Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Baby Ducklings

I woke up this morning to loud peeping and went outside to see this:

Duck Herding

Meet mama duck. See all those fuzzy butts crowded under mama duck's wings? Those belong to eleven fuzzy ducklings. Yes, eleven. The time had come to herd baby ducklings.

Some backstory: when we moved into our apartment, which is two floors above a restaurant with a second-floor deck that opens on to the alley, both the landlord and the previous tenant told us that every year a duck made a nest on the deck and would require our assistance getting the ducklings to the river. Of course, the river is not only seven blocks away, but down a flight of stairs and across several streets. (Nobody ever said ducks were really smart). I found a nest with six eggs in it on Easter morning and had been watching and waiting ever since.

The first trick was to get the babies down the flight of stairs without any of them getting hurt.

Duck Herding

This is me trying to placate mama duck with a bit of homegrown lettuce while I take her babies away. As you can imagine, she's not too pleased. But as you can see the ducklings are in a corner and I was able to gather them all into a box. I wore leather gloves in case of biting, but instead she flew at my head. Thankfully that didn't really hurt.

Duck Herding

So cute!

The hardest part was getting them across the street and reunited with their mama. There was a bit of confusion but thankfully she heard their peeping and waddled across the street and onto the sidewalk, where I let them out of their box and they were all reunited. From then on, it was merely a question of keeping them out of the busiest streets and stopping the little traffic there was as they all walked down to the river.

Duck Herding

The little ones just followed along, their funny feet flap-flap-flapping on the bricks and asphalt.

Duck Herding

Some interested parties observed from nearby windows. (Other parties also took photos in the street!)

Duck Herding

And after a few more blocks and a carefully controlled encounter with a dog (whose owner was nice enough to keep him well away) they all went plop-plop-plop into the Potomac. Just like ducks to water.

Duck Herding

Amazing. And adorable. I'm glad we were able to take on the duty of chaperoning ducklings, and getting to see them up close, if only for a minute, is so nice. This absolutely made my day, possibly my week.

(And now I won't have ducks in my containers, so I can do some gardening!) I can't say how happy I am for Spring and positive changes all around. We'll be back to regularly scheduled blogging soon.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

First Harvest

Springtime has already produced some of its bounty in big enough quantities for me to eat! Last night I harvested some lovely leaf lettuce and baby spinach with a little broccoli raab and parsley on the side.

First Harvest

I had them with cold spaghetti and a lemony vinaigrette, and it was lovely. It felt very celebratory.

So here are some photos of my containers. I have several long, narrow, built in planters, many of which contain bamboo. The open ones all have stuff growing in them now.

Garden

Here is some mint on the left, and jumbled in the right are parsley, broccoli raab, and spinach. And of course a tomato. It's a Supersweet 100, not my biggest favorite, but I figured I couldn't grow anything much more substantial than a cherry tomato in a container like this.

Garden

On the left there are two kinds of lettuce, and over on the right are potatoes I planted on a whim. The potatoes have sticks sticking up from them because they are interplanted with some sweet peas that I hope will soon rise above them!

Canna?

And then there was that pointy thing in the middle. I didn't plant it, I didn't plan for it, but it excites me because I hope it is a canna. I got and planted three more cannas and an elephant ear today, so hopefully by the time it heats up around here I'll have a properly tropical patio!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Food Experiment: Neapolitan Pizza

Okay, I admit it: I'm turning into a foodie. As if you couldn't tell, we love food, we always have, and we love to cook. One of the things I love is Neapolitan-style pizza, and my favorite pizzeria is 2 Amy's. There is something really lovely about a real margherita pizza: hot, crisp, chewy, the bright tomatoes and basil balanced by creamy fresh mozzarella. 2 Amy's does a real bang-up job of it, and their pizza is certified D.O.C. authentic Neapolitan. If it's certified authentic, it must be good, right? I can't even begin to tell you.

Because 2 Amy's is far away - it's a serious ride on the subway plus about a mile's walk - and because we like to experiment, we decided to try our own version. Without a proper wood-burning oven, our pizza is never going to come out exactly the same as a restaurant's. But we got some good tips from a pizza-making forum.

There were two aspects of our past pizza-making that had to be improved: the crust and the cooking surface. We found a good pizza dough recipe on 101 Cookbooks. This recipe is very sticky and uses overnight fermentation to develop a smooth dough that cooks up with big beautiful bubbles. Some ingenious forum members suggested stacking unglazed quarry tiles instead of a pizza stone in the oven, and making side walls with the tiles to help hold in the heat.

So with the oven cranking along at 550 we made margheritas. It's so simple: pat the dough balls out a little bit, add a little plain tomato sauce, a few bits of mozzarella, and slide the whole thing onto the tiles. (Put the basil on after it comes out of the oven to keep from burning it.) The first pizza slipped onto the hot tiles with a gratifying sizzle.

Neapolitan Pizza

While the crust turned up a bit and got stuck on this one, it was almost perfect otherwise: good browning, good balance of ingredients, and the crust was crisp in the middle and soft and bubbly at the edges.

Neapolitan Pizza

This is the bottom of the pizza - while it's a bad, blurry photo, it's the best bottom of a pizza crust I've ever seen come out of a home oven. Browned and crisp without the top burning! Victory!

We stood in the kitchen and slipped pizzas into the oven one by one, eating them as they came out, drinking beer and taking photos. It almost felt a bit decadent, so much fresh food and lovely smells.

Neapolitan Pizza

Look at those bubbles! That's an amazing texture for homemade pizza.

We considered this a pretty significant triumph, to produce a vastly improved pizza (from previous attempts using a different dough recipe and a metal pan) on our first try. However, there were some things that I want to record for future reference. First of all, we needed a better peel for getting the pizzas into the oven. Getting them back out again was pretty simple, but the sticky dough clung to our parchment paper-covered cardboard. A better dusting of semolina would have helped, and only placing the dough on the peel immediately before dressing it and baking it would have cut down on the sticking. Secondly, the dough that the recipe makes is very wet and sticky - good for pizzas, bad for shaping. The dough has to rest on the counter in thick discs for about 2 hours to warm up before baking. I made the significant mistake of trying to shape the crusts too early - when I went to pick them up again later, they just stretched and stretched until I had a mess of holes and had to roll up the whole thing and start over, which ruined the texture. So the key seems to be leave it alone until it's almost ready to go in the oven, shape the dough, put it on the peel, dress it, slide it.

As with the margherita, simple seems to be best in the end. Tune in next week for another food experiment!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Spring Sprang Sprung

Spring is here in Virginia, which we've discovered means 48 hours of more or less continuous rain followed by minor flooding. Hooray!

We've been keeping busy, and between work, planting my garden, cooking, and cleaning, there hasn't been a lot of knitting time left over. I still have about 8 projects left on the needles, some of which would probably take only a few hours to finish. But I'm slow, and I want to start more projects instead of finishing the ones I have. Knitting samples up is also taking time away from my own knitting, but that's okay.

In any case, this is the only knitting I have to show lately:

Diagonal Rib Socks

These are still the Diagonal Rib socks. By now I've turned the heel and am decreasing in the gusset, but there is no way I'll finish these for the March Sockdown deadline of April 31. Oh well! They will still be lovely socks.

I am fascinated by the abundance of flowering things here. Spring seems so early, and so quickly followed by summer - everything is just leaping out of the ground as fast as it can go! I'm surprised to see dogwoods and lilacs and hydrangeas in the middle of April... they always were May flowers before I moved.

I've seen some lovely striped azaleas... sorry for the crappy camera phone photo:

Striped Azalea

And this tiny flower came from a small tree. Anybody know what it is?

Mystery tree

Back to the grind.

I've been doing a lot of cooking that I will be sharing here. I hope you're in the mood for lots of delicious photos coming your way in the future.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Butterflies

butterfly

First of all, has it really been a week? Argh, not posting makes me feel so incompetent.

Now that I've got that off my chest, I want to share some nifty butterfly photos with you. I can't show you much knitting these days due to it being a secret again, so you'll have to bear with me for a bit. Or, you know, just ignore this post.

A friend and I went to see the Butterflies and Plants: Partners in Evolution exhibition at the National Museum of Natural History last week. While ostensibly the message is encapsulated in the title, my guess is that most visitors went to see the live butterfly greenhouse and didn't bother looking at the rest of the displays. It seemed like half the kids in the greenhouse were screaming with excitement while the other half were screaming with fear. Regardless, it was fun and worth the $6 and the early-morning trek across town to be the first ones in to the exhibition.

The focal point of the exhibition is an enclosed greenhouse with tropical plants, an enclosed cabinet for protecting butterfly cocoons, and dozens if not hundreds of live butterflies flying around at will. The butterflies had sugar water and citrus fruits to eat and lots of plants to hide in. It was probably 85 degrees and 90% humidity in the greenhouse, which wasn't the most pleasant, but obviously better for the critters.

butterfly

We saw many different kinds of butterflies, including Monarchs, different kinds of swallowtails, butterflies that looked like leaves, and the lovely blue Morpho. Many of them I was not sure of their names.

Swallowtail

Sadly I couldn't get a photo of any of those iridescent Morphos - if they're flying, they are moving too fast to take a good photo, and if they're sitting, their wings are folded to show the brown underside. This is probably a Morpho, but it doesn't look so impressive this way!

resting butterfly

This one did have a name we knew - the Atlas moth. This giant is one of the largest lepidopterans known, with a wingspan of up to 10-12 inches. We didn't see it until the very end of our time in the greenhouse, and it was worth seeing. Fiber enthusiasts (are you still reading along?) will note that these are also cultivated for their silk production.

Atlas Moth

There was also a very friendly butterfly that, when resting, resembles a leaf. This one hung out on us, clinging tightly to clothing until it was removed.

leaf butterfly

After the butterflies, we went to see the Hope Diamond (it has a whole room almost all to itself) and the dinosaurs in the museum. The great value of a free museum is that you don't feel obligated to see it all at once, and so there is always something waiting for you when you return.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

You Are Getting Sleepy...

... very sleepy.

Refrigerator Cookies

And hungry, too!

Over the past few days I've snuck in enough time to make some fun refrigerator cookies. They're very easy. Just remember when cutting them up to make sure the dough is really, really cold and your knife is really, really sharp. If these conditions aren't met, your nice round log will be smooshy and your pattern will be ragged on the cookies. This recipe isn't super-awesome, so I won't be passing it on. It's tasty enough for me, though.

Refrigerator Cookies

Then if you're crafty and remember that they don't grow much in the oven, you can fit a whole batch of cookies onto two baking sheets and get the whole shebang in and out of the oven in ten minutes or less while you're washing the dishes.

Refrigerator Cookies

Unfortunately these babies are mostly butter so you can only have one. Actually because this is the Internet, you can't have any, but I'll be putting half in the freezer for another time. Well maybe you could have one, but you'd have to come over here.

Refrigerator Cookies

The bottom half of this photo shows what happens when you screw up your rolling-out process for the spiral cookies and have big raggedy edges sticking out all over. I rolled the two colors into snakes, stuck them together, folded it over a couple times, rolled it out into a snake again, and made cookies out of that. It's easy. Just don't tell people that. Tell them they're the special "Holstein style" cookies or something. Wait, maybe that's not a good idea to associate farm animals with baked goods... oh well. Better luck next time.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Today is a very grey day chez Golden Iris. It's been raining or drizzly on and off for the past few days. I don't know about anyone else but weather like this makes me want to curl up under a blanket and snooze and do nothing, which isn't good for my day off! Every day off I get I make all these ambitious plans for cleaning the house, making food, shopping, knitting, gardening, you name it. Today? I've had a shower and a cup of coffee, but not much else.

But the rain indicates one thing - Spring has definitely sprung. The big oak tree outside my window is leafing out (yes, the Christmas lights in the tree are still lit):

Oak Leaves

And on the patio, my seeds are growing. My nasturtiums even sprouted!

Sample knitting has returned to my life. I've received some lovely Pear Tree Australian Merino in one of my favorite colors, seafoam green, for another hush-hush project. This stuff is absolutely luscious!

Pear Tree Merino

The hats I finished a little while ago have safely made it to their destination in California, and have been modeled in an impromptu (and hilarious) photo shoot on the designer's blog here. It's worth the click - have a look.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Two steps forward, one step back

It seems every time I try to knit something for myself these days, something goes wrong, or I'm met with disappointment. (Thankfully the sample knitting has been successful.) I run out of yarn for the bedjacket, have to substitute another yarn for the edging. One pair of socks, deliberately knit to the wrong gauge, looks awful. Rip. Three shawl projects lay stagnant due to me generally not caring enough to work on them.

And then this happens. Actually this happened weeks ago, but it was too disheartening to deal with.

Diamond Lace Scarf

I get this far on the edging, and there's no way in the world I'll have enough yarn to finish it. So after this photo was taken, it got ripped back far enough to where I can finish it. I'll have leftovers now, but at least the scarf will be finished. Of course with most days in the 60s, I'll have no use for it until September. Wonderful.

I've been trying to participate in a group on Ravelry called "Sockdown" - basically, the idea is, every month people in the group knit a pair of socks by a certain designer or using a certain technique. Finish your socks within the alloted time, and you're entered into a raffle to win yarn or other goodies. Fun, right? Exactly. Except when I pick a pattern that drives me crazy.

These are the Mock Wave Cable socks by Ann Budd, from Interweave's "Favorite Socks" book. A lot of the Ravelry photos looked really cute. This is what mine looked like.

Mock wave cable sock

A whole big lump of nothing. And this is after they'd been ripped out once to fix a gauge problem and a chart full of errors from the original printing! The cast-on was interesting (a variation on my favorite long-tail cast on) and the pattern definitely has potential, but the increases look messy to me and I kept making mistakes. So out they went.

One last shot of them, showing the intended effect...

Mock wave cable sock

This at least looks a little better but I'm not satisfied. The yarn is going to become Diagonal Rib socks, also by Ann Budd, to try and get in on the raffle action!

I'm still chugging along on the lace blouse, but that's another post. Thankfully my seeds are happily sprouting outside, and I have another sample knitting project coming, so maybe there's more success in the future.