Wednesday, August 31, 2011

30 day challenge: days 6-7

My 30 day challenge is going really well. I got some new floral stuff, and tomorrow I am going to be working on designing new flower masks so I can really start to branch out. I am starting to itch for bigger set-ups, but I just don't have the room until my school's lighting studio re-opens. I think it's okay though. My friend and fellow grad student Carolyn and I had some discussions about our art over a cup of coffee yesterday and it was really good for me. I told her I am worried about not having produced what I want for the beginnings of my thesis work by the time fall quarter starts, and she encouraged me to just keep plugging away at this and that it's like a rough draft for the thesis work. She's right. It's not that far off from what I hope to show, except that I really have loved my 2-3 person set-ups (like the one in the right sidebar) and wanted to expand on that even more perhaps to some 4-5 person shoots in all floral. But like I said, I just don't have the room right now. But I'm telling myself that it's not a big deal, that this work is worth something and that it is a great starting off point for the other shoots I want to do. Plus there is also something I like about the 1-person photos too (it's just that after awhile they feel limiting), so it's not as if they are worth nothing. Sometimes it is just hard being an artist and realizing your limitations! But the best thing to do is make something amazing despite those limitations.

the purple horse

The Purple Horse

Mercato Centrale: the ongoing farmers’ market in the heart of Florence. The first floor reeked of spectacular meat delicacies like cow intestines, horse meat, and other mostly unidentifiable items, so being a vegetarian, I naturally fled this area of the market (except on days when I needed to make a stop at one of the bakeries, which was often—why had they thought to keep them on the same level as the meat? The thought of it is unpleasant!) and headed straight upstairs to the produce area.

Learning the names of my favorite fruits and vegetables in Italian quickly became one of my favorite pastimes, and I prided myself on being able to tell the vendors what I wanted to purchase without using any English. Of course, my phrases were simple, and if they were impressed that the silly American girl was using Italian and wanted to talk to me further, which sometimes did happen, I would freeze regarding what to say next. Often I could understand what they were asking or telling me, but was just unsure of a response, so I’m sure I came as a disappointment when I would just begin to shake my head and mutter my apologies or even pull out the dreaded phrase: “Non parlo Italiano.” Oh, it felt like such a failure when I had to do that! But I was trying, really I was, and as long as I had planned out exactly what I would say, and as long as they responded back exactly as I thought they would, and as long as they didn’t dare try to take the conversation any further, this silly American girl would walk away feeling on top of the world.

One day, I spied some heads of red cabbage at a produce stand in the market and knew I wanted to buy one to use in that night’s dinner. I turned with my back facing that particular stand and pulled out my pocket dictionary. I looked up the word for cabbage: cavolo. Taking a breath to prepare myself, I casually walked over to the stand. I started by saying that I wanted to buy five or six mushrooms. The vendor, who was quite friendly and was even singing and dancing about, happily obliged and tossed some funghi in a bag for me, making a little show of it.

He looked at me inquisitively as if to say, what else? I then asked for purple cabbage. It dawned on me awhile later that while the cabbage is technically purple, in the culinary world it is referred to as red. It dawned on me immediately, however, that he had no idea what I was talking about. I said it again, smiling this time, as if that would clear things up. He looked at me again with the same perplexed expression, now appearing somewhat amused. I said it a third time, pointing at the cabbage. A lightbulb went off in his head (most assuredly related to the pointing and having nothing to do with what I was saying), “Radicchio!” I learned later that this was a specific cabbage variety.

Walking away after the transaction was completed, however, I began scratching my head. Even if it were a specific type of cabbage with some fancy name, and even if I had used the wrong color, surely he would have known what I meant if I had said cabbage correctly. I turned my back again and pulled out the dictionary, glancing over the page for similar words. Cabbage, cavolo. Horse, cavallo. Is that what I said? Cavallo? I ran over the conversation in my head. I had said cavallo! And not just cavallo, but cavallo violo, or purple horse. I had a hunch they weren’t even selling horse meat of that variety on the first floor. In fact, I would have probably needed to make a trip to the Land of Oz for that kind of delicacy.

Paying for my purple horse! Photo by Casey.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Way back one month ago when I was in summer school, I took a week-long seminar in the art education department here at OSU with the one and only Terry Barrett. Dr. Barrett wrote the books Criticizing Art and Criticizing Photographs, as well as others. The topic of the seminar I took was Creative Art Writing. We went over many types of writing, including autobiographical/biographical creative writing, poetry, and writing creatively about visual art. The final day of class, we shared and swapped zines, which was really fun in my opinion. My zine was about tomato sandwiches.

Now we've had all this time since the class ended to write for a final project, which is due today. It was pretty wide open to being anything we wanted that fit into any of the types of writing that we talked about in class. I decided to go with the autobiographical category and I wrote a series of short stories about encountering language barriers while studying abroad (three years ago in Italy). These are stories I have always had intentions of writing down so as not to forget them, and I finally have. For the next few days, I am going to share one story each day as well as pictures from my experience.

Welcome to my school, Istituto il David, in the heart of Florence, one of my favorite cities on earth. If anyone comes across this blog entry in a Google search about the Istituto il David, yes, you should go there, it's amazing and the people are so nice.

This was my classroom, during a break.

The view from my classroom window. And now for my story:


It was my first day at the Italian language school in Florence, and I quickly learned that in my class of fifteen, there were only two other American students besides me. I was delighted by this because I had been dreaming of feeling like a true international student, and being surrounded by other Americans at all times puts a bit of a damper on that. The class lasted four hours each day, and it was completely spoken in Italian. I loved every minute of it, but would grow tired around hour three, when the morning’s espresso would begin to wear off.

The first day, around this time, we were still learning to correctly speak basic Italian introductions and were in the process of going around the room sharing bits and pieces about our home countries. I suppose I may have zoned out for a few moments, and I should stress here that when having language lessons entirely in the language that is foreign to you, it is imperative to pay close attention with ears and eyes. Visual clues are necessary when trying to make up for a lack of vocabulary and grammar. There is no zoning out if you want to keep up. It is a constant game of deciphering what is being said.

I thought for sure that on this particular go around, we were sharing things which originated in Italy but which we enjoy in our home countries. And I even thought I was particularly clever when I recalled how American children are always told again and again the story of Pinocchio, which is Italian. I decided to go with that answer when it was my turn, and when that moment arrived, I blurted out assuredly, “Pinocchio!” There, I thought. None of the answers so far have been this good. I felt proud of myself for about, oh, a millisecond, before my teacher could not help but chuckle, then asked in Italian, “In America, you eat Pinocchio?” My face turned red as I realized that the topic of discussion had not been what Italian things we have in our home countries, but rather what Italian foods we have.

I laughed aloud at myself and shook my head to let everyone know that I wasn’t really that dense, then revised my answer at lightning speed, saying the first Italian food that came to mind that surely I could not mispronounce, “Pizza!” Having given a generic albeit acceptable answer, my teacher nodded approvingly and moved on. I forced a smile to counteract the amount of embarrassment I felt. If only I had paid more attention! Didn’t you realize everyone else was talking about food!? I lectured myself silently. No, I hadn’t. I just thought everyone was talking about spaghetti because they were unimaginative. Language class is not the time to daydream, I learned in that moment.

Monday, August 29, 2011

simple is good sometimes too

One more addition to today's 30daychallenge shots. I was drawn to this one after reviewing the images a few hours after the photo shoot...sometimes simple is just as good as complicated, if not better.

30 day challenge: day 4 and 5

When planning my work, humor is really the last thing on my mind, but when I go back to photos I've taken that I love the most (in this genre of photography, at least), the humor in them is what I most appreciate.

In the last photo area critique of spring quarter, it was suggested to me that I try eliminating the flower masks from this series I'm working on. I thought it over and felt that maybe that was a good idea, since they are kind of cheesy.

I started this 30 day challenge thinking that I wouldn't use the flower masks anymore, but then I missed them. Maybe the cheesy quality is what I like about them. They add another layer of floral, which is good for the overall idea I have about layering patterns to the point where they become overwhelming. At any rate, the humor seemed missing without those masks in this particular series. I'm always up for suggestions and for trying things out, but in this case, I have to go with my instinct, which is that the series needs them.

I am going to try to experiment with different types of flower masks, however. I already have a few ideas for other types. Some will mask the entire face while others won't. That will help give variety without giving up the idea completely. I think that getting in a rut and doing the same thing over and over to a fault does happen, but just because you try something multiple times or explore a particular theme in detail for awhile doesn't mean that you need to stop, it just means you are working on a well-rounded, thought-out body of work. I've taken everyone's advice on this series into account, explored all available options, and now I'm doing what I want to do. In the end, that's all you can do as an artist if you want to be satisfied with the end result.

p.s. Check out my new lights!

I rearranged my at-home studio area yesterday so I would have more room to use them.

Now I'm off to find new props for the rest of this week's photos! I'm getting a little bored of the florals I've been using.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

what I grew this year: a garden keepsake

I am all about keepsakes and mementos, so when I got the idea to draw this today, I didn't waste any time before getting started. It features the specific varieties of plants in this year's garden in an adorable grid of doodles! I had so much fun drawing it and I think it would be fun to do one each year to remember what we grew. I'm going to make a print of it on nice paper and hang it up.

I am thinking of adding custom illustrations like this to the One Lonely Apricot shop next week! Interested persons would just send me a list of what they grew in their garden, the wording for the text at the bottom, and what background color they would like, and I would draw it up for them and send them the file or a print. I've been hoping to branch out from doing only wedding invitations. I'd like to start offering non-custom prints as well, so perhaps I could tweak this a little to appeal to a wider audience (besides, you know, me and Corey, since this represents our garden, ha!).

30 day challenge: day 3

I am going to be completely honest. As an artist, I have fears about my work all the time, and I think that's one reason why this 30 day project + sharing it daily is going to be good for me. It's kind of becoming just as much about facing my fears as it is making a lot of work. Are you wondering what are some of my fears are?

I fear not that my work will be disliked, but that it will be rejected in more informed ways.

I fear that there is always some other direction I could be going in that would be better.

I fear that I will end up making a boring or one-liner image/series of the content I want to address.

I fear sharing work that I think is good and finding out that others feel differently about it (see number one again).

I think these fears are normal, though. The biggest one for me is just always questioning whether I'm making the right thing or going in the right direction. When I think of other types of photos that I could be making instead of what I'm working on right now, I also remind myself that one body of work does not have to last a lifetime, and I did a lot of experimenting to get to where I am with this one, so I need to (and want to) see it through to the finish.

Sharing these photographs from the 30 day challenge daily is a little revealing of myself. They don't have time to really sink in before I post them here. Some of them might be really bad but I won't have time to digest that and realize it until later. I'm going to share them anyway. I think I like them so far, but I suppose I just feel I have to say that.

I don't think making art is about finding all the answers, anyway. It's about learning to ask the right questions. So for the next 27 days, I'm kissing my art-making fears goodbye and just going with the flow! I'll have plenty of time to analyze and criticize what I made at a later date.

happy saturday

Friday, August 26, 2011

30 day challenge: day 2

Well, day 1 of my 30 day challenge felt a little rocky, but I am glad that I forced myself to do it! First of all, the lighting situation was awful. I didn't want to go on about it in my entry yesterday, but I realized that I simply could not "make do" for the rest of summer until the lighting studio is reopened. It was too frustrating and it would mean too much time wasted (I would probably end up having to redo any photos I was happy with to get a better quality). My parents have been wanting to help me buy a set of off-camera flashes for awhile now and I was resistant because I didn't want them to spend the money and I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted. I figured it out pretty quickly after my shoot yesterday (I had already done a ton of research) and picked up my lighting kit that very afternoon at Midwest Photo Exchange! It is handy having one of the largest photography retailers in the country right here in Columbus. They even gave me an awesome student discount. And I have to credit my mom and dad with being the most supportive, awesome parents ever.

This morning I got to work setting up my shot and lighting it like a pro! My new flashes did great on light stands with white umbrellas to diffuse the light. I'm excited that the quality of the pictures I make during this project will be up to par with those I've made before in my university's lighting studio. And I'll already have my own flashes when I graduate (probably something I should've had already...but being a photographer is expensive)!

So today, instead of doing an all-new shoot, I revamped yesterday's and did some different shots. I really like how these four turned out. I think I'm going to approach the rest of my challenge this way, spending 2 days on each set-up (backdrop, costume, and props). I hope to get multiple good shots out of each set-up that way, and that will give me a little extra time between each one to come up with some great ensembles (Check out the peter pan collar on my shirt! Isn't it great!? $1 at my favorite thrift store!).

To any other artists out there thinking of doing a 30-day challenge like this, it felt overwhelming at first, like I might run out of ideas, or not find the time, or lots of other things (/excuses), but it's actually a relief to get started, and just working on this shoot for two days has helped me feel back in the swing of things and given me lots of other great ideas to use from here. Having a set goal of photographs to aim for helps me feel like I am accomplishing something specific, and I like that.

If you like what you see so far, you might consider sponsoring my project! Sponsorships range from $5-$20 and include a signed print at the end of the 30 days! I won't be in every picture, if that's not your thing. :)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

cafeteria wisdom

Today was my brother's first day of college classes! I am excited for him. Undergrad was a great experience for me, and he's going to the same school I went to and majoring in the same thing as well (art)!

He said he has been a little overwhelmed finding his way around the cafeteria (it can get a little claustrophobic and hectic when everyone's there at once). I figured that things are probably still in pretty much the same spots they were the last time I ate there, since they didn't really move in the four years I was there, so I made him a little map today. I hope it helps.

I loved eating in the cafeteria! I'd go with my roommates and other friends and spend literally hours just talking and avoiding homework under the notion that socializing is definitely essential to the college experience (well, it is). I ate there twice a day for four years, so I'd consider it a very important part of my undergrad.

And now, a little cafeteria wisdom, which I think is applicable to many areas of life:

1. Take a quick look at all of your choices before deciding on one thing. There could be something better available than the thing you originally had your eye on.

2. If you don't find what you want today, there'll always be something different tomorrow.

3. It's okay to stay a little longer than you originally planned to have a cup of coffee with friends. Time spent having good conversations is never wasted.

4. It's perfectly fine to eat at the cafeteria alone when your meal ticket is already paid for and the alternative is Ramen noodles. If you don't have a book with you, mom is always up for a phone call.

5. Say please and thank you to the cafeteria ladies, and always return your tray. The smallest acts of good etiquette say a lot about your character.

30 day challenge: day 1

I have many ideas for my 30 day photo challenge, some more elaborate than others. Since I just made it back to Ohio at 7 pm last night, I went with the simplest for day 1.

The biggest issue I am dealing with, and what has kept me from making these photos all summer long, is that the lighting studio + lighting equipment at my school are not available until fall quarter begins (in a month) due to us switching buildings. For now I am working with what I have, but I hope to acquire a set of my own off-camera flashes with umbrellas within the next few weeks! Not as good as having the whole lighting studio and lots of strobes at my fingertips, but it'll be better than using lamps and will allow me to shoot at faster shutter speeds.

Now let me explain the series I am working on. It is branching off from things I came up with during the past year. Some running themes:

1. All photos are staged, most are self portraits.
2. I'm working with patterns on top of patterns on top of patterns, mostly florals. I add in solid colors to give the eyes a little break.
3. I tend to obscure the face. I'm looking for ways to do that but still leave in some of the subject-viewer gaze, such as with the lace in this photo (if you see the photo up close, you can see my eyes).
3. I'm interested in exploring topics like DIY and craft, home, women's past and present roles in the home, natural vs. artificial.
4. I see each staged photo as having a sort of performative quality and am interested in adding video or real-time performances in with the still photos.

Today and tomorrow, I'll be working on setting up some kind of lighting arrangement over at my new temporary studio space (until our building switchover is complete) and I'll go there every morning to make my photo of the day! The space is very large and I'm excited for the possibilities. I'll also be shooting both on film and digitally, which I didn't do today because I'm in need of a shutter release cable for the film camera I want to use. I will also try to include multiple people in the photos 1-2 days per week, and the rest will be solo self portraits. I wanted to get started immediately after coming back from my trip, so today I just made do with what I could!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

so long for now, natural state

One year ago, I was at the beautiful Lake Ouachita with my family. I had only a few days left before I would move to Ohio for grad school. Today, I am going back to Ohio after a week-long visit back at home, to start my second and final year of my program. I've had a really nice visit and although I'll miss my friends and family here when I'm back at school, I look forward to all of the exciting things that I'll be making and doing this year.

Many blog entries await when I'm back in the Buckeye State! And my 30 day challenge begins tomorrow.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

sno cones and summer

Although I try to stay health conscious with my eating habits for the most part, one of my favorite summer indulgences is a sno cone. It really takes me back to childhood, when my family spent many summer evenings waiting in a rather lengthy line at The Best Sno Cone Place in town, trying new things on their extensive list of flavors (except for my dad--he always got a coconut cream pie flavored sno cone!). That stand has long been closed down, but my warm sentiments toward this cold summer treat remain.

However, this year I've had to wait patiently (okay...impatiently...I complained about it...a lot!) all summer to get one because apparently, they do not exist in Columbus! There are ice cream trucks...But no sno cone stands. And boy, do people look at you like you are nuts if you even so much as ask where all of them are, nevermind suggest that the city could use a few!

Here in Arkansas, they open up just as soon as cavities have begun to form from those chocolate Easter bunnies and close promptly at the sound of Labor Day's end-of-summer whistle. Luckily I got my trip home in just in time for an end-of-the-season sno cone. I went with my brother, James, and had half vanilla, half coconut, while he had watermelon. I suppose my visit will have to keep me satisfied until next year!

Friday, August 19, 2011

it's good to be home

I am in Arkansas until next Wednesday! I'm visiting my family and on Sunday I get to help my brother move to college (he's going to my alma mater, which I happen to think is a fine choice). So far, besides just hanging out and catching up, I have gone for a walk across a new bridge in town (which connects the final stages of a biking/walking trail that is 26 miles long--really awesome), been schooled on how to make not-ugly sushi rolls, gotten a tour of my parents' new vegetable garden and met its resident lizard, and gone shopping with my brother for the perfect ice cube trays for his new mini fridge (it's all in the details).

I promise to post full updates when I return to Ohio, but until then you get a few photo snippets to tide you over. In the mean time, I would love it if you would read about my upcoming 30 day challenge if you haven't already done so!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

the best use I have ever found for pears

If you ever find yourself in Columbus, you need to get a scoop of Jeni's ice cream. Period. It's as simple as that. If you come here to visit me, it will be on our to-do list during your stay, even if it's thirty degrees outside like it was when my friend Gillian came in March. This ice cream is so good, and it stands for things I stand for, like supporting local businesses, enjoying food that's in season, and adorable interior design (well...that last one is just a perk if you make it to one of the actual stores).

A few months ago, Jeni of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams (yes, the name actually has the word splendid in adorable is that!) published a recipe book! It has a dozen sorbets in it, including my absolute favorite, Riesling poached pear sorbet. Today I am going to walk you through the steps of making this delicious dessert, now that it is finally pear season! If you have an ice cream maker at home, go get a copy of her book, it contains beautiful photographs and delicious recipes!

Step 1: peel, core, and chop around 1 3/4 lb. pears--somewhere between 4 and 6 pears. Mine were a little on the under-ripe side because I was too eager, so you want to let them ripen for a few days if they are too firm.

Step 2: on the stove, melt together 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup water, and 1/4 cup corn syrup (it's not high fructose, don't freak can substitute another syrup here if you'd prefer). Don't let it burn but keep it on the stove until the sugar is dissolved.

Step 3: While you're melting the sugar, put your pears in a skillet over medium heat for around 5-10 minutes, until they are soft. The amount of time will depend on the ripeness of the pear, so use your judgment. Stir them often so that they don't burn.

Step 4: Remove your sugar mixture from the stove and add to it 1/2 cup Riesling. I didn't spend a lot on my bottle of wine, but my piece of advice would be that if it doesn't taste good enough to drink, it's not good enough to cook with. That is just a basic rule of cooking.

Step 5: (sorry, no photo) Puree your pears in a blender or food processor. It can help if you add a few tablespoons of the liquid mixture to them while blending. The consistency should be very smooth, like applesauce.

Step 6: Chill in your fridge for at least a few hours (overnight is a good idea, if you can wait that long).

Step 7: Turn your mix into sorbet via your ice cream maker's directions! Isn't this adorable? This was my summer gift to myself, a miniature ice cream maker in pistachio green. It makes half a pint at a time, and comes with two canisters. It only takes about 5 minutes to make ice cream in it, too.

Step 8: Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

a challenge to myself: 30 photos in 30 days

Erika over at A Tiny Rocket is currently working on the challenge of doing 30 paintings in 30 days! When I first heard she was doing this, I was very inspired thinking of all the new art she would have in her portfolio in just one month's time.

At the beginning of the summer, my plan was to make lots and lots and lots of things for my own portfolio. If you keep up with my blog, you know that I pick up my camera every single day, an invaluable exercise for any photographer. And although I don't completely separate that from my work as a "fine art photographer," those types of photographs are not my main focus right now. I am all for having a variety of projects going at once, with various ideas and materials involved, so I hate to call the stuff like I have in my photo shop my "serious work," and say that the other stuff is "just for fun," so to differentiate it, let me just say instead, that it's what I currently submit to art exhibits and what I am working off of to create my MFA thesis body of work over the upcoming school year.

So my plan was to make lots of the "serious stuff" this summer. But then I had three summer school classes. And I was teaching. And my studio space was relocated. And after all of that was said and done, I felt sort of uninspired to make work. So here I am openly admitting I have not created as much work this summer as I originally intended...yet! I am admitting it in hopes of fixing it.

Yesterday it hit me that I should do a 30 photos in 30 days challenge. I'll make 30 staged photographs, similar to the ones in my shop. Any other photos I take during the 30 days won't count (like of things I cook, my garden, etc.). I'll be working with floral patterns as I've been doing the past few months (unless something inspires me to do otherwise during the 30 days). I get back from my trip on August 24th, so between now and then I'll be doing some serious brainstorming and prop gathering, and then I'll make photos from August 25th - September 25th, which will put me just four days into the new school year (if I can finish 30 before school starts, even better).

How can you help? Words of encouragement are definitely needed! I'll keep up with my progress here and your comments will mean so much to me.

You can also sponsor the project financially if you would like! The funds will go towards props and film, and having your support will hold me accountable. There are a few things in it for you should you choose to do so. All sponsors can have a 100x55 pixel banner in my right sidebar linking to their site until the end of September. For $5 you will receive a 4"x6" signed print of one of the new photographs. $10 gets you a 5"x7", and $20 an 8"x10". If for any reason the project does not make it to completion (but I can assure you that it will!) you will receive a full refund (I have to include that line, but this project will be completed!) or can choose any image already for sale in my shop.

You'll receive an e-mail on September 26th with thumbnails of all 30 photographs so you can hand pick which one you want, and it will be mailed to you by October 3rd!

Thank you so much for your support! Just having people interested in the project will mean a lot. I look forward to posting my first photo in just a few short days!

this zucchini could win a prize

We aren't growing zucchini in this year's garden, but being that it is one of my favorite summer vegetables to cook with, each week I pick up a few at the farmers' market. This week, however, there is no need, because Corey's boss gave him this enormous zucchini that is greater than or equal to the handful I normally purchase (I'm leaning towards "greater than"). It's crazy how big it is. I'm going to make a tian again today (it was just so delicious) and try for something new and zucchini-filled with the rest of it tomorrow. I'll be going out of town Thursday (to visit my home state!) so I'm not sure that I'll reach my goal of 3-4 new recipes this week, but I will be sure to have interesting things to blog about from my time away! My parents are growing a big vegetable garden this summer and I am excited to finally see it in person and photograph it. I'm sure I will also come up with some non-gardening-related things of interest.

Speaking of zucchini, the day after I return from my trip, there is a festival just outside of Columbus happening called Zucchinifest. It has me intrigued...I might check it out!

Monday, August 15, 2011

seed saving: a gesture of planning and sustainability in the garden

Planning ahead for the garden is both exciting and overwhelming. I spend hours reading seed catalogs and gardening books during the winter months. This leads to getting caught up in picking "the perfect" seed varieties and lost in tables of planting dates and row spacings. If you've ever felt a little panicked while trying to plan out your garden, take comfort in the fact that you are not alone. But it gets easier, friends. I'm not an expert but I learn new things about plants and gardening every day, and after keeping a garden for a few seasons, the planning part is so much easier. Here are a few tips I have for staying on track and not letting your fears of "messing something up" get in the way of actually getting your garden in the ground:

1. Start planning several months ahead, and make a schedule for everything you need to do. We built this year's raised beds two months before the frost-free date and filled them up with planting material one month before. If you start early, you can do things at your leisure when you have a warm Saturday here and there. You'll feel proud of yourself for not procrastinating.

2. Pay attention to the planting dates specifically for your zone for each crop you want to grow. You can plant many seed varieties outdoors a certain number of weeks before the frost-free date. I never manage to stay on top of this, so a few of my crops came in late this year. My plan is to be better prepared next spring!

3. Given that you could spend years pouring over the exciting reading that is today's seed catalogs, don't get too caught up on what to plant and what seed varieties to use. Take the most important aspects of each variety into consideration, and go from there. If you have limited space, plant your favorites! Don't waste space on things you don't love. Ask gardeners in your area what their best crops are and what varieties they plant. Realize, however, that the soil you plant in has a lot to do with the success of your plants as well, so if your neighbor has the most beautiful Brandywine tomatoes and yours are doing poorly, your soil might be missing a vital nutrient. Contact your local extension service about having a soil test done. You can also buy kits to test certain things, like pH, yourself.

One aspect of planning ahead I am adding to my repertoire this summer is seed saving! There is something special about connecting your gardens to one another year after year, plus if done correctly, it can save you some money. Since this is my first year to save seeds, I'm not expecting miracles and I'm okay with the fact that I might end up having to purchase a type of seed that I attempted to save. But I'm all for the learning process and hope to have some success with these seeds next spring! I read the seed-saving section of my Rodale's organic gardening encyclopedia (a wonderful source of information) and got to work this weekend saving lettuce seeds, coriander, and peas.

Lettuce. When it gets too warm or lettuce has reached maturity, it will bolt, sending a long stalk up and eventually flowering. Lettuce flowers are self-pollinating, so after most of the flowers had opened, I cut off the stalk and kept it in a vase of water until the remained opened and they dried out, to prevent the dandelion-like flower remains from blowing away. When it had completely dried, I carefully picked off each white "fluff," which had about a dozen seeds attached to the end. At first I saved some of the white fluffy parts but eventually I was proficient enough to remove those and save just the seeds:

Next up, coriander, the seeds of the cilantro plant. Coriander is used as a spice, so you could save the seeds for that purpose or to plant. This is what the seeds look like on the plant before they dry out:

Once they turn brown, they are easily removed from the plant:

Finally, peas. When your pea crop is nearing the end, leave some pods on the vine to dry. When they are completely dried out (they will be brown and will not be holding any moisture), remove and shell the pods, to reveal wrinkly peas inside.

My Rodale's reading suggested saving the seeds in envelopes and keeping them in the refrigerator, since they do best in low humidity. You can also store the envelopes in a cool, dry place as an alternative.

One last thing: if your seeds are hybrid (that's different than genetically modified, just for the record--I've heard the terms confused often), you can save them, but they will not produce plants like the parent. Hybrid seeds are the combination of two specific parent plants. For example, to simplify the idea, a red flower and a white flower cross-bred to make a pink flower. If you replant the pink flower's seeds, you won't get another pink flower. I'm keeping this in mind as I re-research each tomato variety I have currently and figure out which ones to save!

Friday, August 12, 2011

breakfast for dinner doodles

My illustrated breakfast-for-dinner shopping list.

Just got back from the store...time to start cooking!

Happy weekend!

creamed chard, recipe searching, and paper sacks

This is the fourth new recipe I've tried this week, and I still have a few days left. You might be rolling your eyes and asking, "Does she find recipes anywhere else!?" when I say, it's from Smitten Kitchen. The answer to that would's where I look first, and often I have no reason to look elsewhere. It's just that, the Smitten Kitchen recipes seem to coincide with the groceries I already have, while other recipe sources seem to insist on a trip to the store just for one recipe.

No matter. Yesterday, I decided to make creamed chard and onions and serve it over spaghetti. The original recipe called for actual cream. I used plain soy milk (unsweetened would have been better) and it worked out fine. The good news is that I was able to find a use for some of the swiss chard in the garden (my plan when I sought out a recipe to make), which is quickly approaching the size of elephant ears. It was so easy to grow, and it's beautiful, and everyone tells me how versatile it is, but help, I just don't know what to do with it! I throw a few leaves in stir fries here and there, but other than that, I'm lost.

Here is everything cooking on my tiny stove. One pot was to soften the chard. A skillet to make the roux (butter + flour--I used Earth Balance) and toast the onions and garlic. And finally, a pot of spaghetti. The dish was simple and delicious.

Okay, so let's talk recipes some more. I've been bookmarking recipes like mad lately and not all are from Smitten Kitchen (but the ones that are will be amazing!). Let me share what I've found:

Pinterest - I think most internet-savvy people have heard of Pinterest by now, but basically users "pin" things they find on the internet to different categories, and people "re-pin" things they like. You can search for a particular ingredient or dish, or use broad categories. Searching "vegan" seems to bring up a lot of things.

Food Gawker - I hadn't heard of this until yesterday. If you like to photograph things you cook, you can submit pictures that link to recipes, and possibly get published here. They do reject a lot of photos, so the ones that make it are really top notch. It seems helpful for finding recipes and I would love to try to be published there.

Tastespotter - Same as above. There seem to be more vegetarian recipes here, but it could just be what is up right now.

Healthy Happy Life - A favorite new find, this food blog features all vegan recipes and beautiful photographs. I've bookmarked quite a few things here to make ASAP.

Finally, I leave you with this. These are all the green tomatoes I had to cut off of the tomato plants last weekend because of damage to a few branches. I put them all in a brown paper sack, closed it up, and forgot about it for a few days. One has turned red and a few more are on their way (some might be too under ripe to ever turn red)! The ethylene gas that they naturally give off helps them turn red faster when trapped in the bag.