Monday, November 07, 2011

Shredding season

Faced with a mountain of yard waste and an average-sized compost bin, the Sergeant and I looked into renting a chipper-shredder. It's a shame to throw organic stuff in the dumpster, but a lot of it is just too big to compost easily.
Home Depot only had the industrial-sized kind used by tree services, and the cost was more than $100 a day. After I asked for advice on my gardening listserv, a member offered to sell us her 10hp model. She'd hardly used it, and stopped altogether once Boulder started a city composting program.

It started up just fine and the Sergeant got to work feeding in the tree branches, raspberry canes, fennel stalks and tomato vines. Here's what came out:
This stuff will make great mulch and break down nicely. The shredder's chutes come off, so it won't be hard to store.

It's a very satisfying thing to have.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

What I'm reading

I'm getting close to the end of the second book of George R.R. Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" saga, which I started this summer after reading a New Yorker piece about his fans. Many of them were angry over how long it was taking him to write the next installment in the series (the fifth and latest came out this summer; he projects there will be seven total).

This hugely elaborate project is all about the machinations of those who would be king in a made-up country that is a lot like Arthurian England. Each chapter focuses on a particular character (and usually ends with a cliffhanger); you get the overall arc of the story by following each of the characters' threads.

It's quite engaging, and there are some good plot twists. I am going to try to spread out my reading of it a little and hope the author can finish the series!

A little bit of fluff I whipped through in a couple of days was "And My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You" by Kathi Kamen Goldmark.
The protagonist is a backup singer in a country band who starts to achieve some fame of her own while also dealing with the vagaries of love and family drama.
If you like country music and entertaining lyrics, this would be a fun book for you to check out.

I also finally tackled "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle" by David Wroblewski. It's set in Northern Wisconsin and has dogs, so I was predisposed to like it. (I grew up in Wisconsin and, well, you know me and dogs.) I don't want to outline the plot, since I think it's better to discover that on your own.

I did like the book, a lot, until halfway through, when there's a moment of deus ex machina that really ticked me off. I found the story really interesting and believable up until that point, but this little twist just threw me right out of the story. I finished it, and I still liked some aspects of it, but I found it fundamentally flawed.

It made me really miss my old Sophie dog, too. She was smart on the level of the dogs in the story. If you love dogs, this book will make you cry.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Lunch at Falafel King

The Sergeant and I had lunch this afternoon at Falafel King, a small, local chain. They have a bewildering array of options, but it's all good, and fast.

I got the grilled chicken plate, which comes with six falafels, salad and two sides and pita bread. Very yummy. The marinated chicken is grilled as you wait, and served atop the salad. I got tabouli and hummus as my sides. The tabouli is especially good. Nice and lemony.

The note next to the register was amusing. It took me a second to get it.
(Blurry cellphone picture, sorry.)

Falafel King
825 Colorado Blvd.
Denver, CO
Mon-Sat: 11:00am-9:00pm
Sun: 11:30am-8:30pm

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Snow astronaut

"Snow astronaut." That's what the Sergeant called this photo when he emailed it to me. I was in the back yard this morning trying to take a picture of stepping into the snow. It didn't turn out.

Yes, we got more snow. Maybe 5 inches or so. C'est la vie. It'll melt quickly.

My month of daily blogging is over. It wasn't that hard to toss something out there every day. If you take a lot of photos, you can usually find one that will help carry a post, even if the writing's not very compelling. If a post is not interesting in some way, why bother?

Monday, October 31, 2011

A little makeup does wonders

Does this house look familiar? The pictures were taken in 2000 and sometime later.
Even the Sergeant didn't recognize the house he lives in now.
I had to cajole the previous homeowners to get these photos, and I wish I had more. Still, it's neat to see even this much.

The house was built in 1894, and it's been through a lot of changes. When the previous owners bought it in 2000, it was covered with aluminum siding and had cheap aluminum windows. Inside, the ceilings had all been dropped to 8 feet.

I wouldn't have guessed what possibilities lay under that, but these folks did. They started redoing the interiors, then took a deep breath and ripped the siding off.
As noted, the house used to have a porch that encompassed only the front door. But plans were already drawn that called for a bigger porch. I'm glad they did.

The owners also found the brick arch over the front window. They built a new window, with stained glass in the arch.

When I moved in, most of the restoration was done. (And the hideous duplex was already built next door.) I added bookcases, security doors, a swamp cooler, a better arch in the living room, and paneled the guest room. Oh yeah, got a new roof, too. And did a lot of gardening.

Now the Sergeant is adding his own sweat equity, with a major revamping of the garage, and lots of gardening, too. He's got even more of a green thumb than I do.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Desk pumpkin!

Sunday nights are usually pretty peaceful at work, so when I finished up a few minutes early, I took the opportunity to carve the pumpkin I'd brought in for my desk. It took all of 10 minutes, even though I only had a steak knife and a small spoon to work with. I carved my usual jack-o-lantern face – I like 'em happy.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Tamarind cocktail for an Indian feast

For the Indian feast of Diwali, Manisha hosted our stitch 'n' bitch group for an awesome dinner. Nichole suggested I bring a tamarind cocktail to go with the Indian food. Good idea!

This cocktail is courtesy of Epicurious. It calls for tamarind concentrate, which you can find in any Asian market. Be sure to check the labels and get the kind that has only tamarind and water in it, not a bunch of salt and preservatives, too.

You start by making a "base" of
  • 8 cups water,
  • 1/2 cup tamarind concentrate,
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice and
  • 3/4 cup sugar.
Mix it all together and refrigerate. This mixture by itself is tasty over ice for a virgin cocktail.
You make two cocktails at a time in a shaker. Over ice, pour half a cup of the cocktail base, add 2 teaspoons tamarind, 1 teaspoon lime juice and 4 tablespoons of vodka. Shake it up vigorously, then strain into martini glasses and use a lime wedge as garnish.

(The Firestarter vodka is Moldovan, in an amusing dispenser, courtesy of the Sergeant's collection.)
These were fun and tasty cocktails, slightly astringent, slightly sweet. The vodka was smooth in them; I could have made them a little stronger.

The tendency of the tamarind to precipitate to the bottom of the glass was a little disappointing; next time I would serve these cocktails over ice with a swizzle stick instead of in a martini glass.

Friday, October 28, 2011

We has beans

The Sergeant introduced me to scarlet runner beans, which he used to grow to screen his back deck in California. We planted a few here and they took off. I harvested a big grocery bag full.
The beans are quite gorgeous, in a marbled purple hue. I'd never seen such a lovely bean before!

In the U.K. scarlet runner beans are grown primarily for eating, while in the U.S. they are often considered more ornamental than edible.

The Sergeant made some tasty chile with beans he had dried, so I can vouch for their edibility. As for their ornamentality, you be the judge:

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The great pumpkin harvest

We got ourselves some pumpkins! And a whole lot of buttercup squash.
Pumpkins can endure a couple light frosts, but six inches of snow and temperatures well below zero will turn them to mush. So we harvested them and brought them inside.

I let the Sergeant do the honors with the shelf pumpkin. I think it's the most perfectly shaped of our crop, thanks to the support he provided.
Now there's just a few days until Halloween. We've got some carving to do!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

As I was saying ...

Here's the beehive yesterday:

And the hive today:
We got about 6 inches in our back yard, which was on the low end of what was predicted. But it has wreaked havoc with trees across the city, as many had not yet lost their leaves. The extra weight of the snow on all those leaves resulted in lots of downed limbs. And power lines.

I'm very sorry to say that our crabapple lost a big branch and some of its trunk. It broke sometime this afternoon while I was at work.

Snow in October is not unusual, but this much at once is. More unusual has been the very fine, warm weather we've had up to this point. We'll have it back in a day or two.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Last garden bouquet of the year

We spent the morning rushing around getting the last of the harvest in, putting away garden tools and winterizing the swamp cooler. I gathered a few of our many late bloomers for a posy to take to work.

It was 80 degrees yesterday. Tonight it is snowing, with 8 inches or more on the way.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A bit of a stretch

Thanks to Groupon and the urging of my old yoga buddy, Jenny, I made my first visit to a yoga studio in a looooong time on Sunday.

For $60 you get a month of unlimited classes at CorePower Yoga, plus a free week for being a new student. CorePower offers Bikram yoga (though they can't call it that for legal reasons) and a variety of vinyasa classes of varying levels of intensity. We started with a beginner vinyasa power class.

And boy, did it kick my ass. I was chagrined to find that not only did I not recognize half the poses (I'm really only familiar with the 27-pose series of Bikram), but many of them were simply beyond my abilities to do properly. On the other hand, it felt good to be in the heated room, stretching out and doing something about my lazy, fat self.

OK, not fat, but fatter than I used to be, and certainly out of shape. And lazy.

So I'm going to try to do this three or four times a week for the next five weeks and see how I feel at the end of it. By then, I should at least have a better grasp of the poses!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Vittles Vault keeps critters at bay

I love well-designed products that fill a need perfectly and make life a little easier. The gate we had made for the bottom of the stairs, the cling wrap with a sliding cutter, the tube wringer for the toothpaste. Small things, but they make me happy.
The Vittles Vaults are another such product. They might seem little pricey at $37, but they are super-sturdy, stack tidily and are easy to clean. These large ones hold up to 40 pounds of dog food apiece. They live in the broom closet and are impervious to mice and to marauding poodles ... as long as the lid is on.
(Photos from my crummy cellphone.)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Unquashed squash

The freeze finally came and killed off all the squash and tomato vines. The fence squash hung in there until the end, marveled over by passers-by and unmolested by vandals or vegetable thieves.

The Sergeant says that would never have happened where he lived before. On his busy, urban street his front garden was regularly trampled, with plants ripped up, sunflowers beheaded and his lemon tree torn asunder. How hateful some people can be!

Not that we are entirely immune to such things here: we've endured some sprinkler vandalism, kids tagging the fence and dumpster, and someone making off with our blooming tulips (also kids, I suspect). But in general this neighborhood is friendly and peaceful.

Now I have to figure out what to do with all this squash. I haven't taken a final tally, but it's probably around 10 buttercup squash and eight pumpkins. Luckily the buttercups will keep for a while in a cool, dry place, and the pumpkins are destined to be jack-o-lanterns. Maybe I'll carve one today!

The Sergeant is looking forward to the roasted seeds, especially with some of the goopy stuff that clings to them when they're scooped out. It becomes crispy and savory in the oven. I like it, too.

I want make squash ravioli, using the ravioli tray I bought months ago and have yet to try. And some squash soup, and squash lasagna. What else should I make?

Friday, October 21, 2011

A better mousetrap

When I bought my house, I wondered why the cat food bowls were on the second floor. Later, I'd occasionally hear a faint "plink!" from the kitchen that sounded like a piece of kibble shifting in the dog food bowl, but when I went to look, nothing was there.

Finally I discovered a box of oatmeal in the back of a cabinet that had been gnawed open and realized I had a problem. The mouse war was on.

I scrubbed the cabinets with bleach, put all food in rodent-proof containers and blocked every hole I could find with steel wool. I caught a few mice in live traps and released them at the park, but it wasn't until I put poison in the basement that the last of them disappeared. Since then I have not seen evidence of mice in the house. Until this year.

As I've mentioned before, it's been a banner year for the little bastards. A long, wet spring produced lots of food for them, and it has not been uncommon to see them scurrying through the garden, across the patio and around the compost bin. I knew they'd try to come in as soon as it got cold out.

Sure enough, I saw a mouse run across the kitchen floor a couple of weeks ago. Argh. I double-checked the cabinets, put in more steel wool and set out live traps. No luck. Finally I decided what the hell, I'll try a couple new snap-traps I spotted at Home Depot. They looked like they might be more effective and less messy than the traditional wire ones.

It took a few days, but a morsel of parmesan proved too tempting for the little ratonito. If you want to see how effective the trap is, click on the photo above. (Warning: graphic content! It's not gory, but it does feature a dead body.)

I don't feel too ashamed to talk about having mice, as I know it's not a reflection on my housekeeping. If you have an old house with holes in the foundation, you're going to get mice as soon as the weather turns cold.

If you do, go find yourself one of these better mousetraps.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Poodles on parade

A few years ago, Sophie and I were out walking when a woman stopped her car and told me about her standard poodle group on The group gets together a few times a year for poodle parties and walks, the most recent of which was this last Sunday at Washington Park.
The weather was perfect: sunny and mid-60s. Close to 40 people showed up, with about 25 poodles. It was quite a sight!
We walked briskly around the park; it's about a two-mile loop. Along the way we chatted with other owners about their poodles, training and grooming, while the dogs kept their eyes peeled for squirrels.

Afterward, a bunch of pups were rewarded with a little off-leash romping in a secluded field, including some enthusiastic ball-fetching.
Go, poodles!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Dinner at Euclid Hall

On a rare Sunday night off work, I took the opportunity to head downtown with the Sergeant to try a newish restaurant, Euclid Hall. Granted, they've been open since August 2010, but parking downtown is such a bitch that the couple of previous times we tried to go, we gave up after circling a few times in search of a spot on the street. No way am I paying $15 or $20 for parking in a lot when there are plenty of awesome eateries where parking is free or cheap. On Sunday, we found a spot easily a block away.

Our first impression on walking in wasn't the greatest. A staffer was on the phone at the entrance and while she saw us, she gave no nod or wave or "just a minute" gesture. So we stood there looking around, wondering if we should seat ourselves. After a few minutes, another staffer finally came and showed us to a table and brought water. Then we sat for nearly 10 minutes waiting for one of the many servers passing through our area to notice us.

When our server finally came over and I mentioned the wait she apologized for having not noticed us. To her credit, she was very attentive after that, so I felt mollified.

We both order the BQE cocktail, essentially a rye manhattan. That was tasty. I ordered the chicken and waffles (Petaluma chicken paillard, sourdough waffles, pure maple syrup, salty walnuts, $12.50) while the Sergeant got the chicken schnitzel sandwich (double decker, double wide, dill rye, aioli, apple cabbage caraway slaw $9.50). I didn't taste the sandwich, but he said it was good.

The chicken and waffles were a good combination, stacked (like Jenga! said our server) and both sweet and salty. I'd heard that chicken and waffles are a "thing," so it was nice to find out why.

The atmosphere was hipster bar, with a steady stream of alternative rock playing and an extensive beer list. The menu is heavy on sausage, poutine and schnitzel.

I'm glad we checked it out, and maybe sometime we'll go back. If you're downtown already or dining on a week night when parking is less of a hassle, you might enjoy going there, too.

Euclid Hall
1317 14th Street (between Market and Larimer)
Denver, Colorado 80202

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Biological pest control, marmalade edition

As I noted before, the neighborhood cats have figured out where the little rat bastards are congregating. I was out in the yard yesterday with Jackson and spotted this handsome fellow guarding the tomatoes.
Luckily Jackson was oblivious, so I put him inside and grabbed my camera for a portrait. Mr. Marmalade reluctantly turned away from his thoughts of deeelicious rodent snacks.
He was quite friendly, as it happened, leaping over the greenery to get a good skritch. It was hard to get a decent picture of his wiggly self in the overcast light.

He soon went back to hunting mice, and I filled my apron with more green tomatoes in anticipation of another freeze warning. Which was yet again a false alarm, darn it.

Many of the green tomatoes I harvested last week are now ripening on the counter, so I was able to make another pan of roasted tomato sauce to freeze. And there's enough basil to make a nice batch of pesto.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Pizza with words

Committing to a post a day is problematic when you can't form a coherent sentence. So look at yesterday's post for most of the pictures.

My grad-school housemate came to town this weekend for a history conference. I haven't seen her in 15+ years, and it was great to catch up. I invited some mutual friends and their spouses over for dinner last night. We made pizzas, using pans I bought at a restaurant sale in Madison when I was in grad school. It seemed appropriate.

I'm kicking my grad-school self now: Why didn't I buy more than six pans? Should've bought 12! But we made do with some larger baking sheets for the rest of the pizzas.

Toppings included:
  • Roasted red tomato sauce
  • pesto
  • sliced longaniza
  • chicken-apple sausage
  • shredded chicken
  • Canadian bacon
  • prosciutto
  • fresh mozzarella
  • shredded mozzarella
  • pecorino romano
  • goat cheese
  • spinach
  • bell peppers
  • jalapenos
  • green anchovy-stuffed olives
  • black olives
  • capers
  • pineapple
  • onions
  • mushrooms
  • frizzled leeks
  • sun-dried tomatoes
They turned out great!

Dessert and the after-dinner entertainment were awesome, too. That's a whole other post. Stay tuned.