Japanese Cucumber Disappointment

Japanese Cucumber Harvest

The good: My one plant is unbelievably productive. I have had a harvest this large once a week for several weeks.

The bad: The skins are tough. I usually don’t bother peeling cucumbers before I eat them, but you have to peel these. These cucumbers are very prickly. They are hard to handle–for example, when picking them without gloves. The worst thing is that occasionally they are horribly bitter. There is no way to tell if the cucumber is bitter without cutting into it and tasting it. This is a problem. Since I can’t eat 14 cucumbers a week, I need to give many away. But I’m embarrassed when my friends tell me I’ve given them poisonous tasting cucumbers! I’ve read that “water stress” causes bitterness, but I don’t know if this is true. These cucumbers do not keep well in the refrigerator–they are good for only a couple of days.

New cucumber variety recommendations, anyone?

Where moth and rust doth corrupt

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. 
Matthew 6:19-20
A portion of my treasures

A portion of my treasures

Bleach doth corrupt

Bleach doth corrupt

I spent a few years accumulating a large collection of ice cream books. I scoured used book stores and I carefully watched for price fluctuations on Amazon.com. I didn’t end up owning every ice cream cookbook ever published, but I did own a lot of them. As is the way of accumulating mortals, I’ve gotten busy in the last year or two and haven’t made ice cream nearly as much. However, I continued to keep my treasures on a shelf in the laundry room by the ice cream maker and it gave me pleasure to know that if I wanted an obscure ice cream recipe, I could probably find it.

On Saturday, we noticed a strong chlorine smell in the house. I figured Amelia, who had been working to do an extra good job on the bathroom, had gotten over enthusiastic with the Scrubbing Bubbles again. Personally, I spent a good share of the day in the laundry room. Unfortunately, even when I noticed the tell-tale little spots on my pants, I didn’t connect them with the odor.  Later we discovered the bottle of bleach that had  tipped off the dryer on to the counter where the cookbooks were.

Silver lining: My two favorite ice cream cookbooks

Frozen Desserts: The definitive guide to making ice creams, ices, sorbets, gelati, and other frozen delights.

How to Make Ice Cream by Cook’s Illustrated

were safe in the living room upstairs:

Going Local

I like this blog.  I enjoy writing here.

My blog used to be more anonymous.  Other than Pdad, no one but strangers read it because I didn’t tell anyone where to find it.  In its most recent incarnation, it’s been anonymous in that I don’t use any of our actual names.  However, almost everyone who reads it with any regularity knows me personally (although some of you are getting pretty fuzzy on what my children’s real names are), so it is not very anonymous in that sense.

On my about me page, I wrote about my religious beliefs, which were never meant to be hidden.  However, because I have many friends who are not Latter-day Saints (Mormon), I ended up leaving out some of the specifics of my life because I didn’t want this to be one of those blogs written by Latter-day Saints for Latter-day Saints.  I was hoping to write something more widely accessible and interesting.

However, I find that this is not working for me.  In hoping not to be too narrow, I seem to end up not writing about things that are an important part of my life.  So, I’m thinking I’m going to go local.  I am going to write more from my perspective as a Latter-day Saint, because it’s a truer view of where I am.  This is my blog and it’s about me, as embarrassing as that sometimes is.  Also, even though it challenges my desired anonymity a bit more, I am going to write more specifically about living in the Provo/Orem/Salt Lake City Utah area.  It’s where I live and it’s what I know about.  (And for those of you who live here too, I have a really wonderful restaurant to recommend!)

Shallots

I love shallots.  Shallots are one of the many joys Cooks Illustrated has introduced me to. Shallots are much milder than onion and garlic.  They are perfect for flavoring salad dressings without overpowering them.  They aren’t crunchy like onions when raw.  My favorite recipe that uses shallots is Fast Buttery Peas.  Thyme, butter, and shallot make an amazing trio.  That recipe changed my feelings for vegetables forever.

The fork is to show their size; I don't eat them raw!

The fork is to show their size; I don't eat them raw!

Anyway, enough about cooking shallots, this post is actually about growing them.  I was startled to find shallot starters at the local nursery this spring.  I had never heard of anyone growing them locally.  The large bag of shallots I like to buy at Costco around Thanksgiving seems to claim that you really need to grow them in France.

Well, it isn’t true.  I haven’t figured out the science of shallot growing yet, but my shallots did fine nonetheless.  I waited until the green tops (very similar to onion) dried out and then I picked them.

I think next year I’d better pull them sooner!  Although an old Cook’s Illustrated article claimed that “most shallots (whether they have one clove or four) are approximately the same size” (not true!)  a more recent article acknowledged that a shallot can be small, medium or large.  The test kitchen, they said, uses only small or medium shallots because almost all of their recipes call for less than 3 tablespoons minced shallots. (Cook’s considers the yield of a medium shallot to be about 3 Tbsp minced).  My largest shallots yield much more than 3 Tbsp minced–I’m going to have to make some big batches of salad dressing!

I need to find a cheaper source for shallot starters, because even though shallots tend to be rather expensive at the grocery store, I don’t think this was much of a money saving venture when you figure in all the watering I had to do in our desert climate.  However, a clear bonus is that my shallots are very fresh and firm and it is almost impossible to find shallots of this quality at the grocery store.

One final note: If you decide to grow your own shallots, you may be horrified to see how many slugs they attract.  I was.  Interestingly, the slugs did no damage to the shallots that I’m aware of.  The tomatoes were another story!

Everything I Learned at the Science Fair

On the macro level:

1) Relax.

2) Displays done by others are rarely as good as you imagine them to be.  Relax.

3) 5th graders aren’t rocket scientists. Adjust your expectations.  Relax.

4) No one else cares.  Relax.

5) Note to self along the lines of NPR’s recent feature “Always attend the funeral.”    Always attend the science fair.  There are a lot of children there who worked hard on their projects and are just dying for someone to stop and ask questions.  To say, “ooh, neat!”  To read their board.  Just do it.  It’s nice.  People like being appreciated and you’ll like being appreciated for appreciating.  Appreciating isn’t hard, it’s pleasant.

On the micro level (the secrets to a good display):

1) Consistent use of fonts.  Limit yourself to 2 or 3 sizes of font and be consistent in your use of fonts throughout. (We used 18, 72, 96.  I might consider going even higher than 18 next time.  96 is not quite big enough, but it was the biggest font I had).   We ended up going with a sans serif font for the titles and a serif font for the rest.  The theory is that sans serif is easier to read at a distance.  It seemed to work visually, but I’m still not sure I’m comfortable with mixing fonts this way.

2) Consistent use of color: Make all the headings a certain color, or make the background a certain color, or make the headings and the body a certain color.  Just decide and stick to it.

3) Don’t forget the color wheel.  The principles continue to apply.

4) Typing  looks great.  Typing beats handlettering for everyone but a privileged few.

5) Cardstock doesn’t wrinkle as easily as regular weight paper when glue is applied to it.

6) Gluestick = best adhesive for the job.  It gives you a few second to adjust the placement.  Purple gluesticks (so you can see the glue) are great.

7) The nicest displays are big and very readable.  Don’t overdo the text!

What I didn’t learn in Kindergarten

  1. How to color well
  2. How to cut straight
  3. How to glue (quickly, effectively, wrinkle-free, and without making a mess)

I didn’t enjoy being the laggard in my kindergarten classes.  But somehow I thought that as I got older and other subjects took the pride of place that coloring, cutting and pasting enjoyed in my kindergarten classes, my poor skills wouldn’t matter so much.

Sigh.  Hellooooooo parenthood: Scissors and gluestick, we must renew our acquaintance.

My daughter’s teacher assured me that of course we should work on her project together.   She could learn by watching me.  As Facebook chatter began to reveal that other parents were beginning to finish up the same project with their kids, I found myself filled with kindergarten angst once again.  What if my picture (display) isn’t as good as the other kids’ (parents’)?  Will the teacher think I’m stupid?

It is pathetic that after 20+ years of schooling I still have something to prove.  Kindergarten angst runs deep.  Here’s hoping that Amelia’s next big project will involve writing Socratic-style dialogues and that I don’t hear the phrase “display board” for a long, long time.