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Saturday, March 31, 2007

...And Out Like a Lamb

So the yellow Lady Fairbanks roses frame the gateway to my...

...herb garden. On the left side, there's four rose bushes (Duet, Paradise, Gypsy, Double Delight), a lilac bush, hollyhocks, nasturtiums, a delphinium, a rose-scented geranium, a cyclamen, and cup flowers. On the right side are dead tomato plants, passionfruit vine, strawberries, chili, parsley, sorrel, purple perilla, green perilla, basil, spearmint, apple mint, Vietnamese coriander, French lavender, rosemary, curry plant, and a papaya tree. But not everything is blooming right now.


Spearmint on the left and apple mint on the right. I've got broken plates to serve as a barrier to keep the mint runners from spreading too much.

Sorrel. I love the crunchy stems and sour leaves, especially wrapped up with other herbs in a rice paper roll.

Rau ram (Vietnamese coriander). It doesn't quite taste like coriander to me though...

Kinh gioi (Vietnamese balm or green perilla) has a slight lemony tang.

From far left: French lavender, rosemary, and curry. The curry plant smells exactly like curry! I thought it was so cool but I have yet to actually cook with it...

Gypsy rose. On its right is a rose-scented geranium, which actually smells like potpourri.

The lavender, rosemary, roses, and rose-scented geranium are right in front of my makeshift bench. The trellis will hopefully one day be covered in twining wisteria. Right now the wisteria are about 6 inches tall. But hopefully one day after entering the rose-covered arch , walking down the meandering Irish moss-covered stone path along the rock river, you can sit on this "rustic" bench luxuriating in the scent of roses and lavender. Hopefully. One day.

This is beside my patio area before the entrance to my herb garden. Remember the bac ha (taro) I was so afraid died when my garden suffered from January's cold frost? Slowly starting to come up again. This is part of my "bog" garden. So called and started because this one corner of the yard seems to retain quite a bit of water. I tried meandering my "rock river" through it but just turned into a shallow puddle. I planted a rose bush and other flowers there but it still seemed "bogged" down. I decided to stop fighting and have instead planted taro, canna, and swamp grasses that prefer moist soil.

The side of the house where the garbage and recycling bins are kept isn't particularly conducive to gardening, but I've managed to plant something here anyway. Can you guess what it is?

And here's the lovely nectarine tree again still blooming.
Hope you liked my little herb garden tour. And now that you can identify some Vietnamese herbs it'll come in handy for tomorrow's recipe. :)

Friday, March 30, 2007

March Comes In Like a Lion...

That old adage about how "March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb" was certainly true this month. The few rain storms we had in SoCal was incredibly mild compared to the crazy snow storms back east, but it was enough to get my garden blooming. Yay!

The nectarine tree. Last year it bloomed in February. Can you see the daffodils?

The first flowers to come up each year in my garden are crocus in February. When they start fading, the freesia start blooming. I love their slightly spicy scent.

Primroses. Every time I see primroses, I am reminded of a scene in The Proposition by Judith Ivory where the heroine talks to her primroses each evening when she waters them because she has no one else. If you love Pygmalion-type stories, especially My Fair Lady, I would highly recommend this one where the heroine teaches a rat catcher how to be a gentleman.

I love the brilliant purple of this one delphinium. I bought several packets of random wildflowers so I have no idea what pops up in my garden.

How can this narcissus not fall in love with itself?

Fuchsia. My two favorite colors in one flower.

I love the contrast of purple and orange of these Johnny-jump-ups, part of the pansy family.
More purple in this cup flower. Can you guess what my favorite color is?

The first rose to start blooming again is Donna Darlin.'

Anyone know this one? I bought it on the clearance rack and can't remember the name.

I'm not so crazy about it, but this white petunia was planted several years ago and has never faded.

Cyclamen. The color is almost florescent isn't it?

More pansy faces. They're edible, but I've never tried eating one myself. And even though I've never seen any seeds, they've re-seeded all over my garden.

Lady Fairbanks roses over an arching trellis. Can you guess where it leads?
Here's a hint: Tomorrow's post will help you identify some common Vietnamese herbs. That'll be handy for my recipe the day after that.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Cobb Salad

Cobb salad after tossing.

As with so many other recipes, the Cobb salad was invented in 1937 at the Brown Derby in Los Angeles. The owner, Robert H. Cobb, scrounged around his fridge to make a late night snack for Sid Grauman, of the famed Grauman's Chinese Theater. He chopped everything up because Grauman had a toothache. The salad was an instant hit with Grauman and it spread throughout Hollywood.

Since I had all these lovely tomatoes and had already made sinh to ca chua (Vietnamese tomato shake), bruschetta, borscht, and in plain salads with balsamic vinaigrette, I knew I wanted to make something really colorful.

The Cobb salad's many ingredients made me want to display them in such a way to show off all its colors. You can clearly see the hard-boiled eggs, avocados, tomatoes, romaine lettuce, chicken, blue cheese, and bacon. Drizzle with the balsamic vinaigrette I made the other day, and toss.

You'll need:
balsamic vinaigrette (Or substitute with ranch or blue cheese dressing if you prefer.)
2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
1 avocado, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
3 romaine lettuce leaves, chopped
1 large chicken breast, grilled or pan-fried (I pan-fried mine with balsamic vinegar for added flavor.)
1/4 cup blue cheese
3 strips bacon, crumbled (I prefer to slice the bacon before frying.)

Chop. Chop. Chop. Lay out on prettily on a plate. Drizzle balsamic vinaigrette over and toss. (Incidentally, I had already made my balsamic vinaigrette, but when I searched for a little bit about the history of the Cobb salad, I realized my dressing recipe was almost the same as the original.)

There are so many flavors in this salad that I never get bored munching on crisp lettuce, creamy avocado and blue cheese, salty bacon, juicy tomatoes. Mmm.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Balsamic Vinaigrette

The sun is out. Yay! Weather totally affects my eating habits and apparently my posting schedule. When the weather is gloomy I post about soups or quilting. When it's sunny, or when I hope it stays sunny, I post bright colors.

So much tomato goodness. I've eaten almost all of the 10 pounds of tomatoes I bought recently. I've eaten many of them plain. I've made sinh to ca chua (Vietnamese tomato shake), bruschetta, and added them to borscht. And I've also enjoyed many of them in my salads.

I love balsamic vinegar and often drizzle it plain on salads. But sometimes I kick it up just a notch in this basic vinaigrette. A vinaigrette is an emulsion of several liquids. In salads, that often means oil and vinegar. I really don't do any measurements here so these are all estimates. I just start adding in what I like into a glass jar, close the top, start shaking. Drizzle over salad.

Balsamic Vinaigrette

You'll need:
Any salad of your choosing. I have spinach and mixed greens with sliced radishes and tomatoes.

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tsp Worchestershire sauce
2 tsp dijon mustard
2 tsp capers, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small lemon, juiced

Add all ingredients to a glass jar and shake throughly. Drizzle over salad.

I served mine with pan-fried salmon with lemon pepper seasoning.

The dressing should keep for several weeks in the refrigerator. Although, I admit, mine usually gets all eaten before then.

I've got a really pretty and yummy salad recipe coming up that uses this dressing.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Assembling Your Quilt: Cutting, Measuring Margins, Ironing, and Piecing

So you've figured out your quilt design and bought your supplies. Now, it's time to assemble it all together. You can buy an expensive rotary cutter and board to cut the fabric, or you can use a ruler and mark out patches yourself. Then measure and mark 1/2-inch margins.

Line up the fabric's sides, where it tends to be straight and not where the store cut the fabric, which is not as reliably even. Then place your block on top and mark where you need to cut. You'll get a long strip. Just lay your paper pattern on top of the strip again and mark off the side seams. This gives me pretty straight and even blocks.

After you've cut all the blocks you'll need, it's time to figure out where to sew it all together. Fold your paper pattern where the 1/2-inch mark is and trace it with either a pencil or pen. You can buy special fabric pens that fade in the wash. I've used black ink pens on light colors and since it's on the inside, it doesn't show anyway.

Trace each side of the block. Then when you piece two blocks together, you only have to line up where you've traced the 1/2-inch margins to figure out where to sew. The 1/2-inch margins comes in handy when you have to iron the seams flat. The typical 1/4-inch margin means lots of burned fingers. I work horizontally, stitching two entire rows at a time before ironing them. Then I stitch the two rows together. Iron again. Also iron the topside to make sure the fabric and seams remain flat.
So as you can see below, I have my plain inner border, a row of sashing, and my first row of blocks.
Pin them together by lining up the seams, don't worry too much about whether one block may be slightly bigger than the other. I just pinch in the fabric of the blocks a little bit when I'm sewing so that the seams are still aligned.
This is what the backside looks like. Notice each row has been ironed flat, and as you start piecing together several rows, you need to iron it flat again.
This is what it looks like in front. Notice the even seams? And the black pen marks don't show on this light fabric so no need to buy special fabric pens either.
As for pinching in the fabric a bit, just as long as the seams line up? On the right side of the blue flower, you'll see where the fabric was pinched in to keep the seams straight.
Here's the zoomed out shot. That pinched fabric is beside the acorn-looking corner block, beside the blue flower. See? Barely noticeable.
Here's more as you piece everything together.
Work horizontally and then vertically to make sure your seams line up.