Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day 2016

Memorial Day is a mixed sort of day, partly a serious remembrance of the military lost in war, and for me, also the civilians also caught up in wars, particularly children.  I try to be careful not to glorify combat and victory, so as not to be part of keeping it going, while honoring the suffering of the people in wars.

Then it's also taken as the first weekend of summer, joyful, weather permitting. This year weather was baking hot and between barbecues and various friend visits, I seized the day and the Dollivers.  

I set them up with a little patriotic flower arrangement, so that they could get in training for lying about in the sun, while Elton played a rousing series of Sousa and other tunes but failed to get any marching going on around here.  He tried Grand Old Flag, Stars and Stripes, My Country Tis of Thee, Star Spangled Banner, all to no avail.

The Ds were annoyed at being squashed onto one chair, wanted one each, but reluctantly agreed that a photoshoot with one D per chair stretching out into the distance wouldn't work so well.

But they did recover enough goodwill to send everyone for whom this is a holiday weekend wishes for a good weekend, a good holiday, and a good start to the season (summer up yar, fall down theah, where we also have readers).

Then last night, torrential rain, and this morning here's a wonderful Memorial Day observation:  

the iris, given me by a friend, neither of us knowing what color it would be, throwing out only foliage for a couple of years, finally bust out overnight in bloom with this result.  

This is enough to cheer a person up. Particularly when the friend, after seeing my pic this morning, mentioned that he would share more colors with me when he divides his iris this year.  This patio is going to be an iris paradise before you know it.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Mushroom quiche

This is in the nature of a Note to Self.  Last week at the farmers' market I picked up a lovely bag of mixed mushrooms from the Kennet Square people, famous mushroom source in Pennsylvania, and decided now was the time to make again that quiche which makes a mushroom crust rather than a flour one.

Then came a protracted search for where the &;*&;*&;* recipe came from, using every tag I could think of. Finally found it in my ancient tattered old Sunset cookbook, so now I know where to find it.  And my label on this post will help.  As will a tip from JT on using the search box which I had totally never noticed in all these years. And a thought that searching in my own blog would have been good. Too late smart.

I subbed sharp cheddar for their bland old Jack, fresh chives for their scallions, and omitted paprika since I didn't have any. But it still worked a treat.  Foreground cooking mushrooms with added cracker crumbs, on board chopped chives, shredded cheese, background eggs, cottage cheese and red pepper in blender.

It's one of those labor intensive deals that comes out smelling so great that it's worth it.  And it's more than filling, on account of all the cheese and eggs.  

So here's today's effort.  Since Handsome Son is not a quiche fancier, this is for me and any neighbors who happen to get lucky. 

Did I mention that strawberries came in this week?  

best I've had ever, I think, right from the farm to my mouth!

Monday, May 23, 2016

walking the labyrinth for H.A.S.

A few days ago, there was a tragedy in the family of a friend, and today I walked the labyrinth as an observance of the loss of a very young man.  

It occurred to me as I walked that there are now so many spirits populating these walks for me, of people who have left us, ages ranging from 23 to 93, all with such an impact on everyone around them.  Every time I walk the labyrinth, they accompany me.

This young man was only known to me by name, his mother being the person I was in contact with, in the art world, and others have been similarly removed from me, yet they all have such power over our lives, and how we live them from now on. Those who were close to me have great directive influence, in ways that don't become clear for a while.

Today's walk, among the ash trees and maples and shrubs, had musical accompaniment from nesting birds.  And as always, I entered confused and undirected, and left calm and with a sense that it's okay for me not to understand why such things happen.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Tamarind and plum preserves

In the interest of using up the fresh tamarinds, which had been in the fridge a while, and the rest of the plums after making a giant plum-studded cake for the freezer, I realized I could make jam.

Haven't made jam for ages, and it's not so hard.  I used half a dozen of the fresh tamarinds, which I shelled and took the membrane off,  then sort of broke up and poured about a cup of boiling water over it. Once it was cool enough to put fingers in, I worked it over to release the pulp from the seeds, which it doesn't want to do, then strained the lot into a bowl.  The pulp goes through the strainer pretty well, giving you a thick liquid to work with.

And the plums were black dessert plums which I'd got at a good price, and I just cut them into chunks.  About a dozen plums in all. Then with just one cup of sugar, no need to go mad with the sugar, I boiled the lot together until it thickened a bit, then added in only half a pouch of pectin, and went on cooking for a while.

It mostly filled two mason jars, and the day after, once it had cooled completely, made a great preserve to spoon over hot biscuits, more of those I made recently and froze, the ones with the golden raisins and the chopped walnuts.  

Since there's no sugar in the biscuits, and not too much in the preserves either, you get the sweetness of the fruits, and a nice tang.  You could use this preserve as a sauce with meat, if you eat meat, too.  Or fish possibly.  Or give as a nice little gift to a lucky friend.

Anyway, it was pretty good, and not a massive enterprise, unlike the way cookbooks act as if you were about to embark on a space mission.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Three Good Things

This week, among a lot of other good things, three stand out nicely.

One is the shelf thing, made of actual wood, not mdf, found at the dumpster, needing only a dusting and damp wipe to take its place at the end of my bookcases, as a home for my collection of teapots.  I thought the pots needed a bit more visibility, since they're so good to look at, and the top of a kitchen shelf didn't do it.

Reading north to south: Japanese clay, probably antique, pot, then shelf with three milk pitchers, one a Wedgwood Queensware piece, on an Irish Belleek, one an unmarked, aka back door, Lenox.

Then recent thriftie find, Japanese architectural shaped pot, metal handle then one down, a Chinese porcelain one, courtesy of the Asian store.  Then at the bottom, a coiled pot with bamboo handle, might be Chinese, don't know, but signed in some way.

All very nice to see from the sofa. Interestingly,  they all make tea taste different one from another.  Same tea, same boiling water, different flavor.

Then there was a great lunch, salad of farm grown curly lettuce and scallions, with added homegrown romaine and curly, with chives, then dried figs chopped in.  With a bowl of carrot and red lentil soup, into which I put a rind from a parmesan cheese, first time I tried this, and now I see why they do it. Great flavor addition, and there's yogurt whey in there, too. Also homemade chicken broth. This lunch is a repeating event, plenty of salad greens and soup available.

Then yesterday, after a brisk wind, neighbor stopped by to give me these white iris broken in the wind and she thought I'd like to have them.  I will be drawing and painting and looking at these beauties for a couple of days.

So that's here for now.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Red Ted throws a tea before departing

This afternoon was a little tea for a friend, long planned, and finally it happened.  Red Ted decided he needed her as his new person, so I agreed that since we had been thinking about whose home needed a Red Ted, this would work.

So tea laid, with Red Ted presiding, and we had a nice spread of parmesan crisps, hot biscuits with golden raisins, crushed walnuts and caraway seeds, buttered, and mixed fruit crumble with mango yogurt added on top.  English Breakfast tea, two pots of same.  We had a Good Time.  Harrods had nothing on us.

Friend needed a respite from some major caregiving, and I decided this was a Good Thing, to cater to her, bake for her, and all that, just because someone should.  

She arrived with a lovely gift, to my surprise, a pot of petunias sitting in a basket of her own make, wonderful addition to my basket holdings.  

She's a great spinner, gave me my first spindle and sample of roving, basket maker, all kinds of talents, in addition to high powered day jobs.

So I guess we were both gifted today..and Red Ted couldn't wait to go home with her.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Long road to finding Etty Hilversum

This road started last August when Piper, who writes the Comptonia blog, encouraged various readers to go to Twitter to follow a drawing series, and take part in it.  Which I did, after a few minor struggles to learn Twitter, open an account, then fix the settings I'd got wrong and so on.  And I found a site that has a lot of what I want to see, aside from a community of artists I am in regular touch with now, and a community of sheep farmers in the Yorkshire dales likewise.

I found that Anne Lamott posts there regularly, with all kinds of wise and funny tweets, from one of which I was directed to Henri Nouwen, a contemplative writer I'd never heard of, but got a lot out of (his book Home Tonight, mainly), which in turn led me to Etty Hilversum, and I really think this journey was foreordained in some way.

She, and, again, I had barely heard of her, is one of the most luminous and profound writers, so worth discovering and studying.  I read her diaries, which are very dense and inward, to the point of being tiring to get through, since she was talking to her inner self, not an audience.

Then I went on to her letters, which are a wonderful jewel of a find.  Written to many friends in Holland not yet in the camps, during the worst of the WW2 Nazi occupation of Holland, they chronicle her own internment on Dutch soil,  the inevitable and terrible cattlecar transport to Poland, to Auschwitz, from which she did not emerge.  

We see through her eyes the crushing series of greater and greater restrictions put on the Jewish population culminating in the mass arrests and removal to camps, then transport to Poland. 

Even knowing that all this was going to happen, she writes cheerfully and in much more accessible language than in the diaries, for her reader,  tempering her prose to the person intended, apologizing for asking for small favors to help her frail parents.  Heroic. 

All her family perished with her.  She was 27, but in that short life packed more meaning than you can readily take in.  Amazing wisdom and the capacity to find joy even in the most terrible of fates, always  concerned to take care of her aged parents and her young brother, always able to stay ready for experience.  She had a total zen sense of life, in that she believed that heaven and hell are present always in every moment.  She lived that belief, rarely losing her good humor, sick, starving, cold, but undaunted, a social activist to the end.

She was difficult to read, but I felt I owed it to her and all the other Jews suffering then, to at least give it my attention now and get knowledge and direction from it, and to honor the writer.  And to note that sadly, this kind of history is not all in the past.

It was in a way, a literary duty, like reading Foulks' Birdsong, set in WW1,  about, among other things, the battle of the Somme, and the life if you can call it life, in the trenches,  equally agonizing reading.  I owed it to my dad who was there, and all the other young kids fighting in the trenches and not making it home, or making it home as a shell of the people they had been. 

So, odd though it may seem as a recommendation to suffering, I do recommend Hilversum, a brilliant intellectual force extinguished too soon, as not just a book to read, but guidelines to a life elegantly lived, too. 

The poetic coda, her last letter, thrown out from the train as they left for their sad destination, was found and mailed by a farmer, so the friend she'd written to in fact received it and understood the significance of it.

Bear with me if you have known about her for years, but I only just made the discovery and wanted to share, in case you didn't know of her.  For me it's the kind of writing that forms a watershed in the reader's life, falling into before and after.  It changes who you are.

It's great art, like many paintings and sculptures, that is not just an experience to have, but one that changes who you are and how you see the world after.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

West Windsor Farmers Market, and results

Perfect day today for the farmers' market at West Windsor, second week open but last week was rain and wind.  Today lovely, and I browsed among wonderful produce and flowers and smells and friendly people, and happy babies and dogs.

Then once home, I planted my burlap hanging planter with, north to south, you already know about the marjoram, nasturtium nasturtium, dill and dill.  

My next door neighbor and his visiting cousin admired the hanging garden, commenting that it looks Japanese!  and neighbor thinks he might try it, too.  Some basil came home with me, too early, but I couldn't resist, and more dill in containers.

In the kitchen, a frenzy of tearing and rinsing and cutting and admiring, ready for today's lunch. Curly leaf lettuce, scallions, figs (dried, not from market) tomatoes

The tomato is NJ, but hothouse, too soon for outdoor, but it still has that minty smell in the stem that you get only when they're fresh.  Asparagus soup, from the farm, matzoh, every year someone gives me a box, why, why..mystery. Every year a different person too, is this a plot?

Very good morning's work.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Vertical gardening revisited and an exotic arrival

I was at the plant nursery yesterday, stocked up on a few herbs to replace ones which didn't survive the winter.  Moseying round the place, I noticed on their greenhouse walls some black plastic hanging sleeves, filled with potting soil, with small plants inserted into slits at intervals down the length.  You could do it with newspaper sleeves, I imagine.  Old idea, but it reminded me that I would like to have a few plants hanging from my fence.

Then at home I remembered I had a few burlap pockets, given by an artist who had been given hundreds of them -- wrongly made for an order, given to the cause of art -- and who shared them around. thanks Art Lee!

So, I dug them out, found a roll of petersham ribbon from a stash gift, stapled five of the pockets at intervals down the ribbon, with a loop at the top, and hung the result on a nail already in the fence.  

Time elapsed: five minutes including finding the stapler. Cost zero.  Appearance pleasing, nicer than black plastic.  My kind of invention.

And the same idea as the hanging plastic sleeve, except I will plant each pocket.  Water will drain down from one to another.  And I remembered a little marjoram plant I've had rooting in water for months and now finally have given it a home, in the top pocket.

Feel free to copy at will! not my original idea, I'm sure, but it should be fun to see how this works. Oh, and I put a tissue soaked in peppermint essence in the top pocket to deter squirrels.  I have a feeling that if wrens choose to nest in a pocket I won't have much say in the matter.  If they did, there would be no squirrel problem, though.

And the mail today brought me the peacock jasmine plant I've been awaiting for months, so it is now planted, no, not outside, but in a pot safely indoors in a window that gets some sun.  It's tiny, so pix will wait till it's big enough to see.  This is the plant that flower leis are made from, nice scent, gets big, I'm hopeful.

Friday, May 6, 2016

It may be May, but it's still a soup day

Seizing on the farm asparagus, picked the morning they put it out, and eaten raw or steamed, I cut off most of the stems when I got it home the other day, to freeze right away.  Today was the day for a bowl of steaming soup, what with the raw, windy, rainy weather, which suits the dogwoods fine, the people not so much.

So here's today's lunch: asparagus, with plenty of onions and garlic, a little knob of butter in with the oil for the base, then once cooked and blended a shake of lemon juice and a grating of an ounce or two of parmesan.   The recipe says to strain the soup through a strainer to remove the fibrous bits but I didn't actually have any fibrous bits, maybe because this was the best fresh asparagus, maybe because the freezing broke them down.

I served this with a wedge of wholewheat caraway hot biscuit spread with yogurt cheese.  More in the freezer for future study.

And, since a day without any walking is no fun at all, I did take a walk, all muffled up against rain and wind, and heard a huge commotion in the neighbor's shrub.  Saw a little baby Carolina wren hurtling about, tumbling, running under a parked car, with a parent in hot pursuit.  I think they've nested there, and the babies are making a massive racket and trying out the flying thing.  

I envy the neighbor since wrens are fun neighbors to have and they are deadly on squirrels, who are mortally afraid of being dive bombed by them.  I've seen it happen, and I don't blame the squirrels for staying away.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Busy Day at Art the Beautiful

For the latest presser on the Embroidery Stand caper, go here

And if you're in the mood for an art exhibit review, go here 

And if the weather has got you down to where you can't be bothered about either, go make a nice cup of tea and put your feet up and read Scents and Sensibility, the latest Chet and Bernie book (no, not that Bernie) by Spencer Quinn, the adventures of a detective and his detecting dog, narrated by the dog.  

That's what I'm doing next.