Sunday, August 30, 2015

This post brought to you by the makers of foodmills

Today was Grape Day chez Aurora and the magic of Aurora's was once more demonstrated in oh! so many ways. We made this year's edition of grape jamly (more complete post TK, perhaps) *and* we made and froze a couple pies' worth of Concord Grape Pie filling. Just now, however, I wish to post this little clip of one of our absolute favoritest kitchen tools in action (it's a foodmill, sillies), which I hope will play on viewers' computers (tell me if it doesn't, please), and then have some time out of the kitchen.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Like Christmas in August but with so much more Vitamin K and silicon!

I could post photos of some contenders for a new pair of glasses that I'm sort of considering (from the ever-so-popular Warby Parker) but instead I opt for a shot of this evening's green bean and cherry tomato harvest.

This is what happens when you think the bean seeds you planted aren't doing anything so you plant more. And then those "more" don't seem to be showing up either so you sprout some seeds inside and then transplant them. And then it turns out that all the seeds are turning into plants and all those plants start producing beans like mad.

Fortunately, the beans, steamed for a few minutes, are excellent. But we have a *lot* of beans and more coming. Would any Seattleites like some healthy, locally sourced, organic green beans? Please!?  They're packed with antioxidants.

Friday, August 21, 2015

C&P book review: Recycled Grounds

Because, I ask, why limit myself to Goodreads?

I read The Ground Beneath Her Feet when it first came out something like fifteen years ago and loved it. I gave it to Scott way back then, thinking he'd like it too, and he couldn't get past the first few chapters, complaining that Rushdie knew nothing about writing music, being in a band, etc. Needing something to read recently, I picked up my old copy looking forward to loving it again--and hoping to get the taste of Joseph Anton out of my mouth.

Alas, either Joseph Anton has ruined Rushdie for me forever or I've become a lot less tolerant (or, to put a nicer light on it, more perceptive) than I was in 2000. On this reading I kept thinking, "Oh, Rushdie is monologuing again." Page upon page of one character or another pontificating and, seemingly, most of the time the reader is supposed to take it seriously. Oh, there were still parts I enjoyed; the relationships of the parents of the main characters are all nicely portrayed with the sadness of how those relationships fray and are destroyed but the main characters? I just wanted them to stop talking.

It was like, I realize, the bit in High Fidelity (film or book, it doesn't matter) where the main character, Rob, has dinner again with Charlie, the perfect sophisticated woman for whom he was never cool enough, and realizes just how vapid she truly is.

If only I'd read this New York Times book review . . .

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Living Bird Trailer. Woo-hoo! (or tweet tweet)

Silence for weeks and now two posts in less than twenty-four hours! This one is a quick plug/link for The Living Bird. Click here for a trailer featuring pretty birds, the photographer, and bits of birdsong; all in just about three minutes.

Local bird types: Photographer Gerrit Vyn and essayist Lyanda Lynn Haupt will be at Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park on October 15th.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Numbers, stats, and the disappointment of bees

Thirty-two books read thus far in 2015, not counting those read and reread and read again for work, of course. Nine hundred and seventy-four miles walked or biked thus far in 2015, according to the American Heart Association site which warns me it is closing down on September 30th and thus I should download my information before that date. Download how and download to where I do not understand and I'm doubtful I'll resolve those questions in the next six weeks. Worse things happen at sea and all the time in Africa all the time I'm sure.

The bee experiment is being somewhat disappointing. While a few more cocoons apparently hatched, most of them seem to have suffered from some sort of insect infestation. The cocoons had tiny little holes in them, there were some small bugs crawling about, and the cocoons themselves became very soft and squishy. I'll see if Crown Bees can tell me what happened but, well, it's a little discouraging. I think that I definitely saw at least one actual leafcutter bee on some flowers [photo not yet downloaded] but whether it's a female and whether it's going to create any new cocoons, I just don't know yet. We'll see. What I can say is that it seems like only wasps are interested in the beans and cucumbers. This business of being an urban farmer is a lot more complicated than it looks. We have, regardless of the seemingly indifferent bees, been eating cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes, beans, and plums grown right here chez Aurora (aka Gradka Farms LLC) and that's something. Soon we'll be dealing with this year's grapes as well.

When all else fails, a Gradka photo I say:

So cute! So sweet!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Me and Bees

I've realized that this bee business is more challenging than I'd anticipated--and that what the world, or at least what my world, really needs is a good guide to bee identification. But let's start at the beginning.

 I ordered a basic leafcutter bee kit from Crown Bees a few days ago--they were running a special. In my imagination they have warehouses full of leafcutter bee cocoons with the bees all about to emerge. That's the sort of thing that makes their warehouse manager want to run a special before the place is overrun with bees. Even the nicest bees are likely alarming en masse. Of course, I am likely mistaken in my imaginary vision of a warehouse filled with bees. Regardless, I ordered the "bee hut starter kit" late in the day on Tuesday and Thursday I came home to a box on the porch.
On opening it and having a look at the contents I found a) the bee house installation required some screws, b) the bee house needed to be installed before the cocoons could be put out, and c) some bees were indeed already awake. I anxiously awaited Scott's arrival at home.

 He's a clever sort so he came up with a design and some straps to use to install the bee house, thus allowing us to put it on the side of one of the porch columns rather than having to have it stick out like a unicorn horn. (Though a unicorn horn would tilt up and you want your bee house to tilt down a little.) The installation went quickly, thanks to having a professional on the job.

Soon I was able to open the pretty gauzy green bag that contained the zillion cocoons and place it at the back of the bee house. (You do this so when they hatch the bees crawl over the nest trays, thus imprinting themselves on it somehow so they know it's home.) A number of bees woke up and flew out while we watched. One hung onto the side for a while, presumably drying his wings. Oh, the joy that we felt! There may have been celebrating.

(By the way, here's a plug for Sokol Blosser, an Oregon winery that makes a fabulous organic sparkling wine that QFC sells at something like $17 a bottle. SB will also ship it to you for $20 a bottle. It's a winery Scott and I stumbled across some years back, after somehow failing to make the exit for Van Duzer. But back to the bee story.)

Somehow I got to sleep Thursday night, despite my mind buzzing with excitement. Friday morning, I just happened to have a look around for bees and, by gosh, there were bees enjoying the cosmos, just a few feet from the new bee house. Small bees! Leafcutter bees!

Or, you know, so I thought. Because further investigation today suggests that my new leafcutters might have green eyes, but they don't have metallic green thoraxes. These "new bees" of mine seem to be some sort of sweat bee--sort of like the exciting metallic green bee I saw on Housiversary weekend. So where are my new bees?

Well, there was this handsome fellow (or lady), buzzing about the cucumber blossoms but opting ultimately for the wild arugula flowers . . .
but I don't think that the fancy pattern on his thorax is right for a leafcutter either. In fact, I couldn't find his match anywhere online. I've got what I consider to be a pretty darned fine photo of a bee, but what sort of bee, I can't say. Which is less embarrassing than the time I spent trying to confirm my identification of the "maybe-its-cocoon-was-accidentally-included-with-the-leafcutters 'mason bee.'"
That one, alas, turns out to be a really-pretty-diligent-about-working-over-the-fennel-blossoms housefly. (In my defense, mason bees are described as looking a lot like house flies and, you know, those flies are a lot more attractive than you give them credit for.)

So, seriously, where are my leafcutters? A lot of the cocoons have not opened yet (and I confess I'm a little uncertain that they ever will) and most of those that did were males rather than females (if I'm correct about the males having smaller cocoons). Is the teaser shot going to be the only proper photo I get of a member of the Leafcutter Liberation Army? (That joke is going to be so funny when the bee book I'm currently working on comes out.)

One begins to see why you don't see troops of "bee-ers" out with their field glasses and camp stools. I'm not saying that the world of bees isn't fascinating, but it's a lot easier to identify a young female bushtit than it is to figure out most bees.