Category Archives: Projects

Keeps me off the street

Props for crops

Prop: n. something that holds up or sustains

Pole bean props - with twine

Pole bean props - with twine

With the help of my ex, I’ve created the necessary support systems for my bean-crop-to-be. Two 7′ pieces of scrap wood and four screws (cost $2.48) are now screwed to my raised bed, and soon the vines will be hauling ass up the strands of twine till they’re way out of my shrimpy reach at harvest time.

My family is famous (in our tiny circle of string bean fans anyway) for our Blue Lake pole beans. My parents grew so many that I swear my mom spent her entire summer slicing them (on the diagonal, if you please) and blanching them for a freezer full.

I’m not big on frozen beans but I make a mean dilly bean.

—–

Other crop prop projects:

My ex and I also encased my four LOADED blueberry bushes in a cage of bird-proof netting. The bushes are about six feet tall and at least that wide. This year I’m going to have to borrow freezer space again because my freezer will be berried out by mid-July.

I’ve encased my tomatoes in cages, which they will overrun within a month. Why do they make them so wimpy?

Finally, my ancient grape arbor is tottering under the weight of an unusually hyperactive vine. I’m going to be inundated come September. Maybe this year I’ll figure out an easier way to make raisins… (wine??). Meanwhile, after hacking back the grasping tendrils, I harvested a bag full of tender grape leaves I’ll try brining.

grape arbor

Priorities… I’m moving on, getting to less

Priority: n. something meriting attention before competing alternatives

365 Words Beginning with P is winding down. Not because of a paucity of peachy P-words – indeed the peerless pantheon of P words is scarcely pricked.

My purpose – nay, my priority – was to prod my procrastinating pea-brain into a practice of producing pontifications on a daily basis until I had proffered at least 365 of them, thus proving to myself that I could write regularly.  This is #377. Who knew vocabulary could be so much fun!

(To those whose interest in 365pwords was more literary than political, I apologize for all the Palin posts last fall. It’s not my fault her name began with P.  I thank god she’s not our vice-president — pity those poor people in Alaska.)

What I’m saying is my priorities have shifted and I must move on. Literally. To a much smaller home, with much less stuff.

But I’ve caught blogging fever, and my new blog, Getting to Less, is shaping up nicely.  If you’re at all interested in getting to less in your own life, or you just want to keep me company on the journey, please please c’mon over.  And bring your own downsizing tips and (mis) adventures.

Pitching your possessions has got to be more fun than pulling your own teeth, right?

I’ll be back here occasionally when a P-word just screams to be written about. Meanwhile, join me over at Getting to Less.

Pressure to pare down

Pressure: n. the burden of physical or mental distress; the constraint of circumstance; the weight of social or economic imposition; the application of force to something by something else in direct contact with it.

Pare: v. to trim off an outside, excess, or irregular part of; to diminish or reduce

Because I haven’t posted in a week you may think that I’m moving prematurely into slow blogging.

But no. I’ve just come to the realization that I can no longer afford to think about down-sizing. I need to DO down-sizing. Which means putting time and effort into planning, divesting, tossing…

Which means that instead of thinking about P words, I’ve been inventorying my stuff in preparation for the Great Divestiture.

Really, there’s no way I can go looking for some cute little shoebox until I sell the home I have – my beloved home.

To buy something, even a shoebox, would be silly when it could take months to sell my place in this challenging real estate market. And who wants to be paying for two places?

I’ve made myself a fine Excel spreadsheet on which I’m listing all my stuff, including measurements (will it fit in my shoebox?), and whether it’s a keeper, a give-away, a “store it in case the kids ever have real homes AND want Grandma’s embroidered antimacassar” , a “will it sell on eBay?” or “could I just dump it?”

I started with the easiest space – the guest bath. How much can a guest bathroom hold? I asked myself. Turns out quite a bit: a nice little rug, an antique commode, three pieces of art, and a very very very old Greek water jug. Sigh.

None I want to part with. And I’m just getting started.

I

Plenty platters of polenta! A parade of pears.

Plenty: n. a full or more than adequate amount; the quality or state of being copious

Platters: n. flat serving plates

Polenta: n. see prior post

Parade: n. a lengthy array or succession; a procession

I should have brought my camera (how many times do I have to learn this lesson??) to take pictures of the beautiful food we prepared for the donor’s acknowledgment dinner last night. It was a totally vegetarian meal, and as local as we could make it, given that it’s March.

The group of 60 was to gather for wine and appetizers at 6:30 then proceed to dinner around 7.  Our cold appetizers were ready by 6 and the yummiest one,  garlic-roasted fingerling potatoes, would come out of the oven right at 6:30. Little did we know that the hungry hordes would begin to gather at 6:10, forks in hand, napkins tucked into their collars.

A little wine and a lively conversation soon worked its magic and they forgot that amateurs were in the kitchen. Fortunately we had a fine team to spread the work load.

And it IS a work load. It’s one thing to throw a big salmon or a bunch of steaks on the barbie to be served with french bread and salad. It’s quite another to prepare a wild mushroom ragout (about fifteen separate ingredients, most requiring chopping and sauteeing) to be served on squares of grilled polenta. We did EVERYTHING from scratch.

There were also technical/logistical problems to solve. Like gathering sufficient large saute pans, cookie sheets and stew pots. Like having enough big bowls to hold batches of chopped or sauteed veggies in process. Like how to keep a vat of stew from burning on the bottom before it’s cooked through on the top. Like how to toss great quantities of green salad (how much dressing?) And how do you calculate how much is ENOUGH of each dish?

We over-prepared. As it all turned out, the hors d’ouevres were both tasty and substantial enough that appetites were significantly reduced by the time people sat down for the main meal. We had PLENTY polenta, a PLETHORA of ragout, and a PARADE of pears.

So let me describe the pears, the easiest and most beautiful of all the dishes.  We stood 24 D’anjou pears upright in each of three baking pans, poured some red wine to a height of about 1/2″ around them, sprinkled them with some sugar and a little grated lemon peel and baked them, basting occasionally for about an hour. They came out of the oven like an army of mini snow-capped mountains. Killer tasty too.  If you were to make a pan of 6, it would be about a cup of wine and a 1/3 c. sugar. Serve room temperature w. some sauce and a scoop of ice cream.

pears

This web image will give you an idea of how our pears looked lined up in their pans: multiply by about 9 to envision the Pear Parade.

Prep for this dinner took me at least 40 hours, even with help for about half of those hours.   Others spent as much time or more on other aspects of the event. And to think I once thought it would be fun to be a caterer. HA!!!!

Pepper grinder, Poop, & Plastic bags: Lego Art

I’ve done P-word posts on Poop, Plastic, and Productivity thru Legos, but thanks to a fantastic illustrated column in today’s NY Times by graphic designer Christoph Niemann, I can bring them all together in one blog entry – and throw in Pepper grinders for good measure:

lego pepper grinder by Christoph Niemann

Totally captures the absurd sizes of the pepper grinders some waiters wield!

lego plastic bag by Christoph Niemann

I saw altogether too many of these in Cambodian trees last year (and everywhere else as well).

poop stepping by Christoph Niemann

One use for those plastic baggies – scooping poop.

Just one more example of why Legos are such a terrific toy. See the whole thing: I Lego NY.   Maybe he’ll use Play-Doh for his next contribution.

Pwned by family: Project renamed Operation Silver Fox

Pwn: v. Pwn is a slang term from Internet gaming, derived from the word “own”, that implies domination or humiliation of a rival (or in this case a parent)

My children have informed me that I am not to seek a sugar daddy (see yesterday’s post on this important topic).  And I have to admit their reasoning is sound.

#2 Son says:

a Sugar Daddy is a fat dude wearing a gold chain at a strip club who exchanges goods (da monies) for services (da sexytime).  This is not the image I want to have of my mother.

When he puts it like that, I definitely get the point. Yuck. Gold chain! Probably wears a pinky ring too. Double yuck. OK – scratch Operation Sugar Daddy. It hadn’t exactly gotten off the ground anyway.

If I’m going to embark on this mission, they say I should shoot for a more positive name, like “Operation Silver Fox”. Son #2 continues:

…Think silver fox, Mom. Think Sean Connery, Robert Redford, Richard Gere…

Richard Gere! Now we’re talkin’  – and he can even dance! Who cares if he knows which end of a hammer to use on a nail.

Operation Silver Fox it is.

Even with this name change, my daughter isn’t convinced that my eggs are in the right basket. I think she wants me to reduce expenses – sell the house and move into a mud hut.  In all fairness, she’s got a right to be wary – her 80- year-old mother-in-law has been living with them for five years and probably won’t be leaving except on a litter.

But she’s willing to play along for awhile if I put some thinking in to how I’ll brand and market myself.

“What’s your strategic plan, Mom?” she asks.

I’m thinking. I’m thinking.


Postponing penury: Operation Sugar Daddy

Postpone: v. to put off into the future

Penury: n. an oppressive lack of resources (as money) ; severe poverty

I have a predicament, no doubt shared by many single women in this time of economic hardship. I live in a house I love. It’s bigger than I need, and more expensive to maintain than I can afford (unless I want to spend my last years on the street).

Plus I’ve been single since 2001 and the solitary lifestyle is getting stale. So three years ago I decided what I needed was a sugar daddy… some brilliant, charming, loving, handy, and financially comfortable man with whom to share my life and my home.

Unfortunately, qualified men who were also eligible are scarcer than the dodo bird in my town. Especially since I disqualify Republicans and evangelicals.

So I foisted the task of finding me a new mate off on my son-in-law, who knows all sorts of fascinating people around the country.

Nada.  Plus I learned that he has several other female clients who have given him the same task – and they are younger than me.

Yesterday I was talking with my daughter about the sorry state of my finances, and she gave me a talking to:

“Mom,” she said, “Operation Sugar Daddy is entering into its fourth unsuccessful year. When are you going to come up with a different financial strategy?”

Hurt to the core by my daughter’s lack of trust, I started to write a P-word post on the subject, one with a hip name, like “Project Pwned,” to show how youthful I was. Unfortunately I was unsure of the correct usage of “pwned.”

I saw that my #2 son was on googletalk at the moment so I messaged him for illumination. And this is how that conversation went:

Me: Vocabulary help needed…   If Heather makes fun of me for falling down on my Operation Sugar Daddy Project, can I say the project was pwned?

#2 Son: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Actually… you’d say Heather pwned you.

Me: Oops. Glad I asked, because I’ve got P-word post in the offing about my abject failure in Operation Sugar Daddy department.

#2 Son: It’s about owning or dominating another person. Look it up here: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=pwn

Me: So its done to a person not to a project or effort.

#2 Son: Well, kind of. If you were to have kicked ass at Operation SD, you would’ve “pwned” the project. As in, dominated it. A tough week at work could “pwn you”, meaning it defeated you.

Me: OK so I could be pwnd by Operation SD?

#2 Son: Well, not exactly. The project didn’t pwn you–it didn’t dominate you. It just never went anywhere. It was like that horse at the track that doesn’t move a muscle when the gates open, instead choosing to stand there, with a lost and slightly vacant look in its eyes… like a drunk who’s lost a bet.

Me: Jeez – Give me a break. Heather already pointed out the Plan had some flaws.

#2 Son: Exactly. The Plan had the fatal flaw of never actually existing.

I’ve got one more child to go to for sympathy.

Or maybe I ought to create a PLAN for Operation SD… ya think?

Pandiculate, then get on with it!

Pandiculate: v. to stretch, as on awakening or while yawning.

Pandiculate for Health! Grow Tall! Get Well! Be Young!” Exuberant ads like this, running in health-fad magazines since 1914, have proclaimed the virtues of a spine-stretching device called the “Pandiculator.” — Time, 1942-04-12

My P-pal Patrice sent me this great P-word, the word of the day at Dictionary.com.

So let’s all stand up and pandiculate. Pandiculate with your arm overhead to the left, and then repeat on the right.

This is the perfect thing to do as we awaken from an eight-year nightmare.

Now take a deep breath, clap your hands and let’s put our shoulders to the wheel, joining President Obama in rebuilding our confidence, our trust, our infrastructure, our economy, our nation…

We’ve got work to do. Together we can.

Play-Doh DIY: make it yourself

Play-Doh n. a soft modeling compound principally used by children and composed mainly of flour, water, and salt.

Playdough n. the cheap home-made substitute – recipe below.

Oh the places the letter P can take you!  Like back to Play-Doh.

My kids loved Play-Doh. And truth be told, it was one of the two “toys” I enjoyed playing with alongside them. (Legos was the other). Now my grandkids are into it, and I’m glad I saved both the Legos and our Play-Doh Fun Factory for three decades.  (The Fun Factory is an extrusion device where you press the dough in one end through one of several screens and spaghetti-like streams ooze out the other, like magic.

playdoh

According to Wikipedia – and now I’m sorry I looked it up – the stuff was initially a wallpaper cleaner (!). The inventor’s nephew,  Joseph McVicker, reworked the compound  in the mid-1950s, named it ‘Play-Doh’ and sold to Cincinnati-area schools as a modeling compound.

When Play-Doh television ads appeared on influential children’s shows in 1957, the product became a hit in the United States.

Since its introduction, Play-Doh has been manufactured in 50 different colors and has generated ancillary merchandise such as The Fun Factory and The Play-Doh Creativity Table. In 2003, the Toy Industry Association named Play-Doh to its Century of Toys List, and, in 2006, a perfumery released a fragrance inspired by Play-Doh’s distinctive odor. Play-Doh is currently manufactured by Hasbro and is sold around the world.

The “fragrance” of Play-Doh – or “diSTINKtive odor” as I prefer to call it, was one reason I started making the stuff myself.  The other reason was that the kids kept leaving the tops off the cans, which would be discovered under the bed a week after the contents had shriveled into a hard little mass at the bottom of the can.

Playdough is fast, easy and fun to make – and you already own the ingredients in your cupboard:

2 cups flour
2 cups warm water
1 cup salt (keeps bacteria or mold from developing)
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
4 teaspoons cream of tartar (for improved elasticity)

food coloring

Dump all but the food coloring into a saucepan, and stir over low heat. The dough will begin to thicken until it resembles mashed potatoes.  After about 3 minutes the dough will pull away from the sides of the pan and clump in the center (but cook it a little longer if it feels at all sticky).  It should feel like Play-Doh.

Remove from heat and allow to cool until you can handle it.  Turn the dough out onto a clean counter or silicone mat, and knead vigorously until it becomes silky-smooth. Divide the dough into balls for coloring (I make four, because my food coloring kit has four colors – available on the grocery store aisle with cake frostings).

Make a divot in the center of the ball, and several drops of food coloring in. Fold the dough over, working the food color through the body of the playdough, trying to keep the raw dye away from your hands and the counter because in concentrated form it can dye them too. (You could use gloves or plastic wrap at this stage to keep your hands clean- once it’s worked in bare hands are fine.) Work the dye through, adding more as necessary to achieve your chosen color.

I like mine stink free, but some folks add vanilla or mint flavoring. Now all you need is a kid, a Fun Factory, a rolling pin and some cookie cutters.

Store in airtight freezer bags.

One final note:

Two billion cans of Play-Doh have been sold since 1955 and, today, 95 million cans are produced annually with the product being sold in more than 6,000 American stores and in more than 75 countries.

And that’s not counting all the DIY playdough made at home by clever folks like you and me.

Parsnips, potatoes and peas: the President’s garden? (Updates)

Parsnip: n.  (Pastinaca sativa) is a root vegetable related to the carrot. Parsnips resemble carrots, but are paler than most of them and have a stronger flavor. They are native to Eurasia and have been eaten there since ancient times.

Potato: n. a starchy, tuber (Solanum tuberosum) of the Solanaceae family.  Potato is the world’s most widely grown tuber crop, and the fourth largest food crop in terms of fresh produce after rice, wheat, and corn.

Peas: n. the small spherical seeds or the seed-pod of the legume Pisum sativum. Although treated as a vegetable in cooking, it is botanically a fruit.

parsnip

Alice Waters has a(nother) grand idea: the President and Michelle Obama should establish and eat from a bounteous organic garden on the White House grounds.

In 1971 Alice co-founded the world-famous restaurant, Chez Panisse, less than a mile from my former home in Berkeley, California. Alice has been cooking, preaching and teaching “Local, Fresh, Seasonal, Organic” foods ever since, and is credited by many as the force behind America’s culinary revolution.

When my daughter attended King Jr. High, she was bringing home math word problems that favored candy, cookies and donuts to be multiplied or divided. The school lunch program depended on high fat commodity foods (vegetables??? that was the era of Reagan calling ketchup a vegetable!).  As a public health educator I decided something needed to be done. I consulted with the food service on healthier menus, worked in the classroom with the kids to expose them to new more healthful foods, and with the teachers to incorporate healthier foods in the math problems.

Improvements were very slight during my daughter’s school days, but I like to think I opened the door, because a few years later, Alice (with MUCH more clout than I) came in and proposed that the school install a big vegetable garden, the “edible schoolyard“, so that kids would have a very direct experience of working in the garden, being responsible for their crops, and learning to cook and eat them.  It was and is an amazing project, copied now in a number of other schools around the country.

So back to the President’s vegetable garden. I will go on record here to say that if Alice is on the case, it’s as good as done.

The next level, which will be more challenging to pull off, involves a major reworking of the USDA, the government’s incestuous involvement with agriculture (aka the giant corn, soy, beef, and pig producers). Another big gun from my home town, Michael Pollan, is on the case.

Pollan is a professor of journalism at UC Berkeley and best-selling author of such stupendous reads as Botany of Desire, Omnivore’s Dilemma, and In Defense of Food (and what a writer! what fascinating material, what an original mind, and he’s even funny… you can probably tell I heart Michael Pollan).

Pollan’s idea, which he wrote about at length in the New York Times Magazine before the election, is that the President (“the Farmer-in-Chief”) needs to create  Department of Food – which will concern itself with re-localizing the nation’s food supply, making agriculture practices environmentally sustainable, and re-introducing Americans to real food (as opposed to food products) and cultural food practices, like -OMG! – families eating meals together.

Obama did read the article, and responded to it in an interview with Time Magazine‘s Joe Klein.

I’m still not holding my breath for the parsnip to be on the president’s plate, although it’s might tasty in a mix of roasted root veggies.

Update 1/23/09: Check out the videos at Eat the View’s website on the proposed presidential parsnip-pea-potato patch. “This Lawn is Your Lawn” and “The Garden of Eatin'”  [P is for Puns… note to self: compile a post on puns – nominations accepted.]

Update 3/16/09: Check out the story about Alice as the “Mother of the Slow Food Movement” in the NY Times and definitely watch the video links listed in the last paragragh of her interview on Sixty Minutes. She makes a MEAN breakfast.