A Pittsburgh Tea Party, or The Raven and the Writing Desk

pitttea1 pitttea2 pitttea3 pitttea35 pitttea4 pitttea5 pitttea6 pitttea7 pitttea8 pitttea9 pitttea10Have I told you all about my friend Katelyn? Katelyn is a journalist, and she lives in Pittsburgh. She has the best stories, is always willing to eat pastries with me, and can strike up an interesting conversation with anyone. Katelyn, of course, had the great idea to host a tea party one weekend when Bridget and I had come up from DC for her improv (!!!) show, and it was a great afternoon. There’s not much that’s better than a good excuse to bake ALL THE THINGS, and this was one of those opportunities. I don’t think we get enough of them.

The menu included staples like the SVC (Swedish visiting cake), tiny British almond cakes, baked Brie, Trader Joe’s white cheddar, and whole variety of delicious teas from Katelyn’s collection. And what interesting people she had gathered! One woman teaches at a Jewish boy’s school in the city, and she had some very interesting stories about the kids she teaches who are in the middle of growing up in an orthodox community.

I should probably also take this opportunity to rave about improv- what great fun to watch! Bridget and I had reasonable expectations going in to the show, but were totally blown out of the water by how fun and funny it ended up being. And to think that none of the material existed before it began! It takes some bravery to stand on a stage in any circumstance, let alone in an improv show, so props to everyone for doing such a great job. What also made it fun was that we had met several of the other women in the group beforehand, and it was great to have gotten to chat with them and then watch them struggle and soar through various scenes. It was a gutbuster of an evening, and I will gladly be back.

I’m so excited I wet my plants! or A Garden Update for June

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Nothing like a little plant pun to start your Friday off right. It’s time for a garden update. Last time I waxed poetic on the topic (here), the garden was but a shadow of its current existence. Things have exploded everywhere! Let’s go through and see what’s been going on with all the plants. This a long one so settle in and make some more coffee before you get started.

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General Notes

The garden came with the house and was well along with tomatoes, beets, and carrots when we moved in last summer. This year, I added almost nothing to the soil composition in an effort to save money on buying gigantic bags of soil. I added as many leaves as I could scoop up to stir in in the fall and then added a large amount of compost from our pile in the bottom of each plant I put in and on top after I realized the tomatoes seemed to be growing a little slowly. Things are growing, but I wouldn’t say they are growing well, and I would expect that in this kind of extremely humid and warm climate everything should be growing like a weed. I think the soil has also been compacted since the garden plot was first installed; looking at it now, there is a solid 4-5 inches of wood showing around the edges of the plot. If I choose to do a major soil overhaul next year, it will take a LOT (I’m thinking 6-8 giant bags of soil) to really resupply the soil in this bed properly.

There seems to be a real dichotomy between plants grown at the west end of the plot versus those grown at the east end. The house blocks the sun for part of the day on the eastern side, but there is still a good amount of direct sun on the entire area for most of the day. I planted many of my plants on an East/West line this year, for next year I would think about planting them along the North/South axis.

I think we lack pollinators in the city. I rarely see bees in the garden and I think it is impacting the production levels of the plants. So sad.

The Lettuce and Kale Situation

Lettuce is the plant we’ve used the most so far from the garden. I’ve been putting a lot of it on sandwiches for lunch, and it’s really nice to not have to buy an entire head when you just want a few leaves. I didn’t think I really wanted to plant any lettuce and elected to grow it primarily because I thought it would be an easy plant not to kill, but it’s ended up being eaten fairly regularly on our end. What a nice surprise!

Kale, on the other hand, is doing fine. Not great, just fine. I grew it, the lettuce and a few other plants directly from seed, and I think I started them all way too early. The lettuce and kale in particular were clamoring to be released from their sprout container chains weeks before it was safe to put them out. Next year I either need to get a small grow light, purchase stronger seedlings, or be patient and wait several weeks longer before starting seeds. I wonder if it will grow slowly all summer and then flourish in the fall- Kale isn’t supposed to like intense heat like summer in DC. The local school has a gigantic kale plant in their garden that survived over the winter that I am very jealous of. #Heidiproblems

Basils

The basils I planted are, again, growing very slowly but seem to be doing ok. There were a lot of initial problems with all the seedings and bugs, but organic insecticide and increases in size seem to have stifled their plant eating progress sufficiently. Both types- Thai and regular- have surprisingly small leaves and, again, don’t seem to love the heat the way I would expect. The regular basil is pretty good but has a slight bitter tang, which I suspect is from the poor soil quality.

Watermelon and Eggplant: A total bust

I had planted seeds for moon and star watermelon that were all eaten or withered away as soon as they sprouted. On a run to a local nursery I decided to try buying another watermelon seedling and it has been a total fail so far. It’s been in the ground for about a month and hasn’t died, but also has not grown AT ALL. I don’t think this bodes well. The eggplant I purchased is the same way- same nursery, same problem with no growth but also not dying. It’s just sitting there. I’m curious to see what happens with these two and have tentatively added them to my “don’t bother” list for next time.

Tomatoes, particularly Ja’mie, Private School Tomato

The tomatoes are doing great! At least, enough of them are doing great that I am 99% sure I will get a few fruits out of the deal. I planted three different types- Cherokee Purple, Gold Medal, and Mexico Midgets. The Cherokee purple have proven to be amazing- they are doing well in both their potted and in-ground forms and are forming several large fruit per plant already. I expect more to come. The Gold Medal plants that survived (2) are also doing well but seem much slower than the Cherokee purple. They also have produced fewer fruits per plant so far, but it could be that they just need more time to ripen or produce more fruit later in the season. Ja’mie, Private School Tomato, is a Gold Medal and she is doing great! I just repotted two container tomatoes into 5 gallon buckets because I was sick of constantly watering them. The Mexico Midgets were slow to get going but now are coming into their own, and several of them have fruit in a few places.

Peppers: The Unsung Hero

The peppers have also faired surprisingly well. Who knew jalapeños were so easy to grow?! I have two jalapeño plants and they are both doing quite well, although one is producing the majority of the peppers. We’ve used several of them now in guac and on pizzas and they are delicious. My bell pepper has also produced two peppers and is now starting to form new leaves and flowers since I took away the energy suck of the two peppers that had already grown.

Flowers for everyone!

The two dahlias I bought are doing amazingly well! One has turned into a huge bushy plant with lots of blooms, a total steal for just $3 at the National Arboretum plant sale. The other seems to be more slowly growing but is still blooming prolifically. I grew several Johnny Jump-Ups from seeds, but was lazy and only planted one before they got washed out in one of our heavy rainstorms. They are doing well and quietly multiply by themselves. They remind me of my grandmother who always had lots of them filling in the cracks of her garden. I’ve started some Zinnias also but need to put them into the ground. They have been nailed by bugs munching on the leaves but are still salvageable.

Zucchinis: The easiest plant, but why so hard?

My zucchinis are completely failing. So far no fruits that have lasted and many leaves are yellowing and falling off. I think they are overcrowded and now getting pollinated to produce fruit as there have been many blossoms but no fruit so far. These are supposed to be ridiculously easy to grow, so I must be doing something wrong.

Beans and Peas please!

I bought one pea plant on a whim and then planted some scarlet runner beans as well to see if I could get some of their pretty red flowers to bloom. So far no flowers, but I love how the pea and bean plants look climbing up the trellis. Next near I plan to create a wall of them between the garden and our seating area out back so that they form a natural shade barrier- it gets extremely hot out there with direct sun in the afternoon, which makes it tough to grill or sit outside for dinner. Peas to the rescue!

Other Random Plants

I also have mint (growing vigorously, obviously), green onions I stuck in a pot from the grocery store (doing great), and cilantro (almost done, but grew very well).

Rogue Plants

I’ve let a few rogue plants stick around and am now kind of regretting have done so. I transplanted one rogue cucumber plant into a pot and it is doing pretty well, but I don’t love it. Another one sprouted in the compost pile- pictured above- and has totally taken over that part of the yard. No objects though- I think it’s a pretty natural barrier around the compost pile. I also let a tomato continue to grow that I thought was of the same amazing cherry variety that we loved last summer in this garden, but I think it’s growing from some random grocery store seed that was in the compost. It’s very leggy and the fruit that it’s producing is tear-drop shaped- any suggestions on what to do with this one would be appreciated.

We have blackberries! They are amazing and just starting to ripen. That’s been a nice surprise.

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In conclusion, things are growing, mostly well. Only time will tell what the future will bring me in terms of vegetables! Any tips or tricks for some of the problems I’ve mentioned above? I’d love to hear them!

Constellation Coffee in Pittsburgh

pittcon1 pittcon2 pittcon3 pittcon4 pittcon5 pittcon6 pittcon7 pittcon8 pittcon9 pittcon10 pittcon11 pittcon12 pittcon13 pittcon14Have you ever been to Pittsburgh? That is one cool town. A thing I’m learning is that there are all these people and places around the world where some straight-up great stuff is happening. Small and medium towns of planet earth, rejoice! It’s hard to describe exactly how it feels to be there, but it feels a lot like Fort Collins, Colorado. There’s some beautiful old houses. People are pretty no-nonsense. There’s a university or two anchoring the younger generation in town. And there are great things happening in food, art, and music. One of which is Constellation Coffee, and our croissant-sourcing bakery on this trip, La Gourmandine.

Croissants are a delicate art, and when you get a good one, especially a good one filled with almond paste, you should send a thankful prayer up to the gods of pastry. Just sayin’. I went a little crazy and got a chocolate and almond croissant, and I regret nothing.

Know what else happened while I was in Pittsburgh? Well, firstly, I went to a Taylor Swift concert (which I will probably also blog about), but also we had a great conversation with an old guy in Goodwill. This occurred while we waited to pay for our vase and old fashioned egg beater ($3) and he waited to pay for his 1980’s “nearly-mint-condition-considering-some-kid-was-reading-this” Star Wars children’s book (also $3). He recommended some places around to get generous servings of Mexican food and we asked him further questions about the Pittsburgh food scene from the perspective of a middle-aged man. Finally, as the cashier got it together and we had paid for our goods, we bid him farewell.

“May the force be with you!” I hollered behind us as we exited. It took him a second, but then he got it. But then he got it, my friends.

Mic drop.

Bumming Around San Francisco: The Japanese Tea Garden

sfjtg1 sfjtg2 sfjtg3 sfjtg4 sfjtg5 sfjtg6 sfjtg7 sfjtg8I suppose the tea garden is hardly the kind of place that you would go specifically to bum around, but it was certainly something I wouldn’t have initially thought to go to. It ended up being beautiful! Last year I went to the botanical gardens, which were lovely, and the tea garden is associated with those. Not much more today- it’s going to be a busy week and I am looking forward to every minute! Happy Monday all!

 

Point Reyes and the Meaning of Life

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I have been feeling desperate for silence lately. I just want to go somewhere where I won’t speak to any other humans, where I can smell what the world is supposed to smell like without people, feel what the world feels like without people. I think everyone gets that way sometimes.

I work in an industry with a lot of loud voices. Politics is hard, because it is when everyone is supposed to speak up. Everyone at once in Washington is shouting.

“This is important!”

“No, this is important!”

“My thing is most important!”

“That’s not important at all!”

“DIDN’T YOU HEAR ME! I SAID THAT THIS IS MOST IMPORTANT!”

I’m having trouble filtering it all these days. I’m trying to think some deep thoughts, but it’s loud in a town like this when you want to do that.

I went on a great trip to San Francisco a few weeks ago. It was the first time I have ever flown coast to coast, so that was weird. It sure is a long way to cross this great big country! I think it’s possible to get cheaper tickets to Europe than to the West Coast from Washington. How strange.

We spent one day in Napa and the surrounding area, finishing up the afternoon in Point Reyes and around Mount Tam. I love, love, love this part of the country; I just think it’s so beautiful. We picked up some amazing almost-butter cheese and fancy crackers from Cowgirl Creamery and then sat for a while watching the fog roll in over the Pacific. It was truly stunning.