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Where tradition meets invention meets flowers in your hair

Frida Kahlo Over the past several years, certain people/influencers have been having their ‘fashion moment’. My favorite (because it goes with my topic) is Frida Kahlo. The now very famous Mexican painter (she of the indigenous clothing, crown of braids and exotic flowers in her hair, the socalled ‘unibrow’, and the on-again/off-again stormy relationship with Mexico’s most famous muralist and sculptor, Diego Rivera), Kahlo’s daily ‘costume’ (and I use the term particularly) of mixed prints and Tehuana-based indigenous traditional clothing has captured the imagination of everyone from Neem Kahn to Givenchy to Lacroix to Karl Lagerfeld. Why is not the issue here.

What is the issue here is where Kahlo’s penchant (which really was a urgent suggestion of her lover and then husband Rivera, who was an ardent supporter of the movement to get rid of all Western European and colonial influences in Mexico which became active after the Mexican Revolution early in the 20th Century) for using indigenous clothing as a political statement (and also gaining the benefit of hiding her body cast and braces from a trolly accident). I’m not going to get into my own interpretation of this (after Rivera and Kahlo divorced, she painted a self-portrait where she had cut off all of her hair and was wearing men’s clothing, a visual ‘thumb in the eye’ for Rivera, I suspect), but Kahlo popularized Mexican indigenous clothing literally everywhere she went. She was even photographed for the cover of Vogue magazine, long-skirted, peasant bloused, standing in front of a giant cactus, with a red rebozo proudly raised above her head like a liberation flag. (more…)

Make hay while the sun shines

Getting good (i.e., not raining) weather in the early spring here at Chez Siberia is a rare enough occurrence that when we get it, and on a weekend to boot, it’s all hands out in the garden and get that work done.

Lots of work got done:
General cleanup in the vegetable garden. No, I did not get the plastic out on one of the beds; with any luck, I’ll get a chance for that this coming weekend.

Blueberry bushes got hauled out of their snug winter heeled-in spot and planted, along with compost, bone and a bit of blood meal, and wood chips. (more…)

Deer Ticks and Japanese Barberry: A match made in heaven?

Japanese barberry has gotten a very bad rap over the past 20 years for being an invasive shrub. Introduced into the US in the 19th century, in many areas, it has ‘hopped the fence’ and taken over rural hedgerows and woodlands. A lot of people like it, though, because it’s colorful, makes a great hedge and it’s something that deer won’t eat. It does, however set up shop in native areas and push out native plants – it’s a real bully.

But landscapers and home and garden centers keep selling it and home owners keep putting it in.

Well, if you need a reason to a) not put it in or b) to get rid of it if it’s on your property now (and to encourage others to get rid of it, including going to your town or city planning folks to talk to them), here you go:

University of Connecticut at Storrs has, through a multi-year study on their properties, found that Japanese barberry harbors white-footed mice (field mice), and black-footed ticks (aka: ‘deer ticks’, Lyme disease ticks), two out of the three pieces of the puzzle which have produced the almost wild-fire increase in the growth of Lyme disease (and the other diseases that black-footed ticks carry).

Wait a minute — aren’t white-tailed deer the villains of this disease-spreading piece? Yes, deer are one of the vectors, especially for adult ticks. But in terms of sheer numbers of tick nymphs (the babies) getting their first ‘meal’, being spread over wide areas and living to become disease-ridden adult ticks, white-footed mice are the real culprits. And guess what — white-footed mice love living conditions under Japanese barberry shrubs even more than deer ticks do.

Here is what research at University Connecticut found that the higher the density of Japanese barberry (such as would be found in Connecticut woodlands), the higher the density of all stages of ticks, nymphs and adults, infected and non-infected. The more control measures that were taken against the shrubs (such as chopping down, mowing, or burning), the fewer and fewer the density of all stages of ticks. In the area where the Japanese barberry was eradicated completely, there were few, if any, ticks. Lyme disease and Japanese barberry

So, what do you do if you have Japanese barberry on your property? Well, if you have a whole hedge of it, you might want to call in the landscapers and have them rip it out (if you decide to do this yourself, make sure to take precautions in terms of long sleeves, long pants, with perhaps the addition of an anti-tick spray (hopefully one that is pyrethrum based) and perhaps use a technique where you are pulling the bushes out with the use of a long rope to put some distance between you and the ticks. If you have only a few bushes, then University of Connecticut advises using a propane torch. Control Japanese barberry to control Lyme disease

Now, let’s say you are concerned but don’t have any bushes on your property but it’s prevalent in your area? Well, now’s the time to get active locally and go speak to your local government officials to establish an eradication program.

Lyme disease is nothing to take lightly. The health implications of being infected and going untreated are very very serious. Lymne Disease Complications

And if you can keep your family and pets safer by removing an invasive non-native shrub, why not?

(Photo at the top, courtesy of Vastateparkstaff)

Getting things started in the garden

Well, spring really sneaked up on us here at Chez Siberia (and probably a lot of other places as well). One moment, we have six inches of snow with freezing temperatures and the next… 50 degrees and sunshine.

Nothing like that to wake up the ‘we’d better start the tomatoes’ feelings.

Now, all long-range weather forecasts are telling your old Aunty that this summer is going to be not very warm (of course, all things are relative) – they are calling for temperatures in July and August to be 5-10 degrees cooler than normal. Which means that I needed to choose tomatoes that have a note on them saying something like, ‘cold tolerant’ or ‘will set fruit even in cooler temperatures’, because tomatoes are one of those tricky beasts. Most of them require warm night-time temperatures to set fruit. If temperatures are going to be iffy, then this is the way I hedge my bets.

Starting tomato seeds is really pretty simple. You need all the usual things – seed starting mnix, something to put it in, some warmish water, the seeds and a source of bottom heat. I use a heating mat, but I also got a metal grill to put on top of it to hold the box above the wwarmth a little bit. If I put the box of soil right on the mat, the soil mix gets to a temperature of over 80 degrees. Yes, I want warm soil but that will cook the seedlings, so I hold it away. If I didn’t have a metal grill to raise the box, I’d put an old towel on top of the mat to do the same thing. I also am a keen re-user of those plastic boxes that you can get salad mix in at the grocery store. They are relatively sturdy and have a lid that snaps on tightly to hold in the warmth and the moisture for the early stages of growing the seedlings until I need to transplant them out into bigger pots.

Now, this really is something you can do on the window sill at home as long as you have a sunny window, though you do need to keep watch to turn the seedlings so that they don’t grow all in one direction. I have an unheated greenhouse (and right now the temperature in that is 36 degrees – once the sun comes around the corner of the house, it will go up nicely into the 70+ range), but between the warming mat and my covering up the box with a big clear plastic bag, the soil is warm enough to keep the seedlings going.

Something that I am doing new this year (and I realize this sounds a bit daft at this point in the game) is that I am not putting any sort of seed identification markers IN the box. I’ve actually ended up numerous times with mold and other issues inside the box with the wood tags that I’ve used, so I’m doing something different this year. The humble piece of masking tape on the outside of the box.
I figure I can just write on the tape and won’t have as many issues inside the box until it is time to transplant.

Speaking of temperatures (digression), this year’s long winter and very cold temperatures have set me way back. Usually I can get out, put clear plastic or glass over one of the beds and get the soil up to 50 degrees so that I can put in cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Chinese cabbages, beets, chard and lettuces. Not this year. I went out this week and took the soil temperature and it was still under 40 degrees F. Not warm enough for me to encourage it with a piece of glass or plastic, I’m afraid. I’ll try taking the temperature again today since we’re supposed to have a nice warm sunny day (again, all relative; it’s supposed to be 50 degrees F). Perhaps I’ll have better luck today.

In other areas of the garden, we’re starting to see the leaves from some of the many bulbs I planted in the fall. The crocuses are up, bless ‘em, but nothing else so far. It will be very interesting to see how the bulb patch looks once it’s in full flower mode. The patch, frankly, is a supremely ugly spot under which is our new septic system. So, of course, in the digging, installing, and filling in, we lost all of the top soil (despite our begging the contractor to set it aside on a tarp that we oh-so-thoughtfully put out for him) and have nothing there but horrific weeds which we have been assiduously yanking out and replacing with hardy perennials, in the hope that they will beat the nasty guys back (I know, wishful thinking). In the fall, I planted several hundred bulbs of various sorts and we shall see if that gives us a little bit of pleasure in the next couple of months.

Hope your spring gardening is coming along! Anything new and exciting in your garden?

The Pillow Project: Zips, Snips, and Done

So, let’s get down to business, shall we?

First things first: How are we going to close up the pillows? Well, yes, I can leave one edge completely open, stuff in the pillow form and then whipstitch it closed. Which I hate because it frankly requires me to keep the pillow form under some sort of control while I’m doing it. Very tiresome. I could also do a double flap and put in buttonholes and buttons. But I’m not going to do that either; I’m just going to put in a zipper. This makes stuffing the pillow very easy and it’s a neat and tidy closure. There are two ways to do this – in one of the seams (and if you follow directions on the package the zipper came in, then you are home free). Or, I can split the back into two pieces, make a seam there and insert the zipper in that seam. (more…)

The Pillow Project: Ideas

Sometimes, it’s actually quite overwhelming to try to get your arms around what you are actually going to do. Of course, the simplest thing to do is to just go out and buy pillows or pillow covers, but perhaps you can’t find anything that is either in the budget or that you like or that fits the decor/colors and so on. So. (more…)

The Pillow Project: First Principles

When it comes to making pillows, I have a couple of rules for myself which have stood me pretty well.

1. Measure the pillow form. I don’t care what the label on the bag says. Measure it anyway. If you are re-using a pillow form, also measure it because having people karate chop the pillow for ten years is bound to compress and shift the filling and this, believe it or not, will change the measurement. See the photo at the top. Take that measurement — that is how big you make the piece of material. NO, YOU DO NOT ADD SEAM ALLOWANCES. This is one of those ‘take it on faith things. When I have added seam allowances, I end up with a pillow cover that dwarfs the pillow insert. You want that pillow cover to be literally as tight as a drum. If you are putting a zipper into the back side (or a button flap or whatever), you need to complete that particular operation (putting in the zip, making the flap and the buttonhole and pinning it down as if it’s buttoned up or whatever), and THEN measure vertically and horizontally. If it’s greater than your original measurement, then trim down the edges until you DO get to that measurement. Again, once you sew this (and I use a half-inch seam), and put in the pillow form, it will look like Jane Mansfield at the beach, which is actually what you want. You don’t want corners that droop, or wrinkles or whatever because the pillow cover will then bunch up and wear out in odd spots. Remember: Think Jane Mansfield. (more…)

The Pillow Project

I think I can safely say at this point that even at Chez Siberia, it’s spring. Most of the snow is gone and I’m seeing the little leaves of the spring bulbs start to poke up.

Not that it is warm by anyone’s stretch of imagination. It’s 22 degrees F. this morning and windy so it’s not warm. But we are seeing the proverbial ‘light at the end of the tunnel’, winter-wise, here. Which means only one thing.

Dissatisfaction.

After being cooped up for almost 5 months (and given the series of storms, horrific cold, wind and so forth; that 5 months seemed to last forever), there is part of me that requires massive change. Ordinarily, this revolves around getting my hair cut but this time, it’s more global. (cue scary music) I need change in the house.

Change in the house usually requires painting (which I don’t want to do; I actually like the color in the house at the moment). Some people go for a giant ‘slip-cover-a-thon’ for the furniture or a big change-over in the drapes. And not that I could not be convinced to change out the drapes in the livingroom for spring/summer/fall. I actually think that might be a good idea (something light-colored perhaps), BUT from a budgetary standpoint, I always go for ‘biggest bang for the buck’, which I think in this case involves… cushions for the two couches in the livingroom.

Above you see one of the couches. We have this one and a dark blue one and a red and blue and ‘some other colors that I’m not quite sure I can identify at the moment’ rug to tie everything together in the livingroom. I certainly lay no claim to great expertise in home decor. We tend toward the ‘find a hole and fill it’ school of decorating, especially on the walls. But after living with these couches for five years (one is an ancient one we inherited from one of my great-aunties which went through a complete re-do from the inside out), I have to say one thing:

They look a lot better with cushions on them and they look a whole lot better with cushions that are highly contrasting. At the moment, cushions are a bit ‘thin on the ground’ as they might way.

Hence the title above: The Pillow Project

Pillows, as a home decor project and as a sewing project are about as simple a deal as you can possibly find, as long as you measure the pillow insert correctly. If you want to be very technical, you can make cushion covers with zippers in them, or you can devise an opening that is held closed with buttons (meant to be seen, or not) or with a clever use of folded fabric at the back, like an envelop. But I need to make, as they might say out West, a ‘whole mess’ of cushions. I might even change out the cushion covers I already have (just to put something else into the rotation. So far, the plan includes printing cushion covers and fabric with screen printing. I might even use fabric paints on the fabrics and come up with my own fabric as well. This is an opportunity to let my creative ‘freak flag fly’.

So, stay tuned.

One a penny, two a penny..hot cross buns

This is the time of the year when you can find all sorts of seasonal/holiday treats in your local grocery store or bakery (if you have one). My seasonal guilty pleasure are hot cross buns. I have not had them in years but my brain certainly remembers the taste and so..I picked up a package along with the rest of the grocerias. When I got home, I settled myself down with a cup of tea and one of these shiny buns with the sugar cross on the top.

Tasted … just…like…paper towels. For a second, I was wondering if it was me, somehow. I have had a nasty cold for a while, so I tried out one of them on the DH. Ditto. So, I checked the ingredients.

No eggs. No milk. No butter. No wonder…. (more…)

Think Irish? Think Lamb!

Yes, yes, I know, St. Patrick’s Day is coming up fast and the usual thing is corned beef and cabbage. But, let me make the case for something else: lamb.

First, let’s look at this historically.
Anyone in Ireland who ate beef was probably a) rich and b) not Irish. Raising beef takes a lot of land. For the amount of land you need to raise a beef cow, you can raise a small herd of sheep. Which is why lamb and mutton has always been far more available and popular in Ireland than beef because even if you were a crofter and had only a small patch of land to work with, you could raise a bunch of sheep and have not only meat but also wool. So, if you want to be ‘Irish-Irish’, eating lamb is just more Irish than eating beef of any sort to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

Second, let’s look at this nutritionally.
Courtesy of our friends at nutrtional data, for a 3-ounce portion (and I think we can all accept that no one actually eats JUST a 3-ounce portion, but at least we are comparing ounce for ounce here.
Cooked Corned Beef…………………………….Roast Leg of Lamb
Calories: 210……………………………….220
Fat: 15 grams……………………………….15 grams
Protein: 15 grams……………………………..22 grams
Sodium: 960 mg……………………………….55 mg.

These last two are the bell-ringers here. Lamb, ounce for ounce, has more protein than beef does, though it does have the same amount of fat, so in terms of ‘protein bang for the buck’, lamb wins here. Secondly, and I think from a health perspective, even MORE importantly, corned beef is a just a huge sodium hit and I realize for a lot of people, that is the entire point of eating meats like corned beef and pastrami: they love the salt. Well, the salt does NOT love us or our hearts or blood pressure. That 3 ounces of corned beef (and again, who eats just a 3-ounce portion – that’s the size of a pack of cards) is way too much and let’s not even discuss anything else that will be eaten with the meal, like potatoes (going to salt those, too, right?). So, roast lamb wins out here too. Just 55 mg. of sodium. That’s one of those ‘pat myself on the back’ meals right there.

So. For those folks out there who have ‘Fear of Lamb’, here is Aunt Toby’s handy dandy so-simple it hurts roast leg of lamb.
You’ll need:
Meat thermometer or probe
Boneless leg of lamb roast – 3-5 pounds, fresh or defrosted, at room temperature
5 cloves of garlic, chopped fine.
Several sprigs of fresh rosemary with the leaves removed; save one for the top of the roast.
Small baking pan
One medium sized onion, sliced up

This is going to take a couple of hours, so don’t plan for this being something you can throw into the oven when you get home from work on Monday night, ok?

Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees F.
Take your lamb roast. It is probably either trussed up with string or it’s in one of those elastic nets. Take off the net.
Flip it open or unroll it depending on how the butcher did the deed. Take all the garlic and spread it onto the cut surface of the meat. Then sprinkle all the rosemary leaves on top. You should have the same amount of coverage as you see in the photograph here. Then take your black pepper grinder and grind a couple of good strong grinds of pepper on the surface. Then re-roll the roast or flip back the outside on top.

Now, how are you going to make this thing hold together while it’s roasting. If it was trussed with string, use the string you took off to unroll it and wind it around again after you’ve rerolled it. If your meat came with one of those elastic nets on it, here is the way you get it back on again without the whole thing flipping out and ending in a wreck on the kitchen floor.

Put the net over the ends of your hands, as in the photograph and put your hands over the closed end of the roast. Move your hands forward until you have the netting about half-way up the roast. Then take your hands out of the net. Use your fingers to pull the ends of the net over the front and back ends of the roast. Voila!

Take your baking pan and put your sliced onions into the bottom in the center. Put the roast on top of that; this will prevent the roast from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Put the pan into the 350 degree F. oven for 30 minutes. At the end of 30 minutes, turn the oven down to 170 degrees F or the lowest setting your oven has. Yes, I know this is sort of scary — but lamb does not take well to high heat. If you have horrific smell memories of Sunday lamb roasts, this is the reason why – the fat was burning in the high heat. Lamb does super well in ‘low and slow’ cooking. Leave your lamb at this low temperature for an hour and stick in the probe or meat thermometer to test the center for temperature. You are looking for 160 degrees F at the center. If it has already gotten to 140+ but you are looking to speed this up, you can raise the oven to 250 degrees F and the roast will not suffer – the outside will get a bit crunchy-er which some people like.

Once you have reached 160 degrees F at the center of the roast, take the pan out, wrap the meat in the foil tent and prepare the other side dishes (I am pushing Brussels Sprouts this week, but to each his own), and serve.

NO MINT JELLY.

Bon appetit!!

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