Thursday, July 28, 2011

Off to California

If my ready pen - or keyboard - seems a bit silent over the next week, it's because I'm away from home, visiting the Aged P's in my old stomping grounds of Southern California.

Although the trip was planned and the ticket bought months ago, the timing has turned out to be very ... interesting. My mom, who has been quietly sick for a long time, has recently taken a drastic turn for the worse and is currently in a nursing home after spending the last 5 days in hospital. Although both my parents really want her to be able to come home, I don't see how she can - in addition to cancer and other serious health problems, she is slipping into dementia and needs more care, on many levels, than my dad is able to give her. My parents have been married for 62 years. I can't begin to imagine how hard it must be for them to be separated.

I wish it could be a happier trip. At least I'll be able to give my dad a hand around the house - he's been run ragged trying to do everything himself. I'll see a few old friends while I'm here. And I'm determined to spend a bit of time at the beach, lying on the sand and listening to the waves come in - a truly simple pleasure, and one of the most soothing.

I"ll be back next week, with a more cheerful post - and a new crochet pattern.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Fresh Tomatoes

I gave up on storebought tomatoes years ago - after tasting the genuine commodity fresh from the garden, those gassed red globes from the supermarket seemed pointless as well as tasteless. (A tiny bit of locavorism, before I knew such a thing existed.) So the only time we eat fresh tomatoes is when they ARE fresh: from ours or someone else's garden.

With what excitement we plant them out every May, trying to ignore the "69 Days to Harvest" on the tag or seed packet, hoping against hope that by some miracle it might happen sooner. With what breathless anticipation we watch the blossoms come out, the baby fruit develop and grow. The day the first tomato blushes is a red-letter day in every sense, and the countdown begins in earnest from there.

The tomato tide begins with a trickle: where we live, the small varieties ripen in late July (although this year I picked my first yellow grape tomatoes on the 14th). Like jewels, they sparkle from salads and omelettes. Soon there are more than we can keep up with and I start throwing them into a freezer bag for mid-winter stews and soups.

But cherry and grape tomatoes are merely the first hint of the bounty to come. The real culinary fun starts when the bigger varieties come on. Then we can enjoy that simplest and best of summer salads: tomatoes with fresh basil, olive oil, salt and pepper. Not to mention tomato-zucchini gratin with fresh thyme and Parmesan cheese. Pasta with fresh tomato sauce, chunky and textured. Fresh tomato pizza. Grilled ham-and-muenster-and-tomato sandwiches. And my all-time favourite omelette filling: tomatoes, goat cheese and fresh basil - it's like having summer for breakfast.

The sweetness of the tomato harvest is, like most of life's pleasures, tinged with sorrow. Spring is gone, and summer will soon pass. We're on the downhill slide to autumn and winter, and tomatoes, at their peak, represent the last flare of the garden's flame before it dies out in frost. All the warmth and sunshine of the fertile year seem to be distilled in their brightness.

But for now, the harvest is just beginning. We picked our first full-size tomato tonight and ate it with sliced cucumber and homemade falafel. It was delicious.

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Variable Ride (with Pictures and the Three Great Things)

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Roadsides bridal with Queen Anne's Lace
Sunflowers gleaming like hidden gold
Cool rush of wind on a sticky day

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Thunderstorms are moving through the state today, so the weather was humid and changeable.

By the marsh at the edge of town, I stop to snap these beautiful pink blossoms. (The bees seem to appreciate them too.) I'm sorry to say this plant is called "swamp milkweed" - I think it deserves a better name.

Cattails stand sentinel at the marsh's edge.

Summer flowers are out in full force: Queen Anne's Lace ...

... (you can tell it's the real deal by the tiny red spot in the center) ...

Knapweed (whether spotted or purple I'm not sure), and prairie coneflowers ...

... and here's a closeup of the delicate knapweed - another wild beauty that should have a prettier name.

Around a few corners, I glimpse something between the trees, at the end of a curving gravel drive ...

Sunflowers! I hadn't noticed them before today. I ride this road all the time, but the field is almost hidden and the drive is easy to miss. I take a short detour and find that there's a small wildlife preserve and public hunting area here. (And millions of deerflies.) I snap the sunflowers as quickly as I can, afraid of being eaten alive.

They seemed a bit camera-shy.

Good thing my limbs were anointed, pre-ride, with homemade bug repellant - I'm happy to say it worked wonders. (1 part each tea tree oil and peppermint oil, to 16 parts olive oil. Dump some in one hand. Wet the other hand and rub hands together, then apply to desired areas.)

I love these old concrete fence posts. This one has a tree trunk for a near neighbor. (Is anyone else reminded of a bikini-clad torso, complete with belly button? Or is it just me?)

Silver water under a grey sky.

My favourite bend in the road. The wheat has been cut, and the trees stand in stubble fields now.

A classic barnyard scene. The sheep are wearing their wool short this summer.

When I see a lone tree like this, I always think of Anne over at Andamento (she likes to snap lone trees too). This one stands at the edge of huge rolling clover fields that stretch greenly to the horizon.

A few miles further, and I look over my shoulder to see this. The clouds are piling up behind me, the air is thick with potential rain, and I'm still on the outward half of my ride.

But the corn is looking good - all tasselled out.

Down a road I haven't ridden before, I come across a giant wild apple tree just covered with fruit. I wish I could have seen it in blossom.

Another new sight for me - I think this would be called a Dutch barn. An unusual colour combination for our area.

An interesting fence decoration (sorry for the blurry focus - I took these on the fly). A sort of agricultural coat of arms, perhaps?

The front of the barn. Someone must be a quilting fan - I spy a Mariner's Compass block.

Just after this, it starts to rain in earnest. I stop the bike to put my camera in its case, and JUST when I get it stowed away, a deer walks out of the trees and onto the road in front of me - maybe 25 yards away. It stops and looks at me while I futilely wish I still had my camera out, but as soon as I move it runs into the woods on the other side of the road.

Still 7 or 8 miles from home, I make a determined effort to concentrate on riding. But I have to stop for a picture of this pond:

Too bad I didn't bring my algae skates.

At my feet as I take the pond picture is this leaf, bearing interesting growths. ("I'm sorry, Mr. Leaf, but the biopsy came back positive. You should have used more sunblock.")

Just over the next hill, a huge clump of wild bergamot. I love the colour.

And a quick snap of damp Holsteins before the final dash for home. I wonder if they wanted a shower as badly as I did by now! (An indoor shower, I mean.)

A good ride, if a bit sticky.

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Friday, July 22, 2011

A Sigh of Relief

After days of deadly record-setting heat and humidity, the air has cleared. We've gone from pressure cooker back to summer.

The sky has exchanged its burdened look for a more serene blue. The unpleasant sticky wind is now a refreshing dry breeze - like a sigh of relief from above.

The moon, which went to bed early all week to avoid the heat, is staying up a little later each day.

Nuts and berries are ripening fast ...

... and one of the local bunnies has taken to eating clover salad for breakfast, right outside the porch.


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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Summer Morse

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Flashes in the dark
   short long long long ... short short long  ...
fireflies spell July

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Wild Chicory

A moment of unadulterated happiness today: driving to the house of a friend in the pleasant anticipation of a birthday lunch date (her birthday, not mine); an air-conditioned car, small island of comfort in a sea of extreme humidity; one of Handel's concerti grossi, sprightly and cheerful, on the radio; and, to top it off, clouds and drifts of delicate lavender-blue flowers all along the way.

Wild chicory flourishes on the roadsides at this time of year. At its most beautiful on a sunny morning, it seems to require plenty of strong full natural light shining down from a clear sky. As the afternoon wears on, or if clouds roll in, the blossoms draw in the shutters and call it a day. The flowers I saw on this blue-skied morning had disappeared under the overcast afternoon conditions.

If, by some dire twist of economic fate, coffee beans were to disappear from the grocery store shelves, we could dig up chicory root, roast it, and use its grounds as a substitute. (Or Mr. M could. I don't drink coffee.) The leaves and roots can also be used to treat gastronomic and other ailments.

Chicory leads a precarious life. When the county road crews mow the verge, they cut it all down (philistines that they are). Beauty must give way to safety concerns.

In an attempt to capture a bit of that beauty, I once tried picking some for an indoor bouquet - but of course the blossoms closed up immediately. That elusiveness, and chicory's short-lived existence, make it all the more precious.

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Monday, July 18, 2011


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Head in the shade, feet in the sun
     my toasting toes can hardly believe
           that socks and boots and January
                                  ever existed

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Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Little Lamb

Lamb is my all-time favourite meat, but due to its high cost I don't very often indulge my taste for it. That's about to change.

Late in the spring, we bought half a lamb from a friend who raises sheep. The other day Mr. M finally picked up the meat from the butcher, and now the freezer is literally crammed with the delicious stuff. Chops, roasts, stew meat, ground lamb - we're rich in tender savoury bits of formerly woolly goodness.

We kicked off our lambfest last night with lamburgers. (I don't know if that's a real word but it sounds great, doesn't it?)

Spiced lamburgers, ready to sizzle

The ground lamb was mixed with a glorious hodgepodge of all the appropriate spices I could think of: minced fresh ginger and garlic; coriander, cumin, cinnamon and cayenne; salt and pepper; chopped fresh chives and parsley; and a generous handful of cooked quinoa for extra tenderness and protein (and just because I felt like it).

Tzatziki would be the perfect accompaniment, but not having any goat yoghurt on hand (cow's milk does not agree with the Micawber tummy) I compromised by souring a little cream, thinning with rice milk, and adding chopped cucumber and sweet red pepper. The leftover cucumber and pepper were drizzled with vinaigrette and sprinkled with lemon thyme.

Rich and sizzling, the lamburgers reposed in luxury on a bed of Romaine from my sister's garden. Quickly-fried flatbread completed the meal. (Try saying "quickly-fried flatbread" ten times, fast.)

All we lacked were fresh tomatoes.  Soon, soon.

It was pretty tasty.

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Micawber's Law

Something is awry in the universe.

Mr. M, my chosen companion on life's journey, my best friend, cycling coach, personal bike mechanic, vitamin guru and all-around favourite person, is not normally a chatty man about the house. But he's inevitably seized with a mysterious impulse to talk whenever I sit down to blog. (Or so it seems to my fevered brain.)

It's almost uncanny. I can cook, read, eat, and do housework in serene quiet. He remains unaffected, busy with his own guy-ish concerns. But once let me park my behind in the desk chair to type a blog post, and - like a cat who hears a can opener - he rushes to my side, vociferating as though he hadn't seen me in years.

(He displays the same tendency to loquacity when I'm trying to design jewelry, with the added refinement of doing stretching exercises just within my field of vision. Depending on hormone levels and the time of month, this can and sometimes does result in murderous impulses on my part. Mercifully I don't act upon them.)

I know Mr. M doesn't do this of malice prepense. Perhaps he equates sitting at the computer with mindless surfing, with killing time, and surmises that I'm therefore free to attend to conversation. And jewelry design - for me a quiet, yet intense, internal struggle with the muse as I seek to bring beauty and order out of a chaos of stones - probably looks to him like nothing more than a pleasant messing about with beads, not requiring attention or deep thought.

Maybe it's simply coincidental timing. Unfortunately, our apartment, though spacious, contains few rooms. Unless I can learn to work with distraction, my only hope is to blog and design when he's not around - which isn't very often.

You've heard, I'm sure, of Murphy's Law, which posits the following:

Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

I'd like to propound a variation to this, which I shall call Micawber's Law. Here it is:

My husband's desire for conversation is directly proportional to,
and concurrent with, my desire for quiet
to pursue a creative endeavour.

In fairness to Mr. M, I must admit that if I tell him I need solitude and quiet, he obliges instantly.

And there's a flip side to Micawber's Law. My desire for conversation is directly proportional to and concurrent with his desire to fall asleep at night.

Thus the universe maintains its equilibrium.

P.S. Micawber's Law is not immutable. I wrote this entire post with only two short interruptions from Mr. M. The second one included a kiss. So I really can't complain.  :)

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Simple Pleasures: Baby Vegetables

This is an exciting time of year. Winter is (finally) a distant memory; warmth and growth are everywhere; and baby veggies are burgeoning.

Look at this wee eggplant. Just 10 days ago it was a lovely purple blossom, and now ...

A small miracle at my doorstep

... it's well on the way to a glorious destiny - one that involves tomato sauce and parmesan cheese.

Speaking of tomato sauce ...

Young yellow grape tomatoes

Barring unforeseen calamity, fresh tomato sauce will abound in our not-too-distant future.

Can't recall this variety's name

And tomato-zucchini gratin with thyme, and tomatoes topped with fresh basil and olive oil, and omelettes with grape tomato-goat cheese-basil filling...

Summer. I love it.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Included in the Rent

Our apartment occupies most of the bottom floor of a house built in 1903. The rent is low and the landlord easy-going. (Sometimes too easy-going when it comes to painting, repairs and screening potential tenants for the upstairs apartment, but I guess it's a case of getting what we pay for.)

The house has all the age-related problems you might expect - sloping floors, cracks in the plaster, plumbing and wiring oddities, poor insulation. But there are compensations: high-ceilinged rooms, all the original woodwork and doors ...

... hardwood flooring - great for allergy-prone me - lots of south-facing windows, and a lovely large yard which we enjoy as much as we can.

There are trees all around the house. Big and small, old and young, they include oak, ash, maple, pine, catalpa, black walnut, and mulberry - the fruit of which we're enjoying right now.

There's a nice little copse at the back, which a fastidious next-door neighbour condemns as "too messy". I think it's refreshing to the eyes.

Wild black raspberries grow there, bearing luscious fruit every July. (Half of these were plowed under last year by the landlord's short-sighted son-in-law - grrr - but I have hopes they'll come back next year.)

A clump of daylilies hides around back.

The lawn here is full of violets in the spring, and the north side of the house is entirely lined with lily-of-the-valley which give off a lovely scent every June.

The little copse is home to all kinds of birds, rabbits and squirrels. I even saw a Cooper's hawk there one day, although I think he was just visiting (probably to check out the birds, rabbits and squirrels). Lest it sound too idyllic, I will add that the copse also produces plenty of nettles and burdock and mosquitoes. But there are fireflies at night.

I suppose we could live somewhere newer and nicer, paying more for the privilege of pristine plaster and paint and plumbing (can I possibly work another "p" word in here? Nope, I've run out of alliteration), a more controlled environment, and carefully manicured grounds. We've had those things in the past.

But we rather like it here. So until our ship comes in, or a better deal comes along, we'll stay where we are and enjoy the perks.

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Hot and Sticky Ride, the Three Great Things ... & Pictures

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Sibilant song of rustling katydids
Daylilies setting the ditches on fire
Racing a dragonfly down the road

(P.S. The dragonfly won.)

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We had thunderstorms today, so I waited for the weather to clear before venturing out with Iris in the late afternoon.

The digital thermometer at the school on my way out of town read 96º. An hour and a half later, the thermometer at the factory on my way back into town read 90º. I think the real temp was somewhere in between, with humidity levels to match - but a strong southwest wind was blowing, which tempered the heat somewhat.

The flowers of summer are here. Crown vetch, an invasive but beautiful species, can be seen everywhere:

And wild phlox has replaced the Dame's Rocket which it greatly resembles:

Everywhere I go, I see feathery wild asparagus going to seed. All that produce, free for the picking every May, and I missed it!

Swallows in solemn convocation. I think the three on the lower right are planning to vote together.

Someone has a freshly-painted gate.

A "true" tiger lily (flower hanging down, with petals curling back upwards). This one caught my eye on a back road - the first one I've seen.

What I THOUGHT were tiger lilies ...

... are apparently Asiatic lilies. (Writing this blog is definitely advancing my floral education!) These are more common on the roadsides. Notice the bonus caterpillar in the upper right corner.

The young pine cones are maturing now:

And here's a favourite stretch of road. Curves ahead!

I park the bike to take pictures of the wheat, and this sign catches my eye (you can click on the picture to make it larger):

Inferior deer need not apply.

The wheat is ripening nicely in this warm weather ...

... giving meaning to the phrase "amber waves of grain".

A pleasant surprise for a cyclist: last Sunday this little road was faded, cracked and horridly bumpy. Sometime during the week it's gotten a facelift:

Smooth riding now.

Down the road, the corn is as high as an elephant's eye - or almost. It's really shooting up and just starting to tassel out.

Near the end of this road, I come across some of my black-eyed namesakes.

And around the bend, clumps of wild bergamot are cropping up everywhere. Aren't they pretty?

Wheat and corn and spacious skies. It's a beautiful area, even with the huge power lines. They were buzzing over my head as I took this picture.

I turn another corner, climb a small hill, and get ready for the rush of wind on the way down:

Whee! This is about as good as it gets in my neck of the woods. The road descends for about a mile - a rare chance to use my large chain ring.

A few miles further, and the ditches are simply orange with daylilies. So cheerful.

And the honeysuckle blossoms have given way to bright scarlet berries:

A very good ride, despite the sauna-like conditions. This is the weather we long for during the cold dark months of winter, and I'm not going to complain about it now that it's here!

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