fence in two different sections, and plant as much stuff as we could. We planted tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, carrots, watermelon, canteloupe, scarlet runner beans, corn, green beans, wax beans and peas.

We should probably have harvested the peas last week but with temperatures in the 100-106+ degree range we didn't even want to step outside, let alone do any work in the garden, so the pea harvest was put off until today. Having waited to pick the peas, I was working in much cooler temperatures, but the peas had now grown either too large or too dry to be very good for eating. The ducks, however, love peas in any condition. So, after filling my basket with all the peas, I pulled up a chair on the patio and started splitting open the pods and dropping the peas onto the ground, whereupon the ducks immediately realized what was going on and raced over to gobble them up faster than I could drop them.

Patience is not one of Maggie's virtues, however, and she soon realized that she was tall enough (being twice as large as Minna) to reach her head up onto my lap in order to eat the peas straight out of the pod without waiting for me to drop them. She was so excited over this sudden abundance of an otherwise rare treat that she stood next to me, her entire head and neck vibrating with excitement every time I opened a pod, sticking her bill in to grab as many peas as possible. This would have presented a problem for Minna had Maggie been a more fastidious eater but, fortunately, this was not the case - Maggie's eating style more closely resembled that of Cookie Monster as she spilled roughly half of whatever she ate on the ground, where Minna was able to snap them up.

As is often the case when you have food anywhere in the backyard, the chickens eventually came exploring to see what treat was being offered today. First Penny, and then, a few minutes later, Daisy. Sakari must have been off laying an egg or taking a dust bath. They were, at first, sure that the peas must be some form of blueberry, judging from the speed and pleasure with which the ducks ate them. (Blueberries being, of course, the best possible treat in all the known world, according to the chickens.) The arrival of the chickens on the scene threatened to make my job much more difficult as the chickens will readily pick on the ducks if they happen to come too near each other, but - fortunately - Penny soon decided that the peas I threw her way were nothing like blueberries and not worth the effort it took to chase them down and eat them, and she soon moved on, Daisy in tow.

I finished dropping the last of the peas and took the basket inside, leaving Maggie and Minna on the patio, searching for any peas they might have missed. I am just now realizing, though, that this treat for the ducks may make for unpleasant diapers for me to change in the morning...

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

the end

I am a book
this is my story
you read the whole thing
and came to The End.
Now you are
doubled over
with grief
from the pain of it
in a sorrow
you can't swim through
and standing
too close
to see the whole picture:
reaching the conclusion
and closing now the cover
does not mean
that this book
never existed.
The story may end
but the book
Dwell on the bulk
and not this
the smallest chapter,
and remember
that The End
is never the end.

This is a poem I wrote for my grandfather who died April 4, 2009 after battling PSP (Progressive Supranuclear Palsy) for a few years. It is a horrible degenerative brain disease that impairs movement and balance and affects the muscles - most sufferers choke to death. There is, as of yet, no cure and no treatment.