Friday, March 26, 2010

Link: A Ramble About Fiction

I plopped a ramble about fiction and roleplaying and writing into a Scent Of The Day post. So it's Over There. Even though the topic may perhaps belong over here. So I link.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Gardening: Random Thoughts (About Uninvited Plants)

Photo of roses.

Thought One: In addition to The Garden, we have The Plot, a community garden plot. We've had The Plot for longer than The Garden, and got it before we knew the first thing about gardening, so it's a little quirky.

For one thing, we didn't know that we're far, far too lazy to grow hybrid tea roses. (Help from Gardener Artist/Miss Mosaic, who has never been lazy and probably knows how to care for hybrid teas properly, is not an option for the Plot.) We bought three - Mr. Lincoln, Honor, and I Forget. I Forget promptly died, Honor put out one or two blooms, and Mr Lincoln sulked, bloomless. Until Dr Huey arrived.

Now, I don't know if there are climates and gardens where the rootstock suckers of Dr. Huey really do drain the life out of the grafted hybrid tea tops, but in our climate and garden, it's the opposite. My theory is that all that thriving Dr. Huey foliage collects food that the hybrid tea can share.

When Dr. Huey emerges from a hybrid tea in my garden, the hybrid tea starts to produce lots of real blooms. It looks the way that I imagine it would look if I actually took care of it. Except, of course, for the fact that it's blooming in two different colors, with two wildly different branching structures. Neither of those things worry me much.

(See those roses up there? They're not Dr. Huey, they're a hybrid tea that barely bloomed before Dr. Huey emerged. Pretty, huh? Now, if anyone knows of a rootstock that has this magical effect and doesn't beg for blackspot like Dr. Huey, please let me know?)

Photo of perennial sweet pea blossom, in pink.
Thought Two: I love sweet peas. I love the scent the most, but I'm also very fond of the flower shape. But annual sweet peas are a lot of work. So when perennial sweet peas started popping up in the garden, I was tempted to keep them. They had no scent to speak of, but they're pretty - see?

However, they're aggressive. Incredibly aggressive. Gardener Artist finally managed to talk some sense into me. Now I just admire them before she rips them out. I'm trying to make myself slaughter them, too, but they're so pretty.

Photo of a purple violet blossom.
Thought Three: Violets, on the other hand, are always welcome in the garden. I'm not overfond of pansies or violas, but little wild-like violets can spread wherever they like.

But the scented kinds never invite themselves. They grew wild in Missouri and Tennessee, when I lived and visited there, but I've never encountered a scented violet on the west coast. Is it climate? Variety? Would it be illegal to fly west with a Ziploc of violets gouged out of someone's Missouri yard?

Sadly, I'm guessing that it probably would, so I'll just keep trying new suppliers. Any suggestions?

Photos: Mine

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Food Rambling: Vegetables, remember the competition

So, continuing on yesterday's theme, I'm increasingly convinced that it's a mistake for moral vegetarians to advocate vegetarianism for health, or a connection to nature, or the beauty of the cornucopia. People who normally eat four strips of bacon on Sunday morning are not interested in the healthy leafy argument. They know what bacon tastes like. Bacon tastes good.

Now, those people probably do dislike cruelty. They probably have pets. But, again, bacon tastes good. If you combine the messages "It's wrong to eat pigs." and "Fat-free beans are really very healthful," you're doomed to failure. The followup thought to the pig thing is, "Try a bite of these fried truffled potatoes with caramelized onions. Would you like some more salt?" Hey, with the truffles, you even bring in gratitude to the pigs, see?

That's all for today.

Photo: By Jess Sawrey. Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Food Rambling: Vegetable Umami

So I've started reading Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows, by Melanie Joy. It brings me back to a frequently-felt conflict between guilt and greed: I don't like the idea of eating animals. But I love fried chicken. And well-done bacon. And crispy duck skin. And steak fat...

.... pause for fatty crispy dreams ....

OK, I'm back now.

What I'm craving, I realize, is umami - savoriness. That fifth taste, beyond the sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. What I want, in an ideal world, is meat-free unami, delicious enough to make me forget bacon. Or at least to make me eat less of it.

So I thought I'd consider that problem, and create a list of foods worth exploring in the quest:
  • Sesame oil. Toasted sesame oil. A non-animal fat with a flavor that, to my tastebuds, can sometimes compete with the glorious flavor of animal fats. And what about other nut and vegetable oils? I find olive oil only pleasant, not gloriously gluttonous. But I'm sure there's a world beyond olive oil - what wonderful oils might I be missing?
  • Aioli. Greasy, creamy, garlicky aioli. Well, and other related things, like homemade mayonnaise. Yes, it's got eggs, but I'm not excluding eggs - as far as I know, it's possible to raise eggs in a cruelty-free way.
  • Artichokes. Split artichokes grilled with plenty of oil and salt and herbs. Dipped in that aioli. Mmmm.
  • While we're dipping things in things, let's also dip itty bitty skinny double-fried French fries.
  • Roasted garlic, roasted in plenty of oil.
  • Caramelized onions, cooked slowly until they collapse utterly, give up all their moisture, and make all their sugar available.
  • Grilled asparagus. And that aioli again.
  • Greasy brown potato things. Fried potatoes. Roasted potatoes. Grilled potatoes. Potato chips. Now, I admit that they're better with, say, lard or duck fat. But have I given olive oil and sesame oil a really good thorough try?
  • Croutons. Greasy baked-through garlicky or sesame or nutty or herbal bits of crisp toast. With salt, of course. Tossed on your salad or your soup or directly into your mouth.
  • Plain old fat-fried bread crumbs, tossed on things. Preferably with some garlic or chives or sesame oil or sesame seeds or nuts or all of the above.
  • Mushrooms. Now, I usually don't like mushrooms, but I remember a restaurant dish of some sort of dark mushroom, and some sort of pepper, and garlic and onions and a ton of oil, slow cooked in an earthenware dish. It was amazing. Mushrooms have possibilities.
  • Of course, there's a whole world of fried-dough foods. Fried bread with garlic, slicked with a little toasted sesame oil?
I pause to wonder, is cruelty-free milk possible? If it is, then we get butter and cheese and cream back. Brown butter and all of the things that you can fry in it. Umami-rich parmesan. The infinity of things that you can do with melted and fried and toasted cheese.

I haven't eaten my last piece of bacon, and I certainly haven't fried my last chicken. I'm not ready to declare a prohibition - if I do, I'll break it and afterward I'll just avert my eyes from the whole issue. So I'll edge up on the issue, by exploring the vegetable world's potential for satisfying gluttony.

Excuse me while I go fry something that isn't a chicken.

Photo: By Marshall Astor. Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Gardening: Random Thoughts

Yellow trumpet daffodil and daffodil leaves against siding.

Thought One: My father's aunt lived in an impeccably tidy and formal house. It was lovely, but almost entirely non-organic - sliced tomatoes (in a cut-glass dish) on the dinner table were the closest thing to a plant indoors. Everything was carefully placed, and nothing ever moved - if a figurine was placed on the third shelf of the china cabinet, it remained on the third shelf, decade after decade, never moving, but never showing a trace of dust. And it was likely to be joined by only one or two companions, all carefully placed on an expanse of polished wood. Control. Perfect, neat, clean, control.

But the back yard was a space filled with billowy hydrangeas, exploding with giant white masses of flowers in their blooming season. At the time, I loved the space, and it inspired a lifelong love of hydrangeas. Now, I also love the glimpse that it gave into another aspect of my great-aunt's personality.

Thought Two: When driving through parts of the rural American South and Midwest, I'm always surprised at the lack of gardening activity in the front yards. While the back yards may hold giant vegetable gardens, or may actually be farms, the front yards are almost universally simple flat green swaths of grass. Big swaths, a sizable fraction of an acre. They're sometimes broken by one or two trees and, in the spring, a few dozen daffodils by the road. Rarely, a shrub or two might be permitted to grow right next to the home's foundation.

Why is this? Do rural residents associate gardening purely with work, so that time invested in ornamentals fails to appeal? Or does the "public parkland" aesthetic hold so strongly that homeowners feel that a front yard in which the grass is interrupted by a flowerbed might as well be a junkyard of rusted jalopies?

I don't get it. I've always wondered what might happen if I moved to the area and turned my front yard into a cottage garden. But I'd better not.

Photo: Mine.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Rambling: Reading and Not

I posted before about joining the 100+ reading challenge, which is a challenge to read one hundred books in a year.

I'm behind. Way behind. What's the deal?

I've always read a lot of books. As a kid, for years and years and years, we went to the library every weekend. I'd check out at least five books, and generally have them read before Monday morning. Then I'd re-read them, or read the books we owned, or check even more books out of the school library.

In adulthood (I've posted all of this before, haven't I? Oh, well.) I did almost the same thing, except it was often the used bookstore rather than the library. Buy five or ten books, knock them off in a week or two, and every few months sell back boxes of the ones that I read, enjoyed, but didn't need to keep.

I was doing that up into a least part of last year. I can tell from the boxes of books waiting to go back - I have an approximate idea of when I read them.

But lately... I've stopped.

I haven't stopped reading altogether. There's always a current book, but it's generally a frequently-read old favorite, and I read a few chapters and put it down. I've largely stopped reading new-to-me books from beginning to end.

I know where the former reading time is going - it's going to the Internet. Where I used to read books, I'm reading blogs and forums and websites. But I've been reading blogs and forums and websites for years, and writing on forums for years. So I don't think that the extra Internet time is the cause, it's the effect.

So, I need to figure out the cause - not because I'm failing the challenge, but because I love reading and don't want to find in a few years that I somehow inexplicably gave it up. As, now that I think of it, the rest of my family seems to have done. They rarely read.

Is it something totally prosaic like the need for a better reading chair or a good pair of bifocals? (OK, "progressive lenses", but the nicer term doesn't make my eyes any less old.) Is it something Deep and Psychological? Is it the blogging, the main Internet-related change that tracks the reading slowdown fairly closely?

It's a puzzlement. But meanwhile, I'm going to post this and go pick up a paperback.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons.