Monday, June 18, 2012

Welcome, Frida

Oh friends, my heart is full of joy today. You see, it's not every day that one of your best friends in the whole world gives birth to her daughter. It is a special day indeed. I knew it would be special, but I didn't think I would, say, burst into tears upon seeing her photo pop up on my phone. It's amazing what energy a little life brings into the world, no?

And so, you see, little Frida is the only thing I could possibly write about on my blog tonight. There is, in fact, a little ensemble that I made for her--a little bit sewn and a little bit knitted and just a wee bit crocheted--but I'm not sure yet if the package arrived, so until I know, I'll just give you a glimpse. Sort of like the tiny little photo that popped up on my phone's just a taste of what's to come.

Since I can't be in San Francisco to gaze upon her in wonder, I spent some time today on the subway, in a moment of fitful happiness, gazing upon her from afar. Oh, but I can't wait to meet her.

June 18, 2012
Welcome, Frida. The world is already better for your existence. Megan is better for your existence. And our lives will never be the same. Nor should they. With you, our homes feel different. Our future takes a turn towards a life filled with lawns, and twirling. We can all see it, this life. I hope that in the years to come, I will walk into your house without knocking and you will give me a casual hello while you color, that our lives are just that normal. And over dinner one night, you will proudly announce that you love artichokes, and I will say I do too, and we will plan on having an artichoke eating contest someday. I hope that we talk about your bullies and your boyfriends. That I teach you how to knit one summer on a day when it rains. That we give you stories to tell your friends later in life about your amazing mama and her kooky, drunk friends. And that you, someday, might have a gang of kooky friends of your own.

Thank you, Frida, for arriving.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Here's a New One: Garlic

So do you remember a few weeks ago when I wrote about my wimpy little apple tree, and how amazing it was that something so puny could actually be producing so many apples? Well, right after I wrote that post, Robb and I went on a five day road trip. When we returned, all of the apples had fallen off the tree. No joke! And to think I had thought it was safe to be optimistic. Dreaming of apple pies, even. Like a fool! A FOOL! What happened, you might wonder? Well, at first we thought we could blame it on a feral cat, or a squirrel. We needed there to be some sort of monster in the plot line to make sense of it all. But upon further investigation, I now suspect it was just a strong breeze. That tree, really is as weak as it looks. I honest to God think that those apples just couldn't hang on. They were like calcium-deficient apples, apples that always hated P.E. Maybe some day they'll develop some muscles and actually hang on, but for now, it's going to be another apple-less year I'm afraid.

But did you really think I would come all this way just to tell you some shitty bum-out news? No! That's not what this blog is about (for the most part). As the saying goes, when God closes a door, he opens a window*. Or in this case, when God kills your apples, he gives you garlic.
That's right! We have garlic! This is a thing we tried to grow last year, but I strongly suspect we planted them at the wrong time of year. And then forgot about them. It was silly. (Robb and I are very bad about understanding what time of year to plant things...I swear, all we have to do is a simple Google search, or just check the gardening book that is literally right next to our bed. But no, we prefer to stay ignorant on most issues pertaining to timing.) This year, however, my very smart friend Morgan gave me heads up that it was time to plant the garlic. In case you're wondering, the time of year to do this (at least on the East Coast) is in the fall. Like, if you're planting bulbs for the spring, just plant some garlic, too. It'll be neat.

Neatest of all is how you actually grow garlic. Have you ever kept garlic around your house so long that nice green shoots start growing out of the cloves? Well, that's your garlic trying to make more garlic. And when you plant cloves of garlic in soil, that shoot comes out of the ground and grows nice and tall, and each one of those underground cloves eventually develops into an entire head of garlic. Amazing! So to plant your own garlic, all you have to do is buy some strong, healthy, yummy looking heads of garlic at your farmers market or grocery store, pull apart the cloves, and then stick each clove in the ground about six inches apart from each other in rows.

We started to notice how happy our garlic was when winter ended--there they were, these enormous green stalks all grouped together in a thicket. About a month ago, Morgan informed me that the skinny, curly green tubes growing out of my plants were the garlic scapes (which are yummy to chop up and eat in salads or with eggs). Soon after that, the plants started to die back, so it seemed to finally be time to dig them up.
One by one, we started pulling them out of the ground, large and small, cute as can be.
And then suddenly we had way more garlic than any humans really need. (Insert vampire joke here?)
And then I said, "Hey Robb, pick up all that garlic at the same time! I want to take a picture!" And then he did the same to me, but his photo turned out A LOT cuter than mine, so that's all you get here, folks.

Now that they're out of the ground, the garlic bulbs are currently making a huge mess on our dining room table whilst they "cure." I don't really know what this means, but it's basically letting the garlic dry out so you can store it. After a few weeks of curing, I can braid the stalks and make a cool looking thing to hang on the wall and be like, "Anyone want some home grown garlic?" and then just casually reach over and yank off a clove. (All my life, I thought those garlic braids were just for decoration...who knew they were edible?)

But tonight, we couldn't resist trying out our crop, and we chopped up a whole head to go in a homemade marinara sauce. And yes, I'm still enjoying the afterglow of that good, garlicky taste, and yes, you're probably glad I'm not meeting you for drinks right now, because then you would also be enjoying the garlicky afterglow.

Hey by the way! If you want to grow your own garlic, but you want more information than I included in this lousy post, check out this lovely tutorial at Fine Gardening. They are far more helpful than I am! (It's their jobs.)

*All of the wisdom I have learned in my life came from The Sound of Music.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Best Damn Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Ever

Right before I wrote this post, I actually stood at the kitchen counter, picking up the last of the crumbs with the back of a fork, scraping it along the bottom in hopes of picking of residual yumminess from the jammy filling. That's how good this effing pie is. Oh, and I baked it yesterday. And it's gone. And I miss it already. Seriously, you have to make this pie.

As I have said numerous times on this blog, I am not a great pie maker. The problems usually begin with the crust and then spiral out of control when I introduce the filling. It is for that reason that I did not hold high hopes for this particular pie. (Hence, no "process" photos, not even a photo of a the whole finished pie.) We were simply hosting a small barbecue, there was rhubarb at the farmer's market, and I thought, oh, why not...I'll make a pie. It was not until I scooped out a few slices with my friend Jess and we each took a bite that I thought, oh my God, and ran inside to get the camera. "I must blog about this!" the neighbors heard me yell from my backyard.

And so, this blog post is a pretty simple one: I want you to make this pie. Here's how it works.

The pie is a riff off of the Rustic Rhubarb Tarts from the EXCELLENT book Canning for a New Generation by Liana Krissoff. The book is not just an excellent resource for all sorts of great canning ideas, it also includes some off-the-charts recipes. (Plus the author has a pretty cool name.) And now that I have made her pie dough, I am officially a believer.

I grew up eating my Grandma Gerry's pie dough recipe, which is essentially Crisco and flour, so I have a soft spot for salty crusts made with vegetable shortening, but this one also uses a bunch of butter. So yes, you CAN have it both ways. To make the crust, you put 3 cups of flour, a 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt, 1 cup of shortening, and a 1/2 stick of butter in a large bowl. Use a pastry cutter (or two butter knives if you want) to hack the fat into little tiny bits. When they're small enough, make a well in the center and add an egg, a tablespoon of vinegar, and a few drops of ice water. Start stirring it in with a fork. (I eventually ditched the fork and just mixed it all together with my hands.) But don't mix too much! Stop mixing the moment you don't see any more dry flour. It's going to be a bit wetter than you might feel okay about. That's alright. Just pull the extra dough off your hands and fingers, form a sort of ball with the dough, and then wrap it up tight in plastic wrap. Let it sit in the fridge for about half an hour.

Once it hardened up a bit, I took it out of the fridge and decided to roll it out between two pieces of plastic. To do this, you just unwrap the ball (keep the plastic, though!). Lay a second piece of plastic wrap on your counter, drop the dough ball on it, and then lay your other piece of plastic wrap on top. Smooth the dough down into a nice, flat, round disc, and then use a rolling pin to roll it out till it's the right size for your pie pan. Then peel the plastic off of one side, and use the other sheet of plastic to help you do a flip-and-plop into the pie pan. I love this method because you don't have to keep adding more flour to prevent the dough from sticking to the counter or your rolling pin, so all you get is that pure buttery/Crisco-y flakey goodness. If you want a top crust, double these quantities, ok?

Now on to the filling! I used two pounds of fruit (one pound of strawberries, one pound of rhubarb, all cut about 1/2" thick). If you like your pie with a lot of fruit, I think you could cram in another pound. Put the cut up fruit in a bowl with a cup of sugar and mix it all up. Let it sit in the fridge for 4 hours (or overnight). You will be amazed by how much water comes out of the fruit after it macerates. You do NOT want all that water to go in your pie! (There is a special place in hell for soggy crusts.) Instead, put a colander on top of a pot and dump your fruit into the colander, letting all of that juice drain into the pot. When it's all drained out, put the fruit back in the bowl and add a little vanilla, 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, juice of half a lemon, and 3 tablespoons flour. Mix it all together then drop the fruit into your pie crust, dotting the top with a few nubs of butter. Then bake it for about 40 or 50 minutes at 400 degrees.

While it's baking, put that pot with the fruit juice on the stove, and cook it on high heat till it's reduced by half. (If you go too far and it gets really thick, just add some water.) When the pie comes out of the oven, drizzle the reduced syrup over the top of the pie. Magic, people. I'm telling you. Get thee to your farmer's market for some rhubarb and strawberries and MAKE THIS PIE!