Sunday, July 31, 2011

eggplant club

In Italian, the word for eggplant, melanzana, means literally, "toxic apple." A member of the nightshade family, it was once believed to have caused insanity.

In Italy, I discovered how much I truly love eggplant. Luckily it is no longer attributed to madness. My friend Casey and I started an eggplant club. We were the only members. No one could love eggplant as much as we did, we joked. We had it at every meal!

Last year I had one Japanese eggplant in a container. It produced a single fruit late in the summer, which withered and died before reaching maturity. I questioned whether I should try again this year, but since I'm in a different zone now, I went ahead with it. I got two plants: a black beauty and a gretel, and planted them in the raised bed rather than a container. They are doing beautifully and producing eggplants, dare I say, like mad. We harvested the first one yesterday.

It was so beautiful and perfect, that I couldn't stop admiring it. It amazes me that I had so much trouble last year, and that this time around it has been so easy.

We put it on a homemade pizza, one of my favorite uses of fresh summer produce.

green tomatoes

What's a girl to do when she finds herself with a stockpile of these when all she really wants is a tomato sandwich? Because of a handful of storms over the past two weeks, we've had to prune back the tomato plants more than usual. There is still an impressive crop beginning to ripen on the vines, but a few branches were severed from the heavy wind and had to be removed, resulting in a bowl full of unripened tomatoes. I tried putting them in a brown paper sack to ripen them, but they were not mature enough when they were picked, I suppose, because after five days there was no progress.

I've been looking for ways to use them. Of course, they can be fried. Or pickled. Both of those sound tasty, but I wanted something a little simpler, so I decided to make a green salsa. I was worried that maybe they weren't mature enough to use for anything at all, but the salsa tastes great.

Here it is. I came up with it based on what was available in the garden and fridge. It has a tangy flavor with a hint of mint and lime in the aftertaste, sort of like a certain chutney I particularly like, but don't know the name of (I've heard it called mint chutney as well as cilantro chutney...perhaps those are two different things...I've been unable to locate the right recipe).

5 small green tomatoes
10 mint leaves (I used lime mint)
generous pinch of cilantro leaves
3-4 small chard leaves
1 slice of onion, chopped
1/2 Tbsp cumin
2 Tbsp liquid from a jar of jalapenos, + 5 jalapeno slices
1 tsp lime juice
1/2 tsp minced garlic or garlic powder

Chop the tomatoes into small pieces. Throw them along with everything else into a blender or food processor, and blend until smooth. This could be tweaked in a number of ways. Salsa is easy to adapt to your liking!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

branching out

This summer, I decided to branch out of the university setting a little and take an art class at a community arts center downtown. It has been really fun! My friend Alex is taking the class with me, which is beginning metal jewelry making.

Here I am sanding my current project, which is a slot and tab necklace.

It was going to be a bracelet, but I wanted to make very small scalloped pieces, and since I only have three hours a week to use the tools to work on it, the progress has been a little slow. I'm going to add a chain on the sides to make it into a necklace, so that I can move on to other projects, because the class only meets for eight weeks.

Here is Alex's slot and tab bracelet. She just finished it! The shape is inspired by peacock feathers, and she added a blue/black patina to bring out small details which she drypoint etched into the surface.

I'm excited about my next project, where I'll learn to make rivets! I'm going to make a pendant for a necklace, which will involve not only metal, but layers of fabric and tiny dried flowers (either cilantro flowers or dill flowers, I haven't decided yet if I want white or yellow!). I am looking forward to including fabric in the work, especially.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

you win some, you lose some

A big part of gardening is learning to deal with failures. You hope that at least a few more things will go right than wrong. This season, that has been the case. I learned a lot last year, so that helped, but some things you can't always plan for. Here are the latest rights and wrongs from the garden (emphasis on the rights):

Success: peppers that went straight from the vine to tonight's dinner. Failure: the small pepper on the right was supposed to be red but never turned after over three weeks of waiting so we picked it anyway and it tasted like...nothing. The plant itself had stunted growth because it started flowering too early. I'm actually impressed that it produced anything at all.

Success: the gretel eggplant has about six eggplants growing from it now, and is still flowering!

Success: the purple beauty has two large, healthy eggplants almost ready to be picked. Such a step up from my Japanese eggplant last year which produced one tiny, shriveled, unedible eggplant.

Success: the brandywine currently has fourteen green tomatoes growing on it! I haven't counted any of the other varieties, but they are doing similarly well.

Failure: a storm this week completely uprooted the 0nly three sunflowers which made it all the way to the early blooming stages. I was heartbroken when I saw them. There is a problem with soil erosion in this part of the yard (it slopes down slightly) so I think that caused them to be planted at a shallower depth than originally intended. I dug holes for them and got them upright, but the roots were too damaged and they wilted later that day. The large zinnia on the left was in the same situation and it has apparently recovered after my replanting it, much to my surprise.

Success: lots of beautiful cone flowers. I love watching the bees land on them.

Success: the past few days' tomato harvests have looked a bit like this. No larger tomatoes yet, but they are on the verge of ripening. In the meantime, this makes for a delicious snack.

Failure: The storms have been doing a number on the tomatoes as well. After every storm (about one per week) we assess the damage and upright what we can, but some of the branches have to be cut off. Luckily the tomato crop is still going to be very large.

Success: fifteen zinnias and counting. I'm just waiting for a yellow or red one, though! Those are my favorites. So far, mostly pinks and oranges.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

productive procrastination

Regular procrastinating is when you sit around watching hours of Gilmore Girls (did I say you? I think I meant "I"...) or surfing the internet...or blogging, perhaps? Productive procrastinating is when you do things that, while productive, could seriously wait until after the thing you actually need to do gets done. The things I actually need to do are finish a paper I'm writing and grade the last of my summer students' work. The thing I did instead was bake cookies. I ran out of chocolate chips for my standard quick treat, so I modified my "secret recipe" to accommodate a different flavor. The thing I love about baking is how it's all about ratios, so experimenting can be fun when you stop to think about what each ingredient really does for the recipe and how that ingredient can be changed (Good Eats, anyone?). If you decide to give these a try, maybe you'd better whip them up in the middle of the night, or early morning, given recent temperatures! I made my dough last night and stuck them in the oven while waiting for my morning coffee to brew (and may or may not have eaten a couple for breakfast). I used strawberry jam because it's what I had on hand, but I think these would be excellent in fall with some pumpkin butter. Mmm!

Oatmeal Thumbprint Cookies

1.5 c unbleached all purpose flour
.5 c old fashioned rolled oats
.5 c brown sugar
1 Tbsp ground flax + .25 c water (or use 1 egg)
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
.5 c vegetable oil
2 Tbsp butter (I use dairy-free Earth Balance)
your favorite jam or jelly

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the vegetable oil, butter, and brown sugar until the butter is broken up. Add in the egg or flax plus water. If using flax and water, for better results, heat in the microwave for 15-30 seconds before adding. Stir in baking soda and salt and mix evenly. Finally, pour in the flour and oats and stir until everything is mixed, but do not over stir. Roll the dough into balls on a greased cookie sheet and press each one down with your thumb, then fill with jam. If the dough is too sticky to roll, add a pinch more flour or refrigerate for a bit. Bake 8-10 minutes, allowing them to cool and harden up on the pan after removing (the secret to a soft cookie!). I recommend experimenting to find your perfect cookie-baking time. It varies by oven and by how large you make your cookies. I aim for a consistent cookie size, and with my old oven the best cooking time for me was 8:45 while my oven here is 9:30.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

plant collection

Plants and planters. I do love to collect them. This collection of plants by my dining room window is in a variety of thrifted and repurposed planters. The plants themselves are from cuttings or the "sad plant shelf," as I call it, at the hardware store. Basically, all the plants that seem on the verge of death end up on this shelf at a very discounted price, and I take pity on them and nurse them back to good health in these adorable little planters. Probably half my trips to the hardware store result in coming home with a new plant (and being an artist, I go quite often). And now for some history:

Owl Planter - from a "crazy owl lady" in my college town, who had her house decorated entirely in owl things, and sold this to me at her yard sale. Plant: cutting from my original devil's ivy plant.
Milk Glass Planter - from a yard sale in my college town (my old roommate Rosa and I used to go every Saturday last summer!) for 10 cents. Plant: croton, the first plant I bought after moving to Columbus.
Turtle - from a sad thrift store in Columbus, when I had first moved here and was trying to find some good ones. Nothing is planted in it currently. I think it's in need of something!
Small Corked Jar - from my favorite thrift store here in Columbus. It matched the larger one so I got it. Plant: wild strawberries from my front yard in Ohio.
Blue Ball Jar - from an antique store in Columbus, bought as an experiment in photographing terrariums with pinhole cameras. Plant: clover from my yard here.
Large Corked Jar - from a yard sale I went to with Rosa. Plant: wild strawberries and moss from Corey's yard in our college town. Still going strong after a year!
Tea Pot - from the Salvation Army in my college town. It came with a lid taped on that I later found out wasn't the right lid and didn't really fit, so I decided to use it for a planter. It doesn't hold water very well, so this sedum succulent grows well in it. The sedum is from a cutting in my front flowerbed (the plant was here already when I moved in).
Strawberry Jam Jar - from local jam I bought at Columbus's North Market during my visit to see if I wanted to move here. Plant: spearmint cuttings from my friend Alex.
Camping Pan - originally I bought this pan to be a candy bowl in my dorm sophomore year. Then I used it as a fruit bowl. Currently it holds half-used seed packets and blank popsicle sticks in preparation for my fall garden!

mantles and zinnias

Garden updates:
7 perfect thumbelina zinnias have bloomed--more on the way.
4 happy eggplants are getting larger by the day.
10 elegant peppers are slowly changing to their mature colors.
Countless tomatoes are stubbornly staying green while I dream of all the delicious tomato sandwiches I could be eating.

Eight days of summer school left! Only three days left of this schedule, then a week long seminar in the art education department. With Terry Barrett! So exciting.

I thought that until school ends and I am able to show you more creative projects, that I would take this time to show some corners of my home that I feel are especially nice. This is my mantle (the fireplace is non-working, and covered with black tile, sadly). I thought it would be more meaningful if I explained each of the items here:

Bunting - handmade from fabric scraps and vintage red polka dot piping
World Map - from a thrifted National Geographic
Embroidered Flowers - found at my favorite thrift store here in Columbus, it's professionally framed and was 90 cents!
Owls of the Deep Print - by Matt Cipov via Etsy (I have a bunch of his prints--love them!)
Mason Jar Candle - on sale for 25 cents at Kroger, too cute to pass up, got a set of four
Cassette Tapes - from the Salvation Army in my college town, I play them on my record player, which has a tape deck in the side
Tomato Pin Cushion - gift from my grandmother when I was a child. She and my mom taught me to sew.
Repurposed Jars - I save them or pick them up at thrift stores--they come in handy a lot
First jar is filled with thread and film (for awhile my sewing machine was in the living room)
Second jar is filled with scissors and knitting needles. Knitting needles were a gift from my friend Mallory, who prefers knitting with circular needles so she bestowed her collection of straight ones to me.

What I like about my decorations is that I don't spend a lot but I think they fit my style perfectly, maybe even better than if I bought everything new. If you're patient while shopping at thrift stores and yard sales, you can find high quality, unique items for only a little money. It's fun too! And don't forget to make a few things! That's the best part.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

the freshest salad

Salad fresh from the garden featuring mesclun mix and sugar snap peas, topped with some sunflower seeds, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.

Friday, July 15, 2011

garden updates

The white cherry tomatoes (which often take on a light yellow hue) are starting to ripen. The tomato plants are doing well in Ohio's moderate temperatures. This is exciting since last year's plants met an early death due to heat.

The gretel eggplant has two eggplants! The purple beauty is close behind it.

This one head of lettuce is growing taller and taller. It's probably around four feet tall now. It flowered yesterday, and maybe I'll be able to save some of the seeds soon. This head and three others came as seedlings from the farmers' market.

The peas are still producing. I think we'll double the pea crop for fall, we are so fond of them. I love the way they wrap around things.

The zinnias are finally in bloom! Here is one just before opening.

And when it finally revealed its color (fuchsia!), pictured here with a yellow ladybug friend.

The cone flowers are opening as well. They should stay in bloom until the first frost, which will be sometime in October.

The first round of cilantro has flowered too, and I was taken by how beautiful the tiny white flowers are.

Cilantro flowers again.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

frozen summer treats

The temperatures have been creeping up here over the past couple of weeks (although today the high is only 80! so excited!) so I have been making lots of frozen treats. Normally I prefer to bake, but turning on my oven in my tiny kitchen at the moment produces a sauna-like effect unless it's past sunset. I've made homemade sorbet (I purchased this adorable and practical miniature ice cream maker a few weeks ago!), popsicles, and of course, smoothies. Here is a strawberry, orange, banana all-fruit popsicle I made in one of those plastic molds, which reminds me of my grandmother because she would always make them for me out of extra strongly mixed Ovaltine (does anyone still drink that?).

If you like making homemade sorbets and ice creams, might I recommend the new Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home recipe book to you? So far, I've only made the riesling poached pear sorbet, which is my most favorite thing to get when I visit Jeni's, a local Columbus favorite (and for good's the best ice cream or sorbet you've ever had...ever...actually, okay, for me, it's a tie between Jeni's and Gelateria dei Neri, the best gelato in all of Italy, in my opinion...but I think that says a lot) but it was amazing. It turned out in my tiny home ice cream maker exactly the way it tastes at the shop. The recipe book has about a dozen sorbets if you are like me and don't do dairy, and lots more ice cream if you are lucky and can. I highly recommend it if you have an ice cream maker.

Monday, July 11, 2011

everyday picnic

Lately, this is where I eat my lunch during the week, at a breezy picnic table near the river that runs through campus, halfway between my morning class and my afternoon ones. I usually take a little time to read or draw while I am there.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

I like my bike

This is my bike, Winnie. I have had her for one year, and she is great! I love the cream color of her frame, and her reliability. I loved my old bike too, to be sure, but it was not quite as reliable, or comfortable to ride.

Here are Corey and Alex. This particular day, we were headed to the farmers' market. Here we were making our way to the trail by the river so we wouldn't have to watch for cars.

This is on the trail, and not as dangerous as it looks!

A park with some baseball fields by the trail.

At some points on the trail, I almost feel like I could be back in Arkansas. I don't miss the heat, but I do miss the natural beauty of my home state. I love this part of the trail where you are surrounded by tall trees.

My new state is pretty great too, though. Did you know that Columbus is named after Christopher Columbus? The trail by the river goes all the way downtown, where you'll find this replica of the Santa Maria, Columbus' ship, in the water. When it's open, you can pay $4 for a tour. Here I am next to it on an evening bike ride with Corey and Alex on the trail. That pink spot is probably the ghost of Christopher Columbus (joking).

Anyway, back to the farmers' market bike ride, we made it, and got some delicious tomatoes!

And dinosaur kale! And sprouts, and squash, and zucchini, and cucumbers! Success.

Friday, July 08, 2011

so long, studio

As we all prepare for the building's demolition, my first year of grad school is beginning to feel more like a memory and less like it just happened moments ago. For the next five days, I could go up to my old studio if I wanted to, but all I would find is an empty room.

This was the view from the window by my desk. I quite liked it so I decided to document it while packing up.

My last box of stuff (in a box painted like a tv from one of my photos!). You know your desk is done when the plant's in the box. That's a calico kitten succulent. I had other plants, terrariums actually, as well, but had taken them home already.

The view again, a step further back. I loved looking out the window to see that tree. I hope they don't have to cut it down.

Our light switch plate, covered with this photo by some grad students before us. Just a little art student humor.

My desk on the left, common area and Tim's corner to the right.

My little corner. A/C unit that does not work, just blows out hot air and sometimes sparks and smoke. We were on the fourth floor too, so it got pretty hot the past couple of months (80+ with no circulation). I'm happy the new building will have A/C! It doesn't get that hot here, but sometimes you just need it, to circulate the air or take out the humidity.

Someone made a flag out of two large c-prints and hung it from the hallway window. An inside view was pictured in the first photo.

A lot of life is about movement, packing up from here and moving to there. We move along, and sometimes, hopefully most of the time, experience progress in those transitions. I'm just happy to be a photographer, a record and memory keeper of sorts, so that I have a way to remember this past year which was so influential for me as an artist. So long, Haskett Hall.