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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

THE HARVEST: Quinte Apples

Tart, tangy and small. This early apple is a cross between the Red Melba and Crimson Beauty apples. It was developed in Ontario, Canada in 1964. So firm and crisp it actually snaps when I bite into it.

This is the first freshly picked apple I have had midsummer. Call me naive but I had regulated apple eating to the fall only. So glad my horizons are expanding!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

TOURIST FOR A DAY: The Farnsworth House by Mies van der Rohe


While most of us want to live with pieces of art, my question to you is could you live in a piece of art?

This is a question that I have to believe Dr. Edith Farnsworth may have been asking herself between 1946- 1951 when Mies van der Rohe designed and built her weekend retreat. I recently joined a tour of the Farnsworth House and grounds and discovered the beauty, tranquility and potential folly of living a truly minimalistic life.

Edith and Mies’s endeavor began at a dinner party in 1946. Edith mentioned the several acres of land, along the Fox River, she had recently purchased. She asked Mies, a highly celebrated modern commercial architect, if he could recommend an architect that could design a weekend home on the site. When Mies suggested himself I am sure Edith thought she had just struck gold. Her possibly predictable and solitary life had just gotten a jolt of excitement. Well, her life certainly changed from that night on and only Edit can tell us if it was for the better.

Reportedly they developed a very close relationship (to put it delicately). The designing of the home brought major publicity and they worked well together....for a time. Then Edith began to realize there were no closets for her clothes. Mies advised that she was there for weekends only, a suitcase should suffice. If pushed he could put a hook on the bathroom door for her. Edith was not about to have only one hook for her clothes. Simply adding a wardrobe created a bitter battle, which she won.

Inflating costs to build the home drove the deteriorating personal relationship into the ground. Regardless, the home was finally built in 1951 and is touted as Mies van der Rohe’s masterpiece and monument to his visionary designs. When you walk up to the house, through heavily wooded fields, the structure suddenly reveals itself. It appears like a modern Greek temple and holds your attention.
When you enter the home you can’t help but be mesmerized. This structure was so precisely designed and constructed that when you stand in the home you honestly feel as though you are floating. This effect is created by there being no solid walls, only glass, and as you look out of the home you purposefully cannot see any steps leading up to the home. It’s a wonderful and peaceful sensation. The grounds are amazingly beautiful and you truly feel as though you are at one with nature. This is coming from the viewpoint of a visitor.

But what about Edith? You may admire the structure; personally yearn for its simplicity and quiet. But what is it like to actually live in monument to minimalism? What do you do with the magazine or book you were reading? To simply lay it about would be a blemish on smooth surface of peace. Mies definitely did not plan for Edith to be a muli-tasker. Actually living in a piece of art is illustrated by a rather famous story of what occurred when Edit woke and sat up in her bed on one of her first mornings in the glass structure. She threw back her covers to beautiful day streaming through the windows and also found herself feet away from two Japanese tourists taking photos of her and her famous home.

Well, curtains were certainly purchased soon after....And how did Mies feel about her drapery choice in his precise design? ..... Mies was not pleased ....

Thursday, July 23, 2009

RECIPE: Balsamic Glazed Carrots

I tried the burgundy colored carrots from the farmers market last weekend and love them. They are a little stronger in flavor than the traditional orange carrots, or may-be the orange carrots I purchased are milder…who knows.

Truthfully there is not much of a difference in flavor to warrant purchasing one over the other. But in appearance they are vastly different. I really like the red rim surrounding the carrot, it’s different and…I like different. When I boiled them I half expected them to stain (as a beet would) the other carrots in the pot, but they didn’t. When I drained the carrots the water was red so perhaps had I boiled them longer, say in a stew, they may have stained the others. But the below recipe is very quick and they don’t have a lengthy opportunity to taint the others aesthetically.

This recipe is easy, quick and the carrots taste fresh. The secret is not to overcook the carrots or over indulge in the ingredients. I honestly don’t know the exact quantities to use so below are estimates, adjust as you like. The sweeter the carrots, the less brown sugar you should use and vice versa.

4 large carrots, thinly and evenly sliced
1 teaspoon butter
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Salt to taste

Place sliced carrots in a sauté pan and barely cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and gently boil for 3-5 minutes until carrots can be pierced with a fork but are still quite crisp. Drain the carrots and return them to the pan. Add the butter and brown sugar, stir. Once both are melted into the carrots add a splash of balsamic vinegar. Season with salt.

Serves 4

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Garden Tip: Coneflowers are for the Birds

I love coneflowers, especially in the Midwest. They are indigenous and as a result are extremely hardy, reliable and require little water and care once established. Over the years they have come out with so many hybrids it could be easy to let them take over.

These prairie flowers also encourage a wildlife habitat to flourish in your garden. These great bloomers will attract the major pollinators, bees and butterflies. Once they go to seed the birds love them as well. Encouraging birds into your garden is great for insect control and they are also fun to watch.

My parents take allot of joy in feeding and nurturing the neighborhood birds. My dad loves trying new seed combinations that may attract more birds to their garden. Over the years I admit I have come to appreciate the joy of watching the birds, but buying bird seed and having bird feeders is a commitment and expense I am not ready for…my preference is allowing flowers to go to seed for them.

Coneflower seed pods are a favorite for the birds but let’s face it, you’re also growing the flowers for the blooms. If you are interested in letting these blooms go to seed you may want to deadhead normally in the beginning. This will allow the stems branch off and create even more flowers …AND as a result even more seed heads for the birds in the fall. This way both you and the birds will be happy!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

THE HARVEST - the markets

Finally made it to my first Farmers Market of the year. Every summer I put this off for as long as I possibly can. Why deny myself wonderful organic vegetables? Because I lose all control when I walk up to the farm stands. As I see all of the freshly dug and picked vegetables I immediately have grandiose ideas of the risottos I will make and dinners I will steam and sauté, each and every night. And every week I over buy. It can quickly turn into a money pit. Last weekend I had finally decided I could wait no longer. …. 6:30 am sharp I waddled up to my detached garage with my shopping basket, camera, camera tripod, shopping bag and garbage to toss out. I balanced everything perfectly, well almost, and I pressed the button of the garage door opener and…..nothing....It would not open. I’d sprung a spring!

I was stranded at home on one of days I look forward to most in summer. Not ready to give up, I fiddled with it for an hour or so and finally then threw in the screwdriver. I hung out by the window and in my garden waiting for neighbors to emerge from their homes so I could get recommendations of good repair people that wouldn’t try to sell me an entire new door. It was the oddest of days as all my regulars were apparently in hiding. Mid afternoon I finally discovered Jerry, my neighbor across the alley, and he reliably gave me a name and number to call. Left them a message and made mental preparations that I would be under house arrest for the weekend. Around 5pm my neighbors Mary Anne and Clinton arrived, I shared my woes with Mary Anne. All she said was, let’s talk to Clinton. Not 15 minutes later he had a replacement spring attached and it was as good as new…relatively speaking. I do have wonderful neighbors! But I had missed my long awaited day at the market.

So yesterday I got my chance to try again. And yes, I held my breath when I hit the garage door opener to head out. Garage door opened smoothly… now, which one to go to? I have a several favorites and as I was going to Hyde Park, to volunteer at LaRabida Children’s Hospital, directly after so I decided to go to Oak Park’s Market. It was a bit chilly (record low temperatures Friday night) and arrived to the smell of deep fried donuts, a tradition at this market. it almost felt like fall. All I had to do was look at the blueberries and Rainier Cherries and I immediately recalled it was July. Somehow I didn’t get either of these, which I must admit I now regret. I circled the stands, as is typical of me, to see what everyone has before choosing vendors.

I ended up at Nichol’s Farm and Orchard’s booth. They always seem to have fantastic gourmet varieties and often something I’ve never seen before. This day was no exception. They had these unbelievable looking carrots in deep purple, another in rusty orange burgundy and also the classic carrot. I believe one may be Cosmic Purple and the other perhaps Purple Haze… I’m still researching. I couldn’t resist trying each. By the way, they don’t taste much different from the standard carrot, but they sure are fun. I decided Clinton and Mary Anne had more than earned a sampling from the market and I picked them up a little of everything I was buying for myself which included English Shelling Peas and a handpicked blend of new potatoes. I wish I could tell you what exotic sounding potatoes I chose, there were about 12-15 to choose from, but alas I can’t remember and as you can image from the description of what I seem to need to bring to each market….I could not write them down and shop at the same time.

I also stopped at the Red Hen Bakery stand and picked up a Multigrain Boules. And just for me I picked up an individual cherry tart that I inhaled with a cup of tea. I also bought a cinnamon scone which I am proud to say I saved for my Sunday morning breakfast.


Hmmm….where should I go next weekend I wonder…

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

How Clean is Your House?

I’m not asking this philosophically or metaphysically I am asking this literally….

Don’t know about you but I long to live in a clean, organized and minimalistic space. It’s nice to have goals and 99% of the time this one that is beyond my grasp. I actually don’t mind the cleaning so much, there is something calming in the polishing table tops and creating a gleaming expanse on floors and counters. It’s the picking up all the clutter around my house that’s the pill I’m choking on. Found amongst a simple stone statue or Italian hand painted bowl, each meant to stand serenely alone, are items I sell on Etsy that are in various stages of production.

These items create a disruption in clean house zen. All of these things wouldn’t be so cluttersome (is that word?) if the other areas of my house were clutter free. However, just at my kitchen counter I still have the china stacked up (luckily clean) and ready to go back to the basement from the luncheon over a week ago, plastic bottles are lined up (and I use the term “lined up” loosely) to be saved for the eco friendly drip irrigation system I have planned for the garden. Then there is the Costco mega sized dishwashing liquid container I bought this thinking I could decant it slowly for the next year into my previous normal sized bottle. Apparently the dish soap manufacturer I purchased from last knew my plans and is laughing at my grimaced efforts to unscrew the white plastic lid. I also have the used tea bags that I plan to ecologically and stragetically place in my garden to add nutrients to the soil … unfortunately I could go on and on…


To be frank, I did down size to this house by about 50% in order to get a garden and declare independence from a home owner associations run by vigilanty dilatants…and that is an entirely different subject. With this little house I just don’t know where to put everything. I am sad to say I am a compulsive saver and purger at the same time. I go through spells where everything I am not habitually using has to go, or the phase I am in right now; “I think I should really hang onto this as I may find a use for it someday” (note the plastic bottle brigade). What reinforces the compulsive saving is the memory of that one item, an art fair clock from the early 90’s comes to mind, that I purged a few years ago. I do miss that clock…


So the question is, how do the minimalists of the world really do it? Are they simply not multi-taskers? Do they do only one thing at a time and successfully put away all evidence of the completed project before beginning a new one? Or do they not do projects and simply support our local economy by purchasing their irrigation systems? Do they hire professional cleaners? Or do they spend their free time cleaning instead of creating or dreaming? Which are you, a successful minimalist, compulsive cleaner, hopeless collector, wistful want-a-be …?


To clean I have tried the method of just spend 10-15 minutes a day picking up and cleaning. I fear this method has only been successful when starting with a clean house. All it takes is one art show or new project to push me off the clean house wagon and I am then lost in clutter for months. I am currently trying the “just start with one corner and work your way through your home” method…the success of this is yet to be determined. I know I need help to find a way out of this clutter jungle. However help does not seem to be coming soon. Each evening I come home from my day job and ask my cat which room she has cleaned…I’m still waiting for an answer….

Saturday, July 11, 2009

What are your Favorite Things?

One of the sections in my garden journals is a place to put photographs or lists of favorite things. Perhaps it’s a plant combination that worked perfectly. Like the oriental lilies that grew up between the coreopsis just as I had hoped, looking like they are triumphantly emerging from a golden forest. It could the blooms on your tomato or cucumber vine that hold the hope and promise of fruit yet to come. May-be it’s the one perfect bloom you discovered on a lazy Sunday morning. Or it could be the way the used tea bags you incorporated into the soil around your variegated sage turned the white edges a fresh lime green.


There are countless achievements to be made in the garden. Gardens bring joy, tranquility and even back breaking exhaustion that somehow makes you smile at the end of the day. I know I’m a better person because of my garden. I share more with others, admire others achievements and have an unending appreciation of what a miracle the soil is. My Favorite Things section of my journal is tangible evidence of what I adore about gardening. I love looking through those pages and rediscovering memories and hopes of what may occur again.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Sneak peek of my garden....


Gardening is a kind of disease.
It infects you,
you cannot escape it.
When you go visiting,
your eyes rove about the garden;
you interrupt the serious cocktail drinking because of an irresistible impulse
to get up and pull a weed.
- Lewis Gannit

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Garden Tip: Are your tomato plants in bloom?

As your tomato plants begin to bloom side dressing your plant with a fertilizer may increase your plants health and fruiting ability. Drizzle about an ounce of 5-10-10 fertilizer in a ring around the plant. Just be sure not to get any on the leaves, rinse off if you do. You can also try manure tea by mixing 1 part manure to 2 parts water and water the plant every few weeks.

That being said, be careful. Over fertilizing, as much as under fertilizing, can cause damage to your plants. Too much of one fertilizer will make your plant produce great leaves but no fruit, too much of another can cause fruiting but a weak plant that is susceptible to disease. General rule of thumb when fertilizing, do it with a weak concentration of fertilizer. This leaves you with the option of being able to fertilize again at another time...it’s hard to take away an overdose of fertilizer.

Looking forward to a great tomato crop this year!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

All Creatures, Great and Small

This weekend I spent some time at the Brookfield Zoo. I haven’t been to a zoo in years, too many childhood memories of caged animals making me extremely distressed. I finally broke down and went because the zoo has an exhibit in the summer of live butterflies. As butterflies naturally live for 1 day to a few weeks, the exhibit is there for just a short time.

(click on the photos for a larger view)

Here are some highlights of a few of the butterflies, an Alaskan brown bear, two polar bears and an African elephant. The exhibits are certainly larger than the cell blocks of my youth and more the habitat appropriate for the animals.


There is only one elephant which is not optimal. Elephants are social creatures and do not do well on their own. This elephant’s friend passed away rather recently and Brookfield Zoo is working diligently to find another. I hope they find one soon because you can almost feel this elephants loneliness.

I intend to make more trips to the zoo. I prefer to see animals be in their natural habitats, with limitless space, but as man encroaches on their territory (often purposely harming them and bringing many close to extinction) it seems zoos are becoming one of the few safe homes for them.

Let’s hope we can find a way live harmoniously with the wild. What's unique about Brookfield Zoo is throughout paths there is signage helping us understand what each of us can do to make a difference to help save each of the animals habitats. Makes us realize we are not helpless to evoke change in the world.

Be sure to visit Brookfield Zoo the next time you are in the area, I think you'll enjoy it. I certainly did!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Mayberry USA


There a days I feel as though I live in Mayberry USA, today is one of those days. The 4th of July parade is passing right in front of my little Chicago bungalow this year and it was quite the spectacle. Everyone poured out their homes, family picnics on their front lawn, festively blasting John Mellencamps “Ain’t that America….little pink houses for you and me” and every dog in the 5 block radius was lining the streets.

All week I had been hearing the little girl next door practicing The Star Spangled Banner on her flute, much to my amusement (not so sure about her parents). A few minutes before the parade came down our street she anxiously went up to the curb, her sister holding the sheet music boldly in front her and she played for the crowd resulting in applause from the neighborhood.

Happy 4th of July everyone!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Living Walls


Last night Doug Wood from the Wicker Park Garden Club gave a lecture on an exciting new type of gardening where you grow your plants vertically, on the walls of buildings. It’s currently suited for more temperate zones than my lovely Chicago winters, but rest assured the botanists are looking for our version of this growing phenomenon (yes, the pun was intended).

The people that started this new type of gardening are urban gardeners who had little ground space and their only options were walls. It’s also perfect for the ecologically minded individuals/ companies that want the garden wall to absorb the heat of the sun to reduce air conditioning and we all know plants help reduce pollution. There are even architects designing buildings that have walls of gardens that are food crops for the people living inside (wow!) as well as taking advantage of the benefits of energy conservation.
As expected this also evolving into creating design statements as well. One of the design leaders is Patrick Blanc, a botanist from Paris. He has constructed absolutely beautiful pieces of art. These photos are his work.

Click on Wicker Park Garden Club to learn more!
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