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About Kristine Smith

About Kristine Smith

Award-winning author of the Jani Kilian series. Retired scientist. Owned by a dog.

books conventions gaby writing

Drive-by post

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Still alive. Currently revising JERICHO, a book by Alex Gordon, aka My Alter Ego. In a little over two weeks, both of us will be at Thrillerfest X in NYC. Looking forward to meeting folks, meeting with my editor, and maybe getting out of the hotel and checking out a few food trucks. Given how much will be going on, getting away may prove difficult, but I will try.

Not much else to report besides the usual–working, cooking, baking, losing the never-ending battle with weeds. For a change of pace, here’s a photo of Gaby exploring the very edge of Lake Michigan.

Gaby meets the Lake

Gaby meets the Lake

around the house gardening

Flowers, wild and tame

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Not sure if I’ve ever mentioned my shady side yard before. I had it mulched a few years ago when it became obvious that the lawn would never fill in–too much shade from the ash and spruce and oak. The mulching proved expensive enough, but the cost of letting the landscaper fill in the area with plants was prohibitive, so I decided to do the best I could with what I had. I have added a couple of white hydrangeas; one is an Annabelle, but I’ve forgotten what the other is (ed. it’s a Limelight). Lots of hosta. Ferns and wild ginger donated by a friend​.

I’ve also let some native wildflowers encroach. Wild violet have started showing up along the edges. Wood anemones:

wood anemones

wood anemones

 

 

I’ve spotted trillium leaves, but no flowers. I hope they make it. I’ll welcome either purple or white, but I’ve seen the purple variety in the nearby woods and hope that’s what’s trying to grow.

Smooth Solomon’s seal have pretty much taken over the area around the gutter outlet. A member of the lily family. I used to pull them out every spring until I realized that 1) they were pretty, 2) they hid the gutter outlet, 3) they were free and 4) thriving.  So I let them go, and they have spread over the last two years:

Smooth Solomon's seal

Smooth Solomon’s seal

I added some non-natives as well. The astilbes are coming up gangbusters, but have yet to bloom. I also planted a couple of origami columbine**. The blue one didn’t survive the winter, but the red one did, and has put forth several blooms:

Origami columbine

Origami columbine

It’s nice to see a spot of color against all the green and white.

There’s still a large area of blank waiting to be filled in. I will probably stick with hosta, maybe a dozen or so planted in a ring. Another hydrangea in the middle? I will also let the wildflowers spread. They bring the woods close to the house.

**columbine are apparently native, but these are a hybrid variety

around the house gardening seasons

Yes, we have no tomatoes

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There will be no raised bed garden this summer.

I first installed it back in 2009. The first few tomato crops were incredible–I had 6-7 plants, and spent most every weekend from early August through early fall making marinara or tomato casserole or salads with fresh basil (I grew that, too). When the chill weather came, I picked the greenies and stuck them in paper bags to ripen, and had fresh tomatoes into December.

I added compost to the soil and added fresh soil every so often, but for whatever reason–weather, poor choice in plants–the harvests fell off. Last summer’s was the worst–it was so cool that even the farmstands struggled. I managed a couple handfuls of cherry tomatoes and some mesclun. Part of me missed the buckets and buckets of harvest, but part of me didn’t care. It had stopped being fun.

I gave the plastic framing to the chimney repair guy, who had a friend who was planning a raised bed garden. That left the dirt, two squared-off mounds of tightly-packed topsoil. Today, I shoveled it into the wheelbarrow and dumped it around the plants near the deck. Over the next few weeks or months or however long it takes, I’ll trim the area with the edger and add more soil and mulch until it looks neat and proper. I have spirea and hibiscus growing there now, and would like to add a few more things. Some of the daffodils in the front yard are putting forth nothing but greenery, which means the bulbs have birthed bulblets that are sucking away the strength; I’ll separate those and stick some near the deck. Look for some shorter shrubs that flower. I am thinking about moving the birdbath garden to the sideyard outside the fence given that the seed that falls to the ground has attracted skunk for the last few years and Gaby has never met a skunk that she didn’t want to harass, the results of which you can guess. If I do that, I can move the astilbes that are growing there now to new homes near the deck….

That will be the outdoor project for the year. Get the backyard in shape.

food

Chicken stock

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I think this was my best batch yet. About 3.5 quarts of gelatinous, medium brown goodness.
I had been saving roasted chicken carcasses for over a year and sticking them in the deep freeze. Yesterday, I excavated them all, added the one from this past Sunday’s dinner, and split them up between the 8 qt stockpot and 5qt-I-think soup pot. Added a load of celery, carrots, onion, garlic, bay leaves. A bundle of dried rosemary, thyme, and sage. Salt and pepper. Covered with water and let everything simmer for about 5 hours. At that point, the stock looked and tasted a little thin, so I strained out the veggies and bones, combined the stocks in the 8-qt, and let it boil until the level dropped about an inch and the stock had turned from medium yellow to medium brown. After the pot cooled enough, I stuck it in the fridge.

This afternoon, I skimmed off the very thin layer of fat, which was minimal and mostly consisted of the olive oil I used to coat the skin pre-roasting. Portioned the stuff into 4 cup and 2 cup containers, and stuck them in the deep freeze. I’ll use some in a week or so when I mix up a batch of bean and sausage stew.

I picked a decent-size bowl of meat bits off the bones. The meat is dry, but it still has flavor–I’ll add mayo and mustard and herbs and spices and chopped celery for an okay chicken salad.

Earlier this week, I made a loaf of my old standby banana bread. It’s such a forgiving recipe that I monkey with it constantly. I now substitute whole wheat pastry flour for the all-purpose–this results in a pretty dense bread. This time, I used 1 cup w/w pastry flour and a half-cup wheat germ. Toasted unsweetened coconut and walnuts. Dug out candied orange peel that I found on some store’s post-holiday bargain bin, and added that. A tablespoon of chai spice and a teaspoon of cinnamon. Because of the sugar in the peel and chai spice, I cut back the sugar in the recipe from 1 cup to 3/4 cup.

This loaf came out a little lighter, and the orange flavor really comes through. Good bread.

food

Revision cookies

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It’s going to be a few weeks before my alter ego has to get to work on JERICHO revisions, but I went ahead and made a batch of revision cookies anyway. I like to have food squirreled away in preparation for the long march to –30–: soups, burgers of various types, maybe a meatloaf. Chicken breasts and portions of fish. And home-baked cookies. I’ve tried making do with packaged cookies, and they’re not the same–I don’t feel like I’m having an end-of-the-day treat when I have one of those. There are some bakery cookies that I love, especially the whole grain-dried cranberry and cowboy cookies from Whole Paycheck. But in that case, I need to make a choice between a month’s supply of cookies and paying the mortgage, and if I don’t keep up with the mortgage, I won’t have a place to write. So, I bake my own cookies.

Ina Garten has a couple of cookie recipes that have become standbys, namely her Oatmeal Raisin Pecan and her Ultimate Ginger. I had a boatload of old-fashioned oats, and I love oatmeal cookies, so I opted for the Oatmeal Raisin Pecan…with a few changes.

  1. I substituted dried Door County cherries for raisins. I love raisins, but I wanted to try something a little different.
  2. Instead of all-purpose flour, I used 1 cup Bob’s Red Mill Whole Wheat Pastry Flour and 1/2 cup wheat germ. The w/w pastry flour worked well when I made a loaf of post-first draft banana bread a couple of weeks ago–apparently it’s made from the soft wheat berry, so it’s higher in carbs, with less gluten and protein. Because of those characteristics, I have found I am able to use it as a replacement for all-purpose, at least so far. I am guessing that if I tried to make pie crust or some types of bread, the story would be different. But I’ve found the cookie and banana bread recipes to be pretty forgiving, so I will stick with whole wheat flours when I make them.
  3. I added about a cup of unsweetened coconut to the pecans and toasted the whole mess together.
  4. Spices. In addition to the cinnamon, I added 2 tablespoons Spice House chai spice. It sounds like a lot. But the directions state to use 1 tablespoon in a 6 oz cup of tea, so I figured that 2 tablespoons wouldn’t overwhelm a recipe that can yield 3 dozen cookies.

Verdict? The flour and wheat germ worked great–the cookies are moist and have a little chew, which is how I like them. I don’t like really chewy, soft cookies. The cherries are good, but a little on the sweet side. Next time I will use raisins or good dried cranberries. As for the chai spice, it added nice depth. I might back off to a tablespoon or a tablespoon and a half next time, though, because it is strong. I will see if the flavor mellows over the next few days.

Oatmeal-dried cherry-coconut-pecan-chai cookies

Oatmeal-dried cherry-coconut-pecan-chai cookies