Wednesday, April 30, 2014

April Hindsight

I love thinking about these end-of-the-month posts, linked with Emily Freeman, Chatting At the Sky. Take a moment, think about the last thirty days: look at the calendar to note the events marked, browse back through your journal to skim highlights (or low points...), pause a moment to absorb what you have learned and gained (or lost?).

April is our birthday month. Seven birthdays. Five of our children, two grandchildren, all in April. Because most of them are grown and gone and in other states or hours away, we missed out on most of the parties this year. Which made me sad. I miss them. Our now (yup, one of those April birthdays) seventeen year old son passed his driver's license this month. As he pulls out of the driveway, I take a deep breath, confident in his driving skills, but aware, always, of the other drivers on the road, and the risks any of us take out there. My preference? Keep everyone safe at home. But it doesn't work that way, of course. They drive off, out on their own, choosing their own paths. I learn, over and over and over, to support and encourage them and let them go. With a few quiet tears.

A new word for April: Phenology.
"Phenology is the study of recurring life cycle stages among plants and animals, and also of their timing and relationships with weather and climate, a sort of nature's calendar," (quoted from The Backyard Parables, by Margaret Roach). A garden journal is a series of phenological observations, or records. Also this month, in an online article for High Country Gardens, David Salmon wrote about garden journaling as a means to observe what is going on in your garden: weather, bugs, plants blooming, vegetable production, notes learned, dates, events, thoughts. All a form of phenology. Observation. So now, I don't just keep a garden journal. I become a phenological observer. Sounds more intelligent, anyway.

This month I attended a class on Wildscaping. I expected a class on native plants, xeriscape gardening (low water use), and planting for our unique climate. Which it was. Really, though, the emphasis was more on understanding plant and animal relationships. How the birds and the bugs and the squishy, slimy things (my phrase, not theirs) inter-relate with each other and play vital roles in plant and animal communities. Accept the bugs in my garden? Hmmm, this will take some practice. One speaker told of her problem with aphids on one particular plant and threatened to take the plant out until she realized that as the aphid population exploded, a particular bird moved in each year and ate all the aphids - an observation from the phenological observations in her own journal. The plant stayed. Another speaker told of planting wildflowers in a restored industrial construction site and how the hummingbirds, butterflies and native bees moved to her property, grateful for the food she provided for them. It doesn't mean let the deer or potato beetles have at your garden. It does mean be aware and work towards balance. Guess I need to re-evaluate my perspective on the activity in my garden, and how the relationships and inter-connectedness of the plants and two-legged and six-legged animals create beauty and harmony and balance. The biggest pest in my garden right now is a four legged border collie puppy who loves to dig in fresh soil. We are putting up a fence to keep her out. So much for learning to accept local wildlife. With some training, I'm hoping by next year she will learn to stay out of my garden. For now, the fence will work.
Who, me?

Do you ever buy Hawaiian Rolls? Our daughter-in-law made some for our Easter gathering. The secret ingredient that gives them their great, sweet taste? Pineapple juice. Yummy.
Another copied recipe I tried this month was Poppy Seed Dressing from the Good Earth Restaurant. We used to eat there in Santa Barbara, CA, and I loved their tea, their nutty rolls, and their poppy seed dressing.  I was excited to find this, it brings back lots of good memories of dinners out and quiet chats. As it is very sweet, you don't need to use much to get the great flavor.
Good Earth Poppy Seed Dressing
In blender, blend
1/3 cup honey
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp poppy seeds
1 cup olive oil
Chill well. Stir before serving. Makes 1 2/3 cups.

We are working to avoid as many food additives and preservatives as we can. Have you ever looked at the food label on tortillas? You will be shocked. Instead, I found some tortillas in the fresh foods section that have wheat flour, water, oil, salt and sugar. I have to heat them in a pan, thirty seconds each side, but it is well worth the few extra minutes to avoid eating a two inch list of words I can't pronounce or define or recognize.

Luxury. How would you define luxury? I've been thinking about that this month as we have an opportunity to buy a weekend cabin in the mountains. Remember the "Love Is..." cartoons? My thoughts for "Luxury Is..."

  • A second home
  • The puppy taking a nap so I don't have to wonder what she is getting into
  • Delightful scents, aromas drifting through the house
  • Clean - floors swept, counters cleared off, dishes put away, laundry folded...
  • Recipes planned for the week, tonight's dinner in progress
  • Time to sit and read in the afternoon
  • Favorite music playing on the computer
  • What would you add?
Through a path of convoluted thinking, a strong memory came back to me this month. The neighbors on the side of the house where my bedroom was where I grew up could be a noisy bunch. They would gather in their kitchen, across from my bedroom window, and I could hear them talking and laughing as they cooked. The grandmother was known for cleaning a stirring spoon the instant you set it down. Clean as you go. Literally. If you wanted to keep stirring, you didn't set down the spoon. They were a lively group, working together. The memory that stood out was hearing their laughter. I wrote the phrase on my chalkboard, "Laughter in the Kitchen." Sounds like a title of a book.

It reminds me:  be happy, smile, laugh. Enjoy. I picked up Gwyneth Paltrow's two cookbooks at the library. Her father taught her, "Invest in what's real. Clean as you go...Make it fun. It doesn't have to be complicated. It will be what it will be." Her co-author said she didn't know anyone who enjoyed food as much as Gwyneth. Next time you are in the kitchen - indulge in the luxury of a good giggle and enjoy the fun of cooking and cleaning up and eating together. 

So, April. Birthdays (plural). Letting go. Phenology. Accept the pests, not the pesticides and preservatives. Luxury. Laughter in the Kitchen. An exceptionally ordinary month.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Love Doesn't Count the Cost

"It happens to a mother when she is giving birth
Her heart is filled with joy while her body's filled with hurt
She holds her baby close to her, despite the pain he caused
When it comes to love, you don't count the cost."

"It happens to a soldier, fighting for his home
Fear wells up inside him and yet he still goes on
Even though he knows he may be the next to fall
When it comes to love, you don't count the cost." 

"You don't count the heartache, you don't count the sacrifice
And all that counts is what you feel inside
It doesn't really matter what is gained or what is lost
When it comes to love, no, you don't count the cost." 

"It happens all around us, each and every day
Someone's giving all they got for someone else's sake
If you ever doubt it just think about the cross
When it comes to love, you don't count the cost." 

our daughter heard this song on the radio, from "The Best of Billy Dean"
painting by Thomas Kinkade 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Spring Road Trip

Our spring road trip to the mountains...

...turned into this...

...we arrived home to this...
...and the next morning contrast of bright green spring growth with snow on the roof...
...spring popsicle, anyone?

Saturday, April 12, 2014


Stumbling would be more my theme word, lately, than stand. In the afternoon, Rascal Flatts singing away on the computer, these words popped out loud and clear:
"every time you get up and get back in the race, one more small piece of you starts to fall into place..." 
"start holding on,  keep holding on...stand..." 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A Beautiful Salad

This is more complicated effort than I usually put out for a salad, but the results--yummy and worth the work. The recipe is from Flat Belly Diet Family Cookbook, a good reference for meals that are nutritious and family friendly.

4 medium beets, ends trimmed
1/2 c. balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 c. walnuts, coarsely chopped
2 tsp. olive oil
2 pears, cored and cut into 8 wedges each
1/2 tsp.salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper (I forgot to use the salt and pepper)
2 cups arugula (I used baby spinach and a little bit of romaine, thinly sliced)
4 tbsp. crumbled blue cheese (I used feta on my bowl)
Serves four.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. (It says to wrap the beets in foil - I baked them as is because I avoid aluminum foil whenever I can). Bake beets for 1 hour, or until a knife easily pierces the beets. Remove from oven and let cool at least 30 minutes (I did this part the day before). Peel the beets, cut each into 8 wedges and transfer to a bowl.

Meanwhile, combine the vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium high heat and cook 5 to 6 minutes, or until reduced by about half and thick enough to coat the back of the spoon. Set aside to cool.

Place the chopped walnuts in a large nonstick skillet and cook over medium high heat, shaking the pan often, for 2 to 3 minutes, or until lightly toasted. Transfer to the bowl with the beets.

Add the oil to the skillet and return to med high heat. Add the sliced pears and cook for 2 minutes per side, or until lightly browned. Remove from the heat.

Add the reserved vinegar mixture, the salt and pepper to the beets and walnuts, tossing to coat well. Place 1/4 of the arugula (or whatever green you are using) on each of 4 plates, top with the beet mixture and pears. Sprinkle each with 1 tbsp of blue cheese (or feta).

As you can see, mixed all together it makes pink pears. But the taste - yummy! I didn't think the pears would cook well, but they were delicious - just the right sweetness for this salad.  And, now that I know all the steps, it won't seem so complicated next time.