Sunday, March 7, 2010

goodbye for now

Two years ago I started this blog with the intention of integrating my new life as a busy mom with my old life of compost, seeds, and produce. It has been fun writing here at soilmama with this intention in mind. Now, however, I feel the need to take things in different directions again. At the moment I am developing ideas for a possible new blog or website, or maybe something else entirely, or maybe nothing at all! As always, feel free to comment below with any suggestions. For the immediate future I won't be blogging, but will inform you here if and when I create something else. Thanks for reading along!  xo, sharon

Sunday, February 28, 2010

deep green pretty

the texture! the sparkles! the green! it's kale again, friends. soaking for hidden slugs (none surfaced, phew!) before joining tofu and garlic in the skillet. pretty, delicious, AND healthy. it's a late-winter treat!
Carrie--thanks so much for the Canon AV setting tip--it made a huge difference with this shot! 

Thursday, February 18, 2010

sunshine and other good things

Warm sunshine this week has inspired us to eat our lunches outside, and set up the tent for play. I just cooked our last butternut squash to have with dinner tonight (storing them in the garage worked quite well). I will serve it mashed to add to soft tacos/quesadillas with corn tortillas, fresh salsa, guacamole, cheese, seasoned black beans, and chipotle cabbage salad. I just love sweet butternut squash combined with the spicy savory flavors of Mexican food. Looking forward to that. And finally, Sam earned his first "present" for completing part of his potty chart this week.

You can see on the top chart that the pee boxes are all stickered, earning Sam a present he picked out himself: a small spiral notebook with a flower power cover. Potty Chart 2.0 starts now, with hopefully less daunting expectations in the poop department.

After over 6 months of off-and-on potty training, I am really ready for success. He has been technically able to do it this whole time, but for whatever reason he has only shown sporadic interest and minimal willingness to work on it. It is not my first choice to offer rewards like this, but self-motivation has so far been impossible to inspire. This time we went totally diaper-free, using only pull-ups and underwear that he chooses and puts on himself. It's a delicate balance I tell you! To be motivating without engendering stubbornness; to give him independence while also guiding him; to let him go at his own pace without waiting and waiting. And to never, ever, tell him that he's a big boy, because as he repeatedly tells us, "I'm just a little guy." Hopefully he will soon be a little guy with dry pants.

Monday, February 15, 2010

more kale please!

This was the haul out of the garden today: a bunch of dino kale, a half bunch of red russian kale, a few side shoots of broccoli, one leek (lots left in the ground), and three oranges. Dinner tonight was brown rice, ginger-steamed carrots, and amazing sauteed tofu and kale with leeks. I just love having kale readily available. I don't remember when I discovered kale; most certainly I'd never heard of it at Sam's age, and I know it took time and cooking experience for me to realize what an amazing food kale can be. Honestly I could have eaten all this kale myself in one meal, that's just how good it is.

I remember hearing a story from a friend about her friend's twin toddler boys who were served kale, ate every bite, and then called out, "more kale please!" At that moment it became my goal as a parent to have my child ask for more kale. Silly, right? You can't make a kid eat anything, and I honestly believe that genetics plays the biggest role in the taste preferences of little ones. Still, I'm happy to report that Sam--not just tonight but regularly when I serve kale--eats it up and asks for more.

This recipe is so simple and is such a staple for us that it almost feels unnecessary to post it here. Then again, this--or versions of this--is what we eat and love, so it definitely belongs.

Tofu and Kale with Leeks
1 bunch kale, finely chopped
1 leek, finely chopped
1 package tofu, cubed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 T canola or olive oil
balsamic vinegar
maple syrup
red pepper flakes
nutritional yeast
Saute kale and leeks in oil over medium heat until softened and bright green. Add several T water and cover, cooking until about half-wilted, about 10-15 minutes (add more water if it starts to stick). Stir in tofu, a dash of red pepper flakes (to taste), small splash each of balsamic and maple syrup, garlic, and a few T tamari. Continue to cook until kale is very soft and flavors combine, about 10 more minutes. Add about 1/4 cup nutritional yeast (plus water if no liquid remains) and stir well. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Serve over brown rice or whole grain of your choice.

Friday, February 12, 2010


If Sam is not role-playing music class, he is creating sculptures out of blocks and other wooden toys. I found this one particularly beautiful. Sometimes the awesomeness of responsibility in raising a tiny brand-new person really hits me. A little person with his own thoughts hungry for understanding, and his own feelings reaching for expression. Someone so very young, and so full of possibilities.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

a new mommy-hobby

In my early 20s I learned to knit and made one item: a scratchy 100% shetland wool dark green scarf. I was living in my aunt and uncle's little cabin in the woods of New Hampshire at that time, listening to the birdsong of wood thrushes or cassette tapes of acoustic guitar, keeping warm by a wood stove in the spring chill, and imagining my future in a foreign country while working three jobs to save for my plane ticket. Although conditions seemed pretty perfect for becoming a serious knitter, I never touched knitting needles again after that disappointingly uncomfortable scarf, and instead put my creative energy towards crafting tiny dreamcatchers out of cedar branches and embroidery floss until I went abroad.

Many years later now, I am married to someone who once made a giant dreamcatcher sculpture at Burning Man, and I'm trying knitting once again. So far so good. Unlike sewing, knitting can be picked up for 10 minutes and put down again without fuss. Now that Sam is no longer in school and I have him with me full-time, getting a few minutes here and there throughout the day is much more realistic than getting a few hours to work on a sewing project. And now that I know the softness that is my baby's skin, I can skip the scratchy yarn completely.

Friday, February 5, 2010

broccoli and tempeh

Our winter garden is pretty meager this year, owing to a combination of lack of space, late planting, and voracious gastropods. Our kale, especially, either never really took off, or is getting seriously munched by slugs and snails. We've gotten a decent harvest from two broccoli plants (out of five planted), cutting the larger central heads a few weeks ago, and picking a family-size portion of side shoots during a break in the rain this week.

We have been in budget-lockdown since the new year, and part of my strategy has been to stick to weekly meal plans. Garden-broccoli night was also the night of organic tempeh (soybean-based, meaty-textured, high-quality protein), which I cooked the way I used to do it years ago, in a caramelized onion and mustard sauce, and served over brown rice (to make a complete protein). Since it was so delicious I decided to actually write down what I did to make it, something I almost never do. One of the hazards of never cooking from a recipe is that it can be hard to re-create something that tasted amazing. Next time I want to make this I'll be all set!

Tempeh with Caramelized Onion-Mustard Sauce
*2 medium yellow onions, caramelized in canola oil in a 10" cast iron skillet
*generous splash of tamari when almost fully caramelized (after about 15+ minutes)
*then add 1 package tempeh (cut in bite-size pieces) and the following:
*2-3 T dijon mustard
*1-2 T honey
*splash of vermouth
*water to almost cover
*cook for 10-15 minutes (uncovered, adding more water as needed to end up with a nice thick oniony sauce)
*just before serving, add tamari and lemon juice to taste
*serve over rice

My only complaint with this dish is that it is rather drab and brown looking. It is best served with something brightly colored like al dente steamed broccoli and carrots. Next time I might also try adding some chopped spinach towards the end of cooking to add some color. Let me know if you try it!

Friday, January 29, 2010

last tomato standing

You may remember when Sam and I picked the last of the green tomatoes before some hard frosts back in early December. Yesterday we ate the last four of those kitchen-ripened tomatoes. The one above was the only one of the four without rotten spots. Overall we probably ended up composting about 20% of what we picked, but otherwise that huge harvest has been slowly ripened and consumed. I never did figure out how to use green tomatoes because I was too busy making salads, sandwiches, stirfries, sauces, and snacks. The texture and flavor was not as good as summertime vine-ripened tomatoes, but fresh homegrown tomatoes in January? No complaints here. Last night I added them to homemade pesto from the freezer for a simple pasta meal. Delicious.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

scene: kitchen table, sam and me munching on chips and salsa

sam says: mmm, I like salsa.
me: I like salsa fact, I love salsa.
sam: in fact, I love salsa too.

to know me is to know why this post is blog-worthy.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

hello 2010

When your 3-year-old asks to save a dandelion and "put it in water," and discovers soft moss in all the sidewalk cracks,

And when even your boring suburban neighborhood has a bit of pretty open space,

you can forget for a little while all the challenges 2010 has thrown at you, your family, and your fellow humans around the world already. 2010, I really hope this is just a bad start to a great year.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

the gift of a totebag

I had been wanting to make this bag for months. It is called the Apple Picking Tote, which is a free pattern on the Purl Bee blog. It is made from this gorgeously thick, soft, and strong linen, and with cotton binding for straps that go all the way around and under the bag. It is unlined but has finished seams, which makes it charmingly rustic and elegant. I found the pattern to be very clear and well-conceived. My only issue was that the linen shrunk a LOT, so although I thought I purchased enough for two bags, I was left with not nearly enough. I gave this one away, but really want to make more!

I created my own pattern for this totebag, also a gift. The exterior consists of a Japanese heavyweight printed cotton as a main fabric, with a basic linen on the base. The lining of the bag and handles is a lightweight cotton print.

This last bag was made with same basic pattern I drafted for the bag above. This is also made with a Japanese heavyweight cotton with small animal motifs, and on the base and handles, some of the same thick linen as the Apple-Picking Tote. It is lined with lightweight cotton.

For both of these self-patterned bags, I double-stitched (or even triple-stitched) all the seams for long-lasting durability. I will be curious to see how well they hold up over time. For now, I love how all of these bags turned out!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


These buckets are currently my favorite thing to sew. You've seen one here before, and for holiday gifts I made three more. They come together relatively quickly and easily, and there's something really satisfying about how useful and cute they look when completed. The pattern is from Mayamade, one of the amazing sewing bloggers I follow.

This one with the seedling fabric I made for Sam on Christmas eve, seriously pushing my deadline for Christmas day prep! After weeks of diverted attention from Sam to sewing projects, I just couldn't NOT have something for him under the tree. Wondering what to use a bucket for? Sam's will hold all the little musical instruments he got for Hanukkah and in his Christmas stocking.

This bucket pattern was originally conceived by Maya to be made with upcycled burlap coffee sacks, an idea I just love and plan to do someday. But I also love making them with these decorative heavyweight cotton fabrics.

I really want to make one for myself next!

Monday, December 28, 2009

handmade coasters

Just look at these cute coasters! I had some precut squares of these country red fabrics, the perfect size for coasters. I sewed them with batting inside, then topstitched with three free-hand lines of stitching around the edges. Each one has different coordinating front and back fabrics.

Then I did another (also reversible) set by fussy-cutting some fabric with Swedish motifs:

And then another set with some cool blue fabrics from my stash. One side is dark blue starbursts, and the other side is the light blue stars. I liked that, in my opinion, all of these coaster gifts could go just as well for men as for women, which is always a challenge.

Next up, buckets!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

santa's workshop

We were so busy cooking, eating, and enjoying ourselves on Christmas that we only took a handful of photos, including this one. Denis insisted on documenting our tradition of reading my old 60's era copy of "The Night Before Christmas." Maybe it's the old-school language, like calling Santa Claus St. Nick or sleeping in a kerchief, but Sam doesn't quite appreciate this story as much as I do. Oh well.

I did, however, take lots of pictures of the products of "Santa's workshop," which took over our dining room the past few weeks. Today I'll share a couple sets of potholders I made.

Above is a pair (front and back sides each shown) made from a pattern found in Amy Butler's book In Stitches. This was a skill-building project for me: it was my first time "quilting" something with my walking foot attachment. You can see the diamond-shaped quilting stitch lines which run through the double layer of batting inside the potholder. This was also my first time making and attaching my own bias binding (the checked-print fabric that wraps around and encloses all the edges). After a wonky attempt at sewing on the binding by machine, I ended up hand-sewing it for a neater (and more traditional) finish. I'm pretty pleased with the result!

Below is a pair of potholders made with cheery Christmas fabric. For these I reverse-engineered (as Denis puts it) a pattern from a set of handmade potholders I own. I think the piecing of the three different fabrics makes these otherwise simple potholders nice and interesting. I have a feeling I'll be making a few of these for myself.

Stay tuned for tote bags and coasters!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

merry and frosty

We may not have a white Christmas here, but a little morning frost on the broccoli and kale out front invites me to pause and enjoy the sparkle, if only for a moment. Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

holiday outtakes

This photo is an outtake from our last minute holiday-card photo session the other day. It was so last minute, and the chosen photo so awesome, that I decided it wouldn't be lame at all to make them New Year cards. So there you go: no cards from us until after Christmas, ha!

We celebrated Hanukkah with candles most nights, and amazing latkes Denis made on the second night. Sam made sure to remind us each time that we don't blow out Hanukkah candles like candles on a cake, you know, in case we forgot.

He received a few little Hanukkah gifts: a small drum and a triangle (both just like the ones we play in music class), a book, and a black cat minute timer.

Meanwhile, packages from afar are piling up, and I will make my final post office trip tomorrow. Or as Sam would say, tomorrio.

strawberry hues

Time for writing is scarce while holiday sewing and celebrating fill our days. I did, however, stop to notice all the colors on the strawberries post-frost in the backyard the other day. So pretty.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

still green

You might be wondering how I could possibly write another post about tomatoes this year, but what can I say? They don't call me Solanaceae for nothing-- I just love these plants! Sam and I picked these still-green tomatoes at dusk the other day, anticipating a killing frost that night. Sure enough, by this morning most of our garden finally looked like winter, and we'll be happily ripening these babies indoors and digging up some green tomato recipes. If all else fails, at least we had fun picking tomatoes one last time.

Taking these pictures I was reminded of my year in graduate school, just before Sam was born, working towards a Masters of Science in Botany. As an undergraduate I did not take a single hard science class, so to qualify for my program I took over a year's worth of Biology and Chemistry courses, including, I am proud to say, the dreaded Organic Chemistry. Once I was a grad student, I was really turned on by Evolutionary Botany, and chose a thesis project that my advisor had already started and funded. We were to determine the phylogeny, basically the genetically-based family history, of a couple dozen species of closely related plants from tropical areas around the world. I spent hours and hours in a lab extracting and analyzing strings of DNA from plant material that other research partners had collected.

I was also taking a course with my advisor titled Species and Speciation, which explored the many concepts and studies concerning the definition of a species and how different species arise from common ancestors. I loved this class because it was basically a philosophy of life class, in the language of biology and evolution. As a final paper, we had to design a research project and write a project proposal exploring something about how species become species.

To get technical for just a moment, the classic definition of a species states that accumulated genetic changes in geographically segregated populations driven by advantageous adaptations to new environments can have the effect of reproductive incompatibility and isolation, thus generating new species. (I lifted that sentence straight from the paper I wrote 4 years ago.) Basically what that means is that a population of organisms migrates and encounters some kind of geographical barrier, like a mountain range or an island, with some of the population going one way and others going the other way. Over time, each group adapts to their new and different environment, causing an overall genetic change. Once these groups have diverged genetically from each other, they can no longer mate, which defines them now (many many many generations later) as different species. Fascinating, isn't it?

Which brings me back to tomatoes, because for the final assignment I designed a project looking at two species from the Solanaceae family, relatives of our beloved tomato. Earlier in the semester I had read a tiny reference about these plants from some obscure dissertation, and I was fascinated. I am quite sure that my fascination was at least partially due to the fact that these were Solanum species; however, to me they also were great potential study subjects because of a particularly controversial phenomenon within speciation called character displacement. I'd love to write about it but I'm sure nobody is reading anymore anyway, so I'll just finish this up by saying that I wrote that paper with more passion than I ever felt for my actual research project. My professor loved it and told me that I had gone above and beyond the scope of the assignment, basically writing a proposal worthy of Ph.D. research.

As most of you know, I never ended up finishing my graduate program. Marriage, a job offer, a rough pregnancy, and wanting to return to California all drove me to leave my research and my advisor and not look back. If I ever do try again for a Masters in Botany, I won't sign up for years of research with plants that don't fascinate me. I won't be studying anything that somebody else decided was important. I will study something awesome and interesting and relevant to me, something like tomatoes. Or their very cool relatives.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

can't pick just one

this little boy, now three years old

loves to ask questions, likes being busy,

gets whiney sometimes and doesn't listen,

and the cuteness just does. not. stop.

in fact, coming back to look at these photos repeatedly today reminds me of when Sam was a newborn... everything was crazy, spending every other hour nursing, waking up several times a night, trying to calm the colic, wondering if I was going to make it... I was exhausted and barely taking care of myself... and during those rare moments of Sam quietly napping, what did I do? I was transfixed in front of the computer, scrolling through photos of my beautiful baby. I just could. not. stop.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

this one is for the grandparents

Cousin love was flowing strong this past week. The age difference seems smaller and smaller as they get older. I know next time they see each other, we'll get to witness actual conversations between them in addition to all the admiring looks, hugs, smiles, and kisses we see now. Of course there will probably be even more refusals to share sometimes as well, but it's all good. Ever since she left, Sam has been calling out "stuck!" just like Sofia, and insisting on sitting in "her" highchair for meals.

Monday, November 30, 2009

post-holiday quiet

After a full and happy week of cleaning, cooking, eating, playing, and photographing with three generations of guests, I am taking today to nurse my cold, nibble on leftovers, and enjoy a quiet day. Above is a view of our Thanksgiving table, covered in a tablecloth I sewed up the day before (and still need to hem), with some dishes brought out and some still in the kitchen, with the littlest eaters seated and the bigger ones still lending a hand. Our fabulous menu:
Roasted turkey and gravy
Herb Stuffing
Mashed Potatoes
Mashed Butternut Squash
Madhur Jaffrey Green Beans
Spicy Sweet Potatoes with Lime
Maple glazed Brussels sprouts with Pecan
Cranberry Ginger Sauce
Regular cranberry sauce
Corn Tomato Chutney
Dinner Rolls with Herb Butter made by Sam at school
Pumpkin Pie
Pecan Pie
Dutch Apple Pie
Fresh Whipped Cream

Hope your holiday was as nice and yummy as ours!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

rainy day sewing

Sam's other birthday gift from us was this beautiful handmade wooden toy sewing machine. He loves to play with my fabric scraps, rulers, and cutting mats while I am sewing, and he can spend an hour working with buttons: lining them up, piling them on the floor, sorting them into tins, and picking out special ones. He likes to stand by my machine while I am working, and play with the bobbin winder in front, or shove a fabric scrap under the needle, and tell me to sew it. So I thought it was time for a sewing machine of his own.

It doesn't really sew, but he can turn the crank and the needle goes up and down. I requested that extra spool dowel in the front because it matches the bobbin winder on my machine that Sam likes to play with. The craftsman was happy to oblige, not even charging me extra. I also love that he made this particular one with reclaimed wood. His etsy shop is called WoodClinic, and I just couldn't be happier with this cute toy. Sam was very excited when he opened it, and loves to sew alongside me.

It's a good thing because I have a lot of projects to complete in the next few weeks! I am endeavoring to make almost all of our holiday gifts this year. Here is a peek at just a few of my projects.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

why I love living here

Our cherry tomato vines are withered and brown and on their way to becoming compost now, but I was able to pick a nice bowl full of still-delicious fruit before yanking them out of the ground yesterday. November 17 people! And the other tomatoes, peppers, and zucchini are all still green and fruit-laden! The cherry tomatoes added incredible flavor to a polenta casserole with peppers (fresh-picked), zucchini (also fresh-picked), and plum tomatoes (yup), corn, onions, refried beans, cheese, cumin, and chipotle powder. A bit summer garden, a bit fall casserole. Scrumtious!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

birthday boy

Many thanks to everyone who made Sam's third birthday so sweet. From his tiny classmates singing happy birthday to his grandparents' and uncle's phonecalls to online birthday wishes to the big party at Grandma's, all of it made Sam feel loved on his special day and through the weekend. He received many wonderful cards and gifts, including, but not limited to, a yellow duck bike helmet (which he picked out himself), a huge box of rubber stamps, a preschooler magazine subscription, a solar car, a couple of games, and a generous college fund contribution. We parents got him a new bicycle, which Denis is converting to a balance bike. Welcome to 3 Sam!