Friday, December 25, 2009

The plans that we've made . . .

Sleigh bells ring, are you listening?
In the lane snow is glistening.
A beautiful night,
We're happy tonight,
Walking in a winter wonderland.

Gone away is the bluebird,
Here to stay is a new bird.
He sings a love song as we walk along,
Walking in a winter wonderland.

In the meadow we can build a snowman,
And pretend that he is Parson Brown.
He'll say: Are you married?
We'll say: No man!
But you can do the job when you're in town.

Later on, we'll conspire
As we dream by the fire.
To face unafraid the plans that we've made,
Walking in a winter wonderland.

- lyrics by Richard B. Smith

P.S. Last weekend M and I got engaged in the middle of a snow storm in NYC! Merry Christmas to everyone and Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

'Tis the Season

:: For a few more winter decorations (it says "Snowflakes," from funkyshique on etsy) ::

:: For handmade banana-chocolate-coconut bread for all of my coworkers ::

:: For Christmas cactus ::

:: And for handmade vanilla syrup for all of my family members (recipe from Food in Jars) ::

Have an amazing Christmas Eve!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Gardening in the Digital Age

You may have noticed that I added a link to The Woodlands Community Garden website on the sidebar. That's right, we're online now! Check it out and tell me what you think.

I look forward to hearing your constructive criticism about the new website when I return from Poland in the new year!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Something New

I'm knitting my first piece of real clothing. It's not a scarf, hat, or mittens, but something that you can actually wear on your body! For this new step in my knitting life I chose the Balthazar Vest from Twinkle's Big City Knits by Wenlan Chia, an amazing book I found in the Philadelphia Free Public Library.

I'm knitting it for myself, which is also new because I give away about 90% of the things I knit. I'm cruising along so far, with only one little snag that my friend Leslie helped me work through (I failed to divide the body soon enough and the vest was a wee bit too long.) The yarn is as chunky as they get, so I should finish it pretty soon enough, though it's on hold now because I'm finishing up another mystery project first. I'll let you know how it comes out!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

This little one

I'm in love, and let me tell you why.

As I write there is a warm bundle of purr in my lap. And he crawled up and fell asleep here without the use of force.

Growing up I had to trap and hold my cats to get them anywhere near my lap. But this one, oh this one will climb onto you, nestle in, fall asleep. Doesn't matter where or how you are sitting, as long as you're reclined he's there. He's fallen asleep on my throat as I lay on my back napping, he's slept on my lap under the table during dinner, and he's even curled into the crook of my knee as I lay on my stomach on the bed. Sometimes he even grooms your face with his rough little tongue before falling asleep (if you let him).
When you come home from work he greets you at the door, purring. He spends about 60% to 70% of his time purring, whether he's awake or asleep, mellow or wild.

A typical day is spent partly on M's lap while he works at the computer:

. . . and partly in the act of living up to his name, Wild William, wielding his needle sharp claws and teeth mercilessly:

Then, inevitably, this happens again.

Pretty soon he will move out when our roommate's house purchase goes through, and then I won't know what to do with myself. How would you feel if this little angel left you?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

I want to go to there

I can't even handle the cuteness of this. It's a marzipan vegetable garden, which is outside the gingerbread White House, made by White House Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses. Check out the article on Obama Foodorama.

These pics are from City Farmer News, a great blog out of Vancouver, Canada.

I was in Washington, D.C. last spring and I tried to get a peek at the vegetable garden but it's not visible from the street. Poo. But I know that sooner or later I will be invited to see it . . .

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Happy Festival of Lights everyone!

This is the extent of our holiday decorating right now. There might be one or two more things to go up, but I'm not trying too hard this year because I'm not going to be in Philly for the holidays. In fact, I won't even be in the country because I'm going to Poland! That's right, Poland . . . in the winter.

My family is Polish on my mother's mother's side (making me one quarter Polish), and we still keep up some of the Polish traditions (like Wigilia and pierogies). We're going for about ten days, over Christmas and New Year's, mostly because my younger cousin is coming and that's the timing of her winter break from school. We leave in a little over a week so there will probably be a bit of a hiatus on the blog, but many, many pictures when I return. I'm really excited about this, I've been thinking about going for a few years and I'm excited about going at this time of year because this is when the Polish traditions that I keep occur. We're doing a cooking class and we'll be a part of the Christmas celebration so we can see how it differs from our American-ized version of it. You can be sure I'll have a lot to share when I return!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

End of the Season Harvest

Here's a little pre-frost harvest from one of our community garden plots. There are a few pepper plants still hanging on, and some raggedy zinnias. Carrots, beets and radishes are happy under a bed of dried leaves and they are growing nicely. We'll probably harvest them later this month. It's been such a mild winter that they might even last through January!

***From the South***

***From the North***

The last time I showed pics of this garden was back in September. Wow. There were winter squash vines covering the whole thing back then! We only got one decent squash out of all that hassle because the squirrels kept nibbling them when they were young. Rar.

When we finally put this garden to bed I plan on showing pics of it throughout the growing season. I'm kind of excited to see all those pictures next to one another and see the life cycle of our little 4x8 plot!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Plan is Growing in Camden

The little community garden we recently started in Camden (through my job with the Camden Children's Garden) is really flourishing right now. Here's a picture of it a few months ago, when we first started it:

And here it is now, full of vegetables, some ready to harvest:

In the last few months we've planted lettuce, kale, kohlrabi, rutabaga, swiss chard, mustard greens, spinach, cabbage and escarole. Over the last month we've harvested several pounds of lettuce, spinach, mustard greens, kale and swiss chard. Things are really looking good over there and we haven't watered once since we planted. Amazing.

We also had that (mostly) dead tree cut down and planted trees and shrubs along the edge of the garden. The shrubs were donated to us and the trees were planted with help from the New Jersey Tree Foundation (we got serviceberry and cherry trees, as per my request!).

This garden is very close to the Children's Garden and we're starting to think of it more as a mini-farm. We're expanding our ideas on how we can provide fresh produce to the citizens of Camden (a city of 80,000 with only one grocery store on the edge of town). That might mean starting a CSA! This garden is very large and there's not a whole lot of community involvement yet. We might reserve part of it to cultivate ourselves, like we're doing now, and sell at very low prices to the community as a subscription. I'm beyond excited about this!

Things are in the works, so wish us luck!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Pie Crust (Secret Ingredient!)

This year for Thanksgiving my mom decided that she was going to make the crust for her mince meat pie because she had a recipe that she was really excited to try. The recipe came from a cooking class we all went to as a family this summer (for my Dad's birthday, a great gift if I do say so myself). The dough was a dream to handle and the crust came out beautifully so I will share it with you, secret ingredient and all!

Lattice-Top Pie Pastry
by Maral Apelian Banks

  • 2.5 c unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 4 Tbs. cream cheese, cold
  • 12 Tbs. cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4" chunks
  • 3 Tbs. water, cold, more as needed
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbs. sugar
  • 4 Tbs. vodka, cold
Combine the vodka with the 3 Tbs. cold water. Keep cold while you proceed.

Process half of the flour, salt, and sugar in your food processor, fitted with the metal blade to combine them. Add the cold butter and cream cheese and pulse until well broken down but before it starts to form a dough (will just begin to hold together in large clumps and all of the flour will be coated with fat). Break the clumps up if they are large and add the remaining flour. Pulse the mixture 3-4 times to just disperse the fat coated flour in the dry flour. Dump the flour mixture into a large bowl and add the water/vodka mixture. Stir the mixture with a rubber spatula to form an evenly combined, slightly sticky dough.

Divide the dough into 2 equal parts. Form one part into a 4" round, flat disk, the other into a 4" square and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 45 minutes and up to 2 days before using.

Roll the round piece of dough to a 12" circle on a well floured counter. Brush away any excess flour and transfer the dough to the pie plate, easing it into the bottom of the dish (there should be about 1" of over hanging dough all the way around. Form a fluted edge and then cover the crust loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate to keep firm. Roll the other piece of dough into a rectable, 10" x 14" and cut into long strips to form the lattice top.

When ready to assemble the pie, beat 1 egg to form an egg wash. Lightly brush the edges of the crust with the beaten egg then transfer the filling into the crust. Form the lattice top, then lightly brush it with beaten egg and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Place the pie into the freezer for 30 minutes to an hour to chill and relax the pastry. Bake the pie for about 1 hour, covering the top with a sheet of foil if it is darkening too quickly. Cool for several hours before serving.

Ta da!

Friday, December 4, 2009

The High Line

While we were in NYC we also took the opportunity to see The High Line - a park on the West Side that is on an old elevated train trestle. We were there on a Monday afternoon so we had a lot of space to walk around and explore. Apparently on the weekends it's mobbed.

I've been wanting to see this park ever since I saw the plans for it in an exhibit in one of the art museums in NYC years and years ago. I remember taking the pamphlet home and taping it to my wall, thinking about how cool it would be if they actually did it.

Since they built it I've seen lots and lots of pictures, and even though I knew what to expect, it was a thrill to actually be there. The design makes heavy use of the elements of the old trestle, and the effect is that you feel like you're walking through a (subtly structured) overgrown or feral landscape. The plants appear to grow out of the sidewalk, and you can see old tracks amongst the trees and bushes.

I was also pleased to see lots of native plants and fall color in the plantings. They were very well done and not overly manicured, which added to the wild feeling of the park.

The benches even seem to leap up from the tracks, arching up out of the architectural lines of the walkway.

M commented that this kind of project is great and all, but the neighborhood where it was built is not lacking for tourist attractions or amenities (like open space) for its rich inhabitants. It would be better served in a different, under-served part of the city. I see that logic, but think it's unrealistic that an under-served neighborhood would have the pull for funders to take the leap that they took to build this. But now that it's been built and it's successful, the model can be extended to other areas of the city where green space is more needed. What do you think?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

La Plaza Cultural

Early in November, M and I went to visit some of my oldest and dearest friends in NYC. While we were out looking for a good brunch place, we passed by this amazing community garden in the Lower East Side - La Plaza Cultural. My friends all humored me and let me roam around for a while in this gorgeous garden.

You may have already seen this garden. It's famous in the garden world because of the decorations on the outer fence - crazy "flowers" made out of recycled cans, bottles and other containers.

Inside the garden there are community plots, theater space, a sand/play area and park space. It's also dotted with huge weeping willow trees that lend shade and character to the space.

I'm always enthralled and excited when I see these older urban gardens (this one was founded in 1976); I love the way the paths and sections of the garden flow in an organic, maze-like fashion, I love seeing the different uses the space can have, and I especially love the old plants that have been so lovingly tended and stand like gatekeepers of the green sanctuary under them. It gets my mind racing back to my little gardens in Philly and Camden and their newness and clean squares and lines. I hope those new little gardens have the chance to age as gracefully as this one has.