Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Easter Plans

Okay, so in an unprecedented act of planning ahead, I have officially (well, mostly) planned my Easter menu FOUR DAYS before Easter dinner is to be served.

This is incredible, especially if you remember that on Christmas, Peter had to drive around (at around noon, mind you, cutting it pretty close) looking for some store - any store - to be open and selling Christmas turkeys. I can honestly say that the Jews saved our Christmas dinner!

Easter Menu 2010

Hot Cross Buns (duh!)


Fresh Pea Soup

Lamb (recipe so far undetermined)
Spiral Sliced Ham

Thomas Keller's Homemade Creamed Corn
Raw Asparagus Salad
Stuffed Onions
Classic Green Bean Casserole
Shaved Carrot Ribbons Salad
Hasselback Potatoes

Bunny Cake (no, it's not made of bunny.)
Tour de Deviled Eggs

And these adorable little chicks!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I Hate Paris in the Springtime

Springtime is like adolescence. No one enjoys adolescence.

Once the novelty of winter wears off, the snow gets slushy and all your cute sweaters and coats stop fitting because your pregnant belly is too unwieldy (oh wait, is that just me?) you're left just aching for those first few warm days of the new season. What you wouldn’t give for a little green in the garden. How you yearn for just one colorful flower, for the freedom of short sleeves and sitting on the back patio.

Then, all at once, a whole week of glorious weather opens up a world that you thought you’d forgotten. On your daily hike you see *gasp* a real live fern! Even the grossness of the season’s first tick stuck deep in the dog’s fur is made pleasanter by the subtle promise it holds of a whole summer’s worth of outdoor adventures.

Beware, though, this spring tease.

The following week will startle you out of your happy fantasies of gurgling brooks and daffodils.

It will get cold again. Quite cold.

And then it never. Stops. Raining.

(For the record, I've never been to Paris in the springtime or otherwise, so I really can't speak with much authority on the issue.)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Social Commentary from the Grocery Line

First of all, it was the express lane and that woman must have had 120 items. The sign says 12 ITEMS OR LESS for a reason.

Secondly, call me judgmental, but she didn't need all that food. She was, in my estimation, about 5'6" and around 250 pounds. Maybe 275. In spandex.

There are many, many reasons for people to be overweight -- I get that. Lack of nutritional education, eating disorders, depression, some sort of disability inhibiting exercise. Heck, we all can think of a bad day that ended in too much comfort food. It doesn't make it ok, but it makes it understandable.

Spandex, though? There's no excuse.

Here’s what really got on my nerves though: there was a little girl (offspring?) hanging off the front of her grocery cart, perhaps 5 years old and quite cute. She was cheerful and babbling on about some nonsense in the way that 5 year olds are prone to do. Despite how cute she was, I can understand the babbling getting a bit old and, if I were the adult in charge, I may even resort to the smile-and-nod routine for a few minutes.

Or even half an hour.

In such cases, no stones would be thrown by me.

However, this woman was not resorting to the smile-and-nod routine. She leaned heavily against her too-full cart with her back to the child, reading an US Weekly and listening to an IPod. Every once in a while the little girl would come around to the front of the cart and tug on her mother’s shirt, at which point the woman would turn and say, “WHAT?!” at that irritating I-have-headphones-in-and-therefore-can’t-gauge-my-indoor-voice volume.

Finally registering on the fact that her mother was far more interested in celebrity gossip than whatever cutie-patootie had to say, the little girl pointed to the cover and said “I like her shoes.”
For those of you (P, this is for you) who don’t know, Suri is the daughter of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. US Weekly thinks she might be growing up too fast, or so I gathered.

In response to this child’s innocent ploy for her mother’s attention, the mother ripped the earphones out of her ears and threw the unpurchased magazine back into the rack next to the Bubblicious and Almond Joys.

“NO!” she shouted, “those are supposed to be play-clothes! That is totally, completely inappropriate! NO. You do not like those shoes! They’ve dressed her up like a GROWN WOMAN. IT IS TOTALLY INAPPROPRIATE.”

Never before have I witnessed the word “inappropriate” being used with quite so much unintended dramatic irony.

And for the record, I think Suri looks cute. Especially in those shoes.

Q: Is dramatic irony always unintentional? If it is, does that make "unintended dramatic irony" redundant? Was my majoring in English a total failure? And while we're on the subject, why am I a 25 year old college graduate still unable to spell the word "exercise" without the help of a dictionary?
A: It's past my bedtime.

Homemade Junk Food, Pretty Delicious III

In my final edition of this week's Homemade Junk Food, I offer you the most scrumptious cupcake you've ever eaten in your entire life. Seriously. It's life changing. This cupcake will not just knock your socks off, it'll knock the paint off your toenails right along with 'em.

Inspired by the ubiquitous Hostess Cupcake of convenience store fame, HC and I decided that surely, surely, we are each more hostess than the supposed "best selling snack cake in history". We are the hostesses with the mostesses.

At least, that's what we were determined to prove.

Here's the recipe from the blog Bake At 350.

*NB: As you can see, this recipe calls for a separate recipe for the filling and the little white swirly icing on the top. While I did follow these instructions, looking back on it, there was enough extra filling that it would have been more expeditious just to use the leftover filling as the decorative white icing as well.

For the Cupcakes
1 & 1/4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1 & 1/4 cups granulated sugar
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, lightly beaten

For the Filling
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla exrtact
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 cup marshmallow creme

For the Ganache
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

For the Icing
1 stick unsalted butter
1 & 1/2 - 2 tablespoons milk
2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350. Place paper liners in muffin tin for about 20 cupcakes.

Prepare the cupcakes: Bring the sugar and 1 cup water to a boil in a saucepan, stirring until the sugar dissolves, about 3 minutes. Pour into a large bowl; add the chocolate and butter and let sit, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture has cooled slightly. Stir in the vanilla.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a bowl.

Using a mixer, beat the eggs into the chocolate, then mix in the dry ingredients.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans (about 1/4 cup batter per cupcake) and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool in the pans for about 25 minutes, then transfer cupcakes to a rack to cool completely.

(They will sink in the middle...they'll puff up when filled later)

For the filling: Using a mixer, cream the butter until light and fluffy. Beat in 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar. Add the vanilla and 1 tablespoon heavy cream; beat until smooth. Beat in the remaining 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar and 2 tablespoons heavy cream in batches, alternating after each addition. Beat in the marshmallow creme; set aside or refrigerate.

Once cupcakes are completely cooled, cut little inverted cones out of the tops of the cupcakes, only descending about halfway through the cupcake itself.

Above is a picture of the little cone turned upside down on top of the hollowed out cupcake.

Then, put the filling in an icing bag with a wide tip or a ziplock bag with a corner cut off, and fill the hollowed out parts of with the marshmallow cream. Break of the point of the cones you cut out, to make room for the filling, and replace the tops to cover the filling up. Some marshmallow cream may squeeze out if you overfilled them, but just clean it off with a butter knife (or you fingers), eat the extra, and call it even.

For the ganache: Place the chocolate in a stainless-steel bowl. Heat the cream and 1 tablespoon butter until just boiling, then pour over the chocolate; let stand for 5 minutes. Whisk until smooth. Add 2 teaspoons vanilla; let stand until cool but still glossy and liquid.

Spoon a little ganache on each cupcake and lightly spread with an offset spatula or a knife. Chill for at least 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the icing: Using a mixer, beat the remaining 1 stick butter, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla, the milk and confectioners’ sugar until smooth, adding more milk if needed. Spoon into a pastry bag with a small tip (I just used a ziplock with the corner cut off) pipe onto the cupcakes to decorate.

Now eat'em! You can't tell me those aren't 10,000 times better than the artificially flavored variety. As I said in my Pretzel Dog post, I don't even like Hostess Cupcakes, really.

But these -- these are heavenly.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Homemade Junk Food, Pretty Delicious II

HC and I have been pretty busy with the boys gone, and as you may have gathered, part of our business has been in the kitchen.

One of our several homemade junkfood tasks was Spaghetti O's. In terms of a review, HC loves them and is working through the several tons that our recipe produced. I think they're alright, but taste a lot like the canned version, which, while it was our inspiration, isn't exactly one of my favorite foods (excluding that week about a month ago when Chef Boyardee was all I could think about. I blame pregnancy hormones).

Below you'll find the original recipe, but then if you read the process you can see that I ended up making quite a few additions for flavor.


6 cups canned tomato sauce
3-4 cups water
2-3 teaspoons garlic powder (depending on how garlicky you like it)
1 lb bag anelletti (ring shaped pasta- you could use any small pasta- alphabet or stars would be fun!)
1-1 1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (fresh shredded is best!)
1/4-1/2 cup milk
2 tbs butter
salt, to taste

1. Combine tomato sauce, water and garlic powder in a large pot. Bring to a boil.
2. When the tomato mixture is boiling, add the pasta to the pot. Cook, stirring frequently (the pasta is tiny, so it's easy to stick to the bottom) for about 20 minutes, or until the pasta is soft.
3. Stir in cheese until melted. Add milk, butter and salt to taste.

Okay, first, I can't abide raw garlic in my kitchen right now (again, I blame hormones), so I used a couple shakes of McCormick's Garlic Powder. Word to the wise: that stuff is potent. A little goes a loooong way.

Secondly, once those little pasta rings start softening, you have to watch them carefully: See how they all stack up on the edge? They're suicidal little suckers. They'll leap right off. You have to keep knocking them back into the pot. Animating pasta with suicidal screeches when they drop on the hot burner, optional.

This is me stirring the cheese. I ended up adding extra, because I wanted a little more kick. Following the recipe exactly, they really do turn out a lot like the can (although I had to add quite a bit of salt). For those of us who want to kick it up a notch, try the following: onion powder, chili powder, basil, ground black pepper, and possibly even some Tabasco.
Just taste is as you go along, watch out for the jumpers, and be creative! They're pretty hard to mess up.

Next up: Hostess Cupcakes!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Homemade Junk Food, Pretty Delicious

I don't even really like Hostess Cupcakes.

I wasn't born with a sweet tooth (I was lucky, I guess, just getting stuck with a fat tooth. You know, a hankering for all things butter and bacon...) and my Mamma didn't buy much junk food.

She bought it so rarely, in fact, that I often tried to finagle my Dad into getting it for me. He was a sucker for treats, as long as they were treats he liked to eat, too. Symphony chocolate bars? Absolutely. Fanta? Not so much.

When I was in fourth grade my family took a vacation to Sweden where we got to stay in a great apartment in Stockholm owned by close friends of my parents who were in the Swedish parliament. The whole Sweden experience was totally awesome -- except the breakfast.

While my Mamma hadn't served us anything very processed for breakfast at home, I was used to a steady diet of brown-sugared cream of wheat, pancakes, eggs, or King Vitamin breakfast cereal. "Muesli" was not on the menu. Nor was it welcome, especially since my Dad referred to it affectionately as "bird droppings and sawdust." Yeah, that nickname pretty much sealed the deal for me. Also, I was still in my I'm-afraid-of-fish phase so gravlax was totally out. After a couple days of me refusing to eat breakfast, my frustrated father finally marched me down the nearest cobblestone street to a corner store.

"What do you want to eat?" he demanded.

No fool, I saw my opportunity. "Count Chocula."

He had never heard it, and wandered, lost, up and down the foreign aisles for a while. I will never forget the look of exasperation on my father's face -- or puzzlement on the poor Swedish clerk's -- as he tried to explain his search. Priceless.

For the record, I first tasted Count Chocula after I was married and buying my own groceries. It was delicious.

Much to my bemusement, I now balk at purchasing junk food for my family. I walk, freely, up and down the aisles of the grocery store staring at the vast sea of processed foods and all I can think of is, "Maybe I should get another bag of radishes. Those went really fast on the last crudites platter." It's a curse.

That is not to say that I'm a health food nut; on the contrary, I'm happy to try my hand at just about anything the kids can think of to eat. That's the key though -- homemade is healthier, even when it's not a terribly healthy dish to begin with. At least it's fairly free of corn syrup, preservatives, false coloring and other three-eyed-fish producing chemicals.

With that in mind, I present the following recipes:

1. Pretzel Dogs
2. Spaghetti-O's
3. Hostess Cupcakes

The recipes themselves along with much prettier pictures than mine are found if you click through the links to the underlying articles, but the changes I made to them can be found as I describe the process. The Spaghetti O's and Cupcakes are going to get separate blog entries, because I made a lot of changes to the one and there are a lot of stages to the other.

And no, I didn't make the "dogs" from scratch. Just the pretzels.

Given protein's natural superiority on the dinner table hierarchy, let's begin with the pretzels. I have one word for you:

Deliciousness. Galore.

Okay, that's two words for you, but I could wax poetic on these suckers all night long.

I followed the recipe exactly, except for the actual rolling of the dough out into the long pieces you're supposed to use to make the pretzel shapes and twirl around the hot dogs. The instructions say "pencil thin, or thinner" but miner were about the thickness of my index finger. My fingers are pretty narrow, but not nearly as narrow as a pencil. And you know what? They were perfect. Next time, I may even make them thicker, since that would make them even softer than they already were.

HC and I proved not very talented in the pretzel-shaping department, so we got a little creative. Here's pretty much how we progressed (digressed? regressed?):

Basic Pretzel Shapes and Dogs:
That one in the middle there was a frustrated first attempt. We like to think it looked like a person curled up in the fetal position face down. Don't worry, we didn't cook them too deeply brown.

Creative Use of Too-Long Pretzel Arms: Butterfly
That one next to it that's mostly cut off was just a rope.

Let's Get These Things Over With: Spiral and Bracelets
It's rude to play with your food...but what about wearing it?

After they come out of the oven you paint them with melted butter and sprinkle salt on top. The texture was perfect. They were amazing. Also, if you don't like cleaning gunked-up cookie sheets, parchment paper is a godsend.
Oh also, another change I made was to take them out of the oven much earlier than the recipe calls for: with a good ten minutes left to go, I took a peek and they were on the verge of over-browning. Luckily my ninja reflexes kicked in and saved the pretzel day.

Seriously, these things are extremely delicious. I've only ever had one pretzel dog from the mall and it was ok.

These, however, are heavenly.

NEXT UP: Spaghetti O's!

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Tomorrow will be a cooking blog.

Today? Today is a complaining blog.

I hate interior design. This is a serious problem for me, since I purchased a house built in the 1960s and promptly spent a fortune remodeling it. With no designer. I sucked it up for the first year, when I told myself I could get it all set and never touch it again. Great idea, except that it wasn't all finished by the end of the first year.

But my brain was.

So here I am, almost three years later, having moved on to puppies and gardens and producing offspring, when I realize that half of my house is still only painted with primer. Why is it still painted with primer? Because I'm secretly masochistic. When I do notice that things around the house need to be done (which is surprisingly often given how slowly I seem to be progressing) I think the following series of thoughts:

1. Lydia, that looks terrible.
2. You should call Dan Dan the Handyman and have him take care of it.
3. Calling Dan will require you to make some decisions (paint color, landscaping themes, actually *purchasing* furniture).
4. If you're going to go to all the trouble of making the decisions, you may as well just do the job yourself and save the money. It can't be that hard.
5. If you don't just call Dan and make it happen you're never EVER going to make those decisions.
6. Ooooh is that RIGHT? You're not the boss of me, I can do what I want!

Yes, I do occasionally tell myself I'm not the boss of me. And if I'm not really sure who is.

Possibly P. Except I get cranky when he tells me what to do. Which doesn't mean he's not the boss, but...

Anyway, the long and short of it is that I go back to ignoring the decisions in question.

Until I can seriously no longer ignore them. Like now.

A year ago, my basement flooded, which is a pretty stinkin' big deal since it's fully finished and houses both my teenagers. It was awful and disgusting (yes, it was that kind of flooding) and I'd rather not revisit those memories. When all was said and done, the cork flooring that I spent what felt like years deciding on when we created that space out of nothing, was damaged. Not badly damaged, but damaged.

I filed and insurance claim, reminded myself that the most damaged area was in the bedroom of a 17 year old slob monkey, and didn't think another thing about it.

EXACTLY A YEAR LATER, literally, to the day, my basement flooded again. This time, the in-floor radiant heating broke and leaked up through the cement under flooring, totally saturating all the cork.

I can't ignore the damage anymore. It haunts me. The gaping ravines between the tiles where they've swelled and released again, taunt me. They giggle at my silly attempts to be "different" and eco-friendly with my cork choice. I can't even tell them to put a cork in it because...well, it would be rather redundant.

So now I have to choose flooring for the downstairs all over again *sob*. I so hate choosing permanent things for my house.

There are so many things to consider: will I like it in the end? Will anyone else like it? Will it break the bank? How will it effect resale? Am I going crazy?

Don't answer that last one.

My choices at this point are some kind of tile, or some kind of hardwood that is raised off the floor with pressure treated wood underneath to keep it relatively dry for future flooding. The idea of having tile in the three bedrooms down there seems so ... cold. Also, I've never seen tile in a pretty bedroom unless it's Mediterranean style or something, which my house is most definitely not. The wood would (wood would wood would) be nice, but I'm sorta worried about it getting messed up in another flood despite being an inch off the ground.

Either way, deciding on a style and color may very well defeat me.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Trials of Headlong Leaping, Part II

Three out of four of the raised beds are finished and lookin' sa-weeeeeeeeet.

As I may have mentioned before, I finished them up during a rainy weekend and by the end of it I was pretty FED UP. However, patience and the help of A prevailed, and everything came together. Mostly. Now I've run into a whole set of new problems which revolve around the following question: how do I keep these darned seedlings alive?

The first aspect of this challenge is the hardening off process. What is the hardening off process, you ask? Well, it's stupid, if you ask me.

Since my seedlings were born and raised in the vegetable equivalent of Intensive Care, ie, with stable food and water, no wind and very little UV light because they were inside, they are extremely vulnerable to the wild winds of the wilderness otherwise known as the backyard. It kinda reminds me of that study that came out a few years ago that said that babies and children that are raised in extremely clean homes actually aren't necessarily as healthy as babies whose mothers aren't really into the whole "cleaning" thing because the OCD Moms remove all the bacteria that is supposed to build up the babies' immune system over time. (HA. Vindication is excellent.) Anyway, that's how my little plants are right now. Spoiled, lilly-stemmed weaklings.

The solution to this is to gradually expose them to the elements and allow them to transition into big, strong adolescent seedlings before I kick them out to fend for themselves night and day. Starting with just a half an hour a day, I'm supposed to stick them outside in the sun and let them get used to it. Then, the UV rays and natural breezes will toughen them up and their little flimsy cell walls will muscle up enough for them to survive to adulthood. Makes sense, right? Right.

Except...I'm really not that patient AND my seedlings are the weaklings of the weaklings, apparently. FED UP with the ordeal of the raised garden beds, I just took out the pea sprouts and plopped them right in there, hoping for the best.

I asked my Mom via long distance telephone communication whether or not they would survive without being hardened off, since it was totally overcast and damp out. She said they probably wouldn't. So I went ahead and planted them, obviously. What's the use of a little motherly advice if you don't promptly throw it to the wind (and the sun...and rain...).

First of all, there's no way I'm using these seedling trays again next year. The little cells wherein I planted the seeds are just that: little. Too little. They're probably about and inch and a half in diameter, and about three inches deep. It is impossible to remove those delicate little roots from such cramped space. I managed to damage a couple stems in the effort.

Secondly, the pea seedlings were fine during the dark, rainy weekend. They were decidedly NOT fine, however, on the following sunny day. The word "frizzled" comes to mind. Most of the little leaves turned white and withered up. The sugar snap peas seem to have survived, but the pole beans are doornail material. Luckily, I they sprout quickly and I went ahead and put some seeds directly into the garden itself, sidestepping the whole hardening off issue since they'll be naturally accustomed to the vicious outside world.

Luckily, I only planted the peas. They sprout quickly and can therefore quickly be replaced by their newly planted seed-brothers.

The tomatoes, peppers, cabbages, lavender, squashes etc, stayed in their cramped little cells and were to be hardened off. I set them outside for a half our, went inside for a nice refreshing Coca-Cola Classic and a stimulating People Magazine, and returned to find them severely sunburned.

What the heck!? I seriously only left them out there for half an hour. UNFAIR.

So now I don't really know what to do - do I continue hardening them off, or do they need time to heal? I'm probably going to keep hardening them off, as in my experience plants don't really "heal." They either die or move on to new growth. So here's hopin'.

And by "I'm probably going to..." I mean "I am continuing to..." because that whole sunburn situation was actually a few days ago now and I'm just a slow blogger.

Which leads me to the final problem: Ulrich the Dog.
That. Dog.

I love him...right?

Yesterday I set out all my seeds for hardening off, and even included some of the other plants that I leave outside in the summer but have been in all winter (like the rosemary bush, olive and orange trees, etc). Ulrich is notorious for snuffling in the potted plants and causing all kinds of mess. I think he likes to stick his nose in the dirt or eat it or something. Whatever he does, it must be tons of fun because it's very hard for me to stop it. Especially after I water them. I think his brain process something like the following:


In the house I've resorted to covering the smaller plants with glass bell jars for protection. Keeping the cloches on the plant outside would pretty much defeat the whole purpose of hardening them off, as it would block the wind and filter the UV.

So I put them outside, ordered the dog not to touch them and turned my back for like thirty seconds.

As any parent of a small child can attend, thirty seconds is more than enough time for disaster to strike.

There was a loud crash, and a small yelp, following by scrambling toenails on the patio. I turned to see Ulrich struggling under a toppled olive tree planter, which was now broken. He was flailing on my seedling tray. After screaming like a mad woman, and chasing him off I assessed the damage: three tomato seedling and four squashes broken clean off. Several others smashed.

I hope the smashed ones will recover, but for the record that now makes them both scorched and smashed. It's not lookin' good.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Homemade Junk Food, The Idea

So next week A and P are going to England on a boys-bonding-with-their-common-heritage type trip thingy for A's last spring break before boot camp.

That leaves HC and me on our own, and we're making plans for a silly time. The following homemade dishes are on the menu:

- spaghetti o's
- cream-filled hostess cupcakes
-pretzel dogs

I'll keep ya posted.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Trials of Headlong Leaping, Part I

I really, really want to have a big garden this year.

I want to have a garden so big, that I will have produce coming out my ears and won't have to buy a single vegetable at the grocery store. Any supplemental corn or potatoes I need (since I'm not growing those) I can get at the farmer's market. Everything else comes from my yard, and I hope that I'll have so much that I can can tomatoes and things for winter use. (can can? It’s like the cha-cha, except steamier.)

So I've spent the last several days struggling to get the raised beds assembled, placed and filled.

I say struggled, because the planets have clearly aligned against me.

Day One, I was all set and rearin' to go, when I realized that the lumber won't fit in my car. Don't worry, I thought, I'll just borrow C's husband's truck tomorrow. Forgetting how forgetful I am, I gave myself far too much credit. Day Two rolled around with C having no idea I'd planned to use the truck. Just as well, too, since it still has a plow attached to the front. I called around and found a place that delivers lumber, ordered it up, and waited with eager anticipation for the "early afternoon" delivery they promised. I couldn't go to the hardware store in the meantime, since if they arrived while I was gone, P might have a panic attack and all would be lost. He really is not practical by nature, and we can't go around in life expecting people to just change. Right, Dr. Laura?

By three o'clock I was pretty restless and anxious and fidgety and generally irritating. I really wanted to get this party started. I have 72 seedlings springing forth out of my fancy schmancy seedling tray, and the peas are really starting to take over the place. They need to get outside pronto before they strangle the little Romas and bell peppers. It’s not pretty.

The wood finally arrived by nearly four, by which time I had to start my evening shift of chauffeuring kids around and making/serving/cleaning up dinner. Plus, it gets dark her by 6, so I was pretty out of luck.

Day Three, I still needed to go to the hardware store but got distracted by this amazing recipe for short ribs out of Thomas Keller's cookbook "Ad Hoc at Home" that takes a year and a day to prepare and really needed to get started early on Day Three in order to be dinner on Day Four. So I didn't get out to the hardware store until the *actual* early afternoon. I walked in to our local True Value, a place I like on normal days. There's a woman there who reminds me of my Aunt Mary, in a good way. I found her, and offered her my shopping list. When you're as clueless as I am, it's generally a good idea to find a more competent soul and let them take responsibility for your purchases.

Aunt Mary proceeded to go down the drill bit aisle, looking around and poking at various hanging displays of hole-drilling devices. Apparently "countersink" is not something you find in the bathroom or kitchen department. Don't be fooled by the name.

Needless to say, they didn't have one of whatever it was I needed. Well, they had several, actually, but none of the correct size and when Aunt Mary starting asking me what I was making and why and couldn't I just use the 1/8 instead of the 7/64 I ran screaming from the premises. I know I don't know what I'm doing, and I really ok with that. It's when other people act like I know what I'm doing that I get all freaked out.

Ten miles and one panic attack later, I was in Home Depot, desperately looking for some other unlucky sucker to help me. Thank goodness the nice man was able to find what I needed, and I happily headed for home.

A and I started work immediately, he sawing up the 12' length boards into 3' lengths while I ... did ... other stuff. I dunno. Probably I was cooking something. Anyway, What I was doing is really not important. What's important were the very clear directions I gave to darling (and to his credit, entirely inexperienced) A before I retreated:

Me: Do you know how to use a saw?

A: Yeah, Dad showed me when we were clearing the path in the woods at the old house.

Me: Sweet. Okay. Here's the wood. Here's a tape measure. Here's a pencil. Cut these at 3' and make sure they are straight across to that when we put everything together it's not cockeyed. Draw a line all the way across the board so you can follow it with the saw. Make sure it's a right angle, ok? Can you figure out how to do that?

A: Yeah, sure.

Famous last words. When I came back for a check-up, the boards reminded me of this unsavory character.

Name that villain, anyone?

At any rate, they all had to be cut again. Whatever. It's not like the squashes are going to up and leave just because their bed had a half an inch shaved off here and there.

Then, we started with the 7/64 #8 countersink drill bit for the pilot holes. With two boards done and six to go, it went and snapped right in half. Poor A thought he was a complete failure since he cut the boards wrong and broken the bit, but really I should have known to buy several. I think breaking drill bits runs in the family.

Day Four rolled around, and back to Home Depot went I. This time I bought three of those dang bits and while I was at it, decided to pick up the soil I would need to fill the beds once they were finished. Again, I found the nearest orange vest and explained my predicament. This time it was a stocky befreckled man who looks like he came straight off a Scottish mountain somewhere. I think under that Home Depot apron he's wearing a kilt. The orange really sets off the fiery red fuzz that surrounds his bald spot.

After having a brief conversation with himself, he determined I needed 9 bags of Miracle Grow, and very generously offered to have them loaded into the car.

I got home determined to finally finish this job. Together, A and I finished drilling all the pilot holes (breaking two of the three newly purchased bits in the meantime) and started screwing the planks together, when the drill gave out. No sweat, I needed to start dinner anyway. We'll just plug it in for an hour or two and come back to finish this thing off. After dinner, we got two screws in before the dang thing wimped out on us.

I was TOTALLY FED UP. I mean seriously! Since the start of the project, could there be ANY more roadblocks for me? Exasperated, I roughly tossed the drill to the ground and stomped off, muttering about buying a whole new stupid power drill because this one is SO WIMPY IT CAN'T EVEN SCREW TOGETHER SOME 2x6s. It was more of a yell than a mutter, really.

Ever calm, A gently suggested that we let it charge overnight before I truck back out to the hardware store to buy another drill. Fine. FINE.

So this morning, DAY FIVE NO LESS, of this never ending project, I returned as quickly as I could from my Dr.'s appointment to find that it was raining. RAINING. There's really not much more fun to be had than gardening in the rain. I know, because I did it today. There was no stopping me. Turns out, A was right and all that Little Drill That Could needed was "a good night's rest."


All the frames are assembled, placed and staked. A hauled the bags of soil around to the backyard, which was no small feat give their weight and the fact that watching him attempt to pick up a bag of loose dirt reminded me of attempting to pick up a screaming toddler that doesn't want to leave the candy store - it just goes limp and flops all over the place.

Here's the final problem: We emptied all nine bags, and alllllll of that dirt barely filled one raised bed.


1. Scottish Home Depot Guy can't do math,
2. I should have mixed the soil with native dirt 50/50, and didn't (I read that somewhere)
3. The stuff I bought (Miracle Grow Flower/Vegetable Garden Soil) is just supposed to be spread over the top and not used as the sole dirt source.

I find this last option the least likely, because if that were the case it would simply be fertilizer and not garden soil. Right? Right?!

So now I don't know if I should buy 27 more bags of the soil so as to fill up the other three beds, or if I should somehow get a load of normal dirt and mix it up and just spread the one-bed's-worth of Miracle Grow soil into the other three. It's not that easy, though, because the "native soil" in my backyard is really, really rocky and that's the whole reason I am using raised beds in the first place!

Woe is me!

However, one thing is resolved: tomorrow, I will finish this project. It should have taken me a day and a half; instead it will have taken 6.

The Seventh Day shall be a day of rest.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

When You Husband Gives You Lemons

I'm in love.

At least, that's what I announced to P on Saturday afternoon when I got home from a spring-fever induced errand run to every local nursery (no seriously, I hit 'em allll up).

The first several had some lovely houseplants that were looking quite nice, but it's really too early for planting anything and the rest of their stock was old news. I chatted for several minutes about to one leather-faced garden-guy about the viability of my lavender from seed, which, by the way, he's not too encouraging about. Being both cheap and suspicious, I think he is just trying to psych me out so I'll buy his one-gallon-for-$7 lavender. Ha. Garden guy, I laugh in your general direction. My lavender will survive. It will survive! (Hey heeyyy...)

On my way home I remembered a small sign I've sometimes passed on my way back from various errands, indicating a cut flowers shop down a quiet, windy street just outside of town. Why not try it? It was 55 degrees outside. I was up for anything.

After a few initial wrong turns, I pulled up outside a rather dreary looking greenhouse and wondered to myself if it was even open. It was 55 degrees outside though, and did I mention I was up for anything? This girl has seen too many straight days of below-freezing weather to be deterred by a few grimy windows. I practically skipped to the front door and whaddya know, the door was open. I stepped inside and was greeted by no one but precariously stacked clay pots and a few empty hanging baskets flung haphazardly around some muddy stairs, which I followed up. Near the top of the stairs, I detected my first whiff of heaven.

Let me pause for a moment to describe this fragrance to you so that you can fully understand its impact on my person. It's the smell of green things, and life, and clean healthy dirt and humidity and pure edenic happiness. Adam and Eve must have lived their entire, beautiful prelapsarian lives surrounded by this scent, it filling their lungs with every breath they took while naming all those little animals dancing around naked eating pomegranates without hindrance of seeds. (I mean really, Eden was perfect. Why would they need seeds?) Let me tell you, my soul remembers those days and it stirred in my veins that Saturday morning. This wasn't some ordinary greenhouse smell, this was a perfect greenhouse smell. It could induce world peace.

Once I stepped through the narrow door, the sight of it was just as wonderful. This greenhouse must be run by The Secret Garden committee or something, because everything was just too perfect. Flowers everywhere. Gorgeous little topiaries, dramatic cactus, incredible hanging ivies, all without a single droop or mite or brittle leaf to be seen. They were packed in so tightly that all the eye could see was green, green, GREEN. After three months of snow, it was surely a sight for sore eyes.

Many, many plants caught my eye. Eventually a dumpy old lady with muddy hands emerged (of course! she was just like a storybook plant lady! I bet her name is Flora.) and I may or may not have asked her if I could move in to her greenhouse. Or at least have a tea party.

One of the most wonderful plants there was a huge tuffet that must have been two and a half feet in diameter, of solid baby tears. If you don't know, baby tears are made up of very delicate creeping vines that are packed very densely with tiny, bright green leaves. They grow in springy patches on which Thumbalina surely sleeps. This particular "mother" plant of baby tears (so called because cuttings from this tuffet serve as the starters for the small pots of baby tears that are actually for sale) is so healthy and beautiful that it has grown up on itself in a big mound and spilled over the edges of the pot, making the pot itself completely invisible behind the dense curtain of tiny leaves. The adorable plant lady told me it was fifteen years old. I wanted to take it home with me. Alas, it was not for sale.

It wasn't until traveling further down the narrow greenhouse path, though, that I fell in love.

About halfway down, on the left, I saw it. The most beautiful plant. It was about four feet tall, with glossy dark green leaves. Not only was it covered in cute little star-like flowers, but its graceful branches were arched with the heavy burden of its gorgeous bright yellow fruits. It was a Meyer Lemon, in full fruit.

I must have gazed at that lemon tree for a solid five minutes before the adorable plant lady came over to me. She explained to me how the care is very simple, as long as it has good light. She told how wonderful it is that the citrus season is during the winter, so when you have to bring the tree in during the dreary months, you are rewarded with this cheerful spectacle. She reminded me that Meyer lemons are known for being the most flavorful and sweet of all the lemon varieties. She even told me that if I prune the tree by cutting off the new growth, I can just put the cuttings in a pot and produce my own baby lemon trees. She told me all these wonderful things about the tree, but, really, I didn't need to be sold. It had me at hello.

Not one of my cheaper finds, I didn't take the tree home with me. The whole way home I caressed the little lemon that the adorable plant lady offered me, thinking about which of the various south-facing windows I could utilize to offer the lemon tree a good home.

The lemon fruit I brought home was bright yellow and smelled wonderful. So wonderful in fact, that Ulrich immediately stole it, squashed it, and rolled in the juice. He's a dog after my own heart.

Hey, its better than what dogs usually roll in.

It wasn't until Sunday afternoon that P was able to come by the greenhouse with me and see for himself. Was he as blown away as I was? Well...he's good at playing along. I can't expect everyone to get as excited as I do about these things. C once made fun for me for hours for cooing over an adorable blueberry bush.

"Would it make you happy?" P asked.

"Yeahhhh," I sighed, my pupils turning to heartshapes.

He smiled, "I'll load it into the car."

What do you do when your husband gives you lemons? KISS HIM!

My inability to take adequate pictures really does not do this darling plant justice. Also, please ignore the paint splotches on the wall. I told you already, I was not cut out to be an interior decorator.