Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Cross Country Drachenfels

Early this year we packed up our family and animals and headed west for a few months while Will was working in the Bay Area. In anticipation of our 30 hour drive home I knew I needed a knitting project to pass the time - because contrary to what you may expect, driving for 30 hours with two animals, two toddlers strapped in their carseats and a trailer hitched to your car is actually fairly relaxing, as long as you're not the one driving. 

I had noticed Melanie Berg's Drachenfels pattern earlier and thought it might be the perfect project for a long road trip - big but not overwhelming and requiring little attention (anything too complicated would inevitably trigger my motion-sickness). And with its interesting, asymmetrical color pattern I thought this easy knitting would result in a really beautiful shawl. 

I went to the only yarn store I could find near us - Knit This, Purl That in Pleasanton. I am usually lured mostly by color when choosing yarn and the Malabrigo Finito I found was just what I was looking for. More specific notes on the yarn can be found on Ravelry. I began the shawl in the days before we packed up and said goodbye to the Bay. 

San Francisco Bay
Then we loaded up on snacks, hitched the trailer to the car and started out on our journey home... 

Through California into Nevada,  across the salt flats and all the way to the Great Salt Lake. We stopped for a day of rest in Park City, Utah.

The shawl grew as we logged the miles into Wyoming, watching the landscape change along the way.

Trains were a highlight of our trip for Eli
Flatness for miles across Nebraska

…Across Nebraska and Iowa, and finally home to Minnesota. 

But the shawl wasn't finished yet, and in June it accompanied me the rest of the way across the country when I attended Squam in Holderness, New Hampshire. Squam deserves a post all its own, but suffice it to say for now that there is no better place to knit a shawl (or anything for that matter) than at Rockywold Deephaven Camp surrounded by others who share a love of knitting.

Our evening knitting spot
West Water cabin

Squam Lake
When I finally finished the last stitches of its i-cord bind off and wove in the final strands of yarn from the color changes, this shawl had travelled with me from coast to coast and back to our home somewhere in the middle.

One of the things I love about knitting is its mobility. Unlike sewing, another love of mine, knitting will accompany you throughout your house, to the playground, to your children's dance classes or, in this case, across the country. And I like to think that each stitch captures something of the moment in which you knit it. In this way, my Drachenfels shawl is not only a beauty that will warm me in the coming months, but also a memoir of sorts of my journeys this year. In it I see the memories of our time living in California, that precious time we spent together as a family on the road and the magic of my first solo trip in almost six years to Squam.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Summer Garden

I always feel sad when it comes time to say goodbye to summer. Living in Minnesota we don't get a sufficient dose of heat to make me grateful for the cooler weather when it arrives. Yes, there is much to look forward to in fall. And with the stunning blaze of reds, oranges and yellows coloring my world this past week I am finally greeting her with open arms. But first, one last look back at summer before we are fully immersed in the celebrations and birthdays that fall brings for our family.

We harvested 46 heads of garlic this year. I'll go right ahead and declare that a raging success. Undoubtedly, garlic was our biggest triumph of the season. And no matter what else happened in the garden this year I feel a sense of accomplishment when, in need of a few cloves for dinner, I go down to fetch a head from the hefty bagful in our basement. 

The blue jade was just as cute and child-size perfect as last year . Still we only got one ear per stem of corn - quite a bit of real estate for not much return. I'm considering growing full size stalks next year, though I may not be able to resist those little blue ears staring at me from their seed packets come spring.

This cookbook, which is as much art as it is a compendium of veggie recipes, offered a delicious way to use my green zebras and late broccoli crop. We grew many tomatoes this year - 13 plants in all - including old favorites and some new varieties like gold medal, which was true to its description as one of the sweetest tomatoes I've ever eaten. Again our crop suffered from a fungus. The tomatoes are picking up their roots and relocating to a new bed next year. More sun, more heat. 

I was right about those peppers. Decidedly not habaneros. We concluded they were probably yellow wax peppers or banana peppers. I found a nice recipe to combine them with our neighbors' cucumbers that arrived en masse mid season and enjoyed them grilled with potatoes and other veggies. But I realized I am lacking in ideas for what to do with an onslaught of peppers. Ideas?

After a slow start I was pretty thrilled to have eggplants, which we devoured grilled with salt roasted tomatoes and ricotta, another recipe found in Vegetable Literacy. The kale has been abundant this year and grows stronger and sweeter with the cooling air. We grew dragon's tongue and yellow wax beans, bell peppers, a couple types of basil, carrots, raspberries, pumpkins and tomatillos that sprawled dramatically across their raised bed. We even harvested one single precious apple from our tree (the rest didn't make it or were snatched by the sneaky snacky squirrels) which we dipped in honey for a Rosh Hashana treat.

Among the vegetables we often spotted a resident fairy in rain boots who flitted around collecting berries, baby carrots, jack-be-little pumpkins and chamomile flowers for gnomie, who lives by a tiny pond among the zinnias. 

All in all, this was a successful year for the garden. And one that brought many changes for future growing seasons. Our neighbors erected the fence pictured above along the back of our yard. Two trees on the perimeter were removed to make way for the fence, extending the sunlight on our garden through the afternoon and increasing our growing space. Next year we will be able to expand into the other half of the back of our yard - having that much blank space to work with is mind boggling. I am grateful for the fall and winter months during which we will dream about this future garden before we dig in and start planting all over again next spring.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Pizza Night at Two Pony Gardens

As we begin our fourth year here in Minnesota we have nestled into a familiar rhythm of traditions that demarcate the passage of time, the seasons, and move us along the year. Our annual visit to Two Pony Gardens has taken on that significance for me -- it has become more than just a place we enjoy, but reminds me of our growth here in Minnesota, where we were when we arrived and how far we have come in the years since then. Things have changed there, as things inevitably do. But, to me at least, the essence is of what makes Two Pony Gardens special and unique is still there.

Bigger crowds at Two Pony necessitate more horse power. This year Mickey and Pete were joined by Abby and Sven. I was lucky to get a spot behind the coachman on our wagon ride. He held four reigns in his hands sandwiched between different fingers and try as I might to understand the logic of how he shifted them from finger to finger, hand to hand it seemed like a complex puzzle to me. I was in awe. The four horses led us through a trail in the woods around the property. I was reminded of Little House in the Big Woods and wondered what it must have been like to travel everywhere by horse drawn carriage along roads just like the one we traveled on. Bumpy. That's how it must have been.

Another new addition to the Two Pony experience was a puppet show by Open Eye Theater. Not exaggerating, this was one of the best puppet shows I have ever seen. The puppeteers performed The Amazing Cow Boat, which was part of their driveway tour this summer. They tour around performing four different puppet shows in peoples' backyards, front yards, parks and driveways all spring and summer long. We are still singing the catchy refrain around our house -- "part cow, part boat, part…ama-a-zing."

And then, of course, there is the garden...

Mostly dahlias of all shapes and hues with a smattering of echinacea, joe pye weed, tansy, anemone and many other lovelies towering in rows that beg you to run and hide among the colors.

And the long-awaited pizza...

We've learned that patience is of the essence when it comes to dinner at Two Pony Gardens. It is slow food after all. After 3 years of visits we've finally got our system down and brought just enough snacks to tie us over until finally the pizza arrived fresh from the oven. Undoubtedly, the hours of anticipation only make it more delicious.

Isn't this the thing about undiscovered gems -- pretty much the moment they are discovered they lose some of their "geminess." Once the word got out about how lovely and unique and secluded and delicious and quirky Two Pony Garden pizza nights are, they became busier, more expensive, more structured and populated by what felt like a less community-oriented crowd. But does success necessarily imply ultimate corruption? Change is inevitable, but I think Two Pony Gardens is trying to retain the essence of what makes it so magical. And as far as I'm concerned we will continue to return.

In this last picture Eli is sitting in the back of the horse-drawn sleigh that Mickey and Pete take out over snow covered trails in the winter time. I imagine throwing the Minnesota winter and cold into the mix will rekindle some of the essence of Two Pony that may be sacrificed when the crowds descend on summertime pizza nights. A quieter, more intimate escape to the woods with creative people who cherish the Earth and appreciate locally sourced, delicious food. What do you say we meet up there in January, okay?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Yellow Boots

I've had a helper in the garden this week. If you'd been hanging around our backyard you might recognize him by his yellow puddle boots, which he often insists on wearing even in the thick heat of summer, and that hose he wields indiscriminately. 

I finally snipped off the scapes and made my once-a-year favorite double garlic soup. Really, I should have done this weeks ago, but let's just be glad that I eventually got around to it. I almost felt badly cutting them off -- they really are so lovely swooping here and there.

Things are growing fast. This pepper (which is supposed to be a habanero, but I am having doubts) is literally twice the size since I took this photo a few days ago.

Tomatoes are approaching ripeness. I'm looking forward to abundance. We seem to be dealing with septoria leaf spot again this year. Sigh. I suppose I really will have to move the tomatoes to another bed for a few years.

The flowers are providing us with fresh color straight from the garden - one of my favorite summertime things. Herbs are filling in the little corner I've allotted them. Sunflowers are growing tall. And that malabar spinach is a doozy.

Our big harvest this week was an enormous head of broccoli that went straight from the garden to the grill. Sweet and crisp with a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon. You haven't really tasted broccoli until you've tried it fresh, still warm from the sun.

I expect those yellow boots will be clomping around a whole lot in the coming days and weeks as the garden comes into her full glory.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Walk in the Garden

Heading into year two of our garden I felt the satisfaction of building on last year's work and had high hopes for this year's progress. Now at the start of summer we are just over one month into the growing season here. Looking back to where we were a year ago I recognize how much of a head start we already have over last year. The third raised bed was prepared and planted with garlic last fall. We had already dug out about half of the kids' garden last year and it was quick spring time work preparing the rest of the bed. Some perennials were already in place and I had my system for starting seeds down this year. 

I've started heirloom tomatoes for the past several years after realizing it was hard to find seedlings for my favorites (green zebras), and in an effort to keep costs down decided to give flowers a go this year too.  I started morning glories, pumpkins, cosmos, zulu prince daisies, poppies, lots of zinnias (because they make such wonderful cut flowers), along with my usual heirloom tomatoes. Will gets a bit annoyed when so much of our counter space is invaded by my trays of plants, but he is a good sport and doesn't huff and puff too much when I repeatedly request his help hauling the trays in and out the backdoor in the weeks when I'm hardening off the plants. Aside from saving money, growing these little plants from seed provides hope and that delicious smell of wet soil in the early days of spring when snow stubbornly clings to the ground inspiring woe in our sorely vitamin D deprived Minnesotan selves.

This year I've discovered a secret to successful gardening for and with kids - garden paths. Kids love running on paths through the garden. It keeps the garden fun and interactive and mostly keeps them from running through beds that have recently been planted. I have been hearing about the Friend's School Mother's Day plant sale for years and was excited to check it out this year. Along with a wagon full of happy little plants I brought home this stepping stone to adorn one of the prominent pathways. I surrounded it with irish moss and hope it will be a magical, cushy path by the end of the summer.

I ended up adopting a malabar spinach plant this year - and though I never intended for it to be a permanent resident of our garden I am happy it is here (thank you, Darcy!) It is a vigorous climber and, while not a true spinach plant, it supposedly tastes like spinach when cooked. Unlike spinach, it also loves the heat and will grow through the summer. The lovely malabar spinach sits alongside a patch of sunflowers (because nothing speaks summer like sunflowers towering overhead), snapdragons (Ava loves them) and a patch of several herbs (roman chamomile, oregano, sage and peppermint.) I've learned my lesson and will keep those sunflowers caged until they are no longer so deliciously appealing to the bunnies that hop around our yard like they own the place. 

With our recent discovery that Will is likely allergic to eggs my dream of backyard chickens is even more unrealistic than ever. Luckily Terracotta Chicken is hypoallergenic, low maintenance and, though she doesn't provide nitrogen-rich poop for the garden, she does a fine job guarding the jack-be-little pumpkins. I've never grown pumpkins before, but the idea of them is irresistible for a kids' garden. Along with the jack-be-littles (the tiny ones that fit in the palm of your hand) I planted lumina, those ghostly white pumpkins. I welcome any advice on how to keep the squirrels and other critters from eating them as they grow.

I planted broccoli and lots more kale this year because we eat so much of it - lacinato for sautéing and curly kale for making kale chips. I planted a collection of lettuces and we've been savoring our home grown salads. Even Ava and Eli get excited about the lettuce when they discover it's from our garden. I'm foregoing growing pole beans this year - I just don't end up getting excited about them come harvest time - and we're sticking to our favorite bush beans, yellow wax and dragon's tongue.

The third bed is filled mostly with the garlic I planted last fall. It is so glorious standing majestic and tall when other plants in the garden are only getting started. It is almost time for our annual garlic scape soup. Along with the garlic I am growing bell peppers, habaneros, eggplant and tomatillos. I have an excellent recipe for tomatillo salsa, which I look forward to making with these cuties.

And look at these beauties. Dare I get my hopes up? No apples grew on our tree last year. The previous owners of our house planted three apple trees, two of which have mostly perished after harsh winters and attack of hungry bunnies. But this one seems to be doing okay. And this year it appears we may actually have some apples come fall. I will be jumping for joy if we get a few - even one, really. And I can't wait to find out what kind they are!

I thought I overdid it with tomatoes last year. So naturally I'm growing even more of them this year. Twelve in the bed, one in a pot and one other in the kids' garden that Ava planted in her summer class at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. I started my favorites - green zebras - and am trying a new kind this year - gold medal. We were gifted our other tomato plants from Will's colleague who has his seed starting down to a science. I hope to have a wide array of tomatoes for my daily omelets, Sunday morning bagels lox and cream cheese, caprese salads, tomato soup and last year's favorite, garlicky oven dried tomatoes. You can never have too many tomatoes. 

I hope you enjoyed this stroll through part of our garden. With all of the rain we've been having (more than in any other spring in recorded history) things are growing fast and are already looking quite different from when I took these photos. I hope your gardens have gotten off to a great start and I wish you a very happy beginning of summer!