And the livin’ is easy

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:

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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.

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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:

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Spring at the Little Blue Cottage

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

Cake photo 2: A rhubarb compote from Joy of Cooking (I added a little lemon zest) with a buttermilk cake made with fresh buttermilk from Tonjes Farm Dairy in Callicoon, NY.

Inspired

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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.

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Lolita the Parrot perched on camellias was a birthday card for my friend Daniel.

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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?

Popovers!

IMG_5713A 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.

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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.

McCardell Popover ad

If Julia Child Can Drop a Chicken on Camera

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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:

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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!

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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!.

A lesson learned… maybe

IMG_5707That’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.

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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.

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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.

And now back to you, Leeks…

My leek seedlings are coming along nicely, I’ve transplanted them into their own little paper pots to give them more room to grow.
IMG_5658Between 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.

IMG_5660I love repotting seedlings, it’s so satisfying to give each seedling its own space to grow.

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.

IMG_5662I’ve also started various other flower seedlings and this week I’m planning on starting my tomatoes. In addition, my garlic bulbs and potato tubers should be arriving soon.

Happy Spring!

No Collar Can Hold the Amazing Musico!

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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!

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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.

All Hail the Humble Leek

Behold the beginnings of greatness:

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This is my second year of growing leeks from seeds. Last year’s attempt resulted in rather puny specimens, but I’m determined that by the end of this summer I will have nice big fat leeks. In researching how to grow them successfully, I came across some interesting information, the humble leek has a rather distinguished history.

The leek  appears on the Royal Badge of Wales and is worn proudly on the cap of  The Welsh Guards

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And, as a symbol of one of the countries of the British Commonwealth, leeks also appeared in embroidered and beaded form on the coronation gown of Elizabeth II, along with the thistle, shamrock and maple leaf – the thistle represented Scotland, I don’t think I need to explain the shamrock or maple leaf.

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According to the gospel of Wikipedia, Norman Hartnell, the queen’s dress designer, asked if he could replace the leek with another symbol of Wales, the daffodil. He was denied. Maybe that’s why he placed the leeks right where it would be hidden in most pictures, behind the queen’s folded hands. He clearly never had the pleasure of a delicious and comforting bowl of vichyssoise.

It’s now been about two and half weeks since I sowed the seeds and my little leek seedlings are coming along beautifully. They are flourishing under flourescent lights that Mark and I set up on a shelving unit in the corner of our apartment’s living room. We had put up the removable shelves and lights last spring after the previous year’s debacle of attempting to start seeds on the very uncertain climate of my windowsill.

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This year’s seeds are growing in my own seed mix combination of compost tea, vermiculite, perlite and coir – coconut husk fiber. (Note to self: Next time you order coir, do not order a giant brick of it. A coir brick has the consistency of a cement block and all attempts at “chipping” away at it with a knife or saw are nearly impossible and will only result in coir dust all over the kitchen and some very undignified swearing and sweating.)

By August, we should be sitting down to a nice leek tart, or potato and leek galette or a simple bowl of vichyssoise.

Take that Norman Hartnell.

California Dreamin’

With Winter Storm Nemo practically chasing us down the runway of JFK, Mark and I flew off to Los Angeles just in time to miss the worst of the snow and cold. Although the weather in L.A. was hardly tropical, the sun was shining, trees were green and flowers were blooming. It was wonderful.

Despite the incident involving a rambunctious cat and Mark’s wedding ring, we had a lot of fun exploring the city and seeing old friends.   The highlights of our trip were the Getty Museum and its amazing gardens, the Descanso Gardens and the Watts Towers. We also had a fun day at Universal Studios, thanks to Hannes Phinney, but I was screaming too much at the 3-D King Kong vs Dinosaur battle to take any pictures.

Our week long trip was exactly what I needed. I returned to New York refreshed and inspired to start new projects.