Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Spring Equinox

    The Spring Equinox passed last week and the world is clearly tumbling towards the sun.  All of the Winter Greens at Sunbow are sprouting flowers and huge, lush leaves. Buds are swelling. Daffodils and Grape Hyacinth are blooming. In the woods, we find trillium, Indian plum, yellow violets, and spring queen. The fawn lily and shooting stars are up, but not yet blooming. Bleeding Heart is unfurling lacy leaves. All of the fruit trees are pink and white with blossom; the wild plum is already snowing down on the Berry Alley. The grass is growing madly—there are tufts and hummocks everywhere.

            The garden work has picked up drastically. We’re still on the twenty minutes a day mode, but it is happening every day. The spring cold frame is planted out with peas, kale, mustard, broccoli, and cauliflower. I’ve laid down seeds for lettuce and radishes in the corners. The hoop house is holding all of the alliums—leeks, scallions, and onions—and I’ll put in the root crops after the moon has crossed full, next weekend. Today, I started the greens for the summer bed: chard, collards, fennel bulbs, more broccoli and cauliflower.  The tray is sitting in the dining room next to the tomato starts. When I am not planting, I’m trimming grass or building the new trellis to surround the whole garden.

   When the sun is out, or the clouds are high and thin, rather than low and hailing, we are all outside. Both cats prowl the yard. Lucy perches on the roof of the Ark, tangled up in plum blossoms. Kayli sits on the neighbor’s roof, looking like a benevolent furry sun studying the back yard.  Mark has rediscovered the new chairs set in front of the dining room and reads in the warm light. We take long walks, pausing in the cleared open areas above town, staring out over the valley. Yes, there is still snow on Mary’s Peak and the Cascades, but the season has shifted.

            In two weeks, I’ll have bees in the hive and four new chicks in the house. One Sunday morning, we will plant five varieties of potatoes in two of the ten foot beds. We’ll move the chicken coop one more time before summer.  The light is coming and we are ready.

Greek Walnut Cake—straight from Moosewood Deserts

This is a great Springtime cake, with lots of possible variations. It works best in a nine inch spring-form pan, I think. And, most of the ingredients are local.

¾ cup ground walnuts
¼ cup butter, room temp.
½ cup of sugar
1 egg, preferably from the back yard
¾ cup of home made yogurt
grated peel of an orange and a lemon
½ t cinnamon
pinch of salt
1 cup white flour
1t BP
½ t BS

Beat sugar and butter together. Add egg, yogurt, peels, and mix. Add flour, BP, BS, and nuts.

350 oven for about 25 minutes.

While the cake bakes, juice the lemon and orange and warm the juices with half a cup of sugar. Pour the syrup over the warm cake.

This could also take whipped cream, or brandy, or chocolate….

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Daffodil Days

Beezly Bunny

The New Pope, in our backyard!

Kayli in the daffodils

Peas are planted!

Our reading spot

First bare feet of the season
We've been ill for the last week-- off stomachs, achy, deep coughs, froggy voices-- but I feel better when I am outside, poking around in the yard. This is what I saw, last Friday, as I trimmed out the vegetable gardens.

Root Vegetable Gratin--adapted from the Tassahara Cookbook

This recipe is clearly adaptable for all sorts of vegetables! The recipe called for celery root, instead of parsnip, but, we had parsnips. I think it would also be lovely with leeks or onions, carrots, probably NOT beets, but most other roots. It is clearly comfort food and perfect for a week when nothing tastes good, not even chocolate.

Equal proportions of potatoes, fennel bulb, and parsnips, diced or sliced. Layer by vegetable in a covered casserole dish, sprinkling a sliced garlic clove, salt and pepper, and olive oil over each layer (3-4 garlic cloves, total!). Cover. Bake until tender. Eat. Make again next week.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Beeswax Candles

cooling cleaned wax
One of the benefits of having a bee hive in the backyard is “free” beeswax. We've been gathering our wax for several years, working out a way to clean it sufficiently. After some experiments, Mark bought a colander from Goodwill, lined it with an old tee-shirt, and melted the comb down over a pan of boiling water. When he lifts the colander, the hot wax streams through the fabric and cools on the surface of the water. Voila! A disc of clear beeswax!  The disc lived in the larder for a year, waiting to make candles.
melting candle wax

just poured candles
Yesterday, we had our first foray into candle making. I’d already learned that all wax work should happen in the back yard, using the camp stove on the potting table. That way, no wax is ground into the floor and the neighborhood bees come by to scarf down any residual honey. We hauled the stove, straining equipment, piles of dirty comb, wax melting pot—small, with a pouring spout—empty votive glasses, plastic candle mold, and reading material outside. It was a warm and sunny afternoon. Mark tended the wax cleaning process while reading The Economist. I set up the wicks and melted down chunks of the beeswax disc. It’s pretty straightforward. Work on a flat surface—not one that tilts! Attach wicks to the bottom of the jars or mold. Hold them tight with a dowel, if you can. Pour hot wax into the molds. Let it cool for about 20 minutes, then poke toothpicks into the center—the wax shrinks as it cools and leaves holes in the candles. Watch for bubbles as warm wax slides into the gaps. Top off. Let cool completely before popping out of molds. Voila! Beeswax candles!
Final Results!

Sunday, March 3, 2013


Beeyard Hazelnut
            I love the rhythm of springtime pruning. Study the essence of the tree. Wiggle a branch to see where it leads. Move the cat. Think for a moment, then climb, balancing the loppers or saw on the branch above. Trim. Toss the branch down. Wiggle another. Think. Trim. Toss. Climb down. Reconsider. Up. Trim. Toss. Down. Move the cat off of the ladder. Shift locations. Cut out some suckers. See what appears. Clear up the brush pile around the tree.  Stop for a day. Come back another time. Wiggle a branch. Consider. Begin again. Move into the Being of the tree.


All of the trees are pruned for the season. I thinned out the compost hazelnut a few weeks ago,  turning it from a brush pile tangled in the phone wires into an airy branchy thing free from entanglements. Then I moved over to the beeyard hazel and de-suckered it, while pale golden pollen sifting down on my head. A few nips on  the blueberry and red currant bushes had them in shape. Then I moved around front, accompanied, as always, by the Lucy Cat. First, I de-suckered the plum tree create a blooming pink and white umbrella reaching over the Ark. Branches came in to be forced on my bureau in front of the mirror. I spent another late afternoon after a day of Professional Development climbing up in the fig tree, cleaning it up. And then, today, the apple tree assumed it’s final height. It has been reaching for the sky for almost ten years now and I’ve been hesitant to prune it because I love the apples so. But, this year, it had to happen.  A rain of small branches fell around the ladder as I tugged and trimmed. It is done.

Chard Gratin
The best way to eat chard, ever….

In a large cast iron frying pan, sauté   two big bunches of chard, chopped, in olive oil. Add 2 Tablespoons of flour and cook for a few minutes. A two cups of milk, slowly, cooking between each slosh. Spriinkle salt, pepper and a bit of nutmeg over the mixture, then cover with bread crumbs. Bake in the 350 oven for about half an hour, until the milk is thickened and bubbly.  Eat the whole batch in one sitting.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Sunday Night Suppers-- Febuary

Roast Veggies (fingerling potatoes, parsnips, beets) and rice

Leek and Mustard Pie, coleslaw of kale and cabbage, pickled beets
Lemon Fennel Pasta
Cabbage Gratin, new bread, fried potatoes, pickled beets
Bold means locally sourced-- within 100 miles of home