Saturday, May 29, 2010

Bye-Bye, Adrian

This was the conclusion of a goodbye dinner for Adrian, on the left, who just completed his freshman year at KU. Our grandsons Grant, in the middle, and Logan, on the right were special guests.

Adrian is the son of our dear friends in Munich, Ulie and Pia. Adrian came to Kansas to begin studies in chemistry, but by the time he enrolled the chemistry classes were filled. In order to carry enough credit hours, he enrolled instead in an acting class, and his fate was sealed. Now he's returning to Munich to audition for admission to a German acting school. Isn't it odd that life-changing events sometimes hinge on such seemingly minor events as chemistry classes being filled?

We ended the meal with the first strawberry shortcake of the season, and the first one Dennis has ever liked. I used a recipe from the 1956 Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book, my trusted culinary resource and tutor since it was published.

Strawberry season is an orgy of strawberries on cereal, strawberries on ice cream, strawberry smoothies, and strawberry shortcake. Jam will follow.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Current Events In The Garden

So innocent, so full of promise, the black raspberries that started as three-inch plants last year are forming fruit. It's a great mystery how each plant knows what it is and what it is to become. If only we humans could know our destiny with such certainity.

Three weeks earlier than last year, the broccoli is forming heads. Dennis picked cherries today, two weeks earlier than last year. Here's hoping it's just a normal weather variation, and not a manifestation of global climate change.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Too, Too Frugal

Here is an example of frugality gone wrong. Back in April I sowed some rue seeds in a four-inch pot. When it was time to pot them individually I couldn't find enough small plastic pots in the garage and didn't want to drive to Lawrence to get some. My dear neighbor Ann, now deceased, used to make pots out of newspaper sheets, so I decided to try it. Half the rue ended up in plastic, half in newspaper pots, as you can see. Aren't the ones in the newspaper pitiful?

I hadn't realized that newsprint is very acidic, too acidic for plants to thrive when encased in it. The same thing happened with my Abraham Lincoln tomatoes. After repotting in styrofoam cups with holes punched in the bottom, though, the tomatoes quickly recovered and started growing. Maybe newspaper pots would work if I mixed a little lime with the potting soil. I might try that with the savoy cabbage plants I plan to start next month for the fall garden.

Recycling is a good thing, and even better if the item can be recycled right at home. I won't stop trying.

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Pause in The Day's Work

This morning, in the midst of household chores, I stepped outside and shook the dirt from a duster. As I turned back to open the door, a beautiful sight stopped me in my tracks. There, resting on the north-facing stone wall was this luna moth. When evening comes and my chores are done, the luna will fly away by the light of the moon.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Death of a Beloved Dog

Kazak 1995?–2010

Kazak, Hound of Space and mascot of the Boulder Planet newspaper, died on May 11, 2010, after a walk in the fields he had diligently protected since 2007.

His life prior to the summer of 1996 is a mystery. He was found walking near I-95 and Route 36, the primary intersection between Denver and Boulder, Colorado, and was taken to the human society in Denver, where he stayed, unclaimed, for two weeks before a freelance journalist named Bill Simpson showed up. After walking through the entire pound Bill arrived at Kazak’s stall, and the dog -- then either a year or three years old, depending on which vet you believed -- got up from where he had been lying, walked over to the glass, and jumped up right in front of Bill. It wasn’t the panicked, frantic jumping of some nervous pound hound, but the casual greeting you might get if you showed up a bit late for a meeting with an old friend. “Oh, there you are, I’ve been waiting for you.

Bill later married Carol, and together they moved to Denver, Colorado; Flagstaff, Arizona; Kansas City, Missouri; Portland, Maine; Burlington, Vermont; and, finally, to Lawrence, Kansas. By then Kazak was ready for the freedom of country life. Consistent with his habit of adopting people, he decided to move in with us and spent the remainder of his life patrolling our property, guarding against intruders, going for walks in the woods, and fulfilling his life's dream of catching squirrels.

We don't know the circumstances of his death, so both the beginning and the end of his life are clouded in mystery. All we really know that this gentle, patient dog was loved by many people and that he is sorely missed.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Homemade Tomato Soup

When May weather turns cool and stormy we need comfort food. We also need to use up last summer's home-canned tomatoes, so we make a batch of cream of tomato soup.

Cream of Tomato Soup

3 T. butter or olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery with leaves
1/4 t. dried thyme or 1/2 t. dried summer savory
1/2 t. dried basil
1/2 t. paprika
1 quart home-canned tomatoes with juice or 2 pounds chopped fresh tomatoes
grindings of black pepper
14 ounces chicken broth or 14 ounces of water and 1 1/2 t. chicken base
3 T. flour
1/2 cup half-and-half or more if desired

In a large saucepan over low heat, sweat the onions and celery in the butter or oil until translucent. Stir in the herbs and spices and cook another minute or so. Add the tomatoes and bring to a simmer.

If using fresh tomatoes, simmer for ten minutes.

Add all but 1/4 cup of the broth. Cover and simmer for 10 to 25 minutes.

Stir the flour into the reserved broth until no lumps remain. Slowly add to the tomato mixture while stirring.

Puree the soup.* Stir in cream and return the soup to heat, but do not let it boil.

Serve it up garnished with chopped parsley or chives and a dollop of sour cream or yogurt. Or sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

*I avoided making pureed soups until I got a hand blender, sometimes called a "stick blender." This wonderful invention purees soup right in the pot without making a big mess.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

In The Garden

Peas love to climb, and these portable hog panels, secured by stakes, give their tendrils purchase. They need a little help, though, to find the wires. Sometimes they head for the straw mulch, giving me a new understanding of the expression, "grasping at straws."

The old hand tiller belonged to Dennis's father and is a humdinger for uprooting weeds and loosening the soil for planting. Here he is preparing planting beds for beets, which will line both sides of the aisle that separates the spring and summer garden areas. In the background are a lodi apple tree, the two cold frames, gooseberry bushes, and a stock tank where we will plant Swiss chard.

Broccoli and shallots are dependable crops for us. I freeze lots of broccoli for winter soups. Shallots keep well and last until spring, when we replant the remaining bulbs. We've kept these shallots going for four years now. I bought the original bulbs at the grocery store and planted them. The onions in the third row aren't anything to brag about. They started as plants from a nursery and very quickly wanted to make seeds. Phooey on them.

The broccoli is planted in rusty old coffee cans that we've used for decades. While the plants are tiny the cans protect them from wind damage. We just leave the cans in place until the broccoli has finished producing. We have some new coffee cans that are too shiny, but a year of sitting out in the weather will tame them.

Bare-looking earth in the background has just been planted with beans, carrots, and corn. That area also includes volunteer potatoes and sunflowers. We just let them be.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Cold Frame Gardening

This is the cold frame on a sunny morning. The lids are open to keep the greens from getting too warm. Most greens like cool weather and will "bolt," or put up seed stalks in hot weather.

The straw bales were put in place last fall to insulate the cold frame through the winter. Despite a bitterly cold winter, spinach planted last September yielded leaves for fresh salad from mid-February on, thanks to the straw bales and heavy snows. Soon these partially-rotted bales will move to the garden as mulch between rows.

Last fall's spinach grew in the front part of this side of the cold frame. The spinach was replaced by arugula seedlings along the right side, and endive and romaine lettuce transplants on the left. I keep a few lettuce and endive seedlings in newspaper pots ready to plug into cold frame vacancies.

Along the back are young buttercrunch and romaine lettuces. They were planted in March while the spinach was still growing. We're eating the thinnings from them.

The right side of the cold frame has three rows of greens – lettuces on the left and right with spinach in the middle. Lettuces on the left grew from seeds I saved from last spring's cold frame lettuce, some of which I let go to seed. Black-seeded Simpson is on the right. The spinach is Bloomsdale, my long-time favorite. Its slightly-savoyed leaves give great texture to a salad.

We eat salad from this section every day. I harvest by thinning. Early salads were made of lots of tiny plants but now just one or two lettuce plants make a generous salad for two. Eventually the remaining lettuces will become heads or thick bunches, depending on the variety. Spinach is harvested leaf by leaf, always removing the oldest leaves. Eventually, depending on temperature, each spinach plant will begin to put up a seed stalk. Spinach leaves become more and more arrow-shaped as the seed stalk forms, as if they were reaching to cast their progeny to the sky.

Also, see later posts on this subject:
March 31, 2011
November 26, 2012
January 22, 2013
April 14, 2013
It's spring here in Paradise and a glorious one it is, maybe the most idyllic of our 34 years on this place. Early on we called it Paradise and have never changed our minds about the propriety of that decision, even during the terrible drought years in the very early Eighties.

Today, the landscape is every shade of green imaginable married to a blue, blue sky. Touches of yellows, purples, and reds for accent. One patch of brown in the garden where tiny seedlings are growing. Riotous flower beds, orderly rows of spring vegetables, fresh-leafed trees – some burgeoning with tiny apples and peaches – all have me awestruck.