Saturday, March 13, 2010

Seed Containers from Scratch

It's time.  Time to mow the lawn for the first time this year.  Time to amend the soil in the garden.  Time to plant outdoor cool weather crops.  And time to start seeds indoors.  One of my favorite times of the year!

We've been collecting empty toilet paper rolls for a while now because we wanted to try an experiment.

We wanted to try to make containers for starts.  So we grabbed one roll.

And cut it in half.  Then cut four equidistant slits about 3/4" deep in each roll.

Then we pushed the first tab in, rotated the roll a quarter turn, pushed the second tab in so that it overlapped the first tab.

Repeated.  When we got to the last tab, we tucked it under the first one, as if closing a big cardboard box.

When done correctly, it should look like this.

Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.

Repeat ad infinitum.  Or at least until you've gone through all your TP rolls, as we did.  Thank goodness for little helpers.

I then filled each container with good potting soil

and then got my seeds ready.

I planted summer vegetables this day - one week ago today --cherry and pear tomatoes and jalapeno peppers.  I have a nagging feeling I've planted too early.  But then again, the weather forecast for this upcoming week actually has us hitting 87 degrees on Wednesday.  Time will tell.

Once the seeds were neatly tucked into their new home, I placed five or six containers on a small seed starting tray from last year.  Then I wrapped them in plastic bags, hoping to create a greenhouse effect.

I put the clusters of seeds on larger trays to help move them around as needed.

Then I put the trays in front of a heater.  Which I really wasn't very good about turning on.

One week later, here's what I've learned.  Mold.  In this cool, damp and enclosed environment, my toilet papers sprouted mold, not seedlings.

So this morning, one week later, I took the seedlings out of the plastic bags, wiped off the mold, spread them out on each tray, placed them on the heater and gave them a little positive talk.  If I keep the heater on low and make sure the seedlings don't dry out, I should have some seedlings popping up this week.

At least I'm hoping they will.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Going Local: Orzo Salad with Fragrant Sesame Dressing

This asian pasta salad was first introduced to me by one of my best friends in the entire universe, Karen.  I had this salad the weekend I visited her in her (then) home in Connecticut back in 2001.  We had just moved back to the US after 3 1/2 years in Turkmenistan and we were homeless, crashing at Paul's parent's place in Rockville, MD.  I took the train up to see Karen, excited to spend time with her and her family and to catch up.  

I was also excited to wear my engagement ring, which had sat in a safety deposit box, uninsured, for the duration of our time living overseas.  And considering I only got to wear it for about a year and half before we moved to Turkmenistan, it was happily resting in its rightful place; next to my wedding band, second finger from the left on my left hand.   

I remember well the train ride home.  I remember the conversation I had with the man next to me about free trade coffee, and how he thought it was a bunch of bunk.  He worked for a coffee lobbing organization in DC.  He was bunk.

I remember grabbing a diet coke and a salad at Union Station in DC before taking the Metro up to Rockville.  And I remember the strange sinking feeling I had in the pit of my stomach as I dumped the contents of my tray into the garbage bin, as if I was throwing something important away.  It wasn't until I got into my in-laws apartment an hour later that I realized the prongs of my engagement ring were empty.   I'm not sure if it fell into that garbage bin or not, but I remember how I traced my footsteps for hours in the dark with a flashlight, trying to find that stone.

I remember the orzo salad I had at Karen's during that long weekend.  And considering that I still get a rock in my stomach and want to throw up talking about that engagement ring, the band with the now-empty prongs which I still have, the fact that I still remember how I ooohed and aaahed over that salad is a testament to how good it was.  It's a miracle I didn't erase that weekend from my memory bank altogether.  Oh, yes, and about that ring.  It was still uninsured.

So, now I share this salad with you.  May you never have negative thoughts associated with it!

After boiling a pound of orzo (or any small pasta, like orechiette (small ears), which can be purchased at many of the local grocery stores) and rinsing it in cold water to stop cooking, add some matchstick-sized carrots and raisins.  

These raisins, are HUGE, although it's hard to tell in the photo.  

Then add in sesame seeds.  Alternatively you could add pine nuts.  But I've never seen pine nuts in Dushanbe.  Have you?

Next chop up some green onion.

And some parsley.

Place all your ingredients into the biggest bowl you have.  This makes enough to feed a pro football team.  This bowl is about as big as the circumference of my arms when creating a circle in front of me like a ballerina.  Nevermind if you can't picture that.  

Mix it up.

Now onto the dressing:   rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, a bit of sugar and salt, mandarin orange rind, ginger, soy sauce, garlic and crushed red pepper.   It's all good.

Mix this well once your salad ingredients are ready. 

Then pour it over your salad and mix well.

Serve it either cold or at room temperature.  It keeps well in the fridge for several days.  And it's perfect for picnics since it doesn't have any mayo in it.  

Orzo Salad with Fragrant Sesame Dressing (adapted from Southern Living, if my memory serves me correctly.  I've cut down substantially on the oils in this version).

Yield:  Enough for a pro football team

1 lb orzo (or other small pasta), uncooked
1 t sesame oil
4 carrots, cut into thin strips
2 cups raisins
1 cup sunflower seeds, toasted (but I didn't bother toasting)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup sliced green onions

Prep:  Cook orzo in boiling salted water about 8 minutes until tender, but al dente.  Drain.  Rinse with cold water.  Drain.  Combine oil and orzo.  Toss all ingredients into a large bowl.  


1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
2 T sesame oil
1 T salt
1 T sugar
2 T grated mandarin rind
1 t pepper
1 t minced fresh ginger
1 t soy sauce
1/2 t minced garlic
1/4 t dried crushed red pepper

Mix well in a separate bowl.  When thoroughly combined, pour over pasta salad and throughly combine.


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Market Report: Sultani Kabir

Today was an especially great day.  Not only was there abundant sunshine, it was actually warmer outside than it was inside.  I finally got to swing all the windows open for this first time this year.  The birds were chirping like mad and even I had an extra spring in my step.

And today a friend and I went the Sultani Kabir outdoor market in search of a shopping high and hidden treasure.  Sultani Kabir is our Target.  It's part hardware store, part kitchenware store, part car part store.  Upon first glance, it seems as if there's nothing to buy unless you need to fix a leaky toilet or caulk some grout.   Let's just say, there are no antique suzani to be found here.

Here's a happy vendor.  Happy because he probably just charged me double the going rate.

And here's the super space age cell phone shop.

Some things I bought were super practical.  Like these wire mesh garbage cans.

And this white enamel tea kettle.

And these baskets.  I'm forever thinking I can get the girls to keep their things tidy.  These baskets are the solution.  I'm sure of it.

And then there were the kitchen finds.  Like these two smallish bread pans.  

And these really sweet miniature gravy boats.  I bought four thinking it would be fun for each person to have his/her own mini gravy boat full of ketchup for their fries.  Remember, I have to five year olds.  Fun is a relative term.

Continuing the mini theme, I bought these super small glass bowls.  They're nice to hold all your spices and, well, small cooking ingredients so that when you cook you can pretend to be on the Food Network.  Because I'm organized like that.  Really, I am.

And I bought these darling little juice glasses for the girls, not for mommy's wine.  I paid 25 somoni for six glasses (about a buck a piece), only to have my girlfriend by the same glasses two stalls down for 12 somoni for six.  Not darling.  And  if you can find the crack in one of the glasses below, you'll agree that I got the short end of the stick.  Caveat emptor.

And these tin plates were a must have at a buck a piece.  I thought they'd be great for camping.  Because, you know, we camp like that.  Nevermind we don't have a tent.  But when we do go camping, I'll have enough plates for ten.  Because I'm prepared like that.

And the one purchase that really made me feel like I was shopping at Pottery Barn - except for the fact that I was at Sultani Kabir in Dushanbe - were these flour/sugar/tea jars.

I love the lids.

One thing Sultani Kabir has over Target?  The sense of satisfaction after a successful hunt.