Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Peaches




I'm very serious about peaches. My grandparents had a peach orchard when I was growing up, and summer meant boxes and boxes of the sweet, fuzzy fruit. I don't even consider buying peaches from a grocery store -- they're always underripe, hard and sour compared to those fresh out of the orchard.
Peaches are failsafe happiness medicine for me. They remind me of summers at my grandparents' farm, and of my wedding (my mom and I made tiny jars of jam for favors, and we served giant cobblers at the rehearsal dinner), and of family and friends.
Last summer, a few weeks after my husband left for Afghanistan, I went to my parents' for a weekend of peach preserving and pity, and was surprised by a visit from a close friend. We spent hours that Saturday slicing, mashing and boiling peaches, singing the "Jam Tomorrow" song from the exceedingly creepy live action Alice in Wonderland from the 80s, and eating so much of the foam skimmed from the boiling jam we almost went into blood sugar comas (even eating it straight off the countertop after a nasty spill).



I bought the first peaches of the summer a few weekends ago, and they were tiny, sweet and perfect. I need to get more soon so I can put them up -- I'm down to my last quart of frozen peaches and my last few jars of jam.



This typed recipe sheet is one my grandmother made and handed out to customers at their peach stand (thanks for digging up a copy, Aunt Karen!). The recipes are all family favorites, and you can't go wrong with them.

As always, click to enlarge.

If you're interested in more canning and preserving, check out your local agriculture extension service and the National Center for Home Food Preservation from the University of Georgia. It's a marvelous resource and full of recipes and tips to help everyone from beginners to experts.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

How does your garden grow?


A lot has changed with my garden since I first posted about it, flush with the excitement of fresh baby plants. I faithfully tended the little plot for weeks, watering it and checking it for pests and nutrient deficiencies. I even plucked fruit and flowers from the squash to make delicious stuffed squash blossoms, and cheered as two tomato plants sprang up from seeds left by fallen and forgotten tomatoes last fall. I watered my bean and okra seeds in hopes of seeing seedlings peek out from under the soil.

Now, the plants are bigger, and deader, and weedier. There's some hope that emergency watering can revive even the sad little squash, but the prospects are bleak. The bean and okra seedlings never materialized (guaranteed to grow, my arse), and I need to fill in the potato box with more soil.







The tomatoes aren't bad -- if I can keep the birds from eating them all, they should do fine.



I got one wrinkly, dehydrated bell pepper already, and there's another one struggling to grow.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Embroidery project

Back in May, I decided I was going to try to finish projects rather than start new ones. One of those I mentioned was a wedding gift set of day-of-the-week tea towels for a good friend's wedding that took place last summer. Embarrassingly, I've still not finished the project, and today's their first anniversary.

They are in progress, though, and I finished Wednesday today. Happy anniversary, Lauren and Thomas, and here's a sneak peek at your gift.

(A note about the project -- I drew the design on Glad Press-n-seal wrap, and stuck that to the towel. It's great for stabilizing the fabric, and easier than transferring the design using tracing paper. However, it's not very easy to peel off, especially around the French knots and blanket stitch. The way the stitching looks over the drawing has given me an idea for screen printing embellished with embroidery, so stay tuned for some experiments with that.)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Happiness Project

One of my coworkers told me about Charles Spearin of Broken Social Scene's Happiness Project yesterday, and it's my latest favorite thing. Spearin takes interviews with his neighbors and identifies the little natural melodies in their speech and sets it to music, and it's seriously cool.

He says, "Normally, we don’t pay any attention to the movement of our lips and tounge, and the rising and falling of our voices as we toss our thoughts back and forth to each other. We just talk and listen. The only time we pay attention to these qualities is in song. (Just as when we read we don’t pay attention to the curl and swing of the letters as though they were little drawings.)"

I've always loved typeography and spend an absurd amount of time thinking about the way letters and words look, and what messages they convey (side note: compare the forceful, aggressive all-caps font of the Bush-Cheney sign to the softer, more approachable lowercase, rounded serif text of the Kerry-Edwards sign)


Anyway, The Happiness Project is this fabulous auditory version of visual art. I'm trying to decide who my favorite neighbor is, and I think I like Mrs. Morris. There's something about the playful squeak of the saxophone that I love.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Spicy peanut noodles


I cook a lot of pasta. It's quick and simple, and it's wide open to variations. Combined with a rich sauce in winter, it's hearty and filling; tossed with vegetables in summer, it's light and fresh. Making fresh pasta is easier than you'd think, but dried works well, too.

This recipe is one of my favorites. I usually make it with Japanese udon noodles -- I love the texture of these thick, slippery noodles -- but tonight I tossed the leftover sauce with penne and it was just as good.

In winter, when tomatoes, scallions and bell pepper are out of season, I just add edamame and a jar of roasted bell peppers. Now that it's summer, I can add fresh vegetables -- and soon, I'll be able to get them straight from my garden (if the birds would stop eating my tomatoes!).

Spicy Thai-Style Noodles
from Simple Vegetarian Pleasures by Jeanne Lemlin
1/4 cup natural-style peanut butter, chunky or smooth
3 T tamari soy sauce
3 T tomato sauce or tomato puree
3 T dry sherry (I usually use vegetable broth)
grated zest of 1 lime
2 T (or more) lime juice
2 T brown sugar
1/2 - 1 t chili paste with garlic
2 T canola oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
Vegetables like bell pepper, scallion, tomato, snow peas
1 c shelled edamame (I usually buy a bag of frozen and steam according to package directions)
chopped peanuts

Bring stockpot of water to boil; cook noodles.
Mix all ingredients except last 4 in bowl.
Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Stir in the sauce and keep warm over low heat. Do not let the sauce simmer or boil because it will get too thick. The sauce can be prepared up to 6 hours in advance.
Combine vegetables, edamame and peanuts with sauce and noodles.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Why I run


People ask me all the time why I run, and I usually say something like, "So I can eat whatever I want," or because it's an effective way to handle stress, and these are true -- it's great to have a milkshake and fries and not think twice -- but the real, deep-down, dark reason is because it makes me feel awesome. Not awesome physically (because I'm seriously stiff today), but like I can do anything. It's exhilarating to travel miles and miles with only my feet and legs and muscles.

I like to challenge myself. Learning new skills, like knitting and sewing, is like running hills. It's hard, especially at first, but you get used to it and soon you're in better shape and ready to tackle something steeper or higher. When my husband left for Afghanistan, I decided to do a 15-mile run before he got back. At the time, 4 or 5 miles was about all I could gasp out.

I tried to hit 15 a couple of weeks ago, and made it just past 11 miles and couldn't go any farther. This weekend, I gave it another shot. I knew I was going to make it from the minute I laced up my shoes and hit the sidewalk. The first 3 miles I took it slow, letting Daisy set the pace since running in Texas in June wearing a fur coat isn't exactly easy. I dropped her off at home and grabbed a swallow of water, and by mile 4 I was grinning. Around the sixth mile, the Rocky theme started playing faintly in my head, and I lost track of my body. I was moving over the streets without effort, just my mind flying along as I ate up the pavement. This was awesome. By the time I'd gone 10 miles, I knew without doubt I'd hit my goal, but I was definitely aware of my legs again. And my knees, and my feet. And my lungs. But although I was tired, I was also aware of a core of energy inside that I knew would push me through to the end.

When I finished and walked down my street in my socks, carrying my shoes, I reveled in the feeling of meeting a challenging goal. I did it, and because I did it, I could do anything. But I did it in small pieces, slowly building a mile at a time, holding back and perfecting one skill when I wanted to overreach. I also did it with the support of friends -- other runners who pushed me and asked me to push them. It sounds cheesy, but I know that's how I can get tackle anything, from figuring out a difficult stitch to surviving a year with my husband in a war zone. A mile at a time, with friends along the way.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Trousers - final update



Well, here they are. About a million miniscule adjustments later, including a final waistband letting-out after they were totally put together that had me almost convinced just losing 5 pounds would be easier, they fit. Almost perfectly. I'm taking them out for a test drive tomorrow!


Action shot

Back view

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Summer reading

the Virgin in the Garden
It's June, my favorite month of my favorite season. It's warm (ok, hot), but the weather's not as stifling as it will get in July and August. The week-long spring rains are over, and now the weeks of sun are punctuated by thunderstorms. The days stretch out long, and it feels like there's more time to get things accomplished -- and still have time to sit on the porch in the evening and chill.

Summer is a time most readers like to kick off their mental shoes and relax with easy, fun, uplifting books. Usually, I feel the same way, but since I spent this winter wallowing in junk reading, I'm still in the mood for more substantial fare.

Tomorrow is the kickoff for our big summer reading program at the library where I work, and I've been thinking a lot about reading and my habits. I like to have 2 or 3 books going at a time, plus at least one audiobook (sometimes two), but I don't always finish all of them. It's so bad that I have a special stack of books I consider my languishing pile -- books I drifted away from months and even years ago, and still plan to pick up one day and finish, but I'm constantly distracted by the shiny new books that cross my desk every day. One of the occupational hazards of being a librarian is there are always way more books I want to read, and less and less time in which to read them. My summer reading goal this year is to get through 3 or 4 of the books in my languishing pile, and to read a few other books I've been planning to pick up for years but haven't gotten around to.

One of my habits is to have one book I read at breakfast and dinner, if I'm dining solo, and to have another book I pack along to work to read during my lunch hour. I either take one of these with me to bed, or I have a third book I reserve for bedtime reading. I also always have a book languishing on my nightstand just in case, and a book on my iPhone for long lines at the post office. I also have an audiobook on my iPhone for driving, and a separate audiobook on a little flash mp3 player for listening to while running. I just finished listening to The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham (it's fantastic -- don't let the classic moniker scare you away from this vivid, spare novel about love and respect and British colonial China and cholera), so I picked up a fascinating book about the 1854 London cholera epidemic and the two men who determined the disease was waterborne and made great strides in epidemiology as a followup. The Ghost Map by Stephen Johnson does not work as a breakfast or lunch book -- I tried, and every time I thought I was safe, he'd mention some disgusting cholera symptom, or start describing the progression towards death -- so I had to quarantine it to bedtime reading. I also have A.S. Byatt's The Virgin in the Garden going, and I'm between audiobooks right now, having finally finished Jerome K. Jerome's hilarious Three Men in a Boat and Steig Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which was so good I had to find excuses to listen to it.

The Byatt novel is one of my summer reading goal books. How do you approach summer reading? Do you have any goals, or plans? How do you decide what to read next?

In other news, I'm almost finished with the trousers -- just need hems and buttons. They're slow going because I'm too tired to handle more than a few steps a day, plus getting them to fit exactly right is harder than I thought it would be. Who knew?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Pants!

I've been quiet this week because I've been busy working on my new pants, making minute adjustments and painstakingly picking out seams stitch by stitch. The crazy Hammer pants I made last weekend fit perfectly by the time I finished with them, and I confidently took them apart and used them as my pattern to cut out my real trousers. Somehow, through the mysterious alchemy of sewing, my butt grew enormous and the pattern pieces shrunk to miniscule proportions in the week between making the prototype and putting together the real thing. By the time I have a chance to sew in the evening, I only have the brainpower and stamina for about an hour's work before my eyes cross and fingers fumble, so fitting these dudes has been an epic journey taken in very small steps.

Anyway, tonight the stars aligned and the planets were true in their courses and the pants fit. Fit! Perfectly. I've been in my pajamas since 8 p.m, so you don't get an action shot tonight, but maybe this weekend when they're finished I'll show 'em off. For now, here they are on a hanger.



See that? Right there? Oh, yeah, (almost) matched stripes! That takes planning -- trust me (thanks, Mom!).


Fitting trousers is fidgety work -- you let out a seam by 1/8 of an inch, and by some miracle of calculus that 1/8 inch is transformed into way more roominess, but it's not enough, so you let out another seam 1/8 of an inch, over and over, until the magical point where you step into the trousers and they slide up and over your hips and you know they're just right.

Despite the apparent tedium, I've quite enjoyed messing with these trousers. There's almost nothing as satisfying as sewing a long, straight seam -- opening up the machine and letting it go as fast as it can, eating up the inches of fabric in seconds, the needle chattering away -- and trousers have the best seams. The sound of my machine clattering down a seam is so soothing, and takes me back 20 years to my grandparents' farm, when the same machine was turning out works of apparel art under my paternal grandmother's hands. And I look down at my fingers feeding the fabric through, and I see my mother's and her mother's hands instead of my own. Sewing is one of those activities where you tap into a rich line of human history; slicing through fine wool with a sharp pair of Gingher dressmaker's shears is something tailors and dressmakers have been doing for centuries, and it's what makes cutting out my pattern pieces one of my favorite parts of sewing. That, and the feeling of satisfaction when I slip into a pair of perfectly fitted trousers.

Monday, June 1, 2009

New projects

May was supposed to be Finish What You Started Month, and I think it was fairly successful. I finished two projects -- the gloves and an appliqued baby blanket for a friend. A completion rate of two projects in one month is very high for me, so I celebrated by starting two more! In my defense, it's almost June and these are projects I've had on my to-do list for a long time, so they're not really new projects.

The first is this hat and mitten set for my brother; it's going to be black and gray instead of black and red, and if I can make the mittens as gloves I will. That'll depend on where the end of the pattern hits on the hand.



The second is the suit I've been planning for months, the fitting of which led to the Hammer pants from a few days ago (I'm still laughing about those). It's a chocolate-and-blue pinstripe in lightweight wool, and I'm very excited about it. If only I can get past the boring parts of transferring pattern markings and zigzag stitching the edges of the pieces to prevent fraying and start the fun of putting them together!



My only other project for June is to finish the wedding gift I started last summer in time for the recipients' first anniversary.
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