Author Archives: Mae Humiston

Sheds and bugs and books, oh my!

GUYS! GUYS!!! THE SHED IS SO CLOSE TO BEING DONE!

Now why in the world is it taking this long? Because:

Mariana adding right angle pieces to the back wall, since we decided retro-actively that a post was probably a good idea to keep the wall from warping.

  • we’re not pros
  • Mariana was in Spain
  • we have to find miles of extension cords to power the drill with electricity from South (where there are a lot of Russians living at the moment)
  • things go wrong… all. the. time.
  • we forget bits… and improvise (see Figure 3. )
  • we only sometimes have a car
  • there is no such thing as a right angle
  • lunch breaks
  • Mariana and I are both pretty small.

BUT we’re getting it done. How?

  • we work long hours in rain and heat (all of today in 92 degrees, for example) (future potential employees read: dedicated)
  • lots of grunting
  • lots of “YEAH! YEAH! TAKE THAT YOU SCREW!”
  • patience

    Figure 3. So I said we're good at improvising. This hand-held screw bit served us until lunch, when we got a legit bit. Someone might chide us for that, but it worked.

  • we’ve learned to “think critically and problem solve.” If we come away from our college years feeling as though we learned nothing, we are forgetting these most valuable skills… manifesting themselves in the most creative (and perhaps illegitimate) of ways (again, figure 3.)
  • burritos as fuel
  • nice neighbors and friends lending us things (thanks Simon and the Frisbee boys!)

We’re hoping to add the last wall and the roof Monday evening (we’d love some help!)

After that, all that’s left to do is re-align the door (things go wrong, ok?), nail some scraps in to keep things from warping and/or moving, throw on some gutters, add some shelves and hooks, put the tools in, and paint it beautifully! (“As long as it’s done tastefully.” -John Vik, facilities man.)

The shed! We left it with the final wall clamped on and the door more or less attached. We'll be adding the roof soon!

In other news…

The squash has taken over. I’ll devote a separate post to this. But here’s a picture:

Part of the garden, taken over by squash.

And the final news of the day:

Through the magic of Freecycle and Craigslist, I scored the garden 2 gardening books: The Edible Container Garden and A Gardener’s Guide to Cacti: Succulents and Foliage.

I also got a box of cream colored tile (that stuff is so incredibly heavy) that I’m hoping we can use as a walkway to the garden, or at least as a little bit of decoration. If you have an idea about what to do with it, email me: mae.humiston@tufts.edu and we’ll see if it’s feasible!

And the actual final news of the day: there was a cute bug on the shed. Someone let me know if this thing has intentions to ruin the garden.

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What to do with all those banana peppers. Or at least what I did.

So the banana pepper plant went CRAZY. So I had a lot of banana peppers in my house. I appreciate them, but I’m not very excited by them. I’m not even really sure I’ve had them on anything besides sandwiches… UNTIL NOW.

I know I love cheese stuffed things. I know I love fried things (yeah, this is not a healthy food I’m about to show you). And Betty here (she’s a little odd) had this great little recipe for the fry batter for frying up banana peppers. I took the liberty of stuffing my peppers with mozzarella, although I think next time I’d like to have a stronger cheese.

This is Betty’s batter:

Capsicum annuum (Banana peppers are a cultivar of this species) and seeds

1 cup self-rising flour
1 egg, well beaten
1 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
sweet banana peppers, washed, dried, seeded with pulp removed, and cut into serving pieces
2 inches of cooking oil in a deep fryer or pot on the stove (I used peanut oil.)
In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 cup self-rising flour, 1 well-beaten egg, 1 cup milk, and 1/4 cup vegetable oil. Stir completely, or blend with an electric mixer. Have your sweet banana peppers prepared for cooking.

(My “prepared banana peppers” were seeded through a slit part-way down the side, then stuffed with grated mozzarella cheese, but not enough to force the slit to stay open.)

Heat 2 inches of oil in an electric deep fryer or a pot on the stove to somewhere between 345 degrees and 375 degrees. With tongs, dip pepper pieces in batter, allowing excess batter to drip into bowl, and then transfer to hot oil. You may fry several pieces at the same time. Fry until golden brown on both sides, and then remove with tongs or other utensil and place on paper toweling to drain. When all pieces are fried and removed, pat the upper side to remove any further excess oil… THEN FEAST.

The photo is a little blurry but these bad boys were delicious!

(Reduce/Reuse/Recycle: You can save frying oil by waiting for it to cool, then straining it through a coffee filter and storing it in a bottle. I label mine “frying oil” so people don’t get confused)

ANDDD… The garden now has a little gate (a little bootleg, but we love it). It’s mostly to deter the GIANT RABBIT that’s hanging around.

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Nommin’

The title of this post makes me think of a girl in my brother’s grade named Naaman.

Them squash are a comin! The day that we put the shed onto its foundation, we all got some zucchini as a thank-you from the garden. I personally was very tired when I got home that day, so the simplest of zucchini cooking was in order:

  • drizzle some oil in a pan
  • throw in some sliced zucchini
  • sprinkle on some garlic. salt. pepper.
  • eat when looking tasty and slightly browned

Delicious. Simple, but oh-so-tasty. (If you remember my first adventures with kale… it was basically the same recipe. A winner.)

An unflattering shot of my zucchini dinner

A couple others have submitted their recipes for garden goods. And they make my tummy growl.

Micaela Belles gives us one for our darkest moments… those in which we have an excess of the darkest greens. Spinach. (actually, that doesn’t sound like a dark moment, but it IS a dark leafy green… as are arugula, kale, romaine lettuce, swiss chard, and mustard greens. OMG MUSTARD GREENS):

SPINACH MUFFINS (WHAT?? YESS!!)

Dry Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup oat flour (note: you could probably sub flours of do 1 1/2 cups total of a single flour, instead of 2)
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda

Wet Ingredients:

  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 single serving applesauce (or 1/2 cup)
  • 1 cup PACKED, triple washed baby spinach, chopped by food processor into small bits (see photos above)
  • 3 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp lemon zest (depending on how lemon-y you want it)
  • Optional ingredient: 1/4 cup chopped walnuts, plus extra for topping

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F and prepare a 12 cup muffin tin with non-stick spray.

2. Add dry ingredients into a medium bowl and whisk together.

3.Whisk to beat egg and sugar together till light (I did this by hand for just a couple minutes).

4. Whisk in the rest of the wet ingredients.

5. Pour dry ingredient mixture into the wet ingredient mixture, add 1/4 cup walnuts if desired, and stir gently just to combine – do not over-mix.

6. Pour muffin batter into muffin tin cups – about 3/4 full each. If using walnuts, sprinkle walnuts on top of each muffin.

7. Bake for 14-17 minutes until centers set or a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

8. Cool at least 10-15 minutes before serving.

And Suzanne Lis sent this mouth-watering recipe from thehealthyfoodie.net. And she lives one street over. We’re feasting soon.

RATATOUILLE PIZZA!

DOUGH

“SAUCE”

TOPPINGS

  • ½ eggplant, in very thin slices
  • ½ zucchini, in very thin slices
  • 1 tomato, in very thin slices
  • Salt, pepper and za’atar, to taste
  • 2 tbsp red onions, finely chopped
  • 100g low fat Mozzarella cheese, grated
  • 25g goat cheese, crumbled (GOAT CHEESE)
  • 1 tsp fresh parsley, chopped

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Preheat oven to 500F.
  • Roll or stretch dough into 10-12 inch disc and lay on a baking sheet. Spread fermented garlic flowers (crushed garlic would do the trick) and sprinkle generously with za’atar.
  • Top with mozzarella cheese, followed by aubergine slices, tomato and zucchini, then sprinkle red onion. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and more za’atar.
  • Bake in the oven for about 8-10 minutes, until cheese is melted and starts to colour on the edge.
  • Take out of the oven, sprinkle goat cheese and return to the oven for 2-3 minutes, just to soften goat cheese
  • Take pizza out of the oven and sprinkle fresh parsley.

I plan on eating some squash tonight. And maybe some breaded banana peppers… I’ll let you know how it goes…

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rainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainrain part 2

Things got a little crazy and I’m a little behind on the updates. But the shed is standing! And here’s why:

The shed with all the wood in it and a tarp as a makeshift roof.

Two weeks ago, tireless Mariana spent several days digging out mud. Because it rained. Every day. But she knew she was leaving for Spain on that Sunday so she oh-so-kindly- spent the most miserable of days digging 3 foot deep holes so we could get the rebar it. “Why not just pound the rebar in?” you might ask (I did). Because there are a bajillion rocks per square foot in that soil (mud) and only the luckiest of the luckiest could have pounded a 3.5′ long rebar into the ground without striking one and feeling the shock-wave resonate through their bones. And so she dug. And the rain fell. And I came after work to help a little, but it wasn’t much compared to Mariana’s hours of work and mounds of dirt (mud) to show for it. Before she had to leave, we got the rebar in. It didn’t look like much, but oh, we were proud. And sore. And soaked.

It wasn't much to look at, but that rebar isn't going anywhere for a long time. And it's deceptively dry in this picture.

Once the rebar was in, the next step was to pour concrete to level the ground and secure the cinder blocks. But concrete setting and rain… they just don’t go together. And Mariana was leaving to soon! She couldn’t just spend a day kickin it! Not when there was a shed to be built! So in a feat of efficiency, Mariana and Mariah assembled part of the shed (but not all of it because we still had to move it on to the foundation… whenever that might be done). Oh, it was gratifying to see some semblance of a shed start coming together!

The partially-assembled shed.

Then she was off. Mariana left for Spain, but Liam came up from DC for a visit… and some manual labor. I got him out on a couple beautiful (read: hot.) mornings pouring and mixing concrete. As Liam put it, our work was “a little bootleg, but it did the trick.” Over the course of two days, we secured the cinderblocks in the ground (level and all!), made friends with the guy at Hillsides Hardware (Him: “I got this slushie beside where you get your nails done, you get your nails done?” Me: “Not since I was really little…” Him: “You’re still little!” Me: Sigh.), and cemented carriage bolts into the cinder blocks.

One of the carriage bolts in it's final position, with a nut and washer to hold the floor fast.

The bolts stuck out of the cement, which wasn’t so hard to engineer. The tough part was getting them to match the distances of the holes Mariana had drilled for them in the floor of the shed. We triple measured everything, and we did an OK job.

I sent out a beacon (text) to abled-bodies far and wide to move the great shed. I got a great crew. With very few problems (trees in the way and the delicacy of guiding all the bolts through all the holes), we landed the shed on the foundation. And it’s sturdy! We’re going to have to wait for Mariana to get back to put the roofing on, but later this week some of the team that helped move the shed is going to finish priming all the wood and maybe we’ll stick the rest of the walls on (in need of a drill)! I’m so excited to have a shed, and I’m so excited to have friends working together to make it happen!

The team that moved the shed. LOVE.

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rainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainrain part 1

This is the only picture I could find that had proof that it rained. See the puddle. And if you look closely, you can tell I'm soaked.

The title of this post pretty much sums it up. Every time we set out to work on the shed, the director of this sadistic movie orders the clear blue sky away and calls in the clouds with the giant raindrop machines embedded inside. But at least it’s not too hot!

Before Mariah went home and made that pizza (I’m drooling just thinking about it), she and Carolyn, Wesley, Rebecca, Lucy and I all started the foundation of the shed… with some difficulty. We met at 2:30pm on Saturday, had a quick meeting and divvied up tasks (Mariah, Rebecca and I to get cinder blocks from the Crafts House and Lucy, Carolyn and Wesley to start tearing up the grass where the shed will go).

Moving blocks around. All 23 of them.

Moments later at 2:40pm, it POURED. This was no normal rainstorm. This was plotted by someone very high up who saw that it was just too nice a day for us to start building a shed. Of course. But we worked anyways. Using Mariah’s groaning car, we moved about 20 cinder blocks from the Crafts House down to the road that runs by the garden. But we still had to move them one last stretch (FACT: carrying the first block is fine. The eighth one feels like you’re lugging thirty blocks.)

Carolyn rewarding Ameri-Corps workers with peas.

Then all of us (plus some Ameri-Corps peeps that Carolyn enlisted) moved all the blocks up to the garden area. The diggers did an excellent job of tearing up the grass where we’re laying our foundation! With a little final work cleaning up the edges and moving extra dirt around, we declared our work done. It’s so exciting to see us get another step closer to the shed existing!

Sharing recipes after finishing the day's work

We ended the day with a mutually inspiring discussion on recently-made recipes (See Mariah’s post for the outcome of her inspiration!)I know I left the scene with many scratches and sore biceps and I am eternally grateful to everyone who helped out in the erratic weather. So much love to all of you.

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Rainy day reads


Squash before I left for the lil brother's graduation

It’s been a dreary couple of days up here in Boston. It definitely surprised me when I came back from my little brother’s graduation in Virginia where it was mostly in the 90′s and the sun only gave way to the stars and a crazy thunderstorm or two.

The squash after I came back! Some of it looked like it had DOUBLED in size in just five days. Whoa.

But the rain is good for our little garden (the plants are oh so happy)! Things really boomed while I was gone (they probably wanted to impress me, the little dears).

Squash flower after the morning rain.

It’s very exciting to see the plants flowering because you know what that means… well, flowers are the reproductive part of the plant.

Eggplant flower! I hear they're edible…

When two plants love each other very much/a pollinator or the wind does its job, the eggs of the plant is fertilized

and the seeds begin secreting a compound that expands its ovary walls.

But wait… its ovary walls? That’s right kids. You’re eating the ovary of a plant when you eat your fruit. But that’s the way they want it to be (I’m reading Michael Pollan’s Botany of Desire. I’m on the apple section. Plants are just using us, btw). So when we see a flower… fruit is soon to follow!

Zucchini sprouts

Right before I left, Gracie and I planted some lettuce, cucumbers, and zucchini where there was open soil (we harvested the kale and thus had a small free patch). I was pleasantly surprised to find them sprouted and well on their way to glory. (And to discover that the ghetto paper ID tags I’d laid on the soil were still kinda sorta legible.)

But the reason this post is labeled “Rainy day reads” is that 1. it’s rainy and 2. I just finished a book you should (in my opinion) all read: Deeply Rooted by Lisa Hamilton. Even if you don’t like farming and agriculture, the descriptions of the farmers and their land is just great. If you’re more into the urban food movement, I recommend Closing the Food Gap by Mark Winne. That, too, was a great read and changed the way I look at food in cities.

Tomato flowers with Gracie doing her thing in the background.

So all your days may not be rainy, but I bet some of them will be super hot and humid and you’d be best off reading a book.

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A garden appears!

The garden, almost cleared of grass

So when I showed up at the garden after going home for a couple weeks, the grass has taken over and was shading the plants! Ridiculous. So I cut the grass before and after work. With hand clippers. I got a lovely blister, but now it’s a nice calloused over patch. AND the garden is no longer shaded by absurdly tall grass. To tell you the truth, clipping the grass by hand was kind of therapeutic, almost like meditation. Plus, Lucy put the grass on the beds to serve as a down-pour protector (rain can wreck exposed soil) and a thin mulch that will decompose over time.

Our new friend, Ivan

After the garden reappeared from the jungle o’ tallness, I discovered our new garden friend Ivan, a PhD. student at Fletcher. He added a raised bed and watered our garden during our absence. He’s a chill guy with gardening experience

and he brings a few tips (did you know carnivore urine keeps away rabbits and other pests?)  His bed is a lovely sight with peas, tomatoes, basil, peppers and more, all very pretty and healthy looking, and most of them grown from peas (because it’s so much cheaper than buying seedlings, he says. This is too true.) I’m excited to have such a dedicated  guy contributing to our mission!

Mariana measuring the angle for the cut. Note the safety goggles!

During the time that I’m not at work or clipping grass by hand or meeting the people with the orderly raised beds in our garden, I’m helping Mariana build the shed! We moved all the wood from Signe’s house to mine in a daring feat of strapping plywood to a car roof and driving a block. It was exhilarating.

Then we (mostly Mariana, she’s the real worker here) harassed the neighbors with the screaming of the saw as we cut the pieces into their destined shapes. There were some struggles… mainly struggles with calculating angles since it IS summer and all, and the skilled math part of the brain usually disappears with the snow.

We paint shed walls white (with primer) wearing black sweatshirts.

But after several days of hard work on Mariana’s part, and some silly painting work by yours truly (I got paint on my back. That takes skill.) the pieces are almost ready to assemble. We’re just waiting on a go-ahead from Facilities (cross your fingers!)

Mariana is standing where we'd like to put the shed, she is small- so keep that in mind for scale

We’d like to put the shed between the path in front of South and the “entrance” to the garden. Why? 1. It’s flat already. 2. It’s out of the way of pedestrians and mowing. 3. We could use the side of the shed as an “info wall” and put up news and information about the garden so passers-by could stop and read about it instead of trekking across the grass (I just imagine some woman in high heels sinking into the ground with every step as she attempts to learn more about this fantastic little garden.)

And my last point for this post: today Gracie and I were joyfully reunited in a very appropriate place: the garden. We checked it out and decided it was time to do some real work.

A rebar and horse fencing solution to tying up tomato plants

We went back to my place, grabbed the hose, the mobile-hose-thing-with-cool-features, horse fencing and some rebar, and, in a feat of strength and endurance, carried it downhill to the garden.

We staked up the tomatoes in a fashion that I learned from my time at Wade’s Mill back home in Virginia (I recommend the yellow grits). One stretch of horse fencing supported by two pieces of rebar can serve many tomato plants, since two sides are accessible. We put up two sections of fencing, tying twine around sections and tucking tomato plants inside of the loops made. It’s hard to describe, so I’d check out a picture.

Some of the many seed packets we still have left (personally, I hope that cilantro never makes it into the garden)

There were some empty-ish patches, and we have a ton of seeds, so we pulled out the packs and determined that it was time to plant some more carrots.

Signe raved about purple carrots, so we seeded those and another variety around the tomato plants. We also replaced a horrible looking basil plant with new basil seeds, hoping a stronger batch will arise to glory.

Gracie watering the salad mix with the nozzle set on "shower"

With little hopeful pods in the ground, we watered the place with our new hose set-up! It was smooth, easy, beautiful, and the adjustable nozzle was a riot (for Gracie at least).

We also harvested some kale and collard greens! As much as I love to garden and cook, I have to admit… I’d never cooked with kale before (and never really cared for it when other people did.)

But today I decided I needed my leafy greens and I was going to get them in the form of kale. Gracie assured me it wasn’t an exact science, which helped my resolution to try it out. But I still needed to follow some direction. So I looked it up on Google.

Fried kale, before the macaroni. Great by itself, even better with some noodles and cheese.

How to cook kale. The first recipe was the one I went with. It was basically fried kale with garlic (recipe: get some oil in a pan. make it hot. add garlic. add kale. fry. eat.) I guess I made kale chips (I later found out that that’s a real thing… but that’s not what I set out to make). And they were incredible with my macaroni and cheese. I completely recommend it.

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A Garden for the Students

The first semester of Tom Thumb’s Student Garden’s existence as a group open to the entire student body produced four additional raised beds, a solid starting collection of essential gardening equipment (a couple hoses, some shovels, rakes, spades, clippers, etc), and a core of excited and dedicated individuals.

My name is Mae Humiston. I’m a co-leader of the garden with Grace Myers. We both “apprenticed” under Signe Porteshawver, the group’s founder. Signe, Grace and I spent this last semester gathering interested individuals to join our mission for a glorious student garden. What ensued is hopefully an indicator of great things to come.

Signe and a friend building one of the first raised beds

We spent the incredibly snowy winter months planning which plants to plant, the budget, and how to save money and resources. Ultimately, we ended up scoring some wood from the theater set of a play, thanks to the efforts of set-builder and garden enthusiast Andrea Ness. As soon as the curtains closed, Andrea led us up on stage where we learned the basics of deconstruction (it’s a combination of finesse drilling and brute force, culminating in a feeling of awesomeness) With some help from some friends, we lugged the pieces over to the Crafts Center, our main construction site. Looking at the existing shapes and configurations, we realized we could use two of the frames from the set as tall raised beds. The original shape had been a kind of platform for actors to stand on, about a foot and a half tall. It was a sturdy frame in need of some siding, so we attached some plywood from a different set piece.

Emma and Rebecca pulling staples from theater scrap

The construction involved many hours of pulling staples, screws, and nails and fighting the binding force of glue, which our patient, good, beautiful, garden-loving friends Emma Sass, Nate Eckman, Rebecca Matyas, Carolyn Pace, Micaela Belles and Liam Walsh-Mellett did with skill (all under the guidance of our carpenter guru Andrea). With that addition, we placed our first Tom Thumb’s Student Garden-created raised bed next to the three beds left over from the Ex-College class (for more about the creation of the garden, see About).

Liam sawing plywood for a raised bed (that's Holi rang on his face)

Over the next few weeks, two more raised beds created in the same fashion joined the little cluster behind Latin Way. All in all, I’d have to say that using the salvaged wood, while sometimes frustrating to tear apart, was very satisfying and successful. The wood was already painted on one side, which meant we saved money on not only wood, but also on water-proofing the wood. I’ll also say that it’s pretty neat to look at a theater set and find a raised bed somewhere in the mix.

But before we could do any of the building, the snow had to go. So during that long waiting period, we decided what we wanted, and Gracie bought an exciting collection of seeds.  We got together one chilly afternoon to reap the warmth of a greenhouse and plant an early mix of peppers, tomatoes, squash, and melons, and a wide variety of each kind. With tender loving care from Miss Madeleine Carey they quickly overtook their sunny corner and as soon as the weather warmed up, we took them outside to their new homes.

Nate working on the tool-box

We also began a tool box (out of salvaged wood as well) to hold tools until the shed it finished. Oh yeah, the shed. Two members of Engineers Without Borders, the lovely Mariana Liebman-Pelaez and the awesome aforementioned Nate Eckman, are testing their design for a water catchment system by building a shed and water-barrel deal for the garden. We get a shed and some water, and they get to prove their idea is awesome to other EWB with concrete evidence. It’s a good deal, and they’re excellent people.

We spent a final day installing a couple smaller beds and a larger bed gardener/bikesmith/carpenter Carolyn made in an urge to build.

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