Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Bacon Matza Balls

Someone asked if we ever made these, yes we did and they were delicious. Hours later my husband was like "MMMMM! those were so good!! We have to make those again, I'm still remembering that taste!"

I think the trick was using black pepper bacon

2 tablespoons olive oil (or bacon lard)
2 eggs
½ cup matza meal
1 tsp salt
2 tablespoons soup stock
mix, put in fridge for about an hour, form into balls and boil in water for half an hour, wrap in bacon, bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes or until bacon sizzles

Garden Diary: Planting Asparagus

Last weekend I planted asparagus! I've been wanting to grow asparagus since I read Barbara Kingsolver's book "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" which I read on my honeymoon cruise and took out of the ship's library. I highly recommend this book, it's a great true story about the author and her family living on food they had grown or could buy locally for a year, and there's lots of great information on growing things in there.  One of the things she talks about is asparagus, and since I'm in general a fan of asparagus, ever since reading that book I've been wanting to grow my own. 

Now, asparagus is a vegetable I do not recommend for someone who is renting their house, because it takes 3 years until you can really harvest it. This year I can't harvest at all, next year I can harvest a few spears for about a week, and the year after that I can have a medium size harvest of 3-4 weeks, it's not until 3 years from now that I'll be able to have a full sized harvest of 6-8 weeks worth of asparagus.  So it's not really worth it until you know you'll be in one spot for several years.

The way Asparagus grows is that the actual things we eat/buy at the grocery store- the asparagus spears- those are the "shoots" that come up in the spring. After you harvest some of them (once you can) you leave some shoots behind at the end of the harvest and they turn into these huge pretty fern-like bushes that are 6 feet tall at maturity. Every Fall when the frost comes the plants die, and you cut them off at the ground. The next year new shoots- asparagus spears- come out of the ground again! The plants last 20-30 years if you plant them well. My grandmother told me she had asparagus growing in her garden for a few decades but that they no longer grow cause it's been so long.

The best way to plant asparagus is not from seed, it's from one year old root crowns. If you plant it from seed you'll be waiting a whole extra year until harvest, and plus some of the plants will be female and some will be male- the female plants produce less asparagus but will produce lots of seed that will grow into random asparagus around your house. Not recommended for someone like me, who likes a little more control over my garden.

What I did was order 1 year old Jersey Knight Asparagus crowns online. Jersey Knight is a hybrid that has all male plants, that's disease resistant, and that is known for producing large tasty harvests. You can plant them in the spring or the fall, although I think at this point of the year it might be hard to find any and you might have to wait until the fall. You can get around 10 plants for $15-$25, and that's how many I bought. They are usually sold in bunches of 10. Around 10 plants is enough for 1 person who really really likes asparagus (and B doesn't eat them, so I wanted to plant enough for me and future theoretical asparagus loving kids, but not so much that I'd have to be giving them away at harvest). I had a patch of land about 10 feet by 3 feet where I planted these, and I figure the asparagus bushes will add to the "landscaping" of my front yard and also give a little more privacy to the house since they grow to be 6 feet tall.

 The crowns look like little aliens/flying spaghetti monsters when you get them. They were shipped in a big tangle that were placed in wood shavings. 
One you get the crowns you soak them in warm water for a few hours to loosen them up and to help separate them from each other

Then you have to plant them. I choose a spot in my front yard where there was a bunch of weeds and a few hosta plants that gets partial shade, as asparagus can do well in either partial shade or full sun. Earlier this year in February (we live in a warm growing zone) I dug up the hosta plants and moved them somewhere else and dug up the patch where I was going to plant the asparagus to loosen up the soil and mix it with a whole bunch of lime, since we have very acidic clay soil here, and asparagus likes less acidic soil (although they also grow well in heavy clay soil like the kind we have) I also had a bunch of grass mulch (from mowing the lawn) that was hanging out there ready to be mixed in with the dirt.
Supplies needed: Weedy patch of land amended with lime and grass compost, bone meal (fertilizer), mushroom compost, till (also had to use a shovel, not pictured). First I tilled the top layer of amended soil  and grass compost to the side. Under that was hard clay, and I used a shovel to dig out that clay and move it to a different part of my yard that could use more dirt (and part of it went in the backyard sinkhole). I dug a trench about a foot deep:
Once the trench was about a foot deep I poured in that bag of compost and put back some of the top soil in as well as about two handfuls of bone meal (which is a type of organic fertilizer that adds phosphorus to the soil, important for growing strong roots), and made little "mounds" for the asparagus crowns to sit on that were about 6 inches below ground level. You can plant asparagus at a rate of one crown per square foot (or even 4 per square foot for intensive gardening) but I wanted mine to have a little room to spread out since the roots spread out vertically, not horizontally. So what I ended up doing was two rows of crowns staggered
Once the crowns are in you can spread out the roots or just throw them in there, they'll grow either way. I spread them out though. After that I covered them up with about 2-3 inches of dirt. Over the next few weeks, as the asparagus starts to grow, I'll be filling in the rest of the trench little by little- the crowns tend to push themselves up out of the ground a bit when first growing, so you have to plant it first, wait for it to grow a bit, and slowly add in more dirt until it's totally full. The trick is to make sure the tops of the asparagus spears aren't covered, so you have to wait until they are tall enough to not be covered to add more dirt, but you also want to keep the crowns covered- so I may have to refill the dirt slowly over a few weeks.

Planted them Saturday, and we had heavy rain all day Sunday so it got the deep watering it needs after planting. Now I'll continue to water it heavily once a week (it needs heavy deep watering because the roots are planted very deep, especially after all the dirt is re-added). No spears yet, but when they start coming up I'll be posting some more pictures!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Travel Diary: New Orleans

Recently I took a 3 day trip to New Orleans to go to a conference. I managed to get lots of tourist-ing in as well, so I bring you: The return of the travel diary! Ever since I went on Birthrite Israel in 2001 I've tried to keep a diary of what I do when I travel to interesting places. That one I kept on paper, but I've been writing computer documents and posting them as blog posts (both here and on my other older blog) since then.

I haven't really had any travel updates since my honeymoon trip when we went to visit Italy, Croatia, Greece and Turkey, as most travel since then has been family-related (to NJ to visit my brother, to the midwest to visit my in-laws a few times). When I was in NJ last Fall me and my brother went into the city one day to check out the new world trade center building (or whatever they are calling it) and south street seaport, and the occupy wall street people, and also had some NY style ziti pizza (can't get that anywhere else!). Also during that trip I went out to Ethiopian food with my brother and some friends (which I highly recommend, it reminds me of Druze style food- they have these giant thick sourish pancake crepe things and put little heaps of different types of meats and veggies around, and everyone shares and grabs the food they want with pieces of the pancake) and tried raw beef for the first time- had this Ethiopian style carpaccio that was ordered by my brother and my BFF, it was really spicy and really good and served with kale and some kind of cheese (maybe it was goat cheese I don't remember) to cut the spicyness. Having tried that I now feel like there is no food in the world that can disgust me now, cause hey, I ate raw beef and it was great!

I went to San Fransisco a few months after my honeymoon in 2009 but was mostly doing interviews for jobs at a conference there. I did take one afternoon to walk over to Haight - Ashbury to wander around the hippie stores and browse through some vintage clothing shops and take in the sights, but that was it. See, I've been traveling all over the US for years and years to go to conferences for my job, but I hardly ever see anything except the conference hotel and the airport. That was actually my second conference in San Francisco, but the first time I went anywhere other than the conference hotel. I also stayed in a hostel which was an adventure in and of itself (an adventure in being paranoid about bedbugs and also cool asian roommates who barely spoke english).

This trip to NOLA was my first conference as a professor, and I've resolved that now that I'm not desperately interviewing and networking at conferences so I can get a job (cause I have one!), I'm going to actually enjoy some of these cities I'm traveling to. This year I went to New Orleans, and I'm also going to conferences later this year in Denver Colorado, NYC and hopefully one in Maryland in the Fall. Also possibly traveling to Milwaukee for B's cousin's wedding this Fall. In fact I'm going to be traveling so much this year that it finally felt worth the effort to sign up for frequent flier miles, so hopefully after all the travel this year, at some well-located conference in the future I can get a free ticket for B to join me! (My job pays for my ticket and the hotel, so if we could get a free ticket for B and just have to pay to board the dogs we could actually afford for B to come with me sometime).

So here's my 3 day trip to New Orleans and what I did (written while actually traveling):
Day 1: Caught a 10amish flight to Atlanta and then on to New Orleans. Took a bus downtown (I always like to take public transit when traveling to strange cities because you get to see the normal people who live there and drive through the less nice parts of town) and walked about half a mile to my hotel. The hotel overbooked so I got a free upgrade to a suite that had 2 bathrooms and 3 sinks and 2 rooms, it was crazy, it was around twice as big as my first real apartment in philly, too bad B couldn't come on this trip with me.

By the time I got all checked in and settled into my room it was around 5pm. I went over to the conference hotel and met up with a bunch of colleagues and friends-of-colleagues, and we all went out to eat at Red Fish Grill on Bourbon street. On the way to the conference hotel I passed 2 dudes smoking pot, 3 street bands and a lady who looked homeless sitting on the floor wearing a bunch of mardi gras beads, but she might have just been drunk. The first thing I noticed was the glittery trash everywhere- beads hanging from balconies and electric wires and all over the trees everywhere and beads in the sidewalk cracks and sewer grates. While we were waiting outside for seats a random mini-parade of 2 bands and a bunch of people happened by and threw beads and I got two necklaces.

Random Parade Burger King guy!

During dinner I had gator sausage and seafood gumbo which was interesting. The gator was kinda sweet, it was unlike anything I've had before, I can't really describe it. Also tried a piece of my colleague's crawfish and a random prof who heard I had never tried oysters before gave me one of her fried oysters, so I got to try 3 new animals at dinner! The oyster was not what I expected, the texture was more like a kind of tough mushroom, I thought it would be more like snot, but maybe that's what raw oysters are like? (still have yet to try those). As a result of this oyster conversation I got to relate my fun-party-talking-point about growing up orthodox and how I kept kosher until I was around 22. Apparently one of my colleagues knew that already (who I hadn't told- my other colleague already knew because I had told her) because she's friends with one of my dissertation committee members (who is jewish but not orthodox) and my committee member had told her? Which is kinda odd to hear that other people were talking about me, but I guess that's now just a fun strange fact that I'm known for- growing up orthodox. After that I walked back to my hotel in the pouring rain, but my colleague lent me her umbrella.

Gator Sausage and Seafood Gumbo

Day 2: I took the St Charles street car to the garden district, where I did a self guided walking tour from this thing I had printed out from the internet. It had lots of info on architectural stuff and also celebrities- I saw the old Anne Rice house, the house where Trent Reznor lived (apparently next to a city councilwoman who changed the noise ordinances?) which is now owned by John Goodman, + Peyton manning/Eli Manning's childhood home and Saundra Bullock's house. Also lots of interesting houses and architecture there. Finished up by going to the Lafayette cemetery and wandering about a bit.

Anne Rice used to live here! Note the blue color of the porch ceilings- according to my printed tour guide thing, that color is traditional because supposedly it keeps bugs away.

Took the streetcar back downtown and stopped off at my hotel room to change and drink a ton of ice water before going out again to the conference hotel, where I finally checked in and registered, and then went to hear a talk by the elected next president of the American Sociological Association. In the lobby I ran into a really famous sociologist who does gender research and told her the story of how because the LAST time I ran into her (at an elevator at a conference 3 weeks before my wedding) she recognized my name from one of my articles, I didn't change my name when I got married. She loved it. :)

After that I walked over to the St Louis #1 cemetery to see Marie Laveau's grave (The voodoo queen) and wandered around taking pictures there for a bit. I did not make a wish for love at Marie Laveau's grave (Which supposedly will come true- there were 3 x's which are a voodoo symbol all over her grave plus tons of offerings all around it and around another unmarked grave in the cemetery). Walked back to the conference hotel and on the way stopped over at Cafe Begniet, a cute cafe on Royal Street that reminded me of Italy, and had some begniets (New Orleans fried squares with powdered sugar- kinda like donuts) and a sweet tea, and briefly hung out with this very elderly lady (seemed in her 80s or 90s) who was also in the city by herself. There were birds walking around the floor eating little pieces of begniets.

Marie Laveau's Tomb

Walked back to the conference and went to a conference session. Then back to the hotel to change, then back to the conference hotel to meet up with a prof in my department who used to live in NOLA, my grad student, and a couple other profs from a university in the town over from mine (so some of these people I might actually see again, and not just at conferences!). We all went out to this fancy restaurant in some random part of NOLA that was like italian cajun style or something. I had catfish almondine (first time eating catfish which makes 4 new animals tried this weekend!). Later we thought were were all going to go out to music, but the prof from my department dropped us off at the hotel and drove away (later turned out he had to go pick someone up at the airport and couldn't go out for music but forgot to tell us?). So me and the two profs from the local university stood around talking for about 45 minutes and then I went back to my hotel.

The last day I woke up and checked out, and then went to the conference hotel and checked my bag. I went to a couple of conference sessions and also gave my presentation. It went great, and a bunch of people got up and left right after my presentation which I think means they came to see my research, yay! :)

My grad student told me he had seen a Dr. Seuss exhibit at an art gallery nearbye so after my presentation I asked the concierge where that is and she gave me the wrong information that it was 9 blocks to the east. But since we were on the west end of the french quarter, that meant I walked along royal street 9 blocks through the french quarter, and I'm glad she sent me in the wrong direction cause I never would have gone that far otherwise. I passed a bunch of art galleries, antique stores, and the street was closed off to traffic and there was a different band playing in the street on every block, lots of that louisiana style brass jazz, some bluegrass, one guy had a piano in the middle of the street. There were also a few living statues and a knife juggler dude. I also passed what might have been a jazz funeral- there was definitely people playing jazz and a lot of people in formal dress followed by a limo, but no hearse (but it could have been a funeral where someone was cremated?).

At the end I got to the gallery she sent me to, and realized none of the paintings were Dr. Seuss, so I walked a few blocks south to the Mississippi River. I walked a block along the river (I could hear jazz music in the distance the whole time), and then back up to Decatur street where I passed this huge church and also the famous Cafe du Monde (although I didn't stop in cause it looked like a touristy zoo). Walked past the church where there were tons and tons of artists selling paintings along the fence, along with even more music, and there was a wedding going on inside with all these girls dressed up as southern belles.

After that I went back to the hotel and browsed through a few antique shops along the way. I decided to turn down a street to see if there were any good food places nearbye, and low and behold, the Dr. Seuss gallery was right there, RIGHT across the street from the conference hotel, ha! So I went inside and checked out the gallery, which had a neat original sketch from cat in the hat next to the finalized picture from the actual book, along with some other Dr. Seuss prints for sale that I could not afford.

Went back to the hotel, got my luggage, and walked another half mile to a bus station in the less touristy part of town. Took the bus up to a connecting bus, which came every half hour, and like 5 of us were transferring buses to the airport bus and just missed a bus and had to wait half an hour for the next one, so after a few minutes of silence, as some times happens in these situations, we all sat around talking the whole time. Turned out the couple next to me were from my hometown in NJ! But much younger than me- one had graduated the HS in 2006 and one in 2010.

Also got to talking to this other guy who was kinda rednecky, had a really thick rural accent and who I thought at first would be really conservative (I guess I have my own stereotypes, but I got to talking to him anyways cause we were all bored and talking) and it turns out he is hugely into the occupy movement. We talked for like 45 minutes between the wait and the bus to the airport (he lived in NOLA and was visiting a friend a few stops before the airport) about the economic state of this country, and he told me that he had been arrested and pepper sprayed several times, once for "de-arresting" someone who was being arrested by pulling her back into the crowd. Him and his friend had also been cutting apart mardi gras necklaces into beads, putting them into knapsacks and building velcro things on the bottom so he could release them while running away and I'm under the impression they got arrested after doing that.

He also told me he used to be in the military and had served in Iraq and Afghanistan and that when he was there he was told that if he went to search someone's house and they didn't want to let him into their kids rooms because it would scare their kids, that if they resisted at all he should just shoot them. That made me heart hurt.

Took the plane back, and hung out with my chair who was on the plane. On the first plane I sat next to a religious studies professor from another random college- I saw her reading a paper about religion and asked if she was at the sociology conference- turns out there as also a religion conference the same weekend in NOLA and she started giving me all this advice about being a junior professor. On the connecting flight I hung with my chair and her daughter (who is also a sociology prof) at the airport (her daughter had taken an earlier connecting flight) and sat next to a dude who was flying to his MIL's funeral.

I don't know why but I think when traveling alone I get a lot more bold. I had a LOT of random conversations with strangers on this trip (old lady in a cafe, people on the bus, lady on the plane), and half of them weren't even sociologists! Plus I made friends with two local profs who arn't in my school but who are both around the same stage in their career- one is a first year prof and one is a second year prof. So yay, friends! All in all, an awesome trip.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Erev Pesach call

Turns out it did happen, right on schedule, my dad called me from florida this afternoon for one of his regular phone calls (erev pesach, my birthday and erev rosh hashana every year)...actually when I picked up I thought it was B who had just gone out to get some groceries so that we can make our bacon covered cadbury eggs/matza balls and also have some nice cookouts today and over the weekend (I have today off from work for Good Friday). I've never had bacon with chocolate before either, so we've decided to try one each of a bacon covered regular cadbury egg and a caramel cadbury egg in addition to our bacon covered matza ball experiment. Also going to have bacon wrapped asparagus cause hey, it's spring.

And once we were slaves (to religion) but now we are free, and it's my family tradition to celebrate our freedom at this time of the year.

Talked to my dad for about 15 minutes and then to my mom for another 15 minutes. The kind of phone calls I used to get every erev pesach before I met B, where we catch up for a few minutes and my parents politely ask if I'm going to a seder and I awkwardly say I'm not. I told my dad I'm making matza ball soup, slight fib there (didn't think telling him my true plan to make bacon covered matza balls would be very nice).

I told my mom I had called her on Monday night and she was completely surprised and was like "What? you called me? That's impossible I didn't see it!" So that makes me feel a whole lot better. My dad also apologized for not telling me about the funeral and said he forgot about it in the rush to run around and get to the funeral the day after it happened, and that he himself didn't find out about it until late the night before and he had to rush around and rearrange some work things.

I guess I've been hurt by them so many times before that I can't help but have my guard up, but it looks like they are genuinely interested in having a semi-normal relationship again. :)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

death, grandmother and gardening

I'm becoming one of "those" family people, who only hangs with my family at funerals and weddings. Or I would be, if I was even invited!

I talked to my grandmother a few days ago. My great aunt who my grandmother was close with (they lived down the block from each other) died last week. She went very suddenly, she basically was supposed to have lunch with a friend, talked to her friend that morning, and when her friend came to pick her up she found her dead in her apartment.

This was a lady whose husband had died when she was very young (Her husband was my grandfather's brother) and she had one kid (who was like 10 when her husband died) and no siblings, and so my grandmother "took her in" to our family, and whenever we had a family event with my grandparents and cousins, like Thanksgiving dinner or getting together for a Jewish holiday, this great aunt and her daughter were there too. So I saw her maybe 3-4 times a year growing up.

Last time I saw my great aunt was at my cousin's wedding 2 years ago where she was the one who kept staring at my wedding ring but never asked me about it, and I never got a chance to tell her I was married. I regret not telling her at the time. I think she would have been happy for me.

My dad didn't tell me about her dying until like 5 days later, and I partially suspect this is because he doesn't want me to show up family funerals since this is the 4th great aunt/uncle who has died in the past few years and who I haven't heard about dying until long after the funeral was over. My family was always close with our extended great aunts and uncles and second cousins growing up so I spent a lot of time with these people as a kid. Each time this happens I ask him to tell me about them dying BEFORE the funeral so that I can make it if I can- and I reminded him about this again when I heard about my great aunt, I was like "I realize I live very far away now so it's unlikely I'll make it to any of these funerals but I'd like to at least have the option!" I mean she died last week Tuesday, was buried Wednesday and my dad didn't bother emailing me until the following Sunday night! What the heck! Maybe he thinks that because I married a non jewish person I don't give a crap about my family anymore? That's certainly not the case...

Anyways when I heard about my great aunt dying, I called my grandmother to see how she was doing, actually talked to my jerkface grandfather for like all of 3 minutes cause he picked up the phone (last time I saw him- at that same wedding 2 years ago- he told me he hopes I find a non jewish man to marry, and I was all "Um, you know I'm married already" and he was all "Not according to me you're not!") anyways me and my grandmother talked for like half an hour and caught up since we haven't talked since last thanksgiving..I told her I'm getting white hairs and she asked if I'm going to dye them and I was like "NO! People might actually think I'm a grown up if I don't!" ha. She told me my dad grew a beard when he first got his degree because he thought none of his patients would think he was old enough to be a doctor.

She also told me my parents are driving down to florida again for pesach, but this time they have not offered to come visit and stop by on the way. I called my parent's house after I talked to my grandmother to try and talk to my own mother, as she was also close with my great aunt (and I figured this would be an excuse to talk to her since we haven't talked since that purim phone call.) No one answered the phone, and even though I know they have call waiting, no one has called me back either. I suppose it's the week before pesach and they are really busy (although erev peasch is one of they few times a year my dad used to consistently call me, let's see if he does tomorrow...).

Me and my grandmother also talked all about gardening, and my massive veggie/fruit/herb garden this year (already planted and growing: garlic, onions, strawberries, snap peas, carrots, basil, cilantro, leaf lettuce, bell peppers, rosemary, oregano, an artichoke plant, mint, lemons and blueberries, in the next few weeks will also be planting: asparagus, potatoes, thyme, corn, pumpkins, beans, dill and zucchini and hopefully eggplant) and apparently she used to grow asparagus too! She told me that her asparagus plants all died after like 20 years of growing them and she's too old and tired to do lots of gardening these days (she's in her late 80s) but I'm following a family tradition in gardening- my mom also had an awesome veggie garden growing up and I have vague memories of my grandmother's veggie garden from when I was a young kid- she lives in a house in NYC so doesn't have a huge backyard, but the whole thing is one big veggie garden, or at least it was when I was a kid (I haven't been to her house in probably 10-15 years, most family events took place at other people's houses).

She told me this story about how when she was first starting her veggie garden in like the 1950s she had lots of friends who had just come over to the United States from Europe, and they all were making fun of her because they had all worked so hard to get away from having to do the hard work of planting, and here she was doing it for fun! She asked me if I had off for "easter week" or something next week during Pesach and I had to explain that we don't get spring break that week (like they do in CUNY) becasue our semester ends a lot earlier than CUNY. Although we do have off tomorrow for good friday...what is it that people do on good friday that necessitates a day off? Not that I'm complaining, but I'm curious...

I also recently traveled to New Orleans for a work trip (my first trip there) and managed to got a lot of solo-tourism-ing in during my free time, hoping to post about that trip in the next few days once I have a chance to sort through my pictures. I also at some point want to post about Unorthodox and another atheist book with OTD content I read recently (by recently I mean like 6 months ago), "God, no!" by Penn Gillette from Penn and Teller. Of course it's the crazy part of the semester (You know, the crazy part...all of it) so who knows when I'll get around to that.

Oh and this morning me and B discussed celebrating pesach in our own apirkorsus way, by making bacon covered matza balls:

[hat tip to confessions of a koifer for finding this recipe]

Perhaps we'll make this an interfaith spring celebration and also make bacon covered cadbury eggs! :)