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Archive for April, 2012

The Japanese iris are about to open. I hope. Behind and on the right in the raised bed are onions and potatoes, and in the center background are the white peonies, which can no longer hold their heads up, and behind them tall, wispy asparagus plants. We’re letting them grow for another year before beginning to harvest the young shoots.   

I had to hold the stem of this peony while I took the picture.

Beyond the rosemary and cilantro, Ernesto checks his baby lettuces.

With the asparagus growing tall and spindly and the peonies tipping over from their own weight, this quote from The Invisible Garden, by Dorothy Sucher, seemed perfect for today:

Gardens give their owners so much joy and discontent that sometimes they seem to be a metaphor for life. There is more to them than meets the eye; all sorts of memories and emotions cling to them. … [T]he delicate, finely-cut ferns of asparagus bring to mind the memory of a beloved grandfather; the sumptuous globe of a peony, bending under its own weight, serves as a reminder of a child’s wonder at what seemed to be drops of blood on the white petals. I think of this complex of conscious and unconscious associations as an “invisible garden” that each of us, gardeners and garden visitors alike, carries around. These associations remain dormant until the plants we happen to be looking at reawaken them. Then old, half-forgotten feelings wash over us, perhaps joy and pleaure, perhpas loss and pain. We can never know in advance how walking through a garden wlll make us feel. Sometimes the fresh perceptions of childhood come back to us for a few glorious moments. Sometimes, seemingly for no reason at all, we become sad. Always it is the invisible garden that gives the visible garden its deepest meaning.

One of my garden ornaments, Stone Puppy, was a high school graduation present. Originally I used him as a doorstop in my bedroom. One day Mama figured out that if she asked our rat terrier, Lucy, where Stone Puppy was, Lucy would flip out–she would run to the bedroom and begin to sort of dig frantically at his stony front feet. We could ratchet up the frenzy by picking up Stone Puppy and pretending to caress him, as if he were a real puppy. Lucy didn’t care for that one bit.

Seeing Stone Puppy in the garden makes me happy.

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Photo courtesy of the North Carolina Arboretum

The North Carolina Arboretum has a quilt garden, which changes seasonally. I would like to try something similar on a small scale. We recently planted some strawberry begonia and forget-me-nots that could possibly work in a flower quilt. We put them on the bank between the house and the driveway–a bank that’s difficult to mow and needs a nice groundcover instead. I tried to get some creeping phlox started on it last spring, but it failed to take. And I watered it so faithfully until I forgot!  I think there’s a tiny puff of phlox still holding on to the bank, but it couldn’t muster up enough energy to bloom so I’m not certain.

I don’t know how my flower quilt project will go. I’ve never been good at gardening or sewing, although I did sort of make a blanket once. I’d been craving an expensive raspberry-colored silk coverlet from the Garnet Hill catalog. Then, while watching PBS one Saturday morning, I saw a crafty woman make a throw out of polar fleece cut with pinking shears. I ran to Joanne’s Fabrics which, in a clear demonstration of the rightness of this project, happened to have polar fleece on sale for $3.99/yard. I bought three yards of deep raspberry-red fleece and a pair of pinking shears. Fifteen minutes later (I’m awkward with fabric and shears) I folded my new throw and placed it at the foot of the bed, where it glowed against the white coverlet on my down comforter. I celebrated my wonderfully successful project by buying a bunch of deep pink flowers (Gerbera daisies and carnations) mixed with white stock, and placed them in a silver base on the bedside table.

It still makes me happy to think of it.

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Egg with woodland phlox

I am reflecting on Easter memories, as chronicled in letters written over the past 10 years. Here are a few excerpts:

Fernandina Beach, cheesecake, a cat on the table: Easter 2002

After church I picked up the ham, deviled eggs, cheesecake, and six orchid corsages and drove to Susan’s house in Fernandina Beach. Susan and I got everything ready and Day, Joan, Teresa, and Teresa’s friend Katherine came over for a late lunch. We pulled the long poplar table in the kitchen out from the three raised windows and gathered around it. A nice breeze blew through while we ate; Joan said it was like eating on a porch. Bougainvillea bloomed right outside the window, flowers bloomed on the table, a lady cardinal with a vivid orange beak hopped on the railing, and in the middle of the meal when we were all talking and laughing Susan’s cat, Kiffin, suddenly jumped on the table, creating quite a stir.

Then, in the conversational equivalent of a cat jumping on the table, Susan said, “Joan, tell everyone how you injured yourself watching TV and had to be life-flighted to Jacksonville.”

Joan said that on Friday evening she stood up and found that she’d lost the use of her left foot.  She called her doctor, who sent her to the emergency room. Fernandina Beach hospital life-flighted her to Baptist Hospital in Jacksonville for stroke evaluation, but it turned out it was a pinched nerve from sitting with one leg folded under her to watch TV. 

A food-related illness: post-Easter 2008

I am not feeling at all well, so I have gone back and made a list of everything I cooked (and ate) on Saturday and Sunday:

Saturday morning:  Coffee, of course.  At about 10:00 ate a ham and cheese sandwich. Ham left over from Easter; perhaps it’s beginning to Go Bad?? 

Saturday afternoon: Ernesto wanted shepherd’s pie so I browned the ground beef with onion, garlic, and broth to get the process started. Ate nothing at that point.  Made naan, the Indian flat bread that we love.  Ate one piece while warm and delicious.

Saturday evening:  Went to Applebee’s. Ate spinach and artichoke dip with tortilla chips, two mini-chicken sandwiches, two mini-steak quesadillas, a mini chocolate sundae. Maybe I ate too mini?

Sunday morning:  Pancakes, bacon, butter, maple syrup. Absolutely new package of bacon, absolutely new bottle of syrup.  Pancakes were frozen.  Butter is never bad. Right?

Sunday afternoon:  Hot dog with mustard and ketchup, jalapeno and cheese potato chips. Hot dogs have been around for maybe 2 weeks, but I hear that they stay good forever.

Later Sunday afternoon:  Started cooking for the week ahead.  Marinated chicken in yogurt and spices, then grilled it to make chicken tikka masala.  Ate one chunk of chicken. It was delicious. Made mashed potatoes to go on top of shepherd’s pie already in progress, assembled pie and placed it in oven. Through all of this, licked up quite a lot of mashed potatoes. Decided we’d have shepherd’s pie for supper, so put chicken in fridge to finish on Monday. Ate a delicious Russell Stover bird’s nest, then started making a pasta dish to pack for my lunch in the coming week:  Sauteed mushrooms, onion, garlic and spices in a bit of butter. Added milk, flour, and cream to the skillet.  Stirred a mighty long time, if you ask me. Finally it began to bubble. Drank a bottle of acai juice because it’s supposed to be good for you. Added one can of diced tomatoes and a package of frozen spinach, previously thawed, to the pasta sauce. Tasted the sauce.  Decided to get rid of more Easter ham by shredding some up and throwing it in with the pasta.  Ate a bite or two of ham. Dropped a mushroom in the sink—picked it up and ate it.  Ate shepherd’s pie with naan for dinner.  Ate a slice of leftover Easter coconut cake.  Drank a glass of milk. Had an emergency dose of Pepto-Bismol brought to me in bed by Ernesto. Threw up.

When I look back at the weekend, it occurs to me that at some point Ernesto and I also split another ham and cheese sandwich, but I can’t tell where in the world it fit in. I was the only one who got sick—which points to the mushrooms as the possible source of the problem.  And those mushrooms started off on a bad foot before they even got out of the grocery store.  When the cashier rang them up, she said, “You gonna eat mushrooms!?”  I told her it wasn’t as if I went out and picked them in the woods—they were legitimate, commercial mushrooms. That cut no ice with the cashier. And maybe she was right. 

Carrot cake and marzipan: Easter 2010

This year, Ernesto requested a carrot cake for Easter. I soon learned that I despise grating carrots. I found a recipe that called for one and one-half cups of grated carrots, which at least sounded more reasonable than the recipes that called for three cups, and I grated two of my fingernails completely off. That is only a slight exaggeration. The fingernail on my right thumb is down to the quick, and the fingernail on my right middle finger is grated a bit, too.  It’s possible that there are trace amounts of fingernail in the cake, but by the time I was finished grating I did not care.  

I bought a nice supply of Easter eggs yesterday to fill in the cracks that a carrot cake cannot possibly fill. Aldi had adorable little coconut and marzipan chocolate eggs. I have eaten one of the coconut batch, and they are very good and the perfect size. What I really crave, though, is my annual Russell Stover chocolate and coconut nest with three mini jelly beans inside. I love those a whole lot.

Tornadoes, bird’s-nest candy, and flan cake:  Easter 2011

Holli called yesterday to make sure that we had not blown away with the tornado that touched down here Friday evening. We are only 10 minutes from the airport, which got hit pretty hard, but we didn’t have any trouble at all. The storms passed after an hour or so, and the Cardinals were able to finish playing their game downtown.

Holli also mentioned that my niece, Anna, had a friend coming over in the afternoon and they were going to make bird’s-nest candy. She said to make the nests you must melt butterscotch chips and dump in a large can of La Choy chow mein noodles, then glop the mixture onto waxed paper to form little nests. She said she had a bag of Hershey’s candy-coated chocolate eggs to stick in her nests. Well, I caught bird’s-nest fever, and added chow mein noodles, butterscotch chips, and little candy eggs to my shopping list. I couldn’t find the Hershey eggs, but I got a small bag of Cadbury eggs and another little pack of Reese’s candy-coated peanut-butter eggs. Today, after about 15 minutes of nest-making, I had butterscotch up to my elbows and 17 charming little nests all done. It’s a messy project, but easy and satisfying.

Ernesto requested a flan cake for Easter this year. He said it’s a cake with a layer of flan on top. What would I do without the computer? I looked up “flan cake,” and voila—several different variations! Basically you line a bundt pan with caramel, spoon in a yellow cake batter, and then pour the flan custard mixture on top—evaporated milk, condensed milk, and four eggs. After baking in a water bath for an hour, the flan sinks to the bottom and magically becomes the top when you remove the cake from the pan. My cake is cooling on the counter right now, and we are nervously anticipating flipping it over. I’ll let you know how it goes…. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it went “gloomph” and came out in a big wet mess. We’ll see.

[Note: The flan cake turned out fine.]

Update: Easter 2012

This year we had a pecan rum cake (Holli’s recipe, using coconut rum) but decided against ham, having had an Unpleasant Experience with our Christmas ham. Ernesto is determined to procure a country ham from somewhere soon, so we will look forward to that. And tomorrow I’m going to stop at three different stores and buy up all the leftover, half-priced Russell Stover coconut nests that I can find.

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The view from the attic window.

It’s hard to buckle down and write, because the weather is so nice and everything is blooming. Ernesto and I begin and end each day by taking an inventory of yard and garden. Today we have sunflower sprouts, and visible zucchini plants. The rose bush has seven buds, and I don’t understand why the peonies aren’t blooming already. They are so close.

Yesterday morning we startled a baby bunny tucked into the mulch of the herb garden, next to the oregano. We are already using the oregano, parsley, and rosemary, because they all came back strong from last year with no effort on our part. Lavender and mint are thriving in pots, and my five cheap hydrangeas from Aldi, which were palest pink when I planted them two weeks ago, have turned so dark they’re nearly red. They are evidently delighted to be here, and I am delighted to have them.

Why would anybody want to sit in front of a computer in a warmish attic, with so much happening right outside? 

Besides, this is exactly the time of year that I like to re-read The Great Gatsby just like I used to do every spring when I was in high school and college. I’d sit in my bedroom with both windows up, the scent of new-mown grass (probably I had mowed it), and a view of the pond when I looked up. Perfect conditions for passages like this one: 

We walked through a high hallway into a bright rosy-colored space, fragilely bound into the house by French windows at either end. The windows were ajar and gleaming white agaist the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little way into the house. A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling, and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea.

Or this:

There was music from my neighbor’s house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girl came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars. …

The moon had risen higher, and floating in the Sound was a triangle of silver scales, trembling a little to the stiff, tinny drip of the banjoes on the lawn.

Of course, Fitzgerald contrasts all that with the smoky gray gardens of the valley of ashes. And in fact, when an April day reaches 90 degrees, you have to wonder what in the world things will be like in July and August. Perhaps by then all the young sunflowers and squash, the herbs and lettuces and unborn tomatoes will have burned to ashes, too. But for now, it’s springtime, and like Gatsby I am filled with hope.

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