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Jade green, stripes of white,
Spiked without yet soft within.
Tomato hornworm.

Ick. It’s almost time for the tomato hornworms to start showing up. I loathe the rotten baskets more than Farmer Allen loathes sweet little white butterflies. These pests start out teeny and grow to be the size of teacup Chihuahuas. You could put leashes on them and take them for walkies, if you didn’t mind spending a fortune to keep them in fresh produce.

For, as their name implies, they eat tomatoes. They eat tomato leaves, they eat tomato stems, they eat tomatoes. They can defoliate a plant, and that’s not one of my exaggerations. Then they start chomping on the tomatoes. Like many other pests *cough*turtles*cough*, they don’t eat a whole one, they just take enough bites to ruin it for anybody else and then move on to another one.

This is one reason I love wasps. For wasps lay eggs on tomato hornworms.  Actually, this is NOT a fate I would wish on anything, but Mother Nature is not as sweet and gentle as I am. The larvae suck the ever-living life out of the hornworms, which is absolutely ghastly. I mean, the larvae don’t even sparkle, for goodness sake!

Back when we kept chickens, I would pluck the hornworms off the plants and toss them into the arena with the chickens. The chickens almost always won, but at least the hornworms had a chance for life and glory. The chickens actually preferred the ones with little white sprinkles on, but I usually left those so the wasps could hatch out and protect the next year’s crop. That, children, is organic gardening, red in tooth and claw.

Our #2 daughter keeps chickens now, but she’s vegetarian, and I don’t know how she’d feel about my feeding her chickens tomato hornworms. I mean, she knows that chickens aren’t vegetarian, but she has to eat those eggs, and it might make her queasy to condone deliberately putting animal protein into her food chain.

Life is full of quandaries, isn’t it?

MA

writing prompt: Write a scene in which a character, new to gardening, first sees a tomato hornworm on a tomato plant.

Okay, so Charlie had a couple of friends over for lunch yesterday. When he and I discussed what I would give them to eat, everything he suggested was meatless. He thought it might be nice to have ham on the sandwiches, though, but only if I could get some locally raised stuff.

I made the connection with a local family that raises and sells pork products, put in my order, and he came by and made the drop.

Then, when it was time to assemble the sandwich ingredients, Charlie was like, “Let’s not give them any, since we haven’t tried it yet ourselves.” Lucky thing, since it wasn’t all that great, AND it was sliced into steaks rather than sandwich slices AND the friend’s wife is Catholic. For all I know, she doesn’t abstain from meat on Fridays, but I was glad to have avoided the possibility of offering her something she might rather not have.

So here was what we had:

CREAM OF BROCCOLI SOUP: When I went to make the soup, I discovered that I had forgotten to get broccoli! I still had one head and three stems, though, so I chopped the most tender part of the stems and cooked it in water seasoned with seasoned salt and butter. Removed the cooked stems with a slotted spoon and mashed them. Cut the head into smallish florets and cook them in the same water. Removed them. Measured the water (about 2 cups) and put the broccoli back in. Mixed a cup of low-fat milk, a cup of heavy cream, a tablespoon of flour and enough veggie bouillon powder for 2 cups of water and stirred that into the warm water/broccoli. Heated on medium, stirring frequently, until hot through. It never did thicken, but it was very good anyway.

SAMMICHES: I got two avocadoes, which was a jolly good thing, since both of them were crappy. I managed to salvage about two tablespoons of pulp from them, mixed it with an equal amount of mayonnaise and spread it on bread (I used ciabbata). Provolone. Sprinkled giNORmous portobello caps with seasoned salt and olive oil and grilled 5 minutes a side and put that on and topped the sandwich with more bread. Brushed with olive oil and grilled both sides.

SALAD: Romain and regular lettuce, diced fresh pears, chopped walnuts and bleu cheese dressing.

TRIFLE: I sliced up some angel food cake and put some in the bottoms of rounded wine glasses. Topped with very juicy sugared strawberries. Topped with more cake, French Vanilla pudding, then whipped topping.

A good time was had by all.

MA

writing prompt: Have a character with moral or religious dietary restrictions faced with a proud hostess who didn’t know about them.

I know yesterday was Cinco de Mayo, but we had Italian anyway.

I told everybody (Charlie and visiting #4 daughter) it was Pasta Fazool, because it was pasta and beans (and mushrooms, which makes it Pasta Fazool con Fungi, or something, I guess). Back when I was writing a daily food history column for World Wide Recipes, I wrote this on February 12, 2008:

PASTA FAZOOL
This is my new food for this month.  I don’t know why I suddenly got a craving for a dish I’d never eaten before, but I did.  I’d heard about pasta fazool in my youth, from a couple of “novelty” popular songs and probably from Chico Marx, but I had never, to my knowledge, eaten it.  I found out it’s one of those foods that originated as a peasant dish, and so has no absolute recipe.  “Pasta fazool” is a corruption — or possibly a legitimate variant pronunciation — of pasta e fagioli:  pasta and beans.  Pasta fazool always contains some kind of small pasta (macaroni or, in a pinch, broken spaghetti) and beans, usually small white ones like cannellini or, because I didn’t have cannellini and I did have navy beans, navy beans.  It also has olive oil, garlic, onion and spices.  It might or might not have tomatoes or tomato sauce in it.  It might be a brothy soup, or it might not be soup at all.  Mine wasn’t soup, but I’ll bet a soupy version would be good.

So last night, we had this:

PASTA FAZOOL–OR NOT

  • cooked spaghetti
  • portobello mushrooms
  • cannellini or navy beans
  • pesto

Dice the mushrooms and fry in dry non-stick pan until they toast. Add some beans with juice and heat. Add pesto and heat gently to keep from melting the cheese that’s in it. Toss with spaghetti.

Very tasty.

#4 daughter and I like our spaghetti long, so we can twirl it onto our forks. Charlie likes to cut his into little pieces. So I guess he can truthfully claim to have had Pasta Fazool and we can’t. Like I care.

MA

writing prompt: Does your main character like to cook/eat to celebrate any particular non-official holiday? If so, what?

Expecting lots of company today. Reminds me of the old days, when Sunday afternoon was the time everybody visited around. I got some tofu out to defrost and it’s marinating now. Shut up–tofu is GOOD, if you make it right!

Start with extra-firm–NOT SILKEN. Even extra-firm silken tofu is too squishy. Freeze it, then defrost it. That seems to firm it up even more, and helps get the water out. Squeeze it–carefully–like a sponge until you get as much liquid as possible out of it. That’ll make it ready to soak up whatever flavors you put to it. I like a marinade of garlic-infused olive oil, sesame oil, soy sauce and white wine.  About 1/2 cup altogether. I slice the tofu into 6 slices, put it in a container in a single layer and pour the marinade over it. It just needs to be in it long enough to soak up most or all of that liquid. Then I bake it at 350F for about half an hour. It’s great on sandwiches, cubed in a stir-fry or as a “steak”.

In other news, I have somehow or other given Yahoo the impression that I want it to be my default search engine. I don’t. Yahoo Search sucks. Firefox doesn’t seem to have a place to tell it what search engine I want to use. DO NOT LIKE Firefox 3.5.7! But, even as I write this, I see that Firefox is downloading 3.5.8 for Linux, so we’ll see if that’s any better. As it is, I can’t print from the web and I can’t view my stats in Flash. bleh.

Oh, well, as Mom says, if that’s the worst thing that I ever have to put up with, I’m way ahead of the game.

Life is good, here on Walton’s Mountain. Mostly.

MA

writing prompt: Give your main character tons of unexpected company. Does he/she see it as a good thing or a bad thing?

Going to the sleep doctor today for a follow-up consultation about my sleep apnea mask. Although I love the device–sleeping MUCH better, and having dreams that are better than the movies, except that I miss the buttered popcorn–I have two things to complain about:

  1. Wind. I say “wind” rather than “gas” because the problem is air going into my stomach as well as my lungs. Yes, I realize that this is TMI, but a mommy learns that, in order to be truly useful to her children, she has to say unladylike things sometimes. And I am MomGoth, after all.
  2. Sounds like wind. At the other end of the, er, spectrum, there’s a problem with tightness adjustment on the mask. Too tight, and it gives me a headache and makes my nose and cheekbone (the one that got walloped when I fell in that parking lot) sore. Too loose, and air leaks out around the edges. Sometimes it just blows air into my eyeball, and sometimes it hisses or makes that cartoon noise you get when you let air out of a balloon slowly. You know the one. Sounds like a whoopee cushion. Talk about unladylike!

But those are small things, really, considering how much better I feel, using it.

Another good thing: Our #1 daughter turned us on to this stuff called Fantastic World Foods Taco Filling, Quick Vegetarian Mix. You mix it up and use it like ground beef seasoned for tacos. I used it in a casserole and it was delicious! Last night, I used it on an Italian bread pizza and it was even better. Next try will be chili, or maybe chili mac.

Naturally, these dishes can be made with actual meat, seasoned for tacos or chili.

ITALIAN BREAD PIZZA

  • Italian bread with cheese on top (from deli)
  • Vegetarian taco filling
  • sliced olives
  • “Cajun” mirepoix (celery, green peppers, onions)
  • spaghetti sauce
  • Italian cheese blend
  • Anything else you like on pizza

Cut whatever length of bread you want and slice it in half. Toast the top under the broiler. Top with sauce, toppings, then cheese. Bake at 350F until the cheese melts.

CHILI MAC

  • cooked macaroni
  • Vegetarian taco filling
  • fresh or canned diced tomatoes or tomato sauce

Mix and heat. Add beans and/or cheese, if you like.

Well, that’s enough of that.

MA

writing prompt: Give a character gas and send him/her out in public. Go on–it’ll be fun!

Mom and I went ridge-running today–errands here and there, and we included a grocery run to Kroger, where I can get vegetarian stuff other than vegetables. I’ve tried seitan and tofu and love them both, so I got a block of extra-firm tofu and a small package of bbq seitan that’s supposed to resemble shredded some-kina-meat barbecue. I plan to use it to make tamales. I also got a package of tempeh, which I don’t think I’ve tried. This is a picture from VeganCoach. The bar I bought looks lumpier than this and has mushrooms in.

In the winter, I want MEAT. As soon as it starts to warm up, not so much. I start to crave veg in the worst way. I’m like a vegetarian zombie, lurching around the farmer’s market moaning, “Graaaaaaains! Graaaaaaaaains!”

Speaking of zombies, my narrator in “Sledgehammer” is holding his own against the zombies and wolves. He’s let the donkeys and Smudge, the parakeet, go on without him, in the hope that they’ll survive while he holds the attackers at bay. He tore the arms off a zombie and is beating the wolves off with them.

I’m going to church tonight for an Adult Study on varieties of spirituality and prayer. I don’t believe in the power of prayer to make things happen, yet I always turn to prayer when I’m really down or desperate. A weird thing to do, when I believe God (if God exists) already knows what’s going on and what I want to happen, and that what I want to happen will either happen or it won’t, and my praying about it won’t affect that at all. So prayer must do something else for me than that. Looking forward to maybe finding out what that is.

MA

writing prompt: Does your main character believe in the power of prayer, or does he/she never give it a thought either way?

No, I’m not a vegetarian yet, but I must admit I just as happy with a meatless meal as with a meaty one. I still have to get shish kebab at Shiraz, although I would totally go for falafel with just a side of meat. But this is Vegetarian Month AND today is Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi’s birfday, so I’ll post a picsh of last night’s supper, as it just so happened:ravsandbeans

We had just about the last of the tomatoes. The green beans are still producing, after a shaky start in which they were nearly nibbled to death by rabbits. –Hey, if you are what you eat, and the rabbits eat my vegetables…. Anyway, at Charlie’s request, I culled the smallest of the latest picking and stir-fried them in butter. We got some very smooth, buttery cashews for our birfdays, so I crushed some and, when the beans were nearly done, I stirred those in and heated them until they smelled rich and toasty. I’ve been making pesto and freezing it, so I boiled some frozen cheese ravioli and stirred in some pesto. Made some bread.

In other news, I’ve gotten up at 6 the past two days to work on NaNoWriMo, then realized it starts in NOVEMBER. Duh, me! So I’m registering and using October as I should–getting my ducks in a row for the writing blitz NEXT month.

MA

writing prompt: Have a character show up early for something. It can cause a problem, eliminate a problem, be good or bad.

I made up that name. Pretty good, eh? I made up the casserole, too, although there’s nothing original about it. Leftover, basically, but Three Sisters Casserole sounds like I knew what I was doing. We had it for supper last night, along with green beans cooked with potatoes and sliced tomatoes (all from the garden, which is almost over, boo-hoo for me).

THREE SISTERS CASSEROLE

  • “Italian” flavor bread crumbs
  • yellow squash, raw, thinly sliced
  • Swiss cheese
  • succotash (corn and lima beans), already cooked
  • butter

Heavily butter a casserole dish. Sprinkle a thin layer of bread crumbs. Lay down a single layer of squash slices. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and bread crumbs. Cover with a layer of Swiss cheese. Put down a layer of corn and lima beans, salt & pepper, bread crumbs, cheese. Repeat layers until dish is full or you run out of ingredients. Cover and bake at 350F for about 20 minutes. Uncover and broil until top layer of cheese is as brown & bubbly as you like it.

~~~

MAN, this was a good casserole! Made me sorry it was made out of the tag ends of things, because we only had enough for one meal. I’m definitely going to make that again.

MA

writing prompt: If you have a file where you keep characters, settings, plot ideas, bits of dialog and so on that you haven’t found a place for, pick out three or four and make up a story line that includes them all. If you don’t have such a file, START ONE, then grab a dictionary, turn to random pages and touch random words and write something using those.

I loves it. When I was a little girl, my mother and I were pretending to be goats one day, and I remarked that Mmm-mmm, I loved grass even more than sauerkraut. I loved it then, and I loves it now. I love it so much, I know how to spell it.

Last year, Glenda’s husband, Greg, gave me a jar he had just put up. It was still hot from the canning. We ate it almost immediately, and it was the best sauerkraut I ever put in my mouth. I need to get his recipe, if he’ll part with it.

Meanwhile, my friend Charlotte gave me her recipe, which is so simple I tried it this morning:

CHARLOTTE’S SAUERKRAUT

  • 1 quart of shredded or chopped cabbage, packed into sterile jar
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp 5% vinegar (standard acidity)
  • 2 tsp salt

Pack the jars with cabbage, add rest of ingredients. Pour boiling water over and put on sterile caps. Charlotte puts her jars in the basement for 4 months. I’m going to put mine in the refrigerator because, the last time I tried to make sauerkraut in the basement, I ended up with two gallons of rotten cabbage.

~~~

Today is Meatless Monday. I don’t study too much on Meatless Monday any more, because we eat so many meatless meals we more than make up for any meat we may eat on Monday. Nevertheless, we had eggs from daughter #2’s chickens and my fresh-baked bread for breakfast. We’ll probably have pimiento cheese  and Benedictine for lunch, and steamed squash for supper.

Rough life.

MA

writing prompt: Write a child character who likes a surprising food.

That’s what Charlie’s Aunt Ora Maye used to say about pretty things. They say that the more brightly colored a vegetable is, the better it is for you. I can hardly believe that anything so beautifulpurdy and that tastes so good can also be healthy. The farmers’ market season is winding down–boo hoo for me! We celebrated Meatless Monday yesterday with this feast. Red tomatoes, golden corn, green kale (dressed with brown soy sauce) and orange butternut squash.

I didn’t remember how I cooked butternut squash the only other time I made it, so I got out Mark Bittman’s HOW TO COOK EVERYTHING and got a recipe. This is a paraphrase.

BRAISED BUTTERNUT SQUASH

  • olive oil
  • garlic
  • 1/4 cup stock or bouillon
  • seasonings to taste
  • butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed

Heat olive oil and heat garlic until fragrant–remove garlic. I just use garlic-infused olive oil and save a step. Add stock or bouillon. I used vegetarian vegetable, but chicken or any other you like will do. This is a sweet squash, so I’m thinking honey ham broth would be excellent. Add squash. Turn to medium to get the stock bubbling, then cover and reduce heat. Cook for 15 minutes. Remove cover and raise the temp. Cook, WATCHING CAREFULLY, for another 10 minutes or so, until all the liquid evaporates. Stir the squash until you feel like Okay, that’s enough of that.

Charlie and I both liked it. He said he liked it better than acorn squash, which has been our go-to winter squash. I’m definitely going to branch out into other squashes. YUM.

In other news, I did the edits on my science fiction story this morning and really like the changes. Just some tweaks, I’m happy to say, since it mostly worked. Now I need to reread the other science fiction story I’m submitting and see if it needs any work before I take it in to the group.

MA

writing prompt: Get out an old story and see if it works. If it doesn’t start out with a tug, try cutting the first scene. Go on–you can always put it back. Cut out everything until you get to the first tug–a problem, a challenge, a conflict, an emotional punch. See if you can start the story there and fill in anything important that happened before that. No fair putting a punchy first sentence and then flashing back to the boring stuff. I do that all the time, and it’s sucky.

WELCOME TO MY BLAHG

Here is where I ramble on about whatever happens to fall through my mind. I also have a professional site, where I post about my books, stories, news and appearances. Every month, I post a “Hot Flash” there–a story or prose poem of about 50 words. I hope you enjoy your visit. –Marian Allen

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