Friday, March 31, 2017

Springtime in the garden

Not exactly my garden, but this is what it's like on the Oregon Coast today, in Newport. Alas! I really need to get over there soon, on a sunny day preferably.

The scene outside my living room window, reflections and all. The beautiful white clematis and the weeping cherry tree. Not bad -- especially with a little sunshine.

Took this of the clematis a couple of days ago, on a less-sunny day. Really pretty!

My little garden plot, real time. The sun is shining and I've raised the 'skirts' to let the sunshine and fresh air reach the plants. May well leave it this way all week, since we supposedly have a dry spell on tap.

I couldn't decide which of these to photos I liked best, so you get both. Clockwise from bottom center: sugar snap peas, radishes, romaine lettuce, swiss chard, rosemary, parsley, thyme. Tiny carrot sprouts in the center, little daikon radish transplants scattered around the parsley. Put those out yesterday from a pot of sprouts I bought to eat, was curious to see if they would grow. So far, they look  pretty good.

Below, a slightly different view that shows the tiny carrot sprouts a bit better, and the radishes, which are growing like crazy. The romaine is doing well, too. Much better than the chard. Pests got a couple of the seedlings, but that's ok.

Seedlings just in the ground, radishes already sprouting, March 1st. They've come a long way in a month!

So, that's what we have right now in the way of spring. Oh, there are flowers and fruit trees blooming all around, and there's a tinge of green showing in the hardwood trees here and there. But this may be the first day it really feels like spring to me. Funny how warm sunshine will do that!

Friday, March 24, 2017

An Oregon thing

Cutest thing outside my window late afternoon yesterday. A pair of Canadian geese calmly approached the curb on the other side of the street, near the crosswalk, and stepped out onto the pavement. At that point, the road has the equivalent of 4 traffic lanes and 2 bicycle lanes and is normally heavily traveled. But things were kind of quiet and as I watched, I hoped.

First car that came along stopped immediately, as the birds continued calmly walking. Then the first car traveling in the opposite direction stopped and then everything came to a standstill until the birds were safely out of reach of a car, and on the curb on this side of the street. I like that about Oregon.

This morning, I see one of them sitting calmly in the middle of the lawn as if nesting. For their sake, I hope that's not the case, because I don't think our lawn maintenance people would be inclined to work around them. And I don't like to think of them crossing that street, especially with babies following along, too often.

Other than that -- Oregon's men's basketball is headed for the Elite Eight. The women are playing their Sweet Sixteen on Saturday. Our men are good, but my casual observance from watching only the last couple of women's games is that the women are better. Maybe not better when all of our men are playing to their potential, but I don't think that's the case right now. I wish them all luck, anyway.

We've had a good amount of sunshine this week. More than predicted or expected. Raining again, but that's ok. It's Oregon.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Italian comfort food -- my way

Oh, yum!

It is as good as it looks, probably better than it looks.

My Italian-based take on shrimp and grits: chicken and polenta. We made a version of this back in the day when I was cooking Italian food for a living. As I recall, that version used heavy cream. Not exactly diet food. Not that this is truly diet food, I don't suppose, but really, it's not all that bad. Within my calorie goals for the day, and healthy. Mostly.

I started with a shrimp and grits recipe from Bobby Flay, just substituted chicken for the shrimp and added mushrooms, omitted the cheese. I made myself be patient and allow the polenta to cook long enough to be really thick and creamy. Rendered a small amount of bacon, cooked the chicken (one boneless/skinless thigh) in the fat, added mushrooms, garlic, scallions and lemon juice to finish cooking. Added the crisp bacon back in. Topped with fresh parsley from the garden.  Again, yum!

It's not perfect, but it's damned good and I'm not sure quite what I'd change to make it 'better'. For me, polenta has become a real comfort food. I normally eat it on its own -- nothing added but salt and butter. I could eat tons of it -- these days, I need all the comfort I can find.

Our day here has turned sunny. At the moment. Not likely to last, but we'll happily take whatever sunshine we can get.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Healthy breakfast cake

Inspired by an article I read somewhere this morning -- either the local paper or the NYT, I decided to try making a 'healthy' breakfast cake instead of the usual smoothie.

Aside from the 1/3 cup of whole wheat flour, and leavenings, everything else in here would have gone into the smoothie, in the same quantities. A small banana, 3 lg strawberries, coconut oil, a raw egg (not always in smoothie, but sometimes), cinnamon, a drizzle of honey (maybe a teaspoon). That's it.

The flour added an extra 147 calories to my day, but I can easily work around that for the rest of the day's food.

The cake is light, and extremely moist because I used as little flour as possible, just enough to bind the other ingredients together. But it tastes wonderful and is a far, far more soul-satisfying addition to the day than a smoothie will ever be!

I can see that this will become a staple around here. Not daily, but often enough. And no guilt involved.

Brat Kat was posing ever so nicely yesterday, so I couldn't resist taking her portrait. Lighting not good, thus a little shaky on the focus end, but better than with the flash and I know that if I'd moved around too much to turn various lights on, she'd have moved.

She is still utterly spoiled, but also still very sweet and loving. Has taken to waking me up in the mornings if I manage to sleep past the time her internal clock says is the time I generally wake up. Does it sweetly, of course, but I'm still awake.

Due for a non-rainy day here, which is something of a rarity these days. Don't know about sunny, just not rainy. And most of us waterlogged Oregonians will be happy to see it.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Heron -- and total photo envy!

Nope -- I did NOT take this one, though I wish I could say I did. Another beauty from our local newspaper photog, Brian Davies. Damn! Looks like the ponds down the street, too.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Another day, another lettuce wrap, a little snow

I had some fresh hummus leftover that I needed to use, and a hankering for some ground beef (normally enjoyed as a taco inside a tortilla with sauteed onions and red bell peppers).

But I'm still on this wrap gig, so I did a little perusing of other wrap recipes and ended up with my own version.

Mixed half an avocado with some of the hummus and spread it on three lettuce leaves, topped with little meatballs made with an easy, luscious Asian sauce.

Then I topped that with a mixture of raw veggies and mango tossed with lime juice. Topped it all off with a drizzle of sweet Thai chili sauce. Didn't really taste this much in the end product, so I should have used more but it's a new product to me and I didn't want to go overboard.

Gotta say, it was delicious. The Asian sauce was a mix of equal quantities of honey, fish sauce, soy sauce and sesame oil, added to the skillet about a minute before balls were ready to eat, then let the sauce form a glaze during that last minute.

Really nice, all in all, though I have to admit that while it looks like a lot of food, I do not feel full after eating it for some reason. Probably because I'm used to more filling, heavier foods. Still, there was a quarter pound of beef in there, plus the hummus and avocado and various veggies. An hour later, I'm still hungry. Of course, that could be because I spent 45 minutes on the cycle machine at the gym earlier and then went for a brisk 35 minute walk right after lunch. You think? Burning a lot of calories.

I took that walk because I wanted to get some photos of all the snow on the hills around here, and thought the bike bridge would be the best place to get them, since it's the highest point in these parts. Earlier, when I went to the gym around 8:30, the skies were clear enough that I could see the hills all around. By the time the sun began to shine, around noon when I headed out, the hills were mostly all clouded in. Bummer!

I took this photo because of the Frank Lloyd Wright quote: Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you. Every sign has a quote on it, sometimes from people who surprise me.

At any rate. I've lived in Oregon for the better part of 15 years, all in all, so you'd think I'd know not to head out of the house in weather like this without a jacket or umbrella, but like a rookie I was fooled by a little sunshine. It was brisk, too, but I was more concerned about rain on my camera.

Wasn't long before I realized the mistake, but of course I wouldn't turn back. Just hustled down to the bridge.

Heavy use of telephoto over the top of car dealership. This is the southside, near where I lived for awhile.

It looked much better this morning, when it was clear and every rooftop stood out bright and white. But since I'd walked all the way down here.....

Looking back towards home, from the bridge. You can't see where I live from here, but it's around a couple more bends in the road right about where those apartment buildings on the right meet the road.

Notice the lowering, black clouds coming in.

Far in the distance, show on the Coburg hills. Yesterday when I drove to the gym, these hills were white from top to bottom, and of course, quite clearly so. Funny how that so rarely happens when I have the camera handy.

I made it about halfway home before the first wet stuff started coming down, but it only lasted a moment and by then I'd put the camera under my sweatshirt. I was also mentally making a list of the various shelters between there and home. A bus stop, the parking lot for pond viewing closest to home. But, though the rain was coming down it wasn't heavy and I didn't get soaked.

Friday, March 3, 2017

A new, healthy, obsession

I've been observing with interest the various lettuce wraps I see on various cooking/food shows I watch. I watch them a lot. I've watched people in this country as well as Asia fill them with all kinds of things, all fresh, all delicious looking. I've also been looking for better ways to keep my weight in check, as my 'same old foods' get pretty boring.

A couple of nights ago on one of my favorite shows, Chopped, 4 health-oriented chefs competed with basket ingredients with the charge to prepare something light, but delicious. In the chefs' interviews some spoke of the value of wraps like this, and other ways of producing light and healthy foods, while the judges talked among themselves about how the current feeling when it comes to dieting is not actually dieting, it's all about lifestyle changes and eating lighter, fresher, healthier foods that are still delicious. All the time. I've heard similar things before, but somehow, this time it clicked with me so yesterday I bought some ingredients to give it a fair try.

I have stuff for Mexican-style, simple grill style, Thai/Asian style, and the above, which is simply a filet of fresh snapper from the Oregon coast cut into strips and quickly sauteed in a bit of coconut oil, and a bunch of fresh veggies. Next time I think I'll put the fish down first, then top it with the veggies. I'll also prepare more of the veggies. There is carrot, radish, sugar peas, green onion, asparagus and probably things I've forgotten, all cut into edible size pieces and tossed in a citrusy dressing I made. I have to admit, it was really delicious! I was wishing I had more but that was just gluttony speaking, my taste buds wanting more stimulation.

I found the citrus dressing recipe online from a Napa Valley chef, and it was supposed to be thick -- but not thick enough for my taste, and frankly, a bit bland. I grated some garlic and ginger into it and found it much more palatable, but still a tad thin. It tasted great with the fish and veggies, but tended to run out of the lettuce and all over my hands. I may need to give up and buy a jar of some addictive sauce from our local Cafe Yumm vegetarian restaurant -- then, I'll use their ingredient list to try and make my own afterwards.

I've also bought some jarred peanut sauce with lots of good Thai flavors (coconut milk, ginger, garlic, lemon grass, peanuts, and more). I could certainly make this on my own, but I cannot be trusted with a  jar of peanut butter in the house because I will literally eat enough at one sitting to make myself sick. Also have some other Asian sauces, and will buy more next week when I visit my favorite Asian food store.

I'm thinking that butter lettuce might work better than the red leaf lettuce, because its leaves form natural bowls. But the red leafs are large and flexible and easy enough to use. I may need to find room in my garden for some of this!

So, stay tuned. Perhaps some more photos and suggestions next time around.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Spring's getting closer

The weather today seems to really want to be sunny, but can't quite make it. There were a few sunny moments while I was out, but none while I had something to aim the camera at.

Still -- the ducks and geese are happy, and the temp is relatively mild, so not much to complain about. Supposedly, we'll have a respite from rain for another day or so.

There are a few crocus open in the garden area, and a few daffodils open here and there around town. Soon!

Note the patches of snow on the distant hills. Probably left over from the weekend, when snow was forecast but never quite materialized down here at street level. Thank goodness!

Actually, a man on the treadmill next to me at the gym on Sunday pointed out the big white flakes that were obvious through the windows. Just flurries, not much of it and it didn't stick, so it was a novelty.

Progress inside the big white tent that covers my little garden bed. A bamboo tepee for the peas to grow on; radishes sprouting top left; romaine lettuce top; swiss chard seedlings, right.

The red container is excess chard seedlings that I can't find a home for but hate to toss.

The big empty spot in the middle is where the carrots are planted. I had to look it up -- planted February 11, which I believe is 2.5 weeks ago. Seems much longer than that, and I know they take awhile to germinate so there's still hope.

Compare to previous photo, from planting day. The peas have actually grown!

Spotted a little beagle dog hiding behind the big transmission tower at the ponds today, and when I walked on back to the platform to take the above photo, he'd already arrived there, but ran when I approached. Lost and scared, is my guess. I called our wonderful animal welfare people (same call center as 911, which is a little weird) and they'll send somebody out to find it. Hopefully, find it's owners or at the very least a new family.

Other than that -- hit the treadmill hard again this morning for 45 mins. Almost doubled that time with the after-lunch walk, which is good. Had thoughts this morning of taking the bike out after lunch, but somehow that amount of excess energy depleted after the treadmill session, so the lazy walk had to do.