Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Another Man in the Kitchen

Last week I got to escape the office for half a day to drive down to Camden, SC to do a safety audit on one of our groundwater monitoring teams. These are fun to do because the team gets an advance warning, we all are audited each week in the field by each other (so it's not stressful) and it gives an office person a chance to get out in the great outdoors for a few hours. It's been super hot and humid here, though, so it's not the ideal conditions for anyone to be outdoors.

I arrived on site just in time to get the last of a passing thunderstorm which made the mugginess more muggy and brought all the bugs out of the woodwork. I put on my steel toe boots and safety glasses and stepped out of the car into the meadow where the guys were working. Instantly I could not see because my glasses steamed up. But luckily, Ken was ingenious and had bought an industrial fan and matching industrial-strength power inverter for the car so that they had torrent of wind blowing across the tailgate and camp chairs they had set up by the well. Since every well was taking several hours to stabilize, they decided that they should take the time to set up as comfortably as possible at each location. Being pregnant, I was given "top fan position" with the cushiest chair. What gentlemen!

A good part of any decent safety audit is getting caught up on chit chat, finding out the woes of the field work, the adventure, the tales, and I likewise act as informant on office news, deadlines and other unpleasantries. Although I work with Ken all the time because we are in the same office, I don't see Woody very often because he's out of our Alabama office. So it was fun to see him. A highlight of the safety audit was the recipe that Woody described to me in detail. He hails from Tennessee and told me about this famous Tomato Pie recipe that he made that weekend. By the end of his impromptu cooking show (hand motions to demonstrate, colorful descriptors and passion), my mouth was watering with the thought of bacon and tomatoes. On the drive home I even stopped at a convenience store (no grocery stores en route for the whole hour drive) to buy the necessary cheese. What a pie it turned out to be!! I will share with you this secret:

Woody's Tomato Pie (this is probably not on the Weight Watchers menu)

Three large tomatoes (or so), chopped and well drained of juice (or you get soggy crust)
one baked pie crust (you can do 2 parts whole wheat flour to one part all purpose for more fiber)
one large onion
handful of fresh basil chopped or equivalent dried basil
about 6 slices of cooked bacon, chopped
1 cup of light mayonnaise (I used the olive oil mayo- turned out good)
1 cup of cheese (I used a combo pack of mozzarella, asiago, cheddar and provolone)
salt and pepper

Prepare and bake your pie crust at 350 for about 15 minutes. meanwhile chop and drain the tomatoes and onions, pick your basil and wash and chop and get the bacon cooking and drained. Chop bacon into small pieces. Once the crust is done, spread a layer of tomatoes, a layer of onion and sprinkle with bacon and basil. Repeat until all veggies/bacon have been placed in the crust. Season with salt and pepper and spread the mayo over the top of the pie like frosting. Then top with cheese and bake at 350 for about 1/2 hour. Serve with a fresh salad. This refrigerates well and tastes even better the next day!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Paul's Pork Chops

You read that right! Paul made dinner tonight to give me a break and he decided to make pork chops, like we often have, but with a flare. He made a sauce for the chops that to me was out of this world! It's a very simple sauce that he served over the chops, wild rice and broccoli.

3/4 of an apple, chopped
1/4 cup of Vermont maple syrup (yum)
2 Tbs. of chopped walnuts (thanks to Clementine willing to share)

We actually used my jarred apples that I jarred last October, which made it super easy, but if no jarred apples are handy, used fresh apples and cook in a saucepan for about 10 minutes to soften. Add the syrup and walnuts and cook for another 3-4 minutes. If you are using jarred apples, add all ingredients together and cook for 3-4 minutes.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Our fledgelings have left the nest, but before the whole family flew the coop, I managed to snag a blurry picture of Mom and Dad hanging out on a nearby branch to catch a breather between feedings. On this particular day I was working from home at the kitchen table and had the chance to notice the comings and goings of these hard-working parents as they made their way back and forth to the nest with worms, caterpillars and miscellaneous flying bugs. After each feeding, they would fly back to this same branch outside the kitchen window and preen, side by side. The next day, the whole family was gone. I'm glad I had a chance to watch the these tireless little wonders!
With all the bird activity, I decided to start one of my back-burner projects and make Clementine her very own indoor tree perch. Not being a very confident bird with her footing, I'm not sure how she'll take to something so jungle-gym like, but we'll see. I thought it would be nice to keep her big old cage in the office and have the tree out in the family room for her to sit on while we are home. It takes less space and it would give her a different place to be so it's not the same old, same old. I used one of the fallen branches in our yard and bought screws and bolts to construct this tree of perches. I had to strip the bark and will give it a douse of bleach water to kill all bacteria, fungi and bugs.

The tree was still not completely debarked because the outdoor temps soared again, so it had to remain outside. But after the neighboring birds got used to it being on the deck, some adventurous ones came by to make sure it was sturdy enough.

It's been turtle-nesting season, I'm thinking, because they are on the move just lately. Sadly, many get run over on the roads because they are trying to get to wherever they are trying to get to on the other side of the road, and they are not quite fast enough. Plus, they just ball up in their shell when a car comes their way. I have had to pull over and hitchhike a few to the other side.

This guy was cruising the perimeter of our veggie garden and was making a hasty retreat when I came by. Luckily, even at his fast pace, I was able to tap on the window to get Paul, he got his shoes on, found the camera and came out to grab a picture before the turtle could make the large 10 foot journey to the underbrush.
Even I am nesting. It kicked in and my gosh the projects that can be accomplished when focused! Curtains for both family room windows are nearly done after a few weekends of hard work (I've had the fabric for about a year), and wow are they orange! I love the color but they are orangier hanging than they were flat, so I'm working on ways to blend the colors in with the rest of the room and I think painting the walls will be key, along with some accessories.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Positively Pregnant

Wow six months pregnant and time has flown! Over the past month people are no longer avoiding asking if I'm pregnant for fear that I've just gained a bit of weight. I guess it has become more obvious that I'm carrying more than a few burgers. My favorite thing is that when I go to do some shopping, the cashiers ask me vague questions like, "So what are you having?" and I thought it was a weird question and responded with, "oh, just these few things, thanks." I still hadn't really gotten used to the questions yet when another cashier at Lowe's said the usual, "How are you today?" followed by, "Is this your first?" I said, "No, I've been a regular at Lowe's. I come at least once or twice a month." She laughed and said she was referring to my baby, and then she continued down a topic that was not so funny at the time. She asked, "how old are you?" I answered warily, "35." And THEN she said, "You have given me hope. I'm in my late 30s and am hoping to have kids..." Anyway, she must have certainly thought I was past my prime to have asked, and then she obviously thought that having a baby at my age was like climbing Mt. Everest! At the time, I found that conversation depressing since at 35 I don't feel ready to sail off into my sunset years just yet! But then I realized, it's how I feel that counts, right? And I feel great!

Yeah, I know, this picture is a bit odd, but Paul was never home from work when I was thinking of taking a belly picture, and he'd always think about it right about as I was about to drop into bed, so finally I just tried the timer feature on the camera and went for the self-portrait look.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Progress in the Garden

This spring was my first experience using my compost that took 2 years to mature. I have since realized that mowing/chopping my autumn leaves before putting them into my compost speeds things up tremendously. See, last fall I started a new pile before my old pile was finished. I didn't want to add new leaves to a nearly mature compost pile and so much to the chagrin of my neighbors, I had two monstrosities going simultaneously. With this new pile I have turned religiously every weekend and have the smaller leaves and it is already nearly at the stage that the 2007 pile was in by 2010. This spring I used my mature compost to spread around all my planted trees and shrubs which all needed a boost, and I used the rest to start my vegetable garden. Fun thing: I ended up with lots of surprise seedlings around my front yard bushes. I didn't pull them right away like I would other weeds because I was suspicious (and was right) that they were tomato plants! So looking carefully in the photo below, around a boxwood are 3 or 4 tomato plants.
I also ended up with a mystery squash or melon plant growing from my compost in the veggie garden. I still haven't figured out what kind of veggie or fruit it is, but I'm patiently waiting to find out. Another fun thing about my compost is that the results were quite amazing when my neighbor asked why the two cabbages on the far right are twice as big as the others. they were all the same size when I planted them, but the only difference was the two cabbage plants were growing in my compost and the rest were growing in the store-bought compost. I didn't have enough homemade compost to fill up the whole garden so only about 1/3 of it is filled with my compost. I might have converted my neighbor who was till that moment my biggest critic for the unsightly compost piles. She started asking me the particulars of compost-making.

The big project for the spring was this vegetable garden and the fun addition of a rain barrel. I bought one that is the most unobtrusive that I could find and hooked a soaker hose to it and a special rain barrel timer (that can run without any pressure). This setup, along with a rainy spring, has kept my garden watered self-sufficiently until the last few weeks when I needed some more aggressive watering due to the heat wave we had. The garden has gained a few neighborhood fans who come and admire the rain barrel operation. So I have to keep it well tended and weeded so as not to disappoint the fans.

Another great thing is that the rain barrel can't easily be seen from the front of the house.