Saturday, May 19, 2007

From Michiko's Kitchen - Part 2

Here are some photos from my recent kitchen experiments...

*** Baking ***

Left: Two baguetts with commercial dry yeast (5/18/07) Right: English Muffins with commercial dry yeast (5/14/07)

Left: Digestive Biscuits with Chocolate Coating Right: Raisin and Walnut Bread with Home-grown Raisin Yeast

Left: Banana Bread with Amish Bread Starter Right: Spicy Ginger Cookies


Oil Sardin, Potato and Apple Casserole

Left: Pumpkin and Tomato Soup Right: Tofu Satay with Nutty Sauce

Left: Sardin and potato casserole, and Roasted Peppers Stuffed with Hummus-Miso paste Right: Hidziki Gyoza, Stir-fried Shrimps and Broccoli in a creamy sauce)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

BBQ Season Arrived!

I have been keeping weeding over the last weekend... the weather has been beautiful this week, with perfect temperature and humidity as well as the blue sky and sunshine, so it was rather a pleasure than torture to do all this gardening everyday. But serious weeding for 5-6 hours a day for the whole week can be a bit tough on body, and my body does hurt now because of so much repetition of crouching and standing up.

But we had a really nice weekend, enjoying each other's company. On Saturday afternoon, Amar joined me in the yard and he worked sitting on the lawn while I was weeding, and after a while we even had a teatime on the grass together with the tea Amar made and British digestive biscuits I made on that morning. Hmm... perfect Saturday afternoon (=^_^=)

With such a beautiful weather, it is one of the greatest privilege of living in a house with a porch and a lot of green in the yard to eat outside, with a BBQ --- yes, the BBQ season is here!
So Sunday turned out even more perfect for me, as Amar voluntarily offered to cook dinner for us, to try out our BBQ grill for the first time this summer. Referring the great Grill cooking book from William's Sonoma, he marinated chicken with lemon and olive oil (with herbs and garlic), capsicums (bell peppers), broccoli, sweet potatoes, and some pumpkin slices. Wow, it was such a beautiful and delicious delight! We ate a strawberry cheese cake that I made for a dessert.

On Monday, Amar wanted to cook on BBQ again! (to my big pleasure... ^_^) I think Amar wants to practice and develop his BBQ/grilling skills to prove his real "kiwi man"-ness. Since he usually comes home late on Mondays, I marinated the pork chops (fresh from the butcher's that day) with olive oil, garlic and some fresh herbs from the garden (sage and rosemary). On his return, Amar prepared some potatoes spicing them up with cumin, paprika and brown sugar, and BBQed them as well as the pork chops. While he was cooking, I continued gardening until it gets dark (these days the daylight lingers until 9:30pm) - and Amar called me out when the dinner was ready. It's so great to be called for dinner and eat someone's cooking. It was again a great summer dinner, what a lucky wife I am. ;-)

(Right: A sage plant in the garden - with little purple flowers)

Friday, May 11, 2007

Working with a master gardener

(Kristin, my master gardener, pruning the apple tree in our front yard)

Recently we found out that there is a good reason why our yard had been looking so messy in most parts. According to a neighbor we met a few weeks ago, our previous homeowner who was a IU music school faculty loved gardening and she was always working on the garden while she lived here. However, the homeowner moved to Australia three years ago and the tenant who kept the house for two and a half years was apparently not much of a gardener, and she was hardly seen working on the yard. That is how, Amar and I reasoned, our yard is very well developed but looks so messy with lots of undesirable weeds, invasive grasses and tree seedlings everywhere.
And, being such a gardening novice myself, I had no clue how important to pull out all the weeds and tree seedlings when they just started to shoot out. I mean, I knew that it was important, but I couldn't identify which were the weeds and which were not at their earlier stage. So, even though I have noticed a lot of shoots coming out since February or March, I didn't/couldn't do much weeding by myself.

Now that everything is growing so rapidly, even I realized that lots of them were actually undesirable weeds and tree seedlings. (Tree seedlings which are everywhere in this garden are quite intimidating, because some of them have really deep roots prehaps from 2 years ago, and if you leave them they will grow really huge! @@.) Learning about our previous homeowner's love of gardening, I felt an urge to start learning and doing gardening seriously myself.
So, Amar and I went to May's Greenhouse (a highly-acclaimed plant nursery in this town) two weeks ago and asked them for a reference to a good master gardener who can come out to our place and teach me gardening, working with me on our yard.
That is how I contacted Kristin, who runs a landscape consulting business called New Leaf. I picked her up among a few choices because I liked her profession of "organic approach" on her business card.

Kristin came to see our yard for the first estimate last week. We walked through the garden together, and after this half-an-hour session I was totally convinced that I should hire her. I could quickly tell how good she was, from the way she identified almost all the plants (both desirable and undesirable ones) on the spot, could tell me what to do with each of them, recognized the trees that need a serious pruning, and gave me good visions about both short-term and long-term goals. So we agreed that she would come back with one staff and that I would work with her staff on weeding while Kristin prunes a big apple tree in front yard. Before she left, she even assigned me some homework: weeding the "bindweeds" that are growing really fast and invasively around the foliages of daffodils and irises at the side of the house. "These creeper plants tie up all the desirable plants around them", Kristin explained, "and believe me, they would be incontrollable if left for more than a week!". Wow... you can guess how relieved and glad I was to have decided to contact Kristin before it was too late.

(Left: Before the weeding: you can see the bindweeds on left-hand side of the picture. Right: After the work)
Ohhh, by the way, I have to mention that Kristin really approved my job on this area, and she even said, "Wow! Do you want to work for me?!"... well, maybe that was just a compliment, but I felt so rewarded because I spent as much as 9 hours over 2 days just on that area.)

Kristin came back with her staff "Shodo" yesterday, for pruning a big tree in front and helping me weeding. ("Shodo" means "True Path" in Japanese. She is a Zen practitioner, she explained to me. What a coincidence!) We worked together for 3 hours from 9AM to 12 noon, and it turned out that all three of us were really serious and diligent workers! At the beginning Shodo and I talked a little bit about her interest in Zen and Japan, but after 15 or 20 minutes, all of us naturally focused on working without talking much at all except for asking Kristin for a help.
You can see how our work came out in the following pictures:

(Left: The apple tree BEFORE pruning Right: The apple tree AFTER pruning)

(Left: The Groundcover area BEFORE weeding Right: AFTER weeding)

(Shodo working on the groundcover area)

(The garden AFTER our work AND Amar's loan-mowing on Sunday)

And a little more pictures of flowers that are in bloom in the garden now:

(Left: geraniums Right: Irises)

(Left: The name unknown - forgot to ask Kristin ;-) Right: Peonies. this picture was taken last week)

(Penoies bunch --- the penoies have come in full bloom this week, so I picked some of them for indoor use.)

So, as you can see, our work made a significant difference! Though there is still much more to do, I started to get a hang of it, and that gives me such a relief. I hope I can get rid of most of the weeds and seedlings before my departure for the UK toward the end of May... fingers crossed ;-)

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

One Year Anniversary of Our Life Together

Yesterday (the 8th of May) was our one year anniversary of living together in Bloomington. (I arrived in Bloomington on May 8th last year.)

Somehow I feel this is even more significant for us than our wedding anniversaries (which are March 20th in Japan and March 26th in NZ), for this is the anniversary that we really, actually started living together.

So, I kind of talked Amar into having dinner out on Tuesday May 8th, and we did it at Limestone Grill, which is one of our most favorite restaurans here in Bloomington. I think we deserved it anyway because we didn't have any dinner out for our wedding anniversary this year ;-)

Unfortunately I forgot to take my camera with me that night, so I have only poor-quality pictures taken by my cellphone - but maybe still better than nothing, to remember the day I think :-)

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

James's Calligraphy and Jenny's Garden

(Rhododendrons in James' and Jenny's garden)

As I mentioned in my older post on May 1st (Calligraphy Workshop), James Yang and I agreed to start our exchange lessons between Chinese calligraphy (James is my teacher) and Japanese language (I'm his teacher).
So, yesterday I went to James's house for our first session in which we just discussed our plan and what kind of materials/tools/textbooks we should prepare. I'll be away for most of June and July for two major trips to Europe and Japan, so we can start the actual lessons in August and meanwhile I can collect necessary materials for calligraphy and Japanese teaching when I go back to Japan.

Talking with James and his wife Jenny (her Taiwanese name is Shih-Chih Chang Yang), I realized that not only James but Jenny is also a very talented person with a broad range of interests some of which overlaps with my own. When I mentioned my learning piano here in Bloomington, James said that she used to be a piano major (at IU, I guess). Speaking of music, it seems the Yang family is all talented in music and art: James himself is a calligrapher artist and Erhu (a Chinese stringed instrument) player, and he told me that the two of their three children were music major at IU (one in viola and the other in cello) and the third was an art major at IU.

Back to Jenny... so, she used to be a piano major, but now she is teaching Tai-Chi and Qi-Gong in Bloomington, as well as a full-time gardener attending their vast garden with various kinds of flowers, fruits and vegetables for more than 10 years. What a coincidence, I thought, for I have been quite interested in learning Tai-Chi sometime and, as a total novice gardener who just started working on the yard of our new home, I have been looking for someone who could teach and guide me about gardening!

So, though at first James and I thought we were going to "kill the two birds with one stone", it seems that maybe I could kill even three or four birds with one stone... But I guess I first should focus on just the two (calligraphy and Japanese lessons), not getting too ambitious... ;-)

James and Jenny remind me of my grandparents in some ways: my paternal grandmother was teaching calligraphy in her late years after she retired from a school teacher, and one of her daughters (my aunt) was a piano major and she used to teach piano until 10 years ago (now she is teaching folk dancing). And my maternal grandmother was a very good gardener, and she used to grow a lot of different kinds of vegetables and fruits such as tomatoes, pumpkins, spring onions, chinese cabbages, eggplants, watermelons, and so on, until just a year before she passed away 5 years ago.
If only I could eat her delicious juicy watermelons again even just for once... and it would have been so great if I could learn how to grow vegetables and fruits from her.

Here are some photographs of Jenny's garden and James's calligraphy:

(Wooden structures such as a flower supporter and a gate for the vegetable garden are made by James.)

(James's calligraphy work that were desplayed in their lounge. Left: "Buddah's Light" Right: "Lotus Flower")