Veggie Hell

I've been trying to cook more and different vegetables for all the reasons you're supposed to, but I'm also discovering that vegetables are annoying. You have to buy them, keep them fresh, use them up in time, and then chop, pit, peel, seed, roast, or grill them. I took a knife skills class last year to make things easier, but I still find it all a bit onerous.

Besides, after all that, you still only have one component of a meal; you can't just eat roasted carrots for dinner and call it good. (I mean, I could, but I don't want to.) 

Eric and I both work and have a decent amount of stuff going on in our lives. Most days it's much easier to make a sandwich and a side salad, or grill a hunk of meat and wrap a tortilla around it. 

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I saw this book recently, and it seemed like something that would make vegetables exciting and therefore worth the trouble, so I bought it. It's beautiful; I spent the weekend salivating over the pictures and making shopping lists.

Finally, I settled on two recipes: a beet and preserved lemon salad and a cold soba noodle and eggplant dish. We already had preserved lemons (they are really easy; you should make some!), and it's damn hot outside, so cold anything sounded amazing. 

I bought the ingredients, and in my excitement to start blowing through the book, made a rookie mistake: cooking two labor-intensive dishes for the first time at the same time.

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Not pictured: three cutting boards full of various herbs, garlic, peppers, and onions; saucepan full of dressing; puddle of lime juice on the floor; two begging-ass dogs.

Eric and I used pretty much every pot we had and trashed the kitchen. It got a little stressful at times, and I kept having to remind myself that this was supposed to be fun. And it was, mostly.

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Close enough!

The food turned out pretty well. Both dishes were bright and flavorful, well suited to a hot night.

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No, really, preserved lemons are great. 

Like most dishes with a lot of strong, disparate flavors, the food tasted even better the next day, too, but it still wasn't quite what I'd been hoping for, given the amount of effort involved in each dish. Maybe it would have helped if we'd adjusted a few things to taste--more heat would have been welcome, for example--but I usually try to follow a recipe closely the first time through. 

Anyway, I'm nowhere near ready to give up on vegetables just yet. I'm pinning all my hopes and dreams on the tart that uses three whole heads of garlic, especially now that I know the nifty garlic peeling trick


Goat my eyes opened.

Eric and I have occasionally talked about keeping some animals, maybe goats, in our backyard. Not very seriously, just enough to read some websites about it, pick the spot where we'd do it, and talk idly about how nice it would be to have fresh food right there in the yard.

So all it took was the promise of first-hand experience and some raw goat milk to convince us to accompany our friend to the house where she is goat sitting this week. (Also dog, cat, fish, turtle, mouse, and chicken sitting. Our friend is a very nice neighbor.)

The goats are friendly and interesting, and their milk is delicious, but damn if an hour in that backyard didn't annihilate any urban livestock fantasies we'd been harboring.

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They really are so cool looking.

We fed the goats raw fruits and veggies, which was charming, except the part when one of them jumped square into Eric's crotch.

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Who's a nice goat? NOT YOU.

Then we helped milk them.

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The combination milking/feeding bench seemed a little medieval, although I don't know how else you'd do it.

We didn't help very much, though, because we were slow and bad at it. We were told to think of it as gently squeezing a pastry bag, advice that wasn't as helpful as I thought; by the end of the afternoon I had squeezed more goat teats in my life than I have pastry bags. I guess I'm not the cake decorating type.

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Nothing like tugging on hairy goat nipples in the Texas sun!

You have to do this every single day. And you have to breed them to get the milk to come in, but apparently you have to house the stud out in the country until it's time to mate because male goats stink, so bad you can actually smell them halfway down the block.

Also we learned the males urinate on their own faces and use that to rub their scent on everything, and it's not uncommon for them to actually ejaculate on their faces and, as our friend put it, "spread the, uh, love, all over everything."

I like goat milk and I love goat cheese. I think goats are cute, and I'm not particularly squeamish. But no, this is not for me.

No to chickens, too; for a long time we thought it would be fun to keep them for entertainment and fresh eggs, but honestly, the dogs would just kill them all, or at least worry them into nervous breakdowns, and eat their eggs besides. Our dogs are jerks, and they are enough animals for us to take care of for now, and possibly forever.


Present me is thwarted again!

Have you ever signed yourself up for something far in advance because you knew it would be a good thing to do, then pretty much forgot about it until the day of? When it's too late to back out, even though there are a good many things you'd rather be doing? Specifically, sitting in front of your laptop all morning with a glass of iced coffee and no pants on?

Back in April or maybe May I signed up to work on a mosaic project for a two-hour block this weekend thinking it would be fun and good practice. Ok, great, but I woke up Saturday morning wanting to smack my past self; I was tired and feeling more than a touch of that old ruiner of enthusiasm, social anxiety. Still, I felt it would have been rude to cancel on such short notice just because I felt like slumping around in my underwear, so I went.

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The project was assisting with the University Presbyterian Church's extremely ambitious mosaic project, a multi-panel modern interpretation of the story of the loaves and fishes. It's a huge production that has involved dozens of volunteers and two years' time. It even has its own blog if you want to read more about its background and logistics. Scope aside, it's beautiful and vibrant, a with a lot of care put into composition and depth.

I worked on the fifth panel along with six or seven other people. Everyone was pleasant and interesting to talk to. Working on something is a pretty good way to meet people. There's always the task at hand in common, and you have something to focus on if conversation falters.

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I didn't get much tile down this weekend--I spent a lot of time fiddling with some problem areas--but I did finish outlining this girl and glued down some pieces that the previous shift had laid out.

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I was assured that this hand does not look like a bear paw or a crab pincer, or at least it won't from the distance it is meant to be viewed from. I'm skeptical, but since I was getting to the point where trying to fix something was just making it worse with each pass, I chose to believe it.

Now that I look at it a day later, it would have helped a lot to have narrowed her wrist just a tiny bit. Ah, well. Maybe someone on the next shift was able to fix it.

I've already signed up for another stint in two weeks. I'm really curious to see this take shape, and if I can be a small part of that, even better.


I hurt my eye on the 4th of July

(Warning: This is all pretty gross.)

My morning was rolling along pleasantly yesterday when I stepped out back to water the tomato plants. While I was out there I stooped to pull up a weed that was growing next to our giant agave plant and poink! I jammed my eye right into the tip of one of its leaves.

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A big, beautiful...

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...bitch.

At first it just hurt, and I hoped I'd avoided the eyeball altogether. But then my vision began to twist and blur, and that's when I got really scared, the kind of fear that manifests itself by making you very calmly take care of your shit, step by step. I turned off the spigot, woke up Eric to drive me to the hospital, and fed and let out the dogs because I didn't know how long we'd be gone.

Then I went to the bathroom to assess the damage in the mirror. I took my contacts out and my vision was restored--it turned out the blurring was just caused by the contact lens filling up with blood. Ewwww! But I was so relieved I hadn't blinded myself that I wasn't really fazed.

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Beats a poke in the...oh, right. 

We went to the mercifully empty emergency room, where they numbed, dyed, and examined my eye while I blinked back bloody tears. The puncture was pronounced superficial and restricted to the sclera--the white--of my eye. I got a bottle of antibiotic drops, a prescription for codeine, and instructions to see my eye doctor first thing Monday. 

It hurts like hell still, and I feel like an idiot, but I'm pretty sure my eye is going to be okay. I for sure am going to have to do something about that agave. I've long known it was dangerous and I always wear glasses and gloves when I work in that bed, but yesterday proved that isn't enough.

It's far too late to pull the monster up, and I hate to clip the tips off because I think that makes the plant look sad and stupid. Maybe I'll stick Christmas ornaments on the ends for some year-round eye-protective flair. Or wine corks for a classier, more subtle look.

So yeah, that was pretty terrible. Here, let's look at this picture of a duck that looks like George Washington. That always makes everything better:

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Firewheel weekend

Not a lot going on this weekend, which was nice. I decided to finish a project I'd set aside when I got busy with work in the spring: tiling a firewheel, my favorite wildflower, on the side of a crappy old cinder block.

We'd been using this block to light our charcoal chimney, but I think I will promote it to a plant stand now that it's all fancy.

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Mosaic projects always look a little shitty before you grout them. It's hard to visualize what will happen. Depending on the color you use, grouting can unify and gloss over imperfections or fragment the image and magnify your mistakes.

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I was afraid using dark grout ran the risk of the latter, but hey, this is just a cinder block. The stakes are low. Still, looking at it covered with dull black goop made me nervous.

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I like it, though! It highlights some things I'll do differently next time, but I think it gives it a nice, cartoony crispness.

I'm going to tile the other side with more or less the same image. Maybe I'll use red grout in the center up to the end of the orange part of the petals, just to see what happens.

This is all a test run for a much bigger project I have in mind.

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I plan to tile that dull, slanting concrete step with a firewheel explosion this fall. But that's going to take a lot of planning--and kneeling--so I want to get most of my mistakes out of the way now.

(I have no plans to tile √úter, although he often stays still enough for me to do it if I wanted.)

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Here are some firewheels from real life. We have a strip of them in the front yard that reseeds itself every year, and I think it looks really hot. I worried that it might be boring to do a flower mosaic, but no way; firewheels are rad. They couldn't be boring if they tried.

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Since I had firewheels on the brain, I pulled up the spent plants from this year's bloom and plucked the dried seed heads to separate out later. Sometimes I give seed packets to friends, but this year Eric and I plan to do some guerrilla wildflower planting. So if you see a random patch of firewheels next spring...it probably wasn't us; those things are everywhere in Austin. 


Dammit, I miss blogging.

I like Twitter, I love Instagram. But I miss writing--and therefore thinking--a little more deeply about things. I miss telling stories and sharing more than one picture at a time.

So I think I'm going to do it here.

At first I thought it would be better if I waited until I could find a single focus--all the advice about blogs tells you to do that: narrow it down, you fucking flakes--but I couldn't figure out what that would be. Mosaics? Too slow. Gardening? I like it, a lot, but enough to write about it all the time? 

Dogs? I think mine are hilarious, but I don't want a dogblog. 

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Besides, I'm afraid it would make them self-conscious. 

I know! The world really needs another food blog! Yeah! 

No!

I like a lot of things and I want to write about all of them, so okay, I should go ahead write about the same disparate crap I always did. 

I did know, though, that if I was going to start fresh I'd need a solid blog design and a beautiful header. 

I sat on my hands for a few weeks trying to come up with something really clever and sharp and finally decided, you know, if there's one thing I've learned it's to not wait to do something until everything is lined up and perfect, because it never, ever will be.

I'm still hoping I can make this more visually interesting once this starts to take shape. Or maybe it will look kind of boring forever.

Either way, I hope you will come see me sometimes.