The conventional and unconventional sides of my life.

Archive for June, 2010

Harvesting Lavender

I did some not fun stuff today like doing the dishes and catching up on paying bills (blech!) but I also had some real awesome moments today too. Earlier today I was tending to my plants on the back deck. I consider myself to be an amateur gardener. I’ve grown various herbs and even some tomatoes and zucchini for the past few summers now in EarthBoxes on my deck. I also read here and there various things about gardening . Earlier this spring, I decided to get all my gardening books all in one place. I moved a small bookshelf from the master bedroom to the living room and proceeded to FILL it 2/3rds full of gardening books (I never realized I had quite that many!) Despite having grown some things successfully for a few years (I’ve had various and many unsuccessful attempts too), and having a library of gardening books, I’m mainly “winging it” (a mix of going by feel, inspiration and educated guess).

On my deck right now I have three EarthBoxes full of herbs, another 4 herbs waiting to go into another box, wave petunias in a tiered container, another container that has 6-7 different types of plants (that one I completely “winged” when putting it together So far it looks pretty nice and I think it will fill in nicely over the summer), and this lavender plant that is in it’s third year:

Lavender is a great plant because it kind of thrives on neglect (which this plant had a lot of the past two years). Earlier this summer I decided to top off the soil in the container with some blended compost (cow and mushroom) especially since the container has not had any soil amendments in nearly two years.  Last year I had a busy travel schedule during the late spring and early summer so my lavender plant never got harvested. Last week I consulted a few of my gardening reference books on when to harvest the lavender. They all basically said to harvest them as soon as most of the flowers are open. It looks like I may have waited a day or two too long (I’m not really sure. I’m “winging it”, remember?) because some of the earliest blossoms had a few brown flowers on them. When you look closely at the plant, you can see that the new growth is a brighter green than the older, more woody growth. I made sure to leave a few inches of this new growth when I was cutting the flower stalks.

While I was harvesting the lavender, a bee came to the plant going from blossom to blossom. I stuck the stalks that I had already cut closer to the plant and let the bee do his pollinating/nectar collecting on those flowers as well. While I really appreciate bees, I still freak out a bit when they buzz near my ears. But since this bee was no where near my head, I enjoyed watching him go from flower to flower on the blooms I was holding.

I still have some more lavender to harvest but here is the bundle I harvested this morning. In the background are various plants that still need to get in the ground and the petunias which are doing awesome so far (I planted some last year but they quickly died out. Then again, there was that whole traveling a bunch in a five week period thing). I proceeded to take this bundle of lavender, twine and scissors to the basement so I could hang it up to dry. You’ll notice I didn’t mention my camera in the above list. Oops – no pictures of the lavender hanging in the basement to dry. I’m attending a Litha ritual in a couple of weeks and will be bringing this lavender there as a gift. I love the satisfaction I get when I harvest from plants that I am growing. I especially love that connection with nature.

Speaking of harvesting, I brought in a sprig of mint from my spearmint plant (Tip: mint plants are invasive. It is best to plant them in containers by themselves or they can quickly spread and take over other plants) and made some Lemon Youkou tea that I bought from Teavana the other day. I crushed the spearmint in my hand and put it in a glass of ice so that I could add the tea to it which I then sweetened with local sourwood honey.  The picture on the right is what the loose tea looks like.

Edited to add that I’ve linked up to Southern Fried Gal’s Garden Party.

Body Image

This past week I attended an event with the theme of dressing outlandishly. Well, I didn’t have many outlandish clothes to choose from but I did   immediately think of my purple tights with horizontal black stripes. On the day of the event, I went into my closet to see what I could put together. As you can see from the photos, I found a stretchy horizontal striped shirt that I hadn’t worn in at least ten years (!).

Now, I’m not a small woman. I am definitely curvy and wear a size 14 or 16. Because of this,  in general, I avoid horizontal stripes. Despite having grown up hearing how stupid and helpless I was, how I couldn’t do anything right, how everything I do is a half-assed job, I (usually) don’t have an issue with body image ( though I had other major self-esteem issues that have mostly worked themselves out). I say usually because there are times, especially when I am clothes shopping and something looks so cute on the rack and so wrong on me, when I do feel bad about how I look. Hey, I’m still human and I think we all have that from time to time.I’ve seen how people, especially women, struggle so much with body image. Ladies, please love yourself for YOU! I know that I am not every man’s type but I’ve met so many men that love curvy women. In my experience, the pagan and BDSM communities are full of men that love ladies of all shapes and sizes. Those communities are also full of men and women that love themselves for who they are and aren’t afraid of expressing themselves. I credit getting away from the emotional abuse of my father as well as surrounding myself with such positive people in both the pagan and BDSM communities for helping me with my self-esteem issues and keeping those body image issues at bay. I love how the look I chose showed of my curves and yes, even my rolls. And, important to me, Yakko and Wakko, really enjoyed the look too!

My Italian Heritage – Stuffed Artichoke Recipe

I grew up in an Italian family. On special occasions (holidays mainly), my grandparents would make stuffed artichokes. The stuffed artichokes would always appear at the dinner table after everyone finished the main meal. In fact, because they always appeared at the end of the meal, my brother once (seriously) referred to them as dessert as a child!

As I got older, it seemed like stuffed artichokes were appearing less frequently at the holiday table. My grandmother would always ask right before she sat down at the table, “Anyone want anything else?” And I would always pipe up with “Artichokes!” She’d always tell me she wasn’t paying $1.50 or $2.00 a piece (whatever the going rate was at the time). I always thought that was a nice way of telling me to buzz off and that the real reason was that she didn’t want to go through the hassle of making them.

A few years ago when I went back to upstate NY to visit them one summer, I stopped by the grocery store and bought some artichokes. I figured if I showed up with them, she couldn’t use the “I’m not paying $X” excuse and then I could learn for myself how to make them. Guess what? They are actually real easy to make.

I was in the grocery store the other day and noticed the artichokes looked especially good (even though they were $2.49 each) so I picked up two to make and I finally made them last night.

Choosing an Artichoke

Choose artichokes that are medium sized (about the size of your fist). If you choose artichokes that are too large, they won’t be as tender once you steam them. You also want to look for artichokes that have nice tight, compact leaves and also an even color (though some brown spots are OK) Be careful when handling an artichoke, the leaves have pointy tips!

Preparing an Artichoke

Real Simple has a great article and video on how to prepare an artichoke. The steps there are not in the same order as I do them but they are all basically the same.

I start by cutting the stem off the base of the artichoke so that it can sit flat. I then cut off the top 1/2 of the artichoke (in the video, she does not cut off as much of the top as I do). Once the top is cut from the artichoke, I take kitchen scissors and trim the pointy tips of the outer leaves. After this is complete, I run the artichokes under cool water and set them aside.

Preparing the Stuffing

In a food processor, I break up a few slices of plain ol’ white bread. For this mixture, I used 5 slices of bread. I had enough to stuff the two artichokes I bought with enough left over to stuff at least one more (possibly two more). I also added in a bunch of parsley (1 bunch, stems removed) and two handfuls of grated parmesan cheese. Pulse until everything is chopped up/combined and add garlic salt to taste (my grandmother never actually measured anything. It was always a handful of this, a pinch of that, and by taste. It used to drive me nuts to not have actual measurements and now here I am passing along the “recipe” with the same sort of measurements.). Once you have everything “to taste”, transfer the mixture into a large mixing bowl.

Stuffing the Artichokes

Take your prepared artichoke and hold it over the mixing bowl. At this point I use my thumbs to gently spread the leaves apart from the center outward. Then I start throwing the bread crumb mixture onto the artichoke, shaking and spreading the leaves to get it as stuffed as possible. In the collage above, you can see how I use my thumbs to gently spread the leaves allowing the bread crumbs to fill the spaces. Once you have stuffed the artichokes as full as possible, drizzle some olive oil over the top of them (yes I’m Italian and yes I buy the big tin of extra virgin olive oil). When buying olive oil, be sure to get extra virgin olive oil which had the most superior flavor. And as grandpa always told me, “Always buy the most expensive olive oil you can afford”. Olive oil apparently is not something you skimp on in an Italian family.

Steaming the Artichokes

Once the artichokes are stuffed and olive oiled, it is time to cook/steam them. In the past, I’ve placed the artichokes in a big pot with 1-1/2″ of water in the bottom, covered them and turned the stove on medium-low to steam them. This time I got out my Ostar steamer and used it instead. I think I will always use my steamer from now on. Steam the artichokes until the outer leaves easily pull off the artichoke and are tender when you scrape them with your teeth (for these two artichokes, I steamed them for 50 minutes). Once the artichokes have finished steaming, let them cool for at least 15 minutes before eating them or putting them in the refrigerator.

Eating the Artichoke

I (thankfully) did not get any pictures showing how to eat an artichoke but the nice people over at Simply Recipes were kind enough to show a picture of how to eat an artichoke. Once you get closer to the center of the artichoke, the leaves are tender enough to eat whole. When you get real close to the center of the artichoke, the ends of the tender leaves will have “pinchers” on them so you want to be sure not to eat that. Eventually you will get to the fuzzy, inedible center known as the choke. Remove this portion with a spoon. What is left is the tender and delicious artichoke heart. I sprinkle a little salt on it and eat it up while saying, “Mmmmmm!”

Do you have any questions about artichokes, the stuffing or eating process? If so, leave me a comment and ask!