Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Labor Day Effort

For quite a few years, the Filthy Pikers have toyed with the idea of "10K for Labor Day" -- that is, writing 10,000 words over the four day Labor Day weekend. I've never managed to achieve that, but this year, I thought I'd give it another try.

In my voyage of creative discovery, I realized anew this past weekend just how much I hate deadlines and quotas. I could not find a single drop of desire to write, even though I have two interesting stories started.

However, I followed my sudden rabid urge to create. I needed to make an image to go with Charles Cicirella's poem "Modern Day Job" in the Piker Press, so I tackled a work of pastels. No, I wasn't thinking of the Hulk when I made green the focal point of the picture. (In fact, when I was done I wished I hadn't used green.) It was a lot of fun having ALL my pastels spread out on the side of my work desk, so much so that I'm going to do that again today.

Then it was time to move on. My Sony camera has more features to it than I was ever able to use (DSC-H400), but with the creative urge on, I perched on the back patio in the morning light and just played with the thing. Photo after photo, setting after setting -- it was glorious!

This is the breadfruit plant that thrives in the southeast corner of the yard, under a canopy of fern pine and hopseed. I loved the way the light was shining through this newly-unfurled leaf.

My neighbor's queen palm was blooming, and I had a good view of the fascinating golden cascade. Using the fence as a tripod, I was able to get a nice zoom-in of the blossoms.

Back to the shade and morning light! Bernie has a coleus on the shady bank, the variety is called "Camp Fire." The stems are dark red, nearly black, and the leaves catch the light beautifully. Sadly, the camera didn't want to catch the light except as a glare.

All that warm, pinky lit-from-within color was lost. How can a camera see things so much differently than my eyes? Exploring a light-blocking setting on the camera (for the first time ever) gave a somewhat better result:

From the darkness of the shadows, I moved to full sun on my potted corn plants. After giving me a few delicious ears this summer (it has been a lousy corn year everywhere in the Central Valley because of the high heat), the corn has dried. Beautiful when it's green, beautiful dried, too. When it turns white, I think of it as "ghost corn."

Back to the studio, and Photoshop. I needed a cover image to accompany Ken Dubuque's humorous essay, "Armed and Dangerous." Using some public domain clip-arty images, I was able to cut and paste together a contraption that put me in mind of the mommies who barrel along the sidewalks, shoving huge buggies before them, all the while staring at their smart phones:

The stripes were simply for graphic effect visually, but what was stupendous to me was that in fiddling with settings and tools in Photoshop, I was able to get onto the screen just what I could see in my head.

Between Photoshop and my camera, I was able to capture this antique-colored portrait of Bernie's zinnias. I've always loved how zinnias hold their shape even while their summer color begins to fade.

And finally, since our cell phone joined the ranks of Electronics That Refuse To Do What They Were Meant To Do, Bernie got me a Motorola g6 that has a pretty spiffy camera feature of its own. This is the first photo I took with it, on Monday evening:

My glass of wine! What better subject could there be, at the end of the holiday weekend? And with that tenth picture, if a picture is worth a thousand words, I did achieve 10K for Labor Day. Cheers!

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

My First Giclee

Joma and I were wandering around Kaiser Permanente Hospital the other day (while Dzyiadzy had a quick routine eye exam) and I noted, on the walls of the halls, some art work whose medium was called "Giclee." (Kaiser has some really, really absorbing art on its walls, displaying local artists' work.)

I was impressed with some of it, but I had no idea what "giclee" was. So I Googled it when we came home. Giclee is an art form, recognized (named?) in 1991. It involves a print of an original work, enhanced by application of other media, such as paint, pastels, pencil, ink, whatever.

HAD to try it out, so I printed out a picture of one of my corn crops in the past, one in which I had leached out much of the color to give a shady look to it. Then I added a couple yellow/orange values to it, some purple, and a bit of green. I was thrilled with the result, even though Bernie viewed it and was unable to see where I had added anything. (It's subtle, okay?)

He went on to snark about "giclee" meaning "pintura por los numeros" in Spanish, which was rather rude, but kind of funny, too.

The main drawback I see is the cost of printer cartridges, but it was fun to add my own highlights to my own photo and come up with something a bit different. I have another print waiting for me on the work desk, but tomorrow is tentatively "oils" day, and I plan to stink up the studio with solvents on multiple canvases, throw convention and decorum to the wind, and paint like a maniac.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

New variety this year -- Eight Ball zucchini, by Burpee's Seeds. Aren't they adorable? Flavor? Zucchini is zucchini, near as I can tell. But grill the slices over an open charcoal fire with red onion, pineapple, and mushrooms, and then toss them with some Sweet Baby Ray's barbecue sauce, and you've got a snack fit for any picnic or summer supper.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

No, Really, Are They That Intelligent?

There is a red dragonfly that cruises back and forth the length of our swimming pool. I know it's not the same one every year, but every year, there is one.

Kermit sees the dragonfly as sort of a flying chicken wing, and longs to crunch it. (He does eat flies, of course, being a frog.)

I was watching them one afternoon, as Kermit raced down the side of the pool, and the dragonfly zoomed down the center. At the bottom of the pool, the dragonfly would lift off and fly over the fence, with Kermit stomping and roaring on the deck below.

That dragonfly is teasing him, I thought, and then chastised myself for anthropomorphizing animal behavior.

Then yesterday, Kermit and I were in the bedroom, and Kerm was looking out longingly at the pool. Suddenly, a red dragonfly flew up to the door and HOVERED just in front of Kermit's nose. Not for a split second, but for seconds, eliciting a big roar and a rearing on doggy hind legs. Then the dragonfly sailed away.

Seriously. No dragonfly has ever done that before.

Maybe I wasn't so far off as I thought.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

This Was Going To Be Beans

January and August are the months when I plan out my garden. I draw a little schematic of the planter boxes and pots in the front yard, and know what I want to put in each one for the growing season.

This year, I got the tomatoes right, at least. I have nine Shady Lady tomato plants, four Early Girls; they are my workhorses in tomato production, and I'm aiming for 400 pounds this year. I made room for a pot with the two little nincompoop tomatoes that came up in September in among the kohlrabi and wintered over just fine on the front porch. (They actually gave me my first few tiny-but-tasty tomatoes this year.) The lady who runs the local hardware nursery talked me into a San Marzano again, and this year, the variety is doing well. Then I got crazed and put in a "Yugoslavian" plant and a German variety in other pots, just for a lark.

The rest of the plantings ... hmm. Two variables struck hard: the STUPID weather and the ACCURSED snails.

Our winter was dangerously mild, right up until almond blossom, and then we got slammed with some plunging temps. In fact, I was listening to a couple farmers talking in the hair salon, and one of them was recounting how badly hit some of the orchards had been at a crucial moment when a freeze occurred. Yeah, I know about that. My first planting of corn and beans rotted in the ground because the swelling seeds froze. The second one, ditto. Another freak frosty few days did it in.

The third try got me a nice germination rate, but then the little sprouts of corn began to disappear. And where my beans were planted, little holes appeared in the ground. Birds? No, I have everything netted in the spring. It was snails or slugs, creeping in and chowing down the little sprouts even into the dirt, roots and all. Bastards.

So my corn crop looks like a bad haircut; if I get any corn at all from this planting, I'll immediately plant another crop. Beans I'm starting in pots up off the ground on the sheltered north side of the house, to be planted as space becomes available.

Which brings me to the above photo: when the bok choi were harvested, the violas were supposed to be removed and beans planted. But then a poppy came up in the middle of them, and the violas themselves have grown to heights of color I never would have dreamed of.

Much as I love my wax beans, there was no way I had the heart to tear out that riotous party of color.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Dolmades from Solar Power

When we set up an appointment with a solar power company to talk about how to move forward for our future electric needs, I had no idea this would be the result: dolmades, or stuffed grape leaves.

This is the way it happened: Bernie set up the appointment, and gave me the option of sitting in on the presentation and process -- I had things to do and didn't want to be bothered. When the representative arrived, Bernie greeted her out in the front yard garden and chatted with her about it, because she was so impressed with the growing food and wanted to come live there. Bernie needed to call some past electric company records on his computer, so he handed the rep, Lamis, off to me to show her the back garden.

She noted the lemon tree, the plum tree, the shady oasis -- and then dove for the grapevine that stretches twenty feet along the fence. "Do you make stuffed grape leaves?" she asked. "Oh, no? Okay, I'm going to cancel my lunch meeting and show you how!"

We quickly ascertained that I had all the necessary ingredients on hand, and then we listened to her presentation and what design we'd need for a solar power system. Done, she turned to me and said, "Let's get some grape leaves!"

Grape leaves for stuffing should be young and tender, about the size of your hand with fingers outstretched. No stems. We returned to my kitchen with handfuls of leaves, and began. Here are all the ingredients we used:

Grape leaves, blanched for a few seconds in a pan of boiling water
1/2 pound ground lamb, browned with
3 fat cloves of garlic, diced.
2 tomatoes, diced
a small handful of fresh parsley, minced
1 cup of rice, steeped in hot water for the time it took to prep everything else
1/4 onion, sliced into rings
another tomato, sliced
olive oil
tomato paste
beef broth

The lamb, garlic, tomatoes, parsley and rice, with a drizzle of olive oil, the salt, pepper and cumin got mixed in a bowl. One by one, we rolled up teeny spoonfuls of the mixture into the blanched grape leaves. The mixture is placed in the middle, just above the stem stub, the sides are folded in, and then you roll it all up to the top. It holds together remarkably well.

Lamis squirted another tablespoon of olive oil into the bottom of a pot, put the onion rings and tomato rings in (to keep the grape rolls from scorching) and then stacked the rolls tightly together. She mixed half a little can of tomato paste with water, poured that over the top, and then added a cup of beef broth.

A small plate was put on top of all that, to keep the grape leaves from moving around and unraveling. "Bring it to a boil," Lamis told me, "and then turn it down to low and simmer it for about an hour." Off she went to her next appointment.

I am truly glutted tonight from those incredibly delicious dolmades. Bernie nearly fell to the floor at his first taste; Lillian pounced and gobbled a plateful when she got home from school. Honestly, I have never tasted anything like them, even though I have been served "dolmades" at restaurants and potlucks before. (The past dolmades get quotation marks from now on.)

And the other surprising thing was the encounter with Lamis as well. Her family is Middle Eastern in origin; my ethnic roots are in Mexican culture (and of course Central Pennsylvanian, where I grew up in my Dad's home town), but there was nothing strained or false in harvesting food together from the garden and sharing camaraderie in the kitchen while we prepped and talked about our family histories.

It was a tremendous amount of fun.

Around 2pm the phone rang. It was Lamis, making sure that I'd turned off the dolmades, and very happy to hear that we loved them.

I hope to hear from her again.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Kohlrabi Harvest

With warm weather allegedly coming home to roost this next week, it was time to switch over the kohlrabi planter to a cucumber garden. Here are my lovely kohlrabi, washed up and leaves removed.

Peeled, sliced into half-inch slices, blanched for 80 seconds, ice-bathed for 4 minutes, allowed to dry, flash-frozen, and packed into 10-ounce bags, it all now resides in our freezer.