Monday, July 26, 2010

Salt Spring

Everybody needs a contingency plan, for days when it's too humid to bear. This is ours. Saturday was one of those days where a washcloth would get wetter, not drier, if you hung it outside in the sun. Days like these, no activity is more appropriate than splashing around in a shaded creek.

The picture above reminds me so much of home. When I spotted that scene: a leggy maple growing out over the water, casting its gentle shadow on the water and brown creek-bottom, something stirred. I grew up splashing around in a brook on hot days--Platner Brook, the one that ran through my parents' backyard. The one that was shady and cool on sticky summer days, where leggy maples cast their shadows on the brown creek-bottom.

Summers, we kids of swimming age would weld into a pack, roaming and splashing and floating and biking and carrying on down the mile-long stretch of road and brook that comprised the neighborhood. More salamanders were caught than you might at first believe.

Platner brook was my classroom and playground in summertime, where I learned to catch crayfish and dabbled in social graces. For an only child with a deep, wide independent streak, the brook pushed me to the necessity of interaction.

For a long time, I preferred the fishes and flowers and soft maple shadows.

Maybe I still do, really. In a place like this, humanness seems so utterly beside the point. You can be human anywhere, really, and see and interact with humans anywhere.

But these bean-sized fish, these purple raspberry flowers, these hemlock needles? These are the treats of a cool glassy creek on a July afternoon.

Friday, July 23, 2010


As I wrote last week, the next couple weeks are the lazy part of summer for me. The hectic string of entertaining-festivals-family gatherings that consumed our June and early July has passed; what's left is a sweet lull of summertime before the end-of-season canning craziness kicks in. I am fully conscious of how fleeting this time is. To that end, I am making the most of these weeks when summer is moving slowly enough to pause, take note of, and enjoy.

Patrick and I hadn't really had a proper picnic since our first flirty year of couple-hood. Those were the lavish, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind, involving brie and stuffed olives and bakery focaccia. For this one, more planning, and therefore less money, was involved.

It was still lavish, mind you, just no brie. I pulled the "menu," as it were, out of an old Vegetarian Times. Mediterranean pressed sandwiches, with roasted eggplant, zucchini, and bell peppers; picnic caviar, which was really a tasty corn and bean salad; and jam bars made with last year's apricot jam. Add a couple of fresh peaches and a bottle of chardonnay (naturally), and it was heaven.
The light was lovely. The wildflowers were blooming. I had a glass of wine, and spent the next several minute teetering around tipsily with my camera, wobbling in and out of focus, cursing, exclaiming, and snapping pictures.
It was one of those nights where it seemed hard to get a bad picture. I love those nights.

When the wine was drunk and the pond was circumnavigated, the bullfrogs were befriended and the joe pye weed was admired, we cruised home in Patrick's old convertible, at least one of us wrapped in a picnic blanket against the cool evening air.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What I'm Wearing: Amber

Dress: Unknown, possibly vintage, handed down via my friends Kat and Alexis
Earrings & necklace: from Tom's Gifts, in Binghamton
Shoes: Dansko
Bag: My mom's old college purse

I'm cheating. Patrick actually took these pictures of me last night (What-I'm-Wearing Tuesday?! Abomination!) in Syracuse, on our way to dinner and a show. A totally spontaneous Tuesday night date.

This dress is one of my very favorites. It's so comfy and classy and fun-- and how often, really, do you find that combination in a garment? Best of all, it was free. Gotta love friends.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Garden scenes

I'm not sure how it's happened, really, that summer's half over and I haven't posted any garden pics since (goodness!) April. But it's been there, and I've been there, these past three months. Getting bigger, greener, wilder-- and always giving. This week, I'm bracing myself for the beginning of the flood: cucumbers and green beans. My 4 x 4' cucumber patch has probably a hundred flowers. By the end of this week, I will have seven or eight nice, straight, shiny cukes. My cucurbit allegiance has been sworn, enthusiastically, to Marketmore 76, and with you-all as my witness, I will never grow another variety.

This year, I'm trying Hercules carrots. I have never had great luck with carrots. Even when the crowns look like this, often the roots turn out to be puny, and so I'm delaying my carrot harvest, prolonging my hope that this year, maybe, I'll pull long, fat ones out of the ground.

This week, my anaheim peppers have a standing date with a recipe called "Picnic Caviar" that calls for canned green chiles. Scoff. These beauties will do the trick.

I had to post one tragically beautiful shot of my tomatoes, before the blight consumes them all. I've noticed it beginning to creep down the row, one plant at a time. Breaks my heart all over again, just like it did last year. Next year, maybe I'll devote the space to something else. Let the treacherous mystery of the blight extinguish itself before trying tomatoes again.

Every day at the garden, I think of the captured woodchuck, and offer my gratitude that my plants are safe from his appetite. Last year, I didn't get even a single cucumber.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Sweet and sour tempeh "ribs" with wilted cabbage

I'm having a great week, and for no particular reason. Last night, I sat on the porch and quilted, watching a downpour blessedly drench everyone's flowers and poor, scorched lawn. Tonight, we're going to a ballgame. Tuesday, we had a slightly lavish dinner out, for no better reason than it was Tuesday, and it had been awhile since we'd had a lavish dinner out a deux. In between, I've been reveling in the treat of long, empty evenings without work or craziness or things to prepare for. The last few weeks have been so crammed, I got pretty good at fitting in housework around obligations. Laundry/scrubbing counters/clearing clutter. Dishes/cooking/writing. Weeding/talking to mom/picking lettuce. This week it's a luxury just doing one thing at a time.

Of course, what would a good week be without a minor meal triumph? Monday night, this emerged from our kitchen, the glorious confluence of tempeh, shredded cabbage, and not much else.

Sweet and sour Tempeh "Ribs" with Wilted Cabbage

2 blocks tempeh, each cut into 6 strips
2 cups sweet and sour sauce of your choosing. Mine is canned, from this recipe.

Preheat your oven to 350. Combine tempeh and sauce in a 9 x 9 baking dish, and bake for 45 minutes, turning every ten minutes or so.

6 cups shredded cabbage
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp soy sauce

Heat oil in a large frying pan. When the oil is hot, add cabbage and soy sauce, and cook, turning often, until uniformly wilted. Try a piece. Is it tender enough for you? If not, keep cooking.

2 cups cooked brown rice

To serve, spoon some rice onto a plate and top with cabbage. Arrange six "ribs" over, and follow with some of the pan sauce. Enjoy! Serves four pretty darn hungry people.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What I'm Wearing: Dove gray dress

Dress: Gap, on sale
Shoes: Modcloth
Scarf: I made it from AMH voile
Earrings: Anthropologie

I just haven't been inspired to dress fancily lately. I chalk this up to several factors, the first being: heat. It's hard to get excited about clothes when all you want to do is skip naked through sprinklers. Also, there's none of the stockings-and-cardigans fun of autumn and winter. Thinking ahead to those seasons, I get a tingly little thrill. Stockings, mmmm. It's so hard to wait.

My summer so far has been a blur of concerts, camping, music festivals, and entertaining. It's slowing down now. It was nice to notice small details on my drive to work this morning: hazy blue chicory and Queen Anne's lace along the road. It's mid-July. How did that happen so fast?

I feel I might actually have a few weeks to catch my breath before launching into end-of-summer canning and freezing. That's a good feeling.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Shower food

This was a first for me. I've entertained crowds large and small, hosted intimate soirées and fed the masses. I've done this enough to feel seasoned, somewhat like a an old pro. But this was the first time I'd taken my goods and my gear on the road, and cooked tasty food in someone else's kitchen. This was my friend Stephanie's baby shower, and I was the, um, caterer.

Now that all is said and done, I have to say: it's pretty cool. You get the fun of menu planning, garnishing and fancy prep-work, without having to clean! That's right. No floors to scrub. That's always the bugaboo about entertaining, to me: I swear I'd have dinner parties every Tuesday night if I didn't have to launch an all-out civil war against crud, scum, and dander beforehand. Hosting at someone else's house exonerates one from the scrubbing, and leaves all the good parts.

The Menu
Greens and cheese frittatini
Cheese board with grapes and fancy olives
Tossed green salad (from the garden)
Potato salad for a crowd (feeds 24!)
Assorted pizzas: I made a vegan one, a kid-friendly one, and an over-the-top gourmet one. I couldn't help myself.

For Dessert:

The pizza flew off its platters as if on wings. Kids ran around the table, errantly grabbing chunks of watermelon and giggling as the juice ran down their chins. People returned like migratory birds, again and again to the cheese board, for one more sliver of manchego, one more gorgonzola-stuffed olive. Exclamations rang like bells.

In all the giddy madness of the day, I forgot to snap a picture of my friend. She's a good one, an important one. She was my chaperon one fateful night in February, the night I met my husband for the first time. Housemate par excellence, bridesmaid par excellence, creative genius with flowers and film, snappy dresser-- and now new mama-to-be. It's been a whirlwind of life, knowing her and being her friend.

Watching her walk off into this next very important part of her life, I want to give her the world: the magic cranky-baby cure, the softest blanket, all the right books to read. But I know the best I can offer is grateful smiles and hugs, and a really big bowl of potato salad.

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