Thursday, May 27, 2010

Garden Time!

So where the heck have I been? It's been nearly two weeks since the county fair! Well, truth be told, I have been so busy knitting myself pretty that I haven't had time to post about it. And to be more accurate, I've been crafting my impending wedding pretty. MANY many blog posts to come on that topic in the near future. In the meantime, I offer you this photo which I think is a metaphor for my recent state of mind: wedding planning book (a moleskine notebook with fabric sewn across the front) and chips and salsa (stress eating!).

But I've ALSO been busy gardening myself pretty. Folks, it is officially that time of year. And I am happy to report that our plants are safely in the ground. Heck yeah! In honor of the amazingly lovely plants we dropped in the yard weekend before last, I thought I'd show you a photo montage, walking you through the life of a plant from seed to ground.

The life of every plant begins with me stabbing the bottom of a plastic dollar-store cup with a steak knife. The cup needs drain holes, and in my opinion (or rather, kitchen) there is no better plastic-stabbing tool than a steak knife. If you use the really really cheap and flimsy plastic cups, a steak knife can stab through three at a time!

Next you make a mess in your living room. You can see how carefully I filled the cups with soil. Also, a quick note about soil: many gardening enthusiasts believe that you need to start your seeds in "seed starting formula," or in some fancy peat moss sponge like thing. While I'm sure that these things are really great, Robb and I are sort of believers in just filling cups with dirt and putting seeds in them. They seem to grow, so, um, that's what we do. We are simple people! But if you have had a different experience, won't you share it in the comments section?

Then you realize you ruined your nails.

I planted all of the onions this year while watching the closing ceremonies of the Olympics on February 28. It was awesome! I love it when TV is on that you feel like you should be watching, but you don't really have to watch that closely, so it's just on in the background and you do other stuff.

And then I put the onions in the windowsill of our bedroom. There's probably some wiccan lore that says it's bad juju to grow onions right next to your bed, but so far we haven't felt the negative effects. Fingers crossed! By the way, I love the contrast here of future spring veggies and snowy curbs.

A few days later, the seeds did this! Do you see the little sprouts shooting up? There is nothing more beautiful than the miracle of life bursting from a dollar-store cup.

And a few weeks later they had done this! (Note that the snow had melted. Seasons are-a-changing right before your eyes...)

And about two and a half months later, we were ready to put our plants in the ground. Did I mention that we'd planted just a few more in the meantime? Ahem: 4 kinds of lettuce and arugula, 16 various tomato plants (I went overboard), carrots, broccoli, approximately one million hot and sweet peppers (Robb's absolute favorite), about a dozen kinds of flowers, peas, corn, cucumber, watermelon, sage, spearmint, basil, thyme, dill. Am I forgetting anything? I don't know! Probably.

The little popsicle sticks in each container helped us figure out what the heck was what.

Robb's peppers were very excited to go in the ground on this sunny day. (In this photo, I feel like they each have a very distinct individual personality. I sort of want to put googly eyes on them and do a stop-animation movie.)

This delicate little hollyhock was also excited to be planted. Nervous, but excited.

(Okay, okay...I'm done giving personality attributes to the plants now.)

We drew out a very professional-looking map of where everything would go.

Robb cut some stuff with scary power tool saws. (I held down the lattice and tried to cover my face from flying bits. I am not really a power tool kind of girl. Too much shrapnel! Who wants face splinters!?!?)

And then we started to put the little plant-a-roonies in the ground. This basil plant came out of its container particularly nicely. (Sidenote: the next day it got half dug up by squirrels! It was a near-death situation. A close call, but the basil plant is now recovering nicely.)

And finally, Robb was kind enough to document me planting the first tomato of the season. Here I am, stoically posing with my trowel and cup.

Digging the hole.


Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Day at the Fair

There are two things that I really love: 1) county fairs, and 2) wearing something that I made and not even really thinking twice about it. Yesterday, I got to do both of those things.

I woke up with the sense of promise and hope that can only come from knowing that you're on your way to a fair. I pulled on my hand-knit Karma camisole from Custom Knits and I headed out the door. Want to know the best part? Not a single person asked me the entire day if I had made the top. Which is really the ultimate proof that it doesn't look like some ragged homemade thing! (Because believe me, I've got some ragged homemade things, and when I wear them people always ask "oh, did you make that?")

On to the fair...

You see, a rather large group of people I know also seem to like carnivals. And not only that, but we all like them enough to spend two and a half hours on public transportation in order to get there, including three different subway lines and a city bus. This location, in fact, was so remote that you have to TELL your bus driver where you're going so he can make a special stop. What I am talking about, of course, if the Kings County Fair in Brooklyn at Floyd Bennet Field--which is a defunct air field in the far reaches of south Brooklyn. Never heard of it? Well we hadn't either until Julie saw a sign for it on the subway one day and we all decided that we simply had to go.

Upon arrival at the fair, I insisted that we go on the swings first. You see, the swings are my favorite ride and I sometimes like to think of them as "the fountain of youth." Except you don't drink it or swim in it or whatever. You just ride it and are suddenly transported back to some perfect day in some long lost teenage summer, and I find that while on this ride I can't stop grinning to save my life. (As evidenced by this photo.)

You might note that we are particularly high up in the air on these swings. That's because they are the "grown up" swings, meant to be even more thrilling due to their extreme height. They were pretty awesome, but I still prefer the old-fashioned single-swings (located in the kiddo land!!), which sort of undulate up and down as they fly around and around. And that Dave Matthew's Band album cover be damned, I still think the old-fashioned swings make a mighty perty photo, particularly at twilight. And with a slightly heavyset carnie silhoutted against it. A word about this particular carnie: as he was ensuring that we were belted in correctly, he said "you know the last person to fly away from here never came back." I of course looked at him inquisitively, to which he replied "Amelia Earhart...this is where she took off from on her famous last flight." Huh...who knew? It added a nice melancholy tone to my ride, for sure.

After the adult swings, we went on about 37 more rides that go in circles very VERY quickly. And sometimes upside down. But mostly in some form of a circle. Nicole and Robb tied for strongest stomach as they scarcely seemed to need a break between rides. I required a few breathers now and then so that I could sip a beer (which is known to settle "carnival tummy.") Most notably, we went on the Gravitron, which they called something like "Starship." Which is a little scary, because it makes you wonder if this is some sort of second-rate Gravitron knock-off. Doubts aside, it certainly seemed to work, as evidenced by the fantastic gravity defying moves of Julie, Nicole, and Tara here.

When not spinning wildly in circles, we did other things, like eat fried food and look at the "exotic" petting zoo. Actually, I think the goats were the only things you were supposed to pet. I'm almost certain you weren't supposed to pet the baby alligator that is being shown here by a surprisingly friendly "zoo" employee. (The photo doesn't really do a lot to show her sweet side.)

We all ended the day on the ferris wheel. The sun was setting, it had just cooled down a smidge, our equilibrium was questionable, and we were ready to relax before getting on the bus, then the train, then the other train to get home.

Oh, and did you say that you wanted to know a little bit more about the tank I was wearing? Well, as I said, this is Karma from Custom Knits. I made mine with one extra repeat in the stitch pattern since I like my tanks long. I also intended for this tank to be nice and roomy, but I wound up weaving some thin elastic into the backside of the garter strips at the top and bottom of the bust--a little elasticized definition here and there helps give the garment some shape, and sometimes a girl can use a little help. You know? As for the yarn, I made mine in Frog Tree Picoboo, a lovely silky shiney drapey blend of pima cotton and bamboo that shows off the stitch details in the pattern miraculously and is breathable enough to wear to a day at the fair when the weather peaks out at 78 degrees.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Charmed, I'm Sure

Sometimes you go shopping for one thing and you find something else. That was exactly what happened when I found this little tiny frame filled with some of the most charming charms I've ever seen in my life. I was looking for antique glass bottles when I saw it hanging on the wall of a backwoods Connecticut antique shop. I snatched it off the wall and had bought it before I even realized I was standing at the register. My justification was that it would be a gift for someone else. (Who that person is doesn't matter....Mom...umm...happy Mother's Day! Hope you like the other gift I got for you!) By the time I got home, I had fallen in love and finally admitted that this was a gift for ME. And for Robb, too, of course! The charms are simply a perfect collection of the DIY tools we love and absolutely represent who we are.

Not to mention, who doesn't love miniatures of things that, by nature, are not necessarily "cute"? The wrench! The pliers! The screwdriver! The hammer! The pocket knife! Garden shears AND scissors! Every time I look at it I want to squeal. And so I thought I'd share this with you, too.

What I love best about this collection is that the charms aren't featured on a necklace or a bracelet. I love that these charms spoke to somebody as a collection, and that they opted to display them in a frame. (I strongly suspect that they weren't originally sold in this arrangement.) And that the person chose this lovely shade of green for the background. And that it's so adorably tiny. I've hung the charms in the kitchen, right in the middle of a string of pinecones that my mother sent to me last summer. The pinecones, incidentally, were thrown into a box of plums that she had picked from her yard and mailed to me. The combination of pinecones and plums transported me back to the summers of my youth. (Incidentally, the banner at the top of this blog is a photo taken from that very yard where I grew up. Fun fact!) Not knowing exactly what to do with a box full of pinecones, I decided to wrap yarn around each one and hang them like a banner. All that was missing was a centerpiece to fit in the arc. And now I've found it.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Eat Yourself Pretty

Last Friday night Robb and I had sort of the perfect Friday night. I love it when that happens. I swear, a perfect Friday is not something that you can plan. It has to sort of evolve from a nap and end with a spontaneous bottle of champagne, which is exactly what happened.

After my early-evening nap, Robb asked what I wanted to do with my night. It was coming up on 8, we were both a little hungry, neither of us felt like going out. And then we remembered the pasta maker! About a month ago, we had gone to Bed, Bath, and Beyond to get ideas for our wedding registry, and when I saw the pasta maker I was ready to put it on our list. But Robb said, "no way! It's only thirty-five dollars...let's just get it now!" I believe I mumbled something about "but this is why you put things on the someone else can buy it for you." But it was too late. We were already at the register.

So fast forward to last Friday night, staying in with limitless time to experiment with a new culinary toy and 101.1 FM (the oldies/yacht rock station) playing all of our favorites. I rolled up my sleeves, took off my engagement ring, and tied on an apron, all set to make the dough. Robb pulled out the Cuisinart mini-prep and started into his pepper-pesto that is our new favorite thing (red peppers, hot peppers, garlic, onion, and lots of fresh basil and oregano, ground up in the Cuisinart and then fried in olive oil as the sauce base. Add kalamata olives and tomatoes once the puree is cooked through. We, I am proud to say, used tomatoes that we canned from our garden last year. [Insert smug self-congratulatory expression here.]).

The dough is pretty darn easy to make. It's literally just bread flour and egg yolks, with a couple of whole eggs thrown in for good measure. And you mix it and bash it up with your fingers and palms until it's formed a nice, elasticy ball, then cover it in saran wrap and plop it in the fridge until you're ready to roll it out. I let Robb have a go with the dough at this point as there is a certain magical play-dough-fun-factory feeling to all of it. I had made fresh pasta years ago in some failed experiments as a teenager, so I enjoyed seeing him at the wheel more than I would have enjoyed cranking it out myself. And good thing I did, because he totally ruled at it. In the photo above, Robb is rolling out one quarter of the original dough ball. You run it through on the "thickest" setting and then click down to thinner settings until you have a sheet of pasta approximately 1 or 2 millimeters thick. Crazy, right? Then we hung the pasta sheets on a damp towel on the back of a chair until we were ready to make ze pasta!

And really, making ze pasta is ze best part of it all. (OK, ok, I'm done with the "ze's." I hated it too.) Here is a little montage of the pasta sheets being rolled through the "linguine" setting.

And pretty quickly, a tiny little pasta ball turns into quite a lot of noodles!

Around this point in time we recalled a bottle of champagne that we had in the fridge. Red wine may have been preferable given the richness of the sauce, but we weren't going to complain.

It was probably around 10:30 when the noodles finally came out of their hot water bath, which we tossed directly into the simmering sauce. We then mixed a blend of ricotta and fresh basil into the noodles, which tempers the heat of the peppers, and loosened up the sauce with a little more pasta water. Here is the unattractive photo of the finished result...if only a photo could capture the texture of a homemade noodle. YUM. Oh, and did I mention that making fresh pasta is messy? Because wow, is it ever messy. Oh, and did I mention that we broke the pasta maker by the time it was all done? (Some gears on the "thick" setting are making some awfully ugly noises.) But oh my God, did it taste good.