Saturday, June 30, 2007

Eating Over the Sink Season has Begun

But Mama I Want One: this little hand snuck into the picture.

These are Paul's Pride white peaches. They're the first to come on the scene, though admittedly "the scene" usually starts a couple of weeks from now. We've had a lot of hot, dry weather, so the plants and trees are stressed. I thought this worked to my advantage when I canned some strawberry jam a couple of weeks ago: the berries were small and VERY fruity, making some beautiful ruby-colored stuff. And I guess I am not complaining overmuch that Peach Season has begun in earnest. These white ones are great to can, too. Better get the pots out...

Friday, June 29, 2007

Salad days

If we ate them three times a day, I doubt we'd make a dent in the salad offerings around here. I dream of these days in winter.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Meet Lily

Dogs are as hard to photograph as chickens

As a kid, I had wild notions of becoming a veterinarian when I grew up. (I also thought that I would eat dessert first once I "got big.")

Here's Lily. She's our new Australian cattle dog, or Blue Heeler. She's about 2, and was pretty badly abused. Penny is our first cattle dog, with a similar history. Penny had never been an only dog, though, so I thought she might need a friend.

Of course when you get a dog from a breed rescue, you're usually getting A Lot Of Work. And Lily needs a lot of work. The breed is a very intelligent one, though, and she is old enough to have all her faculties, so I believe she'll be relatively easy to train. She, unlike Penny, at least has been on a leash before, but other than that it is very sketchy: she's not housetrained, she doesn't know "sit," and she can't yet be reliably let off her leash, and she barely knows her name.

But today, for the first time ever, she was off leash. And, for the first time ever, she got to chase and retrieve something. And she brought the frisbee right back to me. (Just call me the "dog whisperer.")

I think all sentient domesticated animals just want to make a connection with we two-legged big-brained world-ruling animals, really I do.

Herding dog herding a dog (Penny is on the left)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Seven Random Things meme

Photo-averse Me, in the uniform, with Our First Egg Ever last year

Tracy at Outside tagged me yesterday for this meme. Monica tagged me for a similar meme a while back, yet that one highlighted the odd things about you; I believe I revealed a preference for eating popcorn with a fork, amongst other "tendencies." Tracy's was (thankfully) NOT odd: she chose some gardening things to reveal, and I shall follow her example.

1. My only sibling, my brother Tom, is autistic. (I am his big sister and have always been his prime defender, and many a kid who deigned to pick on him ended up getting pummeled by me.) Autism is not a disease of cute but odd children: it is a life-long disorder, and it annoys me to NO end that the only stories you hear about it pertain to cute but odd children. Autism has marked me profoundly, too: like most siblings of other-abled children, I cannot help but look at the world through the rainbow that is the Autism Spectrum Disorder. I think, frankly, that we are ALL a little bit autistic.

2. Knowing about autism, then, I understand well the need for order and habits. Regarding my gardening, there are things I ALWAYS do, in a certain order, or else I kind of run around out there like a chicken with its head cut off. (And YES I know that chickens don't really do that, but most gardeners, especially in early spring, know EXACTLY what I am talking about.)

3. I love to garden, but hate the sun. I'm Irish, and the sun and I don't play well together. So I am usually almost completely covered, and covered in sunscreen, if I am out there. Otherwise, I furtively do my gardening in the early morning or the evening.

4. Perhaps it's from all those years in parochial school, but I can definitely see the purpose of a uniform. As such, then, I don a particular uniform when I garden, and I end up looking like a game warden. The shirt is a Columbia fly-fishing number with fun pockets and the ability to air-dry. The pants (YES full pants even in 90* weather) are a pair of men's Carhartt carpenter pants that are purposely big on me. A girl doesn't want anything to bind while she's pulling weeds, you know. But I definitely need a belt after all the stuff I put in its 100 pockets. A big straw hat and some wonderful boots round it out.

5. Boots, you ask? Why, I could write a book about my Blunnies. Others have, but let me just say these Australian work boots are the bomb. They are lightweight, waterproof, breathable, and after 7 years they're a mess but they're quite recognizable as their true selves. Please note the double loop pull-on feature: this is KEY.

6. Garden tools. I feel nekkid without my hori-hori and my flat fork and my Felco. Thus, I need my belt to hold up the pants that hold the tools and keep me clean in the gaaar-den (sing with me now!).

7. Gloves. Must Wear Them. Lined in winter, the dipped washable kind in summer.

Okay. That got a little odd, but then, consider the source!

I would like to tag some other gardeners for this meme, and I will do so on your sites today... I apologize ahead of time if you've already played: I'm on extreme work overload here. OH AND DID I MENTION I HAVE PNEUMONIA? Maybe that'll be my 8th thing. I've felt sick for weeks and DING! the x-ray showed what I knew to be true. But I am not too sick to garden.

Monday, June 25, 2007

More bug love

Lucanus capreolus: Pinching Bug

Someone's found another bug she likes. Perhaps not as magical as lightning bugs, but this female pinching bug was quite entertaining to the child yesterday. I'm glad it wasn't male as their pinchers are not nearly so entertaining.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

On insect magic

Lightning bugs (or do you call them fireflies?)

Last Sunday, after too much Father's Day celebratory sugar at Grandpa's house, our child was actually awake when the lightning bugs made their evening show. It was a hot night, too; perfect for bugs of all types. As she was running around with her father positively squealing with joy, I realized she was beside herself.

There's even a philosophical tradition of this transcendent experience. Ex-stasis is from the ancient Greek meaning "out-stand": ecstacy, outstanding. (She is, of course, the latter to me; I am her mother after all.) Transcendence is somthing adults have a hard time achieving on their own without chemicals or religious woo-woo. So I was actually a touch envious of her happiness: they're just bugs, after all. Bugs with a touch of magic.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Thoughts on favorites

I love gold

So if I were to be single-minded about this gardening thing, I would have an all-gold flower bed. Gold is a tough color, though; it easily slips into yellow, so I probably would be left with the above, and some helianthus and maybe a rudbeckia or two. Maybe a sunflower, maybe some ubiquitous Stella D'Oro hemerocallus. As it is, I am simply more of a packrat, beds-wise. No monomania here.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Who's yer Pa?

Radicchio Treviso (Cichoirum intybus) blossom (looks like its ditch weed cousin, chickory; it's in the sunflower family)

As an Indiana fifth-grader, civic pride, or whatever it was, led our class to consider the term "Hoosier." One theory was that people from that state inevitably asked strangers about their origins, thus, "Who's your (fill in the blank relative)?" thus, Hoosiers. I am not sure about this, but my haughty fifth-grader self rebelled against it, mainly because it sounded Ma? Pa? Only on the Andy Griffith show.

But in the garden, the question often arises of "Who's yer cousin?" The flowers on the one finds today in the vegetable garden bear this out.

Here are two nightshade blossoms of the family Solanaceae :
Riesentraube tomato
Carola potato

And here are three from the family Umbelliferae :
Parsnips (I told you they were getting huge)
And finally, both fennel and Italian flat-leaf parsley.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

One Local Summer 2007

#1 Pea Picker and #2 Pea Stealer here at Old Vines

So~! GO MIDWEST. Looks like we've got PLENTY of interested parties willing to give One Local Summer a try this year. Liz has frankly been overwhelmed by the positive response, so we're going to close the sign-up for the internet roundup. Say what, you didn't get a chance to sign up? Well. There's always next year, kids! And of COURSE you can play along at home too!

Please stay tuned here for Monday round-ups of One Local Summer fare. I am so excited for us all. There are so many great ideas and recipes to try, so much inspiration out there...not to mention just plain good eatin'. And participants: make sure you list your sources (other than your back yards, of course) so that other local yokels can ALSO support those farmers.

Monday, June 18, 2007

One Local Summer 2007

She's local (though she's not for eating)

Hi Hello Howdy and Welcome to the One Local Summer 2007 challenge!!

So...what the heck is this, El, I thought this was a gardening blog. Well. For many reasons, many of us are reconsidering our food miles. It may be pithy to restate this, but the contents of the average dinner in North America have traveled 1500 miles to end up on your plate. That is a LOT of diesel, people! So some of us are wondering what we can do to put our dinners on a diesel diet. One answer? Find local ingredients for one dinner per week this summer. Cook with them. Blog (or email me) about it. In so doing, you will inspire others, share your frustrations, share your findings, share your...dinner.

Liz of Pocket Farm in Maine has started this challenge, and I volunteered to round up all interested Midwesterners. It is NOT a contest. You will not get kicked off the island should you fail. If you live in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota or Wisconsin, I would love for you to join. So far, we have 15 interested parties, including myself; go sign yourself up here!

The rules are fairly simple. There's a big emphasis here in Don't Sweat The Small Stuff: should you not feel so inclined to make your own salt or press your own olive oil, then DON'T. But other than the condiments, your meals should be prepared from local ingredients. What's local? That is up to you. In state. 100 mile radius. 250 mile radius. Me? I will be using a combination. Michigan, fortunately, is an agricultural state that makes most everything EXCEPT olive oil, so finding my raw victuals won't be so hard for me. Finding local food is fairly easy during the growing season most everywhere in the country. Go to Local Harvest to find sources for farmers' markets and CSAs and small farms, or Eat Wild for grass-fed and naturally-raised meats; there's also the Eat Well Guide for other tips, and the Campaign for Real Milk for local sources of milk and cheese.

We'll start next week, on Sat., June 23rd, and I will round everyone up into a blog post for Monday July 1st. This means I will need you all to have cooked and posted (on your own blogs or by email) by 6:00 EST on Sunday the 30th. Bon appetit, and happy hunting.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

On record keeping

Sometimes, I wish I could always record life in terms of coinciding botanical events. "It was redbud season when I got that new job," for example; or "Our friends came to visit when the plums were ripe." I DO recall things this way. Redbuds will later remind me of starting that job, and I will have been glad we could share our plums. And I have always admired gardeners who were assiduous record-keepers ("On April 23rd the first of the lilacs opened, and the last Kauffman tulip opened, but last year they opened on the 18th."). I am not that assiduous. Nor am I that concerned.

You see, I am a big-picture kind of person. I have always seen my life and my gardens as being much more a part of a larger whole. Dates, then, are a part of a continuum that I can either recognize, or not. This water lily, for example. It is the second one to bloom, on the second plant. I had my eye on the first, and yes, it bloomed a week ago Tuesday (and that Tuesday was the first day I saw my first lightning bug (firefly)). But this date has only (up to now, anyway) been noted in my mind, not in a book. Would I be a better gardener if I had this charted somewhere? I am not sure.

I just go with the flow.

Friday, June 15, 2007


Little wooden soldiers at work

When I lived in Minneapolis, I co-owned a couple of sailboats. (In the land of 10,000 lakes, a few can actually be sailed, and some of them were in town even.) I was much better at the important things like drink orders or boat repair routines than I was a sailor, however. One boat was all wood (a Melges C-Scow, 1968). It was held together, quite literally, with epoxy, and thus its name was the Epoxymoron.

Nowadays, well, I live on a much bigger lake. I neither have the motivation nor the deep pockets to continue my sailing habit. But I still know how to catch the wind.

This is how I do it now.

The wind is very consistent here, coming west off the lake. In no time at all, our clothes are dry and smell just wonderful. I do use vinegar in the rinse cycle to keep the towels from getting stiff, though a crunchy towel can be an acquired taste. Part of the clothesline is in the sun, but most is in the shade. And sometime around Mother's Day Tom bought us another line: an umbrella-type one. (I try hard not see the significance of buying a household item for a holiday, as he has yet to buy me a vacuum for a birthday, though for my 40th I did get a tiller....)

When we bought the house, we had the basement plumbing redone to accommodate a decent laundry room. It took a while for us to get the new dryer hooked up. (I've been a huge fan of the Whirlpool Duet line, having had them in our city house, too. Lots less water and soap used, and it spins things super dry.) We had a cloth-diaper-wearing baby then, and it was winter, then spring, before we had everything completed. We hung everything out to dry then, too, though we had to string up lots more lines in the (warm) basement. I do remember, though, that every time I would get the damned diapers on the outdoor line, it would rain. The neighbor would chuckle and call us and say, "El, we need rain, why don't you hang those diapers out again?"

Well, we're doing it again now, but it is not for lack of a dryer. Global warming has something to do with it, though.

(But I can still fix a mean drink.)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Unfashionable flowers

I confess a deep love of Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus). Very gauche of me, I am sure. Actually, I have a huge tender spot for cottage flowers in general. That they're biennials or tender perennials ups my regard for them. I am not sure why this latter category sways me so; maybe it's their fleeting nature (foxglove, hollyhock, and some delphiniums are also in this category, and I love them, too).

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

On flower gardens

The belladonna delphiniums are blooming

I realized what purpose my flower gardens serve for me.

When our first batch of chicks was small, it was such a delight to watch them, mainly because of the contrast with the mix of feelings I felt for my own chick, who was a little over two at the time. Not that babies/toddlers/small children aren't fun if they're yours, they're a delight, but there's always a bit of heightened awareness mixed in with your observation of their play. Not anxiety, exactly; it's just...mothering, I suppose. With the chicks it was simply (grandparental) fun.

The flowers? No anxiety, just delight. The vegetables, on the other hand...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Bad pet day

The source of pain (but who can blame her)

So, following up the pea post from yesterday: I harvested my second big batch of peas last night. I shelled them and left them in their bowl on the back porch's table and went into the kitchen to start making dinner. When it was time to cook the peas, I went to the porch and found the peas in their bowl, but there was a large depression in the center, and about a third of the peas were gone. "Did you eat any peas?" I yelled up to Tom. "Nooo," was the answer. I looked at the peas again. Then I noticed Nyxie sitting on a chair, washing her whiskers. (Who knew.)

I was really depressed by this, though. Such hard work. Then I thought back on the day, and the day started this way: Tom got up to make coffee. He yelled up to a still-sleeping me that Penny, the dog, had had an "intestinal event" on the same back porch, on the throw rug in front of the door. Then the child came into our room, and I heard her happy self say "Look at this toy!" and I looked to see her lift a large mouse, dead, up from the foot of the bed. It appears that Echo, the other cat, had made us an offering when we were sleeping.

I explained how, though it looks like a toy, it is actually a dead mouse, and that we shouldn't play with dead things. She was a bit sad. Then, when things were cleaned up and we went downstairs and the child saw the cat, she said "Thanks for the gift, Echo, but it was gross and we flushed it." (For the record, I did not call the dead mouse "gross," just dead.)

So we finished up dinner with the last 2/3rd of the peas, and went to the beach. That cheered me up. And maybe tomorrow, there'll be more peas, more human-destined peas, in the garden. And today, so far, the pets have left us no surprises.

Sunday, June 10, 2007


Takes longer than you think (and another piece of chicken tchotchke has darkened my door)

Timing, or rather the awareness of how long things take, is something I have to relearn every gardening season. The first time I weeded this spring I felt like it took an eternity, and I was *only* doing the herb garden (3'x20'). In actuality, what was happening is I needed to reacquaint myself with the motions. The fine motor skills, the visual assessment (weed? not weed?), and how to move through the bed (front to back? side to side?) all needed to come together. Getting those neural pathways reconnected after months of being idle took longer than I thought.

I wondered if this is what people felt like when they picked up knitting after a long time off.

Other little tasks also take some time adjustment. Do I, for example, have enough time to go pick a salad before that water boils? (No.) How long does it really take to shell enough peas for three people? (Longer than you'd think.) How long will it really take me to weed the onion bed? (How much time do you have?) Now granted, all these tasks are very pleasurable to me. Pea shelling, for example, is really relaxing; you just sit and zip them out. (But then shell bean season comes along and it's not so much fun.)

Timing-wise, there's a bit of longitudinal planning I have to do, too: for example, I know well enough how to succession plant, mainly to avoid the kitchen log jam of "what, green beans AGAIN?" that happens when I plant two varieties too close together, ripening-wise. I wish I could claim that I look at a calendar and count backward from when I plan to eat things, but I don't. It's all a bit of a mix, and when things are ripe, well, there should be no complaints because we're EATING them, again, tonight!

And then there's ripening time, or rather, "the season" for things. We've passed asparagus season and yes indeedy we did eat asparagus every night for about three weeks. Now we're into peas and lettuce, and strawberries. Fava beans will come in before the regular beans, chard before the lettuce bolts, and then from then on it's just absolutely too much of everything around here, so it is time to start freezing and canning. Canning Season. And that takes some timing, some readjustment, too.

And then, after it is all finished, I have the whole winter to dream about doing it all again.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Chick pics

Do you know how hard it is to take pictures of chickens?

I had Tom chase them around with his camera yesterday. I wanted to show you how big the chicks and guinea keets had gotten, but they weren't cooperating. (Everybody freeranges all day now.) The only one who was a ham was Bonnie, and that's only because she thought he had food.

Thursday, June 07, 2007


Spring is creeping into summer here at Old Vines. (My measuring stick for "when it is summer" is when the damned tomatoes need to be staked. I abhor that task, yet still do it willingly.)

So, Blogosphere. Please disabuse me of a misconception I (think I) have. Pictured here are the descendants of some hybrid columbines that I grew from seed some ten years ago or so; they made it into one of two buckets of perennials that I brought down from my Minnesota garden. Is it true that Aquilegia vulgaris, the European columbine, lacks the long "tails" that you see on these, and that they lack them because Europe does not have hummingbirds? If so, then I am going to have to revisit my Euro-idolatry.

My favorite columbines are the wild ones native to this country: Aquilegia canadensis and A. caerulia, or "tall reddish stringy one that self-seeds" and "beautiful low blue one I can't grow for my life."

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Those golf ball-sized things can't compare

Another good forage: this time, it's wild strawberries from the side yard.

(Note to self: if you expect to eat any of these yourself, then don't let the child carry the bucket.)

These were quite lovely over store-bought ice cream last night, and with yogurt and granola (both homemade) this morning.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

On variety

Purple Sprouting broccoli

One of the disconcerting things about industrial food production is that its methods, above all, are reductive. Go to your local grocery store even during apple season and count the types of apples you find there, for example. Is that number four, or six, or (outlandish) eight? And do you know how many types of apples are out there, fit for human consumption? I can tell you plainly that number is probably closer to eight to the eighth power (i.e., pushing 17 million) than it is to eight.

I mention this because, by growing things from seed or buying saplings from heirloom growers, our household, at least, is not beholden to the limits of Big Ag. We've got five different apple cultivars, and room for many, many more. Perhaps I am a bit of an oddball, but there are five different types of broccoli growing in the spring garden right now. There are six types of garlic, four types of onions, two of scallions and two of shallots, if I were simply to mention the allium family...though I am only growing one form of leek (poor neglected leeks). Each one has its purpose. I like the fact that we mix things up around here, that our biological footprint is a broad one. Like microbes, I appreciate the many.

I mention this likewise because traditional food cultures EXPECTED variety. I have a book that lists the forty-five different types of cabbages that the average French farmer or shopper would know; granted, this book was first published in the 1860s. But really. The world offers much more produce than that found in your local grocery store! Do you crave variety, but don't have five acres? Join a CSA and get it sent to you, support your local growers, or grow your own.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Put this in the Blatantly Honest category

The child was helping me in the garden Sunday, and she showed me a sowbug doing its rollup trick. Then she stopped and looked at me intently with a puzzled expression.

"Mama, your eyes are cracked."


"That skin, it's cracked. Does it hurt?"

It took me a minute. She meant my crow's feet.

(I consoled myself by saying well, it's a sunny day, after all...)

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Spice life

Love this place

My mind reels when I consider the term "spice trade." There is so much history in it: maritime, commercial, enslaved; financial hope for small growers; graft, usury, death. All for spices; for tiny herbs that mostly were used to mask putrid food, and also to satisfy the nobility's quest for the novel, the strange.

Our car just smelled wonderful on the ride home. It's in the Eastern Market of Detroit. Spices, why yes. Tea too. Sauces. Many dried lovelies, including Israeli couscous, beans galore, and my absolute favorite: farro. Definitely not local fare, but it fills the bill for the novel, the strange.

And it is Detroit, after all. I just want to say two words to you: Soul Food. Can there be anything better than THAT?