Sunday, April 28, 2013

New Beginnings: Our Little Container Garden!

We really wanted to have a raised bed garden this year. But I realized that the amount of shade in our (tiny) backyard probably wouldn't be conducive to growing an abundance of vegetables. So instead, we've decided to grow things in front of our duplex in containers, and then stake tomato plants along the side of the house. 

It's probably a good idea to start small. I don't have a green thumb, but I want it to get greener. We love to cook with fresh herbs, so I had a grand old time picking out some of my favorites at the nursery. 

I did manage to pick up a few tips at the nursery. For example, when planting herbs in containers, it's important not to plant seedlings of the same variety together, because they take the same nutrients from the soil. It's better to plant mixes of herbs, like we did this afternoon. I'm glad I learned that today, because otherwise I would have planted all 3 basil plants in the same container. 

Take a mini-tour of our tiny container garden!



And this is the Earth Box. Friends, I have to say that I am very skeptical of the Earth Box. Greg pointed out that I have no reason to be, because the people who made it know a lot more about gardening than we do. I just don't trust it, you know? I kept asking as we were cutting the holes, "Will the lettuce be able to come up through this? Are you sure? Are you SURE?" Also, it gets watered through the plastic tube. I don't completely understand, but I'm eager to try it.

We planted 8 green lettuces and 8 red lettuces. The little red guys are a little bit behind the green ones in growing, but pretty soon we will have a lovely salad mix! 

Next weekend, we're going to plant tomatoes! I want Cherokee purple, because they are my favorite for salads/sandwiches, and tomatillos, because homemade salsa verde is one of the best tastes of summer. Do you have another favorite? An heirloom variety we should really try this year?

Photos taken by Greg. Isn't he wonderful? 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Bread&Wine: Recommended Reading

If you love to gather friends and family around your table for a meal, if you love to cook, if you love to eat cold watermelon in the summer sun with the juice running down your chin, if you love to deliver a hot meal to a sick or hurting friend, if you love to clink glasses of plummy red wine with friends in your living room or surprise a loved one with a rich, stratified birthday cake, you will love this book. If you interested in the "spiritual significance of what and how we eat, and with whom and where," and if you are interested in what happens when we sit down together, break bread together, feed one another, then this book is a must-read.

This is not a cookbook, although there are recipes accompanying each chapter. It is a series of vignettes, read like stories told around the dinner table. It's about communion, in an everday sense.

I know people who don't care about food, who could eat cardboard pizza or who forget to eat. I know people who have unhealthy relationships with food, who eat too little or too much. I know that food in this country is unjustly distributed, so that while I can jaunt over to Whole Foods on a Wednesday for something I forgot to pick up on our weekly trip, other people in my city have to take a 3 hour bus ride just to get to a grocery store with fresh produce.

Bread&Wine is an ode to the table. Shauna explains, "It's not actually, strictly, about food for me. It's about what happens when we come together, slow down, open our homes, look into one another's faces, listen to one another's stories. It happens when we leave the office and get a sitter and skip our workouts every so often to celebrate a birthday or an accomplishment or a wedding or a birth, when we break out of the normal clockwork of daily life and pop the champagne on a cold, gray Wednesday for no other reason than the fact that the faces we love are gathered around our table. It happens when we enter the joy and the sorrow of the people we love, and we join together at the table to feed one another and be fed, and while it's not strictly about food, it doesn't happen without it. Food is the starting point, the common ground, the thing to hold and handle, the currency we offer to one another."

I'll admit that there have been a few times that I have wished that I were one of those people who could eat cardboard pizza or forget to eat. The chapter titled "Hungry" really resonates with me. Shauna writes about the way that women especially try to ignore their appetite, to demur about hunger ("I already ate; I couldn't possibly..."). She writes about her liberation when she learned from other women who declared their hunger, who didn't undereat or overeat, who allowed themselves to take pleasure from it. She concludes, "I love the table. I love food and what it means and what it does and how it feels in my hands. And that might be healthy, and it might be a reaction to a world that would love me more if I starved myself, and it's probably always going to be a mix of the two." 

Like Shauna, for me, food is integral to how I show other people I love them. Like Shauna, for me, food is an integral part of my memories. When I think about dating Greg, I think about the fat Spanish olives shared on the patio at Mas Tapas.  When I think about our honeymoon, I think about the pine sauce on our duck breast at The Inn At Langley and fresh cherry-peach smoothies at Pike's Place Market in Seattle. Every time I make fresh herb bread, I think of weekends at the river house with Julie and Emily, talking all night and drinking wine and dipping Emily's herb bread into bubbly fontina cheese.When I think about home I think about my mom's inimitable chicken salad and thick slices of sun-ripened tomato sprinkled with salt and cracked pepper. I remember how growing up whenever someone was really sick or someone passed away, Mrs. Stinson would come over with a homemade cheesecake, still warm from the oven. You won't know what cheesecake can be until you've had it while it's still warm.

I want to learn how to make cheesecake, not because I want to eat it often, but because I want to be that friend or neighbor who brings over a still-warm cheesecake when everything falls apart or when the deadlines are stacked or when the new baby comes home.

That's a large part of what Bread&Wine is about. It's about inviting people to the table. It's about tossing a salad while your nephew gives an extended presentation about a very small scientific fact. It's about the simple alchemy and restorative properties of baking bread when everything else feels uncertain.

So you see, it's not a cookbook. But the recipes are also very good. Shauna gave me the encouragement I needed for us to make our first risotto, with champagne and parmesan and peas. We felt so excited as we stood there, stirring, while the risotto kept expanding. Now it's in our regular rotation. It's worth mentioning that there are a number of gluten-free recipes in this book, and that it is well-balanced between healthy and comfort foods. I'm looking forward to trying her mango curry chicken next week, which was mentioned in both of her first two books, Cold Tangerines and Bittersweet.

Go read the book, and gather people around your table, and be hungry, and feed yourself, and feed others.

Also, visit Shauna Niequist's website for more information, to keep up with her lovely blog, or to find out more about her other books.

Shauna Niequist is the author of Cold Tangerines and Bittersweet, and Bread & WineShauna grew up in Barrington, Illinois, and then studied English and French Literature at Westmont College in Santa Barbara. She is married to Aaron, who is a pianist and songwriter. Aaron is a worship leader at Willow Creek and is recording a project called A New Liturgy. Aaron & Shauna live outside Chicago with their sons, Henry and Mac. Shauna writes about the beautiful and broken moments of everyday life--friendship, family, faith, food, marriage, love, babies, books, celebration, heartache, and all the other things that shape us, delight us, and reveal to us the heart of God.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Birthday/Anniversary Gift Idea: Hotel Robe

I turned 27 yesterday! April is a very busy month, because Greg's birthday is just 8 days after mine. His parents are coming to stay with us this weekend, and they're taking us out for a joint birthday dinner at Silo, which looks fantastic. Greg and I are going to go out just the two of us to celebrate my birthday, but we already had a nice celebration at home last night. Greg sauteed tilapia last night in coconut oil, lightly crusted with (unsweetened) flaked cocnut and a berry-cilantro salsa. We got the recipe from How Sweet It Is, which is by far my favorite food blog. We substituted blackberries and raspberries for the pomegranate, and it turned out to be fantastic!

My big gift from Greg this year was a robe from the Inn at Langley, where we stayed on our honemoon. It's a snuggly-soft lightweight waffle weave, perfect for spring/summer. It's embroidered with the name of the inn.

Isn't that a sweet idea for a birthday or anniversary gift for your loved one? Just order a robe from the hotel or inn where you had a special trip.

My birthday present is an everyday reminder of our amazing stay in the Puget Sound and this view from our balcony:

Great idea, Greg!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Affordable Art: Janet Hill Studio

I am so excited to share these oil paintings by Janet Hill Studio! I am over the moon about her designs. I want to decorate my whole house with them!

I'm dreaming of a gallery wall with floating bookshelves and groupings of these prints. 

Many of her paintings are part of "narrative series." Your imagination will run wild completing the stories of characters such as Miss Moon and her dogs, or the inhabitants of Black Walnut Manor.

The colors are so opulent! The subjects are glamorous and beautiful, with a touch of whimsy.

I think this one, titled "Tallulah Shaw Rehearses before her last show. 1959." is my favorite. Those flamingos!

Open edition prints of many her paintings are available from between $26 and $45. Visit the Janet Hill Studio to add one to your art collection!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Recommended Reading: Rules of Civility

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

In between The Great Gatsby and World War II lies the story of Katey Kontent, Tinker Grey, and their social circles. The year is 1938, the place is New York City, and the story is complex.

It is hard to believe this is Amor Towles's first novel. The characters are colorfully developed. As the narrator Katey is introduced to new people throughout the book, you will be surprised how well you feel you know and understand them.

The city, too, comes alive under Towles's pen. From the jazz bars to the elaborately decorated store windows of Bergdorf Goodman's department store, from the Plaza Hotel to the bullpen at Conde Nast's towering office, you will feel as though you too are living in New York. Each place is described in narrow detail that never borders tedium, but makes you feel as though you have walked the hallways of the characters' flats many times and nosed around picture frames and urns.

Anyone who is as enthralled by portraits of this era as I am will enjoy this book. The effervescence of the profuse parties at the Hollingsworth's mansion is reminiscent of the parties of Fitzgerald's novels, and the inscrutableness of Tinker Grey even recalls the mysterious Jay Gatsby.

This book deserves to be slipped into your bag for your next holiday, carried on the train, or reclining by the pool. You will want to read it at your leisure because it will be hard to put down.