If you noticed by the dates on my posts, I’ve been a little preoccupied this summer. The long stretches between my posts are to be blamed on my concentration on my career shift. This summer I’ve been busy with work during the day, and classes at FIT and the Art Students League at night. Despite all that, we’ve had another wonderful summer at the Little Blue Cottage. Although, I’m sad to say, the garden suffered because I paid more attention to my computer and sketch pad than to the weeds. The sad shape of the garden was partly my fault – planting seedlings before the last frost, not keeping up with weeding, and just plain ignoring it – but I can also put some of the blame on our neighborhood friends who view our yard and garden as an all-you-can-eat buffet.
The rabbit population, not surprisingly, seems to have increased since last year, and our paltry electric fence around the flower garden was a laughable attempt at protecting our seedlings from their feeding frenzy. (After much research and trips to the garden center, Mark has since juiced up and fortified the fence). As much as they are a bane on the garden, they are really charming when they are sitting on the lawn nibbling away at grass. They are so at home in our yard, that they are completely unperturbed as I cautiously creep closer and closer with my camera clicking away madly, until they’ve had enough and then go bounding off into the woods. They have been great subjects for my sketches.
Now, if I could only get them to just eat the weeds in the garden…
Today is the first day that we’ve gotten a break from the miserable heat wave that hit a large portion of the US. Fortunately, Mark and I timed our purchase of a second air conditioner for the apartment living room perfectly, almost as soon as it was installed the muggy heat descended on the City. We no longer have to barricade ourselves in the cool bedroom when our top floor, southern exposed apartment starts to turn into an oven. At our cottage, the surrounding trees and grass make the heat more bearable and this is our air conditioner:
Because it’s detached from the house and a couple of yards from our back door, it’s been referred to by various people as a gazebo, a screened-in porch and, my favorite, a sleeping porch. (I prefer to sleep in the comfort and safety of my bedroom, but when my brother came to visit he slept out there very comfortably, on an inflatable mattress.) We just call it the porch, and during the summer it’s where we eat most of our meals. It’s also my temporary studio/office and our living room – last night we discussed the possibility of bringing the tv out here.
We haven’t yet dragged the tv out here, but we do set up our waffle iron, electric griddle, and toaster for Sunday breakfasts and I’ve brought out my sewing machine for various projects. For the past couple of months, it’s been my favorite spot for working on my class projects for the textile design class I’ve been taking at FIT. My class (a condensed summer semester means 2 nights a week from 6pm – 9pm), work and gardening have been keeping me busy, but I’ve really enjoyed it. Classes ended this week and I’ve already signed up for the follow-up class for the Fall semester.
By the way, the waffles that Mark is digging into in the photo above are our favorite Mark Bittman yeast waffle recipe, “Overnight Waffles”. I know that about 99% of you just lost all interest when you read “overnight”, but I promise you, it takes maybe 10 minutes the night before to mix the ingredients and the reward is great. I’ve prepared the batter the night before after having fallen asleep on the couch to a movie. It can be a struggle to drag myself from the couch to the kitchen, but the next morning, I’m always so glad I did. And I wake up to this science experiment:
Winters in Sullivan County can be cold and harsh, and spring creeps in very slowly with small splashes of color here and there. By the end of May, there is still no guarantee that the weather will be warm enough to plant your tomatoes, but the azaleas, rhododendrums and lilacs are ablaze and it’s time to pull out the lawn mower from winter storage. Sprinkled throughout the yard and woods around our house, the wildflowers start popping up.
I know spring is in full swing and summer is on its way when our local farmer’s market in Barryville opens for the season in mid May. There we see our favorite farmer, Greg from Willow Wisp Organic Farm, and Mark has long chats with the folks from Java Love Coffee from Bethel – Mark loves a good espresso.This year we also bought a few tomato seedlings from Silver Heights Farm Nursery after a mysterious blight took over our own little tomato seedlings.
In season now: Rhubarb!
Cake photo 1: One of my favorite rhubarb recipes (I skip the whisky cream and just go with ice cream or heavy cream): Country Rhubarb Cake
I’ve registered for a class in computer-assisted textile design class that starts at the end of May, and I thought I should work on my very limited Photoshop skills to prepare. I’ve started by using photos that I took when Mark and I were in Los Angeles in February. My camera is full of the camellias that were in bloom at the Descanso Gardens when we were visiting. One day we’re in cold, grey, snowy New York and just a couple of days later I’m surrounded by amazing varieties of lush flowers in a large sunny garden. I loved being in Los Angeles in February, and I have hundred of photos to show it.
You may recognize the handsome orange cat in the image above. It’s Musico dreaming of camellias. He had to stay in New York during “Winterstorm Nemo” while Mark and I were enjoying the sunny California weather.
Lolita the Parrot perched on camellias was a birthday card for my friend Daniel.
Cooper the black cat was our housemate in LA and will forever live in infamy because of the part he played in hiding Mark’s wedding band under a speaker stand, not to be found for several days. His expression in the image was pretty much the one he had while watching me and Mark frantically search through the house. Completely unsympathetic and not helpful at all.
He is surrounded, not by camellias, but by the succulents that were growing in the house’s garden. Did I mention that I loved being in LA?
A new restaurant opened near our cottage last year, Henning’s Local. The menu offers delicious dishes sourced from local farms, including the poultry and fish, and best of all, every meal is served with a plate of popovers. Popovers have been on my mental to-do list for awhile, and inspired by my first meal at Henning’s Local, I went out and bought a popover pan (as it turns out, a standard muffin pan works just fine, but I love to have an excuse to go to a kitchen supply store).
The challenge of finding a popover recipe is that they seem to vary – popovers must start in a cold oven, the oven must be at 450 exactly when the popovers go in, you must stir the batter till “frothy”, you should only stir the ingredients till blended, and etc. I tried a few recipes with varying degrees of success until I found the best results with King Arthur’s recipe - the popovers definitely had no trouble popping up.
Popovers are now my favorite bread-y accompaniment to meals, especially with a hot bowl of chicken soup after a three mile walk in brisk country air.
Special attire is suggested, but not required, when making popovers.
I woke up Sunday morning with this vision in my head for that day’s project – Mark’s birthday cake . A tradition in our household carried over from when Mark was growing up: angel food cake topped with whipped cream and sprinkled with crushed peppermint candies.
As baked confections go, this is not a complicated pastry, no one is going to win the Meilleur Ouvrir de France competing with it. As long as you remember to buy enough eggs (12 egg whites!) and are ready to take out any aggression crushing hard peppermint candies on your kitchen counter (I used a rolling pin and contained the candies in ziplock bag), it’s a simple but delicious and festive cake. Easy! I’ve done this before many times and have dabbled with more ambitious cakes recipes. No problem! So, maybe I was feeling overly self-confident, or maybe our relaxing weekend had relaxed my brain a little too much, or maybe I shouldn’t have had that beer while mixing the batter, whatever the reason, this was the end result:
Apparently, Julia Child’s advice to have the “courage of you convictions!” whenever you flip something won’t help you if you don’t support the center of a tube pan when it’s upside down, balanced on four upturned glasses – especially if it has a removable bottom. None of your convictions will stop the piping hot center of the pan to slowly detach from the pan and slide downward, taking the cake along with it to land in a messing lump on the kitchen counter, as you watch in frozen horror.
After we had carefully scooped the cake back into the pan – at this point, having the cake cool upside down so that it didn’t lose its shape was moot – Mark assured me that it still looked delicious. I broke off a chunk, put a big dollop of whipped cream, garnished it with more crushed peppermint candies and wished him a very happy birthday.
It was delicious!
It’s at times like these when I console myself with the thought that kitchen disasters happen to the best of them: Cleanup in Aisle 4!.
That’s right folks, a mere 4 months from when I started my “Yellow Wall Cardigan”, I have finally bound off, blocked and sewn on the buttons – just in time for the 78 degree weather that is hitting New York. As my devoted readers may remember, this sweater caused me not a little bit of angst back in November. And, evidently, the trauma of unraveling over 2 skeins worth of sweater on my first attempt at knitting this design was not enough of a lesson in checking gauge. On Sunday I found myself unraveling another project for the very same reason. This time it was my lovely “Eggplant Lace Pullover”.
So, that is why I now present to you the gauge swatch for my next project. A nice sized 7″x 6.5″, carefully blocked swatch of Knit Picks’ Shine Sport Yarn in colors (from top down) White, Platinum, Robot, and Wallaby.
This will be for the “Gradient Pullover” that was featured in the Spring issue of knit.wear. Instead of the pinks that the designer used, I’m envisioning a cotton sweater in neutral tones, perfect as an extra layer on summer evenings. The swatch is serving the dual purpose of helping me decide what three colors I want to use.
I think I’ve decided on my color combination, but the gauge is still a little big.
I don’t think I’ll bother with another swatch, I’ll just cast on for the sweater on a smaller needle and that should give me the right gauge.
I’m sure it will be fine.
My leek seedlings are coming along nicely, I’ve transplanted them into their own little paper pots to give them more room to grow.
Between the expense of buying new seedling pots each year and the appeal of just not consuming so much, I’ve been making my own seedling pots with the very handy PotMaker. It does require that you have newspapers on hand, and since our household has gone almost completely digital with our news, I pick up a handful of the free Manhattan News from the corner. I have to cut down the paper into strips, but as I assemble each one, I catch up on local news, brush up on my little Spanish and then have the satisfaction of creating neat little pots for each seedling. The newspaper pots can go directly into the ground and breaks down into the soil, so waste is minimal.
We do have other seedlings starting in our little apartment nursery. Last year I had great luck with dahlias, but terrible luck in storing their tubers over the winter. So, I’ve started a new round of dahlia plants.
Meet Musico, the Houdini of Cats!
Watch as he stands still as a collar is carefully buckled around his neck!
Marvel at his histrionics as he jerks around trying to get at the collar and then bolts under the bed or bookcase where he will disappear for hours undeterred by cooing noises, head scratchings and appeals to common sense!
Stand in awe as he reappears with a bare neck meowing for food!
Scratch your head in bewilderment as you search for the discarded collar only to find it among the dust bunnies in a far corner under the bed ….UNBUCKLED!
Musico, the handsome orange cat, has been living with me and Mark since late January. He is a foster cat from a wonderful local shelter that rescues abandoned and feral cats in Northern Manhattan, A Tail to Tell. This weekend we will be taking him up to my parents’ house in Connecticut, where he will find a home among their three other cats in my parents’ large victorian house. Because the other cats are indoor/outdoor cats, I thought I should prepare Musico for his new life by getting him a collar with a bell (judging by the way he plays with his toy mice, the birds will appreciate a little warning) and a name tag. After multiple attempts with a couple of different collar designs, and a few days of award winning performances by Musico, I’ve just about given up on the idea of a collar and am going to call the vet and inquire about an id chip. Let’s see if Musico the Amazing Escape Artist can wiggle out of that.