Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Winter Poem

Softly it falls upon branches
Softly it covers my roof
Floating, dancing, falling,
Striking ground, tree, blades of grass
Quiet muffler of noisy streets
I listen
I listen
As it dances down past the streetlights,
The tall trees, past my foot
Dancing downward,
I listen for it’s sound to strike the chords of air
Announcing it’s landing
It’s resting on the branch
Upon the blade, upon the ground
Upon my face
Softly falls the snow this winter’s whisper
Without voice, a beautiful mute,
Voiceless singer
peaceful blanket of white
I listen, listen
For the sound of snow

Copyright © 2010 by Patty Hicks

All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including printing, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without written permission from the author, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review. All reviews must include author's name and a link back to this blog.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

One Man's Junk and Creative Treasures

It always amazes me to see the ideas people come up with in re-purposing junk for their homes and gardens.  It has really got me to looking at all the stuff around here with a different perspective which the gets me itchy to create things.  Most of the stuff that follows me home will eventually go to someone else some day but not this owl.  He was so brassy and gaudy when he was given to my husband I almost sent him to the scrap heap.  I'm glad I resisted that temptation and besides, being fans of "Clash of the Titans" he fits in real well around here now that he has weathered a bit.
Bubo the owl's cousin
Stuff is the way many of us live today...boxes and piles of stored stuff, rooms with doors shut full of stuff, garages full of stuff, rented store rooms packed to the top with STUFF!  Stuff collected, once used, even once adored and now out of sight and mind.  It is time to chip away at the pile, to take stock, to clear out the clutter and see what is next for all of it; will it go away or be blessed with a creative makeover to live a second life as something brand new.
Mailbox planter at my gate
If I had to explain what it means to see with a different perspective I guess it would be that I just ignore what the item used to be and take into account its form and the material its made of and start from scratch asking what it could become.  The possibilities are pretty amazing once you start looking at things this way.  How can it be torn apart to make something else out of?  Can it be repainted or stripped and left to rust?  What might it hold or hold up?  Can it be integrated with something else that is laying around to produce something we could actually use or maybe make it into an art piece?  So many options so little time.
A future planter
Sometimes re-purposing is as simple as placing a rusty old metal piece in a space that needs filling, where its form can be enjoyed for its sculptural value.  This jug almost got tossed out in a neighbors junk until I fell in love with it.

Ceramic stuff that I would never even think of putting in my home I love putting in the garden. (We can get away with a lot in our gardens.) This man in the moon is a good example.  My golden hops grows up around him every year and the colors play so happily together.  He has made it through several winter freezes so it will more than likely be someone hitting him that will bring him to his end.  That will be sad day for sure.
Sometimes I have no idea what the heck it is but I can see what it will look like in a certain setting.  Such was the case of this metal piece that hangs on my back fence...and it fit perfectly too!  I love when that happens.
Fences make great walls to decorate.
Other times its like the time I found an old hanging captured glass light that is too ugly to use as a lamp any more.  It was sort of ugly, dark amber blown glass, very Gothic, very depressing looking but I loved it for some reason.  It sat on my back deck for a whole year before I realized what it was I really loved about the darn thing.  I was about to give it away to a friend and suddenly it hit me..duh, break the glass.  In no time I had had freed my metal globe from its bondage as a hanging lamp.  It was quite a steal too at $1.00 at a local rummage sale.  Now I needed an application for it in the garden.
For less than $4 and some welding
It seems that timing is so important in things coming together sometimes as about that same time I found one of those inexpensive painted steel patio torch holders at a deep discount at a local store.  SCORE!   That meant for less than $4.00 came up with a great globe trellis for annual vines.  Inspiration met opportunity and poof!  A trellis is born. Granted knowing someone who can weld doesn't hurt either.  My husband does my welding and I would love to learn how but have resisted for fear of it causing me to horde more metal than I do already. 
Copper torcher turned on its head...Wa la!  Sculpture!
You just never know what you will find to fit a need in the garden.  Metal screens can make a real statement and help to keep plants from flopping over on smaller neighbors.
Wall art finds new life as a functional screen
They also make good barriers to keep cats out of the raised beds...a fence of sorts.
Aluminum railing works as a fancy fence piece

I also cruise the seasonal clearance tables at local department stores and find a lot of fodder for projects there sometimes.  These wire cats used to be the homeliest looking things, dull black with gold splattered on them and beady little eyes...very sad.  So sad looking that no one bought them...and lucky for me.
The original eyes were beady little things
When they came on clearance I snapped up as many as I could find.  I had this idea that they just needed a little dolling up...and I was right.  A little paint, glass eyes and they became a huge hit.  I had plenty for my garden, enough to give some as gifts and some to sell which made a tidy profit.
Happy cats for the garden
The little bees that dress my fence posts were actually Christmas tree ornaments I bought on clearance.  When I saw them I was drawn to their design but almost immediately saw them as the perfect adornment for my fence posts proving once again its all in how you look at something.  If I like it but not how its being used I just think of how I can use it.  Simple as that.  Our fence is going to be replaced in the near future so I am going to have to think of another life for these little guys.  Maybe I can make tree jewelry out of them...a little paint, some wired on beads.  I kind of like that idea.
Little bees adorn the fence posts
Planters are very fun to make from re-purposed items.  I saw something today where someone took an old metal file cabinet, removed the drawers, stood it up on end, painted it and and made a minimalist planter out of it.  GENIUS!  Now why didn't I think of that?  To look at it you would have never known.  It seems every year its a new planter idea for me.  This year it was a $10 basket from the thrift store and a metal stand from a yard sale.
I knew exactly what I would do with the basket the moment I saw it.
A friend of mine used to work for a plumbing supply store gave me this cobalt blue bidet, made in Italy which was very expensive originally.  Since she had two of them and saw that I liked the color a lot she gifted me with one for my garden.  How could I refuse? I saw so much possibility and the base was cobalt blue after all. I tried a number of different plants in the darn thing and then found Sedum 'Ogon' looks gorgeous with that cobalt blue.  It just so happened about that time I purchased the elf head and feet and it is one of the most talked about things in the garden these days.  Yes I know I's porcelain and a toilet but this one works as whimsy is a big part of re-purposing stuff and the holes for the plumbing don't show.  You have to be very careful to avoid tacky when using porcelain items.  I guess I just got lucky.

George the garden troll in his spa tub
Copyright © 2010 by Patty Hicks

All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including printing, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without written permission from the author, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review. All reviews must include author's name and a link back to this blog.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Apple Cranberry Pie, Oh my!

It is always wonderful when I find a new recipe and better still when after it is made I discover it is a "keeper".
This pie definitely fits that category and is not only tasty but a new twist on an old favorite and a really pretty pie too.

2 cups of fresh cranberries
 This time of year I am crazy for cranberries and I want to put them in everything.  They are one of those fleeting fresh fruits that are here one day and gone tomorrow, save the odd frozen package one may find after Thanksgiving.  So these berries were the hook that caught my attention in this recipe.   What pushed me over the edge into foodie nervana was that it did not use any cinnamon and  instead used fresh ginger and grated nutmeg. (swoon)  Of course as luck would have it, I didn't have all the ingredients needed to make the original recipe.  As is my habit in such circumstances and in this case was my necessity, I had to let my pantry be my inspiration.
Fresh orange zest is best

Chop fine

 The original recipe called for lemon ingredient I did not have but what I did have were oranges and in a moment of foodie inspired madness thought about one of my other favorite holiday foods that has....apples, cranberries and orange zest...yep, fresh cranberry relish.  I love when one dish inspires a new dish. I cut away about 3/4 of the orange's zest with a zesting tool (the zest is the orange part of the skin) and chopped it to fine bits with a sharp knife.
Nutmeg grater and nut with candied ginger which cuts easily with a chef's knife

Dice very fine
The other ingredient I did not have was fresh ginger...but I had candied ginger which is much easier to dice which is what the original recipe called for so I was happy.  Thankfully I had the other ingredients so jumped right in with childlike abandon once I knew I had reasonable substitutes that would work.

I used a refrigerated crust from my local grocer which I baked at home but it was no substitute for my mother's recipe is much better.  One does what she must when time and energy are running thin and there is no sin in using a good store bought crust in a pinch.
Piled high is a must

Pinch sides and cut slits in the top

Bake on a rake and baking sheet that have been preheated

Beautiful final product
A cheery slice with ice cream
I used Braeburns...note to time use drier apples or more flour

OH-MY PIE  (aka Apple Cranberry Pie)
Oven temp 425 degrees/reduce to 350 (see recipe below for more details)
Baking time 60 minutes

6 cups apples, peeled, cored and sliced
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
2 tablespoons fresh orange zest
1 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg (this is worth it folks believe is awesome stuff)
2 tablespoons finely diced candied ginger
*Mix all of the above ingredients together in a large bowl until fruit is well coated
1 tablespoon butter cut up into little chunks

Unbaked dough, enough for a double crust, halved and rolled out and kept cool
1 egg, beat with 1 tablespoon water
Coarse sugar (turbinado or Crystal sugars work best and are prettiest)

*Place bottom crust into pie pan and press into sides
*Fill pie pan with the fruit sure to use it all as it will shrink down during baking
*Dot top of fruit with the butter.  (you may double the butter if you want to)
*Take the dough for the top of the pie and place it on top of the pie without stretching it. (this is sort of tricky as the pie pan is really piled high with fruit.)  It may help to fold the dough in half or even quarters so you can get it centered more easily
*Next fold the top crust over the edge of the bottom crust and pinching it a bit to seal.
* To flute the edges just use your thumb and forefinger of one hand to press the dough inward as you push toward them outward with the forefinger on your other hand.
*The pie will need to breath so cut some slits in the top (an A for apple is always fun) and then brush with the egg wash and sprinkle with the coarse sugar.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Bake pie for 15 minutes at this temperature then REDUCE the heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 45 to 50 minutes.

Copyright © 2010 by Patty Hicks

All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including printing, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without written permission from the author, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review. All reviews must include author's name and a link back to this blog.

Simply Roasted Tomato Sauce

It has been a couple weeks since our final tomato harvest and the fruit I had set out in boxes is nearly all ripe.  Time to roast what is ripe for sauce, which in my mind is the only way to make sauce by the way.  It is so easy and honestly, there is just something magical that happens to the flavor of tomatoes when they are roasted.  This year it was Roma and San Marzano plum tomatoes that I grew in part to see which tasted better and to be honest, the San Marzanos really were better than the Romas.  A good thing to know is that plum tomatoes are the best ones for sauce because they are a dryer tomato and also don't have as many seeds as slicers or salad types.  I have made sauce out of a little purple grape tomato which had amazing flavor but have lost track of.  It may be the tomato of legend for me, the one that got away...but I digress.

Final harvest is in and ready for ripening
Everyone agrees that nothing tastes quite like fresh home grown tomatoes.  In my opinion there is nothing like the taste of sauce made from them either.  It has all the tomato goodness it needs to shine in any dish as the star performer or add those rich harmony notes of flavor to stews and soups.  Roasting brings forward the sugars and mellows the acidic overtones a bit and brings out a depth of flavor that those of us who make sauce love.  When they are left to caramelize the flavor deepens even more.  So here is the process I use for roasting tomatoes.  It's pared down and easy.  You can dress it up or keep it plain, either way you will have wonderful product that you can pop into the freezer for those cold winter soups, pastas, pizza or meat sauces.
San Marzano and Roma Tomatoes from my garden ready for roasting
The tomatoes get washed and cut in half and layered on a jellyroll pan which I had spray with oil to help reduce the roasted goodness from sticking to the bottom. I don't bother with seeding or peeling them.  I pile them high in the pan because they do shrink down quite a bit.  I used to only do one layer and they never cooked as well as piling them up does.

The oven is set at 350 degrees and it will take at least an hour to roast a batch and a bit longer if I want them to caramelize.
After 30 minutes I check them. They are soft and wilting along the edges and steaming.
Smashing and turning and more smashing

Next I grab the potato masher or a large spoon and mash them down into the liquid. The pan is pretty full so I don't recommend trying to take it out of the oven and risk spilling it all over one's self so I do it right on the oven rack and just carefully turn the pan to reach all corners. This helps to keep the tomatoes roasting more evenly releasing the liquid inside them.
Sweet sauce of my dreams being born

Lots of steam rising from the pan now.
As you can see in the picture there is a lot more steam rising up from them after they get smashed than when I first checked them.  This helps to better reduce that excess liquid which will make the sauce nice and thick.  I will check them again in 30 minutes until they are as thick as I want them to be and to avoid them browning too much.
Water reduced now to caramelize a bit
 By the way this is a great way to make paste too.
Caramelizing on top of tomatoes is done
 The the roasting is complete in about an hour and I take the pan out and let it cool to near room temperature and then slip the yummy sauce into freezer containers.
Yum Yum Yummy!

This sauce is thick enough for ziploc bags so it will take up a lot less space in the freezer and will thaw faster too because of it being flattened instead of in a block.  That is always a consideration, space and thawing.  Remember to add that to your notes for when you go to roast your own tomatoes. 
Labeled, dated and air removed, ready for freezing

So there you have it...the tastiest tomato sauce in just over an hour from start to finish.  To make into spaghetti sauce just saute a medium onion in olive oil, add a splash of red wine and 2 cloves crushed garlic along with some browned Italian sausage in the same pan.  Add the tomato sauce to the pan and finish with chopped fresh basil and cook on medium low for a few minutes to blend the flavors.  If you want smooth sauce you can blend in the food processor or blender.  We like ours more rustic and its really quite pretty that way too.  Garnish with shredded Parmesan cheese and enjoy!

Copyright © 2010 by Patty Hicks

All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including printing, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without written permission from the author, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review. All reviews must include author's name and a link back to this blog.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thinking Out Loud

One of the more popular pastimes in my  household is talking to one's self...or as I call it, thinking out loud.  Technically it is just processing thoughts verbally.  Its a great way to think through things, but if someone is not in your head, hearing just one side of the conversation can get confusing.  My husband is the king of thinking out loud.  There have been times I've walked into the house and heard him in a full on explanation of how to fix something and it sounds like he is explaining it to someone else...and there is no one else there which I only discover after saying,  "Honey, I'm home.  Do we have company?".  Often the response is that I get no answer.  He's so deep into thinking about what he's doing he doesn't even hear me.  So I wander back to where ever he is to find him sitting alone in the midst of something he has torn apart that he is trying to figure out how to fix.  His talking was actually him processing out loud how he plans to fix whatever it is he is working on.  He does this a lot when he works on things and it seems to really help him think through the processes of problem solving so its a good thing.  If he ever gives a name to the other person he's talking to, then I'll worry.
Me and my sweet "can fix anything" husband, Ben
You know the saying that it is ok to talk to yourself as long as you don't answer yourself.  Well, I think in order to properly "think" out loud, sometimes you actually have to answer yourself for the processing to be complete.  I've seen my husband demonstrate this to his advantage more than once.  It seems to solidify the thought.  Before I go any further let me say that it is only mental illness if you think that it is someone else who just answered you and not yourself.  So where was I?  So often I find that the best way for me to work through some tough thoughts or writing is to say things out loud, tell myself that was crazy, or that was good, shout a hallelujah at some revelation...and sometimes when the answer comes, say that out loud that too!  No craziness in that. I know who's doing the talking and I'm only talking to myself.
"This is harder than it looks" thought out loud while trying to take my own picture.
Thinking out loud is fine until someone thinks you are talking about them and takes it personally.  I remember talking to myself about what a dork I am about trying to do something that takes two hands with digging a hole for a plant with a shovel with one hand...a very inefficient method, while holding the plant in the other.  Yes I do actually do this all the time and I have no idea why.  Anyway, I muttered quite loudly some derogatory remark about this annoying habit of mine one day and my husband heard me and asked "Are you talking to me?" as he frowned. We had just had some heated discussion and he seemed to think I was muttering about him.  Oops, not good.  "No Honey, I'm just talking to myself about my stupid habit...etc."  That could have ended badly but fortunately did not.
The ladies in my Bible study as we gab away during a brunch
We women are often put down by men for our need to talk through things when in actuality it is key in helping us to process what we are trying to understand.  Talking helps us unlock understanding as we hear with our ears what we are thinking with our brains.  Don't ask me how this works, I just know it does because I am a woman and a talker.  My husband on the other hand, doesn't get this "need" to talk, at least not my need to talk, ...or at least the need to talk to him or others about something I am trying to process.  Oh he has his own need to talk but it is for a different reason.  He can just hole up and somehow come out fine on the other side without saying one word which makes me crazy sometimes but that is how it is.  Me, I would sooner curl up and die than do that...I need to talk.  After twenty years of marriage I'm finally getting used to these differences which used to make me crazy.  Why was he so different than me and why didn't he understand...he is a man, I am a woman...and that is all there is to it. 
Me and my dear friend Marcy after a long sharing  of our thoughts
There are a couple of friends who I get together with from time to time and all we do is talk.  We sit during lunch or over coffee or after Bible study and talk talk talk.  Often the conversation is light but we have those moments where it gets deep, where you can feel the heart muscles pumping hard as they from the depths of struggle or discouragement...processing, working their way through a dark passage as we others walk along side quietly, or not so quietly, while they search for hand and foot holds of encouragement and stability in their lives.  To let them not talk of their personal struggle would be cruel.  We as women need to process the steps of our lives, our failures and successes, our joys and sorrows and our faith in words...that is how God made us.  We do however need to do this with some discretion as just blabbing to the world all our struggles unwise and a real turn off to sincere friendship.
There are some men who are good at my good friend Steve here.
So many times in a group of women I will see two or three gathered together while one is pouring out, processing some deep thing or experience while her sisters listen, interjecting thoughts as they help support this processing, lovingly wrapping their hearts around the heart of their sister, encouraging, investing, inspiring, sharing insights.  It is like watching someone climb a rock wall from below while others hold the ropes that support them..."Just above your head!" one sister hollers..."There is a hand hold just above your head".  The one struggling to climb gratefully reaches and grasps the hand hold of truth shared by the one below as she climbs further up the wall.  That is what it is like for us when we listen and talk.
Sweet and strong friends, Nancy and her daughter DeeDee
There are those times when it seems our talk is more like chickens in the barnyard, joyful, clucking, rejoicing in someone sharing their blessings, talking about how good the cookies and coffee are, how lovely the home of our hostess is, and "Did you get your hair done?  It looks nice."  It all seems like chatter to the guys, but we women know it is much much more.  This is us reconnecting with each other, tightening loose threads in our relationships, finally getting to say out loud those things that have been in our hearts to say to our sisters.  Can you imagine if we did not say what had been on our minds about those we are connected to as friends...about how nice we thought someone's home looked when we had been invited to visit.  To offer a true compliment is nothing more than thinking out loud from the heart.  That may sound goofy but think about it.  Have you been thinking about someone, is it time you put those thoughts into action and actually called that person and let them know?  That is thinking out loud in caring and connecting, in action, in loving one another.  How encouraging to get that phone call!  And thank God for phones.
Thoughts spoken carelessly can damage a tender heart
Now to be truthful we don't want to always be saying what we think, that would be absolutely disastrous.  It can make us seem foolish, opinionated and is sometimes thoughtless.   We need to be extra careful especially if we are tempted to offer unsolicited advise...and who of us hasn't been there on both ends.  We find ourselves feeling filled with such wisdom for this person who is downloading and who to take time to hear what is in their hearts as they "process"...and who is not looking at all for advise or what we think!!!  So we need to be careful to not think out loud when it is self serving.  I am so guilty of this sometimes...we all are.  Speak the truth in love, not in self gratification or blind opinion.  Listen to the heart of the one sharing...carefully.  The hand of comfort is often given without one spoken word.

I love how fluid things are during conversation and find one of the funnier things about thinking out loud in the middle of a conversation is when all of a sudden one of person stops the conversation cold by saying something that pops into their heads so they will not forget it or something they meant to tell the other person before they forget to and it has nothing at all to do with the current topic of conversation.  Usually the other person in the conversation is gracious in spite of the interruption of topic, accepting all apologies and conversation resumes.    We honestly don't mean to be rude and change the subject but we are just thinking out loud.  To be sure it can be somewhat of a bad habit and puts a damper on conversations at times so I've gone keeping a little notebook to write these thoughts down instead of thinking them out loud and it helps a lot.  I call my notebook my paper brains...those things I need to be sure and remember or remember to deliver to those I'm conversing with.
Thoughts like our feet take our conversation places
 Thinking out loud is what brings about the fluid path of conversation...those times when we start on one topic and go from one to another to another until we cannot believe all the topics we covered and "Oh look at the time!".  So thinking out loud is a part of our lives in more ways than just talking to ourselves.  It is necessary for processing information and communication.  I suppose writing is a form of thinking out loud too since it is communication...but I've about thought of all I can on this topic for now.  If you have some thinking out loud you would like to do in response to what I've shared I would love to hear your thoughts.

Copyright © 2010 by Patty Hicks

All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including printing, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without written permission from the author, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review. All reviews must include author's name and a link back to this blog. I love how fluid thought in conversation is.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Tomato Season's End At Tinker's Paradise

It has arrived, the end of tomato season, of growing lush lettuces and cucumbers and other warm weather crops.  The summer here in Oregon was the coolest one on record and made even getting a ripe tomato a challenge.  Thankfully early fall was fairly warm and mild which brought some help though rain brought late blight to many before the tomatoes even ripened.  I'm sure this year will be the one we judge all other trying years by for years to come.
August tomatoes still very green
Not to be thwarted by our cool summer this year, I had my husband put a tent over the top of our plants.
Mr. Ben and the tent poles
 This was the year I determined to work hard to do my tomatoes right, pruning and watching the feeding and watering.  The weather was not going to ruin all that hard work!  Green tomatoes were not what I was looking for, so up went the tent about two months ago.
Got it up just before a very wet week...Whew!
Good thing we did it too as I was picking ripe tomatoes off the plants just last week and earlier this week finished picking the green and partially ripe ones that still remained as freezing weather was looming over the horizon.
I see green tomato chutney in our future

It is a bittersweet thing to pick the last green tomatoes off the plants.  It says we will have no more fresh tomatoes from our gardens once what is ripening on the windowsill is gone.  We will be forced to purchase those less than desirable grocery store varieties which pale in comparison to our lovely home grown toms.  I don't know of anyone who doesn't grumble some at the less than tasty store bought tomato we find ourselves forced to eat in the off season...especially come spring when we are so hungry for a fresh salsa or slice of tomato on a sandwich that actually has some flavor to it.  One thing that I am reminded of though is that any good thing is made better if we do not have it around all the time.  I think this is something we really need to be thankful for especially when it comes to the food we grow.  Seasonal eating becomes a delight as one season's flavors move to take the place of another and much less boring than if we had it our way all the time. .
Tomato plants in the heap that will feed the soil for next year
 As I pulled up the plants and placed them on our compost heap I found myself thankful for the effort I put into the production this year even if the weather brought a less than luxurious harvest.  It was an investment worth making if only for the things I learned.  I challenged myself to get over the fear of the unknown when it came to pruning, I paid attention to the needs of the plants and they rewarded me as best they could and that is all I can ask of them.  Next year I can go into the season with more confidence because I did challenge myself to learn more too.  That was a harvest worth reaping that tastes as good as any tomato ever could.

When you harvest the last of what you love in the garden remember all the lessons learned and the delight you received in the process and be thankful for this season if rest as it affords you time to lay in your garden plans for next year as you dream of future home grown tomatoes.

Copyright © 2010 by Patty Hicks

All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including printing, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without written permission from the author, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review. All reviews must include author's name and a link back to this blog.