Thursday, December 31, 2009

steek geek

I've been knitting for almost 50 years now. What an amazing thought! I got my first acting role in the first grade solely on the basis of the fact that I could knit. I played Mrs. Claus in our Christmas play at school, and was on stage almost the entire play, knitting in a rocking chair. I did have one line:
"Santa, don't forget your scarf!!"
I've been given permission to knit a kingly vest, to kingly specifications. If there's one thing I know about knitting for those of the male persuasion, it's that those specifications have to be taken seriously! Otherwise, you might as well just knit a sweater for yourself, because the noncompliant garment will never be worn. Even compliant garments don't always get worn. . . .

Here's the original pattern picture.
My mandate includes a thinner yarn, hopefully with more of a gray tone. Here's what I have so far. You will note a plain knitted panel in between the 2 cables (those twisty bits) instead of a cardigan opening. That's because - hold on to your hats - I am finally going to try a STEEK.

A steek involves scissors and knitting; knitting and then cutting your knitting up the front.

That's what I said.


Here's someone else doing it. (I don't know what's up with "Owls") And I'm going to master it now, too! 'Bout time.

First, though, I have to finish the vest. That's what makes this whole process so nerve-wracking: you don't cut the vest until the very end! If it doesn't work out well, that's a lot of work for naught. But people have been doing this for years. I figure it will be good for my nerves.

Knitting with scissors. Should be interesting!

(Oh, and I'll also be adding Elizabeth Zimmerman's afterthough pockets, which also involves scissors. I'm on a roll. . . .)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

the stockings were hung by the chimney with care. . . .

Luther's favorite toy. OK, ok. . . . His super-Kong, if loaded up with a tasty treat, takes precedence, but without a treat, this is what he goes for!

The request. To make in multiples for all his friends!
Easily done. Gray flannel fleece (don't use regular regular fabric - or flannel - as it shreds and the strings are easily swallowed/eaten).
Cut into 2 inch strips and 4-strand braid with knots at both ends and one in the middle. Excellent for tossing, catching, flossing, keep-awaying and tug-o'-warring! There's almost always a bit of fleece in the remnant box at my local craft shop. . . .

His pack hounds and relatives will be over the moon on Christmas day. Now, if I can just keep Luther out of the Christmas cupboard!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

privacy settings

Facebook has revamped its privacy settings, allowing you to control who-sees-what of what you post there. I can now post pictures, for example, that only my mother can see. I can post the link to an article just for my liberal friends, and another article for the conservative ones. Or I can post under the 'default' setting - which is 'everyone'.

Blogs have no such controls. If you post it, it's posted. "Privacy Settings" are exercised by not posting. . . .

All this is by way of explaining why I haven't been posting lately. I imagine that words and pictures that include other people inevitably give rise to differing privacy expectations. As soon as I sort out the different expectations, I'll be back.

Meanwhile, there's a Christmas tree at the Greenwood.
It's the first Christmas tree I've put up since Nana died - and that's been a long time ago now. She died on Thanksgiving Day, 1992 I think it was. I'll have to check with my brother, our family's 'historian'. He remembers things like that. I remember sitting in the library of the I house I lived in then, playing Moonlight Sonata on the white piano stenciled with what turned out to be poison ivy vines. I was crying. I remember peeling potatoes into a paper sack in the living room, overcome then with feeling and the words: "It's all right. Everything is all right." And crying again. But a good crying that time. Smiling and tears. . . . and then the phone call that she was gone.

On the tree are little knitted mice - like she might have made, except I did. And stars. The one on top is knitted! Yes, he's rotund. Delightfully so!
Then: old keys. I've collected them for years. Perhaps it's a privacy thing, but from the opposite perspective: I am fascinated with what they might open. . . .

Monday, November 23, 2009

good news - bad news (thoughts on knitting)

The good news is: I found the mistake in my current knitting project, which is the re-knit of a circular woolen shawl I started 4 or 5 years ago.

The bad news? It was a major mistake, some 20 rows earlier. It was not something I could just fix-and-go, or adapt the pattern on the fly. It needed to be ripped out, and re-done. Thank you Elizabeth Zimmerman, EZ to her many 'friends' in the knitting world, for the confidence to do this! Ever since I read her book Knitting Without Tears I have manfully knit on (UNknitting where required) "through all crises" as she was wont to say.

And so it was today.

Before I could stop myself, I pulled the circular knitting needle out of the work and set the stitches free! Just as Elizabeth said, 'dropped' stitches don't run off. The worst they will do is to "slither down one or two rows, and cling there, moaning piteously, and waiting to be picked up."* See? Knit stitches, off knitting needles, holding perfectly still for their close-up.

There's more good news. Having been pulled off the circular knitting needle, I could lay the the shawl still-in-progress out flat and actually see the pattern I have been taking on faith for so long! I could also see immediately that I'd gone wrong because until I ripped out the offending 20 rows, the shawl wouldn't lie flat. Instead of increasing 4 stitches every other stitch (which is where those big holes are towards the top), I'd only increased 2. . . .

Alright. So I was traveling - heading to Corpus Christi to teach - I was coming to an "easy" bit of straight knitting, and as a result I only took a copy of the bit of the chart that I was immediately working on with me. This was a bad thing. I'm working from an old pattern, and the charting system can be confusing and even misleading. . . . Unfortunately, I never even caught my mistake until the pattern got complicated again, requiring me to really pay attention once more!

This is such a parallel to life. When things are tough, I pay close attention to everything so that I don't step wrong or head off in the wrong direction. As a result, I'm probably going to stay on track, even though [and maybe because] things are so hard and/or going so "badly". I relax when all is well. But it's when I'm on an easy stretch that I can find myself having gone terribly astray! More good news, though, at least when I'm unravelling 'easy' knitting, it's easy to pick up the stitches again to re-do. It really is hard to pick up stitches in complicated lace knitting. . . . I think that must be the same, too, in trying to correct missteps during the hard times of life.

Well, here we go, picking up the stitches. And here you can see the shawl, back on the circular needle, all bunched up and hard to see again. That's what it will look like until it comes off the needles - hopefully when the shawl is finally finished and not before!

And yes, I think my life is a lot like that, too. I can't always see clearly the design that is being worked into it. I have to trust that the instructions I have are good ones, that I understand them, that I'm working them out correctly, and that the small bit I can see right now is indicative of a larger more comprehensive pattern that will become plain [and which is beautiful] when it has been finished. There are these rare times when I might be given a glimpse of the larger picture, but it is usually as the result of a major set-back, requiring a do-over.

The longer I work on this project, the more incredulous I am at those who purport to work without a pattern in mind, without reference to a much larger picture than they will ever see. By that, of course, I mean not only this shawl, but also my life.

"Knit on with confidence and hope, through all crises."
Elizabeth Zimmerman (1910-1999)

*Elizabeth Zimmerman, Knitting Without Tears (New York: Simon and Schuster 1971) p. 41.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

buried treasure

It doesn't look like much now, but we planted hundreds of tulips in this little bed. So far, they have escaped detection by the squirrels, who are overwhelmed with a bumper beechnut crop. Hopefully, the first they know of the tulips will be when they bloom next spring! Then, I'll dig them out, and store the bulbs till fall again, by which time the veggie garden can be cleared away, the squirrels will have forgotten all about tasty tulip bulbs, and I'll bury the treasure for another overwinter and spring surprise.

That's the plan, anyway. I'll let you know how it goes.

Elsewhere, we buried daffodils like bodies in the woods. . . .

and B'u covered them over and raked away all trace. The surreptitious nature of our enterprise was belied by the sheer number of people who turned out for the event! And yes, they all helped too, although Luther worked more in the unburying and leaf distribution mode.

Happy Birthday, David. I'm thinking that's the first birthday/bulb-planting party you've ever been to!

Monday, October 26, 2009

green tomatoes and ham. . . .

No. There's no ham in this story. Only green tomatoes.
Lots of green tomatoes. . . . I've learned a lot this first year of vegetable gardening at the greenwood. Obviously, sun is vital (if not to the actual survival of the plant, then at least to the production of edible produce. Likewise, water (also vital) can present problems at either end of the spectrum - too much water, or too little. Oh: and also uneven water supply (as in first too much, then, too little. . . .), which I learned produces blossom rot.

With the changing season, it has been a race against time to see if the Italian heirlooms in the water garden would ripen before the increasing cold of the nights turned them to mush. When the king threw out what appeared to be a perfectly lovely tomato after one bite the other day, I knew the gig was up. There would be no more sun-ripened tomatoes. But what to do with a bumper crop of green tomatoes that had finally appeared in the late, back garden? I really didn't want to just rip them out and compost them. . . . Thanks to My Tiny Plot (a lovely U.K. gardener and writer), I now have Green Tomato Chutney. No, of course I didn't follow the instructions, but I read them, and then adapted them, and it turned out pretty nicely! Even I ate some, and I don't like tomatoes. . . . I added 'heat' (lots of heat: 2 homegrown cayenne peppers - seeds and all - as well as a couple sprinkles of the finely ground stuff from the jar), an apple, cinnamon, rum, and herbs: lemongrass, mint, cumin and rosemary. Frozen, now, in small zip-lock bags for mid-winter pick-me-ups!

In other news, the Tomato Garden is no more. . . . Going. . . . going. . . . gone. Even Luther looks sad. No more tomatoes to steal from the trug and race around with, while the queen threatens imminent bodily harm, waving her magic trowel. Very sad. What's a hound to do?

Friday, October 9, 2009

note to self

OK, so they tell you all about keeping files of things you like when you're going to be building a home, redecorating, etc., but here's something I haven't actually seen written down:

Keep a file listing everything you actually chose. Colours, model numbers, brands, etc.

Why? you may ask. Because you will forget. And then you will have a hard time figuring it all out again.

Case in point: What colour are the interior walls here? Right! Moonrise. Somebody's been paying attention. The only problem is that when I went to check which paint company the paint came from, the only "moonrise" I could find is "Monet's Moonrise". . . . and that's not what I chose, originally.

Then, there's the question of wood stain. Tom builder was given my copy of the colour chart, with the appropriate stains circled and identified. He's the one who now needs to know [again] what the stains were! Sorry Tom. Call your painter. I hope he's got it written down, because all I can give you is a guess!

So - for future reference, the interior paint (as far as I know) was Behr's Moonrise, and the stain colours are - I think. . . - Dark Walnut (windows and doors), Jacobean (shelves) and Cherry (floor). The bathroom wainscotting started out as ebony, overlaid with 'special' walnut - which effectively yields the Jacobean.


Oh, and speaking of wood in the bathroom, it appears that wood toilet seats are now just about impossible to find. But that's another story, for another day.

Monday, September 28, 2009

the pros and cons of getting out of the house

The summer is over. Granted, it's a beautiful day today, the birds are singing, and last night I saw another firefly. Two of them, in fact, one on each side of the lawn. I've never known them to linger so long.

Still, the summer is over. I can tell in the bug sound in the woods, where locusts have given way to crickets. I can tell in the trees, where a shimmer of red and yellow hide among the green leaves and hint at the explosion of colour to come. I can tell in the breeze, where a chill is on the air, even if I don't yet feel it on my skin. I taste it, somehow.

Tomorrow is my first day of class, so of course I've been dreaming of classrooms and teachers and lost lessons and waking up in the middle of the night to lie there, sleepless. Around me, a slowly-accumulating clutter has begun to irritate me. The picture frame that houses the couple shot of a couple that is no more. A slowly growing stash of knit baby clothes. A chemo cap knit for the wife of a friend whose cancer has killed her hopes of a baby. Another knitting project, almost finished, but with a mistake that will require ripping out the left front shoulder before I can resume. As it's a summer top, I doubt I'll be able to wear it this year, but if I don't finish it now, picking it up again next summer will require major study to figure out just how I put it together! Best to finish it now. . . . There's a stack of clothes to go to the thrift shop, and a silk kimono I bought years ago and thought I might finally start to wear. It's a small step to the clothes-to-go pile, but I doubt it will make it. Then, of course, papers and books. A wedding invitation, and a copy of Nana's remember-when's for her memorial service.
I remember Nana always thought the same dragonfly came back every year to skim the pool. "Look! He's back!" she'd cray, and then warn: "He'll sew up your lips if you're not careful."
I don't know why it's so, but going to work outside of the house is likely to result in a reduction of clutter. For one thing, less time to pull out things, get started, and then move on to something else. For another, order in one area of life tends to spill over into others.

Time for a little order.

Friday, September 25, 2009

identifying the problem

Some of my favorite clothes were found in thrift shops ("Charity shops," for my Irish friends). I love thrift shops, and they seem to love me, based on the amazing number of wonderful finds that have come to live in my closet and take turns going out with me on excursions, draped over my body.

There are not usually a lot of things in my size, but what is there is usually choice. . . . I've often wondered why someone would be getting rid of some of the things I've found, and have started to conclude that perhaps it no longer fits. Thank God I've stayed somewhat trim in this land of large and getting-larger people!

Anyway, that was my conclusion when I snagged a gorgeous red and black houndstooth plaid that looked brand new a few weeks ago at my favorite hospital thrift shop. (Hospital thrifts shops, by the way, are notorious for great clothes - all those doctor's wives. . . .) Granted, it was a petite (and I almost didn't even try it on - but that fabric!) still, the waistband was snug even on me, who normally wears sizes smaller than the stated "10". Well, that's what needle and thread are for - as buttons are easily moveable. The pleated skirt fit fine otherwise, and I got it for a dollar.

I've worn it several times, now. Ironed, it could go to the office, but it's also washable flannel, so I've worn it around the Greenwood, and wiped dirty hands on it, and gathered the last of the tomatoes in it, scooped up in front, the way Nana tells me she used to gather chicks in her apron.

Today dawned overcast and chilly with rain. I found myself resistant to wearing the red flannel skirt, though, and couldn't quite tell why. I thought about it, and realized I'd avoided wearing it several times already, so I put it on purposefully to see if I couldn't find out why. I found out pretty quickly. It's scratchy around the waistband! In five minutes I was irritable. Hmmm. Maybe it's not just a function of moving the button. The skirt is just uncomfortable. That might be the reason the former owner never wore it and eventually got rid of it.

Fellow former lawyer turned writer Gretchen Rubin writes a blog called The Happiness Project (book out in December), and one of her happiness commandments is "Identify the problem." She's right: it's amazing what you can solve once you've identified the problem!

I took the skirt off. Inside the waistband, sewn on with some sort of nylon thread that sticks out and into your skin, was the label. Well, that's what seam rippers are [also] for: trying to take brand labels off clothing without making a hole. Sorry, Eddie Bauer! If you can't afix a label that doesn't make me irritable and chafe my skin, it's coming off! Either the skirt, or the label.

It appears the first owner took the skirt off - and eventually got rid of it.

I just got rid of the label.

Monday, September 21, 2009

in which the studio is opened . . . and closed again

Luther has a blue spot on his left forearm. Right, as you're looking at him.

"A bruise?" I thought, involuntarily, before I collected my thoughts.

"A sunspot." I'd been peering out the french doors into a courtyard made brilliant by the early morning sun and then looked down at Luther, who was regally crouched at my feet in his best stone lion pose, mistress and hound in the wave-farewell-to-the-king ritual. Sunspot - do you know, those purpleish spots you see before your eyes when you glance away from a brightly lit object? - but this spot was stationary, not darting about with my eyes.

Oh. I remember. I guess it did leave a mark.

No, Luther does not have a bruise. I'm the one who gets bruises from him - bruises we can see, anyway - I guess Luther might get bruises underneath his fur from his own wild antics. . . . But this was not a bruise.

Yesterday, the sky was crisp and clear and achingly blue. The weekly visit to the king-mum had been accomplished and we celebrated with a glass of wine and an inspection of the garden before settling down at a small table in dappled shade. I had thrown open the studio to air it out and with renewed intentions to really get working in there! I've taken Cindy's advice and divided the space into 4 different zones of influence. Five, if you count the little four-poster bed, but I don't.

Walking in, there's art on the near left, gardening on the far, and music on the near right, with textiles and sewing beyond. The four-poster shares space with music, but gets involved in all the other spaces too, except perhaps for gardening. I like to recline. . . . but it's also handy for laying out new quilt designs, or for viewing new pictures, and yes, for gardening too, as I try to make sense of a workable plan for a garden next year. This year's garden had its moments, but there's no getting around it: I have to tackle the mess the builder left in the one reliably sunny spot I'd always planned for the garden. The soil there is multi-colored, white in some spots, yellow in others, and some cement gray. With rain, black sludge forms, followed by algae that starts bright green, but then rusts out. Several species of die-hard weeds and grasses have managed to set up modest colonies here and there. Well, if I've learned anything this year, it's to do the preparation work before you bring in plants. I now have a whole fall and long winter to do grueling preparations. The four-poster will figure heavily in the planning stages.

I digress.

That's what usually happens when I go into the studio. On any given day, I can fall into any number of transportations, be it flights of colour, line, sound. . . . texture. . . . word. Yesterday, it was still all about the garden, though, and the king and I discussed the prospects of the boxwood, given the unusually heavy rains in late summer, and wondered about the crape myrtles, only one of which has flowered, so far, fitfully.

Luther was being suspiciously quiet. That usually means he's up to no good. The one thing that is reliably capable of sending me into a rage is the sight of his having dug out and then shaken to death a plant I've been coaxing along in these inhospitable soils right around the house. I've got a small start on some ground cover on the far side of the studio which he's had his eye on, so I finally got up. As I walked around the studio, he was standing out in the middle of the worst of the toxic flats, just looking at me. I checked all the new plantings - all looked untouched - and I looked back at Luther. He looked guilty, but I didn't know what of.

"C'mon boy. You come over here and lie down with us and stay out of trouble!" He came over, and I guided him with my hands back towards our table. As I reached for my wine again, I noticed I had blue all over my hands.

"What in the world?!"

"He's probably gotten himself a pen out of the studio." the king said. Right. That sounded right, only I couldn't find it. The blue washed off readily, however, so maybe it wasn't ink. I returned to the table. One thing about Luther that I have learned to appreciate is that he is not usually secretive about his depredations. If he knows he's not supposed to get into something (or has serious doubts) he will usually drag the thing into view, drop it, and then stand there looking at you. If you don't say anything - or are not paying attention - he will proceed with the shredding. He is ignored at your peril.

As we sat at table, Luther disappeared again and then reappeared, this time in the front pasture, carrying something small and white.

"Drop it!" I yelled, and he complied, but started the beginnings of the conquered-foe-celebration dance, which involves lunges, stompings, snappings, and shaking the thing before throwing it into the air with rapid fire castenets-like snapping and then the final shredding.

"Leave it!" I warned, and moved towards him. He snapped at the object and flung it into the air, but then backed away. Great. It was one of my tubes of paint. Well, that explains the blue, doesn't it? I picked up the tube and closed up the studio. Then I scouted around until I found a blotch of blue on the earth where Luther had been standing earlier and scooped up the disemboweled tube for a decent burial.

Like the garden, I have a lot of preparation work to do in the studio before it'll be safe for anything else to flourish in that space. . . .

Meanwhile, poor Luther has been put out of the doghouse, which we'd taken to calling the studio, given his love of lounging there on his big-boy bed. I only hope that we don't see any more blue today, in other applications. The blue of the sky is, of course, always an exception.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

garden recap

To summarize, there's the failed garden, the tomato garden and the water garden. [ a tale of three gardens]

The failed garden produced a lot of weeds, prolific carrot, beet and radish tops, a goodly amount of smallish tomatoes with no taste, and some pretty - but stunted - red chard.

Steve came over the other day to help me shut it down. Here, by the way, is a visual depiction of why the garden failed. Yes, the failed garden is in the dark place - who knew the sun would be just to the right of where we put the garden?!

But before we shut it down completely, we dug out the languishing gladioli and peony and tried to remember where we'd put the potatoes.

"Do you think there will actually BE any potatoes?" I asked, "The greens died back quite a while ago. . . ."

Steve replied, ever confident. "We just have to find them." Much digging ensued. Yes, Luther liked that part, and entered into the game with vim and much vigor. Ha! Lookee here!! A potato. Whaddya know?! All right, so there weren't that many of them, but what fun to find them! Here's the full haul. Really, you could stop laughing now. . . .

In other garden news, the tomato garden is now rather spindly, yellowing and browning, but there are still several Long Tom tomatoes on the vine, so I'll leave it standing until those ripen. Those were the favorite this year, by the way. Bright red all the way through, almost solid flesh, very few seeds and, according to the king, delicious.

The water garden has had its ups and downs - growth and water level-wise. We've had a LOT of rain! The Fairy Tale aubergine did not do well there - and I finally transplanted them into a container in the courtyard where I hope I can control the water and the bugs that reduce its leaves to a tracery. I secured some seeds from the few which did grow, and which I will plant early [in containers!] next year. We may get some more aubergines this year, however, if the new flowers on the recovering plants are any indication.

After a full growing season, I now count myself well able to distinguish between a newly germinated bean vine and the weed version that looks almost identical, but grows twice as fast, strangling everything in sight, before putting out little white flowers and no beans. I don't think I can describe the difference to you, it's really more a general feeling I now get of malevolence from the weed versions. Of course, over a day or two you can see the growth spurt, which is also a dead giveaway.

Speaking of growth spurts, note to self: One Thomas Jefferson vine (the so-called Hyacinth Bean, now rumored to be toxic?!) is MORE than enough to adorn just about any trellis, wall or other structure. Ten was overkill. . . . It lures you into complacency, however, by a very slow start. It germinates only once the soil is good and warm, and then puts out the initial leaves and then. . . . just sits there. For weeks - nothing. You plant more. By now, of course, the sun has warmed the soil and they germinate a bit more rapidly, put out the initial leaves, and. . . . sit.

OK, maybe one or two more. . . .

Same story.

Suddenly, they all erupt. They're pretty things - look at these flowers! The bean pods are just forming, and not quite visible. I have to resolve whether or not they're edible. I'm hearing conflicting reports. Typical, the one thing I should have PLENTY OF might be toxic. Figures.

Anyway, here, you can't see the wall they've engulfed. I'm also a little worried about the 'Hummingbird Vine' I planted along with them. That's the feathery fern-type foliage you can see in the foreground. And that's just from one seed. One teeney, tiny seed. Oh how I hope they don't produce more seeds. . . . But back to the water garden: the beans are finally doing well, now in the cooler weather. Further note to self: green beans are hard to spot next to green leaves and vines. (keep looking at the picture and see how many you can find! There's more than you think) Unfortunately, I planted only the Scarlet Runner beans in the water garden - next year, I'm sticking with the Purple Podded Pole bean. . . . They're beautiful, and a whole lot easier to see! Oh, and they turn green when you cook 'em, so not to worry that eating purple beans might put you off. . . . [I think I'd like them purple, but, like I said, they turn green when cooked. Sorry!]

I gave up on the failed garden tomatoes I'd planted from seed (Cour di Bue Italian heirlooms) and threw some seeds in the water garden. The first tomato is finally almost ripe! One good thing about lots of water is that you don't see skin splits on the fruit. Apparently that's a result of "uneven" watering. . . . The tomato garden suffered from "uneven watering" - as split skins testified!

Here, you see that the arugula is also flourishing in the cooler weather. We may actually get a salad out of that! The red chard looks ok. . . . not exactly like what you see in the grocery store. Ah - but here - basil! Oh, my, basil. . . . It's almost 4 feet tall and very, very healthy! Yep. Planted from seed. A 'Genovese' strain. Very flavorful! I'll collect seeds from that.

Next on the agenda, replacing the crap-for-soil Tom builder used instead of real dirt in the area I told him [over and over and over again] would be the garden. There's just no getting around it. Nothing will grow there otherwise! And there's not a whole lot of sun in the areas that still have pristine soil.

Ah well. I've got all fall and winter to work at it. Who needs a gym membership when you have a shovel, pickaxe, wheelbarrow and rock and hardened clay slime to excavate and haul away?! The worst part is that the soil here was just perfect. Rich and not a rock to be found. Certainly no clay. Lot of roots, though! It is a forest. . . .

Friday, September 4, 2009

a quiet sit down. . . .

The bench outside - the one I look at every morning and evening and sit on much less frequently (unfortunately) - has made a U.K. appearance.

Writer Sarah Salway's delightful little bench of a site, A Quiet Sit Down features benches from all over. Quirky benches, gorgeous benches, startling benches, intriguing benches. . . .

And now the greenwood bench, from my favorite place in the whole world.

I'll be back in a minute.*

*"It only takes a minute to spend a couple of hours."
(from Captain Jim in Lucy Maude Montgomery's Anne's House of Dreams)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

no camera, will travel. . . .

I've been entirely too dependent on my camera, I'm thinking. I actually got to the point where I realized I was thinking "I have nothing to say, because I have nothing to show."

This is not a good thing from someone who fancies herself a writer.

So: I left the camera behind deliberately, and have headed to the West coast - Big Sur country - armed only with my words.

I'm a little out of practice. It's much different to look at my photos and compose a caption, which I now realize is pretty much what I've been doing for quite a while now: photo-essays. I throw in the occasional paragraph in between photos and hope I don't lose the show and tell audience. We're all part of the show and tell audience these days. What with links, and pictures, and google, wikipedia and youtube footnote opportunities, an unadorned script takes on the look of a formidable fortress.

At the same time, I am lamenting the no-camera status. Out here, the ivy grows like hedges, and the lavender is enormous! Plants I know as house plants flourish outside here in sizes unheard of while confined to a terra cotta pot. There's an historic "Arizona garden" (?) which has a sign warning you to stay on the path and not to bicycle or skateboard there, for your own safety's sake. I wondered about that - snakes, maybe? - until I saw the spikes and spines. Oh yeah. If you take a tumble into that little spiney patch of __________us horridas, you're going to know about it!

I'm staying in the erstwhile DelMonte Hotel. I understand that Pebble Beach (some 18 miles away) was built for this hotel. As were the two lakes here in Monterey. Everywhere I look there are pictures I would have taken. Pictures I would have expected to carry the burden of the words I no longer would have to wield.

But pictures can't convey the feeling of ten foot high windows with no screens and wavy glass, open to let in the cold night air coming in from the sea. They don't give you the feeling of 15 or 20 foot high ceiling and endless halls, of Spanish tile punctuated with colorful jewel-tone mosaic in fantastic shapes. A picture of a peacock is quite different than looking out my open bedroom window and seeing the peacock strolling in the magnolia grove just outside.

And no picture can capture the beauty I know resides at Big Sur - even though I only know that from pictures. . . .

I'm glad I did a little research on the weather ("Take a jacket, as it gets cold at night!") because even though it's August and on the beach, I have yet to appear without a jacket. It's a far cry from the East Coast on the beach this time of year. I can just picture (ha!) the wall-to-wall greased-up sea of sunburned people, dotted with sunbrellas, walled off from each other by sand crenallations molded from orange plastic forms.

When I get back from Big Sur, I'll see what words can do to show you the place. Meanwhile, I hear my friend the peacock. I had only heard that sound in films set in India before. Now I know that it's the peacock that is the sound of exotic movie sets. . . .

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

take two. . . .

OK, so we didn't hear back on our Luther for Spokesdog campaign for Carol's Canine Cookies (c'mon Carol! Get that website up! There's link-clicks to be had!). I understand she's not terribly internet-savvy and only recently saw the internet campaign.

In the meantime, Luther made his way through all the cookie rolls, the banana-fanny's, the cheesy-fanny's, and the sweet-potato rolls. Then, he munched his way through all the training treats (smaller versions of the former). . . . We were in a desperate situation! So I got cooking. How hard could this be?

I'd never thought about bananas in dog biscuits before and - luckily - I had 2 or three reaching that spotted and blackened skin phase of perfect sweetness! Online, I found several basic dog treat recipes, and I went to work.

Behold, Luther's LĂșnasa! If you look closer, you can see the secret ingredient. Is that. . . . yes, I think it is . . . . it's. . . .

Luther does a little dance every time he gets one.

Meanwhile, I have just gotten word that there are more Carol's Canine Cookies enroute, via an elaborate friend-of-friend delivery system, that takes them from Virginia, to Delaware, and thence to the queenie mum's Maryland residence and - eventually - here, to the greenwood.

I smell a blind taste test in the offing. I wish I had a video camera!
LĂșnasa is an ancient Irish celebration in August, characterized by music and dancing! Also, the name of a popular band these days. You can read more about it here and, for the band, here.

Friday, August 14, 2009

not cooking - ode to the tomato. . . .

This. Is beautiful. Look at the colours! The single tomato, ripe, flavorful, beautiful.

Here's the problem: every day I go outside and bring in more of these. They have a limited shelf life. If I don't do something with them within a day or two, they start turning ugly. With brown and black spots. And the occasional green or purple fuzz. Not beautiful; not something I want to photograph.

I like the ones that show promise, the ones still at their peak. These!
No, I'm not tired of photographing them yet, although I imagine you might be getting tired of looking at them. . . . To me, however, each one is different, you see, and I've gotten to watch them all from bud to blossom to fruit to ripened fruit to the gentle tug to see if it's ready to come off the vine. . . . I've staked them and supported them and rescued some of them from bug and blight and drought. I have an investment in these guys! It's a strange thing.

It's hot, though, and who feels like cooking?! Martha to the rescue: No-cook tomato sauce, by way of a "Neapolitan farmer".

I'll walk you through it.

Core the tomatoes directly into serving bowl. Add olive oil, dried oregano, hot pepper flakes, kosher salt & fresh ground pepper, and garlic cloves. (Martha gives measurements if you're into that kind of precision) My good friend, fellow postgrad and careful reader Jason pointed out that Martha says to remove the garlic cloves before serving.

REMOVE?! This is what I say to removing garlic:
NOW try and remove it! (A garlic press will ensure the non-removal of the garlic, as well as the greater integration of the garlic throughout the entire dish).

I am not reasonable when it comes to garlic.

Now, what I probably should have done before I added all the other ingredients - including the olive oil - is tear the tomatoes into bite-sized pieces. Martha is quite definite about the tearing bit. As you will see, it looks different than it would look if it had been chopped and so that's one reason to tear and not chop. Another reason is that getting your hands into this involves many more senses in the process, and so to that end, I recommend adding the oil and all the seasonings first and then getting your hands into the bowl! No. Of course I didn't lick my hands during, or afterwards.

Neither did Luther.

No pictures, because my hands were all oily and yummy tasting and I didn't want to muck up the camera. Here's what it looks like afterwards, though. Bother. I've forgotten the basil! Go out into the garden and snip basil, rinse, dry, and tear the leaves off and into the tomatoes. Mash it all together with a wooden spoon and let stand at room temperature for at least an hour, and up to 8 hours. You know, what Martha doesn't tell you is how GOOD this smells! The aroma alone makes you hungry. . . . To serve, you will have to boil water and cook your pasta. When done and drained, stir the hot pasta in with the room temperature tomatoes, and top with grated parmesan cheese.

Here's the final result. This is the king's dish, however. He wanted bread - no pasta. (sometimes I doubt the truth of his Italian heritage. . . .) Mine looks a lot like white pasta. In fact, it was mostly white pasta - quite unphotogenic - with a bit of butter, some cream, some of the tomato-ey juice and a few pieces of my favorite tomatoes (just to keep me company). That's because I don't really eat tomatoes. I merely grow them, pick them, photograph them, and present them to the king. It looks like he liked them.
Now for a nap.