Thursday, April 28, 2011

Tulip surprise

I've been in this house since 2007 and every spring, the tulips surprise me. I didn't plant them, and they always seem to be a little different from what I remember. I don't think I've seen these orange ones before. They're quite flashy.
The pink ones are also sweet. There were lots of daffodils, but they've pretty much come and gone already.
Tulip innards make for fun photos, too.

In the back we've got a bunch of mystery plants coming up. I planted some perennials last fall (which look like they survived. Yay!), and we scattered a ton of wildflower seeds. Some of what we're seeing is bound to be weeds.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Deviled eggs are divine

Why dye eggs when you can get such pretty natural ones from backyard chickens?
But OK, a lot of folks will have a surfeit of dyed eggs after this weekend. If you take care to not overcook them, those eggs can be made into a devilishly good dish. They're only a little labor-intensive, and the recipe is quite forgiving.
Put your eggs in a pot of water, bring the water to a boil, then move the pot off the heat and let it sit for 9 minutes. Have a bowl or sink of ice water ready to put the eggs in immediately. I used a pot with a pasta strainer so I could just lift out the whole thing and dunk it in the sink. The eggs should be fairly easy to peel then.
I gathered a few of the ingredients I thought I might use. My original plan was to make a couple of varieties, but I ran out of time and just did one big batch.
Pretty much the only thing you have to have is mayonnaise, plus some other flavor component such as mustard (jarred or powdered). Other possible ingredients:
  • chives
  • dill
  • parsley
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • sriracha
  • tabasco
  • horseradish
  • pimientoes
  • sweet relish
  • chopped shrimp
  • caviar
  • minced onions or shallots
  • olives
  • cayenne pepper
  • paprika
    This is far from a comprehensive list, but you get the idea.
    I boiled and peeled the eggs Thursday night, then prepped them on Friday morning. Just slice the eggs lengthwise and pop the yolks out into a bowl. If you are doing some fancy food-styling, you might want to rinse the whites off, but I'm not that patient. (It also helps to adjust the white balance on your camera so your pictures don't come out blue.)
    I ended up using mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, pimientoes, chives and shrimp (boil a handful of shrimp for a couple minutes, rinse in cold water and chop).
    Mash the yolks with a fork and mix it all together. Start with just a little mayo and add more as needed. Taste for seasoning. The Worcestershire and pimientoes added enough saltiness for me.
    You can spoon the filling into the whites or use a pastry bag. Another option: cookie press! It works great.
    If you don't have a deviled-egg plate, a platter covered with parsley is attractive. You can garnish with parsley or a dusting of paprika. I tried little spears of chives, which looked kinda lame, but I was in a hurry to get up to Boulder to meet with my pals.
    Also on the menu: French 75s.

    It was a very good Friday.

    Tuesday, April 19, 2011

    The French 75: Elegance with a kick

    The Sergeant loves to reference the French 75 as the icon of a dissipated and bygone era – the drink that F. Scott Fitzgerald preferred in Paris, and probably Hemingway as well. It's named for the French 75mm artillery gun of WWI.

    When Stir Cooking School offered the French 75 as a special for the Paris Nights cooking class, you know I had to have one.

    Recipes vary, but the basic ingredients are, roughly:
    • 2 oz. gin
    • 1 oz. simple syrup
    • 1 oz. lemon juice
    • champagne to fill the glass
    (Note: if your glasses are smallish, you should halve these amounts.)

    Shake the first three ingredients with ice, strain into a collins glass or champagne flute, then top with champagne or sparkling wine.

    Garnish with a lemon wedge and, if you like, a cherry jelly bean (or was it cinnamon?). The bar was out of cherries, so this was bartender Tyler's intriguing substitute.

    I'm definitely keeping this cocktail in mind for a group occasion, when I can justify opening a bottle of bubbly. It's mighty tasty.

    P.S. I just made eight of these in smallish flutes, halving the amounts, and that used up most of a bottle of champagne and the juice of about 5 lemons. Also, the half-strength is still strong enough to kick!

    Monday, April 18, 2011

    Up close and fishy

    I ordered a couple of "toys" from a fish-eye lens and a macro/wide-angle lens for my cellphone camera.
    The lenses come with rubber covers, a strong magnetic backing with tether, and a sticky-backed magnetic ring you attach to and leave on your phone lens.

    So far I've been happier with the fish-eye lens than the macro. You saw some examples of fish-eye shots in previous posts (here and here). It's good for group shots, too, because you can fit a lot of people in!

    Here's a regular shot of grape hyacinth. Kinda fuzzy but it'll do:
    And here's the same shot with the fish-eye lens.
    The fish-eye lens is almost too wide to fit on my dinosaur LG phone, whose stubby antena gets in the way a little. But it works.
    I am less impressed with the combined macro/wide angle lens (it's two lenses that screw together). The wide angle isn't very wide, and the macro, which I really wanted, requires that you shoot from half an inch away from the subject.

    Again, here's the normal shot:
    And here's the wide-angle:

    And this shows how close you have to hold the camera to the subject for a macro shot:
    And here's the shot you get:
    OK, yeah, that looks cool, but how often are you going to shoot something so tiny with your cellphone? Something that needs to hold quite still, too, as you mash your phone right up to it.

    I was really hoping it would be more like the macro setting on my point-and-shoot, which allows a focus within several inches, something my phone camera always fails at (but which I prefer to use sometimes, since I can post pictures online immediately with it).

    I'm planning to upgrade to a smartphone one of these days, and the Droid, at least, has a decent macro setting, so I need to find out if I can send back the lens I don't like. But I recommend the fish-eye lens. It's fun! And something you can't get with any regular phone setting.

    Saturday, April 16, 2011

    Scouting bees

    Swarm season is nearly upon us. The earliest I've seen a swarm in previous years was May 3, but that doesn't mean there aren't any earlier than that. I went out walking today to scout out the neighborhood bee trees. I found eight trees with bees in them. Six appeared to be active hives. A couple had a little traffic, but I suspect they were dead hives being cleaned out by scavengers.
    Lots of trees are in bloom. If you stand under them, you can hear that they are covered with hundreds of bees. They sound like a swarm. I'm not very good at identifying such trees. Could this be a crab apple? It smells good.
    The grape hyacinth are just beginning to open up, too. If you wait with your camera pointed at any flower, pretty soon a girl will come along so you can take her picture.
    This one has been filling her baskets with pollen. See that round yellow lump on her leg? It's not really a basket, but a concavity in the leg with a spiky hair in the middle, like a spindle. The bee mixes the pollen with spit and packs it around the spindle to carry it back to the hive.

    I scout bee trees for a few reasons. I like knowing they're there, and they might cast a swarm. It is also a form of self-defense. If a neighbor complains about bees and points to my hive, I can point right back at the three bee trees on my block alone.

    This actually happened today. A woman I didn't know walked by and asked about my hive, which she'd seen through the fence. I told her the bees had died, and she seemed surprised. "I assumed it was your bees mobbing my fountain!" Guess what? There are bees everywhere.

    Wednesday, April 06, 2011

    My own beeswax

    When life hands you dead bees, you might as well make beeswax.
    I've documented the process before. Basically you melt the comb in water, filter out the larger solids (called slumgum), then melt it again and filter it through a stocking.

    I rendered the pale honeycomb in one batch and half the dark brood comb in another. You get a lot more wax from the honeycomb, and the shade is notably lighter.
    I ordered a mold to make little one-ounce bars and I might try to make a candle or two.

    As I was photographing the wax on a backyard table, I could hear a pretty loud humming from the chanticleer pear tree, which is coming into bloom.
    Swarm season is just around the corner.

    Sunday, April 03, 2011

    Beehive postmortem

    We cleaned out the hive today. Optimistically, I prepared my honey gear, thinking I might at least get a bar or two.
    The hive was almost fully built out. This was the last comb on the last bar, nearly full size. And empty.
    Every comb was empty. Until we got to the pathetic little cluster of dead bees.
    There was no honey left. But also no capped brood, and just scattered open brood. Clearly the queen had died at some point. But when?
    The combs were well-formed, and hardly attached to the sides at all. There should have been a ton of honey in there. We harvested two bars last May and that was it.
    There was a lot of debris and dead bees in the bottom of the hive.
    I found one queen cup.
    A handful of bees were lodged head-first in the honey cells, a sign of starvation.
    I can't figure out how they looked fine all summer, fall and winter (buzzing happily around the entrance on warm days) and then poof. Gone.
    Lacking honey, I figured I'd at least render the beeswax.
    Many interested bees from other hives in the 'hood kept me company outside. That's a good sign there will be another swarm soon enough for me to catch and try again.

    Saturday, April 02, 2011

    No harm done

    Remember my ghost bud of a couple of weeks ago?

    Well, it appears that the extended blanching in the basement didn't hurt.
    The stem and leaves started greening up as soon as the plant got some sunlight.
    The bud filled out and became four lovely flowers over the weekend.
    I love that the flower is so unabashed about flashing its parts. You can't really call these stamens and pistil "privates."

    Friday, April 01, 2011

    Lunch at Chez Panisse

    I was out of town for a few days. The weather in California was pretty crummy, alas, but it may be what allowed us to get a last-minute lunch reservation here:
    We were eating in the "café" upstairs. The downstairs, main restaurant is dinners only, prix fixe. Upstairs is lunches and à la carte dining (they also have one prix fixe option), and is slightly more affordable, i.e. $30 to $50 per person instead of $80.
    For starters I couldn't resist the pizzetta with pancetta, arugula and artichoke. Nom.
    My companions enjoyed the "Russian salad" of beets, potatoes, peas, chervil and an egg:
    And oven-baked white beans with an egg and kale and fresh turmeric and ginger pickle. Oh my gosh. So good.
    As it turned out, all three of us wanted the pasta, which our server was most enthusiastic about: Spaghetti alla Pallina with cauliflower, pine nuts, currants, saffron and toasted breadcrumbs.
    Super tasty! I will have to try to re-create that at home, along with the white bean dish. The menu was "inspired by Niloufer Ichaporia King," so I may be able to find some clues in her cookbook, My Bombay Kitchen.

    When our entrees arrived, we had to ask for the check (and skip dessert) because we were running out of time (there were kids to be picked up at school). Our server brought it with apologies and a plate of cookies and figs. She noted that some of the bill had been comped because the pasta took so long to come out. Oh? I guess it had, but we were enjoying the leisurely pace. We appreciated the gesture just the same. And the cookies.