Sleeping Beauty Gets Power Tools

Thanks to the miracle of 20 volt rechargeable lithium batteries, I now have my own weed whacker and hedge trimmer. It’s high time.  After 17 years in this house, the woods are reclaiming the property.   We’re close to the Sleeping Beauty scenario in which I (the Beauty) fall under a magic spell (my bed) and sleep for a hundred years (totally possible) waiting for the handsome prince (aka Maywood Man)  to hack through the enchanted forest to save me with True Love’s Kiss.

Yeah, well, I’m not exactly holding my breath here.  Thirty-five years of marriage has taught me that Maywood Man is going to spend the next 100 years fixing some tractor or other and never get around to hacking down the enchanted forest. If you don’t believe me, check out John Harp’s Ferguson tractor video, going positively viral on YouTube. (Or it will once my viral readership clicks on it! )

Meanwhile, next door, my 90-year-old mother-in-law can be heard weed whacking nearly every day.  If she can weed whack, I can weed whack. I just need the right tool.  Not one of those heart attacks on a stick…you know, the gas-powered model with a pull cord that was clearly invented by a guy trying to prove his manhood. No.  And not an electric one.  The yard is too big.  (That doesn’t stop Nana, though.  My father-in-law strings a bazillion extension cords together and she whacks all the way across the yard, somehow without whacking the cord into pieces.)

With a battery-powered weed whacker I can go all the way to the field and whack around the blueberry bushes.  It’s great! But giving me a power tool is a like giving a five-year old scissors….wow, the things to be cut! There is so much to cut that I soon realize I need power hedge trimmers.  A weed whacker can only do so much. Ah, now, with my own little girlie chain saw wanna-be, I’m like my mom with hair clippers.  Bzzz, buzz.  I begin with big slicing hacks.  Once I can see the trees, I can get a little more subtle.  Bzzz,  a little here.  Bzzz, a little there.

I think of our neighbor when we were growing up, Mr. Lapres.  Mr. Lapres was a real World War II  hero.  One of the famed Rangers of Point du Hoc, he lost a leg at D-Day.  But when I was a kid, he was a hero to my brothers by setting a stool in his driveway and buzz-cutting all the boys’ hair. He had 3 sons, I had 4 brothers, my cousins across the street had 3 boys. It was a veritable barbershop in his driveway.  He saved my brothers from my mom and the hair clippers.  Bald was not a fashion statement back then.  And bald spots will never be a fashion statement, I hope. Yeah, Mr. Lapres was a hero.

I am no Mr. Lapres.  I hack and whack and buzz until Mother Nature and  my body scream, “Stop already!”  I come inside for water.  My hands can barely hold the glass.  My arms rebel at bringing it to my mouth.  In this condition, I may starve to death.  A tractor drones in the distance.  I think I might just close my eyes for a bit.  And maybe my handsome prince will pick up all the debris I left in the yard.

http://daretodream.typepad.com/.a/6a00d8341c007f53ef01348491c7e2970c-pileeping beauty

Sleeping Beauty

Zzzzzzzzzz.

 

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In summer we gather, but we don’t gather chocolate

Cucumber Pear Gazpacho with Mint

Cucumber Pear Gazpacho with Mint

My daughter asked her two year old for dinner ideas because she was, yes, that desperate for help.
“Emily, what would you like for dinner?”
“Chocolate!”
If it were the middle of the hectic teaching year instead of the middle of summer, my daughter might have gone along with it.

Ah, but it is summer.

What I am loving about food planning right now is that it is based on what is growing at Maywood. (Or hereabouts!)  Instead of pondering all the choices of all the foods from all over the world that are all on display at Wegman’s, I start with the mound of produce on the counter and in the fridge.

It’s so much easier! Give me three little choices. I can handle that. Even a two year old can handle that.
“Emily, what would you like for dinner: zucchini, pickles, or roasted beets?”
And her answer will be, “Chocolate!”
(Ok, I made that up. Emily would totally eat any of the above, but we discovered Emily’s fixation with chocolate when she spied a closed box of fudge at our house.  She can’t read.  There were no pictures of candy on the box.  “Is that chocolate,” she asked.  “I looooove chocolate!”)

Emily looooves chocolate.

Emily looooves chocolate.

Admittedly, I will not be so optimistic about meal planning when my choices are limited to butternut squash, acorn squash, or pumpkin, and I may be tempted to add chocolate to all of them, but for the moment we are eating really well.
Last night’s meal was as good a meal as one we experienced at an upscale farm-to-table restaurant on vacation recently. In fact, the search for gazpacho recipes came from a delightful Cucumber Pear Gazpacho that was served at the Ebbitt Room in Cape May.  The one I made is not their recipe and I would love to have it!  In the meantime, I will search and tweak.

Here’s what we ate last night:

First Course:

Cucumber Pear Gazpacho with Mint

Entree:

Grilled Pork Tenderloin

 Roasted Beet Salad with Feta,

Corn sautéed with White Wine, Dill and Lime.

Dessert:

 Fresh Blackberry Tart

The cucumbers and mint came from the garden. The pork was already in the freezer. The corn was leftover from a grandkid cook-out/bonfire the night before. And the beets (already roasted!) were from my daughter’s garden. I picked the blackberries in the back yard. My grocery run for that meal was for Greek yogurt and almonds, and I’m thinking I could have used the non-Greek yogurt I had on hand and maybe eliminated the almonds.

Summertime at Maywood brings out the little pioneer woman in me. John hunts and plants while I gather. I gather berries and gourds and then gather recipes online. Instead of scouring the limitless possibilities of “what should we eat?” I ponder “what do we have?” and “how should we eat it?” It’s so much fun to see the abundance of what we already have and make something of it.

And I delight in the time to do it. Once the hectic school year starts, if I do not have summer stored in a jar or a freezer bag, I am likely to join little Emily in eating chocolate for dinner.

Here’s the recipe for Cucumber Pear Gazpacho from Cookthink.com.

Ingredients:

1 cup blanched, unsalted almonds, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup water
3 medium cucumbers, chopped
1 cup Greek yogurt (preferably 2%)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
10 mint leaves, sliced
1 Bartlett pear, diced

In a food processor (or blender), pulse the almonds, garlic and salt until finely ground.  Then add the water, cucumbers, yogurt, lemon juice, mint, and all but 2 tablespoons of the pear.  Pulse until combined.  Top each bowl with diced pear. 

The gazpacho really needs to be served COLD. The leftovers I had the following day for lunch had the benefit of a good chill and blended flavors. So, even though it is quick to make, it is best not made at the last minute.
I bought non-fat plain Greek yogurt but had whole milk regular yogurt on hand. I might try that next time. The recipe called for almonds chopped in the blender. They chopped into a nice fine powder but still gave a gritty feel to the soup. I didn’t care for that, so I wonder about eliminating the almonds altogether or maybe substituting almond milk for the almonds and the water.
Who wants to experiment and get back to me on that?

Berries and Bugs

In addition to blueberries, the wild blackberries,  brambles, and raspberries are ripening.  The bugs on those berries eat ME.  My competition for that fruit is the deer.

In addition to blueberries, the wild blackberries, brambles, and raspberries are ripening. The bugs on those berries eat ME. My competition for that fruit is the deer.

It took a couple of weeks for the Japanese beetles to discover the blueberries. For those couple of weeks I blissfully picked a daily supply of berries, rejoicing in the amazing abundance of them. After three years of waiting, the bushes were loaded with fruit and every day or so just enough of them ripened just for me.

And then one day I spied a shimmering iridescent bug chomping on one of my berries. How dare he! He has all of Maywood to eat! Stay off my berries! And then I noticed them everywhere. On the wild grapes. On the coneflowers. On random weeds. Ok, they can have the weeds. And maybe even the wild grapes, which do not usually amount to much.

But the berry battle had begun.

What to do about the beetles? I know NOT to buy a Japanese beetle trap. Those bags on stakes just announce to the beetles where the party is. Sadly, the garden wisdom I encountered indicated the futility of trying to eradicate the pests. Effective beetle “management” involves disrupting their life cycle. Using milky spore to attack the larva can take three to five years. Oh my. And there is the dilemma of where to apply it. It is unrealistic to apply milky spore to all of Maywood.

Step one in disrupting the beetle life cycle is to prevent adult beetles from reproducing.  This requires menial labor.  This involves chemistry. This requires battle equipment. And a little bit of bug psychology.

The age old tried-and-true method for battling Japanese beetles is to individually plop them into a container of soapy water. It is so age old that half a century ago my husband’s grandparents (who bought Maywood in the first place ) used to send him outside to pick off the beetles. Yeah, the beetles have been here that long.

The chemistry involves the soap which breaks the surface tension of the water so that the beetles can not float on top of it. They sink and drown. Rather rapidly. The process is long enough to watch but not so long that it sucks the life out of your day.

That said, Mom and I wasted a few minutes of our lives staring into a plastic bowl of drowning beetles one evening. We would wish those moments back but it was such a special bonding moment.
Mom (staring at drowning beetles): I can’t believe we’re standing here doing this.
Me (head to head with Mom staring at drowning beetles): Yeah.

Right. So, I now carry two containers with me on my daily walk to the blueberries:

  • 1. My berry box–a lovely ceramic replica of a cardboard berry box, the kind that has been replaced by lidded plastic boxes that rip the skin off your fingers when you open them. I bought it at Anthropologie for $14 and it makes me happy.
  • A plastic tub from Wegman’s olive bar, empty now of olives but filled with water and a squirt of dish soap.

The best time to pick beetles is in the morning because they are slower then. (Kind of like me.). I don’t actually pick them. I sort of push them, holding the water under so they fall into it. However, if one is actively chomping a berry, flicking is a bit more effective. At each bush, I look for beetles first, because picking a berry will shake the beetle into flying away. I don’t want it to go away; I want it to die.

Killing the adult beetle hopefully prevents it from laying eggs at the base of the plant so that larva won’t emerge next spring. And it keeps the invaders from chomping on more berries. Beetles (like college students) tend to go where the popular party is, so diminishing the size of the blueberry party discourages other beetles from showing up. Tossing away the beetle-chomped berries minimizes the smell of party food which is so attractive to us all. Leaving dead beetle carcasses at the base of the plant may also be effective (dead bodies deter most party-goers), but I’d rather not risk a potential bug resuscitation.  Most importantly, one must show up regularly to pick off the trouble-makers.  Going away for the weekend is an open invitation to trouble.

In the battle for the berries, the one with the most berries wins. And for the moment that happens to be me.

 

In search of green

St.  Paddy’s Day is upon us along with another Winter Weather Advisory for 2-5 inches of snow. Since it’s likely the only green I’ll be seeing tomorrow will be on my shamrock scarf, I go outside this dismal afternoon to look for green.

A dreary place to look for green

A dreary place to look for green

It’s not that I expect to find the riotous bloom of tulips and daffodils.  I just want signs of life. The predominant color outside appears to be dead leaf/mud brown.  Show me the  green. Pleeeese.

I look in the usual places.

The periwinkle hides under a brown blanket of leaves until I rake it away for instant spring.

I know I can always rake the periwinkle for a green pick-me-up.

I know I can always rake the periwinkle for a green pick-me-up.

Tentative daffodils ask, "Is Winter gone yet?"

Tentative daffodils ask, “Is Winter gone yet?”

Daffodils hide with the periwinkle. They peek up tentatively. Daylilies along the windblown and heavily plowed driveway look vulnerable to the elements as they emerge.  Teeny tiny promises of the lush green to come.  But so tiny and cheerless. I need more green than that.

Daylilies look vulnerable to the forecasted snow.

Daylilies look vulnerable to the forecasted snow.

Arborvitae is green.  And holly.  I decorate with them for Christmas.  I don’t want to count them. That  green isn’t “good enough.”  I want the promise of spring.

Because I’m zooming in on one color, I spy hints of greenage in the underbrush.  Oh, a vine.  With thorns. I don’t like thorns.

Vine...with thorns

Vine…with thorns

Moss...and a chipmunk hole.  Alvin!!!!!!

Moss…and a chipmunk hole. Alvin!!!!!!

Moss is green.  We have a fair amount of moss because our yard is highly acidic and moss seems to like it better than grass does.  The thing is, moss is kind of nice.  It’s soft.  And when the sun warms it up, it’s a lovely green. The only problem with moss is that it is not  grass.  But it isn’t trying to be.

Rhododendron braved the winter and came out ready to bloom.

Rhododendron braved the winter and came out ready to bloom.

Rhododendron leaves are green.  They are always green.  Here they sit with buds waiting for spring.  Good ol’ rhododendron.  Always there.  Oh, now I wish I had taken their picture in the bitter cold of an ice storm when their leaves were curled in on themselves. They looked miserable then.  And now I take for granted the buds that will offer glorious red blooms in May.

I’ve been reading Ann Voscamp’s One Thousand Gifts in which she takes up a friend’s dare to chronicle one thousand things she can be thankful for. My search for green parallels her search for graces.  The grace that is too small.  Or too hard to find.  Or too ordinary.  Or too thorny.  But there all the same.  Like the rhododendron.  If one cares to look at it.

So where is the green, the sign of life?  It’s all around me.  It’s in the promise of spring popping up timidly from winter.  It’s in the vines coursing like arteries with warming earth.  It’s in the evergreens that stand faithfully through winter.  It’s in the moss, covering the nakedness of the impoverished soil.

And I’m reminded of the prayer of St. Patrick, “The Breastplate of St. Patrick,” the grand prayer for God’s protection (and worth a read in its entirety, so click on the link):

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity
Through belief in the threeness
Through confession of the Oneness
Towards the creator…

Christ to protect me today…
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left
Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit, Christ where I arise
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

Green.  It’s not just for Christmas.  It’s not just for coloring beer.  St. Paddy’s Day is a reminder to be wearin’ it…even if it snows.

There is green in there.

There is green in there.

The lazy gardner: Drying hydrangeas in September

These were actually cut in August and abandoned (on purpose) in the music room.

If  I were a proper gardener, I would not be drying hydrangeas in September.  A proper gardener cuts blooms at their very peak, preferably in the morning of a beautiful dry sunny day.  For hydrangeas, that would be in late June or early July.  I know of one proper gardener who takes those perfect blooms and plops the stems into a bucket of anti-freeze.  The flowers soak up the anti-freeze and are preserved in their perfect summer state.  Or so I’m told.  I haven’t actually tried it.  A proper gardener also dead-heads spent blooms and trims the bushes back at the right time of year.  That would mean that hydrangeas in September should be cut back and absolutely, positively shorn of all their now-faded summer glory.

But I’m not a proper gardener.  I didn’t dead-head the blooms because they still had color in them.  They weren’t all black and crusty like the cone-flowers or black-eyed susans.  Plus it was hot.  When it’s hot, I’d rather sit on the porch beneath a circling fan and sip iced coffee (preferably laced with kahlua).  So forget about actually cutting back the overgrown bush.  Ack!  That would work up my sticky perspiring glow into an actual froth of sweat.

Overloaded hydrangea

So now it’s September and the cone-flowers and susans are looking ready for spooky Halloween centerpieces.  The hydrangea bushes look like they have been on steroids and plan to take over the planet.  There are actually little baby hydrangea bushes growing and I would love to (get my husband to) dig them up and plant them in other beds, but I have to trim the overgrowth to find them again.  (This I will do myself. If you have seen how he trimmed the lilacs, you would understand.)

Step one is to harvest the leftover blooms.  They are no longer the pure blue that inspires wedding bouquets.  They are turning like leaves into autumnal hues of purple and green.  They won’t go icky brown until after the first frost.  Now is the perfect time to just snip and decorate with them.  I cut the blossoms and arrange them right into the basket.  No water.   Nothin’.  I put the basket in the hallway.  Ta da. Done.  A week later the soft autumnal flowers are dried crispy but retain the same color.

Lest you think I am overly clever, I began drying hydrangeas by accident.  And often, if I am successful, it is because the magic drying fairy has taken pity on me.  The first time I dried hydrangeas, I cut some flowers, put them in water in a vase and put the vase in the music room.  And completely forgot about them.  Um…I do this a lot.  Some flowers don’t mind this.  I have a vase of pretty yellow roses from my orthopedic surgeon that dried quite nicely.  Usually, though, I end up with vases of dried twigs sitting in oogy water with goopy leaves.  The hydrangeas, however, looked great.  I decided after that to leave all the hyrangeas in their vases until dry–and I ended up with a lot of shriveled up hydrangeas.

After much trial and error, I have figured out some general principles to lazy hydrangea drying.

No direct sunlight in the hallway…a good place for drying.

  • Let them dry on the plant until they no longer have the original color, but before they look like toast.
  • Trim off all leaves.
  • Once inside, put the flowers in a dark room, out of sunlight.  This is where a log home is not only the perfect venue for showcasing dried flowers, but also to dry them.  With wood ceilings and surrounded by trees, it is dark inside.  My house has the perfect conditions for drying flowers.

This was a good blooming year. (Or should I go Brit and say “a bloomin’ good year”?)  I have baskets full of dried blooms to show for it.  But only because the flower fairy was nice to me.

These were cut a week ago and are now dry.