Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Our Kitchenless Adventure: The blue of distance

I grew up in a small town nestled in the Hondo Valley in New Mexico. Far away on the western horizon stood El Capitan, in the range of Sierra Blanca, blue, majestic, and serene. Because my family often loaded up the station wagon after church on Sunday and headed up to the mountains for an afternoon of picnicking, I knew at an early age that the mountains were not really blue--it was only the distance that separated us that made them so. But that blue was a very inviting color: "Come to me," it seemed to say each morning.

Rebecca Solnit writes very eloquently about this effect in her essay, "The Blue of Distance." The color, caused by the scattering of light through the atmosphere, creates a longing in us that we can never fully satisfy because it disappears by the time we reach our destination. What Solnit argues, however, is that the desire to reach it--to be in those blue mountains--is as important as the thing itself, and indeed the value of the final experience is lessened without it. I find this notion very compelling. Think of it: Would Christmas morning hold the same thrill for a child were she not impatient for its arrival?

I think about this essay often (and indeed have mentioned it before on this blog) and never more so than in the past couple of weeks or so. For here is what I can tell you my friends: I have been on this road to a functional, efficient kitchen--a cook's kitchen--for eighteen years, and I am ready to reach the destination. I think I have had enough "desire." I am ready for some casseroles.

I am trying to keep all this in perspective, of course. The kitchen we had was adequate. It had a small gas stove, on which three out of four burners worked. It had a double sink that was almost big enough to hold a drainer. It had a space for a refrigerator.

It also had drawers that were difficult to open and close, cupboard shelves that were just this side of too small for today's shelf organizers, and very limited counter space. And did I mention that it was tiny? There was just enough room for one person to fit comfortably--any more than that, say, for example, during a party, and things could get claustrophobic in a hurry.

And the formica counter tops that would stain if you merely thought about pouring a glass of wine. Oy.

But the real reason I wanted a new kitchen was that there simply wasn't anyplace to put a dishwasher in a kitchen that was built in 1942. And this, my friends, was a deal-breaker for me. Now it may seem to some of you that this is not such a big problem. After all, we are only two, and how many dishes can two people generate? The answer is not many, if you confine yourselves to making only one-pot meals. And no parties.

Here is how not having a dishwasher affected my cooking life: I'd read a recipe and get to the part about using a food processor...and that would be the end of that particular recipe. The food processor was, you see, an extra thing to wash. Or I'd consider that the onions, peppers, and garlic didn't really need to be sauteed first...because it created another dirty pan. And don't get me started on the terror I felt at the mountain of dishes created by a dinner party.

(I should mention here that Walu, my hero, washes 75% of the dishes. Whereas I like neatness and cleanliness in general in the household, when it comes to dishes, I hate washing them so much that I will allow them to sit for days on the counter before I'll address them. Into the breach steps Walu...)

So while over the past eighteen years I've gotten very good at creating minimalist fare (at least where the number of cooking vessels used is concerned), I am ready to branch out. I am ready for roux! I am ready for making my own bread crumbs! I am ready for, uh, fancy stuff!

There is some advantage for putting off a kitchen remodel for so many years. I've spent much of that time thinking about exactly what I'd like, so that now that it is underway, there have been very few hesitations about design. It will be open to the dining room, so guests can visit with me (or Walu) while we are in the kitchen without all of us having to crowd in there. It will have a pull-out pantry, so we can see exactly what is stored. It will have shelves that swing out from blind corners so that things don't get hidden from view and forgotten. It will have extra counter space in the form of a peninsula, devoted to meal preparation. And of course, a dishwasher. As I said, this is going to be a cook's kitchen.

This week they are painting and tiling. Next week is plumbing, electrical, and appliance installation. Then one more coat on the floor. And then...I think we are finished.

Oh, and the color of the walls? They will be blue, so that I can always remember what it felt like to wait for this kitchen.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

And the winner is...

As promised, my neighbor Julie came over today and drew a name out of one of my favorite gardening hats to determine the winner of a free Troy-Bilt lithium ion battery-powered cultivator.

I am pleased to say that Heather Swindall is the lucky winner! Heather, please go to the Bicycle Garden's Facebook page (click on the image in the right sidebar and it will take you there automatically), "like" the page, and then send me a message with your email address. If that doesn't work for you, leave me a comment at the end of this post and we'll figure something out. Once I get your address, I'll pass it along to Troy-Bilt and they will send you your cultivator. I hope you enjoy yours as much as I have enjoyed mine.

Thank you all for participating--I wish I had dozens and dozens of cultivators to give away. Thanks especially to Troy-Bilt for making this happen.

As for my LBB peeps, sorry you didn't win, but you are always welcome to borrow my cultivator if you need one.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

School daze: A repurposed herb stand

These are the bitter days of the kitchen reno as things have been delayed while we wait on the granite counter tops. The first delay came when the fabricator found a crack in one of the slabs and had to send it back. Then his ogee bit broke and he had to send to Dallas for a replacement. Then they sent the wrong size. Morris, the contractor, calls me on the phone each time there's a delay to let me know. It feels like the date for Christmas morning keeps getting moved back.

Without the counter tops, we can't paint. Without the paint, we can't move the appliances in from where they are waiting in the wings...

I'm trying to keep things in perspective, but I'm ready to start making use of my new kitchen. My skills have been stretched by being limited to a gas grill, but living without a good, baked casserole is harder than I would have thought. I may try something using a dutch oven if this goes on much longer.

Ah well. I sit in the unfinished kitchen at night and try to imagine how I'm going to maximize the use of it. One thing I've decided I'm going to do is move some fresh herbs inside. I watch these cooking shows and they've always got a pot of basil or rosemary sitting on the counter, all fresh and bright. I'm suspicious of these, though, and wonder if they've just been potted up for the set. My fresh-from-the-garden herbs have brightened my cooking so much this summer, however, that I can't imagine going a whole winter without them.

There is a bright corner of the kitchen where I think  I could grow them, and I was thinking about putting a corner butler's pantry there. Everything I looked at, however, seemed too flimsy or overly large. Then I remembered an old school desk I bought at an auction on campus some dozen years ago. I dragged it out of the living room, where it was hidden from view under an overgrown potted plant. I took it into the unfinished kitchen and tried it in the corner, where it seemed just right, peaceful and serene in the light from the windows:

I snipped some cuttings from my favorite basil and rosemary plants and put them in a glass of water to see if I could get them to root (I know basil is an annual, but what the hell--it doesn't hurt to dream. Plus, it smells good.):

If the cuttings are successful, I'll put them in yellow and blue pots. I have no idea if this will work, but it gives me something to focus on while I wait.

Today is the last day to enter the drawing for a chance to win a battery powered Troy-Bilt cultivator! Go to this post for more information and leave a comment to get your name in the hat. I'll announce the winner on the blog tomorrow, and leave instructions for getting in touch to arrange delivery of the cultivator.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Little Red Wagon and I go a-neighboring

As I mentioned in a previous post, Troy-Bilt is anxious to give away a battery-powered cultivator to some lucky reader of The Bike Garden, and as part of that deal, they asked me if there was anything I could use out of their catalog. Well, in fact, there was, and it involves the care of this flower bed in one of our neighborhood parks:

It is one of three legacy "color spots" originally installed and cared for by three different neighbors many years ago, all of whom for various reasons are unable to care for them now. The neighborhood association has been paying for a local landscaping firm to take care of the one shown above, with spotty results (as you can see, it was a tad overgrown, and filled with rescue grass and nutsedge), so at a recent board meeting, when we were all sitting around scratching our heads about the budget and lamenting how much the flower beds were costing us, a voice piped up and said, "I'll believe I'll take this task on myself."

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the voice was mine.

I love this flower bed, though, as do many in the neighborhood. It was planted by Marjorie, a much-beloved figure in the 'hood, and it has given us pleasure for many years. Its placement at the most prominent corner of the park also means that it, in effect, represents the neighborhood, and so it behooves us to see that it stays spruced up. However, because it is a city park, many people are under the impression that it is the city's responsibility to take care of it. This is not the case, though, and thus it has fallen on hard times.

The Sunday morning after our board meeting, I loaded up a small bucket-on-wheels with tools and walked the two blocks to the park. I could have driven, but it was only two blocks, you know? Even so, the little wheelie-bucket was inadequate to the task.

All the tools made it unstable and wobbly, and while it is sufficient to haul away the weeds in my own yard, it didn't begin to hold the volume that I was pulling out of Marjorie's flower bed. The latter meant that I'd fill up the bucket quickly, then have to stop my work, pick up all my tools, take them with me as I dumped the waste, then return for another round of weeding. With a small bucket, this meant many trips. I could have used my big wheelbarrow for a bigger load, but pushing that thing two blocks hardly seemed like a good idea, either.

Nevertheless, I managed to make pretty good progress that first morning, and removed most of the weeds:

But what it really needed was some thinning out of the "good" stuff as well. I mentioned this at our neighborhood association meeting and up popped two volunteers, Landon and Laura. The following Sunday morning, they added their capable hands to the task:

And now it looks like this:

But still all we had to work with was my little wheelie-bucket. Fortunately, this was just about the time the Troy-Bilt came along with their generous offer, and there in the catalog was a solution to my problem: a garden cart, big enough for a load of tools and an even bigger load of garden waste. To top it off, it also had large wheels, which would make it easy to roll the two blocks to the park.

And Troy-Bilt made it so:
The cart is nearly perfect for my needs. It holds a lot of tools and is stable when I wheel it down the road:

And more importantly, I can get a lot of garden waste in one load:

The cart came needing assembly, but this was fairly easy. It took me a couple of hours at most, and I only skinned two knuckles in the process. Some of the pieces required a little "persuasion" to fit together, but nothing that was too alarming. The finish on the wooden sides and base is rather dubious, and will not hold up to the weather if left outside. Indeed, after only one light rain, the plywood has already begun to crack and peel. To be fair, The instructions mention this, and recommends that it be stored inside in "extreme" weather, and applying a coat of varnish once a year. Frankly, I think a garden cart ought to be able to take a bit of the great outdoors, but I understand that in order to keep costs down, the sides are made of cheap plywood. Fortunately, I just had some work done on the house and happen to have some more durable material lying around that I will probably use to replace the less suitable wood.

I think I'm going to paint it red when I do so, however, since I am tickled by the sauciness of the cart as it is. Doesn't it stand out well against the flower bed?

I think the bright red color of the cart has had another, unexpected side effect. The park is a very busy place, with lots of joggers and walkers, but the first couple of times I worked on the bed, hardly anyone said anything to me at all as they passed by. There were a few more comments when Landon and Laura were with me, but still not as many as you might expect. But when I showed up with the cart, many more not only commented, some even came over to visit. One even volunteered to help. It might be a coincidence , it might be that the regulars are getting used to me, it might even be that with the red cart, it is obvious that I am not a city employee and therefore "one of them." I think, however, that it is because the cart is just so darned cheerful-looking. Who knows? It could even be having a bit of Tom Sawyer effect on people: "Weeding is fun!"

And the truth, of course, is that it is.

Anyway, except for the dicey finish, I'm really pleased with the cart, and grateful to Troy-Bilt for sending it to me (and to Landon and Laura for their help!). Don't forget to enter the contest for the free cultivator that started this! All you have to do is go to the post about it, found here, and leave a comment telling me how you would use it. That will automatically enter your name in a drawing I'll have on August 16th. Be sure to check the blog to see if you've won!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Update on the redwood counters

I've been working a few hours this past week on tidying up a flower bed in one of our neighborhood parks, so I haven't been spending very many mornings in the shop (and afternoons are out of the question, since it gets hot enough to bake bread in there). But I've made a little progress, which I thought I'd share in a quick update.

After milling all the components and gluing together the top, I made templates:

and routed all the mortises needed (shown here on the caps and feet that will be attached to the legs):

I laminated two boards together and made the stretcher and cut the tenons. I wanted to cut the top in a graceful arch, so I took a page from boat building and used a thin piece of wood as a batten to draw the curve, which I then cut on the bandsaw:

Here is the stretcher, dry fit into the mortises of the two legs:

Next up is to cut and fit the tenons of the legs into the mortises of the caps and feet. I should be able to get that done tomorrow, after which it is simply a matter of attaching the top to the legs, et al. Hopefully, I can get that done tomorrow morning before it gets too hot. I think it's going to look pretty good when it is put together.