Early Summer Offerings

Today I took my first cup of cold brew coffee out to the backyard to survey our small domain and water our little container garden and I was positively struck with early summer wonder. First off: the simple joys of homemade cold brew are not to be taken lightly and it is ever-so-much more enjoyable than I thought possible to drink it with a cuppow mason jar top. Right now there is a ton of (fabulous-yet-frustrating) construction going on in the backyard as our awesome landlord Bernie and his yappy yorkie Zeus put up new fencing, plant big lovely boxwoods, lay down a patio, occasionally spar at our window with Nipsey the Cat, and make a big mess everywhere including in the cucumber pots. In the midst of the construction chaos, ground strewn with power tools and trash, our little garden is still thriving. Is this a New York parable? Our Early Girls are putting out their first little green maters, late breaking broccoli is rearing its head, zucchinis are blossoming, nasturtiums are up, all of the little hot peppers are putting forth blossoms (the big one already has two peppers on it!), the first strawberries are almost ready to eat, and all of the herbs are thriving. It’s always the little things that matter most.

Garden Party

Sweetheart and I just returned from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s amazing annual plant sale with this little red wagon load of delectable goodies for the backyard! Early Girls and Kirby Cukes, Packman Broccoli and Medusa Peppers, Rosemary, Thyme, and Lavande de Provence… like all gardeners at the beginning of the season, out wagon brims almost more with hope than with bounty. Luckily my ever-lovin-horticultural Mama is coming next week for any course correction if we city mice have bitten off more strawberries than we can chew.

ps. I always love the Botanic Garden, every time you go it’s different depending on the weather and the season. Today, the bluebell wood was in bloom. After last night’s hard rain, the trees were silent except for the occasional drop of water and the flowers were like a quiet sea. It was truly beautiful.

Ghost Party

For Miss McKay’s birthday she threw a Ghost Party in the sea islands. All in attendance were asked to choose and channel one of the many spirits of Cumberland, the most mystical and undoubtedly magical tide and mist limned island of the lot. This was certainly cause for a most unearthly celebration. We went to the boneyard and gathered armadillo skulls, deer jawbones, and miscellaneous backbones from the woods, and, like all good ghosts, everyone had a bone necklace and placecard.We went into the saw palmettos, foraged mossy branches and long fronds and festooned the room with bones, vines, and spanish moss.

We dressed as timacuan squaws and revolutionary war generals, the ghosts of great great uncles and bastard octoroon daughters, as ghost dans, zoave blockade runners, french pirates, notorious brides, and wayward travelers. The birthday girl herself went as fierce and beautiful Aunt Lucy who answered to no one and rode her horse with a crow on her shoulder, and Miss Mia made our portraits.

We ate shrimp and grits, drank champagne and rum, and played music and danced mystically into the night. It was perfection.So much love and supernatural joy to Miss McKay on this occasion of her birthday.

And infinite thanks and sharkteethbrujaja to the divinely talented Miss Mia Baxter, timacuan squaw and photographer extroidanairess, for the majority of these stunning images.

Gremolata & Cancellaresca Milanese

Though I’m not too well versed in it, I love typography. Borrowing from illuminated manuscripts, morphing from baroque curlicues to the lazy S’s of the Virginia Gazette (headline to the uninitiated: The Frefest advice, Foreign and Domeftick), from the ubiquity of Helvetica to the transgressions of Comic Sans. My love of fonts is pretty basic and visceral, my knowledge of custom running type limited to when my Mama had a font made of her handwriting in the mid 90’s (awesome). But, when I stumbled on this kickstarter campaign, my eyes fluttered. A brand new typeface. Bold and Italics not just header buttons on command. Languid, tilty, romantic italic letters paired off with their stand-up roman bretheren based on exact harmony between letter and meaning. Type made in the oldest way, in a foundry, painstaking, precise, hand wrought. Marvelous. The finished typeface will be a marriage of Cancellaresca Milanese (a typeface based on one that first appeared in Milan in 1541 in the books of Giovanni Antonio Castiglione) and Gremolata (a newly designed type with a slightly larger set of capitals based on those in the Cancellaresca, and paired with a lower case that is inspired, but not based on, Alpine typefaces of the mid-sixteenth century). Of course. the I gave $10, the project is funded, and the boys have started carving out their type. Just as in the kingdom of the blind, the one eyed man is king, in the kingdom of Kickstarter, even the pauper is a patron. Here, the type:

Stump Speech

When I first stumbled across Best Made, a New York based company whose absolutely gorgeous hand-hewn and painted axes retail for up to $300, I had a smarmysmirk. I can certainly get behind the idea that objects of use should be objects of beauty, that form, function, build and tame are among the most ancient human impulses as we have. But, I thought, come on. A (stunning) $300 axe for uppity, bearded, maketank New Yorkers to hang on the wall of their lofts for show? Because-seriously-who-in-New-York-has-a-tree-and-if-you-were-lucky-enough-to-have-a-tree-why-on-earth-would-you-chop-it-down. Birch Please.

Then. I found the stump in my backyard. This old stump had at one point been burnt, covered in bricks and debris, forgotten until Sweetheart and I unearthed it in a torrent of centipedes and (my) shrieking. On Monday, it was the size of the red oval:
I broke it up myself using a rusty old axe I found in the backyard that must have belonged to the original landlords from the 1850’s. This is what my axe looks like:
Oof. My axe is like off-brand jeans. It works OK, but it could be a little shiner and a LOT sharper. New York is funny in this way, it can give you little nuggets of self-revelation that come with sweat and honest toil, and in the same fell swing can make you covetous of a $300 axe named “Flashman”. And the crazy thing? I think I might have earned it.


By New York standards, our backyard is huge, an L shaped plot roughly the size of our entire apartment. We share it with our landlords and they (for reasons entirely beyond the gods of real estate and my understanding) just don’t give a fart about it. So. Sweetheart and I started the this-is-a-rental-but-what-the-hell-renovation-project last year by dismembering a regulation size basketball hoop that was back there with a Sawz-All. When I told my Mama that we got landlord approval to hire Kevin the Hatian (as it says on his flyer) to cart away the remaining 25 years worth of debris, detritus, and scrap metal away, she sent me this:

and said:

Unless you’ve had a tetanus shot since you graduated from high school (within the last ten years [ed. note: ouch]) your immunization has lapsed and it would be very prudent for you to get a booster before you start messing around in all that debris which very likely contains elements of rusty metal.

I can’t help it.  I’m your mother.

Mama, don’t worry, in lieu of a prudent booster, I have an appointment to get a mani/pedi afterwards. Neither is covered by my insurance, but they don’t have groupons for tetanus shots (yet).

E-Z Bake Bread

I baked this loaf of bread. Yep, I did it. This wonderful, perfectly round, air-bubbly, still warm from the oven, undeniably bread-y to its very essence loaf came out of my oven. I’m no genius, and though I make a mean almond cake and can poach a passable egg, I’ve always thought that bread baking takes cooking beyond the artful science of experimentation and flavor into the ACTUAL science of chemical reactions, margins of error, and precision measurements- not usually my strong suit. My dear friend Kitty (who lives here) passed along this recipe to me with promises and assurances that The Recipe (a revision of the now-infamous no-knead Mark Bittman recipe that took home-ovens by storm in 2006) was, in fact foolproof. I can attest: make this. It is easy, cheap, and utterly, completely satisfying. Do you need a commercial kiln oven and generations of flour covered grandparents to make this? Nope, you only need about $3 worth of ingredients, a (preferably bright red) dutch oven, and 24 hours.

Bread a la Sheila McDuffie.

3 c bread flour
¼ tsp. yeast
1 and ¼ tsp. sea salt
1 and ½ c water at 75 degrees, plus a Tlb. or 2 (well or spring water)
Flour for dusting
Finishing: flour, bran, cornmeal, semolina flour, sesame seeds, flax seeds, or rice flour

Combine flour, yeast, and salt in a glass bowl.  Add water and stir with a wooden spoon for 30-60 seconds until a shaggy dough forms and all the flour is incorporated.  Add a bit more water if necessary.  Cover with plastic wrap and allow it to rest at 70-75 degrees for 12-16 hours or up to 20 hours.

Scrape the dough onto a well floured surface spread slightly into a flattened square, and fold all four sides, one by one, onto the center of the dough.  Invert so the seam is down, dust with flour, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rest for 15 minutes.

Form the final loaf by holding the ball of dough in your hands and gently pulling and tucking under around the edges 8-10 times while rotating it.  Be careful not to over-stretch—allow the gluten cloak to form.  Generously coat a plate with the desired finishing and place the dough with the crease facing down.  Or use parchment paper.  Cover with plastic wrap and allow it to rise for 1 hour.  Preheat the oven, with your Dutch oven in it at 475 for 30 minutes.  Loaf rises for a total of 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Using oven mitts, take Dutch oven out of hot oven, dust with flour, and flip the dough into it or lower the parchment paper in.  Cover and bake for 30 minutes.  Remove the lid and bake 30 minutes more, until the crust is a dark chestnut color.  Interior temp:  180 degrees. Take bread out of the pan and cool on a rack for 1 hour.  Do not cut until the hour is up.

Here’s a breakdown of the loaf timing to serve the bread the next day for 7pm dinner:

Mix dough 9:00 p.m.
Fold step 3:30 p.m. the next day  (18 hours 30 minutes)
Form loaf 3:45ish
Preheat oven, etc. 4:45
Bread goes in 5:15
Cover comes off 5:45
Bread comes out 6:15
Ready to serve 7:15

Just a little Valentine

My grandfather carried a handkerchief, and I think it’s a special, sweet, old-fashioned, and useful little thing- harkening back to an age of simple and elegant manliness. You can give it to a crying woman on a bench somewhere, entertain a small child, mop your brow, smooth the neck of a guitar, pick up a handgun at a crime scene like it’s 1939, wrap up a sweet treat to go, put it up your sleeve or suit pocket, perform sleight of hand, or (obviously) blow your nose. This Valentine’s Day, I gave Sweetheart a parcel of plain white cotton handkerchiefs that I clumsily embroidered- three with hearts and three each with funny squashed A’s on them (his initial), because I think he’s all of these things- sweet, old fashioned, simple, and manly. This little project was easy and fun- I knocked out the embroidery drinking beer and watching Downton Abbey (reveling in both my emancipation and my needlepoint). If you’re a crewel mistress, you could make these pretty fancy, but you really only need a simple running stitch to keep it manly. Get 100% cotton hankies, wash them and iron them first, double the thread, and just freehand the hearts. And, hey, it’s not 1800, if they turn out a little crookedy, that’s ok.

For my Valentine?

Since I can’t figure out how to buy this from the apparently amazing Anna Louise Mould, I’m thinking if I can replicate this amazing banjo-head painting for my Sweetheart in time for Valentine’s day. Since he’s the sweetest kind of karmically-transplanted-mountain-man-reborn-in-the-body-of-a-native-New-Yorker, this would be just his kind of “Pimp my Ride”. Swoon.


props to the stunning Woodsmaiden, for capturing my heart as always.

Home Sweeter Home: Part 3 and 4 AFTER!

Alright, dear readers, lest ye forget where we left off, the plan was to re-decorate the bedroom in our sweet little brownstone to create a space that belongs to Sweetheart and I equally, a space that is uncluttered, calming, functional, unified, and interesting. A good place to sleep, but also a lovely place to be. A place that is as bright as possible during the daytime while also being private at night… on the extreme cheap. Whew. Looking around the room (and spending a fair portion of wine-soaked cocktail hours during our recent vacation discussing nothing but this particular undertaking with Mama) I could break down the necessary changes into this list:

1) A window treatment solution that a) lets in as much light as possible while still maintaining privacy at night and b) addresses the many sins of the odd shaped and uneven windows that make that whole wall look choppy and disjointed.
2) A headboard for the bed that sets it apart as a separate entity in the room, encroaching windows be damned.
3) Cover up the shoe-shrine.
4) Edit everything else down to things of heart, beauty, and import.

Soooo… here are the results!

Mama made the curtains to cover the shoe shrine out of a flat sheet from Wal Mart (and also surprised us with a bunch crazy soft and lovely new bedding for Christmas/Hannukah), including the awesome pillow shams that she made and the little bolster that really ties the room together. Mama=Awesome.

For the window treatments, I used the divine Jenny’s amazing pelmet box tutorial, which may be the most inspiring DIY thing I’ve ever seen (it inspired tons of other people too… check out Jenny’s post on reader submitted pelmets here).

The pelmet boxes are deep enough to hide the unsightly privacy shades I installed while still leaving most of the window open to the light. Just what I needed! I also figured that if I had my pelmet boxes go all the way up to the ceiling, and by stretching them across both windows, they’d cover up the gap between the one window and the ceiling, mask the fact that one window is several inches wider than the other, and would create a unified visual line encompassing the bed area (and, hope against hope, make the room look larger??) on an otherwise choppy and weird wall.

Jenny’s tutorial calls for the sort of foam board that you would make a science fair project out of, but I couldn’t find any of that in my neighborhood (what is WITH that, New York?), so when I went to get the plywood for the headboard cut I had the epiphany to look in the insulation section of the Home Depot. I found this pack of Poly Panel foam boards designed to fit in between 2×4’s, each one 14″ by 5′ feet. Since I wanted the pelmet boxes to go flush to the ceiling to mask the window’s unevenness, 14″ was the exact right height. And since the pattern on the (crazy) fabric I chose, Iman’s Punjabi Peacock (which we got at Mood for way cheaper than on Calico Corners) repeated directionally (ie: the feathers face a certain way on the fabric, and that way is across the fabric, 60″ selvage to selvage, instead of longways) I’d need to make three short boxes instead of one long one anyway, so this weird foam insulation pack ($6 for a pack of 6) was the exact right thing.

For the headboard, I chose a really dark blue velvet, which pulled in the same blue that was in the center of the Punjabi Peacock fabric.I rounded off the corners of a pre-cut piece of plywood (thanks again, Home Depot), using a bowl for an outline, a small hand saw and a few beers (not recommended if you can afford power tools), and then wrapped the thing in velvet, batting, a cut up foam mattress pad and staple gunned the whole shebang. It was surprisingly easy and utterly satisfying.I love velvet, and really wanted to try Jenny’s post on tufting, but the amount of velvet that would require was, alas, not in the budget. I also didn’t want it to be too girly, for Sweetheart’s sake, so I ended up going with almost the very simplest silhouette possible.Another late-breaking epiphany occurred shortly after finishing the headboard. Sweetheart and I were out at the amazing Fairway grocery store in Red Hook and the awesome dudes who stock the coffee department happened to be re-stocking the coffee barrels from huge burlap sacks full of coffee. I asked them what they were planning on doing with the sacks when they were done, and they guy said “Giving them to you, if you want them!”. Things like this make me want to kiss New York on the mouth. So, after a giddy trip back home, I opened up the coffee sack with a seam ripper, ironed it, and tacked it up on the wall between the headboard and the pelmet boxes. Unlike a more expensive/labor intensive/semi-permanent wallpaper or paint solution that would cover the entire disjointed wall floor to ceiling, the burlap panel only covers about 5 square feet over that one section of the wall, but because the room is so chopped up (and the pelmet boxes and windows trick your eye to go there) just that small change makes the room look much, much warmer with no money and a few tacks. The antlers? We’re trying them out. So far I think we like them.

Fairway Coffee image from here.

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