Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Urban Gardening

Vegetable gardens flourished throughout Lishui, like this multi-acre plot near the Zhu home, planted mostly with bok choi, napa cabbage, and various other brassicas.

Family Time in Lishui

We spent the first week or so in Lishui, Drew's hometown.  We stayed with his parents, two brothers, sister-in-law, and our two and a half year old nephew, Yao Yao.  This was our first time meeting Yao Yao in person, although we'd talked to him several times with Skype, and he even called us once by himself.  He couldn't get enough of playing with his exotic auntie.  My in-laws were very kind to me, as always.   My mother-in-law accused Drew of hiding food from me if a dish was ever beyond my reach at the dinner table, and Yao Yao brought me whatever he thought I needed, from a hair dryer to a frozen sausage.  The last night we were there Drew's brother Jun told me, in English, "this is your family."  He said something similar to me last time I saw him, two years ago in Croatia, and both times made me tear up.  I had a lovely time, and at at the end of it we all went to Hangzhou for a couple of days, then said our goodbyes.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sweet Old Village

This ancient village near Lishui has a nice display of old farming implements, and its own ferry!  The river and mountains reminded me of my hometown of Bonners Ferry, Idaho.  It used to have its own ferry too, but it probably wasn't as nice as this one.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Guerilla Gardening in Shanghai

On our recent trip to China we came across this cucumber plant climbing on power lines in Shanghai.  It was growing through a hole in the sidewalk, and someone had spread rotten vegetables near the base so it it had its own mini-compost pile to feed it.  I would have loved to have seen the harvesting process!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hasta la Vista, Baby!

I'm packing my bags for the misty mountains, as Led Zeppelin or Bilbo Baggins or someone said.  Steve Earle might have said it too.  Tomorrow we head to Seattle for the first leg of a nearly month-long trip to China.  The part I'm looking forward to the most is a trip to the Huangshan mountains, where I hope to do some serious hiking.  Here's a preview.  It'll be like nothing I've seen before and I'm practically vibrating with excitement.

We'll also spend some time in Shanghai as well as a week or so with Drew's family further south, where the temperatures will be in the low 80s - a nice change.  I'm lobbying for a trip to Xi'an but Drew is resisting it.  We'll see. 

I made a last trip to the garden and saw that my befuddled strawberries that I should have renovated long ago are still flowering.   Everything else, other than chard and kale, is over.  So it's a good time to be leaving for a bit.

Crab Apple Season

It was a good year for fruit, and the crab apples were especially prolific and delicious. I made a crab apple crunch a couple of days ago, using my rhubarb crunch recipe as the basis. I use the same recipe for sweeter fruits and decrease the white sugar amounts accordingly. It's lovely to have fresh and warm, but it always seems better the next day.

Showing a little side-boob to deflect attention from my limited skills.

Here's the recipe, the same one my family has used for years - but it's also all over the internet. Nothing unique about our take on it.

1 cup flour
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup butter
4 cups diced rhubarb or tart apples
1 1/3 cups white sugar (use less if you substitute sweeter fruits)
2 tsp corn starch
1 cup cold water (use less if you substitute juicier fruits like blackberries)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Combine the flour, oats, brown sugar and cinnamon. Cut in butter until you have a crumbly mixture. Press half of the mixture into a greased 8-inch square baking dish (grease it well, or the bottom crust will stick like glue.) Set remaining crumb mixture aside for topping. Sprinkle fruit over crust, set aside.

Combine the sugar and cornstarch in a small saucepan, gradually whisk in water until smooth. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened.

Remove from the heat; whisk in vanilla. Pour over fruit. Sprinkle with remaining crumb mixture. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees F for 1 hour or until bubbly and lightly browned.

It was nice warmed up the next day on the wood stove, along with some good oolong tea.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Cold Night

We're supposed to have our first freeze tonight, so I harvested anything still on the vine.  It was a beautiful Indian summer, but the hammer is coming down tonight.  It's kind of sad, because there are blossoms on the strawberries and zucchini, and the roses look like it's June.  I also have quite a few tavera beans. I still have a few strawberries, which is just weird, and one vine of snow peas is still producing, but tonight will likely put an end to all that nonsense.   Plenty of chard, kale, and napa cabbage, but that's to be expected.  The cold won't bother them, the bigger surprise is that they made it through the heat this summer.

I planted the garlic and the shallots, both from stock I harvested this summer.  Found a few more spuds along the way.  Most of the beds are weeded and mulched over for the winter.  I still need to renovate the strawberries, but that's about it.  The garden is just about done for the year.   The kale and chard should over-winter just fine, and I really don't know about the napa cabbage.  Most of it bolted months ago, but a few plants hung on and they look fine, so maybe with enough mulch they'll persevere.

Here comes the long grey winter.  At least I have a pantry full of garlic, onions, and potatoes to comfort me.  If I could learn how to distill vodka from the taters I'd be set.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Dreadful Beast Called Mr. Squirrel

I get along well with most of the animals on the property, including the Steller's Jays that enthusiastically throw debris from my rain gutters on to the deck, and the coyotes that eat my blackberries and then excrete them onto my driveway - they love dumping in the driveway!  Sometimes they do it right in front of me!  And I'm OK with the sapsucksers that drill the life out of my trees, even though I admit I felt a little thrill of satisfaction one day when I saw one had flown into one of my windows and dropped dead on to the barbecue grill, feet skyward.   Then there were the raccoons that every September would sit on top of the grape trellis right outside my bedroom window and noisily eat the grapes, until we finally removed the vines last year.  I would have little choice but to fling open the window and yell "bad raccoon!" over and over while shining a flashlight at them, which really upset Drew, who never heard the raccoon but was always awakened by me.  Now all they do is raid the garden, which I can live with, and Drew sleeps a bit better.

I have quite a poor relationship  with the numerous Douglas Squirrels around the house, however, all of which I call Mr. Squirrel.  This dates back to when I first moved onto the property and thought I had one adorable little resident squirrel whom I named Mr. Squirrel, only to have to accept the sad fact that there are several of them, all defending their territory and chee-cheeing at me whenever I step outside.  I would never hurt a Mr. Squirrel, and did not share in Drew's delight when a barred owl moved in right behind the house and the Mr. Squirrel population dropped - temporarily.  Having said that, there are many things I find unpleasant about the squirrels.  They like to cling to the window screens - the one in the picture is on the second floor - and torment the cats.  One day this summer I walked down my sidewalk and was stunned to see one not three feet in front of me, dragging a dish towel-sized piece of landscape fabric across the path in front of me.  He stopped long enough to give me a vicious stare, then continued into the woods.  Later I saw where he'd dug up a corner of the fabric and gnawed it off.  Sometimes when I approach the guest house, which one of the Mr. Squirrels firmly feels is his, he'll actually charge me.  And sometimes they gallop across the roof early in the morning, sounding like a herd of elephants.

I can't help but feed the little guys, though.  I leaned a branch up against an old-growth stump that I feed the birds on, and the Mr. Squirrels use it as a freeway to blaze up to the stump, deny the birds what is rightfully theirs, and motor off again like Taliban fighters after raiding an outpost.  It's a nice life my little enemies have.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

From Whence I Came II

My mother and Pat, circa 1974.  Pat and his partner Rube did a lot of work around the farm for many years.  Well, so did my mother.  Still does.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Himalayan Honeysuckle

This Himalayan Honeysuckle, or leycesteria formosa, is one of my favorite plants here at Zhutopia.  It needs very little care, is beautiful and elegant, and bees and hummingbirds find it quite sexy.

It's a nice plant for the Pacific Northwest.  It dies back a bit in the winter but looks good for eight or nine months out of the year.  It's both cold and drought hardy, and tolerates all kinds of soil conditions. It also reseeds itself, but not to the point, at least in this climate, of being a pest.  I like using it in bouquets because the foliage is nearly as pretty as the flowers.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Boating on Liberty Bay

Thursday evening we cruised around Liberty Bay with some friends, including Abby, the White Shepherd with super-model looks.  She always makes the rest of us look bad.

Nights like this remind me of why I love living in Kitsap County, where it's so easy to do so many things that I love.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Saturday at Zhutopia

My cousin Liz spent last week with us, and on Saturday we had a few other people out as well.  It was a nice way to end the summer.  Wine, sausage, kung-fu, blackberry martinis, frogs, dogs, family, friends.  And the sun mostly shone.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Why, Google? Why the Condom Ads? Why?

I think I have a pretty wholesome blog, but Google keeps putting Trojan condom ads on it.  Their ads are supposed to fit the content, so what's up with that?  Was it the rhubarb post?  I'm afraid to write about my shapely zucchinis now.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


I stopped by the Poulsbo Fish Park on the way into work today for a walk, and ended up getting in an hour later than I should have. No one else was there, and I entertained myself by meandering along the boardwalks and charging up the little hills from time to time for a better view. It was a warm, sleepy day and the park was quiet with a subtle smell of decaying vegetation. A great blue heron and I stared at each other for awhile. I think he wanted to catch me. The decline of summer weighed on me. I felt like everything around me was either dying or going to seed or laying in supplies against the oncoming winter. In the lyrics of the beautifully sinister and deliciously melancholy Mark Lanegan, "Nothing to talk about, as another summer dies, and not a thing in this world to do, except be alone in it."

Monday, August 17, 2009

Chinese Scallion Cake

This recipe comes from northern China. Some versions call for lard or sesame oil in place of butter, and I often substitute sweet onions or garlic for the scallions. Drew remembers a version filled with a fatty pork. These buttery cakes are chewy on the outside, soft on the inside, and are more substantial and filling than they appear. Because they are so dense and durable, I often pack them for long runs or hiking. You can also wrap up the raw cakes for freezing, and they'll do very well.

3 1/3 C flour
1 1/4 C boiling water
1/4 C butter
1/2 C diced scallions
5 tsp salt
2 TBL sesame oil (to coat rolling pin)
1/4 C cooking oil
Add boiling water to flour, stir with fork or chopsticks until evenly moist
Knead on floured surface for about five minutes, don't burn your hands!
Cover with a cloth and let set for about 30 minutes
Coat your rolling pin with sesame oil and replenish as needed. Roll dough into cylinder and cut into about 10 equal pieces (each piece will become a cake). Keep the pieces you aren't working on covered, and try to work fairly quickly, as the dough will tend to dry out
Roll a piece into a circle about 1/8th" thick. Evenly distribute about 1/2 tsp salt, 1 TBL butter, and 2 TBL scallions; stopping just short of the edge.
Fold edges up and pinch together so it looks like a dumpling.
Carefully roll out again into a disk. Don't worry if some of the scallions break through the dough.
Fry in plenty of oil over medioum heat until golden-brown on each side. As one fries, prepare the next one, and be sure to keep the pan well-oiled.
Cut into equal pieces and serve.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

This Won't Happen This Year

Last year we had such a late start to our summer that my tomatoes and peppers fell behind and never caught up. I had to harvest most of them green in September and bring them in to ripen. I had them all over the house for weeks. This year we've had plenty of heat and I'm already harvesting ripe tomatoes. The peppers don't look so good but where there's life, there's hope.

Suquamish Walking the Walk

My colleague Jean Boyle wrote an excellent post about the Suquamish Tribe's recent hosting of the Tribal Journeys event, specifically about the phenomenal recycling/composting effort. I couldn't agree more with her challenge to other Kitsap event organizers to learn what they can from the Tribe's efforts to make the event as green as possible. The Kitsap Sun ran a nice article on it as well.

Also, I'm not the warmest & fuzziest person who ever walked the earth, but I have to say there was sort of a glow around the event all week. Intensely spiritual events usually make me uncomfortable, but this one just made me happy. There was a tremendous feeling of goodwill, and I almost invariably saw people treat one another, as well as the grounds, with great courtesy and respect. A lot of the older people were visibly moved, and I heard many of them say that they never thought they would see an event like this in their lifetime. For decades they saw so much of their cultural slip away; the language, the regalia, the canoe carving and crewing, the songs and dances; and here it was back in force. There was also an evident pride in how well the event went and impressed the guests were. The Makah have a lot to live up to next year.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Anniversary Feast

Today is our fifth wedding anniversary, which we celebrated by eating ourselves to exhaustion, along with a modest amount of snuggling.

This morning we had coffee and the Husband's won ton soup, worked out, talked to family, then realized we wanted sausage. This led us to Sweeney's Country Style Meats & Seafood in Brownsville, where we purchased elk pepperoni, buffalo jerky, and various smoked sausages. Not yet satisfied, we continued down the road to Farmer George in Port Orchard and bought garlic sausage, ground bacon burger (I'd never heard of it but as soon as I saw I had to have it), and honey ham. Then it was off to Rite-Aid for beer (they have the best prices on beer & wine in our area - go figure) for a case of $9.99 St. Pauli Girl. We're frugal here at Zhutopia, except when it comes to sausages and boots and a few other key items.

We marinated some chicken wings and put a chocolate cake in the oven, and I made some guacamole with the first garlic, onion, and tomato from the garden this year to eat on baked corn tortillas. The appetizer was a plate of today's bounty of jerky and sausage with dill pickles and cheese, served with cold beer. The Husband took one look and said "the person who invented sausage must have been a genius." By the time that was done we were ready to deep fry the wings, and then we threw some zucchini slices into the leftover oil and deep fried it as well (I'm overwhelmed with zucchini this year. Eating it anyway I can. Soon I'll be making zucchini cocktails.) I heated up the tortilla rounds, slapped the fresh guac on it, got some sour cream to dip the wings in, and we were good to go. After cake we were so tuckered out from our exertion that we had a nap, then arose and brewed some outstanding Silver Needle white tea. The Husband is contemplating having some watermelon, but I'm done for the night.

It was a good day.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

War Cake

I'm not a natural-born cook. I once caught my shirt on fire while cooking noodles, and twice I've boiled eggs dry and had them explode. The second time I had to clean the bits of egg out of the popcorn ceiling. It was hard.

I'm less intimidated by cooking now, but I still avoid recipes with any hint of complexity. I like them to be relatively quick, easy, and made with ingredients I already have on hand. I'm also interested in simple, old-fashioned recipes from various countries; what you might call peasant food.

For all these reasons, War Cake is my kind of recipe. It's just a bonus that we also happen to be in a recession right now.

So here's the background: War Cake, also known as Depression Cake or Poor Man's Cake, became common during the Great Depression and again in World War II, when rationing limited the supply of many baking staples. It uses no eggs, butter, or milk; which makes it a good choice for those who avoid those items for dietary reasons. It makes a nice, moist cake that holds together well and is good with both coffee and whiskey, as modeled by the Husband below. My old family recipe uses butter in place of the shortening, so someone was cheating a little bit. Although in truth I often do the same, and add a little vanilla as well. This, however, is the unvarnished, true-blue recipe.

2 cups raisins
2 cups water
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup white sugar
2 cups flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
Boil raisins in water for 10 minutes (if you use a medium sauce pan you can mix the whole cake in it & avoid getting a mixing bowl dirty)
Add shortening and allow to cool
Stir in dry ingredients
Pour into greased & floured 9"x13" pan
Bake for 20 minutes

Monday, August 10, 2009

Happy Hour in Zhutopia

Stir-fried snow peas & a St. Pauli Girl. What's not to like?

Garlic Harvest

I'm starting to pull up my garlic. This group is Early Italian planted November 12 of last year and harvested at the end of July. I planted it later than I should have - October is best - but no harm seems to have been done. Now it's going into the pantry to dry, with a couple of bulbs held back to plant again this fall.

Garlic is easy to grow here in the Pacific Northwest. The one possible pitfall is rot if they get waterlogged in the water. I plant mine in raised beds or containers and haven't lost a single bulb to rot. I put a layer of lawn clippings down to ward off weeds and give a little insulation in the winter, and hopefully by spring it will also have provided some nutrients.

Chillin' & Grillin' in Suquamish, WA

Some scenes from Tribal Journeys 2009 last week in Suquamish, WA. 89 ocean-going canoes, some of which were on the water for two weeks, rowed by members of several dozen different tribes, pulled into town for the week. It was a beautiful event and the Suquamish did a heroic job of hosting. The Husband & I attended both as guests and volunteers and it truly was a pleasure to be a part of it.

Next year the Makah Nation at Neah Bay will be hosting and it should be magnificent.

For more pictures go here.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Rhubarb Recipe with Nudity

I love rhubarb, and it's the perfect Pacific Northwest crop because it thrives in cool weather. It's also one of the very few perennial garden crops, which endears it to me. My mother recently e-mailed me the following rhubarb-related gem:

I just remembered another (sort of) rhubarb recipe. Several years ago I was shopping for produce alongside a large hairy tattooed and partially nude biker, and he said that rhubarb combined with pineapple made the best pancake syrup ever. I never tried it, since I don't make pancakes.

I haven't tried it either, but generally rhubarb pairs well with sweet fruits, so the biker may have been onto something.

Anise Seeds

Aren't these beautiful? I don't cook much with anise, but when The Husband slow-cooks pork ribs, he throws a few whole stars in to add some sweetness.

From Whence I Came

This is my family's farm in Boundary County, Idaho, circa 1970. My parents still live there, and it looks about the same. My mom & dad always have maintained a large vegetable garden and some fruit trees, as well as raising livestock and cash crops. I mostly farm horsetail and dandelions. Such is the sad fate of the Pacific Northwest dilettante gardener.

The Husband & the Tavera Beans

Fresh garden vegetables are generally best when cooked by some type of half-naked hottie.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Morning Harvest

Nearly every day from the end of May through about mid-September I walk out into the garden to pick whatever is ripe, and maybe cut some fresh flowers as well. Today I picked out these Black Beauty zucchinis, a bunch of snow peas (see yesterday's post), and some mixed lettuce (Allstar Gourmet Mix, a very attractive, delicious, and easy to grow mix that I've used for a few years.)

The fresh vegetables, however, were no match for the siren song of the Burger Bar at The Point Casino, where we ended up amid acres of fatty delights (the food, not the patrons), and cheap beer. The vegetables will have to wait until tomorrow when hopefully we'll be in a more wholesome frame of mind.