Big news and a new place to follow me

My poor, neglected blog! I’m mostly here to tell anyone still following along to, well, follow me somewhere else.

We bought a suburban 1978 brick of a house, and rather than write about it here, I’ve decided to do a TinyLetter about it. I love reading these—it feels like I’m friends with really good writers—and it felt like an appropriately intimate medium to talk at people about DIY and design successes and failures, meals and, probably a lot, what home and community mean in what feels like a dystopian hellscape. I’d love if you all followed along.

An earnest plea not to be a jerk about strangers’ eating habits

Yay cake!
Yay cake!

I read about food a lot, partly because it’s my job, and partly because, well, I love food. And I guess also because I like feeling like an expert on something, but that’s a whole other story. In any case, in the course of all this food reading, something’s been sticking in my craw: People are really mean about what other people eat.

Full disclosure: I’m a food snob, 100%.

That out of the way, I’ve been chewing (God forgive me for all the bad puns I’ve made and will make. Amen.) over why this bothers me, and I think I honed in on it. It comes from a place where we–media types, foodies, lifestyle gurus, dietary evangelists–have such a ridiculous surplus of food that we’ve mostly completely forgotten that that’s not the case for everyone. So we condemn people who buy GMO produce (thereby supporting Monsanto), ignoring that GMO crops have helped food-deprived regions of the world. We don’t understand why poor people are obese when dried beans are so cheap, so healthy, and so available in the Whole Foods bulk bins. Sometimes, we tell people that the reason they’re so, I don’t know, constipated and acne-ridden is because of gluten, or that, sheesh, don’t they know that if they cut out dairy or carbs, they’d lose 15 pounds and their feet would smell better?

I’m not saying we should stop investigating how our food is produced or how it affects our bodies, but I’m saying that maybe we should take some of the onus off of consumers, many of whom are literally just trying to eat. That whole sustenance thing.

Taking things a step further, I do wonder if the sudden uptick in food sensitivities is related to this onslaught of information and gentle scolding of how we can take better care of our bodies if only we ate organic lentils every day. For a lot of people, eating is a fraught event. For a lot of women, we not only have to eat well, we have to eat indulgently and sensually, all without gaining a pound. Identifying a problem food must feel like a way to keep things under control.

And the only reason I care, the only reason I’m writing this post, is because food brings me such happiness. It’s more than sustenance, it’s a celebration! (I did a little dance while eating flatbread tonight.) I just hate that so many people are excluded from this happy-fun-time feeling, either because they don’t have the same kind of access to the same variety that I do, nor, possibly, to the equipment to cook like I do, or because they’ve been so beaten down by the notion that what they’re eating is wrong, or that good food is something only for those who can afford to shop at Whole Foods.

I don’t have an answer. Maybe just be a little nicer? Hand out portions of freekeh-lentil-coconut milk casserole on street corners? Stand in front of Olive Garden giving people knobby, organic, farmers market carrots as they walk in? Probably just go eat your favorite food to remind yourself what it’s all about. Do a little dance even. I promise, though, making people feel like shit is not the way to shut down Monsanto.

 

Put An Egg on It: Gnocchi Edition

Image

In my campaign to be a more frugal, protein-fortified, maybe even eco-friendly human being, I’ve taken to putting poached eggs on top of many, many things–big piles of sauteed spinach, pasta, rice and beans–instead of eating meat. (Ok, I still eat meat, just not much.) So after picking up some whole wheat gnocchi at Trader Joe’s (<3 you), I decided instead of doing my usual gnocchi with sausage and spinach or broccoli rabe, an all-time fave from Real Simple, I’d go the egg route. And since I had broccoli at home, I’d use that as my shiny green veggie component.

Now, you may have noticed from my picture that the broccoli is also very finely chopped. I’m still pleased with myself for making this decision. I just sauteed it with olive oil, garlic, salt and lemon juice, and then I just threw it in the food processor. Like shredded brussels sprouts, there’s just something so exciting about vegetables served with different textures than usual.

So, this is a super-simple, really cheap meal. Gnocchi. Food processored broccoli. Poached egg. Little crumbles of goat cheese–I mean, a meal’s not a meal without cheese. It was so good that I almost didn’t miss the cupcake I was thisclose to getting on my way home from Trader Joe’s.

Quick, Grab an Eggplant and Run to Your Slowcooker. It’s Baba Ghanoush Time

Steamy baba

When I got my slowcooker, the intent was definitely hearty one-pot meals–cassoulet, chili, beef stew. But lately I’ve been exploring the world of simpler dishes. I made apple sauce a couple of months ago, which is also a great way to make the entire house smell like apples and cinnamon, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Yesterday, inspired by Big Girls, Small Kitchen’s slowcooker challenge and wanting to use my eggplant before going out of town, I made baba ghanoush. It was easy, came out delicious, and despite it not being traditionally a one-pot meal, I did just scarf down a bowl of it for lunch.  As with most of my recipes, this one’s made to be adjusted and not super precise, but here goes:

Ooooh shiny1 large eggplant
4 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. tahini
1/2 lemon juice
1 tsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. salt
pinch black pepper
pinch hot pepper

Cut the eggplant in half, as pictured at right. (Mine’s got a chunk missing from the top. A sandwich needed it.) And then peel it. I did this with a paring knife.  Smash the garlic cloves. Put everything in the slowcooker and cook on low for three hours. Mash with potato ricer. You can also use a food processor if you like creamier baba ganoush, but I like it chunky and don’t like washing dishes.

I love, love, love eggplant–I mean, it’s up there with cheese for me–so I’m always happy to have a new way to get it into my face. And this was so absurdly easy to make, it’s likely to become a staple. So thanks, Big Girls, Small Kitchen. And thanks shiny purple veggie.

 

But What Do We Do Without the Snow?

As someone who’s spent my entire life, minus a few months here and there, in the Northeast region of the U.S., I think it is my right to complain about the weather constantly. Summer is too hot. Spring is too rainy. Fall, well, fall’s perfect. No complaints. Winter? Too miserable. If it’s not the snow, it’s the slush and the ice and the general gloom and mess all around.

But secretly, I just love it. I love staying inside, making stews and hot toddies, knitting, stroking my dog and cat, watching British period dramas (seriously, I feel like I’ve known Downton Abbey my whole life, even though we’ve only just met). 

So what’s a girl to do during a mild winter? What excuse do I have to stay in my pajamas, and when will I make the Irish Stew?!?! I mean, I know there are bigger problems in the world, and if it blizzards tonight, it will obviously be all my fault. But in the meantime, if anyone has any non-cold-weather slowcooker ideas, give me a shout. (I did barbecue chicken last week, and chili all the time, so not those please!)

Silkscreening My Dreams Into Reality

Many months ago, more or less out of the blue, I was struck with the idea to make thank you cards with a bunch of tanks on the front. They were to say “Many tanks” inside. I talked about them to everyone I know. Everyone said that would be adorable! (My friends are nice people.)

When Groupon offered me a half-price class at Gowanus Print Lab, it was clearly destiny. I got the Groupon, signed up for the class and eventually found myself drawing tanks in MS Paint. Actually, that’s probably the single most impressive part of this whole endeavor. Behold:

You guys, I’m just so tickled by these! They’re obviously a little off kilter. But it turns out silkscreening isn’t a terribly expensive hobby. I can do it at home and get good at it and open an Etsy store for great profit! The screens are the most expensive part, so I’ll stick to this design for now, but who knows what the future holds. Tank tops! Fish tanks! Septic tanks!!!! Crafts 4-eva.

Simple Sewist Succeeds with Stripey Slipcovers

Ah, nothing like alliteration on a Sunday morning afternoon. I’ve gotten back to sewing and learned something valuable. I wish someone had told me this from the beginning! Striped fabric is the way to go for those of us who are straight-hem challenged. Specifically, an upholstery-grade striped canvas. No stretching, no slipping around and built-in guides. I had a lot of fun making these pillow covers (I also made the tapestry-looking one) with about $10 worth of fabric from Fabric Guru, and frankly I think they look pretty good.

“But Layla,” you say, “that’s such a light stripe! Surely your cat and dog will ruin your beautiful hard work!” I thought about that and put these foldover slits on the back. I can just slip the covers off and wash them, and I didn’t have to deal with the hell that is installing a zipper.

This whole project came about because A and I wanted to have a curtain up in the doorway to our living room, from the little entry way. There have been a few break-ins in the building, so we didn’t want all of our business on display when the door is open or when a delivery person comes. The tricky thing about sewing a curtain is just maneuvering a massive quantity of fabric, but it turned out fine and looks pretty nice. Yay sewing!

Abe’s Penny Postcards for my Thoughts–er, Wall

A few weeks ago, I got an email from Anna Knoebel, the publisher and editor of Abe’s Penny, a sort of lit mag via postcard or micro-magazine. She had read about my great delight over some other postcards and thought I might be interested. In addition to being incredibly flattered that she read my blog and reached out, I fell a bit in love with this idea. Postcards of art and literature! Just little nuggets of beautiful! So Anna sent some over, and up they went. (Now that I’m working from home, beautifying is in full swing.)

 

Ugh, A's sneakers in the background. Don't look please.

These are really pretty. Some have kind of a dreamy quality like my friend Sarina’s photos. And I like having this kind of interactive art–yes you’re allowed to take them off the wall and read them if you’re over. So, essentially, thank you Anna. And readers, fill your homes with postcards of art and literature.

Bjork’s New Video Inspires Crazy Lady to Knit

All morning, the internet was talking about Bjork’s video for “Crystalline.” Friends were linking and commenting. All the music types are in a tizzy.

I’m going to be woefully uncool for a second here, guys: All I could think when I saw the screengrab was oh, how I’d love to knit that thing around her neck!

It looks like a bunch of ruffles (you know, where you cast on a bunch of stitches and then decrease half on the first row and half again on the next) just bound off after two rows and sewn together willy-nilly, no? I don’t know that I’m bold enough to pull off such a look, but what a great kids project! And bonus, it uses scraps.  Any knitters done one of these? Have any insight?

I predict these will soon be all over Etsy. Maybe Courtney Love can pull it off.

[If anyone else was similarly inspired to knit by this video, no offense! The “crazy” is self-referential for a variety of reasons.]

The Palm in My Hand, a.k.a The Time I Tried to Raise a Houseplant

A tiny little tree grows in Brooklyn

I’m not a gardener. Dogs, cats, boyfriends, nieces I can nurture and care for, and they’ll blossom in my presence. But one time I killed a cactus. I managed to keep a bodega bamboo plant alive for about two years, and that’s my single plant success stories. My orchid got infested. My African violets just died.

Still, living around the corner from a (plant) nursery, I’ve been so wanting something green in my home! So today I wandered in. The ponytail palm and some sort of ficus immediately caught my eye, and their $10 price tags were pleasing. (I thought they’d be a lot more, because house plants are for fancy people?)

Recalling some article, somewhere, that said ficus aren’t the easiest, I told the man working there that I was looking for a houseplant that would be very hard to kill. He tried to point me toward the succulents, but I wasn’t falling into that old cactus trap again. I asked about the two I was eyeing, and he said the ponytail palm just needs to sit on a windowsill and be watered ever few weeks. Weeks! Sold.

Arnold Palm-er? My Little Pony-tail Palm?

Now, my readers, I’d like to name this plant. I think I’ll form a stronger attachment and take better care of it if I name it. Like a baby! What would you call this guy?