27 May 2011
26 May 2011
I don't know about you, but sometimes I want to run away to a farm. There's a romance about digging in the dirt, growing acres of vegetables, feeding slops to the pig, and spinning wool from the ewes that also give you milk and lambs. I'm unlikely to actually give up my suburban lifestyle and urban paycheck, but that doesn't mean I can't grow some herbs, blueberries, rhubarb and the occasional tomato. Much as I'd like chickens, I can't have 'em because my town requires 10 acres for a chicken (yesterday's chickens were NOT at my house), but I could have bees if I were really possessed. Anyway, kittens are on the agenda before any other livestock.
Needless to say, I find a certain fascination in reading books by people who have actually found a way to live off the land. Joan Dye Gussow's This Organic Life is a how-to book, a polemic, a primer on sustainable agriculture on a very small scale; she lives in a NYC suburb up on the Hudson. Living The Good Life by Helen & Scott Nearing is a little more hardcore. They ran off to a farm near the coast of Maine, and found ways to live there simply and self-reliantly. Despite the forbidding climate, they gardened nearly year-round, relying on cold frames and greenhouses.
In the past couple of months, I've read two newer personal narratives, both by NYC women off to seek another life in farming.
Angela Miller, a literary agent turned cheese maker, doesn't actually give up her life in NYC - she becomes a weekend farmer - but she does seem to get her hands dirty and to know what she's talking about. Unfortunately, while I learned a bunch about cheese making and goat husbandry in her book Hay Fever, Miller came across as distinctly unlikeable and totally full of herself. I've no desire to knock on her Vermont door, even though her Consider Bardwell cheese is pretty good. (Then again, she has a hired cheesemaker making it...)
The Dirty Life, on the other hand, is by a charming woman named Kristin Kimball, who does move part and parcel - falling hard for a Swarthmore-educated farmer and finally marrying him. They create a "full diet" farm in the Adirondacks, with the idea that it sustain many families on a CSA model, but including grain, meat, and honey in addition to fruits and vegetables. Her book is delightfully written, and despite coloring farm life as palpably dirty and enervatingly tiring, she manages to make it sound thoroughly agreeable. And if I ever happen to be driving by Essex Farm, I'll probably hang my head over a fence and hope to be invited in.
If I vanish, look for me in a field, cultivating behind a pair of horses.
24 May 2011
The first sweater I ever made was a disaster. I followed a pattern that I'd found in Elle Magazine (a hundred years ago; do they even still do knitting patterns?), and I followed it precisely and accurately. It was kind of a modern fisherman's sweater - knit in a lanolin rich unbleached white wool, but without cables and pompons. Instead it was mostly seed stitch, in a big V, with plain knit below, and rolled edges at the neck and hem.
The problem was the seed stitch - it had way too much give in it. The give, coupled with the weight of the wool, meant that the sweater looked like an enormous potato sack on, and so I never actually wore it. I thought about it a lot; after all, I'd put a lot of time into it, not to mention yarn. I thought about intentionally shrinking it, I thought about reinforcing the shoulder seams with twill tape to combat the sag.
Eventually, the sweater ended up at my mother's house - where everything in need of alteration would go. Every once in a while, I idly wondered to myself about its whereabouts - thinking perhaps I'd rip it out and make something else - and then I'd promptly forgot about it again.
On Saturday, I found the sweater.
I have never been so horrified in my life. Dirty stinking rotten moths.
I've seen moth damage before, but usually a pin hole here or a nibble there. These moths ate great swaths of knitting - holes from the front ALL THE WAY THROUGH to the back.
This, people, is not the kind of decay that is inadvertently lovely or whimsically elegiac. This makes me heartsick.
23 May 2011
Somewhere in the recesses of my brain, I seem to remember my mother ripping out an article from somewhere or another, a listing of various supermarket products that were unimpeachable and better than homemade. I want to say it was by Craig Claiborne and from the Times, but a diligent perusal of the Google has been fruitless. In any case, I think it included Thomas’ English muffins, and Campbell’s black bean soup – two kitchen staples of my childhood, the black bean soup always served with a paper thin slice of lemon floating atop. Lists like that are perennials; food editors must (read more)
20 May 2011
Did you see the article in yesterday's Times about people knitting sweaters for statues and lampposts? Yarn graffiti, if you will. Or yarn bombing. There's even a whole book out: Yarn Bombing: The Art of Crochet and Knit Graffiti.
Like this little sweater, made by Jessie Hemmons for the Rocky statue in Philadelphia. He's gotta be cold, standing out there all the time. He totally needed a pink sweater that says "Go See The Art". Right?
So I got to thinking. There's a new statue near my office, a shiny silver statue of Andy Warhol, polaroid camera slung round his neck, Bloomingdale's bag in his right hand. Public art. Not far from where The Factory was. What he's missing is, oh, maybe a wig. I mean, he always wore a wig.
So what I'm thinking is, someone needs to knit a nice wig for the Andy in Union Square. If I were a better knitter, I'd do it.
19 May 2011
I am conflicted. She’s old enough to be doing chores, but we’re too disorganized to organize the chores. I nag clean up your room when I can’t walk in there anymore. We say do your homework every night before dinner. Brush your teeth seems to be a chore; shouldn’t it be ingrained by now? (read more...)
18 May 2011
More crack plants. The white forget-me-nots will not be forgotten, because they have self-sown everywhere. And once upon a time, I planted Heavenly Blue morning glories - they will be glorious again, but no longer heavenly blue. Every year, they come back smaller and more purple, some hybridization genetics thing at work.
Labels: Wordless Wednesday
16 May 2011
Finally, we've started cleaning out my mother's house and making it ready for sale. I spent 24 hours there over the weekend, and came back with a carload of oddments and nostalgia, including (but by no means limited to):
- A shilling.
- The blue chenille bathrobe I took to college with me.
- My junior high school, high school and college yearbooks.
- A green glass vase, 5' tall.
- The Mar 3, 1980 cover of the New Yorker, framed, because my mother (rightly) thought it looked just like my college dorm common room.
- A cashmere hat, pale blue, that my mother bought new at a thrift shop.
- A koa wood box that I gave my mother for Christmas once, bought in the town I went to college in (I know this because the tag was in the box).
- An unopened package of 50 envelopes.
- The ticket stub from an inadvertently hysterical concert we attended in 1991, where the audience was instructed to "make the noise you need to make" to "raise the cone of power".
- Three flower arranging devices.
- An army green can of saddle soap, from when my father was in the Marine Corps, labeled
- My Stieff teddy bear, all four paws patched with new felt because the moths had once gotten to him and exposed his excelsior stuffing.
- The birthday cake plate of my youth, flat, Italian.
- A salad spinner, the twin of the one we already have, but not cracked.
- The Karinska book I once gave my mother.
- The gaudy yellow, red, blue and kelly green quilt that my mother and I made in 1975. It lived on my bed in my kelly green room, until my mother redecorated that room in more soothing shades of blue.
- My paternal uncle's French "verb wheel", from prep school?
- A small rake.
- An ancient green glass jar of fuller's earth dusting powder.
- A baseball cap from a Harvard-Yale game, emblazoned "Impale Yale". I've boxed it up to send it to my college boyfriend, who went to Harvard, and whose son now goes to Yale.
- The brass key fob from room 28 of the Hotel d'Albe in Fountainebleau.
- One of THE two copies of Fantastic Mr. Fox - which leads me to wonder, if there were two copies, why have I never read it?
- An autograph book, with signatures dated between 1899 and 1905. I've no idea whose it was. My great-grandmother, perhaps. Maybe I'll send it to the historical society in Athens.
- More index cards.
- Some sedum to tuck into my stone wall, and some bamboo to plant down at the way bottom of my garden (where it can ramble without prejudice). [Digging things out of the garden was not strictly necessary.]
- A jump rope.
- The tassel from my mortarboard.
- A baton (for conducting, not for baton twirling).
- A tidily folded bit of tissue paper, marked "my tooth is in here".
Do not use as food container
15 May 2011
Marrow on toast?
Marrow on toast with crumbs of grey salt?
Marrow on toast with salt and a dressed sprig of parsley and a caper and a slice of a cornichon?
Oh yes. Yes. Perfect explosion of crunch and unctuous and salt and brightness.
I had dinner at Prune, dinner on the heels of reading Gabrielle Hamilton’s "Blood, Bones & Butter". And the marrow bones are threaded throughout the book, so of course we had to have them.
Hamilton’s passion for simple food, expertly prepared from well-sourced ingredients leaps out of the book – I want to taste that, and make orecchiette with my Italian mother-in-law, drink a cocktail on the terrace in the south of Italy. So eating in her (little) restaurant, though she wasn’t in the (tiny) kitchen, felt perfectly familiar without my having ever been there before.
And oddly enough, the little restaurant was precisely the kind of place my mother would have liked, what with the funky mirror over the bar, and the mismatched steak knives, and the small galvanized metal tubs, and the brown paper “tablecloths”. I say oddly because one of the sections of the book that resonated strongly for me was the part about Hamilton’s mother - her frugal, stylish, divorced mother, about whom she says:
My most relieving, comforting experiences surrounding my mother are when strangers meet her and later say to me, “Wow. She is one piece of work.”
Because my frugal, divorced mother had an unerring sense of home décor, and too was a piece of work.
I ordered the lamb chop, a blade chop, the kind of chop even my mother wouldn’t buy. Too cheap, too déclassé. Actually, my mother never bought lamb chops: the good rib chops were too dear, the affordable blade chops weren’t worth eating. But Prune’s thick, rare, toothy blade chop, with skordalia and dandelion greens alongside – my mother would have loved it. And she’d have loved the fat grilled asparagus, thicker than my thumb, dressed with a haunting parsley béarnaise, a sauce I ran my index finger through again and again it was that haunting and delicious.
We skipped dessert; it seemed unnecessary, and proved so when the check came with a chunk of good dark chocolate for each of us – just enough.
And then I went home, back to my life. A book can be transporting; a meal can be too. I highly recommend both.
11 May 2011
10 May 2011
Morning on the train platform.
The glint, thwack of a Zippo lighter.
Then, the pungent anachronistic scent of lighter fluid wafts along the platform, followed by the sharp sweet smell of clove.
Ah youth. You, conjuring a time past, long before your birth. Don't you know, no one smokes anymore? Yet, you perfume it with a romance. Beware, time future will be less beautiful in the aftermath of this present.
06 May 2011
I made a glorious grapefruit/meyer lemon marmalade a couple of months ago - out of free fruit. The grapefruit had been a Christmas gift to my father, and I picked the lemons in a friend's backyard in California. I love marmalade. It suits my ornery self.
The basic technique (and canning instructions) came from the Times, which had adapted the recipe from June Taylor. Head over to the Times site to read up on the technique in comprehensive detail. But basically, you want to separate the fruit into three parts: flesh & juice, outer rind (peel), white pith & membranes. You remove the peel with a vegetable peeler and sliver it. You filet out the flesh, working over a bowl so you capture the juice. And then you tie the pith and membranes up in cheesecloth so that you can boil and remove them - they release pectin, which you want for thickening.
Instead of weighing the fruit, I eyeballed it before I started cutting it up. Two grapefruit and five small Meyer lemons got me 3 cups of peel/flesh/juice. 3 cups of fruit then needs 3 cups of water and 3 cups of sugar. (Easy ratio, huh? Adjust quantities as necessary.) You boil the fruit and water until the the peel is tender, then add the sugar and boil until it's done. I ended up with three (sealed) pints and a half a cup left over.
And it's going to be gone way too soon the way I'm slathering it on my toast every morning.
05 May 2011
Subway dudes playing Bob Marley's "Don't worry, 'bout a thing" and handing out shakers to the captive audience. What's not to like?
Lots apparently. After they were done charming 89% of the folks in the car, they went 'round with a hat, trying for a grin or a quarter, or both. I gave them both; I'm a sucker for buskers. They got to the guy in the corner across from me and said "yo, didja like the music?" He looked up dispassionately and didn't answer. They asked again. He said "I'm reading", and went back to his smartphone. Head dude says "so, you're literate, didja like the music?" Corner guy repeats "I just want to read". Finally, they moved off.
Honestly, would it have been so so hard to smile and say yes?
(Actually, the name of the song is "Three Little Birds", which I learned on Facebook one day, from Devra. I'd always assumed that it was just called "don't worry, 'bout a thing". Learn something every day, right?)
04 May 2011
One of my mother's go to vegetable side dishes was spinach with onions and sour cream. It wasn't a fancy dish, but rather something that could go alongside a meatloaf or a pork chop on a weeknight. She'd take a block of frozen chopped spinach, out of one of those waxed paper boxes, sprinkle it with dehydrated minced onions and steam it in one of the Revere Ware skillets she'd gotten as a wedding present. Just before serving, she'd stir in a big blob of sour cream. It was delicious - sort of like a tangy creamed spinach.
The other night, I was rooting around in the freezer looking for something green to go with a pork chop - it being that time of year when fresh greens are an occasional proposition - though the greenmarkets are starting to burst. Happily, I found a package of blanched spinach, from the CSA greens glut last fall. We had onions, we had the tail end of a container of sour cream, and I decided to reinvent my mother's old standby.
Spinach and Onions with Sour Cream
2 T. butter
a pinch of cayenne
1/2 t. salt
1 package of spinach (fresh or frozen)
1/3 cup sour cream
Peel and trim the onion. Cut in half, vertically. Cut sides down, slice into little half moons about 1/8" thick. Melt the butter in a pan with a lid. Add the onions and a tablespoon or two of water. Cover and cook slowly, until the onions are tender, melted, not brown. Add spinach, cayenne and salt. Cover the pot and cook until heated through. Take off the lid - if there seems to be too much liquid, turn up the heat and boil some of it off. Off heat, stir in the sour cream. It's not beautiful, but it's awfully tasty.
03 May 2011
Is it Teacher Appreciation Day in your neck of the woods? It is here, and once again, the PTA at my child's school held a lunch to, you know, appreciate the teachers. A few weeks ago, they sent out an email soliciting parents to cook - but as before, this was no ordinary pot luck, oh no, you had to cook exactly what you were assigned to cook.
I had a choice of chicken or cookies; I picked cookies not realizing that the recipe was going to require 8 ounces of bittersweet chocolate and that they'd have to be rolled into sticky, oily black balls, then dipped in granulated sugar and then dipped in powdered sugar. The chicken would have been easier.
When the recipe arrived by email, it was accompanied by a thoroughly compulsive set of instructions, including the following:
Attached is the recipe. Please follow it EXACTLY as it is written. All of the cookies will be combined so they must taste the same.
I would like to confess to you, dear readers, that I substituted dark brown sugar for the light brown that was in the recipe, I used 2% milk instead of whole, and I melted the chocolate in the microwave instead of over a pan of boiling water. But I was happiest about using coarse salt in place of the course salt that was called for. Because I'm evil that way.
02 May 2011
It's Goon Squad Sarah's fault that I'm telling you this and it's probably in the category of "no one cares what you had for lunch", but I don't make my bed.
Really. It's just going to get messed up again, day in and day out. We long ago gave up on blankets and top sheets and bedspreads; we just use a down comforter and a fitted bottom sheet. And lots of pillows, most for me. You could argue that there's not much to do to shake out the duvet, but I just can't be bothered.
But I hear my mother's voice in the back of my head - did you make your bed? She always made her bed, she always nagged us children to do so, and I wonder - should I be teaching my child to make her bed? Encouraging her? Nagging her?
It's the tiniest of dilemmas.