Trees 101


I've embarked on a massive purge of my home office and am finding a lot of stuff I never did anything with.

Update, 2:11 p.m.: My friend and coworker Veronica points out that today is Arbor Day, which is entirely coincidental. Weird.



I've successfully made a sourdough starter this week but have been putting off actually making a loaf of sourdough because of the time involved. Baking sourdough bread requires a lot of kneading and resting and activity, and it's just too much for a weeknight or pretty much any time ever, really. I won't go into the whole thing, as the internet is full of sourdough explanations. But basically to make the starter and keep it going you have to keep feeding it flour and water, and eventually you have to pour off some of the old to make room for the new.

As a result, there are a ton of recipes out there meant to take advantage of the discarded mixture so you're not just dumping perfectly good batter in the sink every day. Yesterday I made sourdough blueberry pancakes and they were frigging fantastic, so I thought I could try making a vegan sourdough chocolate cake from a recipe in the Sandor Katz fermentation book. I would take it to work to share--who doesn't like chocolate cake? As a bonus, the vegan and lactose-intolerant folks could partake too. 

The recipe came together quickly, and the batter was pleasingly bubbly, just how you'd imagine a sourdough batter should be. It tasted delicious when I licked the spoon: chocolatey, not too sweet, a little tangy. I put the cake in the oven and began to make the frosting, and there things began to go off the rails.

The chocolate chips we had turned out to have milk solids in them so I couldn't use them and had to sub cocoa and oil instead, which in turn meant that the frosting was terrible--oily, flat, and weirdly clumpy. 

I let the cake cool before I frosted it. It turned right out of the pans, which I took as a good sign. It was clear the horrible frosting wasn't going to spread, so I sort of ground it into the top and sides as best I could--it was a layer cake and especially tricky to cover, even if I hadn't been using frosting that resembled tarry sand--and then I tried a piece. The slice sort of flopped over onto the plate and disintegrated, but the first bite was pretty good.

With the second bite I discovered the huge clumps of unincorporated sourdough starter. The recipe had stressed that the batter should be stirred as little as possible, so I had given it a few swirls with the whisk and figured the lumps would dissolve the way they do with pancakes. They did not. The cake was studded with them; they were gummy and globular.

It wasn't very good, but I wasn't ready to let go just yet. Maybe a second opinion would clarify things.

Eric came home from work a few minutes later. "Don't get too excited," I said, but his nose was twitching and his eyebrows were raised at the prospect of a delicious dessert. Then he tried the cake and his face fell. 

"I was thinking I could still take it to work," I said. "I'd explain that it was a baking failure. I mean, it's not a great cake, but it's still cake."

"You could trick them," he said. "Tell them it's really good and act like you're so proud of it and then sneak away while everyone eats it and discovers the truth."

I barked with hurt laughter. "I can't take it to work, can I?"

"No," he said gently. "You can't."

"I have to throw it out, don't I?"

"I'm sorry," he said.

As I was writing this, he brought me a Thin Mint. It was very good.

Mouthing off


See? I told you the mouths would go faster. One week. Boom!

I have to tweak a few things and then it's fill-in-all-the-faces time. Then grouting. Then confronting the cavernous void that is at the center of every adult life.

Or maybe I'll start another project; I haven't decided yet. 

Mosaic slog blog

Hey, I am working on a pretty involved project this summer!


The design might look familiar to some of you.


I used transfer paper to get the design onto the board.


Then I outlined the faces with little black tiles.


Then I started to fill in the eyes. This took me over a month; I had to cut each tile by hand to fit. 

The tile-cutting technique used to approximate a curve is called keystoning, and I got a lot of practice in it.


Sometimes it went well for a good stretch, and sometimes it got ridiculously fiddly. If I had to do it over again I would've drawn  the faces larger; I'm having to fudge some stuff to make the current design work as it is.


Yay! I finally finished filling in the eyes on Sunday. I felt triumphant--for about half an hour. There's still a lot to do here. 

Having to take frequent breaks to keep my back limber and peel globs of gross dried glue off my fingers is not speeding up this process at all, either. 

Sometimes I wish I'd started doing mosaics years ago, but I seriously doubt I had the patience for it until recently. I sort of can't believe I have the patience now. Getting older is cool in a lot of ways.


I was delighted to realize the mouths are going to go relatively quickly. It took about 20 minutes to fill all this in before work today.

I'd like to be finished with this in a month, but I can't tell if that's realistic or not. Probably not, but I am going to tile like hell and see. Onward!

(And no, I never finished the fox. Maybe by Christmas.)

Tree farm: summer migration

According to our resident green thumb guy, Bryan, the office redbuds were finally big enough to be transplanted into bigger pots a couple of weeks ago. The only thing was, though lush and luxuriant, they were also pitiably weak and floppy from spending their whole lives indoors, protected from wind and temperature spikes and enjoying thrice-weekly watering.

 Lush beauties

There they are to the right, sharing the window and the beautiful Dumpster view with another coworker's large-scale jade propagation experiment. 

Lush beauties

To compare: I planted these from seed from the same tree the same week as the giants up above, but they've been outside on the back patio this whole time. They've endured frost, heat, neglect, and not-terribly-regular watering. As a result, they are tiny but tough--the stems are rigid and the leaves are like leather. 

Bryan gave me some metro shelves and recommended I take the floppy indoor guys home to my patio for a few weeks so they'd harden off a bit before transplanting. They do indeed seem to have a little more backbone than before. 

Lush beauties

(I have better pictures of the shelf setup, but I really wanted to show off the 1.75 inches of rain we got yesterday afternoon. The temperature dropped from 100 to 75 in about 20 minutes after the sky opened up. It was great.) 

Lush beauties

Bryan had become so dedicated to the cause he even came over to the house yesterday to transplant the seedlings into gallon pots so they'll have more soil and therefore moisture to grow in. In exchange we let him hang out with √úter.

Eric and I also cooked him Tandoori chicken and homemade naan on my new gas grill, which I am sure you will read all about in due time; I am deeply in love with it.

Gallon repot

So now we just water, and wait. As soon as it cools off this fall it'll be time to put them in the ground. 


In the meantime, I just put some Texas mountain laurel seeds in some pots in the front office, and I notice the redbud seeds from this spring are also about ready to pick and plant. Maybe I'll just keep doing this every year until my entire yard is choked with redbuds and becomes a vast cloud of pink for two weeks every March.