Thursday, June 30, 2011

Berry Ripe

This morning I picked strawberries at the farm just outside town.  Take a look at these...

I wish you could smell them - all 14.97 pounds of them.

Their syrupy, seductive scent fills the kitchen and front room.

And speaking of berries...

...the mulberry tree behind the house is just starting to drop its fruit.

And the wild black raspberries in the little copse are coming along nicely.  Another week or so, and we'll have black caps:

I feel rich.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Strawberry Shortcake for Brunch

These are the days of grace and favour - the sun is shining, the weather has FINALLY warmed up, and the planter garden has begun to yield more than just chives.  Did I mention that the local strawberries are ripe?  Ah, June.

Strawberries cry out for shortcake, and a proper shortcake, as everyone knows, contains very little sugar.  It is, therefore, a perfectly acceptable breakfast food - nay, even praiseworthy, if made (as is mine) with some whole wheat flour and oatmeal for added fibre.  (I do love cake for breakfast.  But I try not to have it too often. Moderation in all things is a worthy goal.)

Yesterday morning, having strawberries on hand, I whipped up a shortcake along with some cream to form half of a scrumptious brunch.

Woman does not live by shortcake alone;  some protein is necessary for a balanced meal.  Eggs scrambled with herbs and goat cheese would fill the bill nicely.  A quick step out the door to choose the herbs...

"Pick me!  Pick me!" the basil said, elbowing out the lemon thyme.  I longed for tomatoes, but... everything there is a season, and it's not tomato season yet.

Basil, chives and regular thyme made the cut. Stripped and snipped and chopped into a bowl of crumbled goat cheese, they were shortly swirled into the eggs.

Meanwhile, the strawberry shortcake, in all its glory of ruby juice and sweet ethereal cream, was waiting on the plate:

Shortcake, meet eggs.  Eggs, meet shortcake.

They got along just fine.

We carried them outside to eat on the lawn.  The sky was deeply blue, dotted with occasional clouds. The wind sang in the trees. The birds sang too, from the little copse behind the house.

It was a smashing brunch.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Simple Pleasures: A Park with a Lake

Minnesota may be called the Land of 10,000 Lakes - but Wisconsin, where I live, has even more. One of them is just a few blocks away, with a handy little park attached.

Here's what I see when I turn the corner of the park entrance road. This view looks west; it's as lovely at sunset as it is in the morning.

Inside the park is a small lake-fed pond, covered with water-lilies in summer:

I didn't realize until this morning that they open up later in the day.

The long grasses around the pond are full of bright blue damselflies:

And there are always a family or two of geese.  The village has tried to discourage them (their droppings can get pretty messy), but I enjoy seeing them on my morning walks.  Not long ago the young ones were still fuzzy and cute; now they're leggy teenagers.

I've also seen loons and heron. Some magnificent white pelicans were here this spring, but they seem to have moved on.

A good park should have lots of trees, and this one is no exception. Here are plenty, to provide shade and frame the views ...

... to add their small contributions to the unstudied décor ...

... and to lean one's bike against whilst taking pictures.

On the other side of the pond, the water-lilies are opening to the sun...

... but there's a shortcake in the oven at home and my mental timer is going off.  Time to head back and make breakfast (which, if it photographs well, will star in tomorrow's post).

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Tired Ride and Three Good Things

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Making a friend of an unexplored road
Green upon green of corn and oats and trees
Wild roses like pale pink stars in the ditch

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I really struggled to come up with "3 Great Things" about this ride (hence the modified rapture - "good" rather than "great"). The countryside was as beautiful as ever; the day was sunny and bright: the problem was me. I just didn't feel good. Headache, stiff neck, sore shoulders, tired legs, spinning head, and - despite a hearty pre-ride lunch - I was hungry. (If it hadn't been for the hunger, I would have thought I was coming down with a virus.) By the time Iris and I limped home, after just 26 miles, I wanted to lie down and die. Allergies perhaps? My head is still spinning and feels heavy and full.

But I did get some pictures  (you can click on them to make them larger):

A lone tree is always appealing. I like the tractor marks in the grain
at the right of the photo.

A very typical view:  rolling cornfields, barns on the horizon

Sandhill cranes stalking in a wet field.  Their cry
is eerie and prehistoric-sounding.

And just across the street from the cranes:  a beautiful sloping
field of corn and wheat.

This little red-winged blackbird followed me
down the road for quite a ways.  He would swoop along
behind me, and when I stopped to take pictures
he would stop too and sit on the wire.

These flowers are everywhere right now.  They look like yellow
cow parsley, if there is such a thing.  This plant was as tall as I am.

Heading down a new road today - it leads to a wildlife preserve
and wetland restoration project.  I was feeling pretty wonky
by now (only 10 miles into the ride) and the shade ahead
looked very inviting.

Bird's foot trefoil spilling over the roadway

And a little farther down, some ox-eye daisies (?)
growing out of a crack in the road.

A beautiful treeline up ahead...

With some very tall pine trees stretching up towards the sun.

This is why they're stretching so high...the forest is pretty crowded.
(A little thinning might help.) I like the way the trunks look though.

Cow vetch and red clover

And a beautiful giant puffball (about 3-4" across).
The goldfinches love these.

Several miles later, I pass under a railroad bridge in a small town.
Too bad there was no train!

A marshy stream flowing through more wetlands...

...with the sun reflecting off the water.

Iris taking a break while I take pictures and decide whether to keep going
or turn for home.  I opt for home.

These flowers are just coming on, but in a few weeks
they'll be everywhere.  Heliopsis I think.
Very bright and cheerful.

A peaceful country graveyard.  I thought about lying down
here;  it would have felt appropriate!
Six miles later, I was home and very glad to be there.

Mr. M has just told me a very large storm is headed our way. Maybe that's why I have so much pressure in my ears and jaw. Let's hope it's gone by morning!

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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Racing the Sun Home: Three Great Things About Tonight's Ride

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The steady thrum of my tyres on the road
A charm of goldfinches swooping beside me
Watchful deer grazing in tree-shadowed fields

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Friday, June 24, 2011

Cheerful Carrot Slaw

It's a grey morning outside - our 6th straight day of clouds and thunder and rainy damp. I THINK I saw the sun for a few minutes on Wednesday, but now I'm beginning to wonder if I imagined it.

A good time for some bright, cheerful food that also happens to be super healthy and delicious:

Orange and green - how pretty is that?

This salad was a staple at our family gatherings for years. Adapted from Joël Robuchon's Simply French, it's simple, quick, and quite amazingly good. The original recipe calls for lemon juice, two kinds of oil, and parsley on top - but I like it even better with lime juice and cilantro. The garlic gives it a great kick.

In medium bowl, make dressing:

2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
Sea Salt to taste (I use about 1/2 teaspoon)

Whisk together. Gradually whisk in:

3 Tablespoons oil (extra-virgin olive for me)

Add 2 fresh garlic cloves, degermed and minced.

Into dressing, grate 1 lb peeled carrots.

Toss well, then sprinkle with 3 Tablespoons snipped fresh cilantro. Salad may be served immediately, or covered and allowed to rest in the refrigerator.

P.S. A little parsley chewed after the meal may help to dispel any garlic breath.

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Just Out of the Shower

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Rain-washed, the daisies
lift their cheerful wet faces
to the morning sun.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

My First Cookbook

This was my very first cookbook - I've had it for exactly 26 years. It was a wedding gift to us from Mr. M's former neighbour Sarah.

"May God bless you on this your wedding day
and the rest of your lives together.

Here is to good cooking and good eating."

In a time before the Internet was available with instant information on the science and art of cookery, this book was an education to me. After growing up with my mom's classic Betty Crocker mostly-text cookbook, it was so exciting to own a cookbook with PICTURES - every recipe photographed, and lots of helpful sketches throughout.  Picky eater that I was, it took me years to fully appreciate the range of recipes in this book.

Sarah died of cancer years ago, but her gift to us lives on. We've shared many a good meal from this book.

Thank you, Sarah (and Bob).  26 years later, we're still using your gift.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Summer Reading

There's something about summer that seems to call for light reading. Is it the indolence that comes with warmth? Or a sense of holiday, left over from school days? Perhaps it's because we're spending more time outside, which leaves less mental energy to expend on serious books.

Some of my favourite read-every-summer books are by Peter Mayle:  A Year in Provence, Toujours Provence, and Hotel Pastis (the first two are memoirs, the third a novel). Like a good meal, they have lots of ingredients I enjoy: descriptions of food, a bit of cycling, dashes of French conversation, some natural history, a slight but agreeable amount of suspense (in the novel), and a happy air of escapism throughout. They're sunny, cheerful, humorous books - altogether perfect for reading in the sun.

Speaking of the sun, here's another great summer read - "Under the Tuscan Sun" by Frances Mayes. Also a memoir, it too contains some favourite ingredients: cooking, the idea of living in a country not one's own, dashes of foreign language and culture (Italian this time), with some flowers and poetry and house renovation thrown in.  Its sequel "Bella Tuscany" continues the pleasurable journey.

You might think I'd prefer to read these lovely summery books in the wintertime - but the contrast to my own weather situation would be too great, and might lead to discontent. So I save them for warmer weather, when I can revel in their descriptions of shimmering heat while soaking up some long-awaited rays of my own.

A bit of introspection:  I seem to be drawn to books about starting life anew in a different country.  Is this because I long to do so myself - or because I already have?  (Moving from Southern California to Wisconsin was very much like moving to a different country.)  I'll have to ponder that one.

What's your favourite summer read?

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