Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Here's the very curious rabbit hole I fell down Thanksgiving weekend.

Past-land. Traveled to Columbus, Ohio, the city where I grew up but have few real connections anymore. Not to visit my own family -- who have since moved away -- but to reconnect with John's family (obviously now also my family), who adopted the city long after he'd left the nest. So I visited my one-time home, no longer my home, John's family's home, though not his home, so a kind of home/not-home/not-home/home, away from home.

Future-land. Driving back to Chicago through Benton County, Indiana, a landscape now dotted with hundreds of wind turbines visible from the highway that spin hypnotically in the breeze. Larger than life, and as John described them: bizarre and wonderful cartwheels.

Present-land. Stopping at the coffee shop because we were completely out of beans at home. Picking up a bag of dark roast, along with two baguettes from the new French bakery. Forsaking the ride home to walk seven blocks in unseasonable warmth. Passing a kid
pogo-sticking like a champ up and down the sidewalk in front of his house. Resurfacing.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Early merry tidings (on two wheels . . . without a seat)

Ordinarily I don't cotton to premature Christmas decorations, but I gotta say: This one puts me in a holiday mood. It also sits well with my form-meets-function tendencies (yes, that's a plastic candy cane serving as the handlebars). The ride probably isn't too comfortable, but I do know the bike gets ridden. Sometimes it's there, locked against the fence; sometimes it's nowhere to be found.

I've never seen the owner but I've burned with curiosity. The other residents of this building drive all manner of power vehicles -- vans and SUVs, and in one case a sparkling new Cadillac with gleaming, expensive rims, which pulls into its parking space with graphic
hip-hop booming from the speakers. That guy doesn't want to be ignored.

But the owner of the little blue cruiser? Unassuming. Nearly invisible. With charming attention to detail. And probably very strong legs.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Big News!

So . . . you wanna buy a house?

This sign greeted me this morning as the sun came up. It's positioned squarely in front of our next-door neighbor's house. The same neighbor whose mother owns the property but lives in California. The same neighbor whose pending divorce looked to convert the house into a rental. Absentee landlord, revolving door of tenants. Not a winning formula for a stable block.

In ways that quietly shame me, I've longed for something to happen with this house for years. You know that house on the block that's always overgrown with dandelions, always in need of a paint job? That's this house. Complicating matters is the tenants themselves, who had a quality that trumps all those annoyances: A steadfast respect for their neighbors. They were good people, and you couldn't have really asked for better than that. It certainly made it a whole lot easier not to stew all those times John had to mow their lawn, or I had to shovel their walk. Because these particular neighbors always had our backs. And that's worth more than the rest of it combined.

But now I'll admit. I'm fantasizing. Who might buy the place? More to the point, could *we* buy the place? What would it take to fix it up? How might it look with some perennials? The possibilites could drive a girl to distraction.

Regardless, it looks like some changes are afoot, mighty close to home. It's almost the holidays, and I like not knowing what's exactly in the box.

And all of this is to say, if you know someone in the market for a
fixer-upper, who wants to capitalize on the most buyer-friendly real estate market in decades, and will receive as part of the bargain some pretty top-drawer next-door neighbors, please send them my way. There's a nice welcome gift in it for them, and we've been known to loan a spare egg or cup of sugar by request.

Monday, November 15, 2010

For those keeping track

You may have noticed a motif these last few posts. Green tomatoes here, ripening in a box. A melon there, hanging on for dear life. You haven't even seen my work in progress: A paean to my last batch of baba ganouj, made from my last tiny eggplant of the year. You'll probably never see that post, in fact, as I ate the evidence before I could snap a photo. You may sense I'm struggling to let go of garden season, to which I say, you read me like a book.

All that confessed, I promised a few posts ago to keep you up to date on the late melon that sprang forth, unexpectedly, one morning in October -- from a plant that had sprung forth, unexpectedly, from the vermicompost we'd combined with our soil back in early June.

I was trying to give this petite amor every fighting chance, but I eventually had to acknowledge: The nights were getting colder, the leaves were getting crisper, and growth seemed to have stopped at the size of a baseball (shown above, beside a set of keys for perspective). So this past Saturday, I reluctantly harvested. My heart broke to pieces as I plucked her from her viny stem, then pulled that stem from the roots and popped it into a yard-waste bag.

And now for the moment of truth:

There, in all their O'Keefish glory, are the inner chambers of our final melon of the season. Ripe! Ok, the seeds outpace the fruit by probably 3 to 1, but there's dessert in there somewhere: a theory I intend to test this afternoon at lunch.

Farewell, garden season of 2010. You exceeded, you nourished, and through it all, you surprised. Hard to ask more of a garden than that.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Can't quit you, tomatoes

After last week's midterm-election 'shellacking' (Obama may not be perfect, but he's done some great things, not least of which is introducing gorgeous verbs back into the national vocabulary), I find myself retreating into the comforts of home. One of those is certainly home cooking, but also a waste-not want-not mentality that seems fitting for the winter chill ahead.

Like me, you may find yourself with an abundance of late-harvest tomatoes, fooled by the prolonged summer into ushering themselves into the world, only to encounter near freezing temps while they're still too young to ripen.

Don't despair.

My mother gave me a trick a few years ago, and I'm happy to say it works like a charm. Some of you are intrepid enough to make fried green tomatoes or green tomato jam, but my overextended life makes such magic nearly impossible. I need something simple, quick, and foolproof, and the following seems to be the ticket. So join me in faking out your tomatoes this year. They're not as good as picked right off the vine, but when it's February and you're eating a caprese sandwich straight (ok, nearly straight) from your garden, you won't be as wistful as you may think:

Step 1. Wrap each tomato individually in newspaper and place gently in a cardboard box.

Step 2. When the box is full, fold the top flaps in securely and place it in a dark spot of your basement.

Step 3. Check once a month or so for ripeness (my last attempt took over 3 months and just as I was about to give up, lo and behold, I had splendid red fruit in January).

It's a mystery to me why something that craves heat and light will also respond to its opposite. I know shamefully little about the vegetables I grow, so if you know why this works, I'd welcome the science lesson. For now, though, I'm excited to think about watching the transformation of these sweet heirlooms well into the bitter months of winter. It should make the legislative gridlock a little easier to swallow.