i need to be stopped...

i am enterprising on a new obsession, but it requires a bit of history to explain. last year, we were inundated with beets from the summer/fall CSA farmshare, so i had to find many ways to use them before they went off. problem was, i am the only person around here who likes beets, and then, only once in a very blue moon. i was able to put the leafy tops to use as "sauteed greens" (and they really are quite tasty as such), but there was no amount of magic that would make the bulbous roots any more appealing to my favorite animator. enter pickled beets.

i did not want to buy a bunch of canning equipment (canner, jars, rubberized gripper thingy for moving hot jars) just to produce a few quarts of pickles. luckily, there is a lazy approach to doing everything. i purchased a few large jars of the type that are usually used to display dry goods (pasta, beans, that sort of nonsense), and i skipped the hot water bath used in canning and settled for fuss-free refrigerator pickles. i boiled, peeled and sliced the beets, then layered them with sliced onions, a few sprigs of fresh herbs, and some pickling spices. i made a hot solution of vinegar, water, and salt, filled the jars with the mixture, and left them to cool to room temperature before placing the jars in the fridge. after several days, i speared a slice on a fork and presented it to my favorite animator for tasting. (once we got past the many goofy faces of protest) he nibbled the very edge of the disc, chewed a few times, then opened wide and grabbed the rest of the slice from the fork. yep... he was hooked.

fast-forward to the present, and he has already put in a request for pickled beets for the upcoming season. naturally, i see this as an opportunity to delve deeper into the world of canning (and as an excuse to buy some proper equipment). unfortunately, attempting to learn more about preserving and storing food is like throwing yourself down a rabbit hole and emerging in Prepperland. i have absolutely nothing against being prepared for emergencies—some of my favorite people have basements that look like supermarket aisles—but the SHTF rhetoric tends to inspire overzealousness (bordering on straight-up insanity) in individuals who seem more than willing to press the self-destruct button, just to put their "plan" to the test. seriously, it is scary at times. one minute you are reading a relatively sane post about food preservation, and a minute later, you are eyeball-deep in comments about chemtrails, mind control, and every manner of global conspiracy. i just want to eat tasty pickles and maybe make some jam. i am not stockpiling for World War III.

so, there i was, weeping for the future of humanity, while browsing for books on Amazon and simultaneously cycling through many tabs opened to assorted food storage websites, when it hit me: i need to be stopped. i tend to preface every new activity with tons of research, which (inevitably) leads to the need to purchase ALL the equipment, because that is how my brand of OCD works. it would be acceptable (or even useful) if i had an acre or two worth of produce to 'put up' for the winter, but i am likely going to buy a couple bags of  beets and amuse myself for an evening turning them into pickles. period. this does not require collecting more junk equipment in my already crowded kitchen cupboards. beyond that, i blinked for a minute and found myself looking at vacuum sealers. makes sense. if you are gonna go, may as well go all the way, right? seriously... i need to be stopped.

elsewhere, i am gearing up for marathon amounts of summer reading. as a general rule, i pick a theme (or author) and roll with that for the season. i decided to take a break from cozy-mysteries, and try a bit of fantasy for a change. i started reading Raymond E. Feist back in high school, and i always intended to read the rest of the Riftwar cycle, so i am returning to the very beginning with the Magician novel(s).

i am also drooling over Making, a new-to-the-market, multi-craftual magazine.

the first issue has a "flora" theme, while the second issue (due out later this year) will have a "fauna" theme.

there are recipes, line drawings (of the 'adult coloring book' variety), and assorted craft projects, including beading, embroidery, and these super-cute sewn/quilted coasters.

however, Making is first and foremost a knitting magazine. the Editor (and resident Photographer) is knitwear designer Carrie Bostick Hoge. i love the simplicity of her garments, several of which are on my must-knit-before-i-die list [notably, the Shoals Tank, Maeve shrug, Maude cardi, and Portland Pullover]. while the magazine features projects from several designers, i found myself swooning over one by CBH herself. there i was, perusing the preview images, when i came across the Branches & Buds Pullover, and i gasped audibly. it is even more charming in hard-copy. i need this sweater in my life!

we found this vintage copy of the Better Homes & Gardens Sewing Book at the used bookstore, and it was a must-have for my craft library. it was originally published in the nineteen hundred and sixties (that does sound ancient), but it is a timeless reference of basic and advanced techniques that should come in very handy.

then, just as i pulled the last book from the pile and started snapping away, my camera lost power. some may say the battery went dead, but i have read enough of this book to recognize the first stages of an assault. clearly, the garden gnomes do not want me to share this truth with the rest of the world. seems i may need to reconsider the prepper lifestyle after all.

on a parting note, i was sorting through a batch of photos earlier today, when my attention was drawn to an odd repetitive noise. it stopped after a second or two, so i returned to sorting... and there it was again, a noise coming from outside, but in decidedly close proximity. this was the point when i tossed aside the librarian glasses, grabbed the nearest cat (that being the little grey one, as the other one was too busy napping to get involved), and bolted toward the balcony. a tiny head popped up among the greenery, and i responded by shoving the cat through the door, in the general direction of the trespasser. then my cat, my bestest best girl, sat down on her haunches and proceeded to lick herself thoroughly, while the squirrel looked on with curiosity from the railing. having concluded that my cats are completely useless, i was forced to resort to harsher methods. why was i squirting hot sauce on the balcony and sprinkling chili powder on soil, you ask? chemical warfare, i reply. wish me luck.


(at least) a million bucks...

yes, this is technically last week's post. in my defense, i had absolutely nothing positive to say last week, and this was not the appropriate forum for airing that diatribe. that being said, short(ish) post today. the feels-like temperature is rapidly approaching 'surface of the sun' hotness, which is only made worse by any physical activity beyond the necessary intake of breath. good times. did i mention that we have no AC (and i keep vetoing every suggestion of buying one)? good times indeed.

so, there i was this morning, staring acrophobia in the face just long enough to water the plants, when i discovered something wondrous and new. if a giant meteor fell through the sky at that moment, totally obliterating our little rock, i would have gone out feeling like i accomplished the most awesome thing in the entire history of mankind. ladies and gentlemen, that is a zucchini growing in a plastic bucket on my tiny balcony. thank you. thank you very much. no, please... hold the applause.

i worked at a botanic(al) garden for years, where i was paid to teach outdoor vegetable gardening classes, so i recognize the absurdity of my excitement over this non-event. it is just a zucchini. it is not even some tricky variety that requires around-the-clock chanting in some obscure language in order to grow in this climate. say it with me, people: it is just a zucchini! however, after collecting so many male blossoms over the past several weeks that i eventually gave up and left them to wilt on the plants, i took a peek under a leaf today, and there was one girl waiting to greet me. forget The $64 Tomato. this zuke is worth at least a million bucks... at least!

on the other side of life, my favorite animator has hung out the 'gone fishing' sign on the in-home studio, so we are in chilling-extra-hard mode for the next month... or two (... or possibly three). of course, there is a heatwave blanketing the area, and they are predicting all sorts of record highs for this summer, so i anticipate that a large chunk of that time will be spent doing nothing at all. bliss. beyond that, we still need to paint our place (a task that was supposed to be completed when we moved last year), and we have a writing project that has been put on hold for far too long, so hopefully we will accomplish something productive during the downtime. or, maybe we will spend most of it visiting the many fabric shops around town (because, after watching marathon amounts of The Great British Sewing Bee, he has decided that i really need to teach him how to sew... seriously). until then, i am going to refill my glass, add a few ice cubes to the cats' water bowl, and maybe grab a spoonful (or two) of ice cream... solely to keep my core temperature in check, of course. best heatwave ever!



we have arrived, once again, at that very distressing time of year when i start hearing voices calling to me from the corner of the room. "is it house elves or poltergeists", you ask? "far worse... it is a box of watercolor supplies", i reply.

despite last summer's vow to disband the Wednesday Watercolor Society, i have decided to return for more ego-crushing fun—though i should admit that i did the painting on a Wednesday, thereby breaking the one rule of that most noble organization. 

while i stress the fact that i am aware that i have less-than-zero skill at painting (or drawing, or even the fine art of paint-by-numbers), i was not disgusted by this latest effort, which is highly unusual given my usual performance. i would go so far as to suggest that i have shown some (microscopically marginal) improvement since the previous attempt. i was so pleased not-disappointed with the latest result that i grabbed more paper and gave it another try. i will spare you the horror of gazing upon the whole thing, but i did rather like the look of that section of sky. the artist-in-residence kept checking on my progress and he even commented that it was "a really good sky". as in life,  you have to celebrate the small victories. 

not wanting to pack away the brushes on such a low note, i cut a postcard-sized piece of paper and did a quick sketch of some birches. okay, so it is still not particularly good, but birches are awesome. small victories. 

my favorite animator has promised to join me at the next Society meeting. we have already settled on the theme of flowers, as i currently have a heap of mixed blossoms for inspiration. i especially liked the look of the colored orchids, so i separated them from the crowd and took many photos for future reference.  

so very pretty. 

on a tangentially-related note, i had another birthday this past week, sparking someone's insistence on calling me stara ("old woman" in Croatian). there was cake—red velvet to be precise—but no candles, because i do not need a massive fire hazard to remind me of my ever-advancing ancientness. [total aside, it is really hard to take a picture when you have a camera in one hand and a you are trying to balance a towering slice of cake with the other hand.]

since i was already biting the proverbial bullet wheat-wise, we decided to go all in and get dinner from our fave Italian restaurant in the neighborhood. for once i remembered to take antihistamines before coming into contact with the forbidden grain, so this year's celebration was free of regret, and a fantastic meal was enjoyed by all. 

in other news, there was finally a glimmer of hope when i spotted tiny girl zukes attached to some of the flower buds. i was feeling mighty proud of myself, while he was busy planning future meals... then the overnight temperature plunged down to the mid-single-digits (which is like mid-to-low 40's, for my fellow Americans). since then, it has been chilly, blustery, and mostly-overcast. i hope it warms up again for the sake of the plants, but, i would be very okay with a chilly summer. now, i am going to make a cup of tea, climb under a warm blanket, and resume my marathon-watching of the Great British Bakeoff. i am still working on season one. no spoilers, please.


with a chance of rain...

i put aside my vertigo just long enough to venture out onto the balcony this morning with my two best girls.

i was hoping to catch some part of the sunrise, but there were two tiny problems. firstly, we have a southwest view (technically, it is more like a west-southwest view), which is a prime setup for spectacular sunsets. sunrises... not gonna happen, but one can keep trying. secondly, and—more importantly—the sky is overcast with a chance of rain (thunderstorms even). great for the plants, but rather disappointing when i spent the past few hours mentally preparing for this challenge. still, i had cats and coffee and the (relative) peace of a sleepy Sunday morning.

we had some high winds this past week, and the zucchinis took quite the beating.

i grabbed the pruners and removed the worst of the damaged leaves. i may pop a few more seeds into the pot in the coming days, but i am hoping the plants will spring back to life and save me the trouble.

baby bear was deeply engrossed in licking dew from the tops of the bottles that serve as a backup water supply for the zukes.

in case you are curious, those bottles once contained Éphémère Pear, which is brewed in the city of Chambly, about twenty minutes outside of Montreal, so it is a local(ish) beer. the bottles have champagne corks, which is highly appropriate when you take into account that i am such a classy broad.

hopefully we will not have a repeat of last summer, when the squirrels saw fit to lop the top off of the croton. should that happen, my favorite animator will definitely beat a squirrel to death with the freshly-chewed stem, and i will take pictures and cheer.

you may notice the tray of (un-planted) transplants. we ran out of soil, so they will have to stay put until someone musters up the enthusiasm to remedy that situation. worst case scenario, they remain as is and end up as bonsai herbs. i see nothing wrong with that.

the girls and i spent some time staring at the downstairs neighbor's cat, who seems to have a fondness for sleeping atop their covered grill. (s)he is such a pretty kitty. i believe they also have a black cat, though that one seems to prefer to sleep indoors. i concur.

after a few minutes, the neighbor kitty yawned and went back to sleep, so mama kitty found a cozy spot and did the same. not a bad way to kill some time while waiting for the rain.