7/29/14

the garden

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My mom has always kept a gardening notebook through the years, to jot down notes and ideas for the garden she keeps with my dad. It's a small green (or is it yellow?) notebook that she fills with lists of what they planted each year, tiny sketches of where they planted everything, and tips for the next year. I've always loved paging through it and have decided to keep my own for our garden this year. Or, at least, I'm trying to. Right now my notebook contains a list of what to buy from the nursery that I wrote earlier this Spring, and the warranties for our boxwoods and rose bush tucked into the back pages. It's sad, but it's a start, eh?

In case you're curious, here's a list of what we planted this year, that I plan on writing down, with a pen, into my notebook. Sometime. Eventually.

3 rows of lettuce: butter, and romaine, for salads and sandwiches. Eh. We're not that impressed, and will try for a crispier variety next summer.
2 green pepper plants: for stir fry! Or stuffed peppers! Mayyybe salsa, if we can grow more than three.
1 row of green beans: for tossing with salt, pepper, butter, and lemon juice. And for freezing, when we're desperate for something fresh-tasting in the middle of January.
1 row of sugar snap peas: for picking and crunching into while lazily watching Ralph make tracks around the lawn with his tiny lawn mower. See also: stir fry! Note for next summer: don't plant them near the fence, because bunnies.
3 cucumber plants: bush pickles, actually. Extra crunchy and sweet, with small seeds. Perfect for pickling, and midday snacking, and drenching in bleu cheese dressing.
1 zucchini plant: for sweet zucchini bread, and that one dish with onions and tomatoes and basil and olives and cheeeeese.
3 tomato plants: my favorite. for stews and soups and sauces, and most especially, slicing and slurping.
1 cherry tomato plant: for the pop! factor.
1 strawberry plant: for, let's face it, the birds. We've managed to snag two that hadn't been pecked. Note for next year: some sort of cage?
Honorable mentions: my sweet herbs, sage, oregano, parsley, chives, rosemary, and mint. You have some work to do, dill and cilantro. You too, thyme.

Now tell me what you're planting! I love this stuff.

a recipe | summer lemonade

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It's nearing that time of summer where back-to-school ads are arriving in the mail, and shelves of notebooks and loose leaf paper are stacked up at the store. I'm a lover of the changing of seasons, and usually things like this give me twinges of excitement, even if they always do show up a bit too soon. But this year I'm scrolling past all the pins and posts filled with sweaters and apple crisps much more quickly than I did last year. This summer has just been too good to think about it ending yet.

But. As much as I'm not looking, I see you, bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils. I figured I better get these recipes up before people start wishing for a hot cuppa cider over a glass of cold lemonade.

I've made these lemonades a handful of times already, and they don't last long in our fridge. The classic lemonade goes great with grilled burgers and oven fries, and the minty peach is exceptional with ice and a couple glugs of whiskey. If I do say so myself.

Classic Lemonade
1 cup simple syrup
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, about 6 lemons
3-4 cups water

Combine first two ingredients in a pitcher, and add water to taste. Stir or shake, and chill before serving.

. . .

Minty Peach Lemonade
1 cup simple syrup
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, about 6 lemons
1 ripe peach, cut into chunks
a handful of mint leaves
1 tsp sugar
3-4 cups water

Combine first two ingredients in a pitcher. In a bowl, combine the peach, mint leaves, and sugar, and muddle until juicy. Strain out solids, and pour the remaining juice to your pitcher. Add water to taste. Stir or shake, and chill before serving.

. . .

Simple Syrup
1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups water

Combine ingredients into a medium sauce pan. Bring to a boil on stove, and stir until sugar is dissolved. Let cool. Makes approximately 2 cups.

5/13/14

motherhood | maa-maa

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Well, it took a solid 18 months, but it finally happened. Ralph called me momma. He said it for the first time on Easter Sunday while we were playing in my parents' backyard-- a little sigh of a hi, mom. And then he plopped down on my lap like he'd been saying it for years. I replied with a hi, baby before even realizing what had happened, and then looked at my sister to ask if she had heard it, too. She had! And there was much rejoicing.

Since then he's been figuring out how to slowly include the word into everyday conversation. He sounded like a baby goat at first, very deliberately sounding out maa-maa with much concentration, and often a little finger pointed in my direction. Now that he knows what he's doing, he'll get creative with it, trying out ma-ma-ma-ma or mommymommymommymommy. It's wonderful and hilarious and really fulfilling to hear, even though the fact that it took so long for him to say it never bothered me all that much. I knew it would come. Only once did my impatience get the best of me, and I said to Ryan, "What if he can't find me? How will he call for me?" And then we both chuckled because we knew how ridiculous those questions were. Because, for starters, I am never very far away from this child. And he certainly doesn't need to be able to say momma to get my attention. One loud wail (the one that he's had 18 months to perfect) is enough to send me running to him. And that-- the fact that he hasn't needed to say it, because I am always right there, right by his side, ready to care for him-- makes me one happy momma indeed. A slightly hovering, annoying, helicopter mom? Yes, probably. But a happy one. Good enough for me.

But I mean seriously, Ralph, it's about time.

And now, in keeping with the theme, here are some pictures from Sunday. We went to our favorite beach after church, which, I guess, is turning out to be a Mother's Day tradition. (Except this time we didn't fight at all! Remember that?) The weather was gorgeous, so warm and still and slightly humid, and we spent the entire day outside. We planted some flowers, got tacos for supper, and the tree in our backyard bloomed little white blossoms. I was in heaven. Happy Mother's Day, dear ones.

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4/16/14

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After a few weeks of warmer weather and a good thaw here in Wisconsin, things have once again taken a turn for the chilly. Just when Ralph figured out how great it was to run free outside, the cold winds and April snowflakes shooed us back indoors, and we've been stuck looking for birdies through the windows all afternoon, instead of on walks in the sunshine. For the most part this weather regression has been bearable thanks to errands and play dates to keep us occupied, but Monday was rough. On Monday there was nothing to do but watch the snowflakes come down in chunks and dust the first few sprouts of green grass that had bravely shot through the ground. Ugh. Have you ever tried explaining to a 17 month old that he can't go play with the shovel and hose in the backyard because it's snowing? In April?

In an attempt to be optimistic, I took my camera out of its case and tried to find a little beauty inside the walls of this house that we've been cooped up in all winter long. I found a little bit here and there, in the neat folds of my dishtowels and the tidy tucks of my bed (there's so much more time for fussing with folds and tucks in the winter,) but I don't know. I just kept thinking that it'd be nice to see some flowers and sunshine and lush green trees. It'd be nice to have some beauty smack me in the face, instead of having to go look for it, you know?

But we're surviving. One more week of cracked hands and wrestling a kid into a thick, puffy coat. Just a few more witchy 4 'o clock hours inside with Ralph, waiting for Ryan to come home and give us a break from each other. One more pot of soup. We're allllmost there.

3/20/14

rose's vinaigrette

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The first day of Spring seems like an appropriate time to share a recipe for my favorite vinaigrette. The days of bounteous fresh veggies will soon be upon us, and you know what that means. Salads! Every day, salads!

I first had this dressing right after Ralph was born. My sister brought some over in a jar the day we came home from the hospital, along with salad fixings and burgers. After having a baby and then having to eat hospital food for a few days, believe me when I say that that meal was one of the best I'd ever eaten. I've been making this vinaigrette non-stop ever since, and there's always a jar of it in the fridge. It goes great with everything-- any kind of greens or veggies you happen to have in the fridge will do. I really love it with just a plain spinach salad, with maybe some walnuts and goat cheese if you want to fancy it up. Arugula is good, too. I think I ate chopped garden tomatoes tossed in it every day for lunch last summer. Ohh, fresh garden tomatoes!

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The best part is that it keeps for six whole months in the fridge. I really love that. Make it once, and you'll have weeks and weeks of homemade dressing for your lunch salads. Quick and easy. Bada bing.

Rose's Vinaigrette
(original recipe can be found here, a Martha/Lucinda creation, of course.)

1 tablespoon minced shallot or garlic
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 teaspoon brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 1/2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

In a clean jar, mash together the garlic, mustard, brown sugar, salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce. Pour in vinegar, lemon juice, and olive oil. Cover tightly and shake well to combine and emulsify. Add salt and pepper to taste. Use immediately or store in the refrigerator, for up to six months. Makes one cup.

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ps: my camera smells like garlic now.

3/17/14

over the weekend | year 26

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On Sunday I turned 26 and Ralph took the best, most solid stroller nap ever. He's been doing this thing the past week or so, where he wakes up before the birds, refuses any sort of nap in his crib, and fights bedtime tooth and nail. My birthday was no exception, and our plans to work on the kitchen cupboards while Ralph napped upstairs were quickly scrapped. It was almost 3pm and, after numerous failed attempts at getting the child to just go to sleep already, we finally submitted to the truth that it wasn't going to happen. We were all tired of being in the house but it was too cold to take a long walk outside, so we strapped him in his car seat and drove to the mall.

The sweet, stubborn boy was fast asleep in less than two minutes.

Once we parked, I grabbed the stroller while Ryan unbuckled him, and we quickly transferred him from one to the other. And holy of holies, for the first time ever, he stayed asleep through the entire process. We headed toward the doors, sure that he'd wake up as soon as we made it inside. But he didn't. There he was, flat in his stroller, a small line of drool on his puffy cheek, dreaming away-- and there we were, with a baby that was finally sleeping and an entire mall to stroll through. We checked out the bar tools at Williams-Sonoma, took giant whiffs as we walked past Cinnabon, thumbed through the gardening books at Barnes and Noble, and picked one out to take home. It was like we were on a date, except better, because Ralph was there too. He was just napping quietly instead of bouncing to go faster and demanding pretzels every two minutes. The whole thing was really nice, in a surprising-parental-success sort of way.

The rest of the day was really nice too, despite the napping situation. When your birthday consists of church and coffee and flowers and Ralph chuckles and gardening gifts from your family and book stores with your sweetheart and a giant piece of cake, you can't really complain.

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2/26/14

ode to an old kitchen

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The first time we walked through this old house of ours two summers ago --the first time we realized that this was the little house for us-- we were sure that once we moved in, the kitchen would be the first thing to go. All the other rooms were outdated and in need of a coat or two of paint, but they weren't nearly as unfavorable to us as the kitchen was.

I'm sure some of those feelings were intensified by the fact that a baby was about to be born, and the thought of bringing him home to a dismal kitchen full of chipping paint and old grimy floors was depressing, to say the least. I hated just about everything about my little kitchen, from the dried drips of paint stuck on every surface thanks to all the previous sloppy paint jobs, to the way the cupboard doors wiggled on their hinges. I hated the grey rubber kick plate that lined the floor, and I hated the yellow and brown tie-dyed pattern of the linoleum even more. It all had to go, the sooner the better.

Of course, things didn't go as planned. Do they ever? Ralph was born, and between house payments and hospital bills and school loans, money was tighter than ever. We couldn't afford to do a darn thing to the kitchen, and I was stuck living with it exactly the way it was.

A house doesn't feel like a home until it has a little bit of your own dirt in it, is what I remember my dad repeating to me over and over the first few months of living here. And he was right. There came a time when I had washed the floor enough to know that it was just our own dirt I was scrubbing, and the crumbs I wiped out of the fridge were from our own food.  The way Ralph's spilled cheerios disappeared into the pattern of the linoleum, not to be found again until you happened to step on one, grinding it into a fine powder underfoot, became sort of a (sad, annoying) joke. I grew used to the yellow-ness of it all. I started to notice the things I did like about the room. I loved the way the east-facing window let in all of the morning sun light.

The old lady that lived here before us was named Ruth, and the longer I live in this house, the more I think that she was a lot like me. I first noticed it last Spring, when the snow melted and everything in the backyard started to poke out of the brown earth. First a few daffodils sprouted behind the garage, and then some rhubarb showed up next to them. Not long after that, a row of lily of the valley came up by the back door. Then came the peonies, and the black eyed susans, and the cone flowers. So many of my favorites showed up one by one, and I was so delighted by them and by the woman who had planted them years ago. A while back, Ruth's daughter showed up at our front door asking to take a peek at what we'd done with the house she had grown up in. We chatted as she walked around and snapped pictures on her phone-- she was going to show them to Ruth, who had moved out of our place and into a nursing home. She was so kind, and when she left she gave me a hug, kissed Ralphie on the cheek, and made it very clear that our house had been filled with happy families since the beginning.

Ryan and I started working on the kitchen last weekend. We have enough money saved up to tackle it, just a little bit at a time. I finally took down the white and yellow curtains with the lace trim-- I'm sure Ruth sewed them up herself-- they're thin and threadbare from many runs through the washing machine. I'm going to peel off the pretty, flowered contact paper that lines the cupboard shelves (the ceramic goose towel holder is staying, of course.) We're going to paint everything white, although I'll admit that I kind of like the yellow walls now. My mom's kitchen was yellow for a time when I was growing up, and as much as I love to hate the banana split color of this kitchen, it has always reminded me a little bit of home. We're going to sand down the cupboard doors, replace the chipping counter tops, and put in a new white sink. We're going to take this old, yellow kitchen that someone else loved, make it our own, and create a giant mess in the process. But that's okay, because a house doesn't feel like a home until it has a little bit of your own dirt in it.