Thursday, June 9, 2011

Word of the Day

Photo courtesy Flickr

When the quiz master says the answer is “beaking”, the question is, what is the term for the touch on the shoulder a friendly elephant makes with his trunk? I did not expect to learn this when I read Paul Allen’s recent autobiography.

My experience with elephants is limited to circuses and to observing that the area where they browse native plants at the zoo looks like elk have been visiting, very tall elk. However, I did read a 1973 interview with a Ringling clown who pointed out that it is unwise to stand between an elephant and a solid object, because they like to lean on things.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

By Halves

Photo courtesy Flickr

By chance, I learned a charming family custom the other day. An acquaintance mentioned that when a dish of food is being passed, if just one serving is left, the practice is to take half of what remains. Successive portions sometimes leave just crumbs.

Somehow this reminds me of a mathematician I used to know whose field was what happens between one and zero.

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Native Spring

Photo courtesy Flickr

For the last six years or so, I’ve been giving the garden back to the original landscape. This has been an unusually cool and wet spring. Saturday was the first day to hit seventy since last fall, and the rose Nootkana grew a foot. I was so busy staying out of the way of the Nootkana that I wasn’t able to clock the other plants.

Years ago, an acquaintance transformed a predictable vintage suburban landscape by planting an old variety of a huge climbing rose next to a rusty fragment of turn-of-the-twentieth-century iron fence. In one stroke, Kathy suggested that her Thirties stucco Tudor house was the successor to a farmhouse.*

Mulling about this year’s landscape, it occurred to me that just one or two period European imports are all it takes to suggest the early garden of a Victorian property. Early settlers were more concerned with eating than with wandering the grounds in a tea dress, but pioneers frequently carried cuttings of treasured family roses when they crossed the plains in covered wagons.

Imported plants often resemble natives. Species Japanese anemone has leaves that remind me of local berry bushes, so I’ve left the anemone in place. Last fall I pressed a carrot top into the compost heap, and discovered yesterday that it had lofted itself into a good imitation of a local umbellifera that’s decorative and dangerously toxic. I plan to develop an ornamental carrot patch.

Other food plants are decorative as well. Potato vines add a rambling elegance to the truck patch, and the flowering stalks of rhubarb are a striking accent that echoes some Victorian ornamental favorites.

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*Until the late 1940s, a prospective home buyer had to raise a fifty percent down payment, so early suburbs had the dignified reserve characteristic of class privilege. Veteran’s benefits included ten percent mortgage loans, and it was that lending policy that drove the development of cookie-cutter tract housing, as good a design in its own way as the country estate it usually replaced. More after the jump.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Roaches Love Chlolesterol


Photo courtesy Flickr

I am indebted to a Hawaiian cousin for introducing me to the hilarious Roach Combat Book. In Seattle, one has to work very hard, which is to say not work at all, to earn scuttling visitors. I was schooled, however, with many kids from Manhattan who had their own repertoire of roach stories. When one of my classmates brought a huge Brazilian cockroach into the cafeteria, leading it on a leash of thread, it caused a stir.

The easiest way to keep pests out of the kitchen is not to bait them in to begin with. Roaches must eat cholesterol to survive. Control grease/control roaches.

The other evening I grilled a couple of lamb chops over gas on a portable appliance. I never grill indoors anymore: the fast heat that makes the food good makes the clean-up punishing. When the meal was over, my trusty two-burner grill from the Great Big Hiking Co-op was coated in grease.

Fortunately, I had read somewhere that Italian housekeepers use rubbing alcohol as a combination degreaser-disinfectant. I sloshed alcohol over the lid and chromed base of the grill and cleaned up in a flash.

It’s relaxing to work with one product that does many things. The alcohol’s part of the first-aid kit that lives across the room from the sink. I also use it to clean the window over the sink and remove black marker labels from various containers. Once I experimented with using cheap vodka as an even more all-purpose cleaning agent. It worked the same, but the small increased expense wasn’t worth the bother of having Mother’s Little Helper standing on the windowsill for all to see.

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Monday, June 6, 2011

One-Pot Meal


Photo courtesy Flickr

Anyone with an electrical outlet, running water, and fifteen dollars for a small appliance can cook at home. Last week-end, I knocked out some fast food using a hot pot and a handful of organic vegetables. Cooking took less time than running off to buy something expensive that will make me sick.

Set a pot of water on to boil. Chop a couple of heads of broccoli while the water is heating. A rough, all-over chopping pattern will be good.

When the water is hot, drop in a couple of ripe tomatoes and turn off the heat. After a minute, set the tomatoes into a bowl of cold water. This process is called blanching, and it loosens the skin of the fruit.

Bring the water back to a boil, and put in the broccoli.

With a small, sharp knife, core the tomatoes and lift off their skin. Cut them in halves and push out the seeds. Chop coarsely.

Drain the broccoli when it’s just tender and put it into the bowl that held the cold water.

Put the chopped tomato into the pot on high heat. Stir it often to reduce the pulp and give it a cooked flavor. It can taste fresh, though. It’s spring. Avoid fats in the plastic pot: they will absorb components of the plastic.

Grind black pepper over the hot broccoli and dress it with olive oil, a little garlic powder and cayenne pepper.

Add the tomato to the broccoli and dress with chopped pine nuts and a little grated Parmesan cheese.

Boil another pot of water and cook some whole-wheat pasta. I used rotini. When the pasta is well-cooked, toss the ingredients together, adjust the seasoning, and chow down.

This dish is like an Asian snack bowl from a supermarket deli, but it’s much healthier. A hiker’s multi-knife will do for the chopping, and no refrigerator is necessary.

-30- More after the jump.