As of October 18, 2013, Pie and Beer has moved!

Click here to go to the new address, or stay here to read posts from the archives.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Water Bug

I watered the asparagus for the first time since, well, since the bug learned how to walk and it became more of a chore to go out there while she got into trouble in falling-down outbuildings. By now, though, she's realized it's way more fun to stay close to Mummy and, more important, the hose.

In Case Elberton Attacks

I've been using serranos from the garden, and the sorrel and herbs are producing quite well despite my ridiculously haphazard planting method (throwing seeds out on the ground and hoping something grows somewhere). The eggplant is starting to bloom, and the epazote that finally came up from seeds looks nice—I've already used a bunch in tacos:

The tomatoes Jane gave me are incredibly healthy. I don't know what variety this one is, but it looks good so far:

Even the grape tomatoes I started from seed myself are growing crazily. They're almost two feet higher than the top of the metal trellis frame thing:

With some stray cilantro that sprouted from last year's dropped seeds, and a bunch of African basil and sweet basil.

Emboldened by my timid foray into vegetable gardening in Georgia, I'm now considering putting in a real garden next spring, part of my plan to make us completely self-sufficient by 2012. (I don't have such a plan, of course. But gas prices, plus living half an hour from my beloved Publix, plus produce prices, plus blah blah blah . . . and I'm thinking we should get a chest freezer and some chickens and plant a garden and drill for oil.)

Have any of you readers tried "no-till" or "weedless" gardening? I was given a book about it years ago (to review for Amazon, back in the good old days of the Internet boom), and have been rereading it this weekend. It kind of makes a lot of sense, although I'll need to start working on our plot now if the soil is going to be good enough by next spring. Here's where I'm thinking about putting the garden, in front of the mulberry trees, but not close enough to the road that everything will be covered with dust all the time:

The right end is shady until about 11:30. Mom: thoughts? Will I have to fence it in?

This morning during a lull in my freelance work I made some old fencing into two compost bins—I think that will work better and be more efficient than my random spreading pile system that seems to attract egg-shell-eating neighbor dogs.

Oh, and I do think we should have a couple chickens—that is, if we can figure out how to keep them out of sight of Cooper and Wagner, who have a barking problem that chickens would only exacerbate. To that end I've actually purchased detailed plans for a chicken tractor that will accommodate two or three hens.

Mr. Chalmers thought it was funny that I planted fifty asparagus crowns, and once explained to some guests that it was for when Elberton attacks. Heh.

Movie Night Becomes Garden Party

The Chalmerses had a party in our front yard the other night at which we'd intended to screen The Super Cops on an old 16 mm projector I'd been repairing piece by piece for the last year or so—finding and buying and replacing random parts, super-gluing broken pieces, replacing lamps, getting the sound to work with the Mr.'s amplifier, et cetera, ad nauseum. We hung up the screen (slipcover material) early in the evening . . .

And tested out the setup: all systems go: it looked and sounded fantastic. When it got dark, however, the projector suddenly would not work. At all. Not one frame of The Super Cops made it to the big screen that night, but that just meant we got to have a normal party, with conversation and drinking and food and music, and we were spared having to watch a probably not-so-great film in less-than-perfect (cinematically) conditions. I wasn't too disappointed, but I do want to know what the hell is wrong with that goddamned machine.

Moving on . . .

I hung battery-powered paper lanterns from the magnolia tree, and put citronella candles all around. We had smoked chicken wings that Mr. Chalmers made, potato salad with lovage, deviled eggs (our neighbor had just given us about four dozen eggs from her hens), a big apple crisp and banana bread, vodka sours and Pimm's cups, popcorn, and so on. I was especially happy with the mulberry drink the bug and I made. Just a cup of mulberry juice tinted it a beautiful deep pink, and the mulberry flavor was surprisingly pronounced—these mulberries are extremely sweet, but the acidic lemon and lime helped brighten things up:
Mulberry-lemon-limeade: Puree 2 cups mulberries in a food processor with a little water, then push the juice through a sieve and discard the seeds.

You should have about 1 cup juice. Pour it into a pitcher and stir in about 1 cup each of fresh lemon and lime juice, and water and simple syrup to taste. Chill.

The bug and I had lunch in the front yard the day of the party:

I didn't take any actual party-in-progress pictures, but I think this was taken the morning after, in the middle of the clean-up:

The bug stayed up with us until midnight, taking short little breaks in the teepee throughout the evening. She burned her fingers holding a sparkler—just as our friend was saying that he'd had to show his ID to buy them. She didn't seem too bothered by it, though, and would probably say the sheer thrill of being allowed to hold her own sparkler was worth it.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Calm before the Storm

I've been trying to pack everything fun I want to do into the few days before my next big freelance job starts. My mom stayed on several days after we got home from our vacation, and helped out a lot. Us girls went to Pinebush Nursery in Ila—by far the best place to get perennials and trees around here (they also have some herbs and vegetables, but their focus is great prices on the larger stuff)—and my mom helped me pick out some bushes and trees to plant as a screen in the shade between our house and the neighbors'. I got three large (seven-gallon, I think) Cryptomeria japonica "Yoshino" and two beautiful anise bushes, and a tall camellia (for $7.50 because it was a little spindly). My mom convinced me we could fit them all in my car, a big old gas-guzzling Oldsmobile. We came home and dug holes the rest of the day; Mr. Chalmers smoked meat for lunch and spelled me on the shovel.

My mom also told me about how to make my dogwood seedlings grow the way I want them to, with the branches spreading out a little instead of straight up. Apparently all you do is tie the branches down with string, and tighten them every couple weeks until they're growing that way on their own. I'm now thinking about doing something similar with the cut-down pecan tree that's sprouting crazily in the front yard. The bug likes to stand or sit on the stump and hide inside the branches, and I think I could accentuate the bowl effect and prune the leaders off at the top to keep it small and round, then make it into a little chair with woven honeysuckle or something.

My mom also pointed out that the two trees in the side yard are not basswood as I'd thought, but mulberries! There was no fruit on them the last two years as far as I remember, but right now they're loaded. We took the ladder out and picked some. The bug calls them "sweets," which is what she's saying in this picture:

I started a moss garden under the magnolia tree. It mostly gets covered up with leaves.

We collect bits of sparkly mica from the gravel under the tree and put it in the holes in a log (which I'd made as a birdfeeder last year).

Am I the only person who comes home from a trip and sets about making a souvenir? In New Mexico and Arizona you can't turn around without getting tangled in a tacky, mass-produced dreamcatcher, but instead of spending a fortune on one for the bug I bought some pretty beads in Bisbee (the bead and paper store was open late for some reason) so I could make a more personalized one for her myself.

Most evenings lately before bed she and I go on a little walk around the yard, always stopping to taste the nectar in the honeysuckle blossoms and pick some seed pods from the weeds at the edge of the woods. Yesterday we went out and clipped some of the older vines, then boiled them for about fifteen minutes so the bark could be rubbed off easily. Twisted them into a circle (or "O"), then followed these easy directions for the web in the center, using heavy-duty button thread in place of the traditional sinew. I added the beads (some of which are made from date pits, dates being one of the bug's favorite sweets), a feather my mom had sent to the bug a while back (I think she said it was from a loon), and some twisty dried seed pods. I think it looks nice next to the Japanese-style paper lantern hanging from the blue bandana-print canopy over her bed. It certainly won't do anything to alleviate the night terrors our little boo has been having, but making it with her out in the teepee was a wonderful way to spend a windy Sunday afternoon (even though much of that time was spent searching for the beads she had spread around the yard).

This morning, early, the bug and I went out and picked some greens from the yard: two kinds of sorrel, three kinds of basil, and a bunch of tarragon.

Quick frittata with greens: Preheat the broiler to high. Roughly chop a few handfuls of greens and herbs. Whisk 4 or 5 eggs together with a bit of water. Melt a bit of butter in a skillet over medium-high heat and pour in the eggs. Spread the greens and herbs over the eggs, sprinkle with salt and pepper and some crumbled feta. When the eggs are set around the edges, put the skillet under the broiler to set the top. Cut into wedges and serve.
With an English muffin and fig jam my mom made, the frittata is a fine start to a breakfast for a growing little girl. She ate about twice this much, plus some dried lychees, some popcorn, some Monterey Jack cheese, and two chocolate chips—we have to spell out "chocolate" in this house now.

Next project is a slipcover for the orange couch. Yes, I still like the orange, but something about the texture of the upholstery makes it extremely difficult to get dog hair out of, and I thought that a slipcover could at least be taken off and washed. I got the cheapest fabric I could find, a 100 percent cotton bull denim (11 ounces per square yard, which is heavy), and it's white at the moment—Mr. Chalmers thinks I'm crazy to try to solve a black-dog-hair problem with white fabric, and he may well be right. I ordered the fabric online (from Fabric Masters—it was $1.75 a yard, plus about $17 to ship FedEx overnight: an incredible bargain), and here's what 22 yards of it looks like:

With a flip flop for scale.

I expected it to be more "natural" than white, and the project for today is to see if I can make it more off-white by dying it with tea. I hope it really is 100 percent cotton. In any case, though, I think the white will be fine as long as it's washable. Grandma went back to Washington State yesterday, unfortunately, before she got a chance to make the slipcover for me. So it's me and the bug and the sewing machine—and 22 yards of heavy denim . . .

Friday, May 16, 2008

Boulder to Tucson

Mr. Chalmers and I went on an honest-to-god vacation while my mom stayed here in Georgia with the bug for almost a whole week! We went to Boulder to attend a party celebrating the impending wedding of two good friends of ours, then drove south to Tucson and flew back from there. Here are some pictorial highlights, with notes and soundtrack suggestions.

The Saturday farmer's market in Boulder was shockingly good. I guess in the mountain states, where it's freezing even in May, farmer's markets might tend to be heavy on the meat—I kept having to stop Mr. Chalmers from buying large cuts of beef (we were staying in a motel). I had a wonderful breakfast of a crusty, yeasty, sticky pecan roll and a mole tamale, the latter pictured below.

Boulder is swank, y'all. We had pretty good sushi for dinner at what might have been a chain restaurant (Mr. Chalmers was told by someone at the party that new chains are tested out in Colorado because the population is representative of the U.S. as a whole). The night before, we had a surprisingly good dinner at (our hosts' choice) a Tibetan restaurant—luckily it also featured Indian dishes, which in fact made up the bulk of the menu.

Before the party, we were taken to a bar on the outskirts of the city called the Rocky Flats Lounge, where certain of us put David Allan Coe, Tom Petty (deep album track), and the Shins on the jukebox and all of us were regaled with tales from the Internet trenches by famous music critic Frank Kogan (whose book is as fun as it sounds, by the way).

It was a relief to see that not all of Boulder is brand-sparkling-new and Green.

We had two breakfasts the morning after the party. One of them was in Louisville (pronounced Lewis), at the Huckleberry. It's not the kind of place I'd expect to like, and it was crowded with Mother's Day people even very early in the morning, but we took seats at the bar and had a really good meal with our New York Times. I had a crabcake eggs Benedict with perfect fried potatoes.

With a certified Kogan mix CD in the car stereo—new favorite song: "Ta, Da, Tako Je" (which can be heard here) by Grupa Zeris—we made our way to Albuquerque on Sunday, via Taos (late Mother's Day lunch at a touristy terrace on the square) and Espanola, where we were thrilled to see two actual low riders (one of them in time and close enough for me to snap a picture). We'd been to Espanola a few years ago and seen none.

Somewhere on this drive we heard an announcement on WNMX AM 540 that said something to the effect that they are making some changes at the station to better serve their listeners. One of these changes is that they are no longer playing requests. Hee. A couple songs later, we heard the most bizarre cumbio ever, and I so wish I knew what it was; basically this guy is just singing as if he's in terrible, terrible pain. It's something WNMX thinks we should hear.

First meal in Albuquerque, as it probably always will be, was at an old favorite of Mr. Chalmers (and as of three years ago myself), the Frontier. I had a green chile cheeseburger, Mr. Chalmers having beat me to the chicken enchilada with green. It was exactly right. Sadly I was too full to even contemplate—no, that's not true, I agonized over the decision—a hot buttered sweet roll.

Second meal in Albuquerque was at Mary & Tito's: carne adovado, fried eggs with red chile and hash browns (back); cheese enchiladas with green chile and refried beans (front). I think we both preferred the adovado we'd had last time we were in ABQ at Barela's Coffee Shop, and I didn't care so much for the green chile enchiladas—the cheese was not quite melted, and the chile was a bit watery and mild. Still, you can hardly go wrong with enchiladas for breakfast.

Between Albuquerque and the turnoff for Hatch—new favorite song: "Cappuccino" by the Knux (which can be experienced here); Mr. Chalmers's new favorite: "I'm in Love with You" by Cassie (uh, here)—the landscape looked mostly like this, parched and brown and very, very bright, for miles upon miles:

I looked at the map and saw that this stretch along the Rio Grande is called the Jornada del Muerte. True, that.

Fun road signs, part 1: between Rodeo and Douglas on route 80: "Watch for animals, next 112 miles." Thanks.

Bisbee! Why don't more people like us go to Bisbee, Arizona? Has Jonathan Franzen written about it yet? It's apparently a birding mecca (we saw—and heard—some of the craziest birds there), but it's also a beautiful old mining town carved out of the Mule Mountains. We stayed at a truly perfect little motel, the Copper City Inn. Wine was waiting for us when we arrived (one of the best things about this place is that you're given a code for the main door lock and the door to one of the three rooms in the motel in advance, so you never have to check in or out, or be greeted in any way). We had our wine out on the balcony while we listened to the birds and the sun set. (This picture, I should note, was taken the next morning—hence the coffee mugs where you might be expecting wineglasses.)

Having freshened up after our day's jornada, we strolled around town, stopping for a drink at perhaps the most photogenic bar in the Southwest, the Bisbee Grand Saloon. View to my right:

And to my left:

It was a slow night in Bisbee, the kind of disturbingly desperate bartender told us. We had dinner at the only place within walking distance that was open, the old Copper Queen hotel, out on the pretty, heated terrace at dusk. (Come to think of it, there are a few reasons people like us don't go to Bisbee more often; maybe it was the off season, or just too late in the day for much commerce to be going on.)

Next morning, coffee then breakfast, then a quick stop for gawking at the mine. A sucker for open-pit mines since my early childhood in Butte, I took about three dozen pictures of the Lavender pit mine (copper) just east of town; here's one:

If you look at a road atlas, you'll notice that the route from Bisbee to Nogales, right along the border, is signified by either a dotted line or a thin-black-outlined white line. I floated the possibility to Mr. Chalmers that this could be a dirt road, and he was dubious that a dirt road would make it into Rand McNally. Of course it was dirt, all forty or fifty miles of it, and not only dirt but almost continuous mountain switchbacks. With a couple exceptions, the only vehicles we saw on that four-plus-hour stretch of road were Border Patrol SUVs.

Fun road signs, part 2: About two hours into the unimproved winding mountain road: "Unimproved winding mountain road, next 14 miles." Soon afterward, around Lochiel, the road became paved, and we cheered; then about fifty feet later: "Pavement ends." About three hours in, Mr. Chalmers spotted a scary and official-looking sign up ahead and said, "Now what kind of shitty sign is this gonna be?" and it said something like "Cars must not leave the road," but in Spanish with no translation.

Nogales! By the time we reached Nogales we'd had our fill of Border Patrol, so we decided to stay on the AZ side for lunch. Jardines de Mexico was chosen at random, but it was absolutely lovely. I had a sweet, refreshing horchata and a chicken mole torta that I was head over heels for; Mr. Chalmers had a carne asada torta that he said was okay but too heavy on the mayonnaise.

Meanwhile, Grandma was having her way with the bug's wardrobe, and sending us pictures on the email. Here's the bug at lunch at Big City Bread back in Athens. Have you ever seen so much gingham?

We missed her all the time, except on the airplane and at certain other points during our trip—for example, at the Rocky Flats Lounge, and when we pulled off to take in the view on the road between Palominas and Lochiel, Arizona, where there were sheer dropoffs with very little in the way of barriers and much in the way of warnings about dangerous UDAs in the area.

We'd saved all our fancy meals for shiny Tucson, and instead of taking pictures of our gorgeously plated food I concentrated on preserving the memory of random parking lots and grocery stores. Here's the road down from the foothills, where we had dinner at sunset on the (heated) patio at J Bar, in the Westin La Paloma spa and resort:

I'd scoured Chowhound for weeks and uneasily come to accept that fancy restaurants in Arizona are often associated with spas and resorts, and this place was independently recommended by a Tucsonian colleague of Mr. Chalmers, so we went ahead. We had an appetizer of a cold roasted poblano stuffed with hamachi seviche (with croutons, which were unexpected in a ceviche but delightful) and sitting in a pool of chilled cucumber-mint broth. It was good, and tangy with lime. I had a seared salmon with corn quinoa, "Peruvian" potatoes in some sort of creamy sauce, roasted beets, and fried yucca chips spiced with canela. It was a good, if complicated, plate of stuff. Mr. Chalmers had the carne asada. I think it was less good. Boy, I should be a reviewer. Oh, and the margarita (rocks, with salt) was top notch.

We stopped at a couple grocery stores after dinner. I like walking slowly through supermarkets in new cities and seeing ways they're different from the ones I'm used to. For example, probably not surprisingly, the big Tucson Safeway in the rich part of town featured an enormous section devoted to kosher foods. Here's but a small part of it:

Mr. Chalmers got us a slice of carrot cake to eat in the car for dessert, and it was sweet and thus awesome. We stopped at a Trader Joe's that night—my first Trader Joe's, if you can believe that. Nothing too special, but it seemed well priced, a place to pick up staples like dried pasta, dried fruit, coffee, yogurt, maybe cheese. I got some funny pasta and some dried lychees for the bug, some dark chocolate for me (not knowing that there was a big box of fun spicy Cowgirl Chocolates, a gift from my uncle and his wife, waiting for us at home).

Up early one morning (we were still on toddler-parent EST, even though the funky and ambitious Hotel Congress, where we stayed, was on hipster-cat's-eye-glasses-wearing roots-rock-listening twenty-something time), we took a short and somewhat confused hike in the Saguaro National Park:

. . . then hit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. We wished more than ever that the bug was with us, and vowed to return with her in three years.

We both had chilaquiles for the first time, at Teresa's Mosaic Café in Tucson. They're on the left in this picture:

Mr. Chalmers said it was the best thing he ate on our trip. Fried corn tortillas layered with a rich, long-cooked tomato sauce and melted cheese, it sounds so simple, but I'm sure it's one of those foods that's easier to screw up than to get just right. The tortillas were somehow crisp and tender and soft at the same time. I was equally impressed by the black beans, which made good use of epazote (possibly fresh), and were the ideal consistency: creamy beans that nonetheless hold their shape, with a not-too-thick, not-too-thin liquid around them.

After a walk through the Barrio Historico, we couldn't not stop at a warehouse-sized building advertising "vegetable donuts." From the display cases shoved into one corner of the vast and otherwise empty space, I picked out a plain cinnamon-sugar cake donut and a mango empanada, both excellent. The empanada crust was sweet and extremely tender and crumbly, the filling just tart enough to offset it. The donut was crisp on the outside and light on the inside.

Our second fancy meal was our last dinner in Tucson. We walked to Cafe Poca Cosa from the hotel, and ate on the (unlovely) patio, which completely filled up soon after we arrived (make reservations, is the lesson). The menu apparently changes twice a day, and was presented on a chalkboard accompanied by a waitress explaining all sorts of rules about what you get and how you get it. We each ordered the chef's plate: three small portions of main dishes of the chef's choosing (with the promise that each of our selections would be different), with a pile of salad on top and a bowl of pink beans and one of rice with corn on the side. It was all pretty good. The small portions were large. I was celebrating having snagged a big recipe-testing job via email and cell phone that evening, and had two glasses of red sangria that I liked a lot. The chef herself stopped by all the tables to ask sweetly how things were going—and incidentally the chef at J Bar was also omnipresent on the patio: Is this a western thing?

I'm leaving out quite a bit, I'm sure, but right now I'm all blogged the heck out. We were happy to come home to our little sweetheart, who we're told was a perfect angel the entire time. I reintroduced the old T-shirts into her lineup.


Monday, May 05, 2008

Early May

Completely unfocused and uninformative post follows—with pictures!

Over the weekend, we went to Nature's Harmony Farm, near Elberton, Georgia, for a lengthy guided tour of their operations, which are apparently modeled on the Polyface Farms in Virginia. Mostly we just walked around pointing, tuning in to and out of the more detailed explanations of crop rotation, natural fertilization, and breeding. I suppose this kind of thing should be much more fascinating to me than it is, and I have to admit that I might have rolled my eyes when I heard the phrase "coated in diesel fuel." (To be fair, it was used in reference to the farmers' certainly wise decision to forego strictly organic baby turkey feed in favor of a locally produced feed.)

The bug immediately took to the chickens, and had to be coaxed out of the henhouse after about twenty minutes. I'm again considering building a chicken tractor and getting some for ourselves.

We did a lot of laundry in preparation for a visit from Grandma. I had to string up a line in the backyard to accommodate some of the larger items.

The herb garden over the weekend was invaded by vegetable plants, god help me. An heirloom-tomato-growing friend, a colleague of Mr. Chalmers, sent five plants home with him for me, along with various baggies of stuff like bone meal, blood meal, green sand, and more for fertlizing. I just hope I don't kill them off right away.

Here's part of the herb garden in the front yard, though I guess you can't see much right now. At the bottom (under crossed sticks, to keep trampling dogs and the bug away) is sorrel. In the middle are a couple of pepper plants (serrano and Anaheim) and a Japanese eggplant—why not? A bunch of random herbs, and the tomatoes are in the back. The bug has helped with this project every step of the way, although there are few things she enjoys more than digging up the seedlings we've just put in the ground.

Yesterday I dug some seedlings of English dogwood (or mock orange) from the brush at the side of the yard and put them in the front yard. And I took, from the woods in back, some shrubs I don't know the name of—I've seen them everywhere, and I love how they look, especially when the leaves turn bright red in fall. Will take a picture soon so I can ask you all for an ID. They really are in just about every yard around here, but I don't know how to look up the name.

This morning I fixed up the teepee and made it more sturdy by actually sewing the cloth to the poles, and cutting off the extra cloth at the bottom. The bug went right in and took a two-hour nap; I brought my computer out to the porch and got some work done.

She's inside, napping on her sleeping bag. Her birthday-present slide, still much used, thank you very much, has as far as I know not negatively affected home prices in the area. I think the decline of the American lawn is much exaggerated, and that Tom Vanderbilt is a snob. (The mystery plant is in the top right corner, but I'll take a clearer picture.)