Archive for the 'Exasperation' Category

My indoor plant license should be revoked

When I gave up the opportunity to plant a garden (even the balcony variety) at my own apartment, I did not forego all outdoor space. My Oakland apartment building boasts a rooftop deck and an interior courtyard, and although I-880 hugs the building on its opposite side, it is possible to sit outside on one of the lovely wooden benches and get some fresh air and sunlight.

“Maybe you could get them to let you put a tomato in a corner of the upstairs deck,” one of my friends said when I moved in.

No such luck. Although I’m a renter, my landlord is a condo owner, and it’s a condo building, complete with everything that comes along with it: sterilely manicured open space, a list of approved movers to use when entering or leaving the premises with your worldly belongings, and, although I will admit I haven’t asked the question, an absolutely-not policy on putting tomato plants on the roof.

So instead, I’ve been trying to make do with a miniscule potted plant collection in my living room window. I have a low table and plenty of light (although not much direct sunlight, to be honest), coming in, and that has caused me, in moments of weakness, to buy plants that I am probably dooming to certain death.

My indoor plant track record has not ever been good.

The first arrival on the scene was a mini Gerbera, bought at Trader Joe’s. The movers had just arrived that morning, and I was exhausted and at the store expressly for the purpose of impulse-buying large quantities of cheese and wine and convenience foods, and the cheery red flowers (oh, how I do love Gerberas) sat there muttering at me as I went by, “Hey lady! Lady! How ‘bout just a little taste?”

Of course, the following weekend, I was leaving for Hawaii for a week’s vacation, with no plan for watering the Gerbera while I was gone. It still has barely-surviving foliage, to be sure, but since I returned from Kaua’i, has refused me additional blossoms.

Then, last week, after my first stint in the Victory Garden, I decided to buy a basil plant that was on sale at Whole Foods. (You may notice a trend here, a trend that involves shopping when hungry AND needy-of-plants.)

The basil plant was beautiful, indeed, but I purchased it and did what I do with every plant I ever take home, whether I’m on vacation or not: I forget to water it. Or, worse, I remember that I should water it and just think, Oh, I’ll do that later. And then later becomes dinner out with friends and then there’s that workout I really should be getting to and then I have laundry to do and the dishes to wash and then…and then…

This is why outside plants and I get along so much better. If I don’t plant them under a godforsaken Black Walnut, they have such a better shot at getting what they need from the sun and the rain and the earth-that’s-not-potting soil.

This leads me to the inevitable, which is Sunday, when I suddenly looked at the basil plant and noticed that it was utterly droopy. This set me atwirl, trying to remember if I’d watered it, or if I’d over-watered it, or if I’d maybe given it some wine just for fun one night?

I decided to go with under-watering, because that’s my usual M.O., and gave it a drink. The water ran right out the bottom as if it didn’t even want to stop to say hello to the dirt, so I gave it some more, operating in my usual, I-have-no-idea-what-I’m-doing manner.

I also watered the Gerbera, which is really just a pot of Gerbera greens, which is really a plant that I kind of want to just throw out, but which makes me guilty so I keep it and begrudgingly nurture it. I am like that guy in The DaVinci Code, the albino monk? That Gerbera plant is my cilice.

By the next day, the Gerbera was waving its little fronds of greens in the air like a happy camper. And the basil, while still clearly in need of more attention, looked at least a little less limp. That’s really all I can ask for.

Except that I’m going away for the weekend. I promise I’ll water the plants before I go, but seriously…if they gave out licenses to garden indoors, mine would have already been revoked.

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The great ice cream caper

In the carpool on the way home from work on a sunny and warm Wednesday back in April, my friends Betsy and Dan and I decided to go out for burgers. Snow had crept back in the forecast for early the next week, and we needed some ground beef and some sunshine to make ourselves feel better about the impending weather.

Mint chocolate chip

Mint chocolate chip

Over dinner, Dan and I fell back into our running argument about regionally- and locally-made ice cream: I maintain that Heyn’s is better than Whitey’s, and Dan is a Whitey’s guy through and through. We’d been fighting about this for weeks (because, really, what else would a couple of foodies fight about?), and finally Betsy called us on it.

“Why don’t you do a taste test tonight?” she said. “I’ll be the impartial observer.”

“It’s on,” I said.

We agreed to the terms: mint chocolate chip and chocolate chip cookie dough from Heyn’s, Whitey’s and Blue Bunny, a more commercial brand, yes, but still an Iowa-made product. (I should note, here, that when I wrote about locally-made ice cream for Edible Iowa River Valley, we left Whitey’s off the list—it is actually made in Illinois…) Dan and I would sample each flavor and try to identify which sample belonged to which ice cream maker, and then we would also rate which one we thought was the best.

The rating was less the issue, in this contest, than the fact that we both swore we could pick our favorites out of the line-up.

Ice cream acquired, Betsy readied our samples.

“Are you guys going to have a full scoop or just a bite?” Betsy asked.

“Scoop,” I said, and I thought, what else would we eat in a freaking ice cream taste test Imeancomeon.

“Uh, scoop,” Dan said. (I remember this because I wrote it down at the time. I am all about recording intelligent conversation for future blog purposes.)

“What’s the winner going to get?” I asked, very focused on my impending victory over Dan and his assertions.

“I think it’s really what the loser should have to do,” Dan said. “Maybe the loser should have to pay for all the ice cream. Or wear a sign at work tomorrow that says, ‘I lost the ice cream taste test. Ask me how.’”

“Maybe they should have to run outside and run around the house naked,” I said. “Or go to work … NAKED.” Again, I say: I was focused on victory, people. Victory.

Contemplating the chocolate cookie dough

Contemplating the chocolate cookie dough

But it turns out that was not the case. “You’re going to be very disappointed with my picture-taking abilities,” Betsy said when she returned from the kitchen with the first round: mint chocolate chip.

“It’s OK,” I said. “I’ll just tell everyone that the pictures were taken by a” (and here, I used finger-quotes) “Masters-degreed artiste.”

And so the tasting began. Cold stares flew across the living room. There were more cackles than talking. And, to be honest, after we tried the chocolate chip cookie dough and I decided that not only was I sure which one was Blue Bunny, but that I liked it the best, as well, I had lost a lot of confidence in my ability to pick out good ice cream. I could smell a loss, so I tried to cut back—a little—on the trash-talking.

When all was said and done, we both correctly identified who made each of the chocolate chip cookie dough variations, but I misidentified the mint chocolate chips. Dan, however, got that one right as well, garnering himself a win. He also took great glee in knowing that I chose a Blue Bunny flavor over two more locally-made options.

Evidence of my favorite...

Evidence of my favorite...

“Sometimes the best cook doesn’t have the best palate,” said Dan.

“Being a winner doesn’t mean you get to be mean,” said Betsy.

I sat there quietly, hoping they had forgotten my suggestion that the winner go to work naked.

Then they both turned to me with expectant looks on their faces. My stomach sank. Were they going to ask me to strip down and run around the house?

No. Much worse. They were expecting me to expose this loss to the world.

“What are you going to write when you put this on the blog, Genie?” Betsy asked. “That you failed? That you chose Blue Bunny?”

So yes, World. I failed. I chose Blue Bunny. And Dan never really got a trophy out of the deal, so today, his 30th birthday, seems like the appropriate day to mark his domination as an ice cream taste tester. Dan, I hope you’re able to put that skill to good use in future endeavors. And happy birthday, dude. Wish I was there to raise a glass—and an ice cream bowl—in your honor.

Dan, enjoying this

Spring, delayed.

Why is it that every year, I speak too soon about the whole end-of-winter business? I mean, seriously. Every year.

Only this year, I thought there might be something to it. You know, it being Spring today. And yesterday. And the day before.

I stumbled across this quote from a helpful National Weather Service meteorologist in an AP article this morning:

“Everyone is pretty tired of the snow but I think most people will agree these types of storms aren’t unusual in the spring,” National Weather Service meteorologist Steve Davis said. “These kinds of early-spring, late-winter storms are fairly common.”

Thanks, Steve Davis. Thanks for your insight into the fairly common problem of never. ending. snow.

For those of you who may be wondering why I’m including this long-winded, weather-whiny intro O’Hare. Right. Now.to the real meat of this post, it’s because I have plenty of time. I’m stuck in O’Hare right now, looking out at precipitation falling, waiting to board a plane that has already been delayed three times.

I’m doubly unhappy about the weather for more than just the normal reasons–on this trip, I managed to leave my winter coat at my parents’ house in Pennsylvania. I haven’t needed the stupid coat for most of my trip, and, well, just plum forgot it. So I’m facing my return to a never-ending winter (and a walk through the snow to board my plane outside) with an Old Navy hoodie.

Ah — another phone call from United. Another delay. This is real-time blogging, people! REAL-TIME WEATHER-BLOGGING.

The upshot of this is that for those of you who might be planning to meet me at the CSA Fair to pick up your swag (and, hopefully, support your local farmers), please accept my apologies — if I get there at all, I’m going to be woefully late. If you stop by and miss me, just leave a note in the comments — if there’s enough interest, I’ll arrange a meet-up sometime in the next two weeks in Iowa City. I will arrange it for a time when there are, in fact, no airplanes involved.

Winter: the season that won’t surrender

This picture?

Snowfall

That’s what’s happening outside my front door right this very minute.

I know this winter is going to end eventually, but seriously? It feels like I’m never going to see the garden again.

Fish biscuits to warm the snowy soul

At BlogHer ’07, I attended a fabulous dinner with a group of other food bloggers, some of whom attended the conference and some of whom live in the area. At the table that night, we got to talking about my particular obsession with Lost. I told my table neighbors about my friend Betsy, who lives just up the street from me and whose basement (aka Fish biscuitsThe Cave) sports a 9-foot projection TV system, and that she and her husband share my Lost obsession, so I planned to join them for as many minutes of Season 4 as I possibly could.

“I made the fish biscuits,” said Kat of KungFoodie, who was sitting to my right. “Well, they were sugar cookies, but I have the recipe on my blog. I even made a template.”

I don’t remember what I sputtered in response, but I’m sure it included the words “awesome,” “omigod,” and “that’s hi-LAR-ious.” If I’d had a laptop on me, I would have looked up the template right then and there.

It was all I could do to keep my secret for the next six months. I told Betsy back in August that I had a surprise awaiting the season premiere of Lost. And so, last Thursday night, I took my carefully made Fish Biscuits (which, I might report, are citrusy and delicious), and trudged through the snow up the street to Betsy’s for the first night back from a long, Lost-less era.

Genie eats a fish biscuitIt was just the ticket for a snowy night during a winter so bitter even everyone I know who is from Iowa has been marveling. We ate our fish biscuits and stared at the nine-foot projection of an island that, even with weird creatures and enemies all around and a serious lack of a good bar and a shower, looked a heck of a lot better than the world outside The Cave.

And I’m just going to go ahead and admit it. When I showed Betsy the fish biscuits? I literally jumped up and down like I was four years old or something. I adore surprising people, and I had kept this under wraps for so long, I am probably lucky I didn’t cause myself some sort of bodily harm in the process of hopping around the kitchen.

I missed tonight’s episode, because I was off to see B.B. King with The Mint Killer. In the snow. We got eleven inches yesterday, and just as I was getting ready to leave for the show, I looked outside to find snow falling again. The forecast for the next four days? Snow flurries, snow showers, occasional snow and snowy snow.

Luckily, I have just enough dough in the freezer to make another fish biscuit or two. Because with this much snow, there’s something to be said for pretending I’m eating one on an island somewhere.

Photo credit for photo of me: Royce Chestnut

Not a member of the society of snow lovers

As I noted on Saturday, I did, in fact, make it to the garden fair. And, against many odds, located Prairie Robin as she and meandered in different directions through the central display area, which featured an awful lot of flower societies. There were societies of hosta lovers. Societies of lily lovers. Societies of people who love the trees and the black walnuts that fall out of them.

So, despite the odds, I did learn a few things about what to plant to attract butterflies and hummingbirds, and I learned a lot about bugs, and I met a new online friend in the real world, which is one of my very favorite things about blogging—I love it when the conversation skips off the web page and out into the real world.

I did not learn about The Kitchen Garden, and I missed the whole bulb session entirely, so I will be unable to school any of you in that particular facet of the event. But stay tuned in the next few weeks, because I will be providing thorough reporting on what I was in the vicinity to learn.

And I’m going to be honest here. I had designs to write more tonight, but as I rolled back into town on Sunday afternoon from an overnight away, the sky was just beginning to spit out some flurries, which turned into eight inches of snow that fell in five hours. Then, on Monday morning, we got hit with freezing rain and hail and lightning, all at the same time. Tonight? It’s back to snow, with six to 10 inches forecast for the overnight hours. And this, my fair readers, is causing me to go into paralysis when it comes to garden writing. I may deal with driving in the snow better than I used to, but that still doesn’t mean I’m ready to join the society of people who love the white stuff.

Never according to plan

Not that I think all my readers set up a special calendar just to track my comings and goings (And, I might add, if you do, there is something wrong with you and you should get help immediately.) (Why are you still reading? Go get help!), but 50 minutes ago, I was supposed to be settling into my seat at the Kitchen Garden workshop, the first of the day at the Winter Gardening Fair.

Instead, I’m settled in at a coffee shop in Coralville, waiting out an inadvertent snowstorm.

I should not be surprised. This has been the snowiest winter since I arrived in Iowa, and I have been amazed at how my body has finally adjusted—when my car starts sliding on a road, instead of breaking out in a cold sweat and beginning to whimper, I stay relaxed and just let out a steady stream of words that would wilt a tomato plant.

I consider this progress.

So this morning, I got up with plans to get out of the house in plenty of time. Plenty of time, that is, for a dry and cold morning, which is what the weather forecasts all said it would be. There was a 30 percent chance of scattered light snow in the forecast, which, in my interpretation, is significantly different from the reality forecast, which goes something like this:

When you arrive at your car, you will have to brush two inches of snow off it, but the windshield will already be covered with a thin layer by the time you get all the way around the car because it is snowing so hard, and then you’re going to have about a 72.8 percent chance of your feet sliding out from under you because the snow is on top of a thin layer of ice oh yeah oh yeah, and even the trucks out on I-80 are going to be driving 45 mph because the roads are allegedly partly covered but more like mostly to completely covered and why are you even outside, Genie, why, oh why?

That is the forecast I would have liked to have read. I clearly need to find a new weather web site.

I did give it the college try. I got out on the highway, and felt fairly comfortable out there, cruising along at 43 mph, following a four-wheel-drive vehicle that was going fairly slowly, at peace with the fact that I was not going to make it to Kirkwood in time to make the first session, when suddenly it occurred to me that it was snowing even harder, that I couldn’t even really see out there, and that if I woke up on a weekday and the world outside looked like this, I would email my office and tell them I was working from home.

And thusly and therefore, it made not a single lick of sense that I was risking my car, life and limb (although I’ve never been able to figure out why you need your limb if you don’t have your life) to drive to a garden fair in weather that would ordinarily keep me from even opening my front door. And then it occurred to me that there was a chance the garden fair might even be delayed or canceled (according to my sources, which I have checked since getting my coffee, it is not, but that is neither here nor there), and I would feel even more stupid if I arrived and was the only idiot to show up in the snow. And then there it was. An exit. With easy access to a coffee shop.

So I got off the highway. And I’m thinking, now that this is the second year in a row that winter has given me the No-Garden-Fair-For-You smackdown, perhaps I should learn to leave well enough alone and quit registering for this thing.

UPDATE: Snow stopped. Roads cleared. I’m currently sitting at the Garden Fair learning about birds and butterflies with Prairie Robin. Rock on.


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All words and images (unless otherwise credited) on The Inadvertent Gardener are © 2006-2008 Eugenia E. Gratto. All rights reserved.

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