Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Seasonal foods

      Tonight I had a salad, made of: lettuce, sweet potato leaves, yellow wood sorrel, fennel leaves, and tomatoes. That's because making a salad means taking a bowl out to the garden and seeing what's edible and big enough to cut. This is how I've discovered that things like lambsquarters are food, not just weeds.
      I've often pondered how different my salads look compared to the ones in the restaurants. I spent my whole life eating salads made of lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers. But in my garden, that is impossible - cucumbers and lettuce are never ripe at the same time. So I'm left to wonder - is there a climate (and a cuisine) where cucumbers and lettuce coexist and ripen together, or is this an dish invented only after international produce transport became common?*

*Ratatouille is almost, but not quite like this. Eggplant, tomatoes, and peppers are all warm-weather crops, so I can see how, in theory, you could make ratatouille from the garden. It's just my poor sense of timing that means I end up buying one of the three.

Friday, September 12, 2014

______ in the moon

Last weekend, as I sat around campfires with my friends, our conversation once again turned to the moon. Specifically, we continued our ongoing conversation about what you can or can't see in the pattern of dark patches on the moon. Until I went camping with my Mexican friends R and B, I didn't even know that anyone saw anything other than the Man in the Moon. That's what the Germans see, too, so I hadn't ever tried to look for anything else. But R and B, like most Mexicans, see the Rabbit in the Moon. In fact, this imagery is so culturally determined that R claims he can't even see a Man. (To be fair, it's almost as difficult for me to see the Rabbit.) Then D, who has lived in Japan, offered that the Japanese see a rabbit making mochi, like this.
     Tonight I'll be sitting around another campfire and the moon will be nearly full. As long as the trees don't block my view, I'll be craning my head in different directions and squinting, trying to see the Man, the Rabbit, the Rabbit making Mochi, or maybe even the Woman carrying Firewood.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The perils of nature

     I spend a lot of time outside now that I live in Maryland. I've got a terrific front porch where I eat breakfast, the dog and I walk, and then there's my biking/walking commute. As a result, I use a lot of DEET. There are a lot of ticks in this state (and a lot of Lyme disease), plus mosquitoes have always found me extra tasty.
     In spite of all that bug spray, I still manage to get a fair number of bug bites - last week's count was 25 in two hours, but that was an exceptionally bad experience -  and I can't find anything topical that actually stops the itching. (As an aside, can anyone recommend anything besides hydrocortisone or calamine lotion?) On really bad occasions, like today, I've started taking over-the-counter antihistamines, which help quite a bit.
     However, I haven't yet developed an allergy to poison ivy. I've been particularly grateful about this lately, as my friends S and N incurred terrible poison ivy reactions while putting up their big wooden fence, requiring the doctor's attention.
     It seems to be tempting fate, but since we're all on the mend from our various bites and rashes, we'll all be headed to camp at Shenandoah National Park this weekend. When we're there, we can worry about bug bites AND bears.*

*Of course, nature lives in the house with me too. Just ask the mouse who is currently inhabiting my kitchen.  

Sunday, September 07, 2014

A birthday pig roast for a vegetarian

     On Saturday, I attended my parents' sixth pig roast, which they conveniently held on my birthday. There's nothing that a vegetarian loves more than to watch a hundred people eat pork. The pig roast takes a lot of planning, most of which was done before I and my friend D arrived on Friday night: the parking spaces were marked in the front yard, the tables had been borrowed, the name tags were printed, and the meat purchased. While my friends and I helped out with final-day preparations, we also had plenty of time to enjoy ourselves.

Attendees wait in line to fill their plates with pork and their selection of dozens of side dishes.

     Three of the five attending physicists. After this picture was taken, we tried our hand at Cornhole (a beanbag toss game). I'm sorry to report that we lived up to the stereotype of scientists not being particularly academically gifted. Although three of the five physicists were planning to teach parabolic motion next week, none of us were very goof at putting the theoretical knowledge into action to, you know, throw a bean bag into a hole.
     Here I'm showing off my birthday gift - new blue jeans made from a vintage pattern. While I hope to make more of my vintage clothes in the future, it'll be many years before I learn to sew denim (a notoriously difficult fabric). I love them.

Monday, September 01, 2014

A mega-project completed: The Coat Tree

Throughout the year, I've been alluding to an ongoing woodworking project that I've been undertaking with my friend N. I am now happy to reveal the finished product - a coat tree.* In the last ten years, I have never lived in a house with a front closet, and I decided that this was the solution. I found instructions in an old Popular Mechanics, and N and I made one for each of us. We didn't know the project would take six months, but it was worth it. I've learned to use most of the tools I now own, I can rout and plane and rip, and I have this beautiful piece of furniture. However, if I ever decide to build a kitchen table or rocking chair, I may need to quit my job.
*For the record, the coat tree will normally live in my front hall, but I was wanted good light for the photograph.