Easier Said Than Done

Starting a garden in Tucson is not an easy proposition.  The ground is hard-baked from the sun, loaded with rocks and roots, and wholly nutrient deficient.

Instead of dealing with this reality in the spring and summer we used pots in the greenhouse and created one raised bed into which we added soil and compost.  I wrote many blog posts about the ups and downs of our first gardening experience.  I will be forever grateful to Audrey 2 for providing us with big, healthy, delicious zucchini.  It was our first bonafide success.

One thing we decided to do for the fall planting season was create a larger in-ground garden, so we are dealing with the challenges of preparing a plot for the first time.  After a season of trial and error, we found a wonderful nursery  (Mesquite Nursery in Tucson) that has everything we need for our garden as well as helpful master desert gardeners.  We left the other day with packets of seeds, potting soil (for the seedlings in the greenhouse), bags of soil and soil conditioner and lots of good advice.  And let’s not forget this:

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Low tech but great info.  We were relieved to learn that we have about two weeks before we put any seeds directly into the garden.  This is good news because it will likely take us every bit of those two weeks to turn this:

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into an appropriate place to plant seeds.  And I use the word “we” very liberally here because loosening the soil with “our” tiller (taking a rest in the heat) and the subsequent digging down into this 25 x 7′ plot became David’s job very quickly.  After gamely hanging in with him in the 100 degree heat, shoveling away loosened dirt and picking out stones, I got the vapors and had to retire.  He hung in there, loosening the dirt:

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Digging up the tree roots:

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And yanking them out:

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Oh man.  This is some job.  The goal is to dig down about eighteen inches and then add the soil and soil conditioner that we bought.  The good news is that this phase only happens once.  Eventually, David also got the vapors and we both jumped in the pool.   Heaven.

Since I am pretty useless with the heavy lifting, my job is to start the seeds in the greenhouse.  Hard not to get excited about these:

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These are the varieties that we can start in the greenhouse.  The root vegetables like carrots, onions, radishes and beets need to go directly in the garden.  It makes sense that you wouldn’t want to transplant those!   Our handy cheat sheet also tells us about the time from sowing to harvest:

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Who knew that it would take more than 100 days for celery to be ready to harvest?!  I think not.   Bring on the carrots and bok choy!  We also learned about sequencing the planting, especially with the root vegetables.  Each time you pull a root vegetable, it’s gone, done.  The other vegetable plants continue to provide even after cutting off leaves (lettuces) or fruit (broccoli).   In order to keep a steady flow of root vegetables you have to keep sowing new seeds after the initial planting.  So we’ll plan for all of that.

I’m very excited about our garden and I’m sure I’ll continue my role as garden archivist in order to bring all the updates to the blogosphere.

And one last shout out to my ridiculously can-do husband for contributing all the grit and muscle.  Love you honey.

 

A Grown-Up Robe (Sort Of)

I think there are robe people and non-robe people.  I’m the latter. In my house growing up we didn’t even use the word “robe”, rather, that article of clothing was a “housecoat”.  It didn’t matter.  I don’t remember ever owning one (although I’m pretty sure I must have).  I think we dutifully packed white terry robes when I went off to sleep-away camp every summer but I’m certain those never got worn.  I was completely baffled by scenes in television shows when bleary-eyed folks slipped on the robes sitting at the end of the bed (really, people do that?) before checking out a suspicious noise or tending to a crying baby.

For me, “loungewear”  usually means some comfy cotton slip-on pants and whatever tank top I shouldn’t be wearing in public any longer.  Well, this all works out fine until David and I have overnight guests, and we’ve had several of late.  Totally embarrassed to be seen in these get-ups over the morning coffee, I knew it was time to take action.  And for me that means, sew it up!   I remember being very impressed when my friend Nancy spent a night at our house and she emerged in the morning wearing a lovely kimono-type robe.  I was thinking about this when I planned and shopped for my next sewing project.  I chose this one:

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This has that kimono vibe.  I’m not sure what’s up with those pants but I wasn’t planning on making any so it was all good.

When I went looking for fabric I knew I wanted a soft cotton knit rather than a stiff woven.  If I’m going to do the robe thing I may as well be comfy.  As I wandered around Joann’s I came across some fun “juvenile” prints.  Yes, that’s what they call them.  I think, in this case, “juvenile” means brightly colored, polka dots, flowers, etc.  Since I was not planning on leaving the house in my robe I settled on this bold “flower power” print:

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Admittedly I can envision this fabric as cute PJ’s for a seven year old girl, and I had a fleeting “god I’m too old for this” moment, but then I thought “robe” not “evening gown”.  I was excited to get started today.  Turns out this was a one-day project and here it is:

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Well, that’ll wake you up in the morning!

I will say right off the bat, that this is not my most stellar make technically but I get a real kick out of how it turned out.   Construction was actually very very simple but I had to change up some of the instructions because I was using knit fabric.  I serged most of the seams and used my twin needle to hem the sleeves and bottom:

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My twin needle wasn’t loving this fabric hence the wavy and uneven stitches.

For this project I experimented with not using pins.  Very good sewists often skip pins because of their tendency to distort the seams and ruin the fabric.  Well, I’m not there yet but this fabric was heavy enough and I was impatient enough that I just kind of went for it.  This time I weighted down the pattern and  and just cut away:

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Snip snip…very speedy.  I didn’t have quite enough fabric so I needed to shorten up the sleeves by a good three inches to make it work.   The sleeves still reach my wrists so unless you are an orangutan this is probably a necessary pattern change.  I do think the band around the neck is a nice finish:

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This is actually a very good beginner’s project.  A bit of variety technique-wise, some set-in sleeves, minimal fitting and no pesky closures.

While my new robe doesn’t compare to the five-star hotel variety (I seldom wear those either!) with this in my closet I know I can avoid embarrassment in the future and maybe even bring a little zip to my mornings.

Dog Love

“Life begins when the kids are gone and the dog dies.”

I remember seeing that quote on a bumper sticker years ago.  At the time I had three small children and one large Rhodesian Ridgeback named Kali.  I lived in a state of low-level overwhelm most of the time although I’m not sure I was in touch with it.   I remember laughing knowingly at the bumper sticker, my then cynical (and overwhelmed) self pining for a time when I would have more freedom from both kids and dog.  Well the kids grew up and moved out (I miss them all) and at age twelve the dog died.  I miss her too.  I wish I could have been more present more of the time for them all.

Luckily (or maybe it’s not luck at all) my relationships with my kids have shifted in delightful ways as they have taken on more and more responsibility for their own lives.  They are exciting and fascinating people. We remain connected and sometimes, if they are around (and they let me), I can still find ways to actively support and nurture them.  This usually involves food, cheerleading, the occasional shopping trip and always an attentive ear.

At the same time I have missed having a dog around.  Occasionally David and I discuss the merits of having a dog (a fluffy golden doodle perhaps–soooo cute!) but we both really know that we don’t want to be tied down at this point in our lives.  So when I get to spend a few days with Sam’s dog, Deacon…

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…it makes dog-loving heart sing.  Deacon is a beagle/basset hound mix.  He’s goofy and sweet and spent half of last night nestled in bed between me and David.  OK, he was really on top of David.  Kali was never very well trained and she was kind of an aloof dog.  Sam has trained Deacon very well, and he has that “glad to be part of the team” rescue dog personality.  I adore him, and I’m very grateful that Sam brings him along when he comes to visit.  I had some fun yesterday snapping photos:

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On the couch…oops!

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This close-up is my favorite:

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Thanks Deacon, for bringing your delicious dog energy into my house.  You rock.

Fun Weekend, New Bracelet

It’s  been a busy weekend around here.  David’s son, Jason, and his girlfriend, Kristen, arrived on Thursday for a three day visit.  We don’t see them very often so we were looking forward to hanging out together without much of an agenda.  We hiked, cooked, swam, sunned and drank some good wine.  Here’s a photo of David and Jay during our hike in Sabino:

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We were out early and it was still pretty hot out there!  The big smiles pretty much tell the story of the weekend.

I also enjoyed my solo time with Kristen.  We gals need to stick together since we are usually well outnumbered by the guys!  Kristen is studying to be a nurse, and she is also very creative and artistic.  She expressed an interest in learning how to do Kumihimo so we set off to play at the bead store.  We picked up supplies so she could make a woven bracelet like mine, and while we were there, we spotted a sample of an earth-tone beaded bracelet with tassels that we both really liked.  I decided to buy the beads we needed to make it figuring we could use online resources for the how-to part:

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And here’s the finished bracelet:

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I really like it, probably because it looks pretty much like the one we saw. I think the process of construction was fine but my technique on this go-round was less than stellar.   Different (less artfully arranged) photos tell the real story.

This bracelet has a loop and button closure.  Here’s a close-up of that part:
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The construction begins with the loop:

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This bracelet is beaded using double strands of cording, but the loop is started using only single strands.  Once you have about 2 inches of single braid on the Kumihimo disk, you take the warps off, fold the braid in half and rethread the 16 warps (2 in each slot) to begin the beading part.  I didn’t keep those eight doubled warps from criss-crossing each other when I rethreaded so my first beads didn’t create a neat edge.  This will be something I pay closer attention to next time.

After the beaded portion is the desired length,  there’s some additional braiding, the ends are knotted, and the button is attached by threading one cord of the sixteen through the button.  Here’s a shot of that construction:

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The tassels are simply the remaining cords dotted with beads, trimmed and knotted.  I used simple knots which didn’t secure each bead to a specific spot on a cord.  There’s a way to knot that keep the beads from moving around but I haven’ t learned how to do that yet.

Here’s the bracelet on my wrist:

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Hmm. The mess at the beginning is pretty apparent. Maybe this way:

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Better.  Happily I have plenty of beads left over so I can give it another go.  Once I get the kinks out I’ll send one to Kristen.  She and Jason are off to Las Vegas today for more vacation and David and I going to finish the weekend eating up leftovers, catching  up on the Times puzzle and floating in the pool.  Ahhh.

 

Happy in Ikat

So it finally happened.  Some time this summer I slipped on my favorite khaki shorts, looked in the mirror, and realized that it was time to stop wearing shorts.  This doesn’t mean that I never wear them, particularly when I’m out walking or hiking, but they no longer (to my eye anyway) do anything for me.  And given the weather here in hot, hot Arizona, pants for me are a complete no-go.  Enter skirts.  Lots and lots of skirts.

I’ve written before about how much I enjoy sewing skirts–a great opportunity to trot out some fun prints and few fitting issues.  For my “instead of shorts” pattern though I’m loving this one, the aptly named Everyday Skirt:DSCN1506

Admittedly I got sucked in by the easy breezy model, but I could see how this pattern could work in lots of fabrics and pair up with all my summer tanks and tees.  Um, no sweaters in August.

This is the second time I’ve made this skirt.  Here’s me wearing the first version:

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This is the dotted chambray version (where would I be without the ever-present black tank!) which I love, except that it’s too sheer to wear without a slip.  The slippery nylon clinging in the summer…well you know.

So I set off to Joann’s to find a more opaque, slightly “crisper” fabric.  Joann’s is a real hit or miss affair for me, but this time I got lucky and found this wonderful Ikat chambray:

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My love affair with Ikat patterns started a long time ago and I’ve slipped them into my environment like here:

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and here:

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But this is the first time I’ve used an Ikat pattern for an article of clothing.  Here’s the finished skirt:

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The designers of this skirt have only recently branched out from designing children’s patterns.  No wonder they understand comfort!  Some of the features that make this such a great “throw on skirt” include the elastic waist in the back:

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From a styling perspective, the smooth front waistband keeps the look more modern and less “Home Ec”. And the pockets are a must for me in terms of function:

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The construction is simple throughout right down to the turned up and top-stitched hem:

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I’m really pleased with how this skirt turned out.  Here’s me wearing it, and enjoying the full-on sunny day:DSCN1489

Hope your day is making you smile (even if you’re not wearing Ikat)!

 

 

When the Cameras Aren’t Rolling

It’s been days since I posted.  A change from the every-other-day pace that I had settled into.  We spent a long weekend up in Prescott on a mini family getaway (so cool and piney) and I “forgot” my camera.  And my knitting.  I think I was needing to just be present in my weekend without documenting it all.   Consequently I have little to “report”.  In addition, I didn’t have too many projects in the pipeline so most everything right now is a work in progress.  And that’s okay, except that I was in touch with feeling like I really wanted to be done with something so that I could present it–you know, “voila!”  All wrapped up.

Let’s face it–blogging gives us the opportunity to neaten it up, tidy it up and present ourselves in whatever light we choose.  I’m not on Facebook but blogging has plenty to do with image management no matter how “real” we profess to be.  And I have hundreds of discarded photographs to prove it.   In general I don’t struggle with the fact of this much, but today, I’d like to formally honor “the process” and the time before and after the tidy wrap-up.  In no particular order…

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This is the shawl-in-progress occupying a place of honor on my chair in the kitchen.  The dimensions of this shawl are really big so it will likely remain in this spot for weeks.

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This is my skirt-in-progress plopped on my messy sewing table awaiting waistband and hem finishing.  I’m resisting the urge to post a completed “tada” photo from another version of this skirt I made a while ago.  I say “no” today to image management!!

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This is a photo of my next Kumihimo project.  I’m just in the contemplation (i.e. I haven’t gotten the materials yet) stage, but I’m wanting to make a double strand necklace using variegated fiber.

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This is Audrey 2 still doing her thing.  There’s one zucchini left on the plant and the bed needs to get cleaned up and prepped for the fall planting.  And speaking of the garden:

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Yeah, we’re done here.  Ready for the new seedlings (which we haven’t bought yet).  And then there’s this:

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The site of our new beds.  Our plans are ambitious but we probably won’t get to this until next weekend.

And on the food front, after a flurry of cooking and baking, we are starting to break into all the goodies we froze.  Today we are snacking on this:

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Yummy banana bread that’s as good the second time around.

And after the debacle with the flies (there were more of them out there this morning), the weather here has been doing its summer rainy thing and our usual breathtaking views are just, well, so-so:

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So there you have it.  Life moving as it does between the ooh and aah moments.  I know that accompanying photos of me in my “not ready for primetime” attire might be an appropriate ending for this post.  You know, the anti-voila! moment.  But we all have our limits.

Positively Biblical

Monsoon season in the desert can be quite a spectacle.  When I first moved to Arizona I had a hard time getting my head around the idea that dangerous rain and flash flooding could even happen here.  A flooded basement in Scottsdale let me know that rain damage could and did happen in the summer in the desert.  And I heard plenty of stories about people drowning in the rushing water in the washes.

Summer in Tucson is even more tropical with afternoon rain a common and welcome occurrence.  Since we moved here, I’ve seen lots of surprising monsoon-related things, from snakes climbing onto my deck to escape the water to helicopters plucking stranded hikers out of the canyon after an unexpected microburst.   But as we ventured out today we encountered a less than delightful monsoon-related phenomenon:

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If this photo makes you think of plagues and locusts I get it.

This was not our first encounter with this.  Last summer, upon heading out for an early morning walk on a super-humid day, the swarms were everywhere, both in the air and on the ground.  As we considered turning around (I mean, really, what price fitness?)  we met up with one of our neighbors who told us that these are flying ants-unpleasant for sure, but harmless.  A quick google search told us that intense humidity and moisture can create the perfect mating environment for these ants (which don’t bite by the way).  This swarming business is related to the mating activity.  Quite the frenzy if you see it up close.

When we ran into the flying ants on the road this morning we knew what was going on but it wasn’t any more pleasant to be around.  I was disappointed that I didn’t have my camera with me, but lo and behold I had my own personal swarm outside my kitchen door.  That’s when I took these photos.  I tried to get some close-ups but given all the frenetic activity it was a challenge.  The ants taking a rest from the mating ritual:

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I was not resting but rather swatting frantically so I could get closer:

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Yuck.

As the humidity lifts these should clear out–can’t be soon enough for me!  So as not to leave my readers with a pretty creepy visual I will share a few shots of the more lovely aspects of a well-watered desert:

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The prickly pear, plump and ripe.

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The stunning blooms of the barrel cactus.

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One bloom opening to greet the day.

Much better.

 

 

 

 

Fun With Beads (Part 2)

It’s Done!  

After my amateur photography detour I finally got down to the business of beading and here is the completed necklace:

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I love it!  I saw this exact design in my Kumihimo book and decided to just replicate it for my first go-round.  I’m not sorry I did.  I had such a good time making this and at each step I learned something new.  Here’s how it all came together:

The initial set-up of the beads is similar to that of the simple Kumihimo bracelet I made before:

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In this case, weighted bobbins are used as is a thin nylon cording. About eight inches of beads are strung on each warp before winding.  The bead spinner is a nifty tool that helps the stringing go quickly.  One hand spins the beads and the other uses a curved needle to skim across the top and quickly push the beads up the string:

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After an initial half inch of braiding sans beads the beads are then individually placed in the proper position as the warps are moved back and forth and the kumihimo disk is turned.  Because each bead needs to sit beneath the crosswise warp a weight is attached to the bottom knot to pull the necklace down as it forms thus leaving room at the top to slip each bead where it needs to be.  Here’s what it looks like from the top:

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My hands got tired, and it didn’t take long before I used an old honey jar to rest the work on:

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Here’s a shot of the necklace taking shape:

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Mistakes are easy to spot because the cording becomes visible on the outside of the necklace.  It didn’t take long for me to get the hang of reverse beading in order to back up and fix mistakes.  The goal is to NOT take the warps off because chances are you’ll get hopelessly lost and have to start over (yes, I learned that one the hard way).   Eventually, I had to improvise further because the weight underneath always has to be swinging freely and the jar didn’t cut it after several inches of necklace.  This time it was the jumbo pretzels container (with a hole hacked out of the bottom) that saved the day.  Not beautiful, but functional:

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In case you’re wondering there are actual Kumihimo frames that are specifically made for this sort of thing.  Definitely one of those in my future.

Once the beads are the right length, another half inch of braiding is done without beads.  Then the necklace is taken off the disk and the edges are bound.  Here’s the necklace with the end caps/cones attached:

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I had to get out my new jewelry making tools (i.e. pliers) to wrap the end cones and create loops to attach the clasp.  Here’s a close-up of my handiwork:

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Not bad.  For veteran jewelry-makers this is a no-brainer, but I was all thumbs at first and it took a few tries to get it right.  After that the other pieces came together easily like this:

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And this post would not be complete without a picture of me wearing my new necklace.  Ta da…

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Can’t wait to make another one…

Better Than “Good”

Every so often I reread my own blog posts, both because I can’t believe that I’ve actually written so many and also to look at my own development as a blogger.   I write about things that have a lot of emotional charge for me, and I see that my language reflects that.  My posts are peppered with descriptive language–words like “gorgeous, stunning, spectacular, disaster, mess, epic fail”, etc.

I love words, and part of the fun of writing is making the words sing as well as accurately convey how I feel.  Consequently, words like “good, okay, fine” don’t often find their way into my posts.   I think we can all agree that it’s not particularly interesting to read language that conveys so little.  That being said, our lives are chock-full of moments and experiences that might not qualify as “blog-worthy”.  As I pick and choose what to write about I naturally gravitate to the highlights.  Today’s post, however, is an homage to the other stuff -the stuff (see how nondescript I can be?) that doesn’t usually make the cut.

What actually inspired this post was last night’s dessert…

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which was….good.

This is an Italian Shortbread Jam Tart (recipe here).  This was stunningly easy to prepare (I’ll get the superlatives in there somehow) with a simple shortbread dough:

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Any jam can be smeared onto the dough.  I used the apricot preserves you see in the photo.   Then the remainder of the dough is crumbled onto the top, and sliced almonds (no toasting or anything) are sprinkled across the entire top and it’s ready for baking:

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A half hour start to finish (plus baking time).  And here’s a slice on the plate:

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Hmmmm.  Never mind how the tart looks (pretty delectable, actually)  I’m noticing that the photograph which is just “okay” because I couldn’t figure out how to deal with that pesky shadow.

This tart was really more like an almond  shortbread cookie, although it was slightly overcooked which gave the entire consistency more crunch than I think was intended.  And now that I’m reliving the initial bite, it was pretty melt-in-your-mouth buttery.  A little more jam in the middle would probably have elevated it quite a bit

As I’m writing this post, I’m realizing that this simple tart was really quite a bit better than “good”(and the piece I’m munching on now confirms this). I’m undoubtedly impacted by my own journey into cooking and baking which has moved me (and my palate) into more sophisticated territory.  But what I think is probably more true is that I hadn’t been fully present with the experience of sitting down to enjoy this dessert last night.  In fact, I remember feeling preoccupied by some discussion David and I were having over dinner.  Did I even really taste this?  Could I savor it at that moment?  I think not.  And as a result, I might have tossed a recipe that is not only tasty but very useful in my repertoire for its ease of preparation.

So maybe what I’m talking about here is more about my level of engagement with the okay/fine/good moments rather than the moments or experiences themselves.  As this post seems to suggest, what might make something “blog-worthy” is less the thing itself and more about how present I am.   And that begs the question, are there really any ho-hum moments if we are truly present?

I think not.

Ratatouille- Ooh La La!

So it’s official. The most expedient way to use those delicious, yet endless summer garden veggies is to make ratatouille.

Once again we were sitting on bags of eggplants and two huge zucchini (I think that may actually be the end of them) so I went online and searched for what looked like a good recipe.  We knew we wanted a rustic, slow-cooking version rather than the “slice and roast” type with the veggies thinly sliced and artfully arranged like in the “Ratatouille” movie. I found this, a recipe created by Alice Waters of Chez Panisse fame.  It looked simple enough so off I went to Whole Foods to rustle up the rest of the ingredients.  Here’s what went into the dish:

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Except for some salting of the eggplant to coax out the bitterness and lots of slicing and dicing the prep was pretty easy.  Sous-chef David was available yesterday so as I got busy sautéing the eggplant (step 1):

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he prepped the rest of the ingredients (and artfully arranged them and took a picture):

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We doubled this recipe which worked out fine but it made the cook time much longer because so many more veggies needed to cook down.  Plus we needed to add more salt and chili flakes for flavor. Here are these veggies (minus the addition of the eggplant) at the beginning of cooking:

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This recipe calls for using a “basil bouquet”  (you can see it prepped above).  It’s just a bunch of basil tied with kitchen twine and left to infuse into the dish.  When the vegetables are soft and the dish is ready you give the bouquet a final squeeze and remove it.  More fresh basil is chopped and added to the dish just before serving.  After lots of patient simmering and stirring here’s our ratatouille:

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This was so good.  The vegetables, even after all that cooking retained their shape and texture.  The piles of onions added wonderful sweetness and the chili flakes just a hint of heat.  We went through plenty of this at dinner and still have lots left to enjoy this week.  A little melted fresh mozzarella on top would work for me!  This recipe is a keeper.

The Hundred-Food Journey

On another note, David and I went to see “The Hundred-Foot Journey” the other night.   From the preview, the movie looked to be a sweet story with lots of food porn and Helen Mirren doing her thing.  What could be bad?  We thoroughly enjoyed it because it was a sweet story (rated PG) with lots of food porn and Helen Mirren doing her thing.  I’m all for a grown up fairy tale with characters who are not created on a computer.  As a nice change from the endless summer “blockbusters” and sequels I recommend it.

Enjoy your Sunday everyone!