Monday, October 4, 2010

Petiole, schmetiole

On Saturday I became industrious and borrowed two, not one but two, juice steamers.
I gathered six humongous bowlfuls of grapes.
I steamed and gathered luscious purple grape juice.
Sixteen quarts and several large jugs of juice later, I tasted it.
Mouth-puckeringly sour!
Luckily, I hardly made a dent in the grape crop, so after Googling "grape harvest in Yamhill County" and discovering that the vineyards won't be harvesting for another two or maybe four weeks, I decided to hold off on the rest. Another victim of our cool summer. This batch will have to be sweetened, which is what I was hoping to avoid this year.

On a better note, the lemon cucumbers and green beans are still producing and the tomatoes are responding nicely to the clear plastic cover. Every day or two I roast another batch of tomatoes for the freezer.

And the rhubarb is still thriving, so I thought I would post our favourite rhubarb dessert recipe.
With suitably amazing photos to accompany said recipe.
This is the easiest thing you will ever make and it can be adapted to many different fruits and cake flavours. I first tasted it at a ballooning brunch, back in the days I used to chase balloons in the early mornings of summer. I have made it so often that people call it my recipe, but in truth I have seen it posted in many places on the internet. 
So, here it is .
Rhubarb Dump Cake.
Which name usually sets Charlie to tittering.

First, wash, trim and slice about 4 cups of rhubarb.
Don't let it go to seed in the early spring or it will be tough.
Oh, and I use quite a bit more than 4 cups, but that's the official amount.

Now, scatter a small packet of strawberry or raspberry Jello over the fruit.

Then sprinkle a cup of sugar over that. 
Other fruit may not need as much sugar.
And I use a little less sugar even with the rhubarb.
Because I do try to eat healthily, really I do!
Don't you wish I would just quit messing with things?

Next, cover with a package of cake mix. 
White or yellow.
I like the butter flavours, but you can experiment with lemon or spice.

Carefully pour 2 cups of water over the cake mix, then one cube (4oz) of melted butter over all.
I know, it goes against all your Mama ever taught you, but don't do it!

Bake at 350 degrees (oh, how I wish I knew where the "degree" sign was!) until golden brown and the cake is set. This is tricky, because, depending on how much fruit you use, it might be done in 45 minutes or up to an hour. It will be all bubbly and pink and smelling delicious.
It will look much better than this.
This is a stupid low-res internet photo, because I forgot to take a pic of the finished product.
But it's close enough.
Other fruits to try: blackberries, peaches, pears, plums. Spice cake would be delicious with pears or peaches, don't you think? 

Useless fact of the day: Rhubarb was used for medicinal purposes by the Chinese for thousands of years. The  use of the petioles as food is fairly recent, first recorded in 17th century England as sugar became affordable for common people.

Note to Samantha: If you really want to get on Charlie's good side, make him one of these. Because you know I will as soon as he gets home!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A gentle man

In a narrative that's totally out of order, go back with me, please, to the Monday afternoon of my trip to the East Coast. I was in the Columbia with Jenny and she told me that this garden, which I had seen on her blog, was right on my way back to Annie's house.
I was thrilled.
It was a mere five minutes off the freeway and I arrived in the early evening, about an hour before sunset. Jenny told me that she had stopped by the week before and spent about 45 minutes talking to Pearl Fryar, owner and gardener extraordinaire, so I was hopeful that I would get to see him.

I parked my car on the grass by the house and spied an elderly gentleman working by his tractor about forty yards away. I was a little shy, so I meandered around for a few minutes, taking pictures of this
and that
and generally trying to look as if I knew what I was doing.
Finally, I plucked up my gumption and walked nonchalantly over to him.
Pearl Fryar.
A gem of a man.

Pearl began his garden in 1984 in an effort to win his town's Yard of the Month. I could go on about how his garden developed, but you can go here to read an amusing account that is much better than anything I could have written. Go, read it, you'll be glad you did.
This is my favourite quote from Pearl. 

“Gardening books will tell you that some of these things in my garden can’t be done, but I had never read them when I got started. Not knowing ahead of time that something is supposed to be impossible often makes it possible to achieve. I didn’t have any limitations because I really didn’t know anything about horticulture. I just figured I could do whatever I wanted with any plant I had.”

Pearl and I had a nice little talk about Jenny and his garden and then he got antsy and said he'd be happy to talk some more when I had looked around but that he had some pruning to do. I can take a hint as well as the next guy, so on I walked and Pearl drove off.

Pearl is not your average topiarist.
He doesn't do animals, as much as abstractions.
His hedges flow

and his trees become individual statements of his imagination.

Mugo pines are an ordered row of sentinels 

and many shrubs become precise, geometric designs.

Every tree is a graceful statement against the blue South Carolina sky.

Pearl is also a metalworker and his art is everywhere, conveying his message of peace, love, and goodwill.

It was a beautiful evening, cooler than the day had been, with a light breeze blowing against my face. I continued my tour of the gardens and finally came face-to-face again with Pearl. He was working on a small live oak that had volunteered next to a bigger pine. He was very gracious and humble, telling me how he would train the tree and then move it to its own spot. He told me how amazed he was that people come from all over the world to see his garden. 
Pearl works on his garden every day that he is home. It has been designated a Preservation Project of the Garden Conservancy and Pearl is training interns to carry on his work when he can no longer do so. As near as I can tell, Pearl is in his late 60's now, so I hope he can continue to be an inspiration for many years to come.

I said goodbye reluctantly, knowing that I still had a long drive ahead of me. The evening was so serene and conversation with Pearl was so comforting and uplifting that I had to drag myself away. I continued the loop back to my car.

The ubiquitous palmetto tree. 
South Carolina-ans love their palmettos! Their neatly trimmed silhouettes are to be found on every street of Columbia, it seems.

Pearl is not one to leave a tree undecorated, even a dead one!

The gardener's famous ladder.

Pearl spreading the love.

I drove away, the sun in my rear-view mirror, feeling a better person for having known Pearl.

P.S. In a testament to Pearl's graciousness, I just saw on his website that visiting hours for his garden are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. till 4 p.m.
I visited on Monday at 6:30 p.m. and felt completely welcome.
I'm so relieved that I left some cash in his donation box!
Oh, and Tuesday morning I discovered that the mosquitoes had made a delicious meal of my arms and legs while I was enjoying Pearl's garden.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Not exactly the Garden of Eden

I can usually find redeeming features in almost any area I visit, but the area where Annie and Edwin live in North Carolina has been a tough one. I've visited in winter and now late summer and neither one appeals to me. Apologies to anyone who lives there and loves it, but it's not my cup of tea at all. I need four good seasons, flowers and fruit orchards and berry and vegetable fields and the ability to grow all of those things in my own garden. And diverse shopping possibilities, an airport reasonably close by and lots of cultural and artistic offerings.

Not much to ask for, is it?

Anyway, our baby Elsie will grow up with none of those things. Which is okay, because she will be awesomely loved and that's the most important thing. And she can come to visit me and I will show her everything.

The thing I miss most in their area is flowers. The summers are wicked, this summer especially, so you see very little colour in the gardens. As we were leaving for the airport, I noticed this perfect little rose bloom by the front door.

Driving to the airport, we passed by many fields of this crop

which is, of course, cotton. I always imagined cotton to be a tall plant, but it's only about 18"high. No wonder picking cotton is described as back-breaking work.

And then there is this other, ubiquitous crop. Can you guess what it is?

Tobacco, my darlings. 
The evil, evil crop. 
Not only does it kill people, but as a crop it destroys the soil at a faster rate than any other, necessitating the use of many pesticides and fertilizers, which then pollute our waterways. Tobacco was originally used by native Americans as a hallucinogen in religious ceremonies. It was then introduced to Europe and became a recreational drug. I do believe it may the best vengeance that was ever wreaked on a conquering society.

The other crop you see everywhere is soy beans, but they look just like any other bush bean, so I didn't bother with a photo.

It seems to me that the only crops grown in that neck of the woods are those that are subsidized by the nanny government. 

I just discovered that tobacco (genus Nicotiana) is related to this lovely that can be found in my back yard.
Also called Nicotiana.
Slapping self on the forehead.

Today, in the spirit of the harvest, I am picking grapes and making grape juice.
A post will surely follow.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Having a little whine with breakfast

Warning: Not a Funny Post.

I don
't like whiny people. 
And yet, here I am.
I think I have too many people in my life.
I can't seem to keep them all happy all the time.
If you know me, you know I am prone to unsubtlety, much as I try to be otherwise.
So, inevitably, I upset some of those people occasionally.
And then I stress over what I should have said, what I didn't say, how I could have done it better.
Or about how dastardly they are!

I've been thinking about all the disparate lists of people with whom I am in contact almost daily.
Piano students and their Moms and Dads and siblings.
Preschool owners, activity directors, and other workers at my music therapy sites.
Facebook friends.
Choir members.
Husband and kids.
Real-life friends.
And now, apparently, since I was made activities chairperson, the whole congregation at church.

Not that I aspire to the hermitage (you know I love to be sociable), but I feel like I've been losing my savoir faire lately. 
What little I had to start with. 
I'm not sure if it's because my grey cells are dying and I can't think fast enough, or whether the list has just become too long and I can't keep up. 
Social networking at its worst.

I come home from church on Sundays and think Ack, all I did was run myself ragged and say things I wish I hadn't.
At the end of my work days, I wonder if anyone still thinks I'm an awesome music therapist and piano teacher or if they all think I'm becoming senile.
I edit and re-edit every blog post and facebook comment in order to not offend, but sometimes it still comes out wrong.
And who knows what my family thinks of me half of the time. Those cross-eyed looks and comparisons to Great-Nana give me a fair idea!

So, what to do, what to do?

I guess everyone has their periods of self-doubt. I have had them before, but not quite as pervasive as this one. I feel out of sorts and at odds with the world. I think I inherited my Dad's boundless optimism in possibilities and so a gloomy disposition feels foreign to me. 
I know.
Lucky me.
If I really had anything to complain about in my life maybe I wouldn't feel so unreasonable.
But I don't.

I shall have to come up with a cunning plan.
I just don't know what it is yet.

Suggestions from my lovely readers will be gratefully considered.

And now, a final word from our sponsor.
Listen for the hidden message...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Cute baby fix

If you were needing one, here it is.
And I was needing one.
Apologies to my Facebook friends, who have already been inundated with a gazillion gratuitous Elsie photos.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Cotton Jenny

Sue: Today, you are privileged to hear from my Southern friend, Jenny. 
Only two things you need to know about Jenny:
1. She is never short of entertaining words. You would love her blog. Because you love me. And we are peas in a pod.
2. She loves Johnny Depp. Inordinately.
I've been a fan ever since I first read her blog a few months ago. When I went to visit Annie, I took a little trip down to South Carolina to visit my new buddy.
Jenny, this is for you. 
I think you should make it your ringtone!

Jenny: I've learned the hard way that friendships formed and maintained primarily via Internet, no matter how much they may be based on common interests, don't always work out when they move from the cyber-realm to "real life." 

Whatever that is.

After all, there are those who misrepresent themselves on their blogs and on web sites. I guess it's easy to do when you figure the chances of a reader meeting you in person are relatively small.

But from the first time Sue Osborne commented on my blog -- just this past summer -- and I consequently became a regular reader of Nostalgic Nana, I discovered to my delight that her blog writing was unfailingly and refreshingly honest.

There is sentiment and patriotism and obvious love of the things that truly matter, but without the sugar-coating that besets so many home- and family-oriented blogs.

Because its multi-talented author is a fellow conservative and patriot, well-educated and a God-fearing lady, I found Nostalgic Nana to be a fun-loving but practical blog I could enjoy without worrying I'd wander in one day and stumble over a big pile of smarm left smack-dab in the middle of the virtual floor.

Sue is not smarmy and neither am I. At the same time, her wit is sharp and her eye is keen and her instincts finely honed. She has something I value highly: a genuine sense of humor. Like me, she loves books and music and is interested in photography, architecture, and history.

(Unlike me, Sue is an accomplished musician in her own right. The only thing I can play is a compact disc ... but in my own defense, I do it very well. I've been told I have excellent pitch.)

We're from the same generation and that's nice because we don't have to waste time explaining various and sundry things. We both were there.

We were married within a few months of one another and are both still married to the same person. Wait ... we are not married to the same person. That would be illegal. We are each married to a different person, but it's the same person we -- each of us, but separately -- married in the first place.

Also we have four children apiece. Her eldest, a daughter, is a month younger than my eldest (also a daughter), and her youngest, a son, is a year younger than my youngest (also a son). Sue's baby son is a Marine and my baby son is an Airman, and her son-in-law is in the Army, so I do believe we have the air and land and water covered. 

You may sleep safely tonight.

Between us we have nine grandchildren and I am sorry to say that seven of those are hers. But my two are worth at least five more; don't you think? So that makes fourteen and now ... ta dah! We're even.

Did you get all that? Read it again ... slowly. We'll wait.

Suffice it to say I've learned a lot from Sue already, and my guess is I'll learn a lot more before it's over. And I don't just mean great recipes, although I will say I've sampled a few and you can't go wrong there.

So naturally I was thrilled and honored when Sue, headed east from Oregon for a visit with her new grandbaby, said she'd like to venture down into "the other Carolina" and have a brief visit with me.

I already wrote about this part on my blog so I won't repeat all the stuff we did because you can read about it here.

All I will add is that I've been thinking a lot about our visit and I was so impressed with how interested Sue is in simply everything. I took her to our magnificent State House and, because I love it so much, it was fun to share it with someone who didn't have to feign appreciation of its special charm.

Here's a picture of Sue, walking into the State House:
Also I promised I'd tell you about how I fell down and hurt myself and was obliged to spend Monday evening being examined by medical professionals, so here goes.
Sue's and my next-to-last stop, in the early afternoon, was Finlay Park. This special place offers a gorgeous fountain, huge inviting swings, and a perfectly marvelous view of the Columbia skyline. 
Even though it was broiling outside by then, we decided to park and walk up to where the view is most impressive. I was carrying my car keys, my camera, and a large soft drink. 

On my feet were my beloved green-and-pink beaded White Mountain platform-wedge thong shoes that, despite being slip-ons, are very solid and very comfortable. I got them totally on sale at Marshalls early in the summer.
Also they twinkle and I'm all about that.

The last thing I remember before ignominiously meeting the ground at Finlay Park is looking down at the walkway, which is made up of 24-inch by 24-inch square paving stones.

Sue was over at the railing, taking pictures. I was walking toward the steps that lead up to the fountain level when the outside part of my left heel suddenly had nothing to step on. 

It was like stepping right off a ledge into thin air.

I went down hard on my left knee at first. My Coke and my keys went flying. I think my camera was hanging from my right wrist and it only got wet with Coke. Then with the force of falling so suddenly and having nothing to hold onto, I pitched over onto my left side.

I told you I had perfect pitch! But I regret to say I do not believe the judges granted me any style points. It was not pretty in the least.

Sue heard me cry out and she rushed toward me, appropriately horrified, and tried to help me up. My knee was shredded and I was shaking all over but I could tell nothing was broken.

It was Sue who pointed out what had tripped me. One of the 24x24 paving stones, gradually being lifted by tree roots, was two inches higher than all the other stones. My foot caught it on the high edge and that was that.

Of course my fragile ego took quite a hit but it wasn't too bad because, thankfully, nobody but Sue was there and she didn't even see me fall. She only saw the chaotic aftermath. It could have been much worse, as in, what if fifty people had been standing around? 

What if Johnny Depp had been walking through there at that very moment? Put your mind in that place with me. I know; it's unthinkable. 

I would have died of embarrassment and Sue would've had to notify my next of kin and maybe even cart my carcass over to the funeral home. I would hate to have burdened her with such details when we'd only met the night before and she needed to get back to North Carolina.

So anyway, after Sue left later that day, I went to Doctors Care and was there for nearly three hours. I had to get a tetanus shot and lots of x-rays. I had contusions but nothing was broken.

And I'm fine now, thank you. None the worse for wear. Ready for the next adventure. Looking over the crowd for volunteers. Anyone? 

Where did Sue Osborne go? Sue? Sue? Sue ...

I think she's hiding from me.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Tail of Woe

This morning, a sad face was surveying the back garden from behind bars.

He/she would appear to be a juvenile, so I'm sure the tale is not complete.

But this one is on his/her way up the mountain in the boot of Jeff's car, to be introduced to a new and more liberated way of life. Namely, not in our woodshed.
Neighbour Jim said he caught one a while ago and disposed of it with a baseball bat.
I drew the line at possum carnage.
You'll be glad to know.