Rye Bread on Saturday: a Brief Photo Essay

People who bake beautiful bread are superheroes in my estimation.  I’ve always wanted to do that–bake bread.  I asked my Handsome Chef Boyfriend a long time ago to teach me.  He said, bread baking requires the “p” word:  patience.  Too bad for me.  I am one of the least patient people I know.  It is possibly my worst character flaw.

Still, on Saturday HCB announced we were baking country rye bread.

<Yay.>

After he mise-en-placed the ingredients (mise’d-en-place?), he summoned me to do the mixing, offering careful instruction with each step.  After that we shared responsibilities, but I’m not kidding myself. The product that came out of the oven was his.

We stayed in our jammies all day long and ate slices of buttered rye bread hot from the oven.  Every Saturday should be so beautiful.

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Gracie’s Tomatoes

IMG_20140422_114811My great-grandmother lived ’til I was into my thirties; notably, for all but the last couple of months of her life, she was pretty dang lucid, too.  Had she survived another year she’d have met her great-great-grandson.  But, to quote a friend, she still won.

Gracie.  She lived in a tiny, vernacular cottage perched at the summit of a steep slope on the main channel of the Tennessee River; the view was to die for.   Any morning of the week found her hunkered down on the corner of her worn wicker sofa in the 1970s addition she built on a tight budget.  (She did everything on a tight budget but only because of willful frugality–as an adult woman she never wanted for anything.)  From there she could observe river traffic and the wildlife on her three rural acres, and opine about anything and everything, politics mainly.  At her right elbow sat a saucered cup of black coffee and another saucer of crisp bacon slices (she rarely had fewer than two pounds in the fridge). When they were in season there were also a few generously salted tomato slices on that plate.  Wisps of smoke unfurled from the cigarette between her fingers, her skin and hair betraying a lifelong nicotine addiction.  It took so  little else to make her happy, with the possible exception of the company of her multi-generational progeny.

In her last decade Gracie lived in a nursing home where she made daily trouble for the staff.  She defied the no-smoking-in-the-room rule, sitting openly on her toilet with cigarette in hand.  You could confront her about the ash pile on the floor in the bathroom and she would only shrug.  A small pleasure in the absence of coffee and bacon and tomato slices on the Tennessee River, for a woman who had lived nearly a century, and who was the only sibling of five to survive childhood during hard times in Victorian-era Knoxville.

She broke rules without a stitch of guilt.

Of Gracie’s culinary triumvirate I share her passion for black coffee and tomatoes.  (Bacon is evil as we all know.)  But at the confluence of this holy trinity I can taste the southern-grown and harvested fruit at the height of the season, and there is nothing like it.  I have had some pretty good approximations here in New England.  Not a true Southern tomato, though.  That succulent mouth explosion is Nirvana, enough said.

Last week I resolved to start tomato plants from seed inside (since it is Still Winter here) as I intend to make a vegetable garden this summer, dammit.    As I mentioned in the last post, I enjoyed success starting other vegs indoors from seed but was a bit eager and now have sprawling plants that are ready for the ground too soon.  They will probably die before I can move them, although they continue to look pretty healthy and I will nurture them inside as long as they will allow.

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Gracie had the Midas touch with gardens and houseplants, African violets especially.  She did not share this particular gift with me.  But sometimes I think I possess her intransigence, which is occasionally desirable and even helpful when you’ve got to navigate through tough and unforgiving wilderness.  I leave you with Gracie’s language, written in her own hand, and I shall keep you posted on the tomatoes.

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Needle Threader If you use one put it back Dam it Gracie

 

What NOW?

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This is food, potentially.  Heirloom beans, organic peas, Swiss chard, summer squash.  All started from seed, in these little incubator thingummies that come with soil pods.  Not making this up:  you just add water and then poke a couple seeds into each cup.  Problem is, I am a terrible gardener.  I could not grow a veggie garden (nor flower garden, nor herb garden) if my, er, life depended on it.  I can’t even keep a plain old, garden variety houseplant alive.  People have given me plants as teacher gifts for years and my reaction is always the same:  I smile and say thank you so much, and then I turn around and apologize in advance to the plant, which I can virtually guarantee will be dead inside of two weeks.  (Sorry, ballet families, if you are reading this.  My secret is out.)

You’re probably over-watering, people will tell me.  Or under-watering. Or there is too much light.  Or not enough.  Or the pH in your soil is all wrong.  Or you need to fertilize.  Or not fertilize.

Some people “get” it and seemingly make things grow and thrive, effortlessly.  I am not one of them.  Ask me to dig a ditch.  Or create a serpentine pathway.  Or line a beautiful bed with rocks.  That, I can do. But I will kill the organic things growing in the bed if their care and upkeep depend on me.  It is only a matter of time.

So I think I should get props for my unrelenting optimism of late:   This. Is. The. Year. I. Will. Have. A. Garden.  I will do the Vermont thang and grow my own food.  Maybe.  Handsome Chef Boyfriend is walking me through this process and suggested I start my plants from seeds because this is less expensive than buying baby plants at a greenhouse (although that shopping process is deliciously fun).  HCB gardens.  And juggles.  And knits.  Have I mentioned this?  As time wears on I am discovering there is very little this amazing person does not or cannot do, with the possible exception of deciphering crossword clues about classic literature and opera.  (Enter his classically trained girlfriend.  Who cannot garden.)

Anywho.  There is one leetle problemo with the beautiful seedlings in the photo, which was made a couple of weeks ago:  it is way too soon for them to be this big.  Don’t get me wrong, universe.  I was thrilled and delighted when the first tender shoots poked their way out of the soil.  I kept looking at them hour by hour, imagining I could see them growing more.  And I was tickled pink the day they grew so tall I had to remove the clear plastic incubator lids.

But then that joy morphed into concern when I realized these plants–some of them, anyway–are evidently almost ready to go into the ground.

Did I mention I live in Vermont?  Nothing can go in the ground here safely ’til after Memorial Day weekend, I am told.  Today is April 6.  Sigh.

So my first effort at growing veggies finally may be only a science project that ends up in the recycling bin.  Last week I went to a big box store looking for cheap plastic planters (big ‘uns), and something to train the beans and peas on, and potting soil.  Don’t spend more on the stuff than you’d pay for the food, cautioned HCB.  He was right, of course, and ultimately I could not justify the planters nor the climb-y things.

So I left the store with potting soil and bamboo skewers, which I reasoned could be taped together end to end when the beans get really tall and rangy.  Once home I fished around in the garage underneath my loft and found a big plastic planter which I scrubbed out with hot, soapy water.

The chard and the squash can wait a bit longer to be moved, perhaps. The rest I moved today.  You can see the fruits (or veggies! ha!) of my labor in the photograph, with the gigantic piles of plowed snow still on the ground outside my second floor, south-facing windows.

I am sure my novice approach to growing things must be laughable for seasoned gardeners out there.  But if any of y’all are reading this, and have words of wisdom to offer this newbie, I am all ears.

Sit up straight and eat your veggies.

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I am officially a criminal.

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Yup.  In the eyes of the law, I have committed a crime.  And looky there: it says I DISOBEYED a traffic control device.  Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy about myself.  But this is actually a speeding ticket dressed in drag, sorta. And it is my first ever moving violation.  Seriously.  Handsome Chef Boyfriend and I drove up to Lake Placid last weekend for his son’s hockey tournament, and the state police were positioned strategically around every bend in the road.  (HCB says it was because the end of the month rolled around and they probably had not met their revenue quota; he knows about all that stuff.)

So young Officer Sleeper (irony, that) nabbed me going 45 in a 30, so he says.  And while we sat there in that humiliating place waiting for him to “run my tags” (cue the Bad Boys theme), HCB observed that he probably clocked me *just* as my wheels crossed the line from the 45 mph zone to the 30, as we were moving through the Next Little Town.

Dear People of the State of New York (since it says right up there that you are agin’ me), here is an endearing thing about Vermont:  the speed limit “steps” down gradually–you get lots of warning that you’re about to be in a 25 or 30 mph zone.

But I digress.  After a longish interval Officer Sleeper reappeared at my window and said he would not cite me for speeding, but instead for disobeying a traffic device.

Huh?

You failed to use your turn signal, he said.

But wait, I said.  I was not turning.

This one carries a lesser fine, he explained.  And you might not have to pay anything at all.

Well, thank you for that.

So, despite the fact I was not handed a pricey citation for speeding, I still feel kind of conspiratorial.  Like I just knowingly participated in a big lie. I guess it’s all part of the criminal package, right?

I feel certain I shall get over it.

Y’all drive safe, now.