Here’s the Shrub

The last couple of summers, I have been lucky enough to be invited out to Rose Ranch to pick wild blackberries. Last summer was no different. Well — it was different, in a big way, because Rose Ranch had just lost Don Rose. As I headed out toward the brambles, there was a muffled quiet like when you navigate a crowded space while wearing ear plugs. It was as though the ranch was observing silence at the loss of its caretaker. I pondered what Vicki might be going through and quietly, meditatively picked the berries from the thorny vines that snagged my shirt and jeans. I felt grateful for the opportunity to be in Don’s domain while mourning his absence. We miss you, Don.

I picked several pounds of blackberries. I ate more than my share of raw berries, froze some for a future crisp, and decided to experiment with blackberry-infused vinegar to make a drinking vinegar, known as a “shrub.” The color and flavor of the berries leached into the white vinegar as it sat in the cupboard for almost one month. To the strained vinegar, I added sugar and simmered it to make a syrup, which is used to flavor carbonated water. Refreshing! Bracing! Add some spirits, if you wish.

Tucking In

It’s been about three months since I moved in with Brian. Our household boasts an impressive collection of cast iron skillets and mason jars waiting to be filled with homemade goodies like jam, pickled peppers, and barbecue sauce. Oh, and the assemblage of spices and dried herbs! One exciting weekend we spread them out on the kitchen table and thoughtfully culled the dated, mysterious, or simply redundant bottles and baggies. More recently I consolidated our seed collections while Brian baked a fish pie — perfect activities for a rainy Sunday in December. Seeds saved from our respective gardens were tucked into envelopes made from the colorful pages of last year’s seed catalogs. Then I trimmed and stamped old file folders to separate and alphabetize the packets. Brian’s mom, Linda, recently took us shoe shopping for Christmas and an empty Asics box became our seed storage bin. Simple and satisfying!

This Man


Meet Brian. Today is his birthday!
This man has been part of, if not responsible for, many delicious meals and food adventures since we met two years ago at an Asian-themed dinner party in my friend Marcy’s serene backyard. He was a guest; I was wearing a yukata and ensuring everyone’s enjoyment, namely by refilling sake cups. It was an easy (and serendipitous) gig. I overheard him speaking emphatically about ginger and pork and my ears perked up. He’s held my rapt attention ever since.

 

Self-Guided Tour

OKC Urban Farm and Garden tourAll the details are here!

Intertwined

The first time I remember appreciating large-scale string art stands out because Brian and I were on our second date. (A proper introduction of Brian forthcoming!) We went to an adults-only event at Science Museum Oklahoma, where there was an impressive floor-to-ceiling string-art installation alongside a staircase. In the name of science, we played in the mirror maze, tossed a big frisbee, drank cocktails, dodged flying ping-pong balls, and ate liquid nitrogen cheese balls that gave us smoky breath. Or maybe we just smashed the frozen puffs with a hammer? That part is fuzzy. But the string art stuck with me as something I’d like to try.

I pondered the best location and color combinations. I browsed Pinterest. But what eventually propelled me was the appeal of a low-tech garden trellis made with wood scraps and readily available supplies. I especially liked the thought of bright, orderly strings among the green, beautiful mess that my garden becomes by late summer. And then I decided to place the temporary installation just where the morning glories have climbed for the last three summers. I enjoyed the bare strings for a while, but eventually the tendrils found them and the mass of vines has climbed higher than ever before.

Here’s the incomplete life cycle:

May 2
My first attempt at string art: a trellis for my morning glories!
June 21
#happyplaceimage
July 13
happy place (my porch)
August 20
late summer front gardenstring art
Sometime this winter I’ll disassemble the trellis. I am certain that removing the vines is going to reveal a tangled mess of string — a result of warped wood and tension that caused nails to pop out of the board. I’d like to create something semi-permanent in the yard and/or house, but with different, more resilient materials. Please share suggestions!

Transformation

Ever-present in my refrigerator are free-range, local chicken eggs. (I’m such a lucky girl!) I rarely feel like my kitchen is empty because with these, I know I can cook up something quite tasty, even if it’s simply a fried egg. So when Hank Shaw shared his guidance for preserving egg yolks, I knew I had to give it a try. I’ve come to appreciate food preservation that requires minimal effort — in this case, the salt does all the work. Apparently, salt can transform an egg yolk into a Parmesan-like substance to take your roasted vegetables or pasta to another level. You can read his post for the details, but basically, bury the yolks in salt for a week, then wrap them in cheesecloth and let them dry out for another week or more. Seeing the yolks dangling in my refrigerator made me very pleased!
salt-cured egg yolk
salt-cured egg yolksalt-cured egg yolk
After a week or so, I wrapped them in cheesecloth and hung them from an oven insert I bought during my stint at Williams-Sonoma, but I’ve never actually used for its intended purpose. The yolks were tacky and oozed (a bit) through the cloth.
salt-cured egg yolksalt-cured egg yolk
Monday night I went to Braum’s for a few groceries. I wanted to buy Parmesan, but they didn’t have any. No problem! I have my egg yolks, I thought. And tonight I finally tried them grated on my supper — zucchini pasta with pesto, onions, and tomatoes. It was delicious! The perfect salty richness to complement the vegetables.
And if you’re wondering what I did with the egg whites — well, this guy got a special treat, of course!
image

Given the Opportunity

Last night I made some Indian food and thought that merited some activity here other than the occasional spambot comment.

My friend John gave me a quart of raw milk on Saturday, and rather than say, drink it, I decided to make paneer, a fresh Indian cheese. I’ve made fresh cheese a couple of times; the process is very easy and adaptable with spices and herbs. (This lovely towel, which I used to wrap and press the paneer, was a thoughtful gift from my talented friend, Dawn.)
homemade paneer
The decision to make paneer proved wise, given the presence of other ingredients in my kitchen that, when combined,  make aloo matar paneer: red potatoes that were starting to show their age, a bag of frozen peas that were long overdue their use, and well-stocked spice shelves. I used this recipe as a guide.
aloo matar paneeraloo matar paneer
So, to recap — Saturday: received milk. Monday: made paneer. Wednesday: made Indian dish. Not even a trip to the grocery store was required! This is the way I like to do things, when given the opportunity.
aloo matar paneer