Monday, August 30, 2010

Rattlesnake Beans Revisited

Rattlesnake beans are hybrids of pinto beans, but they come true when replanted, as I learned this summer. We ate most of last year's crop as green beans, but I let a few dry on the vines. The dried beans were delicious cooked with a little cumin.

I also saved some for seed. We planted them. They were successful. We didn't eat them as green beans, so they've all matured. The pile of dry pods in the photo is a tiny fraction of those still on the vines. Now what?

It would take hours to open the pods by hand. How did the Native Americans in the Southwest shell dried beans? Research is needed and suggestions are welcome.

Announcing A Contest

Can you name this object?

This is a side view.

Here is a top view.

The first person to post a comment with the correct answer will receive a box of home-made biscotti.

Friday, August 27, 2010


For years I wore this medallion on a chain around my neck. My father owned a Mobil gas station and the Mobil Oil Company awarded it to him "for outstanding performance winter lubricants contest - 1933." Soon after, he went broke from extending credit to customers who never paid. He moved us to Gary, Indiana, where he went to work in a steel mill, which proved to be his undoing. He died in July 1937 after being crushed by a ton of steel.

I was not quite two when he died and I have no memory of him, just a photograph, a pair of cuff links, four beer mugs, and this medallion. I grew up feeling cheated of his love and protection. Somehow, this medallion seemed imbued with his spirit, so I wore it as an amulet. It protected me, I felt, as he would have had he lived.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

More Figs

To me, figs are exotic. To people who grow up in the south, they are the norm. People who live in Maine probably feel that way about wild blueberries. It's easy to take for granted such delightful parts of our lives if we've always had them.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Summer's End

Certain images say "late summer" to me. The drying sunflower head, for example.

Or the garden spider, who has been here all along, but wasn't of sufficient size to be noticed. This is the spider's underside. What a design!

Or the lobelia blossom with a hungry bee inside. This blossom is three-quarters of an inch tall. (I didn't measure the bee.)

And a surprise image -- a fresh fig borne by Kathy's fig tree, which lives in a pot and spends the winter in her detached garage. I had never before tasted the tender sweetness of a fresh fig.

High summer is so lush with images that we sometimes can't see the details. By late summer, foliage has thinned, blooms have gone to seed, the details emerge, and, if we are lucky, we get to eat a fresh fig.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Two-Layer Cake

Dennis said he likes chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. We've only been married 34 years, so I didn't know that. I decided to bake one. Both layers stuck to the bottom of their pans. Here's one, after I scraped the stuck parts and tried to place them correctly.

OK, the patched part goes down. Oops! The cake is taller on one side and a large crack appears.

Frosting, like make-up on a woman, conceals many flaws.

After the cake effort, a simple supper seemed best.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Late Summer in The Garden

Things are winding down now. Dried corn and sunflower stalks tower over drying tiger's eye beans. The wild morning glory vines provide grace notes to senescence.

Other plants, such as peppers and parsley, have long growing seasons and should be just coming into their glory. The parsley, intended for a tabouleh salad, is not destined for our table. Swallowtail caterpillars have consumed almost all of it.

This plant had five caterpillars on it when I first looked. By the time I shot the photo, there were only four. (Look for the fourth one on the lowest stem, partially obscured by one above it.) The fifth caterpillar had left the parsley to look for a place to become a chrysalis. Here he goes...

This is the end of Act II. Act III will begin after a six-day intermission. This weekend we will plant kale and collards, set out savoy cabbage and escarole seedlings, and hope that Nature will bless our efforts.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Last March we evicted our rooster, B.D. In his ardor, his spurs had ripped feathers from the backs of his four favorite hens, leaving them with bare, red skin. Such behavior was too brutal for Paradise.

Ever since, people - mostly men - have been asking, "Don't you need a rooster to get eggs?"

No, you do not. Hens, like women, produce ova whether they are with males or not. Roosters are needed only if you want to produce baby chicks. Sorry, guys.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Old Cotton

I love old cotton clothes. Always have. As a teen-age girl I wore blue jeans as often as possible and for as long as they held together. I learned to patch, and made heart and diamond appliques for the seat of one pair of denims. Other girls wore skirts most of the time, but I was born too soon in that regard as well as many other aspects of life. About that time I cut up my favorite dress, which was fraying, and made a blouse of the good parts.

Re-purposing old clothes is a strong tradition among American women. This dear old quilt made by Dennis' grandmother is made of pieces of old shirts and dresses. Its faded colors and frayed edges speak to me of its long life of service in Dennis' family. Lightweight and incredibly soft, it serves us still as my summer bed cover.

The best clothes are soft and easy to wear. Nothing fills the bill better than old cotton. Dennis obviously agrees with me because he loves his frayed, disreputable chambray shirts, whose worn-out sleeves have been converted to short sleeves. Someone recently asked Dennis where he got this one. We didn't know quite what to make of that question.

My clothes last for years because I just keep wearing them until they become hopelessly baggy and shapeless, frayed and torn. This old flannel bathrobe still has one or two winters in it.

Only the best garments wear out, the garments we live comfortably in, the garments that meet the needs of daily life. I should start shopping for a replacement now. It will take a long time to find another bathrobe this good.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Egg Avalanche

This is yesterday's egg harvest. Aren't they beautiful? Seven eggs are from the pullets. The pale ones are the old hens' eggs. The pinkish one, which is smaller than the others, is probably a first egg.

Today there were fourteen! Oh, Lordy, what have we done? We have seven old hens, one of whom doesn't lay often, and twelve pullets who are bred to be very productive in the egg department. Not all of the pullets have started to lay, and already the refrigerator is full of eggs, although we eat lots of them and give dozens away at every opportunity.

I may have to sell a few of these ladies. (No, I will not start an egg route.)

Adios, Uno

Uno is a bundle of energy. She bites the backs of my legs in a misguided attempt to get me to play. She destroyed my Naot garden clogs and chewed up a big bag of potting soil. She's a rambunctious jumper. I suspect her lineage includes terrier, not beagle, judging from the way she shook an old T-shirt to death.

The real problem is that Uno must have been a house dog all her life. She seems afraid to be outside without us and jumps repeatedly against the front windows, desperate to be let in the house. She doesn't yet realize that dogs come into our house only in emergencies. Our dogs live outdoors and in the garage. As a special concession we have kept her in the entryway to our house. (That's how she got hold of my clogs.)

Here's what I think Uno needs: someone who wants a little dog to roughhouse with and who would enjoy playing ball with her. Someone who will share his/her bedroom with Uno and will not be mad if she chews up their slippers.

If you know of such a person, Uno will be waiting at the Lawrence Humane Society.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Welcome Uno!

We're a two-dog family again. This afternoon we took Annie to meet Uno at the Lawrence Humane Society. Uno, who has lived in a cage since February, was mostly interested in running free, following scents. Annie was mildly interested. We brought Uno home, stopping for a collar and leash on the way. She ate and drank ravenously, then ran around the garage smelling everything.

Uno is ensconced in the snake room with Annie as dog-sitter now. Dennis has taken her out twice without a leash and she comes back when he whistles. Annie seems to understand what is going on and is very patient, although she quickly taught Uno to stay out of her food bowl.

Best of all, perhaps, is that the Humane Society gave us a tennis ball toy that Uno loves to chase and, often, return to Dennis.

Oh, she is a brittany spaniel mix, two and a half years old. We're hoping the mix is beagle and that she will keep the rabbits out of our lettuce.

I know, we should change her name to Dos, but she already answers to Uno.

The End

Lately I've realized that many times when friends gather we talk about the various ways in which our bodies are failing us. Parkinson's, cancers, several forms of arthritis, heart defects. No one uses the D word, but it's the elephant in the room. These discussions remind me of a bit of doggerel I wrote five years ago.

While Watching The Progress of Hurricane Rita

Stalled on the tracks
Or caught in the eye,
Sooner or later,
We’re all gonna die.

Struck on the freeway
Or under the knife,
We’ll all have to bid
Fond farewell to this life.

Stabbed in the back
Or just lying in bed,
There’s no way around it;
We’ll all wind up dead.

We’re none of us ready,
And, God! we aspire
To live on forever,
To never expire.

But we’ll all bite the bullet.
We hope it won’t hurt,
And, sooner or later,
We’ll all turn to dirt.

June 22, 2005

Be of good cheer; we're heading to the light.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Garden Gifts

Last evening we visited Dick and Deb at their homestead, which sits in a bend of Washington Creek. Their garden is a wonder to behold. The vigor of the plants growing in rich bottom land is astonishing. Equally astonishing is the giant circle of 80 tomato plants of every kind -- orange, yellow, red, pink, and striped ranging from the tiniest cherry tomato to the giant brandywines. Deb gave us a grocery bag and generously invited us to pick as many as we wanted.

We couldn't begin to pick one of each variety, but this photo gives some sense of the range of choices.

Here at home, the shallot harvest is now safely stored for winter. Eight and a half pounds will certainly feed us all winter with enough left for next spring's planting. This year I let them dry thoroughly before braiding them together.

Aren't they the cat's meow?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Dog Days

The mercury has climbed close to 100 degrees, just as it did yesterday. Tomorrow will be the same. Cracks have appeared in the garden soil. Leaves are drooping and so are people. Annie has been allowed into the house.

Only the butterflies don't seem to care. I'm a lucky woman to sit by a window in a cool room, watching tiger swallowtails and fritillaries feeding on the fast-fading phlox.

Out by the old cold frame I can see the peach tree, bending its branches under the weight of ripening fruit. I planted this tree from a pit many years ago. Too close to the windbreak, it has struggled for space, and has surprised me this year by bearing. Oh, the peaches have blotches and blemishes and wasp stings, and they're small, but they are ours and I love them just for their existence.

Sitting on the back patio table is a flat of savoy cabbage and escarole seedlings. Caring for them, I picture myself putting on a sweater and going to the garden in October to cut a head of escarole for white bean and escarole stew.

What a nice dog day it has been, having time to read a good book, observe, and reflect.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Vicissitude in The Garden

There's one thing a Kansas gardener can count on for abundance - tomatoes. This photo was taken on July 31, 2007. We had been eating tomatoes for a couple of weeks, so this array is only part of what we had harvested. There are brandywine, Rutgers, Cherokee purple, and other varieties on the table.

Here is the total 2010 crop as of July 31, with the exception of the one tomato we have eaten. The larger tomatoes are an heirloom variety, Abraham Lincoln, and a volunteer - the obviously lobed ones. The romas, usually robust, are simply pitiful.

Tomatoes aren't performing well for anyone here this summer. One friend, whose husband is a highly successful gardener, said that he is pulling up his plants. A Farmer's Market vendor said she will have tomatoes to sell for only one more week. The tomato we bought from her was so tasteless we fed it to the chickens. No one knows why the crop is a near failure this year, but it has shaken our confidence.

Last year I canned 27 quarts of tomatoes. Now I wish I hadn't used them so freely.