Grateful and Lush

A quick Me-Made-May ’15 wrap-up, plus some totally unrelated spring thoughts and photos …
Tasha teaching felting Flag Wool

Photo by Louisa Ballard

This shot of me teaching felting at Flag Wool is the closest thing I have to an outfit photo for the whole month of May! I decided not to worry about documentation for MMM this year, which was mostly a good choice, even though I felt a little more alone in my handmade-wearing.  It was such a busy month in the best way, and I just didn’t need any other thing to try and do every day.  Plus I felt like my best thoughts around a handmade wardrobe happened at the beginning/planning stage this year, and once I set it up I basically dressed like I normally would, except for the items I couldn’t wear because they didn’t fit my pledge, which were quarantined in the back of my closet.  I fell back in love with one old me-made skirt.  And discovered that while I may technically have enough me-made or me-repaired socks to make it through the month, I don’t have the will to keep on top of the laundry so that they’re always clean and ready to go … I also decided that any situation which calls for truly expendable work clothes doesn’t count. I was definitely looking forward the end of my self-imposed restrictions by the end of the month, although I enjoyed the challenge. I have a small wardrobe in any case, so maybe my goal for next year should be to add a few more me-made pieces. Also, I’m going to try harder to come up with some kind of documentation that works for me.

This May we traveled out to the Washington DC area for two art shows, and saw a bunch of friends, which has been part of our May plan for the last few years.  But we were also home more than normal, including for the wool festival here, which was super fun.  I had great students, and enjoyed the vendors (there was some totally beautiful handspun, among other things) and sheep as much as anyone.  I also worked on writing & photographing two new articles for Seamwork while we were back—I can’t say much about them yet, except of course that I’m really excited!  I can’t wait for you all to see them too.

Throughout all of this, I felt like I’d fallen into a pond of gratefulness.  Our trip went well.  Friends and family lent me their tools and knowledge at the exact time I need them.  I had enough me-made/altered/repaired clothes to wear for a whole month.  I was in the home I love, working and learning around things I’m passionate about.  To top it all off, that home was not on fire, or anywhere close to it.  We’ve had an unusually wet spring, and it’s mind blowing to think that just about this time last year our neighborhood was under evacuation orders from the Slide Fire.  (It didn’t get that close in the end, but it was such a scary time).  The forest is so lush right now.  Well, lush for here, a little carpet of green grass and small yellow flowers under the pines.  I tried to take a photo, but it just doesn’t look full of water and life unless you live here … but every time I look out the window I breathe a little sigh of relief.

Instead I’ll leave you with a few photos from earlier this spring, near Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.  Spring anywhere out East still fascinates me, having grown up in a land where a little grass and extra flowers count as lush.  More fiber stuff is on the way!

 

spring mammoth branches

 

spring mammoth ripples

 

spring mammoth moss and flower

 

Asparagus Tarts for Spring and Early Summer

 

asparagus tart

 

Posting this recipe feels kind of, sort of, almost like cheating. It’s a variation on the savory tart/quiche recipe I’ve been using all the time since this past fall. With the late spring in the Midwest this year, there’s still a lot of asparagus around, and I’d have a hard time thinking of anything easier and more satisfying to do with it than this. I made the tart shown here with about a pound of asparagus, and some fresh thyme. A week or so later, I made another one for a new friend who’s eating gluten free, without the crust, with slightly less asparagus, and adding some leftover potatoes and onions. This really is one of those recipes (my favorite kind) that encourage experimentation and new flavor combinations.

 

Asparagus Tart Variations

 

Refer to the original recipe for the cornmeal crust, if making a crust, and more filling ideas.

For the asparagus, either broil it lightly first for more smoky flavor, or simply wash, and chop it into approximately equal diagonal segments, discarding any tough or dried out ends.

Optional: prepare potatoes as for the potato and green chile tart, or use any other leftover cooked potatoes you happen to have around.

 

For the Filling:

4 eggs

A generous splash heavy cream or milk

A few Tablespoons grated cheese (I like a hard cheese such as Parmesan)

Fresh ground pepper

(Salt is optional, depending on your taste, and saltiness of cheese)

Fresh thyme or other fresh herbs to taste (Tip: if the stems are sturdy enough, you can get most of the thyme leaves off by grabbing the stem near the top and running the fingers of the other hand down the stem from top to bottom.)

Feel free to add an extra egg, and a little more of the other ingredients, if it seems like there’s not enough filling for the veggies you have.

If not using a crust, make sure to grease your pan thoroughly.

Mix the cut asparagus (and potatoes) in with the filling, and pour into the pan/crust. For the second variation, I sprinkled the top with minced garlic and more Parmesan, which puffed and browned as the tart cooked for a tasty crispy top.

Bake at 375° F for about 40 minutes, turning once, until the tart is golden on top, puffed up, and just moist inside when tested with a knife.

 

Spring Strawberry Salad

With maple candied walnuts and creamy goat cheese balsamic dressing.

 

spring strawberry salad 1

 

For some reason, this spring I’ve been craving the fresh new foods that come with the changing season, much more than I normally do.  The strawberries in my yard are nowhere near making fruit yet, but a few weeks ago, the strawberries in the market were suddenly glorious.  A strawberry out of season tastes Ok, but when they’re actually ready, ripe and fully red, full of sweet juice that seems composed of the very flavor of renewal and new growth, they are magical things to eat.  I was immediately obsessed.  Another good thing about food in season is that it’s bountiful, and therefore on sale, and I pretty much stuffed as many fresh ripe organic strawberries into my gullet as possible.  I also came up with this recipe, the first one in a while that I’ve invented without looking anything up or searching for ideas.  So:

 

For the salad:

Lightly shred about a handful of lettuce (I like red leaf or butter lettuce) per person.

Add 1 small or 1/2 large grated carrot per person.

Add grated radish, about half as much as the carrot.

Add sliced strawberries, as many as you like, I suggest a lot.

 

spring strawberry salad 2For the dressing:

Put about 4 Tablespoons of plain fresh goat cheese in a jar.

Add heavy cream up to about the top of the cheese.

Add 1 Tablespoon good quality balsamic vinegar.

Add a pinch of salt, and stir together (a small whisk is great for this).

Add a little water, stir, and add a little more, until the dressing reaches the consistency you’d like.  Taste and adjust seasonings.

This makes a fair amount of dressing, enough for about 6 people to have salad, and maybe find some other things to spread it on.

 

For the walnuts:

Lightly crush 1 cup of walnuts (I just do this with my hands).

In a skillet, melt about 1 Tablespoon butter over medium heat.

Add two teaspoons of maple syrup, one teaspoon of brown sugar, and a large pinch of salt.  Stir until the sugar is dissolved, and then add the walnuts.  Stir until most of the coating is on the nuts rather than the skillet.  Let cool.

If you run out of time, this is also good with un-candied walnuts or pecans, although these lightly candied ones add a really nice touch.

 

Sprinkle the nuts on top of the salad, and let each person add the creamy dressing as it’s served.

 

spring strawberry salad 3

 

Now, if only I can find some fresh peas …

 

Just Photos—Spring in Texas

 

wildflowers texas spring 2014 6

 

My dad’s mom and her sisters grew up in Texas.  I remember a few bluebonnet-themed items decorating her house in Abuquerque, but when I was a kid I’d never been to Texas in spring, and I didn’t really get it (although I totally love the lupines that grow around Flagstaff.  Coincidence?).   Many of my second cousins and cousins once-removed still live here, and most, if not all of them, are willing to host us when we come through, which is truly a blessing of Texas-sized proportions (I’m joking about it, but I’m also truly and eternally grateful).

This year, we are here a few weeks earlier than in the past, and maybe it’s the time and exact place, or this may a good year for them, but the bluebonnets are out of control, and the paintbrushes seem epic.  Driving between Houston and Austin, the roadsides were positively covered with rolling blankets of flowers.  I mean, in profusion, like heaping mounds of cream-topped blueberries in the median and on the hills.  The only problem was finding a place to stop where we wouldn’t be flattened by oncoming traffic.  Finally I spotted a road that dead-ended beside the highway.  We got off and parked there.  Bluebonnets smell really good, too.  And there were a LOT more of them at McKinney Falls State Park outside Austin, where we spent the night.

I didn’t realize until last year in the Smokies how much we kind of miss out on spring in Flagstaff.  I’m not saying anything against my home town, and usually, I’ll take a few daffodils and some warmer weather and be perfectly happy.  No need to do so in central Texas though, these guys have the bustin’-out-all-over, leafing trees in all shades of green, aforementioned brimming-over wildflowers kind of spring, which is exotic enough to me to make me want to pull over and take photos.

Happy spring ya’ll!

 

wildflowers texas spring 2014 2

 

wildflowers texas spring 2014 8

 

wildflowers texas spring 2014 4

 

wildflowers texas spring 2014 3

 

wildflowers texas spring 2014 7

 

wildflowers texas spring 2014 11

 

wildflowers texas spring 2014 12

 

wildflowers texas spring 2014 10

 

wildflowers texas spring 2014 9Bryan took this one

 

wildflowers texas sprng 2014 1

 

wildflowers texas spring 2014 5

 

Spring in the Great Smokies—Gratuitous Pictures

 

great smokies spring 2013 1

 

Just pictures today.  This always feels a little self-indulgent to me, but as I mentioned last post, after working hard on Hello Sewing Machine, and hitting the road with Bryan’s work, I am ready for a break!  Lucky for me, one of my all-time favorite breaks in my routine is just around the corner.  Our yearly week-long creative retreat/gathering of friends and family starts tomorrow, and I am so looking forward to it.  I’ll share some pictures and projects from that as well, once I have them!

Another kind of break I cherish is spending time in the wilderness.  These pictures are from this April.  Spring at home is a quiet season, easy to overlook until you turn around and it’s summer already.  Not so in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  It’s like reverse fall, flowers and tress busting out all over with blooms in different colors, sizes and scents.  The week we were there it was already crowded with flower identifiers and photographers, and everyone seemed to be in a great mood, buoyed up by the coming of spring.  I hope you can take time for a little break today too.

 

great smokies spring 2013 2

 

great smokies spring 2013 5

 

great smokies spring 2013 3

 

great smokies spring 2013 4

 

great smokies spring 2013 6

 

A Simple and Delicious Way to Cook Artichokes

 

artichokes on plate

 

Phew—who’s ready for a break and some easy cooking?  I know I am.  As I mentioned in this post about broiled asparagus, spring came along just in time for me this year.  I’ve been busting my booty over my recently launched beginning sewing e-book for the last couple of months, so anything that tasted delicious and and fresh without a whole lot of time and effort in the kitchen was a major bonus.  We’ve eaten a lot of artichokes this spring.

I love artichokes.  That time of spring when they appear at our CSA farm store, tiny and fresh and beautiful in their variations, would get me excited whether or not I needed some easy food options.  So we’ve eaten a lot of them, practically one every day for a while there.  I also wasn’t running to the store unless absolutely necessary, so I did some experimenting with what I added and how I cooked them.  Considering how cool this spring has been in many parts of the country, I’m hoping their are still some artichokes available near you!

 

 

artichokes with lid

 

Simply Delicious Artichokes

  • Rinse the your artichokes and trim the stems flush with the bottoms.  I don’t trim any of the leaves.  Especially when they are small and fresh, I like to leave on each possible delicious morsel.  My mom cooks the stems along with the rest, but I find they are often somewhat bitter.
  • Put the artichokes in a pot in a single layer.  Use a pressure cooker if you have one (more about that below).  Either put the artichokes stem side down in the pan and add about 1/2″ of water around them, or put them in a steamer basket with either the top or the stem up and add water below.  I haven’t found any difference in how they come out with any of those methods.
  • Optional: add a drizzle of olive oil on top.  It doesn’t change the flavor very much, but it does the usual jobs of added oil: making sure that the artichokes don’t dry out and adding a little smoothness to the taste.
  • Optional: add a drizzle of lemon juice.  This doesn’t change the flavor much either, but without it the water left in the pot turns an amazing dark green color which could stain your cookware.  However, I cooked a bunch without any lemon and they came out fine.
  • Put the lid on the pot and cook until the leaves are tender.  Pull one out from somewhere in the middle, and pull the base of the leaf off with your teeth to see if it’s tender.  It’s hard to overcook them.  I knew they were taking a while to cook on my stove, but I didn’t realize how long until I started keeping track for this post.  It was anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half!  So then I did what should have been obvious, at least at high altitude, got out the pressure cooker.  15 minutes later (12 minutes at high pressure plus warm-up and cool-down) I had cooked artichokes!

 

Ok, you knew I was going to say this, right?  But it’s no joke, artichokes are totally delicious with crème frâiche!  And possibly even more delicious with just a bit of good quality balsamic vinegar on top, so that each leaf you dip gets some of each.  If you’ve never eaten one before, there are illustrated directions here, among other places.  I may have to try a clove garlic in the water next time I make them.  But I bet the flavor of the artichokes themselves will still be my favorite part.  (By the way, they contain a chemical that can change your perception of other flavors, so beware of eating them with your best wine.)  Enjoy!

 

Broiled Asparagus – Simple Spring Vegetables

 

broiled asparagus 1

 

I’ve been working super hard on my soon-to-be-released project lately, as you may have noticed since no post has appeared yet this week!  Luckily, some spring produce has also arrived lately, heralding the long season of practically effortless vegetables.  Perfect timing!  I could use some easy dinners right now.

If you’ve never tried asparagus broiled, it’s great.  It’s just a little caramelized and crispy on the outside, juicy and delicious inside.

If your asparagus varies widely in thickness, like this bunch did, either separate it into two batches or take the tiny ones out when they’re cooked, sooner than the thicker spears.   Cut or snap off the ends of the asparagus spears, put them in a broiler-safe pan and smear a little olive oil on them.  Start your broiler on low heat.  Put asparagus pan close to the broiler and check it every couple of minutes.  The spears will turn bright green first.  When they have caramel-colored patches and the ends are barely crispy, they’re done.

 

broiled asparagus 2

 

Broiled asparagus is delicious as a side to just about anything I can think of.  On the day I took these photos we ate it on lemon pepper pasta from Decio (a Christmas gift) with a little cheese, accompanied by a salad and then artichokes.

Enjoy!  And feel free to share your favorite spring vegetables/recipes . . .