Thursday, September 30, 2010

That time of year again: planting hope and flowers

Daffodil


Around here winter can last for an eternity, or so it seems. When the first buds of spring make their long journey from fall-planted bulb, to green stem, to full-fledged flower it can only be described as glorious.


Tulip Bulbs


Which means it's time to plant some bulbs. Again.


Tulips


Again because those rascally, yet cute (darn them), chipmunks ate all my crocus bulbs last year. More tulips it is.

Piling all those hundreds of bulbs to be planted into a basket reminded me of the last place I saw piles upon piles of bulbs, waiting to be plucked and planted into gardens all over, Terrain.


Flower Bulbs


Terrain is the garden/landscaping/floral outlet of the business geniuses behind Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters. Which means, of course, it is impeccably styled and visually decadent.


Twine 2


One space might be just piles upon piles of beautiful twine, another neat rows of oil cans, another an antique armoire filled with flowers.

So while I ruminate on just where to plant all those bulbs I'll leave you with a little more Terrain eye candy.  Happy almost Friday!

Any fun weekend plans already in the works? Perhaps planting some flowers and hope for the promise of next year's spring?


Terrain oil Cans




Peonys Vase




Twine



Note: While it would be nice to have padding in the pocket and Terrain loveliness all over my house they had nothing to do with this post, especially not monetarily. Ok, they did give some styling help, I suppose, by existing and letting me in the doors with a camera...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wait a minute, Mr. Postman!

Well, seeing as we have an abundance of apples I was going to write about them today, but, I had a moment of divine inspiration and it will have to wait. Ok, ok, it just sounds divine to me. So far. I haven't developed the recipe(s) yet. We'll have to see.

The glut of blog content gave me a moment of panic so I went to check the mail. Nothing. Our mail has been pretty lousy lately anyway so nothing is better than trash, I suppose.


MailboxOld


 Problem is, I love mail. Love it. Love paper, love stationery, love pretty penmanship and artistically made cards. Admittedly, I need to send more mail - a lot more in fact.  I have a list of thank you notes and letters to be written, but, (looking to my left) all of my beautiful stationery is currently living in a pile awaiting a new desk and office. I feel rather sad for it there - a pile of checks, cords, a few papers to be filed, tape, etc on top of it all.


Mailbox


Somewhere in that pile are at least 2 letters that are very important to me:

My very first letter ever - from my grandfather, written on hotel stationery while he was on one of his many, many business trips abroad. It reads, simply: I love you. The "I" is a a drawn eye, the "love" a heart, and the "you" the letter "u". It was my very first letter, sent just to me, and I could read it all by myself! What joy!


letters

A very few of our letters and strange accompaniments

The second is the first letter from my now husband. Within a few days after we met I went to Ireland for over a month. While I was there we started writing letters to one another. When I returned to the U.S. we were on opposite coasts and continued writing to one another (in addition to phone calls, emails, visits). Within six months we had both moved to an entirely new place together and began the life we now share (another story entirely - let's just say it contains very little money all in cash in a liquor tin, no jobs and no place to live). Those letters were fundamental for some of the strongest parts of our relationship - they contain the things you forget to say on a phone call, the things you only think about when alone, and the keys to understanding one another that simple conversation can't convey. If it weren't for those letters I wouldn't know that Em needs time alone, near water preferably, to clear his head and that talking it out isn't always the solution. If it weren't for those letters he might not understand why I react to some things the way I do, or that I have a complete, encyclopedic knowledge of where to procure the best chocolate at many a world-wide location.

Perhaps you think writing a letter, as opposed to an email, is thrifty, better for the environment, more logical, expeditious - and, in certain contexts you would be right. While it is tempting, in our fast-paced world, to check items off our list and isolate all our to-do's into time spent in front of our computers it is not more meaningful to do so. I encourage you to consider someone you own some gratitude or love this week. Write them an email, save it as a draft. Then sit down, and in nearly the same amount of time, write them a letter or card, any kind of note. Go to bed. In the morning consider which you would rather receive and send it - my guess is you'll pick the letter. The written word, expressed through a simple note, makes emotions tangible. You can tuck a letter in your pocket, under your pillow, into a box of meaningful things and come back to it time and time again.

I know I do. Time, and time, and time again.

Which is why I can't wait for my new office to be done – so that I can tack up on my wall a simple note, written by a jet-lagged man in another country, and a long eloquent letter from the man who became my husband. Both the same words, each embedded in my heart: "I love you".

But go ahead, try saying that in an email.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The bounty of gourds

Pumpkins


By the time summer winds its way down into fall and the crisp breezes begin to overtake the stagnant heat I find myself craving everything pumpkin. Luckily for my wallet I don't pass a noteable coffee vendor on my way to work anymore or I'm sure I would be up to my eyeballs in lattes already.

Despite my adoration of the golden fleshed gourd, every single year I forget how to pick a pumpkin. I blame this on watermelon. Yes, watermelon.


gourds


I'm not entirely crazy - the word "pumpkin" is essentially a very mispronounced version of the original greek for "melon". (Have I mentioned my affinity for etymology?) Interestingly enough pumpkins, squash, cucumbers, musk- and watermelons are all in the same botanical genus classification Cucurbita aka cucurbits. So, while I have taken to "thumping" my pumpkins to see if they are ready, they are not watermelons...just related.


Small white pumpkins basket


A good pumpkin need not be uniform in shape, should have a good bit of stem left (otherwise they decay faster), and should be heavy for its size.

A good watermelon should be uniform in shape, heavy for its size, and if you "thump" the side it will sound hollow(ish).

Heavy they have in common - both pumpkins and watermelon are about 90% water. While both should be left to ripen on the vine a pumpkin will continue to change color an ripen once cut from a vine, a watermelon will not. Have I afflicted you with my strange watermelon/pumpkin selection crisis? I hope not.


Pumpkin Pile


Moving on...We took the darling girl to a farm festival this weekend. She wasn't so enthralled with the (literally) hundreds of tractors. Admittedly I thought I would be more impressed with the machinery but eh, a tractor is a tractor to some extent.

The barrel train kids ride barely got a cursory glace. The sheep dog herding demo was well received, though Eh thought it would be easier to get the sheep come to you if you stood on the sidelines and yelled "baaaaaaa!" loudly. The petting zoo was pee-in-the-pants worthy exciting and the pumpkins were a delight. I'm pretty sure she picked up, touched or sniffed at least 487 pumpkins/gourds (give or take). All in all a success.


Gourds Close


As we made our way home we stopped at an art fair a few blocks from our house so that I could pick up a piece of ceramic fruit. The art fair is held every year and I had been kicking myself for not picking up a piece last year, so we pulled over and popped in.


Ceramic Gourds


While Eh ran around torturing all the bored and cold artists with her incredible cuteness (we're humble here) Em wrangled her and I picked around through the veritable farmer's market of ceramic food goodness.

Interestingly enough with all those grounds hanging around we didn't buy pumpkins until Sunday, from a side of the road stand, on the way home for apple picking. We like to be contrary like that.

You'll get to see my ceramic (in)edibles when we get done the great office re-model soon but I'll simply say I didn't buy a pumpkin....and, sadly, there were no ceramic watermelons. 


Ceramic Stand



Have you bought pumpkin yet this autumn, or are you one of those still in the sweltering heat, begging for a watermelon?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Forgotten Friday

A Friday tradition. Something forgotten, made still life - usually toys that were loved but abandoned.

Since this week has been something of a wild ride:


RetiredFairSeat

PS: Remember The Get Perspective project? Got a feature!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The art of nothing...

Complete with pictures of nothing!

Books (July 30, 2010)

Amy Atlas, Party Event Planner extraordinaire, recently wrote a blog about relaxing and being content. In it she asked "what do you do to decompress? What tips do you all have to take a moment and enjoy it all?"

Before I knew it I was writing far more than a response, I was writing a blog post. And so, here you have my response:

I have a friend, Heather, who long ago taught me how to stay in bed all.day.long. It drove me nuts. I wanted to get out! I wanted to do something! I wanted to go be/do/create/see. But there she would sit. In her pajamas. Ordering food, not even making anything to eat. I love Heather. I love being with her. She's one of my very best friends (and really, how many of those do you get to have and keep around?), but this habit drove me bonkers when I would stay with her. But I stayed with her every weekend anyway - she lived in the city, in the fun-fabulous section no less. Even if we didn't go anywhere I could still look out the window and watch the wild assortment of passersby passing by. Or singing. Though that tended to happen late and night when you actually had something to do the next day.

Around 5:00 p.m. or so Heather would rouse, take a shower, slap on some deodorant, do her effortless hair, throw on one of her tops from her never-ending Anthropologie closet and out the door we went - for dinner, and drinks, and whatever else the night might bring (except maybe singing in the streets when you had somewhere to be the next day).

Usually by 5:00 I had given up completely. While Heather was bright and beautiful I was still staring at my 4 black t-shirts I brought and trying determine which, exact black, made me look the best. True black? Jet black? Just black? Washed too many times black?

Chimes


So what did we do all day?

Well, at first I would bring school work (actually, no, I always brought that), and magazines, and books. After a while though I started leaving most of that behind. We watched endless TV. Endless. If there was a marathon we would (run?) watch it. For some reason Heather has the unbelievable ability to find the movie Frankie and Johnny on any station at any given point in the day. Or Steel Magnolias.

Consider me claire de lune-d out. Love you Debussy. It wasn't you. It was Frankie and Johnny, promise.

We talked. We rifled through junk mail. We watched people and talked about them. We perused her dated music collection (sorry doll, it is/was) or listened to her angsty newer stuff (she's moved on...some...thankfully). I wrote poetry. We ate popcorn. Picked at our nail polish. Stared at the ceiling.

In short, we didn't do anything. And not doing anything includes not wasting endless hours on the internet (though I'm not sure why. Where were our computers?).

AlmostOpen

And while today we eschew cable television in our house - in favor of cheaper alternatives and less programming, I still remember the ultimate lesson Heather gave me. How to be still and do nothing - and how to forgive yourself for doing so. Funny enough that was the hardest part about "doing nothing" was the guilt I felt that I should be doing something. I had to learn to say:

I forgive myself this day

and whatever that meant.

Here's what I found out:

Doing nothing isn't lazy, though it may feel that way. Your body, your mind, they need time to rest. When do you do your best thinking? The moments before sleep perhaps? When you are asleep? When you wake up? Stuck in traffic? On the train? During an endless meeting? If you didn't have those moments of doing nothing would you ever come up with some of your most creative solutions?

You can't be mindful if you never let your mind rest.

Doing nothing takes practice. Practice is a word we should all use in our lives more often. When I found myself getting competitive in a yoga class a few years ago I had a thought "why is my yoga practice so hard?"...practice. I was practicing yoga. I wasn't performing. I wasn't in front of any audience but myself. Sometimes you have to remember that what you are doing, most of life, is practice, and that many things don't have a final performance. Our big performance is practicing and sticking to things, it is doing the best we can on any given day - because the best you can do on a Monday in June may be completely different than the best you can do on a Friday in December. Just keep practicing.

CommunityGardenFlags

Doing nothing took a lot of practice for me. A lot. It's still something I struggle to grasp. The most talented, admirable people I know at doing nothing practice it daily. You can't be a Buddhist monk without a lot of practice.

I have numerous other conclusions I could list here but no need to reinvent what has already been thought, said, ruminated upon, or otherwise.

These days I tend to take my doing nothing moments in the morning - mostly because I am incredibly lucky to have a husband who rises earlier and easier than I do. While he spends time with our daughter I do a lot of staring at the ceiling and being. It's wonderful. A momentary mini vacation each morning.

Recently, on vacation, we were lucky enough to have my parents do the early rising. It was lovely, delicious, wonderful - all of those things. Nothing in the world makes me more complete than falling back into a peaceful slumber and waking to a house full of joyful laughter coming from the hearts of my most loved people.

TinyToes

Photography often gives me an outlet as well. As Dorthea Lange said, "The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera." I see more with a camera, experience more. Capture more? Only maybe. That's ok. I forgive myself that too.

What I face now is finding balance. Finding balance in the actual doing - and finding the ways to be most productive when I am doing. There is nothing more frustrating than doing something that is really doing nothing; because truly doing nothing takes an intention and celebrates the joy of quiet, it is not the guilt of wasted time. Funny enough, doing nothing requires a lot of doing something - it requires you to be mindful, to live with intention, and to be purposeful in your actions. And that, my friends, is what makes doing nothing so very, very difficult.

What do you do to take a break, relax, tune-out? Have you learned to forgive yourself yet for doing nothing? What tips or techniques do you have?

Pumpkin, Squash - a recipe 3 for 1!

Includes recipes for:
Pumpkin Squash Ravioli with Sage, White Wine, Butter Sauce
Simple Stock
Pumpkin Squash Soup with Herbed Butter Croutons

FallLeaf1


I love a recipe that can turn into another meal that tastes completely different. It speaks to industriousness, respect for your food, and, most agreeably, a sensitivity for your wallet.

That's why I was so excited when I did our meal planning for the week. Don't get me wrong, usually my meal plans are written on a calendar and then interchanged innumerable times, but this time there was a plan. A plan!

Butternut Squash

We've been fortunate enough to receive quite a few squash with our CSA lately - in all sizes and varieties. While usually I hold onto the squash like gold, squirreling them away for the cold winter months, this time I couldn't help but burst with the anticipatory celebration of fall. I had to have some.

I also couldn't wait to get my hands on a sugar pumpkin now that they are at the Farmer's Markets again. While my daughter lugged a small final watermelon from the furthest end of the market - and I, in turn, got an assortment of glances, I carried my prize - a sugar pumpkin. We stopped, briefly, to pick up a bit of the oh-so-scrumptious Raspberry Bellevitano, before Eh finally gave in and let me carry the pumpkin, the watermelon, the bags of fresh market goods, and her the next few blocks back the car. No matter how incredulously I stare at my arms they still don't reflect the super human strength I believe I have managed to muster in my child's twenty some months of life. Bother.

It's here that I should pause to mention that the coveted watermelon was one of the best I've ever had. Eh on the other hand, would have nothing to do with it.

Sugar Pumpkin


My husband, lucky me, loves to make fresh, homemade pasta. What better way to spend a Sunday night together than making and enjoying a homemade meal? Exactly. So Sunday morning I got to thinking and...

Into the oven went two medium sized butternut squash and one sugar pumpkin - cut in half, cut side down, with a bit of oil drizzled on them. 350F (177C) for an hour or so until nice and soft and set aside for later.

While Em put our daughter to bed I got to work on the ravioli filling. Tough work I tell ya (sarcasm alert).

Pumpkin Squash Ravioli with Sage, White Wine, Butter Sauce
For Filling
1 small pumpkin - preferably a sugar pumpkin - roasted
1 medium-large sized butternut squash (but roast two if you plan to make the recipe below as well)
2-4 tablespoons milk (30-60 ml UK, 40-80 ml AU)
1.5 tablespoons (17 ml UK, 22 ml AU) herbs de provence or similar herb blend
A healthy dose of salt and pepper (start with 1/2 tsp of each (2ml UK/AU) and go from there
2 gloves garlic, minced fine
5-8 leaves fresh sage, chopped fine
1 teaspoon (5 ml UK/AU) nutmeg
About 6 ounces (approx 170 grams) Parmesan cheese (we used the raspberry bellevitano which is a raspberry ale soaked parmesan-style cheese) - grated fine (like with a microplaner). More or less is fine.

Scoop out the flesh of the gourds into a bowl.
Add all other ingredients.
Mash with a fork/spoon or potato masher until a consistency like mashed potatoes. You could blend as well, if you like, but it's easy enough to incorporate without doing so. Taste and determine if you would like or need more salt, pepper, or other. Set aside.

For pasta
1 egg
3/4 cup (175 ml UK/AU) unbleached, all-purpose flour

Put flour in a bowl, add egg. Mix with a fork until crumbly.
Put mixture on floured cutting board. Knead together until satiny.
Use pasta machine to roll into rectangular sheets until two settings from the thinnest option OR roll with a rolling pin to desired thickness (thinner is better).

To assemble ravioli
Place sheet of pasta on floured cutting board. (Or, use prepared wonton wrappers for an easy short-cut.)
Cut two sheets of equal size/shape. Set one aside
Brush sheet of pasta with egg wash. Even space small portions of filling approx 2 inches apart (around 6 cm). (Refrigerate extra filling up to one week for recipe below)
Place other sheet on top. Press down around each pocket of filling to seal pasta together. Cut into squares or circles.
Cook by gently placing in boiled/salted water until the ravioli float to the top (or your preferred texture)

For the sauce
2 tablespoons (30 ml UK/40 ml AU) butter
1/4 cup dry white wine
5 or so leaves fresh sage, chopped fine.
If butter is unsalted then salt to taste.

Melt butter in a sauce pan, add sage and saute until butter starts to brown. Add white wine. Done.

To serve drizzle a small amount of butter sauce over the ravioli. Add more to taste but don't get too excited or you may find the dish too rich for your tastes.

Variations:
Consider chopped walnuts or some goat cheese to top off the ravioli and sauce - or even think about adding dried cranberries with making your sauce!

Chicken Stock


Right before we left for vacation I did my usual fridge cleaning - which involves a lot of cooking. Cooking? Sure. Why not make a mess! All the veggies go into a pot along with the remains of a roasted chicken dinner from the freezer and the result is a huge pot of stock - which gets divided and, you guessed it, goes into the freezer.

Simple Stock

1-2 Chicken/Turkey/Fowl carcasses (although, I admit, that word makes me shudder a bit)
A couple of onions - cut in 4, no need to peel
A head of garlic - smash the cloves, again, no need to peel
2 tbsps (30 ml UK, 40 ml AU) salt
2 tbps (30 ml UK, 40 ml AU)herbs de Provence
1 tbsp (15 ml UK, 20 ml AU)ground pepper
Everything else in your fridge. Well, pretty much. I even put salad green in mine. I shy away from beets that are red but will use the golden ones. Peppers are fine, but skip hot ones. Celery, fennel, cabbage, root veg, carrots, chard, kale – all more than acceptable. Fresh herbs - absolutely! Tomatoes, no.

Put everything in a pot. Fill the pot to nearly the top. Bring to a boil. Turn down to simmer and let go for an hour or more. Strain out veggies. Cool broth/stock completely before freezing. That's it!

Fall Soup - Pumpkin Squash


By now you'll realize you had way too much ravioli filling. Good! We'll turn it into soup. I was going to make this soup with coconut milk but, alas, pantry disasters happen and mine was out of date. Regardless it was wonderful without so you can add coconut milk of you like, in place of some of the broth, or skip it all together.

Pumpkin Squash Soup with Herbed Butter Croutons
Remaining ravioli filling from above
Additional 1 roasted butternut squash
6 cups simple stock
1 teaspoon (5 ml UK/AU) nutmeg
5-8 leaves fresh sage, minced fine
Salt and pepper to taste
Slightly stale bread, cut into preferred crouton size
Leftover sage, white wine, butter sauce

Put remaining ravioli filling in a pot. Scoop out flesh from additional squash and add to pot with stock/broth, sage and nutmeg. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and let cook for 30 mins. Blend with an immersion blender to your preferred consistency (you might not even have to do this step).

At this point if the soup is too thick for your preference you can add: more stock, milk/cream, or coconut milk. If you go the coconut milk route you may consider adding a bit of heat with some dried peppers as well. Return to a bubble.

In the meantime, re-melt the sauce and toss the croutons in the butter blend. Toast in toaster oven or oven until golden.

Ladle soup into bowls, top with croutons and, if you like, a dot of cream, truffle oil, more minced sage, or a grating of Parmesan cheese. Serve with a fresh loaf of homemade bread and you've got a decadently filling meal.

Fresh Bread

Don't forget to save those pumpkin seeds for toasting! What's your favorite fall meal?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

What I did on my summer vacation: Photo essay

Feeling a little, shall we say, un-talkative lately. Ok, not un-talkative so much as needing some inspiration. Or light. I keep coming up with recipes when the light in our house is at it's most terrible. By morning they are all gobbled up and I've moved on.

Plus, I've had a cold. Sniff. Sniff. Sadness and self pity.

Since these pictures are still fresh in the memory and yet seem so far away (it's cold here! already!): a little wordless photo essay. I was partly inspired by Brian Ferry's blog "The Blue Hour" (a special thank you to Molly over at Orangette for the recommendation) and had a good dose of old-fashioned writers block. And so, as the weather has turned colder here and I wait for my bread to bake and soup to simmer (pumpkin and squash bisque with coconut milk, if you must know), I give you the ever popular:


Vintage Truck and Drying Line


Radio Dodge Truck Vintage


Dodge Truck Door Vintage


Bushel Baskets


Blue Crabs


Beer


Relax Statue


Fishing Rods


Fish


DinerJournal


Shells In Bowl

Reeds Grasses in Water

Boat Bow at Dusk

By the way, that publication is The Diner Journal. Totally worth checking out.