Saturday, April 07, 2012

G is for Goldenrod

Weeding: You may recall, if you read yesterday's post, that I like yellow and purple flowers.  One of the more controversial yellow flowers in my garden is goldenrod.  I say "controversial" because some will say it is a weed or it is an allergy sufferer's nightmare.  To that, I say, "Pshaw!" (if only because I wanted to type "pshaw")  Goldenrod, latin name Solidago, is a lovely plant, unfairly blamed for hayfever.  It has a nice upright growing habit and adds a soft golden glow of color to the garden.  I have had mine for several years and it has not spread or reseeded to other parts of the yard or even other parts of the garden bed it is in.  It is associated with hayfever because it blooms around the same time as ragweed, a very common seasonal allergen.

Don't knock it 'til you've tried it.  I would like more of it, myself.  I can't find the photos of my goldenrod but check this one out instead.  Even lovelier than mine.

Until we weed again,

Friday, April 06, 2012

F is for Forsythia and Floss flower

Weeding: The flowers in my garden tend to be shades of purple and yellow. I also have sections of red but I really like purple and yellow. E says it is for the Minnesota Vikings. I say not. I just like 'em. Early in the spring, among the first plants to bloom in my yard is the forsythia. It first gets the flowers, the branches covered with yellow petals, then the leaves come.  It, like everything else this year, bloomed even earlier than usual.  The photos were taken probably a week after it first bloomed so you can see the leaves starting to come in.  Our first forsythia was an anniversary give from my mom.  I forgot to plant it.  It died in the pot (sorry, Mom!), so I bought a new one and it has done quite well right outside the front door.  In the photo below, Oscar steps outside to pose with the yellow shrub.  Isn't he handsome?

Forsythia and Oscar, a study in warm colors
Floss flower also starts with F.  I don't plant many annuals anymore.  I am too lazy and too cheap but I do like floss flowers.  They get piles of fuzzy little purple flowers.  Grow them as a border or container.  I think they come in taller varieties too, but I like the shorter mounding type.  They are quite heat tolerant, though I have seen some of them fry when they grew too close to the asphalt driveway.

And there you have it - 2 new plants to add to your F garden.  'Cuz I know you have your garden alphabetized.

Until we weed again,

Thursday, April 05, 2012

E is for Enger

Reading: E thought the letter E should be for him.  After all, he likes food, cooks some pretty tasty dishes, helps with the gardening and supports my creative pursuits.  But he already gets so many mentions in the blog, that today E is for Enger. 

Leif Enger is a Minnesota author of the national bestseller Peace Like a River.  We read that book for book club (Sunday night book club) and then a few years later read his next novel So Brave, Young, and Handsome.  I loved them both.  Beautiful writing, terrific storytelling, characters you know and love - both novels have it all. 

Peace Like a River is told by Reuben, an 11 year old asthmatic living in Minnesota in the early 60s's.  His brother is on the lam after being controversially charged with murder.  Reuben, his father and his precocious (in an entirely lovable way) sister set out to find him.  The story is part adventure, part tragedy, part love story (in the familial sense).  There are elements of spirituality, legend and myth, poetry and history.  It is one of those amazing books that you can read on so many different levels.

The night we discussed So Brave, Young, and Handsome, I hosted book club.  It was our annual potluck so there was a lot of food, laughter and conversation, in addition to the book discussion.  I had made a playlist inspired by the book - songs about cowboys, trains, and outlaws.  This is another sort of adventure story, this time involving an old train robber and the writer who decides to travel with him in the early 1900s. Now I am not a person who loves westerns, or really is into cowboys.  Indeed I do not like horses in the least.  But the storytelling is so satisfying, the writing so delightful, it made me want to take my pony out on the range, or to hop a freight train to Kansas City, or go to a rodeo.

There you have it.  E is for Enger.  And for E.  He does make the best crispy chicken tacos and the yummiest steak with bourbon thyme sauce.  Leif Enger has never cooked for me.

Until we read and eat again,

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

D is for Dillard

Reading: I first read Annie Dillard's writing in my freshman English class in college.  I hated it.  Then I read it 2 years later, in a writing class and I loved it.  The difference was two things: my teacher and my attitude.  I won't get into the issues that I had with the first professor, but they were partly related to my attitude.  The writing class, however, was when I first really felt like a writer.  Our professor was kind and nurturing.  He gave helpful feedback and encouraged us to be open to receiving others' criticism.  The class was creative non-fiction, and it turns out that is the kind of writing I enjoy most.  I am digressing, though.  This post is about Annie.
Annie Dillard is a mostly known for her non-fiction.  She won the Pulitzer Prize in non-fiction in 1974 for her first published prose, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.  Her memoir, An American Childhood, is the type of memoir you don't see much anymore: that of a childhood not filled with abusive, neglectful parents, nor tragedy, loss and unspeakable grief, but a childhood of wonder and happiness.  Her parents are best described as quirky.  Her mother loves practical jokes and takes delight in particular words and phrases ("Terwilliger bunts one!" is one of my favorites - you must read the book to appreciate this).  Her father, when Annie is 10, quits the firm his great-grandfather had founded, and takes his boat down the river, leaving Pittsburgh for New Orleans.  Annie explores the her neighborhood, her city, and here in one of my favorite passages in the book, the library. 
"I had been driven into nonfiction against my wishes.  I wanted to read fiction, but had learned to be cautious about it. 
'When you open a book,' the sentimental library posters said, 'anything can happen.'  This was so.  A book of fiction was a bomb.  It was a land mine you wanted to go off.  You wanted it to blow your whole day. Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of books were duds.  They had been rusting out of everyone's way for so long that they no longer worked.  There was no way to distinguish the duds from the live mines except to throw yourself at them headlong, one by one." (page 83, An American Childhood)

I find something new to love every time I read this book.  Some of my other favorites by Ms. Dillard are Teaching a Stone to Talk (essays) and The Writing Life (about life as a writer).  She has incredible observation skills, and can write about even the mundane with such freshness and creativity that I can't stop thinking about it even after the book has been put away. 

“I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you. Then even death, where you're going no matter how you live, cannot you part.” (from "Living Like Weasels" in Teaching a Stone to Talk)

Pick up some Dillard today.  Read, think, enjoy, repeat.

Until we read again,

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

C is for Crepes

Eating: Okay, so I was a French major (also a math major, but that's got nothing to do with this post) and I love crepes.  I liked them pretty well when we made them in high school, carefully dipping the crepe maker into the batter, hoping it wouldn't slip off before I flipped it back over.  But I really came to love and fully appreciate all that crepes can be when I studied in France for 6 months while in college.  My first evening in Paris, we went to the Quartier Latin and I had my first street crepe.  I watched in awe as they poured out just the right amount of batter onto the flat griddle, levelling and spreading it out thin, flipping it somehow without ripping it, and spreading on the delicious Nutella.  Then they rolled it oh-so-precisely into the wax paper and received their 12 francs in exchange (now I have revealed that I was there pre-euro...)  The melty chocolate/hazelnut spread inside that delicate thin pancake...the thought of it is making my mouth water even now, 20 years later. 

I later discovered crepes equally tasty with just butter and sugar, with fruit and whipped cream, one extremely messy one with chocolate that dripped down the front of my jacket, and savory crepes.  I have yet to find the right recipe to make savory crepes on my own but my favorite combination in France strangely involved egg (I typically do not like eggs much), tomato and cheese.

Crepes are easy to make.  I either cook up the whole batch and keep them stacked (with wax paper between each one) and covered until serving, or I stir up the batter and refrigerate, making a few at a time each day until the batter is gone.  They also will freeze, I am told.  I have not tried it but if I did, I would make sure they were in airtight freezer bags with wax paper between each one.

This is the recipe I use for the batter.  I have found a small non-stick saute pan is all that you need - don't waste your money on fancy crepe griddles or the little electric one that you dip upside down like we had in French class. Directions are in recipe below.  Serve hot or cool.  You can go fancy with your filling (I have made homemade cherry sauce and caramelized apples with maple syrup) or simple (Nutella, chocolate pudding, jam, applesauce).  E loved when we toasted some slivered almonds and sprinkled them on the Nutella. Sometimes I like them with Nutella, cherry sauce, almonds and freshly whipped cream (these are not street crepes - they are eat-on-a-plate crepes).  Experiment and see what you like.

Crepes (From Betty Crocker Cookbook, aka "Big Red")
1 1/2 C flour
1 T sugar
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
2 C milk
2 T margarine or butter, melted
1/2 t vanilla
2 eggs

Mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in medium bowl.  Stir in remaining.  Beat with hand beater until smooth.  Heat skillet (butter the skillet if it is not non-stick).  For each crepe, pour scant 1/4 C batter into skillet.  Immediately rotate skillet until thin film covers the bottom (and up the sides a bit, depending on size of pan). Cook until light brown. Run a spatula around the outside edge to loosen, turn (see if you can flip it one handed!) and cook other side until light brown. Stack, placing waxed paper between each; keep covered.

Bon appetit!
A la prochaine,

Monday, April 02, 2012

B is for Boltonia

Close up boltonia (with bearded iris leaves)
Weeding: One of my favorite plants is a little gem called "Boltonia".  I discovered it in one of my favorite gardening books (Perennials for Minnesota and Wisconsin by Don Engebretson and Don Williams) and bought it at a local nursery.  It gets loads of little light purple daisy-like flowers on it and thrives in my heavy clay soil with virtually no help from me.  I have it on the west side of my garage which doesn't get sun until afternoon, but then it gets the hot hot heat.  It never wilts, I don't water it, I haven't seen any pests or mildew bother it, the deer do not eat it.  In short, it is this lazy gardener's dream  Plant some this year and see if it doesn't just cheer up a dreary patch of your garden. 

Boltonia in the background, with asters in front

Boltonia, with threadleaf coreopsis in the back

Sunday, April 01, 2012

A is for Apple Cake

Eating: A few weeks ago a friend mentioned that her son said he wanted an apple cake for his 5th birthday.  His logic was that he likes carrot cakes, but he likes apples even more than carrots, so apple cake must be even better than carrot cake.  I love 5-year-old logic.  So I offered my favorite apple cake recipe (which is also one of my favorite dessert recipes, period) as well as E's Grandma Nellie's apple cake recipe. And now I offer them both to you.  My apple cake is less cake like.  It gets a nice and slightly crispy on top.  I serve it with vanilla or cinnamon ice cream, or with freshly whipped cream.  I have not yet made Grandma Nellie's recipe (because I like my own so much, I guess) but my friend did and it was a hit.  She made a cream cheese frosting for it and said it turned out a lot like a carrot cake. Nellie's frosting sounds more like a caramel frosting to me, and therefore, sounds scrumptious.  A couple of tips: I think you could probably substitute apple sauce for some of the oil in either recipe to cut out some of the fat and Nellie's recipe says "do not sift" the flour - I never sift the flour (maybe because I am lazy?  I don't know.  I just have never in my life sifted flour.)

Fresh Apple Cake (my recipe, formerly the recipe of the woman I nannied for almost 20 years ago)
Add together: 2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 1/4 C oil
1 t vanilla
3 C sliced apples (peeled and cored, of course)
Fold in: 3 C flour
2 C sugar
1 t cinnamon
1 t baking soda
Bake 1 hour at 300 in a 13x9 pan.  Serve warm or cooled, with vanilla or cinnamon ice cream, or freshly whipped cream.

Fresh Apple Cake (Grandma Nellie's recipe - given to me by my mother-in-law)
Mix together: 4 C apples, chopped fine
2 eggs
2 C white sugar
1/2 C oil
Add: 2 C flour (do not sift)
1 t cinnamon
2 t baking soda
1 t salt
1 C chopped nuts
Bake at 350 for 45 minutes. 
Frosting: Melt 1/2 C shortening and 1 C brown sugar over low heat.  Add 1/4 C milk.  Boil 2-3 minutes.  Stir constantly.  Remove from heat.  Add 2-2 1/2 C powdered sugar.  Beat.  Add 1 t vanilla.

Nellie, I challenge you to a bake-off!
Try one recipe, try them both.  Either way, let me know what you think. 

Until we eat again,
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