Stuff and Nonsense: July 2019


7.31.2019

7.25.2019

My Brother's Husband, Volume 1


My Brother's Husband is a sweet, tender manga about family, parenthood, love, and loss. Brothers Yaichi and Ryoji had grown apart as adults, with Ryoji eventually emigrating to Canada and marrying Mike. Some time later, Ryoji dies and big, burly, bearish Mike travels to Japan to visit Yaichi and his daughter.

Initially Yaichi's homophobia causes him to struggle with fulfilling his host and familial obligations to Mike, but gradually -- as he sees how warmly and kindly everyone else responds to Mike, how much his daughter Kana loves her new Canadian uncle, and how much Mike is clearly grieving for his husband -- Yaichi's heart opens and he becomes less prejudiced. His transformation is not flawless, but deeply human.

So there's all that heavy-sounding plot going on and yet it is lightly and gently told. There's a great deal to empathize with, as well as some amusing light-hearted moments, cross-cultural teasing, and a sweet domesticity to the whole thing. I greatly enjoyed My Brother's Husband, Volume 1 and I look forward to reading the Volume 2. I only wish there was a Volume 3 ...

My Brother's Husband, Volume 1 written by Gengorah Tagame w/ trans. by Anne Ishii. Pantheon Books, 2017.

7.19.2019

Gresczyk Farms' 2019 CSA


Every Friday in the summer I stop at the Southington Farmers Market and pick up my CSA partial share from Gresczyk Farms. Sometimes I take a leisurely stroll around the market, stopping for empanadas or roasted garlic three-grain bread or even more vegetables, but usually I'm tired out and just grab my share and run. It's a pity, because the Southington Farmers Market is really a nice little market with a good variety of eats and other products. There's usually music of some kind and everyone is just so friendly.


And you're thinking "That's all well and good, but what the heck is a CSA?" CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and the idea is that a farm can sell shares of its anticipated crops to people within the local community. Those people, in turn, receive a weekly box of what the farm grows in exchange for advance payment (and, in some cases, a set amount of volunteer hours on the farm). Some farms include items like jam, pickles, bread, meat, cheese, eggs, wine, etc in their shares. Gresczyk Farms offers eggs -- my partial share provides me with a half dozen most weeks and I don't expect to buy any eggs for the rest of the summer.


Most CSAs offer early bird subscriber discounts and I subscribed to Gresczyk Farms CSA program back in January at a 5% discount. This is my second year with Gresczyk Farms and I imagine I'll stick with them next year. The farm offers a flexible pick-up schedule, allows me to skip weeks or reschedule my pickup day without penalty, and (this is important) allows me to swap parts of my share if there's something I don't want that week. Last week, for example, I was offered cilantro, but as I didn't have any immediate plans for cilantro that weekend, I swapped it for the price equivalent in beets. I also receive an email from the farm every Thursday night with a detailed list of what my partial share will contain and suggestions for using those items which certainly helps when it comes to menu planning.


If you want to try find a CSA near you, LocalHarvest maintains a great index!

7.17.2019

#WordlessWednesday: Coreopsis

Happy yellow Tickseed (Coreopsis) blooming in the afternoon shade.

7.16.2019

Homemade Raspberry Jam


Buoyed by my success making strawberry jam, I turned my hand to raspberry. I followed the recipe for reduced sugar berry jam (raspberry or blackberry) in the booklet that came with my Ball freshTECH Automatic Home Canning System. According to Ball, the recipes included with the canning system were specifically formulated for it and should be foolproof. I'm new enough to canning that I'm happy to stick to official recipes and not experiment.

The only difference I could see between the traditional and low-sugar recipe was that the low-sugar recipe only used three cups of sugar, while the traditional used five. The amounts of berries and pectin were exactly the same. They both included the option of using a half teaspoon of butter, which I took because folkloric Internet wisdom told me it would stop the jam from foaming. While the jam did not foam, I am not sure that had anything to do with the addition of butter and will simply have to make more jams to test the butter's efficacy.

I don't mean this post to be an ad for the freshTECH canning system, but I do love mine a lot. Having grown up with stove top hot water canning, I like how little energy and effort the canning system requires. The house doesn't heat up or become muggy, I don't worry that things are not at the right temperature, or not at the right temperature long enough, and it uses much less water than the stove top canner. Most importantly: Every. Single. Jar. Sealed.

But, hey, if you're already using a big enamel stove top hot water canner and are comfortable with that method, then stick to it. Especially if you like to preserve large batches. The freshTECH can process three quart jars, four pint jars, or six half pints, which is fine for a small household, but I know some of us like to put up jams by the dozen. Mom, certainly, would not have wasted her time on such small batches.


(Also, the $299 list price is ridiculous. I was lucky enough to buy mine last autumn on clearance BJ's Wholesale Club for around $80. For an $80 appliance, it is an excellent value. If you're interested in buying one, I'd recommend using a price tracker and holding out until you find one priced around $100 or less).

The reduced-sugar raspberry jam is completely yum. Just sweet enough, boldly raspberry, nicely thickened but not gloppy. Pretty damn fine for my first raspberry jam. I've been spooning it into plain Greek yoghurt and granola for a simple, flavorful breakfast. It's also nice on a turkey sandwich with baby spinach, red onion, and spicy brown mustard. And, of course, there's always peanut butter and jam crackers.

7.12.2019

Kit Kat and Lucy: The Country Cats Who Changed a City Girl's World


Read by the author, Kit Kat and Lucy: The Country Cats Who Changed a City Girl's World is a thoughtful account of how two cats helped a readjusting country "girl" (she’s in her 40s when the book starts) come to grips with her anxieties and sense of isolation brought on by returning to rural Michigan after years in San Francisco. The book is as much about her life and experiences as it is about the cats and might appeal to anyone looking for a cat-centric, feel good, vaguely spiritual memoir.

Pros: I found Kit Kat and Lucy to be a pleasant listen, but not necessarily a compelling one. As a certified cat lady I found many similarities between Kit Kat and Lucy and cats I have known. I especially liked that DuPont’s stories span the cat's entire lives, not shunning the bittersweet moments at the end.

Cons: The audio book could not hold my attention. I found the story slow going at points and DuPont's reading was not as emotive as I'd have liked.

Kit Kat and Lucy: The Country Cats Who Changed a City Girl's World by Lonnie Hull DuPont (ChristianAudio, 2016)

7.10.2019

#WordlessWednesday: Rudbeckia hirta

Always cheerful black-eyed Susan, a low-care plant
beneficial to bees, butterflies, and birds

7.03.2019

#WordlessWednesday: Vessel

Vessel, a massive ouroboros of stairs in Hudson Yards, NYC.

7.02.2019

Around Connecticut: Raspberry Picking at Lyman Orchards



Early last Saturday morning, before the sun burned off the clouds and the temperatures hit stayintheairconditioning numbers, I went raspberry picking. At Lyman Orchards, again, because I couldn't find another farm with raspberries ready to pick. The spring was, for the most part, rainy and cool which slowed the growth of some crops. In some ways this is a boon -- while Lyman's strawberries have come and gone, my CSA which is 40-ish miles north, has just begun picking. But if you want to go raspberry picking right now, there isn't much choice in farms.


While Lyman Orchards is a large farm -- 1,100 acres -- staff does a great job with directional signage and I've had no problem finding the fields I needed. The strawberry fields were quite close to the entrance to South Road, but the raspberries were a bit further afield on Powder Hill Road and that was fine as it was a beautiful morning, I was in no rush, and the additional distance gave me more things to look at -- many fruit trees, netted bushes that might have been blueberry, a pond, etc.

Parking is available in a dirt lot located to the left of the raspberry fields and visitors can pick up containers or trays at the little red shed located between the parking lot and the field. For the 2019 season, Lyman Orchards' raspberries are $5.65 per pound. The small green containers are free and the large trays are $1.75, but (as with the strawberries), the tray is free if you pick 10 pounds or more. Visitors are welcome to bring their own containers and I brought a duct tape reinforced box lid which the staff member at the shack weighed and noted before I began picking.

The rows were well groomed and orderly with lots of straw thrown down on the ground between them, which turned out to be a godsend as I spent most of my picking time on the ground, looking up through the raspberries leaves at all the beautiful deep-red clusters of berries waiting to be picked. Many people around me were going along, picking whatever they could see at the top, but I just found it a lot faster and easier to pick from the middle and bottom.

I picked five pounds in just over an hour, by which time the sun had come out and begun baking my brain. I paid up, drove home, and made jam.

More about jam later.

7.01.2019

The Quiet Gentleman by Georgette Heyer


Depend upon it, you are just the sort of girl a man would be glad to have for his sister! You don't even know how to swoon, and I daresay if you tried you would make wretched work of it, for all you have is common sense, and of what use is that, pray?

Gervase Frant, the seventh Earl of St. Erth, has returned home from the Napoleonic wars to lukewarm welcome. His stepfamily resents him for getting in the way of a fortune and title which they deserved far more than he. Why, they wonder, couldn't Gervase have been a good sport and died on campaign? The nerve of the man! Only Cousin Theo and Miss Morville, a guest of his stepmother, seem pleased to see him.

And then a series of strange incidents and unfortunate accidents beset the Earl. Is it all just coincidence or is someone trying to get him out of the way ...

Oh, how I enjoyed The Quiet Gentleman! It's not a traditional Heyer romance -- indeed, the primary romance is so subtle as to be barely there -- but it makes for a rollicking good mystery. The characters and dialog were so well written that, while I detested Dowager Lady St Erth, still I took a great deal of pleasure from her barbs. And, even though this is a mystery, there is a lot of humor and wit afoot.

One of my favorite scenes is in Chapter 10, when Miss Morville is walking through the wood at twilight and hears the thud of horse's hooves. The scene could easily go Gothick, but Heyer pushes it in the opposite direction:

The woods were full of shadows, and already a little chilly, after the setting of the sun, but Miss Morville, neither so fashionable as to disdain wearing a warm pelisse, nor so delicate as to be unable to walk at a brisk pace, suffered no discomfort. She did not even imagine, when some small animal stirred in the undergrowth, that she was being followed; and was so insensible as to remain impervious to the alarm which might have been caused by the sudden scutter of a rabbit across the path ... The thud of a horse's hooves came to her ears, which led her to suppose, not that a desperate, and probably masked, brigand approached, but that the Earl, having parted from the Grampounds, was on his way back to the Castle.

Mind you, the poor girl was raised in an intellectual household and cannot be expected to demonstrate proper feminine sensibility!

The Quiet Gentleman by Georgette Heyer (Harlequin Books, 2006)