28 September 2012

Top Five Friday: Squash, Squash, and more Squash!

Vegetables are a must on a diet.
I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie.
 ~ Jim Davis

othing says Autumn more than squash. And no squash is equal to the pumpkin.
Personally, I love pumpkin in any way, shape, or form there is: baked, fried, frozen, smashed, pureed, emulsified, sautéed: you name it, I’ll try it.  Pumpkins are most associated with pie, but it shines in savory dishes as well. 

However, there are other, if smaller, squash stars in the Autumn garden and kitchen: butternut, acorn, spaghetti, and Hubbard to name a few. Here are my top five favorite squash recipes.

Gnocchi with Mushrooms and Butternut Squash - Epicurious
This recipes has it all: squash, ‘shroom, and gnocchi ~ what more could you want!?

Winter Squash Soup with Gruyère Croutons - Epicurious
Even though I think dairy is evil and I can’t enjoy it anymore, I don’t always force my guests to go the non-dairy path.  However, you can forgo the cheese in the croutons, and use coconut cream instead of the whipping cream, and it’s still just as peachy.

Or squash-y.

Squash Blossoms Stuffed with Ricotta - Epicurious
Again, the cheese!  I haven’t found a substitute for this one, but my guests sure love it ~ once they get past their dubiousness of eating a flower.  Gotta love this one: beauty and taste!

Butternut Apple Crisp – Taste of Home
I’ve paired butternut squash and apples before.  Here, they remain intact and not pureed to smithereens in a soup.  Goes well with a pot of Constant Comment tea and a comfy chair.(1)
Finally, a non-dairy option! Yay!  Plus, these ladies show you exactly how it’s done.  Trust me, no one will ever know what’s not in this recipe ~ it’s so good by itself!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela
(1)“Not the comfy chair!!”

26 September 2012

La Belle's Hobby Farm: The Season of Squash

Winter squashes are the forgotten vegetables. 
Almost no vegetable is as easy to grow or keep. 
With fertile soil, full sun and ample water, vines take off.  
And after plants become established, they're so carefree,
it's easy to forget them until fall when their rediscovery makes the harvest that much sweeter.
~ Andy Tomolonis

t is almost frightening how quickly the days are growing shorter.  Next week it will be October already.  Where has September gone?
Perhaps there are gardeners who view the encroaching chill of Autumn with a wary and resentful eye.  But I find it a peaceful and bountiful time. 

It is the season when apples ripen and literally fling themselves at our feet.  It is the season when spinach, kale, and lettuce come into their own, the cooler temperatures being more to their liking.  It is the season when the earth begins to make preparations for a much deserved winter nap.   

photo credit: V.J. Matthew, 123rf.com

It is the season of squash.

Alas, although I harbor a grand passion for cucurbita pepo, especially the small ones known as sugar pumpkins, I failed to plant my seeds on time.  So this year I will have to rely on more schedule-conscious farmers for my jack-o-lanterns, pie punkins, and gaily decorative gourds.

In addition to my wee tommy toes harvest, I will be “putting by” the last of the long summer harvest: tomatoes, onions, potatoes, and beans.  This will entail a trip to the farmers’ market early on Saturday morning. As half extrovert, I love people, but can’t stand crowds.  I prefer to stroll through the tents and chat with the farmers about their crops, their lives, some even share their dreams.  It’s also a great way to learn about farming: when is the right time to plant, which crops like how much shade or sun, how much acreage do goats really eat, how long does it take for things to ripen.

Whether I’m crazy for wanting to grow my own food.

The answer to that last is a definite “no”, but at least after my first summer of trying my hand at it, I know what not to do next spring.  And that leads to the best part of autumn and the winter months looming just ahead: walking a more subdued landscape, planning out the new beds, and pouring over seed catalogs.

So that next year, I can grow my very own Great Pumpkin.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela
All this talk of squash makes me very hungry.  Friday: autumnal recipes!

24 September 2012

To Be Free and Poor, or Scheduled and Stable. . .

There are very few conditions that are fundamentally essential to the composition of a novel.
You no longer even need pen and paper.
But you do need time and solitude, and I lack sufficiency of both. . . 
~ Jesse Browner, Lives of the Civil Servants

olitude.  That is a pipe dream.  As is time.  Like Browner, I find myself in short supply of both these writerly necessities.  He does mention getting up before dawn to write.  Such a thing would be a luxury for me at this point.  I am usually already tooling towards the train station just as Brother Sun is blinking one blurry eye.  I suppose I could write while riding the train. 

But let’s face it, there’s not much inspiration happening when instead of tossing and turning in your own bed, you’re forced to toss and turn on a springy train seat.

Stop Complaining, Start Writing
Lack of writing surfaces and springy seats aside, though, the point is, if I really care about something, then I will move heaven and earth to make it happen.  And in this case, it is about finding the time ~ however short the increments may be ~ to write.  Even if it’s just penning an idea for a poem in a notebook, or scribbling down the opening lines of a novel on the back of a utility bill, I need to find the time.

For years I blamed my job.  You know, the one that actually pays the bills.  Just look at all those lovely eight hours a day that could be spent writing!  Browner thought the same thing.  As a civil servant, he has a great life, is financially stable, and still managed to publish five novels.  And he points out that free-lancing, while it is freeing, it is also 
A very stressful way to make a living, and any freedom it wins you to devote yourself to your own projects is more than counterbalanced by the constant worry of nailing down the next assignment and paying the bills.  It is very difficult to focus on your work when you are always stressed about  money.
Amen, brother!  Now that is a grief of which I am well acquainted!  And for all I complain about it, this 9-5er doesn’t have to worry about my day job duties while I’m at home, and as Browner observes, “my mind is clouded by no such mundane concerns, and is free to roam.” Yet even with those five published novels, he still wonders if he made the right choice of stability and scheduled solitude over endless solitude and financial stress.

It’s an interesting question, and for me, the lure of financial security is worth having to snatch at and schedule my solitary writing time.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela
I’m interested to hear what my readers (and writers and artists) have to say about this.  What do you think?

21 September 2012

Top Five Friday: National Bourbon Month!

I know folks all have a tizzy about it, but I like a little bourbon of an evening.
It helps me sleep.
I don't much care what they say about it.
 ~ Lillian Carter

ccording to Liquor.com, in 2007, Congress declared September National Bourbon Month ~ one of the few decisions handed down from Capitol Hill that I can get behind 100%.
Once I found that out, the topic for today’s Top Five Friday was easy: recipes that use bourbon.  Narrowing it down to five was more difficult.

Bourbon is the perfect Autumn alcohol ~ it’s full bodied, smooth, and pairs well with apples and pumpkins, not to mention pork and beef recipes that call for heavier sauces. 

Brisket, when marinated and prepared correctly, is heavenly.  This recipe calls for veggies to be cooked with it.  I personally serve this with garlic-mashed potatoes, and dark greens on the side.
Another great pairing of meat and bourbon.  You can substitute tenderloins for the sirloin.
A bourbon martini?  Oh yeah, baby.  For me and the small group of friends with Southern sensibilities, gin is the alcoholic equivalent of white shoes ~ not to be worn ~ or in this case, sipped ~ after Labor Day.  Admit it, gin and tonics just seem summery.  But with this cocktail, the gin is replaced with bourbon.  Brilliant!
No list of bourbon-related recipes is complete without mentioning the Old Fashioned.  Whenever I think of this nineteenth century cocktail, I see deep chairs, a library with richly-coloured walls, rain tapping on the windows, and a springer spaniel asleep in front of a warm and cheery fire in the fireplace.   In reality, I’ve got at least the chair, rich walls, and the fireplace covered.  Perfect for a trip back to a more genteel and relaxed age.
This would make a sweet ending to an autumn-themed dinner.  And I bet this sauce would be scrumptious on top of gingerbread too.  Hmmm, I think I need to have an autumn-themed party!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela
What are your favorite bourbon recipes ~ either food or drinks?

19 September 2012

La Belle's Hobby Farm: Spiders vs. Worms, Round 2!

A three year old child is a being who gets almost as much fun out of a fifty-six dollar set of swings
as it does out of finding a small green worm. 
~ Bill Vaughan

 ne worm vs. spider bout wasn’t enough for the Bloodthirsty Gardner.
I must be three years old and forgetful!
Tia was missing from my garden one morning.  And the morning after that.  And then evening followed and on the 3rd day of the Mystery of the Missing Arachnid, I was as heartbroken as Wilbur. 

She must have had her babies and gone off to die! I wailed to my tomato plants.  Now who will protect you!?

I did see the webs of a few different spiders, which made me feel a little better.  Maybe others were taking up the slack.

A perfect circle amoung the rhodies.
© 2012 Mikaela D’Eigh, La Belle Dame De Merci


An orb weaver with silk to spare.  Is there anything more beautiful than a web with dew on it?
Of course, there's nother creepier either.
© 2012 Mikaela D’Eigh, La Belle Dame De Merci

To my untrained eye, a cross between a funnel and an orb
© 2012 Mikaela D’Eigh, La Belle Dame De Merci

This orb weaver built this in the mulberry weed - right over my garden.
© 2012 Mikaela D’Eigh, La Belle Dame De Merci
 Day 4 and 5 I was busy with preparing for dinner guests.  Finally, on Day 6, as I was mowing the backyard, a bright yellow spot caught my eye.  It was Tia!  She had moved her web over to the shed ~ more chance at catching dinner over there, I suppose.  She was busily wrapping up a  meal, so I left her alone.  Then yesterday, as I was picking some ripe tomatoes (sweetest I’ve tasted yet!), I spotted it.

A bag worm.

You know the kind: thin, yellowish-green, and voracious.  I was already miffed that something ~ perhaps the strong winds we had late yesterday afternoon ~ had almost flattened by my tallest basil plant. (I know they’re not supposed to look like miniature trees, but I couldn’t help it ~ I liked watching them grow!)  So I was ready for a scapegoat when I spotted Le Creepy Crawlie.  I said something along the lines of Arghsmrksmorfblah, scooped him up, and stomped over to Tia’s new home.

Yummy!  Insect burrito for dinner!
© 2012 Mikaela D’Eigh, La Belle Dame De Merci
She was enjoying a rather large fly burrito.  I tossed Le Creepy onto her web and waited.

I didn’t try to sit, lounge, lean, or in any other way, injure myself by watching the show.  And as it turns out, there wasn’t one.  Again. She ran down to inspect the vibrations on her web, stood stock still for a moment, and then ran back up the web to her dinner.

Are you kidding me?

So I googled and found that, yes, most spiders eat worms.  But some spiders are picky, and sometimes, it’s probably just not hungry at the moment, only curious enough to inspect and then run away.  I did say I interrupted Tia’s dinner-in-progress.  Sigh.  I think my worm vs. spider fight promotion days are over.

For reals this time.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

17 September 2012

Abbey of the Arts 60th Poetry Party!

Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history. 
~ Plato

hristine over at the Abbey of the Arts is hosting her 60th Poetry Party!
Here are the rules: Christine chooses a photo, we write a poem inspired by it, and post it in the comments on her blog.  This party’s theme is Silence and Solitude.  More information here.   Come party with us!

© 2012 Christine V. Paintner
Below is my contribution.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela
Is sometimes golden

or so I hear.

Today it only brings me
the parry and thrust
of endless inner voices
To do lists,
I should make
Conflicts I want to avoid


when the rare moment comes
and all is hushed
within and without,
there is forgetfulness
and peace –
And blessed nothing.
To do,
To say,
To hope
To feel,
To repress,
or address.
Just me and the silver of quiet.
© 2012 Mikaela D’Eigh

14 September 2012

Tio Five Friday: Happy Birthday, Lodovico Cardi Cigoli!

Art hath an enemy called ignorance.
~ Ben Jonson

ctually, Cigoli's (he is more commonly known by the name of his birthplace) birthday was Wednesday, 12 September, but Wednesdays are reserved for farm updates, so I’m posting my tribute to this early Baroque artist, who was a contemporary of Caravaggio, another one my favorite painters.

As with most Baroque painters, his subjects are religious themes or people from the Bible.  Today I share five of his paintings or sketches that I find most interesting.

Ecce Homo
According to a Wiki article, Caracaggio was also commissioned to paint an Ecce Homo around the same time and there is speculation that Cigoli was aware of Caravaggio’s painting.  He doesn't quite capture Caravaggio's realism, but the colours here are striking, nonetheless.

Sounds terribly gauche, but I love the red hat on the figure to the left of Christ!

The Sacrifice of Isaac
Comparisons are always odious, but I can’t help thinking that as good as Cigoli is, there is something lacking, some fire or passion, that soaks through Caravaggio’s work.  But again, the colours are striking.  You instinctively know that Abraham's cloak is made of velvet.

St. Francis Praying
This painting uses a little of the shadow and light technique found in Caravaggio's paintings, but not as in your face.  I like the contrast of the dark browns and greens of the foreground with the light blue and grey in the background.

And putting skulls in your paintings is always cool.

The Dispute of St. Catherine with Emperor Maxentius
I’ve included two sketches in this list because I love seeing the artistic process on paper ~ as much as something as ethereal as that is can be seen.  It gives me hope ~ because every artist, no matter how beautiful and exotic and perfect the end product may be, always starts out with a rough draft, and scribbles in the margins his ideas for perfecting and realizing his vision.

Also, St. Catherine is just a kick-ass, strong woman.  Ooh rah!

Cupola Del Duomo Di Firenze
See above.  Plus, I love paintings, sketches, and drawings of architecture almost as much as I love the stone and mortar buildings themselves.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

What do you think of Cigoli’s technique? Who are your favorite Baroque artists and why?

12 September 2012

La Belle's Hobby Farm: There's No Place Like Home

I think all of us are always five years old in the presence and absence of our parents.
~ Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

hen I said I was going to share with you the story of my foray into hobby farming as it unfolds, I didn’t intend it to be a series of posts on the technical and practical aspects of gardening ~ although I knew that would figure into some of the telling.  Rather, I wanted to write personal essays of my story of starting a hobby farm while moving back with my aging parents.
And so far I’ve successfully avoided writing that part of the plot.
I feel like it would be easier if I were to write about this chapter of the story if it were about a fictional character.  But even fictional characters can annoy and disappoint you.  Just like real human beings.

Essentially, for all my extroverted ways, I am a very private person.  And since there are quite a few folks who know who Mikaela really is, it makes writing intimate personal essays a little sticky.  Yet if I can connect with just one person who is helped or comforted by my story, than perhaps shining a light into a few dark corners is worth it.  As a writer, I can’t really hide everything all the time.

So here I am, starting a hobby farm on the family property.  And to be honest, while the agony of deciding where to put the vegetable garden was due in large part to trying to figure out the best way to prepare the soil, it also came down to ~ how long will I be here? 

Translation: how long can I stand to be here?

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela
To be continued….

11 September 2012

Requiescat In Pace: Remembering the Fallen of 9/11

It’s odd, isn’t it? People die every day and the world goes on like nothing happened.
But when it’s a person you love, you think everyone should stop and take notice.
That they ought to cry and light candles and tell you that you’re not alone.
~ Kristina McMorris

ragedy has a way of stopping time. 
The event is over in seconds, yet to the stunned psyche, moments are magnified, speech becomes slow and slurred, a million images flash on the screen of memory, and it’s all over.
Then begins the slow work of recovery, both physical and emotional.
Today, we remember those who died eleven years ago today: those at the Twin Towers, and the first responders, the heroes of Flight 93, and the men and women who died at the Pentagon.

May their families be comforted and may we honor their memory by living lives of strength and peace.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela
The City of Sleep
("The Brushwood Boy" -- The Day's Work)
Rudyard Kipling
Over the edge of the purple down,
  Where the single lamplight gleams,
Know ye the road to the Merciful Town
  That is hard by the Sea of Dreams --
Where the poor may lay their wrongs away,
  And the sick may forget to weep?
But we -- pity us! Oh, pity us!
  We wakeful; ah, pity us! --
We must go back with Policeman Day --
  Back from the City of Sleep!

Weary they turn from the scroll and crown,
  Fetter and prayer and plough --
They that go up to the Merciful Town,
  For her gates are closing now.
It is their right in the Baths of Night
  Body and soul to steep,
But we -- pity us! ah, pity us!
  We wakeful; ah, pity us! --
We must go back with Policeman Day --
  Back from the City of Sleep!

Over the edge of the purple down,
  Ere the tender  dreams begin,
Look -- we may look -- at the Merciful Town,
  But we may not enter in!
Outcasts all, from her guarded wall
  Back to our watch we creep:
We -- pity us! ah, pity us!
  We wakeful; ah, pity us! --
We that go back with Policeman Day --
  Back from the City of Sleep!