Friday, May 29, 2009

Tonight is Pizza Night!

I made these two pizza's below a couple weeks ago with my pizza dough recipe. The recipe makes these two medium sized pies. Tonight I think I will make a double batch for more left overs! You can start making this dough at 3:00 and it will be ready for dinner. Or make it the day before and put it in the fridge, like you see at the grocery store in the dairy section. Or roll/stretch out four individually sized pies, then stick them in the freezer so you will have them handy.

What is the odd looking right half of the pizza pictured below, you ask? Well, the photo doesn't do it justice really. But let me tell you .... it's scrumptious! Recently at a friend's house I sampled this pizza and immediately started making plans to recreate it at home. Okay, okay, what is it?!

It's caramelized onions, crumbled blue cheese and fresh rosemary. Delish.

This is what I did:
Slice thinly 2-3 large onions and saute in olive oil and 1-2 teaspoons sugar on medium-low heat until soft.
When your dough is stretched and ready, put on the caramelized onions, sprinkle with crumbled blue cheese (spotty, not covered) and fresh rosemary leaves. Then bake. Sooooo good!

For the boys it was pepperoni from the deli with cheese. Victor and I also love pepperoni and fresh spinach -- I still had some from our garden, so I tossed it under the cheese. Yum.
I've been struggling to peacefully get my pizza dough onto my pipping hot pizza stone without major mishaps recently. I do the whole cornmeal on a wooden cutting board thing - then shake-scoot the prepared pie off onto the hot stone. But sometimes it sticks, sometimes it slops over the edge of the stone dripping pizza goo over the sides into the oven ... So what I've been doing that's worked better for me is turn on the oven and heat up the stone, stretch the dough on the counter, then open up the oven, pull out the oven rack as far as it will go, sprinkle cornmeal onto the hot stone, then lay the stretched dough right onto the stone -- you will be able to scoot it around a bit on the cornmeal to make a nice shape. If I'm adding something wet like marinara sauce I'll let the dough cook about 2 minutes before opening up the oven again, pulling the rack out, then adding the marinara, cheese, etc. then, cook the pizza until done. 

Thursday, May 28, 2009

My Bees get Visitors

My dad wanted to come by the house to show his brother all of my shenanigans -- the chickens, the garden, the bees. He's pretty proud. He thinks the world needs a 'Sandra Show' -- like Martha, but more down to earth. I told him "Dad, tons of people do this." He wont be moved. 

When my parents and uncle pulled up to the house, I offered to suit up in my bee outfit and show off the bees. I have one other 'grown up' suit and veil. My uncle wanted to look from a distance after a bad experience with yellow jackets and his youngest son, now in his forties. Dad jumped at the chance -- he couldn't wait! Checking out the inner workings of a honey bee hive wasn't on his 'bucket list', but he quickly made the addition!

Benjamin, who is often at school when I go into my hives, was thrilled to be able to put on his suit and take a look. Here I am after a long battle with my smoker puffing the front of the hive. Dad is in the back left, Benjamin back right looking on.
Looking at the frames.
Sadly I didn't see the queen -- which always gets me nervous -- 
because I don't know where she is, 
I worry about crushing her when I slide the frames back into place.
One exciting piece of news from my hives -- my first batch of baby bees have been born! 
A large patch of capped brood (where the babies do their 'incubating') was uncapped and empty! Yipee!
(Benjamin is hidden behind the right hive.)
And here is Victor, my closet Master Bee Keeper in the making looking on without veil.
I want to get him in these hives, he'd be great at it. So mellow and low key.

The Visitors
Although the queen was feeling shy, all of the bees behaved beautifully during their showing.
Good little bees.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The issue of SPORTS

This was Benjamin's baseball team last year. I have to admit, it truly was a great experience. And yet, I resented it. This year, both Benjamin and Ripley are playing baseball (well, Ripley is playing T-Ball). So, between the two boys we are racing back and forth to the fields three to four times a week. 

Confession: I hate it. I am resenting packing up that many times a week for a 5:45 game (we are supposed to be there 20 minutes early for Benjamin's games, and it's a 15 minute drive to the fields). I resent not being able to sit down to a pleasant leisurely quality dinner together as a family to eat and chat (I just can't bring myself to feed my kids chicken nuggets, boxed mac 'n cheese, cereal or worse - fast food chains 3 nights a week like many have to resort to). I resent that 4:45 is too early for dinner (plus, Victor isn't home yet) and 7:45 is too late! I resent washing uniforms several times a week. I resent sitting there in the freezing cold and rain to watch the games. I resent that I have to 'burn up' four hours of precious time on baseball nights just sitting there. 

I am sorry. I know there are some aspects of baseball that are wonderful. Learning to play together with team mates, learning to think of others and 'the good of the team', getting outside and exercising. But three nights a week (and most Saturdays) for three months is a big commitment and I'm just not sold. Is this all really necessary at this age?

So yesterday while getting all of my ducks in a row to make the nightly trip to the field I lost my patience with my boys. I left them 15 minutes to get dressed and get their bags in the car (which they are perfectly capable of doing) while I finished prepping dinner and taking off my garden clothes. They were getting side-tracked, chatting and then arguing. We decided that next time I should leave 30 minutes for them to get ready. But really, the stress and strain comes from my resentment of the entire event. Help me out . . . am I just a bad mother? Am I just selfish? How can I be at peace?!

The moral of the story: Surrender. Leave more time. Get organized. Have snacks ready for when Benjamin gets off the bus at 4:00. Start making dinner and getting organized at 3:30 and keep it simple. Get the boys started on dressing etc. at 4:40. Get in the car at 5:10. Get a lobotomy. Do you think people would snicker if I brought my laundry to fold while I sit there?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Here's to Sweet Briar, Hola! Hola! Hola!

A view of Sweet Briar from Daisy's grave in whose memory the College was created.
There are 3250 acres of land at Sweet Briar.
Sweet Briar has an impressive equestrian program, so the resulting horses put out to pasture for those of us who ride, but don't ride is a welcome massage to the eye if nothing else.
Need I say more? It is truly lovely.
The boathouse at one of the two lakes on campus.
Until recently, there was a working dairy at Sweet Briar. As we went on long walks around 'the dairy route' which is a 2.5 mile trial that appropriately passed by the Sweet Briar Dairy we would see charming Holstein cows grazing on the rolling hills. At the dining hall we would enjoy our own milk and yogurt (whole, thank you very much). It was sad to see it go. Many of the buildings have been revamped and refitted to house the Fine Arts (of which I was a major) including drawing, painting, printmaking, photography, ceramics and graphic arts. It is a first rate facility - wow!
The new Fine Art buildings (in dark red)
Peony garden at the President's House
I believe someone thought this was a indigenous magnolia tree -- it was stunning.
L-R: Brooke, Latane, Susan
L-R: Michelle, Monica, Brooke, Kathy, Margaret, Latane, Laura
Laura and Latane walkin' the dairy route
More eating
Chatting, Chatting and more Chatting
More Walking L-R: Monica, Sandy, Susan, Laura, Brooke
We all wondered before going how it would be between us all 20 years later, and what we found were the strong roots of friendship, love and admiration that have withstood the test of time. 
All of us are glad we choose to go and made an effort to get there, though time and finances were sometimes pulling us back towards home and the present. 
We have a renewed appreciation and love for one another and the experience we shared at Sweet Briar.
Hola! Hola! Hola!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Name Suggestions for our Hens


Many thanks to Tanya (my SIL) for the inspiration of old fashioned names. I think they are fabulous. Now of course my boys want 'in' on the name game, but their suggestions are names from friends at school. But, they are still cute. I do get final approval. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Awwwwwwwww . . .

Yesterday I started plugging away at my list of to do's. I decided I'd start with cleaning the house because it was cold and drizzling outside, and inside I have brought 'my house is a mess' to a whole new level. It had to be done. 

I started frantically with the downstairs, first cleaning the kitchen, putting in a load of wash, stripping the beds, folding some laundry, vacuuming the rugs then the floors . . . then I got the call. The "Your chicks are here and ready to be picked up" call. "Oh" I said, "a day early." Good grief, I'm thinking to myself, I haven't even gotten to setting up their little brood box (although I'd purchased everything I needed). That was tonight's project! "Alright then, I guess I'd better swing by and pick them up!"

I immediately dropped the vacuum where it was (it's still in the hall) and raced around setting up their new home in our basement by the window. Mayhem. I needed to pick up Ripley from preschool later that afternoon (Monday is his long day at school) so I had to finish setting up, race over to Agway, pick up the chicks, bring them home and get them settled before taking off to preschool. Needless to say, the house is not clean yet, but I've made some progress. 

Afraid to make a complete spectacle of myself I left my fancy camera at home (Oh boy, look at the silly novice Betty, bringin' the camera) and shot this picture with my cell phone. Here is a good portion of the chicks ordered by area folks who want to keep their own hens. These are all supposed to be hens. 

Words can't describe how adorable they are, peeping away, stumbling over everything. These are 'day old' chicks. Chicks can survive without food or water for 48 hours after breaking out of their egg. This is when they were popped in the mail, yes, the mail and sent to our Agway. Everyone gives the Postal Service a bad rap, but did you know that they will deliver day old chicks and packages of bees? Not bad.
There were still two large boxes that they hadn't 'unpacked' yet.
These girls had literally just been picked up from the post office. 
Here is the little box containing my 8 little chicks.
And here they are. Awwwwwww.
L-R: New Hampshire Red, Rhode Island Red, Barred Rock (or Plymouth Rock)
After their journey, they were a little pooped out.
A lot of books say to dip the beaks of the chicks in the water to show them where and what it is, then do the same for the food. After a few minutes of getting 'situated' they got busy exploring and went right to eating and drinking. No problem.
I've seen a lot of people use paper plates just to get them started, but they immediately started standing in it, then in short order -- pooing in it. So, the plate had to go. After they figured out the plate, I put the chick feeder right next to it and they got the hang of it right away. So, off with the plate. 

They were sorry to see it go though, because they sure had fun scratching and pecking in it. I think I will get a little sand for them to sprinkle on top of their litter and maybe their food. All of the books talk about giving your chicks / chickens grit, particularly if you are supplementing their diet with scraps, veggies and fruits, because chickens don't have teeth so they need little pebble-like things to crunch their food up. Plus, it seems to me, they just like pecking and scratching at it. But, my Agway doesn't carry it. I guess most people just use sand? If your birds are outside scavenging around, they find their own 'grit' laying around. But, it's still good to give them a supply, to be sure. 

Dangling over their brood box is a heat lamp. Baby chicks need to be warm. In their box they need a range of temperatures from 73-95 degrees (this is why you see the thermometer in the box). You adjust the temperature by raising or lowering the heat lamp. If they all scatter to the outside edges of the box, they are too hot. If they are all huddled in the center under the lamp, they are too cold. If they are meandering all around in different places, eating and drinking . . . they are just right. This has been a bit stressful for me. I can't tell you how many times I've raised and lowered that silly lamp. I'm realizing that I am a worry wart of a mother. Now I understand my Grandmom (Mom's side) better. It comes from loving 'too much' and wanting to do a good job. I worry that when I go downstairs in the morning my chicks will be laying on their sides with rigamortis because I had the heat lamp too low, or too high! I worry that my bees will swarm because of lack of attention on my part. I worry that my children will fall on their heads from the swing set and break their necks. I know, I know, Matthew 6: 25-34!

When I was watching them yesterday it really seemed to me that they needed a gerbil wheel or something. They need some toys. They seemed a bit bored with what I had to offer them. I was dying to put a couple rips of lettuce in there, but I read online that they aren't ready for such things. Too bad. I think they would have had a lot of fun pecking at it. 

Names you ask? My boys have never been big on names. They come up with names such as this: For a penguin: Pengy. For a dog: Doggy. Last night when Victor came home he volunteered Tom, Dick and Harry. In unison we all said "They are giiiiiiiiiiiirllllllllssssssss". "Okay, Henrietta then" Victor corrected. Good grief. I can see I'm going to have help with some suggestions.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Friends and Family

This week is going to be a busy one. On Friday morning I'm leaving for my -- make note -- 20th year college reunion. Yes, indeed. I went to an all women's college (why, I have no idea) so no one brings their spouses. It's kind of sad really, because I'd love to have Victor meet my college friends all of whom live a long distance away, but instead it will be like a big 'ole girls night out -- which will be fun too! 

So, not only do I have to pack and skidaddle out of town early Friday morning, but I also have to:
  • Prep the second half of my garden for planting.
  • Make dinner for a friend in need.
  • Celebrate Benjamin's 10th Birthday on Tuesday!
  • Plant seedlings (after the expected frost tonight) tomorrow.
  • Prep our little home for the baby chicks downstairs in the basement.
  • Get day old chicks on Tuesday!
  • Give Victor a crash course on how to raise baby chicks so they survive my weekend away.
  • Install new wax foundation in 16 frames for my hives. (A lot of work BTW)
  • Do a hive check on Thursday and install the second brood chamber with the newly prepared frames.
In spite of my looming to do's we had a nice time over the weekend with friends and family. On Saturday Night we enjoyed some potluck grub with friends . . . 

L-R: Dave, Carl, Matt, Victor, Ron, Cheryl, Jon, Ann, Kara, Michelle, Kathy

On Sunday after church, we were treated to an early dinner at Victor's parent's Portuguese Club. It was fabulous. It had closed down for awhile, but now a new couple is managing it. A small team of people cook a fabulous meal for about 60 people every Sunday. 
L-R: Braulio, Aldina, Dulce, Michelle, Sandy, Ripley
Ahh, this time we got my father-in-law Mario in.
Really, it's about getting together with friends, with whom you have a lot in common, over dinner and a glass of wine, and celebrating your culture. 
Victor and Michelle are on the right, getting coffee.

On this particular Sunday they had music and dancing also -- all Portuguese dancing, of course. It's not like Portuguese Folk Dancing with the costumes and the whole bit, it's a collection of miscellaneous dances most of which accompany music with an accordion. The subtle difference between each of the dances elude me, but my mother-in-law tried to teach me a few.
They had a raffle which everyone jumps to participate in, as a fund raiser. They were raffling off a bottle of pineapple rum. As my sister-in-law Michelle said "yeah, no one wants that." It's all about keeping the club going, certainly not about the random thing they decide to raffle off that day. Ripley, being a young honest boy, was chosen to pick the winning raffle ticket. Being rather reserved, I was surprised that we was willing to go up and draw. But he did. And his "Avo" loved every minute of it!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

My Weekly Hive Check

Victor is in love with my bees. It's not why you might think. In his own quiet way Victor is a free spirit. He doesn't buy into doing things a 'certain way' because 'it's the way it's always been done'. He appreciates people who are living 'outside the box' and doesn't want to be put in one himself. This is where we get to the bee part . . . my bees continue to build comb in ways they are not supposed to, and Victor thinks it's wonderful!

When Victor and I were married on the beach in Florida we wrote our own vows. There is a line in what I wrote that reads: "Victor, I am not a neat house keeper, I am not organized, and I can be a little feisty. But I can promise you this: I promise you my faithfulness. I promise to love, honor, respect and cherish you . . . " Maybe the bees just knew. (Let's just hope they don't adopt my feistiness!) Maybe they've flown by and seen the inside of my house and have adapted the same philosophy: There are way too many things to do in the beautiful outdoors right now to worry too much about how tidy the inside of the house looks. 

When I went into the hives, both hives have multiple frames with odd looking burr comb that is actually attached to the foundation towards the top. It's a royal mess. I was able to pull the frames out, and they certainly seemed happy enough, so . . . I left it there. 

The good news is, my bees seem to be loving and caring for their young in spite of it all (just like me)! They had capped brood, larvae and freshly laid eggs. They are working on both sides of four frames, so next week I will be putting on the next brood chamber, as I have eight frame hives rather than the standard ten frames. 

The tricky part is determining when to put on your next brood chamber. Generally the queen lays in the bottom two large boxes of a bee hive. When your bees have drawn out comb (this is for empty foundation) on 6 of the 8 frames (in my case) or 8 of 10 frames for those who have a traditional 10 frame box, it's time to add on another brood chamber. My bees (now working on four frames) have been working on about 2 frames a week, so by my next hive check I should be ready to put on the next chamber. 

The interesting thing that I learned is that on the one hand, the bees may not build out frames 1 & 8 (sometimes bees aren't fond of building out the outside edge frames) it is important if you are putting empty foundation in the next brood chamber, for the bees to start working on building out comb up there. Because if they run out of foundation and the queen has no place to lay eggs (because the bees haven't had time to build out comb on the new foundation in the upper box) the bees will swarm. Not what you want if you want honey, and I do! And who wants a swarm? Not me. 

A word of thanks to my friend and fellow bee keeper Diane. I'd called her about an hour before going into my hives in a panic because my bees in the right hive were going bonkers. A large quantity of them were 'flying in place' right in front of their hive and making a loud buzzing noise. I had read that this might be an 'orientation flight' where bees that are 'graduating' to forager take orientation flights to get the hang of things before they are released on their own. But of course I was worried and called Diane. As usual, she set my mind at ease. "Do you need me?" she asked. No I was fine, I said. 

As I was starting my smoker, fully clad in my bee suit, who pulls into my driveway? Diane. Dear sweet thing, she was driving by there area on her way home and just thought she should check on me. I loved it. Because I was about to go in the hives she threw on Victor's veil and Benjamin's gloves and observed. It was wonderful to have her there to encourage me and confirm that I should just leave that crazy burr comb in the frames. Thank you Diane!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Bee Visit

It's almost like a 'play date', except our bees can't play because they are committed to staying put in their own hives at our two houses. But their bee keepers did, sort-of. When our schedules align, my bee friend Sarah and I have been trying to go over to one another's house when it's time to 'work the bees'. Our theory is that the more we are exposed to it, the more we will learn and the more comfortable we will be. So, in between gardening tasks, after picking up Ripley from preschool, we went over to Sarah's house for her weekly inspection.
I was a bit envious because Sarah is so chilled out and relaxed about going into her hive. I still have butterflies in my stomach, like I'm going to the prom. Excited, but nervous. Sarah didn't even smoke her burr comb, she just scraped it off with the bees right on it. The poor girls just kept about their work as it was being disassembled. 
I love these pictures of Sarah working her bees in front of her yellow shed. 
(This would be an example of why people say bee keeping can be back breaking work.)
Here is her queen, still dressed in "green".
Sarah had several frames of 'capped brood' which is a baby bee brewing. At some point after the egg has turned into larvae, the bees 'cap' the cell where the baby can continue to develop into a full grown baby bee. See the little larvae in the cells?
Here is a lot of capped brood. Soon, she will have baby bees!
It takes 21 days for a worker bee to fully develop, 24 days for a drone, 16 days for a queen.
While we worked her bees, Ripley happily ate his lunch in the 'fort' of the swing set. Watching his mom and her friend 'work the bees'. Life is good.

You can read about Sarah's bees on her blog: 

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Life's rhythms

Here in New England, where we have such well defined seasons, life has a certain rhythm to it. 

In the wintertime you are hard pressed to see any of your neighbors. Everyone is hunkered down inside of their warm (relatively speaking) houses around the fire. Everything is slow. You would think this quiet time would be a good time for socializing, but really it's not what happens. People keep to themselves. If you want to be social, you've got to make it happen. For the most part, as a society everyone is tucked inside reading, watching t.v., playing video games, playing board games, and perhaps escaping to go out to dinner in between snow, sleet and slush.

When the weather breaks, just like honey bees breaking their 'cluster' to see if it's warm enough to venture outside, you start to see your neighbors. When springtime comes people start going on walks. Suddenly, everyone is working on their yard and the children are outside playing on their driveways. I always forget how busy spring is. As a gardener, as soon as the weather is warm enough I am outside non-stop, unless it's raining. I find myself 'going out into the real world' decked out in my messy gardening clothes, because what's the point of taking them off for 10 minutes just to go and pick up Ripley at preschool? To look at me, people must be worried that I'm losing my faculties, to go out looking so . . . grungy. In the wintertime I would be starved for companionship, for daytime conversation with adults. But in the spring, I am content to be by myself working in my garden all day long. It's wonderful. There is a hope in the air. 

In the summertime, it is a social frenzy. New Englanders (I won't speak for the rest of the world) race around to do all that we had hoped and dreamed to do during those long winter months before it starts snowing again! We zip to the beach. We zip to go camping. We race from Bar-B-Q to Bar-B-Q horrified that soon we will be back to cooking and eating indoors. We go out to eat and sit outside and soak in the warm sun. It's a very strange phenomenon. It's almost comical. Trying to schedule time with your friends during the summer months is like trying to get a place on the dance card of the most beautiful girl in the room. 

Invariably, as the weather starts to turn again, we try to pack any remaining activities into the warm days that come our way. Autumn is beautiful in New England, but it's a little bit like an old fashioned New Orleans funeral. The music is rich and vibrant, but there is a sadness in the air. A mourning. A quietness that begins to envelop us. 

So for now, I will embrace the hope of things to come, of seeds planted, of trees cared for, of plans to be made, of bees to be born and chicks to be raised. If you're wondering where I am, or where I've been, check my garden. You'll find me there digging in the dirt with JOY, and dreaming of the summer fun to come . . . 

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Fragile hope and a commitment to thinning!

I feel like I'm walking on egg shells. I am waiting for 'the other shoe to drop'. I am giddy with excitement when I look at my thriving strawberry plants (thanks to our handy dandy fence that's keeping the rabbits out!), but I am petrified that something is going to come along and ruin everything before they are ready! I am having pest stress! 
Just last night I was examining my fruit trees and found that some of them have been anialated by a small green caterpillar. I tried picking them all off one by one and smashing them to smithereens. But, they were everywhere. Nearly all of the leaves had been destroyed, overnight. Finally I broke down and used an organic BT spray, which is a bacterium that disagrees with soft bodied bugs, on the trees whose flowers had already fallen off (kind of like the milky spore concept that's used for Japanese beetles). I didn't spray anything on those trees that had flowers because there is some talk that the BT bacterium may harm the larvae of the honey bee -- as the bees go right to the flower, take in the pollen and nectar, then feed it to their young -- which is at one point, larvae. 
So of course I haven't sprayed my darling strawberry plants. But they are starting to show evidence that some bug or other is going after them. Argh! Garden Stress! They look so wonderful. So cheerful. So hopeful. I even saw one of my honey bees examining them yesterday. (Granted, one -- but hey! We are getting somewhere!)
My mantra this year is THIN THIN THIN. The sign of a novice gardener is someone who doesn't thin their seedlings. I fall into this category. I find it so difficult to pull out or cut down a cute little seedling filled with promise! This exposes my naivete. Although you might think that you will get more 'fruit' with more plants, if the plants are crowded the opposite is actually true. In addition the plants become stressed and more susceptible to disease. Drat. So now I have been thinning and thinning and thinning. 
I've known this since I was a child and witnessed my father pulling out 'perfectly good' radish seedlings from the ground. "WHAT are you Dooooooing??!!" I said. "Thinning" he responded. It just seemed so wrong. 
Here are my peas. (top and bottom) Two rows side by side 4 inches apart with a trellis in between. Last year my peas were attacked by deer and rabbits. We will see if the peas have better luck this year!
Here are my broccoli and cauliflower transplanted seedlings.
And some lovely lettuce that had been growing in my cold frames -- now exposed. It is pretty exciting to have lettuce ready for picking in early May (here in New England, that's exciting!)
And my carrots. Another thing that suffered greatly last year because of Peter Rabbit. 
I've been a good girl and have been thinning them out as need be. 
One small potato sprout. Kristi and I are trying a new fangled potato tower made with wire fencing. Inside I've piled leaves, straw, grass clippings, compost and a little dirt. As the sprouts get taller, you cover up the stems with more of the 'compost cocktail' and repeat until you are at the top of the tower. Supposedly this will create a mountain of spuds within each tower. I am a little concerned about possible light exposure to the potatoes growing inside (on the edges) of the towers. Growing potatoes don't like light, and can 'green'. Time will tell. I'll keep you posted! (My Portuguese husband does not seem impressed.)