Wednesday, June 2, 2010

No water + South Florida summer = dead garden

I was really excited about planting and tending to my very own garden. I had a run of bad luck in the past keeping plants alive, but was making it a priority and really enjoying it.

But then life happened. And by life I mean a family trip to Disney World, another surgery for Mom and spending an extra week and a half at Mom's playing nurse. Add it all up and I got one very sad, very dead garden.

My garden (from left): strawberries, sweet peppers, basil, cilantro, oregano, cornflowers, sunflowers and baby's breath.

There were definitely tears when I saw what was left of my plants. There is hope for the baby's breath and the only herb that made it was never an herb at all and just a random weed. Thankfully my tomato plant survived the drought. It hasn't fruited, but it definitely smells like tomatoes. 

The plan is to salvage what I can and replant the rest in a couple of weeks. Next week I have to house/dog sit while my mother is on a business trip, but then it's back to being Mary, Mary, quite contrary and making something out of all the seeds I bought. 

To boot, this has put me in a rather foul mood that not even retail therapy was able to change. 

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Zack Morris Saved by the Bell time out ... OK, time in!

A weak wrap up of the past two weeks:

  • Job: Holy, I've been so busy, Batman. That's not even bemoaning the situation, just stating the facts. Since starting, I've been putting in major hours, but it hasn't been an issue. I enjoy my assignments and don't mind the work. It's less of an issue, too, when I can work in my yoga pants and take breaks to go grocery shopping or walk the dog.
  • Garden: Deep, deep down, it turns out I have a green-ish thumb. Who knew? The tomato plant is blooming, I have fresh basil that's good for the kitchen and sunflowers ready to be transplanted in my mom's yard. The oregano is the only herb not growing well. I'm considering a do-over on that one.
  • Etsy: To be completely honest, it's been a complete failure. I'm probably going to close the shop. If I didn't have a job, I'd be feeling a bit more embarrassed and dire about the situation. So it's not ideal, and now I have these extra embroidered goodies hanging around, but it's not the end of the world. Thankfully, people will continue to have babies.
  • Other crafting: See job entry. Not much has gone on. However, I do plan on making Mom an embroidered card for Mother's Day. And maybe I'll get back to my knitting and start on those scarves.

For Mother's Day, my brother and I will be grilling. Here's what I'm thinking:

  • Grilled pancetta-wrapped peaches with aged balsamic vinegar
  • Ina Garten "Real" hamburgers
  • Chicken salad
  • Fruit salad
  • Warm potato salad with pancetta and brown butter dressing
  • Margarita cake

It's a work in progress and I still have to run it through the powers that be, but I think it sounds pretty damn tasty.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Phase 1 complete

In the past five days the following happened:
  • I had an interview
  • I was offered a job

Yeah, my head is still spinning. I'll be working for a local firm. That's all sorts of vague and abstract, but alas, that's what I am. Stoked doesn't even begin to cover it. 

The ultimate test will be whether I manage to maintain this more laid back, simple outlook on what's important in life. I certainly hope so. This time off has helped put a lot into perspective. Within the past month especially, I feel like I'm just getting into my own stride. It's exciting. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

More free time = more crafty hobbies

So knitting is next on my list of random hobbies to acquire. Why not? Some of my favorite things are knitted: the cotton throw on my couch and my wool scarf from Buenos Aires. Knitted items are cozy. The nubby texture is comforting and warm. 

Like anything else I get swept into, I bought every book/how-to in sight. Two books and an instructional DVD later and all I had mastered was a severe migraine. The first two days were spent in a knotted mess with cramped hands. 

It wasn't until I discovered this online knitting tutorial that it all came together in my head. I don't know whether it was the narrator's soothing British accent or the master knitter's fiery locks, but the stitches finally made sense and I realized everything I thought I'd learned in the previous days was completely wrong. 

Now I'm happy to report a working knowledge of the following techniques:
  • Casting on
  • Knit stitch
  • Purl stitch
  • Garter stitch
  • Stockinette stitch
  • Ribbing
  • Casting off
You're quite impressed, I know. So am I. I don't have any projects under way because there's still a bunch to learn. In the meantime I've been collecting swatches of fabric with stitches.

Using what little knowledge I have of Photoshop, here are examples of two stitches.

I think my first project will be a scarf. Once I get the hang of it I can knit scarves for my family to wear on our tentative trip to Boston for New Year's. 

Upcycling at its finest: swatch of the garter stitch has turned into a coaster for my coffee mug.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Turning a new leaf

I've never been good with plants. It's the watering. I always forget they need to be watered regularly. It's not rocket science, but I'm a neglectful plant owner. The best I've done is with an orchid I bought shortly after moving into this apartment. After its first bloom, it didn't flower again for two years. It's not dead, but I can't get it to blossom and I don't know why.

A couple of weeks ago, Mom bought me a tomato grow kit. So far, so good. There are three healthy seedlings.

My three seedlings. I've named them Bob, Marco and Clem.
The plant apparently has its true leaves so it's ready to be transplanted. Mom was thinking ahead and bought me the Topsy Turvy Tomato (and herb) Planter. As cheesy as it is, I'm giving it a shot because the idea of growing some edible tomatoes and herbs is kind of exciting. Plus, according to the website I won't have to worry about: 
  • Ground fungus
  • Harmful bacteria
  • Cutworm damage
  • Use of pesticides
  • Digging and weeding
  • Backbreaking work
And who wants to deal with any of that, especially the backbreaking part. 

I enlisted the help of dear old Dad to assist with the set up. It was easier than I anticipated and doesn't look as hideous as I first imagined. I still have to figure out the watering logistics because I don't want runoff spilling onto folks below who are entering the building. Perhaps an off-peak watering time? 

The planter hangs from a hook on my balcony. Watering it (which has to be daily) is no fun.
I'm not sure how long it'll take for the tomatoes to fruit. wikiHow says it'll be between 45 and 90 days after transplanting.

Aside from beefsteak tomatoes, I'll be planting basil, oregano, cilantro, sweet peppers and strawberries. I may be getting a little overzealous, but it will be interesting to see what I actually get out of this little food experiment.

My mini herb and fruit garden. Once the seedlings are big enough, they can be transplanted to the hanging planter, too.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter food coma

Holiday meals are usually a small, but happy affair. A week before, Mom and I discuss the menu and divvy up the cooking responsibilities. My brother just shows up.

The original plan was to serve an Easter brunch, but when Mom couldn't fit in all my brother's requests for Cuban food during his weekend visit, we settled for a late lunch/early dinner. This became the perfect opportunity to make a soup I had at Disney's Port Orleans Resort -- Riverside back in January. The soup is rich, hearty and full of warm and fuzzy goodness. 

Boatwright's Crab Soup
Adapted from Cooking with Mickey and the Disney Chefs

2 cups heavy cream
2 cups half-and-half
1 cup milk
1 cup finely diced potatoes
1 cup finely diced carrots
1/2 pound lump crabmeat, picked over
1/2 cup corn kernels, preferably fresh
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup clam broth (I ended up using clam juice)
2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions 
1 tablespoon minced fresh dill
1 tablespoon Pernod (I nixed this altogether)

  1. In a 4- or 5-quart Dutch oven, heat the heavy cream, half-and-half and milk to a simmer over medium heat. 
  2. Add the potatoes, carrots, crabmeat, corn, salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes, until the vegetables are softened. 
  3. Whisk the water and the cornstarch together in a small bowl. Add the cornstarch mixture and the clam broth to the cream mixture and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil for 1 minute, or until thickened.
  4. Just before serving, stir in the scallions, dill and Pernod.

I will gladly be eating soup leftovers throughout the week.

My other contribution to the meal was dessert. I settled on cupcakes because they are no fuss and tasty. Really, I just wanted an excuse to make these darling cupcake wrappers. I used card stock instead of wrapping paper and it worked just fine. 

The wrappers were much cuter in person. This picture from my phone doesn't do them justice.

I took most of the leftovers home so I wouldn't have to worry about cooking this week. The uneaten cupcakes, however, ended up at Mom's office. Me + unattended cupcakes = belly ache. 

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Put on your yarmulke ...

Dad asked if it was possible to embroider a yarmulke. After nudging a couple of times I realized he wanted one for his birthday. Hooray and thanks for the hint because I had no idea what to do. 

A trip to the Judaica store and Michael's for some extra supplies and I was ready to stitch. I bought two yarmulkes just in case I flubbed it so badly that I needed a back up. I also decided to try working with metallic floss even though I'd heard it was difficult to work with. Yeah, it is, but worth it. The bit of sheen and wiry texture makes it a little extra special.

Stitches used: chevron and back stitch 

With the border done, I had to plan how to make a symmetrical Star of David. Google, pins and spare floss helped me measure the star. The yarmulke was too stiff for an embroidery hoop, which made me nervous, but it all worked out.

It kind of looked like Pinhead at first.  
I incorporated threading to give the star a little more interest.

Now all that's left is to find a dust pouch, make a card and wrap this baby up.