Friday, February 22, 2008

Matt makes pita chips. Patricia directs and takes pictures.

I am a huge fan of pita chips, but I don't really like to purchase them. So for special occasions, I like to make my own. Want to make some yourself? Matt shows you how easy it is.

Buy a package of pita bread. Ours was fairly spongy, but this works better if you buy the kind that has a huge pocket area in it.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Take your pita out of the packaging and align all your pita so they are stacked evenly. Place them on a cutting board and get out a knife.
Using your knife (serrated works better, but you can use a regular one, too) cut off the edges of the stack of pita bread.
Carefully cut the rounds of pita bread into sixths.
If you are having trouble cutting through the whole stack at once,you can make your stack smaller by removing the top few layers. If everything is going well, though, just keep cutting.

Take your new pita triangles and separate the two halves.
The halves should come apart easily, as Matt demonstrates, but if they don't, just pull them apart as best you can. This is where the non-spongy pita bread excels.
Take some olive oil and pour it into a small bowl.
Arrange your triangle halves on a cookie sheet.
Using a brush, brush the olive oil onto the pita triangles. I'm not super anal about getting the exact amount of olive oil on each chip.
Take some salt. Matt is particularly pleased to use Trader Joe's Course Sea Salt, but regular table salt is also fine.
And sprinkle it on your now-oiled triangles. You could also make a herbal concoction and put it on at this point, but I'm a purist.
Matt spreads the last of the salt.
Place the chips in your now preheated oven. Set your timer for 7 minutes. (NOTE!!! I have no idea how long these cooked for. I'm guessing seven minutes, but you might need longer. Keep an eye out.
After the timer goes off, or your chips are as brown as you want them to be, take the chips out of the oven and flip them. Reapply the oil and salt as illustrated above and put them back in for a final bake. Again, 7 minutes? Try that, but keep an eye out.
Don't let them turn very dark brown, like those chips in the background, unless you like them that way.

Once time is up, take the chips out, let them cool a bit and start chomping.

The recipe without the pictures:

Fabulous Pita Chips for Not Much Expense or Labor.
1 package pita bread
olive oil
  1. Preheat the oven to 350
  2. Stack your pita and cut the edges off.
  3. Cut pita into six triangles
  4. Separate the triangles into two pieces and place on a cookie sheet
  5. Brush the triangles with oil
  6. Sprinkle them with salt
  7. Bake for 7* minutes or until a bit brown
  8. Remove chips, flip over, brush with oil and sprinkle with salt again
  9. Bake for 7* more minutes
  10. Remove from oven, cool and eat.
*I take no responsibility if it isn't really 7 minutes. Keep an eye out.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Garden Planning

I blocked off President's Day to plan my garden for the year and I'm glad I set aside a big block of time to do so as the plan below took seven hours to make. Last year, I knew what I wanted to plant and I had a plan, sort of, on paper, but I wasn't sure when to plant or how many to plant or when I would find time to plant and a lot of things didn't get planted. The thought came to me that the seed packets say how long until things mature and that I could use Excel to help me plan. You can follow along by clicking on the link below. It might be worth it to open the link in another page in case you want to click back and forth between it.

First, I went through the seed catalogs and made a list of everything I wanted to grow this year. Even though I received many catalogs, I decided to only order from two of them. My catalogs of choice were Bountiful Gardens and Territorial Seed. I chose Bountiful Gardens because they have non-hybrid varieties and I eventually would like to start saving seeds. I ordered the majority of my seeds from them. The things I needed that Bountiful Gardens didn't have, I got from Territorial Seed. I chose them because they are an Oregon company and their catalog is chock full of information. After completing my list, which you can see in the "To Plant" tab of the spreadsheet, I moved some things to the "maybe" list at the bottom. I then sorted so the things I wanted to grow were alphabetically on top of the list and I looked in one of my books to see ideally when the things would grow, either spring, summer, fall or some combination of those three seasons. Then I created three columns, one each for spring, summer and fall. "X"s were placed in the correct column.

I could then sort and see all the things that needed to be planted in the spring. Right now the sheet is sorted so all the fall items come first because I ran out of time and haven't yet planned for fall. But you can look down the list and see the spring varieties too. After sorting and seeing what could be planted in the spring, I began plotting each item. I checked to see what the spacing between plants was, using the book "How to grow more vegetables" by John Jevons. Then I went over to my sheet "Spring," where I had created a schematic of all the garden spaces I have available, and plotted the item into a spot. Then, back on the "To Plant" sheet I marked a "y" under the column "plotted spring". This way I knew each crop was on the map.

After plotting, I decided when to plant things. This is where the "Dates" chart came in handy. I'm pretty excited about the "Dates" chart. I started with 1/1/08 and created a line for each day in the year. Then, I added in the day of the week and highlighted Saturday and Sunday when I do the majority of my gardening. After that, I put in the day of the year for each date. For instance, it's easy to know that January 30th is the 30th day of the year, but more difficult to figure out which day February 18 is. (It's the 49th day of the year.) If you haven't guessed, you'll see why this is important in a second.

Next I added four columns, "Seedlings," "Plant," "Harvest" and "To Do." I also shaded in the average last frost date and the average first frost date. All that being done, I was ready to add in my planting dates.

Let's take Lettuce as an example. According to my books* it said that lettuce could be started eight weeks before the last frost. I also knew that lettuce takes around 45-51 days to mature. Before the first frost, I was supposed to start the lettuce in flats for 4 weeks, then transfer them to outside. I also knew that a packet of lettuce seeds has a 80% rate of germination, by law. So, I counted back eight weeks from the last frost date to 3/1/8 and wrote in "6 lettuce" under "Seedlings" That meant to plant 6 lettuce seedlings indoors under my grow light on that date. I figured two weeks for germination, so I navigated to 3/15 and wrote "3 lettuce" under the "plant" heading. This accounts for some failure to germinate which I estimated at 50%, rather than the 80% required by law because my seeds are from previous years. So I would know when to harvest, I counted down 3 weeks and wrote in "lettuce" under harvest. By explaining this I notice that I'm a bit off on my fully mature lettuce estimate, especially considering that lettuce takes 45-51 days to mature and I just allotted 21. And 21 pre-last frost cold spring days, at that. But the point is that I did this so I could make successive plantings of items and only have to do a small bit of planting work every week. Which is the idea. That way I don't plant 64 lettuce plants and have all 64 come to maturity in 4 weeks and then have nothing afterwards. It also alleviated the problem I had last year which was knowing I had to plant something, but not what, or where the heck it was supposed to go.

Once I had plotted spring on the calendar, I re-sorted the spreadsheet to see what were summer varieties. I checked to see which spring crops would be finished, making their space available for a summer crop. If you look at the plot on the right under the "spring tab", you can see that the peas, radishes, scallions and spinach will finish up and make way for watermelon which is on the "summer" tab. If you look on the "dates" sheet, you can see that on 5/17 I will start 6 watermelon seeds and on 6/14 I will plant 4 watermelon seeds after weeks of harvesting lettuce, radish, spinach and peas. By scrolling down 77 days, which is about the time it takes watermelon to reach maturity, you can see that if all goes well I will harvest watermelon on 8/30. It's a little late, but I have the benefit of growing other crops in that patch too.

After I finished plotting everything, I made a list of what I already had. This was imperative as I usually want to order 90% of things in the seed catalogs, but at $2.00 per packet, I need to show restraint. Because I have a small place for gardening I also don't use a full packet every year and can use seeds from previous years. The older the seeds get, the less they germinate, but I built that into my plans when starting seeds.

On the "Already Have" tab you can see what I have, it's name, how full the packet is, how many days the seed takes to mature, as reported on the packet (nm means "no mention"), the spacing (if using the biointensive method) and the row spacing (if using the row method.) While making that list it became apparent what I needed to order which became the "ordering" tab. I will continue to add to this sheet as I purchase things for the garden. As I begin to harvest, I will begin another tab that keeps track of what I harvested, when it was harvested and also the price of the item if had bought it at our local New Seasons market. I am choosing New Seasons as a price point because they have local, organic ingredients and you can shop online, making it easy for me to research prices from my computer. I hope to come out even or a bit ahead this year.

That's the plan. Check back here for updates.

I was working out of three books: How to grow more vegetables, as referenced above, The Vegetable Gardener's Bible by Edward C. Smith and Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Redneck Hat

Also at my mom's birthday celebration Chris brought up an old hat of my grandfather's he found in the basement. Matt modeled and we laughed.
It has silver stuff inside, I'm not sure why.
The color was also fabulous

Mom's Birthday Celebration

We celebrated my mom's birthday today. She turned 64 on February 10. First, we all went out to dinner at Ernesto's. I really liked their round tables. If everyone goes, there are six of us and we inevitably end up at a big rectangular table. I don't like that because I can't hear the people at the other end of the table. The round tables fit six nicely and I could hear everyone.

Then we came back for the fancy ice cream cake my Aunt Carol made.
It had a cookie crust, ice cream sandwiches on the outside and two kinds of ice cream inside. Then there was cool whip on the top and crumbled Oreo cookies. It was a masterpiece.
My brother lit the candles.
And my mom blew them out. Then we ate.
Then we played Clue. I won.

For her present we all chipped in and bought her a ticket to see Bruce Springsteen in March. Happy Birthday!

Grow Light Installed

One part of the plan for the shelves in the dining room was to install a grow light so I could start seeds for my garden. I looked on the Internet for plans and after bypassing all the marijuana growing sites, I found that I could avoid spending $60.00+ for a whole set up by buying a shop light and installing it myself.

I bought the shop light when I bought the rest of the supplies for the shelves, but when I went to install it, I found that it was not a shop light with a cord and a plug attached--which was the only way I'd ever seen shop lights--but instead was a mess of wires I was supposed to connect to something. Because I had no idea what to do, I put the whole thing away for a few weeks.

This weekend, I didn't have youth group so I took the extra time and walked over to Lowe's to try and figure out the situation. I like arriving at big box home improvement places late in the evening or early in the mornings, especially on weekends. The employees are much more willing to help. I found the shop light with cord I thought I was buying and it was twice as much for less light. So I went to customer service and they paged the lighting guy. He was very nice and helpful and I'm sorry I can't remember his name.

I explained my situation to him and he opened up the box of the kind of light I bought so he could figure out what was going on. It turned out that I needed to buy a cord (for $6.00) and just wire everything together. He even gave me the cap things I needed to put on top of the wires because he didn't think I should have to buy 100 of them. I was excited that for only six more dollars I was on my way again.
I walked home and wired everything together. The light went on and I wasn't electrocuted! I was pretty excited.

The next problem came with trying to mount the light. I knew I had "eye" screws to screw into the shelf, and S-hooks were going to hook into that, but how was I going to get the S-hooks to attach to the light? I couldn't just screw the light into the shelf, because the whole point of a grow light is that I can adjust it to different heights.

The answer turned out to be leftover anchors. I screwed an eye-screw into one, and then slipped the eye through the hole in the roof of the light. The S-hook then hooked into the eye. I felt very smart. This is why I like home improvement projects.
Once I got those things squared away, the whole thing came together quickly. I relocated Matt's poor, waterlogged cactus under the grow light. Incidentally, I chose the light I did based on the very helpful experiment of Wayne Schmidt. He planted seeds under five different fluorescent lights plus sunlight. If you scroll down on his page, you can see the winner, which was the brand I bought. This is why I love the Internet. Wayne got to do his experiment, I got to see his results and make a decision. All for the cost of a computer and Internet connection.
One thing that needs finishing is a better way to get the cord out of the way. I have a plan of installing some hooks, but right now it is wrapped around the s-hooks.
When I start seedlings, I can lower the grow light to two inches above the plants. That supposedly helps them germinate.
So now I have a handy grow light that cost me about $30.00, instead of $60.00 dollars.

It turned out, though, that I skipped the first rule in home improvement projects which is "make sure none of your relatives has something you can use". It turns out that my mom has two grow lights. I had no idea she did, and didn't think to ask. But if I had known that, I wouldn't have been able to connect a power cord to a light and make it work, so maybe it was worth it after all.

Full picture of the shelves with things on them coming soon.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Motels and Neon of Interstate

There was a time before Interstate Highway system rolled through Portland, setting down I-5, I-405, and I-84. The Interstates allow the people of Oregon and Washington to zip from place to place around the city. Or, during rush hour, to roll along at 15 miles per hour. In the time before the age of the Interstate, people who wanted to travel drove on state highways which took them through town after town across the country. Once upon a time North Interstate Avenue really did take people from one state to another and those travelers needed somewhere to stay. So the motels came. They didn't disappear with the coming of I-5, but many of them are looking a bit ragged around the edges. I'm guessing that 20 years from now most of them won't be around.

I like traveling down Interstate and imagining the days when the motels were new, the highway was your quickest means of travel and the key to successful marketing was a big, neon sign. Matt and I walked the length of Interstate so we could take pictures of all the motels and their signs.

Starting on the west side of the street and traveling south:

I suspect the left turn into the Comfy Inn was cut off by the coming of the Interstate Light Rail and they got this illustrative mural painted on the side of their building as compensation.

Most of the motels were built around the same time, with only their signs to differentiate them.

This restaurant gets into the neon action too. It's a great place: good solid food, not too expensive and decorated with those 70's mirrors with the golden cracks running through them.

It's interesting to note what is advertised as amenities on the signs. Some tout their phones, some their televisions and some have internet.
This sign has an arrow that blinks on and off.
Of all the motels on Interstate, I would choose the Monticello to stay in. It looks so clean and comfortable.
The other side of this sign says "GET MOTEL"
The Budget is the only brick motel on Interstate. It's a bit run down right now, but I can see the potential for a remodel into a hip, swinging place a la the Jupiter Hotel. They would probably have to loose the Jacuzzi Suites. Or do some major disinfecting.

The Westerner Motel not only has direct dial phones, it has a sign with letters that blink and marquee lighting.

Though nothing on this sign flashes or moves, this is the most fabulous sign on Interstate.
The Palms is the last motel on the west side of Interstate, so here we cross and start North on the east side of the street.

The Alibi isn't a motel, but does have impressive neon, a Tiki Lounge and karaoke.

The Crown Motel has been sold to a developer who will develop an affordable housing project. People want to save the sign as reported in The Oregonian here.
The kicky shade of turquoise that graces the Crown Motel is also on the house next door.
No neon on the Oregon Motel, just a lighted sign.
The last motel on this side of the street is the City of Roses OTE.
It no longer exists and the property is surrounded by a big chain link fence that blows over on windy days.
Thus ends the motels of N. Interstate. May they not grow too shabby as they shuffle off into the sunset.