Sunday, July 26, 2015

FInished with "Go Set a Watchman"

As the subject line says--or implies--I've just finished Go Set a Watchman because, like the rest of literate America, I couldn't resist the book--and Scott picked up a copy for me last week when I was a) between books and b) depressed. Some months back I had one of my favorite Metro experiences when four women, ranging in age between twenty-something and sixty-something had an animated discussion about the "new Harper Lee." It was really very fine going from indifferent strangers to eager companions in the space of fifteen minutes. And we were all so excited and we all knew just a bit of this and that in the day or two after the book had been announced. So it was, likely, inevitable that I'd be reading the book within a few weeks of its release but I did hesitate, a bit, when the whole "did Harper Lee want it released or was she just too addled to stop her money-grubbing agent / publisher from issuing it" question arose. 

 But that it was an earlier rejected version of To Kill a Mockingbird made me all the more curious about it since I've read any number (well, I think it's a number no higher than six) of versions of some of Scott's books, and I do find it fascinating how utterly the characters, plots, theme, etc. can change  between the first version and the last; Ophelia's Ghost has the tiniest bit in common with The Astrologer, and I'd hate not to have read Ophelia's Ghost. (Oh, how I miss you, trick with the apples!) So it was inevitable despite the bad reviews of which I've heard but that I hadn't read.

 Because, you know, Atticus a racist isn't necessarily a bad thing. (Oh, SPOILERS ALERT, possibly.) In fact, I might go so far as to say it's a good thing because it struck me, somewhere between page 100 and page 180, that the thing about Mockingbird is that it's sort of "people are good though sometimes they do bad things" (Scott's word is "naive") and Watchman is more "people are often bad even when you think they're not" and most days I'm inclined to feel the latter is a more accurate assessment. So I was fine with the Maycomb that you find in Watchman. I also realized that the writing reminded me a lot of Dorothy Parker who wrote more than pithy couplets about death and dating and snarky reviews. But, and I don't really want to be the sort to write spoilers so I'll be oblique here, I feel that Ms. Lee lost her nerve in the end.

(That which I said about not writing spoilers? I throw that out the window in this paragraph. Consider yourself warned.) The final chapters, in which Jean Louise and Atticus have it out--well, they don't work. Not for me, and not, I don't think, for the story. Jean Louise, whom you call Scout, could go back to NYC without saying anything and that would be believable for I think most people prefer to avoid confrontation. She could have it out with Atticus, pack her bags, and leave town never to return because some people like to have the moral high ground and value having their say over keeping the peace. (See any gathering of Proudfeet.) Or there could be some sort of fairy tale/it was all a dream solution which, at least, Watchman doesn't resort to--or at least mostly it doesn't. What I can't accept (see above SPOILER alerts) is that it's best for Jean Louise to accept that her father is not a god and thus not perfect but a man she loves anyway--and to whom she never should have said such rude things. There's a big difference between "not a god" and thinking only whites should be allowed to vote, hold public office, or decide what's best for themselves.

Not about fitba

Sometimes I wonder what I'd be like if it weren't for working on books at work all the time. Did I have any idea there were so many types of owls--and woodpeckers--around before The Owl and the Woodpecker spent so much time on my desk? One doubts. And it was City Goats that provoked my ongoing obsession wtih goats though possibly my love of chevre predates my meeting Snowflake, Eloise, and--oh yes--Jennie Grant. Next up it was The Front Yard Forager, a book on eating weeds, and I now know that it's catsear, not dandelion, that I'm cutting down in my dried-up front yard these days and, by gosh, I could be making a succulent meal rather than filling the yard waste container. (It still ended up in the yard waste but the fennel cookie recipe I got from that book is the best.)

More recently I've been working on a book about cycling as a regular mode of transportation (Urban Cycing) and last weekend Scott and I rode our bikes all over West Seattle in the record-setting heat to look at gardens. It's not like I haven't owned my bike since the mid-1990s but I'm more aware of its needs since I've been working on this particular book--and I'm likely to exclaim, "Isn't biking just the best!" at regular intervals. Now I'm just starting on a book about bees--mason bees and leafcutters--and, well, I'm really wanting to know if the extremely methodical bee I observed today on the Alba lavender was a leafcutter. I took a number of photos, of course, and I've sent a couple to What's that Bug? because, of course, I'm not one to resist such a website. Nor the opportunity to share a few photos here, on the off-chance that a melittologist drops by blahdeblahblah.

Seriously, this little bee was darned cute, washing his little face or perhaps shoveling pollen someplace or other. There were any number of bumblebees and a honeybee or two also working the lavender but they all jumped from one stalk to the next while this little fellow stuck to the same one for a good ten minutes. I like a bee what's thorough.

 I also like the results of hardworking pollinators:

though I'm not sure how much they're involved in carrots. I guess carrots have to set seeds but that doesn't actually require pollination, does it? Regardless, it was a mammoth (and fine tasting) carrot. And also darned fine cucumber and teeny tomatoes.

Speaking of photogenic pollinators, here are a few more:

I had no idea there were so many types of bumblebees until I started trying to identify bees.

I believe this is the common honey bee. On the fennel I planted because while fennel can be a weed, it can also be planted.

It's a bird *and* a pollinator!  
Not so much a pollinator, I don't think, but just look at that adorable hair.

Thursday, July 23, 2015


Some day I might  write an actual post again, but today it's a quick bit of excitement about the bag and wallet I ordered from Jessie Woolf at the West Seattle Street Fair arriving at my door this evening. It's a bit more, well, vibrant than I'd expected somehow, but I think that will be a good thing. Certainly it will be hard to leave it behind.

Bag, wallet, and bonus cosmetics bag--the latter a surprise gift from Jessie!

Some day maybe I'll return to the draft started ages back about the street fair and making raspberry jam and goodness knows what else. But this is not that day.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Apricot Jam, 2015 edition

Pre-start kitchen
 And so it came to pass that on the third day of the seventh month of the year 2015 Gradka awoke her factory floor workers at 5:00 a.m. but, rather than spring into action as planned, they gave her some canned and went back to sleep. But an hour later, I got up and while still not exactly springing into action, I did put on some clothes and hang out some laundry. Then I carried up from the basement the jars and the canning pot and from the refrigerator extracted 24 pounds of apricots and a bowl of lemons and from the cupboards fetched down the bag of sugar and the coffee and the French press and the tea pot and the tea, and, in general, got ready to start on jam. 

At 8:00, with Scott also awake and caffeinated, work did indeed commence, using the Shiptonesque recipe scrawled on an envelope that some day I should copy to something more permanent.

We made four batches in two rounds of two. The first set was four pounds of apricots in each pot; the second round a slightly trickier five pounds in one and six pounds in the other. The mathematically astute will notice that you get about 19 pounds of useful apricot from a 24-pound box of apricots. Not that I actually weighed the contents of the box. I’m just shy of that obsessive. (But just wait.) 

After bringing to a boil and getting to a syrupy state two and two-thirds cup of sugar and half a cup of water, add two pounds of apricot and cook until mostly falling apart and somewhat reduced.
First 2 pounds of apricots, sugar, and water
Add the other two pounds of apricot and continue to cook down. When it seems about right (about an hour of cooking time total), add four tablespoons of lemon juice. Allow to cook another five minutes, then start ladling into prepared jars. There are never any photos of this stage as I’m too excited about ladling while everything is still properly hot to stop the proceedings and take photos. It’s usually a little messy too. 
Quitting time
 80 degrees out the kitchen window
This year we were a bit more scientific than some previous years, in part because there was some concern we didn’t have enough jars and didn’t want to start cooking jam we’d have no way to preserve. As a result, I can say that the first three batches figured out to 13.5 ounces of jam per pound of fruit while the final batch, somewhat worryingly, was 16 ounces of final product per pound;  the unit cost, inclusive of some sloppy assumptions about electricity and water, were about .25 per ounce, not including labor.

Madame Gradka maintained an air of indifference when we gave her the numbers, but we think she was secretly pleased. It’s not every year that she joins us for our post-production run snack break.

So, who wants jam? ( Seriously, tell me. We need to unload this stuff.)

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Tony! This is no time to post!

A record apricot harvest!
The story is that Scott and I will get up at about dawn, if not before, to start making this year's batch of Madame Gradka's apricot jam before the temperature has a chance to reach "unbearable" so I should be getting to bed. Instead, I pause to post, possibly because I'm a mite doubtful I will survive this jam-making business. It was 92 earlier today in the wide world and it's 80 in the house now. Even the magical backyard was unpleasantly warm this evening. But only the temperature was unpleasant. The bird visitors and general ambiance of the backyard were ever so fine, as documented in photos.
A young female bushtit in the fennel; one is moved to ask if she uses Maybelline.

Provided Ratticus and his new friend Raccoon don't interfere, it should be another spectacular grape harvest.

Not included in the book, the always popular paradigm shift
Also excellent is Paul Clarke's The Cocktail Chronicles. You know how it is--a friend has a book published and you go to the launch and buy a book because it seems the thing to do and then, maybe, you read the book and it's, well, okay at best. This book I started looking at on the bus ride home and found myself ignoring Scott as I became caught up in the text. It's so much more than a collection of cocktail recipes, though it's certainly that. And it's more than a history of cocktails which is also a topic that's been done many a time before. No, the really spectacular thing about the book is just how opinionated the author is, and how capable he is of sharing those opinions in an amusing way. It's sort of like if the authors of my beloved 1978 edition of Joy of Cooking had written entirely about alcohol instead. It is, in short, a fabulous book that I'm quite enjoying. What I truly want to do is work my way through the book, making--and drinking--each cocktail (with the exception of those that include egg because that always just sounds vile). But, for now, I drink drinks I've enjoyed many a time before and admire just how lovely the backyard is, despite the heat.
Also a good year for bees