Apartments we’ve looked at so far? One.
Apartments that were very pretty BUT were in a creepy and somewhat blighted part of town, tiny as hell, and with electric heat (effectively tacking on $100-200 a month for us)? One.
It can only get better from here, right?
I am finding the biggest problem with looking for an apartment in Brooklyn (where we have effectively decided to move to) is that so many cheap apartments are railroad apartments. I realize this means almost nothing to anyone outside of NYC, so I drew you a floor plan:
I realize not every single railroad apartment is laid out exactly like that, but a fair number are. So, yeah… pretty much no doorways to speak of. Let that sink in for a moment. No doors. No privacy. No “close the bedroom door because it’s a pigsty in there and the Van Houtens are coming over to play bridge.”
I can’t live with that, people! If nothing else, I am a cranky old fusspot who needs doors closed, complete darkness and minimal noise to sleep at night. A curtain ain’t going to cut it here.
Well, we still have a month, which is a long time, all things considered.
And so, on with the search.
Oh, sure — it all began simply enough.
A friend became a fan of Hudson Valley Seed Library on Facebook. I wonder what that is, I thought, and clicked over to check it out. A small, regionally-based seed company with heirloom varieties (including my pet favorite, the Danvers carrot)? I couldn’t click “Like” fast enough.
It could have ended there. It should have ended there, to become just one of those things I clicked “Like” on and then never looked at again — like OK Soda or Kate Bush’s Voice Quite Frankly Gives Me the Willies.
I kept browsing the Hudson Valley Seed Library’s website. “Researching Christmas gifts,” I said, which was true because I bought someone a gift membership, but I didn’t stop after Christmas came and went.
I’d poke around and find something like ground cherries and start thinking about growing them myself.
“They’re ground cherries,” I would tell people who asked. “They taste a bit like pineapple. Here, try one.”
When a new semester started in January, I found that redirected my attention for the most part… right up until a couple weeks ago.
First, phrases like “seed trays” and “tomato varieties” started popping up in my Facebook news feed. Then, a friend directed my attention to the Take Back Urban Home-steading(s). That led to me discovering at least a half-dozen new blogs about people’s efforts at gardening in a small, (sub)urban space.
And then, this past Saturday, I was on a neighborhood reconnaissance mission, scouting out parts of Brooklyn, when I saw this. Bushwick City Farm. Nestled between two buildings, a lot filled with raised vegetable beds and chickens (CHICKENS) and a couple of ducks (DUUUUCKS!).
Standing there, peering through the chain link fence (although one of the volunteers invited us in, which was super nice of her, but we were really just passing by)… and that was it for me. Complete, full-blown gardening envy has taken hold of my life.
I spent an hour yesterday looking at a website of tomato varieties. (Did you know there’s a variety from Russia named for blacklisted American Communist actor/singer/activist Paul Robeson? There totally is one! It’s said to be delicious!) I spent more time this morning looking at fruit trees and berry plants for sale. (Surprisingly reasonable prices!) I’m sure this afternoon with have me looking at chicken coop designs or shopping for asparagus crowns for sale or some other frigging thing I have absolutely no use for.
So. What’m I going to do about this burning desire to grow something? I really don’t know. I have the rest of a semester of school plus moving to a new apartment ahead of me — I don’t have a lot of time in the next couple months to do much else. I guess I’ll keep reading stuff and looking at stuff when I can and maybe next year…?
No, definitely next year.
Payday arrives every other week here, and the check that’s closest to the first gets a big chunk taken out for rent. (Too big, frankly, which is part of why we’re moving.) That leaves us with one week or so per month, between having paid the rent and waiting for the next payday, that ends up being a pretty lean week. This week is one of those weeks.
Enter Wally, the handsome man on your right.
He’s 11, which is not ancient for an indoor cat, but it’s not youthful either. Sunday afternoon was spent in the vet’s office trying to diagnose what’s making him have a runny nose and keeping him from eating. [Short answer from the vet: “uh, I ‘unno.”]
After leaving the vet’s office several hundred dollars lighter than when I went in, I immediately started thinking about the week ahead. While my pantry was already pretty well-stocked with my usual staples, I started to think about what else I might need for the week… and I realized I have a handful of go-to ingredients that are cheap and would to brighten up boring food (like beans and rice) without spending a lot.
I think what people sometimes don’t get about seasonal affective disorder is that it’s not like I’m just lying in bed, alternately weeping and stuffing my face with Entenmann’s donuts, utterly immobilized by despair.
Not even close.
It’s more like… have you ever had the flu or a really bad cold that just completely knocks you out for a couple of days—and then when you’re well enough to get back to work or school, you feel… off somehow, like you’re two steps behind and everything suddenly got twice as hard to do?
That’s maybe a bit more like it.
My creativity—whether for writing or for cooking—is at its lowest ebb. I get a couple good hours per day in which to do some work, and which has to be prioritized immediately: school work? freelance work? blogging? which of these needs to get done now—because this is all I’m going to get done today…
And yet, even with all this in mind, this February has actually been pretty good. I’ve finally found a way to not listen (more often than not, anyway) to the jerkwad who lives in the back of my brain—my anti-Stuart Smalley—who says shit like, I don’t know who you think you’re kidding because you’re definitely not good enough or smart enough. oh, and P.S.? people don’t like you. I think thanks in large part to that new superpower, I’ve resumed working on a side project that’s been lurking in the recesses of my laptop. I’ve also got two papers to write in the next week or so, but I’m not feeling particularly overwhelmed by that, either.
And just ten days left in February? I’ll take it.
This photo does not come close to conveying how good that orange tastes.
We’ve eaten about… 12 pounds of these heirloom variety navel oranges in the past couple weeks.
We ran out Wednesday night and I am heading out this very afternoon to buy another 8 pounds.
That’s how good these oranges are.
My brain: I think you need to pee.
Me: No, I don’t. I just did and now I’m trying to go to sleep.
Brain: I think you do, though.
Me: No. I do not. Goodnight.
Brain: If you say so. [dramatic sigh] This pillow sucks. It’s too flat. You should get another one. Oh, I know! You should buy one the next time you go to IKEA.
Me: Yeah, maybe.
Brain: And while you’re there, you should remember to get a couple of bowls to replace the ones that chipped. Remember that, okay? New bowls. IKEA. New bowls when you’re at IKEA. IKEA bowls. Don’t forget.
Brain: Oh, and maybe get some fabric too! You should replace the bag you made out of IKEA fabric a couple years back. It was cute but now it’s starting to look a little beat. The top of the strap is all faded from the sun. Isn’t that funny? The way it’s all faded in just that one spot. Huh. Or! Maybe you should just get a new messenger bag from Manhattan Portage — but in what color? You have a green coat and a navy one and then sometimes you wear that red jacket in the spring, so probably not in any of those colors. Maybe black, but black is so drab plus OMG cat hairrr!
Brain: Oh, yeah! Good idea! Gray would be great. I still think you should make a new bag, though, too, for the summertime. Something cute, but not too big because you don’t need to carry that much stuff when you’re not going to class. But what KIND of bag? You should really use that super-cute pink fabric you’ve got laying around and make a bag with that —
Me: [weakly] oh god, please shut up.
Brain: — not that you can even GET to your sewing machine. I mean, have you seen that living room? OMG WHAT A WRECK. I mean, I just can’t believe how lazy you are! You need to clean! Tomorrow! Like, as soon as you get up! In fact, you should get up extra early to get a head start! It’s totally disgusting out there! What a slob you are!
Me: JESUS CHRIST SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP I AM TRYING TO SLEEP SO SHUT UP NOW
Me: Thank you.
Brain: [quietly] You do actually kinda need to pee, though.
Me: Yeah, okay, I do.
[exits room toward bathroom]
Black bean soup — specifically, that recipe for black bean soup shown above — was one of the first things I ever taught myself to cook. Although I knew how to make a couple of simple things (eggs, beans and rice, lasagna), this was the first time I had cooked something just because it sounded good and not because I had ever eaten it before.
It did not let me down. Hearty and not-too-spicy, it immediately became part of my cooking repertoire, with a few tweaks here and there along the way.
For the past ten years, I’ve been pretty faithful to this recipe, from Vegetarian Times’ Low-Fat & Fast, but I think I’ve found the thing it’s been missing this whole time: chipotles — large jalapeño peppers that have been smoked and dried. I used the recipe for Smoky Black Bean Soup from How to Cook Everything, adapting it to what I had on hand, and it was sensational.
I’ve always been really put off by the idea of using chipotles before (the least of my concerns being the fact they look a bit like a discarded cigar butt) but the chipotle adds an incredible smoky note to this soup. I honestly wish I had known about these when I was still vegan and I craved the smokiness of a good bacon. Although I took the pepper back out of the soup before puréeing it, I think you maybe could leave it in for extra heat? I’m honestly not entirely sure — the mysteries of the chipotle still elude me.
Smoky black bean and roasted corn soup
Sauté an onion and a few cloves of minced garlic in small amount of oil or butter. When soft, add a tablespoon of chili powder and cook another minute or so. I added about 3 cups of beans plus 3 cups of cooking liquid from my favorite method of cooking beans, but you can use canned beans (plus liquid or stock). Add a good-sized chipotle to this, bring to a boil then turn down to a simmer for 10-15 minutes. Fish out the chipotle and purée with a stick (or regular) blender to the consistency you’d like. Stir in two cups of fire-roasted corn (I used Trader Joe’s frozen corn, but any kind would do), squeeze in about half a lime’s juice, and serve with sour cream or crema.