Friday, February 29, 2008

Clivia Watch 2008

Clivia "A" has finally blossomed! And Clivia "B" is making steady progress towards the same goal. Not bad for a first-timer!

The keep the blossom stalk growing tall and graceful I didn't put the plant into the best sunny spot until the blossoms were imminent. Too much sun and I've heard that the stalk doesn't grow and the blossoms get stuck down in the leaves.

It has been snowing off and on for the past week, big pretty flakes that draw one to the window to watch. Here is the view out our south windows.

The barn belongs to a neighbor but we're happy to get one of the best views of it from our house. I'm not sure how old it is, but some of the main beams bear the marks of being hand-hewn.

When its snowing I feel more energized to get things done and particularly excited about cooking and baking. My latest experiment was this Cardamom Wreath.

The recipe is available in a variety of places, including this website. It's more of a subtle sweet yeast bread than a coffee cake, and it's perfect for breakfast or with a cup of tea in the afternoon. The recipe suggests topping with slivered almonds but I decided to try it on its own, although I did make the cardamom butter recipe that accompanied the bread since I had some orange zest left from the bread recipe. The bread keeps well for several days, especially if you wrap it in a linen tea towel and store in a bread box.

If you decide to make the bread I can offer a few bits of feedback: I started the wet ingredients in my kitchenaid mixer with the batter attachment and switched to the dough hook after adding the first two cups of flour. (If you start with the dough hook you won't be able to mix the butter, sugar, and eggs well enough.) The dough was quite moist and sticky so I kept adding flour while the machine kneaded and until I could handle the dough without getting stuck in it. I was worried I'd overwork the bread but it appears to have survived and is still soft and tender despite lots of kneading. Lastly, my ground cardamom was probably fairly old and it wasn't very fragrant anymore so I decided to use a mortar and pestle to grind some cardamom seeds myself (just remember to take them out of the pods first). The result was incredibly fragrant and fantastic but it didn't overpower the recipe. With the freshly ground spice and the orange zest my kitchen smelled wonderful!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

I dream in color, specifically in olive green

Excitement is building here on Elm Street as we await the Clivia blossom that is sure to come soon!

That said, there's not too much to report from here. I'm wearing out my office chair from too much sitting and writing my dissertation. Perhaps that's why I dreamed last night that I was buying a Herman Miller chair (in an experimental olive green color!). I mean, we all have our own fantasies don't we? Dreaming about chairs is a whole lot better than dreaming about writing my dissertation, I'll tell you that much. I already carry a small notebook with me for any inspiration that happens when I'm away from the computer, don't tell me I'm going to have to keep it by the bed for all those dissertation dream insights! I'd rather dream about chairs.

So that's the kind of excitement we've got going on here.

We did host a Spaghettiplausch party last week for a few friends. I have to say that the Swiss do manage to come up with the very best in meal traditions that are intrinsically social. Indeed the meaning is built into the name Spaghettiplausch: "plausch" means to "chat."

Now while a Spaghettiplausch is not based around melted cheese like fondue or raclette (more's the pity since we lurve the cheese) it is still very fun! The point, as I understand it, is to offer a variety of different spaghetti sauces to try. And then to chat, of course!

We had four sauces for five people and we ate enough pasta to fuel a table of marathon runners! In addition to a meat sauce, we contributed one of my favorites - a Cantaloupe-Tomato sauce. I got the recipe from a friend almost ten years ago and I still make it from the notes I jotted down on a scrap of paper. Yes, I know cantaloupe isn't the first thing one thinks of as the key ingredient to a pasta sauce but once you try it, I'm sure you'll be hooked.

Have fun and throw your own Spaghettiplausch party!

Cantaloupe pasta sauce for 4 people

1 cantaloupe chopped into bite-sized pieces (the more ripe, the more easily it will break down when you cook it)

1/3 stick butter (the recipe I copied this from says 1/3 stick per 1/2 melon but I've cut back the proportions to 1/3 stick for a whole melon, IOW butter use in this recipe is fairly flexible and you can use more or less to suit your own tastes)

1-2 tomatoes, chopped

Saute the melon until it breaks down.

Add tomatoes, cook a few minutes more.

Add 1/3 cup of heavy cream (we use half and half and it works fine) and remove from heat.

Finish with a little S&P to taste. Serve over pasta (spaghetti and angel hair work well with this sauce).

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Clivia Watch 2008 Part 2

We're finally getting some snow here in Ohio. As long as it's not yet spring I prefer to have some snow on the ground.

Still, with seed catalogs coming in the mail it's hard not to start thinking about vegetable gardens and flower beds.

So, to measure the progress of the season I give you this week's Clivia report.

Progress has been made. (If not by me on my dissertation, then at least my plants are making progress. Ha, ha! I've actually been writing these days. Maybe it's too soon to label this draft as actual "progress" but the page count is getting higher every day. And that's a good thing. But back to the subject at hand...)

Clivia "A" is showing excellent progress towards blooming. I'm trying to rotate the plant everyday to keep the blossom stalk from leaning towards the window.

And Clivia "B" is now also showing signs of possible blossom production. I thought that this would be the plant to bloom this year since it is larger and possibly more mature. I suspect, however, that when I received it I repotted it in a pot that was a little too large and it has taken longer for the plant to feel pot bound enough try for a blossom.

I've heard that one must be careful with potting clivia, that their roots can pop a pot, so I know it's a bit of a risk to use such a pretty blue pot for it. I've lost several clay pots to Canna lily roots over the last few summers to know what I'm in for. But instead of being concerned about losing a pot, I admit I'm just more amazed that plants can do this sort of thing. And again I just sit back and watch them force open the pots: "CRRRAAACKK." Well, you know what I mean.

Stay tuned for more Clivia news next week.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Clivia Watch 2008 Part 1

I'm new to being a Clivia caretaker. I bought two at a potluck plant sale before a Granville Garden Club meeting because I was in love with the tough green leaves and how gracefully they drape. Apparently they are related to the Amaryllis (hence the lovely leaves) and they are native to South Africa.

To see if I could force my two plants to flower this year I kept them for 8 weeks in our front entryway. The light is low (the window in the door gets north light but is shaded by our porch) and the temp is also low (probably around 55 degrees Fahrenheit) since we keep it closed off from the rest of the house. Now the plant is a few feet from an eastern window and the house temp varies from as much as 68 during parts of the day and probably around 58-60 at night (I wouldn't know! I'm in bed where it's warm!).

Just last week I saw the tips of a possible blossom emerge from the leaves.

In addition to sitting and watching my plant grow I've also done some knitting. No, silly! I don't really sit and watch my plants grow, I just check on them three and four times a day to see if they've done something new.

Here's a hat I made for the son of some friends. Since northern Minnesota is cold, and since I wanted to protect his little noggin with good thick wool, I picked Brown Sheep Lamb's Pride worsted (85% wool, 15% merino) in "Forest Shadows." Since the pattern calls for the wool to be doubled up the hat turned out quite thick and warm indeed. I managed to coordinate the variation in the color with the two strands so it's not quite as speckle-y as it is shaded.

I had just enough left from the one skein of yarn to make the little pom on top, my only alteration to Alexis Riggs' "Toasty Topper," (pattern available free from See how I'm learning the whole hypertext thing?) I was able to finish it during holiday car and plane rides, so it knits up quickly.

Updates on the Clivia will follow! Lucky for you they won't be the "three times a day" updates that I'm doing myself. Hopefully there will be progress to report!