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Check out today’s harvest! Sooooo many cherry tomatoes and two little tester carrots. Plus a giant eggplant?! Awesome!

I wanted to get everything picked that was ready before the great Hurricane Irene comes in this weekend. With projected 70-125 mph winds coming in, I’m worried we’ll lose our garden. I would be so sad if this happened, but I’m going to try and cover everything with a tarp and just see what happens. I suppose that’s all we can do!

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You say Tomayto and I say Tomahto, let’s just say we have a whole lot of both.

Our lovely little garden we put in this May, which started out like this:

with tiny little seedling plants we purchased from Russo’s in Watertown (excellent plant selection and the best quality produce and value anywhere. Period.) and a few seeds.

I am amazed at how, with some water and nurturing and bucket-fulls of patience, we now have a fully grown and fruitfully producing garden. Here’s an aerial view:

And an inside view:

We have tomatoes of various kinds, eggplants, squash, and cucumbers, as well as lettuce, carrots, green peppers, yellow peppers, cubaneles, and hot peppers. All of this with parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme (and basil, chives, and lavender) means we’ve been eating very, very well this summer.

We’ve come a long way from our pot garden adventures. Pot gardening was fun but we were limited by the pot size and the plants just couldn’t get that big before getting root bound, which meant the fruit harvest was minimal.

Now we have tomato plants that are growing every-which-way. We have one plant that created six separate different vines that each needed their own stake. Some of the plants are as tall as me:

We are especially grateful to our wonderful neighbors/landlords who allowed us to dig out some nasty vine-y roses and overgrown weeds on the side of the house and lay out a thoughtful garden plot that has surpassed our expectations for growth and produce.

We are also very proud to boast that this garden is nearly all organically grown. I say nearly because we’re not sure if the seedlings we purchased were organically wrought. But all of the soil, compost additives, and fertilizers were organic mixtures (Coast of Maine, mostly, and we highly recommend). Maybe next year we can shoot for 100% by keeping some of our seeds or purchasing organic seedlings and seeds.

The tomatoes, I must say, are the best I’ve ever eaten. We grew some that are as big around as a softball, and some tiny little cherries. We have an heirloom plant that produces pink tomatoes that when cut up look like watermelon and taste perfectly tomato-y. We eat them in salads and sandwiches, or just halve them up with salt and pepper and bite into them like an apple.

I’ll leave you with photos of a few of our harvests.

Jealous? Don’t be. Come on over. We have plenty to share.

Today, I think, was the true start of summer. For starters it was the most glorious day. Full sun and a slight breeze, blue skies. It was warm and not too humid. We Bostonians and Cantabrigians have made it through the annual epic commencement season (Harvard exercises were Wednesday and Thursday) and so the city and Harvard Square, abuzz for the past few weeks with pomp and circumstance, are now saying “¡adios!” to the student crowds and welcoming, well, sort of, the throngs of tourists.

Walking through The Square today were crowds of people—mostly tourists but some lingering students and families—girls in sun dresses, boys in shorts, a snaking line outside the froyo spot, every Starbucks order “iced”, and generally a sense of freedom and excitement. Freedom from books and classes and excitement for what lay ahead. I couldn’t help but hum “Schoooooool’s. Out. For. The summer!” Too bad we’ll work through summer. But even at the office today we didn’t get mail, which, for a finance office, means a small moment of peace and quiet.

Tonight we spent some time tending the garden, pulling a few weeds, aerating the strawberries and planting a few more peppers. Then Mark lit up the grill and made us our first summer feast: burgers, brats, potatoes, and salad. Sooooo yummy.

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And since it was such a nice evening, we brought our food and cold drinks out front to the stoop. With plates on our knees we dined al fresco

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Our entertainment was, as on every night, a little league baseball game. Tonight we cheered on the Rockies v. Red Sox. Mark provided color commentary and I root-root-rooted for the big hits. There was some impressive pitching and fielding, and nice hits sent batters around the bases.

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At one point the game was interrupted by a baby running through the outfield, but security (his mom) intervened and the game went on. The cricketers waited in the outfield with their bats and wickets for the game to end and, and when it had finished and the baseballers cleared the field, they set up the pitch for a late match before the sun dipped below the hills and the twilight turned too dark. There are no lights on this field (and that is probably a good thing).

We love our little community here in Coolidge Square, Watertown. So much going on—people out and about, families of all shapes and sizes and nationalities. Dogs of every kind. Guys of every age and background playing pickup games of B-Ball. A little park with swings, Armenian markets, a diner, and a local pizzeria/fishfry/soft serve joint, all visible or a stone’s throw from our stoop. The view from where we sit—our cheap seats—is pretty great. Can’t wait for more nights like this. I’ll never want summer to end.

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Rainin… Rainin.

Ok, maybe not NEVER… but can you give us just a few days of sun? Please, pretty please?

Is it annoying to complain about the weather? I know, last year I complained about the heat…

Perhaps it isn’t annoying but rather pointless? I mean, what can we actually do about it? Absolutely nothing. Which is why it’s so annoying!

Oh well, today I don’t care. It started raining Friday night, and hasn’t really stopped precipitating some sort of liquid. We’ve seen everything from torrential downpours to thick mist. I really. Am. Tired. Of the rain. The gloom. The cold, enveloping watery veil that seeps into every pore. Yuck.

It’s May, for f.’s sake! Where are my May flowers? Soaked in a puddle, that’s where—all my newly planted daisies and snapdragons are droopy and saturated saying “Enough! Show us some sun!”

I feel squidgy and sowish from not walking to work as I usually do. It’s weird to not walk my 4 miles round trip nearly every day. Walk in the rain!? No way. I’d get to work looking, and probably smelling, like a wet dog. The buses are full and soppy. All the people in there together, we look sad and smushed like marinating sardines. Lots of frowny-faces and frizzy hair.

And speaking of wet dogs, even Gordon doesn’t want to go outside. I tried to take him out last night before bed. It was pouring but he HAD to go out! He got to the top of the stoop and looked at me like “Are you f.ing kidding me?” and walked back to the door. I had to drag him by his collar down the stairs where he promptly peed and hurried back inside. Poor guy. Hasn’t had a decent walk in three days which means he’s extra ornery. I’m not joking, he actually gnawed open a carton of chicken stock, spilled it all over the floor, and lapped up whatever came out. We found the empty carton on the floor with tooth marks in it. Darn dog. He needs a good 10-mile run as much as we do.

Oooh poor us. Pity pity pity party. Boo hoo hoo. I know I sound like a whiny baby. I’m TRYING to find the good in this, I am.

For instance, everything now is so green. And so many shades of green I can’t even count them. It is beautiful. Also, the hot water bottle is perfect for rainy nights, and I do love using my hot water bottle. Hmm… what else. I do like the sound the rain makes when it hits the windows. It’s calming and nice. I haven’t had to water the plants outside, and I know when it DOES get sunny, they’ll do so well. AND, the lettuce I planted outside loves the cool and rain. We’ll have a nice harvest of greens this weekend. OHKAY… there are a few good things about the rain. I’m not so sad or jaded, just looking forward to some sun.

And, hey. I did make quite a fine soup yesterday for dinner—a hot cuppa soup IS the best remedy for a chilly day.

Here’s the recipe—I made it up as I went, but it was so easy. I call it:

Easy Veggie Soup with Pasta (deep. really creative.)

2 T olive oil
2 cups of grape tomatoes, halved
1 t minced garlic
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup frozen corn (you could use fresh veggies – I just didn’t have anything but carrots)
1 cup diced carrots (really any veggies you like, up to 3 cups)
1 carton or large can of veggie, chicken, or beef stock
1 small can of tomato sauce (not pasta sauce, plain tomato sauce – Hunts makes a good one)
1.5 to 2 cups water
salt, pepper, spices to taste (I used rosemary)
any pasta you like, boiled to al dente **tip! keep .5 cup of the pasta water after it has boiled and stir it into the soup – gives a rich taste to it!

Pour the olive oil into a large pot. Heat the oil and add the tomatoes and the garlic. Let them get mushy in there, about 5 minutes. Turn down the heat if the garlic gets too brown. Add the veggies and saute them until warm. Add the tomato sauce, the stock, and the water. Let simmer until the veggies are well cooked. Salt, pepper, and spice to taste. Cook your pasta, strain. Add .5 cup of the pasta water to the soup and let simmer a few more minutes. Put a few pastas in a dish and pour the soup over. Eat and be warm.

That’s it. Easy as soup.

If it’s raining where you are, I hope you stay very dry and that the sun comes out soon. If it doesn’t look like it’s going to clear up, I suppose you can hunker down, make some soup, and listen to the rain with a good book and a warm blanket.

If it’s sunny where you are, please send some our way!

I haven’t written in ages! I’m terrible. I’m the worst ever. I say this every time, too. But really I think this must be the longest time without a post. Three months? Bennett! Bad! BAD!

Last time I wrote it was almost Christmas. Now it’s almost Easter… well, almost. We’ve seen a whole season come and go and not a post on anything. Not a one about being tired of snow (And lots of snow did we have – holy cow! Something like 39 inches?) or exploring new places (the Art & Architecture Tour at the Boston Public Library is a hidden gem). No news on our Year of Bread baking challenge (Did you know we haven’t bought bread in THREE MONTHS!? We’ve baked every bit of bread we’ve eaten this winter!) All this including the sad fact that we’ve had zero giveaways, and NO pictures of Gordon. Sad face.

And I wish I could write more today but I have to-dos and projects I’ve been putting off and MUST get to them. I know, I know. You may say, “Isn’t this a project you’ve been putting off?” and yes, it most certainly is and I feel terribly about it. Not just because I’ve been neglecting the blog and my readers, but in the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve been putting it (and my other to-dos and projects) off because I’ve been a lazy bear. Very lazy. Winter got me bad and I’ve just been a bum. Watched too much TV, and really, it’s all been filth. I am no better for it. Shame on me. Shame on me and the time I’ve wasted.

But don’t you worry. It’s spring! The sun is out longer and fills me with all kinds of happiness and spirit and inspiration. I’ll be back and better than ever very soon, with lots of newsy posts chock full of happy happiness, food making, artsy fartsy goodness, and all other things LPE.

So until then, I leave you with two things:

1. A picture of Gordon – because that’s why you drop by LPE, right? To see Gordon’s sweet cheeks, and NOT because every time I write a new post and hit PUBLISH a little link pops up on Facebook and Twitter and that urge to click on a link comes over you and you click without thinking.

NO, you come here of your own volition, I know it.

And 2:

A giveaway!!! I will send a snail mail grab bag—colorful pens, lovely papers, envelopes, blank note cards, stickers, etc.—to the fifth new person to subscribe to LPE. Just hit “L.P.E. to Y.O.U.” on the left hand side ← over there and enter your email address. When we post, which is hopefully, and fingers CROSSED, oftener than not, you’ll get a little PING! Note: You can unsubscribe at any time (but I hope you don’t!) by clicking “manage” under L.P.E. to Y.O.U. Believe me, knowing I have subscribers who are expecting things of me will keep me motivated, so this is a win-win in many ways.

Wahey! We’re (nearly) back!

I was on a granola kick this summer. I’ve tried many kinds and have had some good stuff and some, well, let’s just say it was wicked sugary and not-so-granola good for you.  One would think granola was supposed be to good for you, right?  Oats. Nuts. Seeds. Maybe a little dried fruit even? At its base, yes, methinks it’s full of good natural wholesome foodstuff.  But then you add all the nasty high-fructose corn syrup and other unmentionable (and un-pronounceable) ingredients that you find in the store-bought stuff and YUCK! I don’t even want to know what they’ve put in the box to make it taste so good.  Crack maybe? Who knows.

All I do know is that granola is good. Granola is great. I like granola A LOT.  I was buying soooo much granola and aside from it being “Très Expensif” (I know, not French, but it’s my Franglish for “I spent all my dollars”) it probably wasn’t that good for me.  So I sought a new alternative.  There are many many recipes out there to try, and so try I did.  And, come to find, it’s super duper easy to make, depending on the ingredients, a healthier alternative (at least you know what’s going in!!), and, again depending on the ingredients, a fairly low-cost treat.

So, here we go.

Let’s Make It: Granola

There are three main parts to the granola:

1. Oats — Duh! As I’ll describe later, you can add more to this part, however I think starting with oats is a pretty good bet.  They provide a good base for the add-ins and are soooo good for you (heart-healthy, a good source of vitamins and minerals, and gluten-free).
2. Fats — This can be any edible oily substance, and depending on the fat content and/or taste you prefer, is really up to you … Canola oil, peanut butter, a light olive oil I’m sure would work, melted butter, etc.
3. Sugars — Sugar works with the fat to create an almost caramely coating for the oats and helps them stick together with all the add-ins.  Again, depending on your preference for sweetness vs. health, the sugars can vary … I’d suggest a combination of brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, molasses, agave nectar, etc.

Take your oats, a fat, and a sugar or two, mix it up, bake it, and you have a very basic granola.

But that’s boring.

Frankly, you can add whatever you want to the general mixture and get a pretty good product so feel free to experiment and get creative, as long as you have one of each of the three bases.

You might try:

  • flax seed (whole or milled)
  • wheat germ
  • crispy rice
  • nuts of various kinds (walnuts, almonds, macadamias, pine nuts, etc.)
  • seeds of various kinds (sesame, poppey, sunflower, etc.)
  • dried fruits

Really the granola add-in world is yours to explore.

Here’s a recipe adapted from cdkitchen. I’ve changed things around a bit to our own taste and have experimented a bit with different add-ins.  Again–get creative!  It’s granola.  And aside from burning it, you really can’t mess up.  Or at least I haven’t messed up yet, and I am definitely accident prone.  Feel free to share your mixtures and experiences with experimenting in the comments.

First, set your oven to 300 degrees.

Then, collect your tools:

  • Rubber Spatula
  • Cookie Spatula
  • Parchment Paper or Silicon Baking Mat
  • Rimmed Baking Sheet
  • Giant Bowl
  • Whisk or Wooden Spoon
  • Liquid Measuring Cup
  • Small Saucepan

Then, collect your ingredients (these were ours):

  • 4 Cups of Old-Fashioned Oats
  • 1/4 Cup of Brown Sugar
  • 1 1/2 Cups of Chopped Nuts (we like sliced almonds, but choose what you like or keep ’em out and add a cup more of oats)
  • 1/2 Teaspoon of Salt
  • 1/2 Teaspoon of Ground Cinnamon
  • 1/8-1/4 Cup Canola Oil (or any other liquidy fat you choose)
  • 1/3 Cup of Honey (you could use molasses or real maple syrup or a mixture–I add enough maple syrup to the honey to make 1/2 Cup of liquid)
  • 1/4 Cup of Apple Sauce (we use all nature no sugar added)
  • 1 Teaspoon of Vanilla
  • 1 Cup of Dried Fruit (I like dried blueberries!)

Mix the Dry Ingredients (Oats, Brown Sugar, Cinnamon, Salt, Nuts, Dried Fruit) in the Giant Bowl:

Use a wooden spoon or whisk to work together the dry mixture:

In a saucepan, mix together your liquid ingredients (Oil, Honey, Vanilla, Apple Sauce) on the lowest heat:

You just want to warm them up and get them mixed together.  DON’T LET IT BOIL!  Just warm it up a bit and get everything mixed up nicely.

Then add the warm liquid mixture to the dry mixture:

And give it all a good stir with a spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl and get everything evenly coated:

Get your baking sheet and cover the bottom with a sheet of parchment or a silicon baking mat.

Then pour the mixture on to the baking sheet:

Flatten out the mixture with your spatula so that it’s about 1/2 inch thick or so and goes all around the edges of the pan like so (Mark is doing a really good job!):

Now pop it into the oven for baking.

It bakes 40 minutes, stirred every 10 minutes to be sure it’s getting baked evenly and doesn’t burn on the bottom.

To stir, push the granola from the sides of the sheet into the middle and then press it out again:

If you have a helper or two, you can take turns stirring every 10 minutes.  Mark and Gordon are very good helpers.

During this process it will still be sticky but not crispy.  Don’t overbake!  The crisping happens during the cooling.  The baking helps to caramelize your sugar/oil concoction around the oaty mixture but won’t make it crisp.

Once the 40 minutes are up, pull it out of the oven and set the sheet on a rack for cooling.  Let it cool 30 minutes.  Then use your hands to break up the pieces.  Your granola may be more brittle or more chewy depending on the different items you put in.  If you have a food dehydrator you could put it in there to get it really nice and cracking.  The latest batch we made was more on the chewy side but still yummy yummy.  My sense is that it will get more crisp as it ages.

Store it in an airtight box for up to 2 weeks, if it will even last that long!

It’s great with yogurt or milk or soymilk with fresh fruit, or even just on its own as a snack.

However you choose to eat your granola, enjoy your home made treat and the satisfaction of knowing all the yummy goodness that’s in it and the joy that went in to making it and in discovering something new and tasty. Might I suggest sharing the recipe with friends, and not your granola. Or you might just find yours is all gone!

I love Starbucks.  Sorry.  I do.  Ok. Coffee houses generally.

But Starbucks particularly because it’s near and frankly, I haven’t found a coffee house in town (Belmont or Cambridge) that is 5 minutes away from my home or workplace AND isn’t full of jerk-face judgmental hipsters or super-yuppies (ok… I’m definitely being too judgmental myself and I know that any Starbucks at any point in time can also be full of, or run by, jerk-face hipsters and/or super-yuppies, but whatever. It’s my blog I can say what I want, believe what I believe, and like what I like. And come on. You know what I mean, right?)

ANYWAY.

This post is not about hate.  This post is about love.  The love of coffee.  The love of getting EXACTLY what you want and experiencing pure happiness for just five minutes of your day.

Really.  Can you think of any other place where you can, for $5 (more or less), get happiness in a cup?  A pick-me-up.  A sugar fix.  A cool treat.  A warm ……. hmmmm 🙂  And you can get ANYTHING you desire, come to find.  There’s nothing they can’t/won’t make, and they aim to please.  Step inside your local Starbucks (or awesome local non-hipsterfied coffee stop–try Tunnel City Coffee in Williamstown, MA or The Metro Coffee Company in Casper, Wyoming) and just listen to the requests, all served up quickly and with a smile (mostly):

“Tall non-fat caramel macchiato frappucino, EXTRA caramel.”

“Grande soy vanilla latte with two shots of espresso.”

“Three shots of espresso in a large cup with ice.”

“Medium iced coffee with two pumps of peppermint, leave room for cream.”

“Venti sweetened green tea.” (Yes, not coffee, but you can have tea too!)

The combinations are seemingly endless.  And it’s such a simple business plan:

Give the people what they want.

For me, in the absence of a Tunnel City or Metro Coffee, I’ll take a good friendly Starbucks any day.  Like today.  And believe me, I’m not against the local coffee spot and I fully understand the impact Starbucks has had on the world.  I DO.  I get it.  I love the community feel of local coffee places–how you can run into people you know, or how if you go enough your barrista/o will know your drink.  They might play music from area bands and serve local bread or desserts.  And I would go to one if I could find one I liked.  And Yes, I’ve tried Darwins in Cambridge and it just doesn’t do it for me (although they do have good sandwiches and Iggy’s Bread of the World there… MMM… the bagels are especially fine and they toast ’em up right and give you a nice schmear of your favorite cream cheese–but I digress, this is not about bagels, it’s about coffee etc.).

If you live/work in Belmont or Cambridge (Harvard Square area) and have suggestions for coffee places to try, let me know.  I’m open so  long as they give the people what they want.  Happiness in a cup. Their way.  With a smile.  (And maybe some free internet too!)

As our loyal readers know, the last couple of years we’ve had very hearty pot gardens.

Tomatoes, beans, strawberries, peas, and squash, grown–some from seeds and others from small purchased plants–and tenderly watered and cared for, harvested and enjoyed in summer and fall meals.

We moved our garden last year from Grove St. to Winslow Rd. and it was a mess.  We broke the tops off a bunch of our plants and I think a few went into shock from the move, and we only went about 6 blocks!  And because we’re a bit unsure about where we’ll be nesting next year (could be in town, could be who knows where!?!?), we didn’t plant a garden this spring and I’m beginning to feel a sort of loss.  Detachment perhaps?  Like I’m missing a part of my soul.  Okay.  Maybe that’s a bit melodramatic.   But we spent so much time and effort and care and concern over our gardens in the past that it really does feel like we’re missing something real out of our springtime day to day.

The other day I happened upon this lovely post via Etsy’s How-To blog on how to create a small garden in small spaces, this one particularly about a spa garden–herbs useful for spa remedies, balms, and teas.  Sounds great, right? And reading further to this awesome blog on city gardening called City Dirt,  made me go–Ah HA!.  HERBS!  I can plant herbs in small pots transportable to wherever we may be in the coming months!  YES! Basil, rosemary, lemonbalm, mint, and chamomile! Wahey!  I can nurture, water, and care for them, and not be sad in having to leave them behind.  They’ll be useful in summer and fall meals, AND if they are especially bountiful, someday in our soaps!

Do any of you, dear readers, have gardens?  Can we live vicariously through you?  Send your updates. What are you growing?  What’s working well, what’s not?  Has the strange spring weather upset your planting plans?  In the meantime, I’m off to start some seeds and seedlings for herbs and assuage my gardening needs while dreaming of a large garden plot rich with planted abundance… some day!

I should be doing my homework for my last illustrator class tomorrow… I have two projects to finish.  A trace of HRH the Queen of England catching a train in Paris, and a map.  Fun stuff. Probably a day or two’s worth of work, due tomorrow night.

But instead, I invite you to look at my cookies.  I made these yesterday.  Baked them I should say, because Mark also helped decorate them.  He was very good at icing the man-shaped cookies with ties and sweaters and buttons.  And creating shiny stars.

The recipe comes from our lovely family friend Tammie A. and it’s top secret.  I’m pretty sure I’m the only one besides her that knows what goes in them because she gave me the top-secret recipe and I’m pretty sure that she wouldn’t give it to anyone else.  And thus I’m pretty sure that I’m not sharing it here.  The thing is, though… I don’t make them nearly as good as she does.  There’s just something about Tammie’s cookies that I can’t put my finger on but they’re soooooooooooooo good.  And the ones I made are merely mediocre compared to hers, but I’m honored just the same to have the recipe–even if I can’t quite re-create them.  I guess that’s good though.  Part of the reason I think I like them so much is because they do only come out perfectly from her oven. If I could have Tammie A. cookies ANYTIME I wanted them, they probably wouldn’t be as perfectly wonderful, right?

Well here they are… pretty ok I guess.  Almost the same, but not quite:


snowflakes and stars


trees


men with sweaters and ties


blue snowflakes


more snowlfakes and men with buttons


YUM!

You know when Anthony Bourdain talks about food porn?  Well today, this did it for me:

Check out the recipe on the Bon Appetit Hon Blog.

CHOCOLATE! Screaming at me.  OMG. I must make these and soon!  I bet they’d look cute with a few holiday nonpareils sprinkled on them too!

As soon as I’m feeling right as rain, these lovely confections will be baking in my oven.  Came down with a bit of the flu on Tuesday afternoon, but am starting to feel better today having had a couple days of rest, some warm soup, and a few Tylenol cocktails.

On the creativity front, hmm… well… let’s see.  I knitted six more mini mittens, created a banner for my Auntie Jamie’s new Etsy shop (still under construction but coming soon!!) and had a couple visions of new projects (OH NO! NOT NEW PROJECTS!) that I hope – fingers crossed – to get started before Christmas.  We’ll just see about that.  AAAAAND I started planning out my digital portfolio for applying to grad school, which, I must say, is not a fun task.  Whittling down your life’s work into 12-18 pieces of what YOU think is your best work… eghh.  But it must be done, and done by January 15! YEEEEEEEEEEPS!

Ok, I’m off!  Hopefully next time you hear from me, I’ll have my own pictures of yummy chocolate cookies to share.

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