Sunday, October 23, 2011

Arts and Crafts

My mother was an Artist. I remember telling her that one time, and I can still clearly see her eyebrows popping up and hear her correcting me, "I am a Craftswoman, not really an Artist.". I disagreed then, and I disagree now.

When she was a young woman, after graduating from college, she took a course in Interior Design, presumably to pass the time while my father finished Law School. I also believe she felt it would assist her in her chosen career, that of making a home for my father.

I was lucky enough to inherit one of her drawings from that time, which I have placed at the top of this post. In her home she had a mirror like the one to the left of the sofa, which is also similar to one that sat in the living room of my childhood home. I love the detail of the little knick knacks on the shelf to the right of the sofa, especially the little elephant.

Before she had been married a year, she gave birth to the first of her five daughters and was very, very busy. I am the youngest of those children, and some of my earliest memories are of sitting under the work table in her "sewing room" playing with Betsy McCall paper dolls while she sewed dresses, with pinafores, for my youngest (five years my senior) sister and I.

She started making a quilt when I was very young. In some future post, I will blog about my father's artistry, starting with the quilting frame he built for her. However, she was not to finish that quilt herself. After several years in a state of incompleteness, some ladies from her church finished it for her. Much later in her life, she started, and finished, four more quilts, so that there was one for each us. I treasure mine. It is a log cabin design, with pieces made from all those little dresses she made for my sisters and me. She must have known I would want the one with the solid red backing, because there is a name tag, with my name on it, covering a presumed flaw somewhere in the middle of it.

Later she learned to knit, sweaters, socks, and a couple of Christmas stockings I still hang on my mantelpiece each Yule. However, when I was in high school, and the only one of her daughters still living at home, she began to do needlework. It became a passion. Crewel, appliqué work, pulled thread work, metal thread. She took courses, and taught courses. In a time long before the Internet, she had a mail-order library of embroidery books. At the time of her death, there were books enough to cover one entire wall of a large upstairs room that she used as her work room. I am lucky enough to own a piece of embroidery that has been my favorite since she first created it in the late 1960s.

As an assignment for a Design course she was taking, she was tasked with creating an exercise in vertical and horizontal lines. She created an embroidery painting of a garden wall with the full moon behind it. The colors are soft and romantic, and when I look at the flowers climbing that garden wall my heart sings with joy.

My mother passed away almost ten years ago, after a long and happy life that included 65 years making a home for my father. I am so grateful that she left behind a body of art work large enough for all five of her daughters to share.

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Location:Omaha, NE

Sunday, October 9, 2011

October's Roses

When I was about 20, I wrote song called "Roses in October". I was living in California, and one evening I was out walking my dog, feeling blue about some lover or other, when the scent of roses wafted over me. Being a native of northeastern Ohio, I was first of all amazed at roses blooming in the fall. I was more than six months shy of my 21st birthday, and the smell changed my blue mood to pink in an instant.

Roses in October make the air smell so sweet,
And I was feelin' sad, but now the rose is in the air,
And I don't feel so bad...

Now I'm older, and presumably wiser. I live in Nebraska, land of scorching hot summers, and frigid, snowless winters. Today, October 9th, I have two rose bushes in my front yard with multiple fragrant blooms.

I also have peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes in my back garden. There are numerous purple blossoms on the eggplants. At the big box store where I work, you can buy one eggplant for $1.99; I am giving them away to my neighbor and my mother-in-law, and looking up recipes for Baba Ghanoush. Look at all those eggplants! And I have three more just like it. Yippee!

Today, it is a beautiful October day. Eighty degrees, sunny and not humid. The trees are starting to turn yellow and gold. In my back yard I have an Ash tree that is starting to turn. I am beginning to embrace the fall, as I do around this time every year. Tomorrow, I will harvest the Stevia to the left of the eggplant in the above picture, and spread it out on the dining room table to dry. Poor Manly Spouse, he gets nervous when I start drying herbs. This year I'll leave the Tarragon and Rosemary, because I still have plenty from last year. I'll have to remember to mention that, so he can breathe a little easier.

I am a long way from that 20 year old girl walking her dog in North Hollywood, but the smell of roses still improves my mood. My mother used to harvest rose hips for jam, but I think I'll leave that for another year. There's only so much the Manly Spouse can take.

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Sunday, October 2, 2011

Habanero Hotsy Totsy!

This time of year the whole house smells like chilies. Each Spring we plant Habaneros and one other variety of very hot chilies. In previous years we have grown Cayenne, Jalapeño, and Serrano. This year it was a small upward reaching chili called, I think, an Aleppo. It's very small, and I decided to plant it because it's usually dried and ground up, which is what The Manly Spouse does each year.

Fast forward to now. Lousy crop of habaneros. Little Aleppos are not ripening in large enough quantities to dry properly. I think maybe we need a real garden, but that's a subject for another post.

Frustrated, I went to the farmers market and bought a few very expensive Ghost Peppers...which are supposed to be even hotter than Habaneros, and saved some seeds for next year. Ever the optimist.

Our first batch of dried peppers consisted of our own meager crop, the three Ghost peppers, and a handful of the tiny little peppers. The Manly Spouse was not overly impressed with the heat factor until he bit down on a Ghost seed. I can't remember his exact words; something along the lines of "wowie zowie!", but more scatological.

My wonderful husband is a native Nebraskan, and a bit more practical than I. Last week he went to a grocery store that caters to a mostly Hispanic population, and bought 6 lbs. of habaneros from the Produce section. Here are some waiting to be prepared for the dehydrator.

On the left is a small batch of dried peppers after they've been ground up in the old Osterizer. In the middle are some Serrano from a neighbor's crop, and on the right are the habaneros.

It takes about 18 hours or so to fully dehydrate 3 or 4 trays of peppers. I have taken to turning the appliance to "off" before I go to bed because the smell of hot peppers actually interrupts my sleep!

Today I did a small side project. Sliced a couple of Habaneros, and green and red Serrano, and made simple pickled peppers by pouring hot vinegar over them in sterilized glass jars.

I don't know if they're truly preserved, so I'll refrigerate 'til Yule as gifts for my two sons. They have a similar philosophy of flavor as The Manly Spouse, the hotter, the better.

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