Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sunday, 7:49 pm

As I write this, the church bells from the cathedral down the street are chiming. I can quite vividly imagine what the laundry lines look like strung between the 2 and 3 story houses of my neighborhood, and the deep blue of the sky behind the chromatic socks and undergarments. (I have a strong suspicion that the old Polish ladies of my neighborhood amuse themselves by hanging their laundry in a gradation of colors which, when assembled, become lovely works of art.) The fireflies will be out soon; I saw my first of the season on Friday night. The mosquitoes, unfortunately, precede them. Robb has just gone off to work. And in this nearly perfect summertime moment I am thinking to myself, damn, the last few days have been really really nice.

On Thursday night, I impulsively decided on the walk home that I must make Mario Batali's Pappardelle with Peas. This is a recipe that I first saw on Luisa's food blog, The Wednesday Chef, and have made a number of times since then. In fact, the recipe lives on our refrigerator door and is warped with water stains and full of scribbles, having occasionally been used as scrap paper for jotting down phone numbers. It is, in fact, the only recipe that has a permanent place on our refrigerator door, which says a lot. Fresh pappardelle makes the dish rich and satisfying, while the macerated peas sauteed with onions and honey (oh my God yum) make the overall effect light and summery. I forgot to buy mint but had some fresh arugula from the garden, so instead of going sweet and tangy I went fresh and spicy with the garnish. I also had some ricotta on hand and decided a nice little gloop would be a lovely twist on the original. Is there any occasion when a gloop of ricotta doesn't make something better?

On Friday night, I was honored to have the company of Miss Julie, who offered to help me finish the one task left over from wedding craft day last weekend. The streamers! Julie hadn't sewn a stitch since junior high school home ec and asked specifically for a refresher course. And what's a better project in which to learn than stitching together hundreds of triangular pieces of fabric to make a banner?

Julie took to the machine like a whirling dervish, stopping only when the bobbin was fussy or something got snagged (which would cause her to leap from the chair and declare "I broke it! I broke it!", much to my amusement.) While Julie sewed, I made sure that our wine glasses were full.

And she kept on stitching until her hot pink sandals and blue toenails were covered in little triangles of fabric.

And all the while I really had nothing to do. So I talked her ear off and looped the sewn streamers up around the room and took still life photos. I must say, I particularly like this one. It's a photo of my grandparents just after they were married, with the streamers from my own wedding hanging next to them. I really do love it when the past and the present intertwine.

In between sewing, Julie and I feasted on awesome food. We made a big salad using greens from the garden. (This here's a particularly robust head of romaine we ate.) And Julie taught me how to make a classic vinagarette. You see, I'd always understood the basic ingredients--olive oil, balsamic, garlic and dijon mustard--but I didn't understand the quantities. The trick, it seems, is to put in much more mustard than you would think, which gives it a deliciously sludge-like quality. And always use fresh garlic. I'm often hesitant to eat raw garlic, but somehow in a salad setting it comes across as spicy and zingy and not at all overpowering. So basically, on Friday night I totally scored--Julie came over and finished off my wedding crafting AND taught me how to make kick-ass salad dressing (which I went on to make again both Saturday and Sunday).

Today, Robb and I tackled the tomato plants. They are growing at an alarming rate and are on the verge of becoming out of control. Last year we really let things go to hell. You see, we didn't really make sure the tomatoes were thoroughly staked until they had fruit, and at that point, you can't prop up something so unweildy and heavy. Both Robb and I took turns "wrestling" last year's tomato plants. We'd go through an entire spool of twine, thinking we finally had them under control, only to watch all of the bushes collapse on top of each other in a big mangled mess. So this year, we've got the supports in place, the twine is already twined, the dowels are dug in deep, and we are ready for tomato season. (We think.)

Which, according to these flowers that appeared last week, is upon us.

Finally, I'd like to give this cucumber plant a special mention. At this point in a cucumber plant's life, it develops these shoots that are fuzzy and sticky and whose sole purpose is to latch onto a structure in order to hold up the plant. No joke, about 20 minutes after I put a cage around this plant today, a tendril had reached up and wrapped itself around one of the cage's bars. Personally, I think that's kind of spooky. I nominate cucumbers as the weirdest plants in the garden.

But really, I just wanted to include a photo of the gnome.

All in all, a stupendous few days. This is, in my opinion, the epitome of how summer should feel.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Official Wedding Craft Day

Since the day Robb and I got engaged, people have been asking us if there is anything that they can do to help. Loved ones, dear friends, drunk strangers in name it. People find out that you're getting married and something in them A) knows that you're probably in way over your head, and B) wants to pitch in and help. I don't know what this phenomenon is. Let's call it the "spirit of the barn-raising."

To tell you the truth, over the course of this year-and-a-half long engagement, I could rarely think of anything that I needed these good-hearted people to do. I'm a terrible delegator, and everything on my to-do list included things like pick out cake designs or collect 100 antique bottles. A few times I had to fight the urge to answer, "would you like to plan my entire wedding? Because that would be very helpful." It wasn't until it came time to make wedding crafts that it finally became clear how to put these lovely people to work. Which culminated in yesterday's official Wedding Craft Day Barbecue and World Cup Viewing.

Here's the deal: Robb and I decided that we wanted to make fabric napkins, fabric triangle streamers, and seed packets to give away as favors. (Mercifully, candle-making was dropped...what a pain in the arse that is.) We bought all the materials, picked our fabrics, assembled our tools and rolled up our sleeves...and then suddenly we felt very tired. And overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the whole thing. Making ten napkins is one thing. But making 115? That's quite another. And, well, that's when we decided to take up all those offers of help that we'd been showered with over the last year. We dialed up our kick-ass Brooklyn-based wedding party and bribed them with barbecue in exchange for them to come over and rescue us from the craft-a-lanche that we had brought onto ourselves.

What we did was break it down into stations. Julie arrived first and therefore claimed the position of "ironer," as she could set the ironing board real low, sit on the ground, and park it right in front of the US vs. England World Cup game. Kelly took on the job of "fabric marker," which is really a terrible job. It involves crawling around on your hands and knees with a steel T-bar ruler and a piece of chalk and marking out 100+ 14-inch squares. Morgan heroically took to the rotary cutter with its pinking sheer attachment, which started to go dull on us around the 19th yard. Kate became our official napkin ironer-and-folder and set up station next to Morgan on the floor. Here is a montage of Kate folding a napkin!

Meanwhile, Chris was busy sorting seeds. Since Robb and I love to garden, we decided to make little packets of seeds to give away as favors. We designed labels for them (which look oddly like Monopoly cards...oops) and cut them out. After some confusion about what the hell we were doing, Chris, Robb, Nick, and Julie stuffed 100-something glasine envelopes with tiny little tomato or pepper or sunflower seeds. Incidentally, due to aforementioned confusion, some gardeners may "think" they're planting a habanero pepper, but instead find that they are growing an heirloom tomato plant. We're calling it "Surprise Garden!"

Once the seeds were stuffed in their envelopes, Kelly took the helm at the sewing machine, stitching the envelopes to their cardstock backing.

I think Kelly REALLY liked this job. (Also, why do I keep the maracas behind the sewing machine? I've really got to find a better place for them.)

We chain pieced all of the seed packets, not cutting the strand between each packet until they were all sewn together. Which makes the whole thing go really fast, plus means that you get to hold up a cool strand of seed packets and wave it around in the air once you're done.

At some point we all started to lose our minds a little bit. Here is Morgan wrapped in the very last length of fabric. This was after about 5 straight hours of cutting.

And some of us (read: me) had the goddamnit in our eyes when the rotary cutter blade went dull and would no longer cleanly cut through a piece of fabric, no matter how hard you pressed down. This is me at 9pm, knowing that I should stop cutting, yet unable to stop. My mouth is smiling, but my eyes are not.

At the end of the day, what we wound up with was absolutley beautiful. And done in one day rather than in a series of weekends and weeknights where Robb and I would surely wind up cursing and throwing things at each other, wondering why-oh-why we took on this much work.

The napkins are made from the floral prints in the Denyse Schmidt Hope Valley fabric line. I thought it would be hard to pick out fabric for our napkins, but the moment I walked into Purl Soho, my eye went to this range of fabric. Nothing else could even come close. It had all the bright summer colors, the hint of country without being gaggy. It feels like classic Americana with a fresh, modern palette. Not to mention--and yes, this part is a little cheesy--I love that the name of the fabric has the word "hope" in it. For what is more hopeful than a wedding?

I loved this fabric so much, in fact, that we decided to scan the fabric and use it as a design element on the seed fancy old-timey Monopoly cards? Each card, it's important to note, comes with a little story on the backside about why we like this variety so much as well as growing instructions. We will leave no gardeners in the dark!

And you know what? I think that people had fun at craft day! And further to that, I almost suspect that people were glad to help. And that when they come to our wedding, they will see the napkins and they will see the seed cards and they'll see the streamers and think, right, I MADE that. In my opinion, days like this add another layer of enjoyment to it all--to my appreciation of these great friendships, to the loveliness of the finished products, and to the sensation that we all, as a community, made something together. And that is a pretty good feeling.