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Holland America Tulip Festival

Walking the u-pick tulip field with Chloe

Have you ever been to a tulip festival? Chloe and I came upon one by chance yesterday. We were a few hours into our homeward journey from a friend’s house north of Seattle and were more than ready to stretch our legs. This festival was at the Holland America Bulb Farm in Woodland, Washington. Such a sight! So many colors and so many gorgeous varieties. I’ve seen pictures of masses of blooms, but to see it in person…

smelling the bright pink tulips

This was our first tulip farm experience. We stayed about an hour, enough to browse the garden gifts, sample some “deep fried popcorn”, sniff some different varieties and wander among the u-pick area to select the stems we wanted to take home. Of course, I also took a lot of photos. While most of our drive had been rainy, the sun just happened to come out when we arrived. For the record, I did not alter the color of these photos at all. They were truly that rich and vibrant against the gray intensity of the sky.

In the colorful tulip field

smelling the yellow tulips

I’m so glad we took the opportunity to stop. It is so easy to focus on the destination, and not take time to savor the journey. A fitting and memorable reminder to “stop and smell the roses” (- er, tulips). Don’t you agree?

 


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Photo Friday: Peach Blossoms

First, I just wanted to announce the winner of the the Elmer’s Painters and $25 Walmart Gift Card! Congratulations to latanya who said “This would be great fun for the summer!” Also, a BIG thank you to everyone who participated with a comment on the Spring Painted Flowerpot Makeover. I was crossing my fingers for 40 entries, but ended up with over double that. Awesome!

Now, back to the photo above -  two pink blossoms from our young peach tree. While not as showy and profuse as the plum blossoms, they are still special. Each of these little flowers is capable of transforming into a delicious piece of summer fruit. This will be our third summer with this tree. We plan to move it out of its container and hopefully find it a permanent home in the back yard.

Proper pruning technique still eludes me, but one thing I learned last spring was to thin the amount of growing fruit. This is done by rubbing off over half once they are about the size of cherries. Thinning allows for better spacing and lets the remaining peaches grow to an edible size. Its silly, but I found thinning to be somewhat sad. Pruning is like cutting hair to me. I get that. But rubbing off all those little hopefuls… well that was different. However, the results were sweet, small-to-medium-sized peaches, so it was definitely worth it.

I guess that’s a lesson that applies to life in general, right? Some things are hard to do (like exercising, or practicing a skill, or raising children), but doing so is rewarding. Food for thought (ha!).

Have a great weekend everyone!


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Plum Blossoms

plum_blossoms

Did you know it will officially be spring next week? I’m so glad! We’re seeing signs of it throughout our neighborhood, little splashes of brightness here and there – daffodils, crocus, candy tufts – and our daphne smells divine! But most of all, I love seeing the plum blossoms start to open. Every year about this time, I take a moment to bust out the good camera and document the opening of their tiny pink buds. So sweet and serene and lovely.

This plum tree is actually in our neighbor’s yard. A few years ago she allowed us to dig up a runner that we placed it in a pot. It hasn’t gotten much bigger, but just last week David planted it in the back corner of our yard. Someday we’ll have plums! I’m looking forward to it.


Taken with a Canon T4i, 50mm 1.4

 

 


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Christmas (Yuletide) Camellia

20121208-163043.jpg

Our christmas camellia is beginning to bloom! Must mean we’re getting closer to the big day! This is our first winter with this little bush – we bought it at a local nursery this summer for its glossy evergreen leaves. But seeing the little red beauties with their bright gold stamens pop open at this unexpected time of year is really a treat! Now I wish I had chosen one twice as big! Wouldn’t it be nice to someday dress a holiday table with fresh cuttings straight from the yard? Such a neat way to add to the holiday magic. 🙂

 


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Flowering Artichoke

Have you seen one of these before? I hadn’t, until we moved in to our house six years ago. It is an artichoke that has been left to flower. Isn’t it magnificent? Kind of structural and prehistoric looking, in the way a passion flower is. A couple of months ago my mom was visiting. She picked a few, sliced and steamed them, and added them to couscous. I was pretty impressed. We had never eaten them before, and just enjoyed the flowering. They attract lots of bees, too. They burrow in between the florets as if in bee nirvana. Some don’t come out. I wonder if it is a sweet death, gorged on whatever it is they are eating in there.

The third photo shows the mystery plant that Chloe brought home from preschool earlier this summer. Turns out it is a sunflower. A giant sunflower. If I’d have known that I would not have planted it in our vegetable garden. It perplexes me that the teacher wouldn’t have chosen something smaller, but c’est la vie. I’ve kind of grown to like it. And the rest of our garden? Despite not giving it as much attention this year (with the baby and all), it is doing better than ever. Who would have guessed?


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Lavender

Our lavender is in full bloom, making all the bees and butterflies around here crazy happy. It is such a beautiful color. And the smell… gorgeous.

At the end of summer I’ll dry the stems and place the scented buds in my drawers or hanging in fine mesh bags in the closet. I didn’t get around to it last year, so I want to be extra good about it this year. There are about a million things that can be made out of lavender, too – from salt or sugar scrubs, sachets, wands, to even ice cream. So many choices, so little time.

And here’s a whole long list of lavender recipes and projects from Martha Stewart.


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Rustic Raspberry Butter Cake

It’s that time of year again for these red beauties. The sad thing is that Chloe no longer likes them. Last year was so much fun – she’d pick and eat as many as her little hands could reach. This year she’ll help pick, but that is about it. At least she still likes blueberries.

For a Fourth of July bbq at a neighbor’s house I made what I call a rustic raspberry butter cake. Simple, buttery goodness, and a great way to use up any in season fruit (I’ve used rhubarb and strawberries, too).

Rustic Raspberry Butter Cake

1 stick salted butter, softened
3/4 to 1 cup sugar (depending on fruit) + extra for sprinkling on top
2 eggs
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
sea salt
1 cup raspberries

In a mixer, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy – about 3-5 minutes. Beat the eggs together lightly and add in slowly. Mix the flour and baking powder in a separate bowl and then add it in as well. Pour mixture into a lightly-oiled baking pan and dot with fruit. Finish with a dusting of sugar and just a light sprinkling of sea salt on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until golden.


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Details

Is it really almost September? Already, the white anemones in our front yard are in bloom, the last of our plants to flower before fall and winter come. Other than the heat wave we had recently, the summer has been pretty mild. Too mild, maybe, since our tomatoes plants are still only laden with green fruit.

This has been an unusual month for me. I guess something is out of whack with my system, and my body is letting me know it. Usually I feel fine. Hopefully it is nothing to be alarmed about, but the advice nurse at the clinic scheduled some tests and an appointment early next week. At this point, I’m happy to go.

I inspect the garden every day. Although we were sad to loose our backyard trees earlier this year, the garden is flourishing. I’m often surprised by even the day to day changes, and especially the details. Take a look:

Have a great weekend!


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Today’s Randomness

:: At the gas station this morning, a guy in a new BMW 650i convertible pulled up next to me. I over heard him ask the gas station attendant for $14 of super-premium gas (btw, in Oregon, it is illegal to pump your own gas). Then he proceeds to ask the low-wage attendant if the gas there was any good. Not watered-down is it?

:: On the way to the store, I saw a license plate that said SIMRDN.

:: At the store I paid $5.99 for an ice cube tray, because David really wanted one and it was all they had. Granted, it came with a lid, but $5.99 for a molded piece of plastic?

:: At that same store, I saw a woman shopping with three kids. The boy was sitting in the shopping cart, the younger girl was sitting on the cart’s seat, and the baby was in a carrier on the mom’s chest. All three were calm and content, so much so, that the mom was also able to talk on her cell phone. I almost stopped for a second just to stare in admiration. But I couldn’t, because my one daughter was feeling fussy and constantly trying to climb out of the cart seat. It was all I could do to handle one toddler while shopping, but three? What’s her secret?

:: Later in the afternoon there was a knock at our door. It was our neighbor and her boys pulling their little red wagon behind them. They had picked blueberries off their bush and was going around “delivering” bowls of some of their harvest. Isn’t that the sweetest thing? Thanks to them we had a berry rhubarb crisp for dessert tonight!


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Little Garden Visitors

Chloe and I play out in the back yard almost everyday. This year, early in the season, we bought several flats of fund-raiser plants from a neighbor. The growing color back there is wonderful! I’m also happy to report several mini-green tomatoes, zucchini, grapes and green beans peeking out from under their abundant foliage.

Yesterday, we saw an unusual amount of butterflies visiting our yard. Their drunken fluttering makes Chloe nervous, so she likes to have me close by. Unfortunately they were practically impossible to photograph. So we turned our attention to these little garden visitors instead…

Honey bee, back legs laden with pollen
Male “12-Spotted Skimmer” dragonfly, back view
Mason bee (I think)
Male “12-Spotted Skimmer” dragonfly, front view


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Ode to Berries

Ah, berries. Such beauty and flavor in each jewel-like morsel. There seems to be as many photos of berries floating around the ‘net right now as there are of changing leaves in the fall. And why not? They pretty much have everything going for them.

It has been a remarkable year for our backyard raspberries. They are not as large as the ones from the farmer’s market, but they are sweet and abundant. In the past they haven’t been as plentiful, or we were away while they ripened. This year we’ve eaten quite a few and are freezing several batches for later. Our method is to place a single, unwashed layer on a baking sheet covered with a silpat or waxed paper, making sure that most are not touching (discarding any bits of debris), freeze them until solid, and then place the marble-like frozen berries into a gallon size freezer bag. We give them a quick rinse right before use. We do this for raspberries, blueberries and blackberries and enjoy them in smoothies and desserts (see our berry rhubarb crisp recipe) throughout the year.

Interested in picking your own berries? PickYourOwn.org lists farms and orchards by state, as well as offering canning information and recipes.


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Farmer’s market

Yay for the farmer’s market! We went on our first visit of the year today. As usual, it was great fun wandering the many stalls, meeting up with friends, watching our kids stain their faces with fresh berries, and basking in what felt like the first real sun of the season. Also, Chloe is now old enough to enjoy the fountain, and Lorenzo was good enough to show her how it’s done. They had a grand time.

Maybe it was all that sun, because I feel wiped out! Thankfully, we got the last of our veggie starts in the ground today. Now we just wait for the delicious bounty that is sure to come (that is, if the slugs don’t get to them first!).


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Berry Rhubarb Crisp

Another week has gone by. Although there’s been a little rain, this week has been mostly sunny and beautiful. Chloe, Barkley and I have been spending some of every afternoon outside. All of our raised garden beds sit at the ready with rich, dark layers of compost. The rhubarb fills the back of the middle bed and they are already so big! It’s like they sprung up over night. I’m getting an early start on them this year by adding fresh rhubarb to frozen berries remaining from last year, and throwing some of this topping on it. Tastes like summer already.


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Gone

Our next-door neighbor had a heart attack last week. He died yesterday. We will miss him. He was quite old, but it is still a shock. Now we wonder what will become of his little house, and have our fingers crossed that another good person moves in. Our other next-door neighbor is also in her eighties, but her son lives with her. We had a little scare last summer when she came over with blood on her face and shirt and David rushed her to the emergency room. You just never know what is going to happen.
……
Remember the fallen trees in my backyard? And our worry that two of our neighbors remaining dying trees would fall on our house? Well, they are being removed as I type. Thank goodness. Now I might be able to sleep during windy nights, instead of lying awake, worrying that one will come crashing down on our house. That makes 11 down or removed trees. What used to look like this is now nothing but a large expanse of sky.
……
David built another raised garden bed in the backyard, where one of the fallen trees once grew. Since there is nothing to block the sun anymore, we are going to try to make the most of it. We’ll plant our usuals – tomatoes, zucchini, green beans, cucumber, basil, green onions, carrots and various herbs. But this year David wants to try leeks and garlic, and I’m considering eggplant and cantaloupe again.
……
When my mom was out here, right after Chloe was born, she bought me two little potted cyclamens. One died, but the other hung on for over a year. Then it, too, finally died. I put it out on the back patio while cleaning one day and then forgot about it for a while. Last week I noticed it hadn’t completely died after all. There were a couple new shoots sprouting. I’ve brought it back inside again and hope I’ll be more mindful of it this time, and try to remember to water it more often.


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Garden Fresh Tomato Basil Soup

Compared to last year, we’re having much better luck with tomatoes in the garden this year. We’ve got one each of Roma, Marzano, and Early Girl, plus a few volunteer cherries, which I believe are Sun Gold. Mostly we eat the tomatoes sliced (except the cherries, which we just pop in our mouths), sometimes with salad dressing, topped with a bit of feta and herbs, or simply a dash of salt and pepper.

David spent a portion of the afternoon working in our barely accessible crawl space putting up insulation, and when he came out he said he couldn’t wait to see what delicious meal I was going to cook up for dinner (hint, hint). So, considering the fact we haven’t gone grocery shopping in a while, there wasn’t much to work with except the garden.

In a big pot, I sauteed a yellow onion in olive oil until somewhat clear, then threw in maybe 4-6 cups of chopped tomatoes, 2 cups of chicken stock and a loose handful of chopped basil. It simmered about 30 minutes or so, before I added salt and pepper and pureed it in a blender.  Then I strained it through a fine mesh sieve to remove any lingering tomato skins. Before serving I added a dollop of heavy cream and a drizzle of balsamic glaze. Paired with just-baked cornbread (packaged Trader Joe’s is my easy favorite), it was good to the last drop.


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Green Tomato Recipes


Green Tomato Soup
from epicurious.com and Fried Green Tomatoes from allrecipes.com

We are definitely in the midst of fall. The cloudy, rainy days have come, bringing along the chill wind and damp cold. The grass has greened back up, but many of the other plants and flowers are struggling to take their final breath. Most everything in our vegetable garden is done, except for a few evergreen herbs, some straggler carrots, one last zucchini and our poor tomato plants, heavy with unripened fruit.

In the hopes of using up some of our green tomatoes before the first frost, I’ve been looking for some good recipes. Last night we tried Green Tomato Soup, which was actually delicious despite my initial skepticism. I used bacon instead of ham, and also added a small zucchini. I’ll probably make another batch of it today. (Edit: Actually, instead I made the Green Tomato Spice Cake which turned out also surprisingly good. Moist and tasty. I omitted the raisins, and reduced the sugar by a 1/2 cup because someone in the recipes’ comment section said it was very sweet. For fun, I also made the cream cheese frosting from the other cake recipe. Very good!)

Here are some other green tomato recipes I’ve bookmarked to try:

Fried Green Tomato, Mozzarella and Basil BLTs
Green Tomato Spice Cake
Green Tomato Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Baked Green Tomato Casserole
Broiled Green Tomatoes with Goat Cheese (or Feta)
Best Fried Green Tomatoes
Green Tomato Soup

Does anyone else have any good green tomato recipes to share?


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A lazy, sunny weekend


ceanothus ‘victoria’ & heather ‘c.d. eason’

lithodora ‘grace ward’ & yellow swallowtail butterfly on wallflowers

It feels like it has been a while since we’ve enjoyed an entirely sunny weekend. On Saturday we took a ride out to our favorite nursery (again!) to pick up some color for the two bare spots still left. We decided on shade tolerant impatients for under our front yard japanese maple, and a contrasting mix of spreading blue lithodora and rich magenta heather to add color to the back border of our “round” garden. The only spur-of-the-moment purchase was a lovely blue flowering evergreen called ceanothus victoria. We just couldn’t pass it up, and used David’s 30% off coupon on it. No idea where it’s final resting place will be just yet, but it needs full sun

On Sunday morning we woke up early and decided to head out to Ikea. We weren’t looking for much – a couple replacement 365+ square plates that mysteriously got chipped, a cushion for my office chair, two small vases and a couple of other kitchen and house gadgets. It was also a good opportunity for us to look at the nursery furniture. I thought I’d pick up some fabric, too, but nothing really appealed to me this time around. And if you ever find yourself at Ikea in the morning, their $1.99 breakfast is a tasty value (scrambled eggs, bacon, sticks of crispy french toast and breakfast potatoes).

The butterfly photo was shot moments after we pulled into our driveway. With our side garden in bloom, we always take a moment to admire the flowers when we get in or out of the car. This butterfly was taking a quick dip into our wallflowers and I was able to snap just a few pics before it fluttered away. The rest of the day was spent reading, helping David briefly while he installed irrigation to our vegetable garden, and a quick run to the grocery store for some Ben & Jerry’s and other staples. A sweet way to end the weekend.


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Garden Fresh Rhubarb & Meringue

This is our first year harvesting stalks from our three rhubarb plants. We planted them from root stock early last year, and were advised to let them just grow on their own, untouched for the first year. Unknowingly, the rhubarb variety I chose is called Victoria, which produces “medium-sized stalks, excellent in quality and flavor.” What disappointed me at first, though, was that this rhubarb turned out to be green and not red, like I had come to expect from grocery stores and farmer’s markets.

So far I’ve only made strawberry rhubarb crisps with our plants, but yesterday I was feeling a little more creative and decided to make meringues. I’ve always admired these (the crispy kind, not to gooey soft kind) as cookies and in cakes, but have never made them myself. I was surprised at how few ingredients were needed, and how a mere two egg whites could whip up to be more than triple its original size.

My original idea was to pour a strawberry rhubarb dessert mixture into the bottom of individual ramekins and then top them with “lids” of meringue. However, even though I traced the ramekins containers faithfully onto my parchment as a template, the meringue disks ended up spreading out larger than the mouths of the ramekins. Instead we just placed a meringue on a small dessert plate and ladled some of the strawberry rhubarb sauce on top. Sweet, sour, rich, light, crispy and delicious!

I used the meringue section of this recipe and saved myself the work by using our Kitchen Aid mixer with the whip attachment. Although, the process still takes some patience, because it takes over 2 hours from start to finish.


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Corteo


Sweet pink plum blossoms from our neigbor’s tree

Last night we went and saw Cirque du Soliel’s Corteo with our friends Alex and Marcy. I don’t know how Portland ended up on the North American tour, but I am so glad because it was AWESOME. One of the best traveling shows since Allegria. If you have an opportunity to buy tickets – DO IT! You’ll be glad you did.

In other news, spring is really beginning to show her face around here. Our yard has multiple spots of color and blooms – bright pink primroses, purple hyacinths, mixed anemones, pale pink daphne, and even our rhubarb has burst upon the scene. Yesterday we even picked up several pots of primula to fill near the front steps and two gardenias (for where, I have no idea). The thing I can’t figure out is why my spinach seeds haven’t sprouted in the garden yet. Am I just being impatient? Maybe something has eaten them or the seeds were no longer viable? I guess only time will tell.


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My little patch of dirt

Another beautiful, mostly sunny weekend. We spent some time amending our raised garden bed and raspberry canes with organic compost, planted a row of spinach and removed two of our four grape vines. The previous owners planted them way too close together and they have yet to produce any truly edible clusters of fruit. That is the hardest part, taking out established plants, with no place to transplant them. Hopefully this will allow the two remaining vines to flourish. With grapes, almost 90% of the vine needs to be cut back every year and canes only fruit their second year. I know I’ve been too much of a softie in the past, but I hope to do better this year.

Meanwhile, we decided to try starting plants indoors with a grow light. We may have started too early, but the little seedlings are doing really well. Here’s hoping for a bountiful and early harvest!

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