27 May 2008

Dryers and Diapers

Oh how I long for a clothesline. Growing up in half-the-year frozen tundra of Alberta, the only clothesline I'd seen was in the backyard of my Grandma's apartment. As kids we would hang on the wire while a sibling tried to reel us in, an urban flying fox, until the Super told on us and we turned our attention to the stray grocery carts in the alley. But when we moved to Windy Wellington in New Zealand, we found that lemons grown on trees in your backyards and no one had clothes dryers - only clotheslines. Our newest chore was pegging out the wash, sheets and towels turning crunchy in the sun, our underwear embarrassingly on display. It was just part of the landscape. One of my favourite NZ painters - Colin McCahon - immortalized the spinning clotheslines in his painting "Clothesline in the Nor-Wester" (didn't know you could buy a print 'til I did this search - I'm going to have to get one!)
Anyway, back in North America, not only are clotheslines scarce but they're actually banned in many places. Ontario just dropped their ban on clotheslines - apparently it was a cosmetic issue, neighbors afraid of seeing their neighbors dirty laundry, literally. I've been trolling the clothesline sites lustfully, knowing I can't buy my dream umbrella clothesline yet. As I've mentioned before. we're renters. Worse, renters in a house that eventually the landlord wants to sell and we're not sure we'll be the people buying it. So permanently planting a clothesline in a yard that is not ours is not an option, sadly.

Enter the drying rack.
I bought it from Ikea (hey look at all those drying racks!) on sale for $3.99 and it folds up and lives next to the dryer. It's not heavy duty and would have a hard time standing up to heavy items like towels and jeans. But for my diapers (well, not MY diapers, my daughter's) it's the perfect device. I set it up on the back lawn and let the sun do the bleaching and disinfecting for me. It helps that we have a front loading washer, our big purchase of the last year, and possibly my favourite purchase too. The diapers come out spun almost dry and it only takes an hour or two for them to be completely dry. Actually, it's great for any of her itty-bitty clothes and considering we're doing laundry every other day, it's a good thing.
I was going to write about cloth diapers here too but I think I'll save it for a separate post. Yes, there's that much to be said about cloth diapers - trust me.

20 May 2008

Makeshift Cook

I totally stole the title of this post from MavenHaven's food blog, The Makeshift Cook. Apparently we share a very similar food and cooking philosophy - if you can find an ingenious way to use up leftovers or plot a meal without having to go to the store, so much the better. Because I like to be backed in to a corner with my ingredients, fighting to find a way to make a delicious meal of out seemingly disparate ingredients (kind of like a nightly version of "Stump the Cook" that you hear on NPR's The Splendid Table), Tuesdays are my new favourite day of the week. Tuesday is my CSA day.

I've been wanting to do a CSA for a long time but my lack of driving ability and regular access to a car has stymied me. I just couldn't get out to the farms to pick up the goods. But sometimes working for (or your spouse working for) a very wealthy private university has its perks. The hardest working HR Department in the business set up what they called a "Mobile Farmers Market" for their employees this year. They contracted with a variety of local farmers, sent out a link to all their sites and let us choose which farmer we wanted to support. We paid the farmer directly (it works out to be about $12 a week for the summer season) and on Tuesdays our farmer and all the other farms, show up on campus and we pick up our box of produce.
Last week I got strawberries, asparagus, baby red potatos, onions, zucchini, and cabbage. I picked up some pea shoots and bacon at the Saturday Famers market to round it out. Here are some of the meals I made this week:

Stuffed Cabbage - using the tougher outer leaves of the cabbage, stuffed with a mix of leftover rice and sauteed veggies.

Grilled Zucchini and Onion sandwiches - on a baguette from the baker down the street, broiled with mozzarella and topped with pea shoots. On the side, the worlds easiest and best potato salad:
Boil a couple of fistfuls of really fresh, wee little red potatoes, skins on.
Toss them with white wine vinegar, a splash of olive oil and some fancy salt.
Add a couple tablespoons of capers, and if you're in the mood, any fresh herbs you have hanging around.
Eat immediately, and over and over as I do in the summer.

With the rest of the potatoes I constructed a kind of Pizza Bianco, with a whole wheat crust, paper thin slices of potato, more capers (I love them, I just do), fresh thyme (because I didn't have rosemary), carmelized onions, bacon and Manchego cheese.

The Lemon Asparagus pasta from the Gourmet Cookbook.

A curried chickpea hash with the rest of my zucchini and onion, from the aforementioned Makeshift Cook.

A variation on the Peashoot Salad with Bacon and Lime from Sass and Veracity's. I respect and fully support all vegans and vegetarians out there but for those of you who are not, bathing your bacon in maple syrup, honey and soy and then broiling is highly recommended.

And a little dish of strawberries for dessert almost every night.

I can't wait to see what I pick up this week.

12 May 2008

Make Done

To break from the home and garden theme (seedling update: basil, cilantro and dill are sprouted and accounted for - chives, sage and cayenne peppers are still MIA) I had planned a post about my laptop. By laptop standards it is ancient - ten years old. It is so goddmned heavy my schoolbag wore a groove into my shoulder. The whole right side of the screen fuzzed out into something resembling a UPC barcode, annoying but not impossible to see around. If you look closely you can see the Print Screen button is cracked in half and the colon button is askew. It would run for 1.8 seconds without being plugged in and sounded like a jet airplane taking off when the fan kicked in. I was kinda embarrassed to plug it in in public. But also, conversely, I was strangely proud of making it through my first year of Grad School with this ancient relic. I always swore I would run it into the ground. And then, as I prepared to post this ode to the Heaviest Laptop in the World, the ground hit. RIP old friend.

Since this is a blog about Making Do, I will spare you the details about buying a new laptop. There are just some things you can't make from felt and pipe cleaners.

05 May 2008

Green green grass of home

I've been in New Mexico, eating green chile (that is not a typo, that's how they spell it) and admiring the xerescaping. My friends live in a little adobe house and proudly showed me around their new drought-tolerant plantings. But I noticed some homeowners still clung to the ideal of a smooth green front lawn, jarring next to their sunbaked houses. Back here in North Carolina, despite the drought, we have The Lawn That Can't Be Stopped, roughly 700 sq. feet of rampant, untamed vegetation, complete with scrubby bushes and a pecan tree that scatters nuts far and wide. Witness it here:
If you look closely, you can see that the grass variety spurts up in little clumps, leaving bare patches of dirt in between. You will also notice that the grass is rather - robust? - for grass that was mowed as recently as last week. It is the unstoppable lawn. And the question became, how should we stop it? And why?

I'll start with the "Why" first. We are renters (and this informs a lot of the How later too...) and several Very Concerned and Houseproud Neighbors can see into our yard and likely care how we are keeping it up. We have a nice landlord who has a habit of just dropping by, which drives me crazy, and he inevitably sees the back lawn too. And also, I don't like bugs much and they seem to lurk in the longer grass.

But again, we are renters. The many things I would like to do to this yard - ripping it up into a raised bed veggie garden with fruit bearing trees surrounding it being my chief choice - isn't really worth it. I just don't want to put a bunch of sweat equity and real equity into making this a better property for my landlord to sell or rent. And partially because we are renters, I also really really didn't want to do the obvious thing - buy a lawnmower.

We looked at lawnmowers but my spirit resisted them. Little shiny motor machines, needing electricity or gas, noisy as all get-out, and pretty damn expensive. We don't have a shed or even a very deep overhang so any lawnmower we bought would be out in the open, rusting and caking and feeling mostly unloved. Also, I wasn't convinced that a mower could deal with the scrubby shrub or the layer of pecan shells that litters the lawn. Even a push-mower, if I could find one in decent shape for a good price (I couldn't, by the way) seemed like it would be stymied by those shells and saplings.

So we waited and thought and the lawn got positively jungle-like. Then I had a brainflash - a scythe. A scythe! Those curved blades that you usually see the Grim Reaper sporting.
I started doing some internet research and got progressively excited. Look at this company The Marugg Company out of Tennessee, a family based business that has been making scythes for over 100 years. I was extremely tempted by one of these beautiful sounding scythes but even though they are cheap, especially compared to mowers, I thought I would check my local garden store. Stone Brothers and Byrd is one of my favourite places in Durham. They've been in business since 1914 and amongst the gardening goods they also have homemade preserves, smoked pork products, seed bins behind the counter and the nicest workers ever. So I went on a scythe mission.

When I said I was looking for a scythe, I got a blank look. Maybe it's my Northern accent. I described it and the clerks face cleared. "Oh you mean a slingblade!" Right, a slingblade, I'd forgotten about the Billy Bob Thornton movie murder device. He found one for me and when the clerk rang it up, she asked me "What's the price on that sickle?" Right, a sickle. There are so many alternate names. The price, incidentally, was $24.95. I knew it wouldn't be as good as one of the Maarugg scythes but it was worth trying. Here's the scythe/slingblade/sickle in question:

The next morning I got up at 6 in the morning and in the early light, the birds chirping, scythed the lawn. (Can you imagine what your neighbors would think of starting your lawn mower at 6 am?) It was a workout, which I wanted, and gloves were necessary to avoid blisters. And it worked! Kind of. It worked amazingly well on the scrubby brush and tall vines and weeds. It didn't cut as closely on the weird cluster grass we have but enough to remain
semi-respectable. I took pictures, of course. The Before and the After. This was maybe 5 minutes of scything. You could collect up the cuttings but I'm using them as an informal version of permaculture, discouraging the weeds from coming back.
I realize this isn't making something from scratch, but it was my low-cost, low-energy solution to my lawn issue, at least until my neighbors learn to love the unkempt look.