Thursday, December 19, 2013

Where do you sparkle?

Today's newspaper (yes, we still get paper copies of the newspaper.  We also have a landline. We're luddites like that) featured the annual story about holiday party dresses.
As always, I found the article a bit ridiculous (even before I realized that one of the party apparel suggestions was a sweatshirt with "Party Time" bedazzled across the chest).  And I found it a bit sad.
Sad because I have no where to wear a sparkly holiday party dress, and I haven't for 8-14 years*.
Worn on 4 different dress up
occasions, yet 1 grainy image is
the only photographic evidence 

Last summer I did manage to buy a fabulous new dress for Vegas, and managed to wear it to three other events, so dressing up is within my grasp.  But it very rarely happens, and I do so love to sparkle.

So I've resolved to attend a sparkly dress event, decked out in a sparkly dress, in 2014.

Where do you sparkle?
Where should I go to sparkle?
Who's going to join me?

*My friends in Kansas and I would throw "Sparkles" at which we would wear flashy things and drink sparkling wine, but they were never at the holidays and a new dress, except from a thrift store, would seem out of place.  Another Kansas friend threw a very classy holiday open house, to which one could wear a dress, but a lovely silk blouse and black pants was more the norm.  Despite (or because) our holiday bonus was a t-shirt, at best, working at Denver Botanic Gardens had the advantages of a dress-up schmoozing event (wear holiday velvet) and a dress up dancing event (known among my friends as the DBG prom).
Part of the reason we don't have many dress-up pictures.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Quirky is as quirky does

One of my great fears is that I am really quite pedestrian.  Not in the literal walking everywhere sense, which I would take as a compliment, but in the ordinary in not a good way sense (vulgare if we were describing a plant).
Don't get me wrong, I'm also afraid of being too weird, of being utterly incomprehensible and unrelatable. And I'm not on some "I'm above the rules" power grab; I'm just striving to be quirky.
When written this way, this embarrasses me (but apparently not so much that I am unwilling to post it for my parents, my in-laws and all the world to see).  Striving to be quirky is something that I should have outgrown in college.  I should have gotten over longings to be enigmatic long ago.
But I guess I haven't.
So I'm going to indulge them for a few minutes.
Here's a list of ten things, in no particular order, that I like and am regularly surprised to find myself in the minority about, half holiday, half not.
1. Fruitcake
2. Mincemeat pie (American spiced fruit type)
3. Eggnog
4. Greenery that grew
5. Brussels sprouts
6. Beets (parsnips, turnips, kale, eggplant, winter squash)
7. Knives and napkins on the table
8. Statistics
9. Anchovies, oysters and mussels
10. Walking

What do you enjoy that you are surprised to find others find odd?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Right Book Right Now

I just finished a book crying.  And it wasn't even particularly sad.  It was just, so, so apt.

Every once in a while, I read a book that speaks to me.  Either somehow it is my book, or transmits the message of the moment for me.

Fall in Colorado, to accompany earlier post
That my a dear friend bought be a copy of The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert is not particularly stunning, after all, it is a book about a botanist by a popular author.  That the friend stood in line for a signed copy; that I asked the friend, out of the blue, for a fun book and she happened to have my Christmas present awaiting me; that the book is about historical botanists in Philadelphia, a city about which I know something of the botanical history; that orchids are mocked and adored, that the main character deals with sexual frustration by studying mosses (an idea I thought unique to my ex-boyfriend-- "Someday I'll give up on women entirely and learn how to key out mosses"); that my hero, Alfred Russel Wallace, is also the hero of the book's heroine; that it ends with a shellbark hickory . . . that I'm wondering about hope and light and wanderings on this first Sunday of Advent, that this is but one of three Victorian botanist historical novels suggested to me within weeks of each other*.  Together is all feels so much more than mere coincidence.

It feels so very academic that the Universe speaks to me through novels about botanists, but then, what medium would be more apt?

Dianthus kept our heads in one picture
This rapturous state has me writing in italics. I've been warned about that (by Mr. Carpenter, a character in the Emily books.  Another instance of a book being written for me).  And of course, I suppose it would be far more convenient (and make for better blogging) if every time I read a book that was clearly a message, I could interpret the message (see here for at least one previous mention of failed interpretations).  But if I could interpret divine messages, my calling probably wouldn't be to be uber-rational, pragmatic, plant science teacher and an occasional party-thrower.

I'd very much like more of you to read The Signature of All Things so we can talk about it.  I think it can certainly stand on its literary merits, but I somehow doubt it is your book in quite the same way it is my book, so I don't know how much to promote it.

Meanwhile, I'd love to hear any stories of books speaking to you.  And if you'd like to join me in other tales of Victorian naturalists, *Measuring the World by Daniel Kehlmann and Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier will be read sometime "this season".

I'm counting this as a flower book for Floraganza, even though the botanical stars are the mosses, which clearly do not have flowers.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

'Tis the Season

It's that time of year again.

Time for:
Cautious students.  You may not know it, but I have some of the most cautious students in the world.  If it might snow or the rain might freeze, you can bet they would not risk harming anyone by driving to class.  As it happens, is did snow and the rain did freeze on Sunday, which had great implications for class attendance on Friday and Monday.
Sickness.  I was about to write that I can't remember the last time I had a sinus infection-cough-general sick malaise that dragged on for this long, but I can, vividly.  It was this time of year, two years ago.
Fall Photos. Hey look! The kids did dress up for Halloween.  Dianthus was a firefighter.  Aster was a bucket-head with an alligator on his shoulder (I may be his mom, but sometimes even I can only manage literal interpretations).  Hey look!  Fall happened in Colorado and Oklahoma and was gorgeous both places.  Hey look!  The Mister and I became muddy in the mud run!
Holiday Indecision and Stress  Ten days ago, back on Nov. 16, one of my Facebook friends posted a photo of her just-decorated Christmas tree because she just couldn't wait to start the season.  The next story in my news feed was a friend who is going to boycott the "Christmas Industrial Complex" entirely this year.  At the time, both positions felt a bit silly (although I will let you know, that my snowflakes are up. Maybe in 2014 I'll take them down.)-- Christmas can wait until after Thanksgiving and Christmas is lovely.  But then I start to get caught up in it.  And it is stressful.  And I want to start now.  And I want to hole up entirely.  I do care that we have good homemade pie and whipped cream that was whipped (not sprayed out of a can) on Thanksgiving. I do want to light the advent wreath.  I want my sons to have memories of baking gingerbread men with their mother.  I even want them to have memories of waking up in their own house and looking at what Santa brought on Christmas morning, but I am too timid or complacent to actually bring up that conversation.  I want to sing carols.  I love fruitcake and eggnog lattes and clam chowder on Christmas Eve and basically I love tradition.  I'm also appalled that downtown in my town is piping in loud praise music, already.  Lots of exterior decorations just strike me as obscene wastes of energy, although I've gained new appreciation of viewing lights as cranky toddler darkness time filler.
I really thought I had a point to this when I sat down to write it.  I'm struggling to find it.  Let me know what you love about the season and that I'm not alone in making my own stress (e.g. it wouldn't be nearly as stressful if I bought cookies for the cookie exchange-- but  then what would be the point of the exchange.  I could buy everyone gift cards, but I can't . . ) and on to the other things that it is time for.
Finals Ambivalence  Can't wait 'til they get her, can't believe how much we have left to do . . .
Next Year Procrastination  I assume this affects people who aren't on semesters as well, but there is a common problem among academics-- survive until finals, survive the holidays, then worry about next semester.  Except those lab orders need to be in, that grant needs to be submitted and the new class needs a new syllabus (but surely I'll do it in Colorado or Kansas).
Lighting Candles  Hanukkah starts tonight.
Being Thankful Whiny as this may list may be, I am taking time to express gratitude.  I am oh so thankful for my life of abundance, both in material things, spiritual joy, and the wonderful people who are in my life.  Thank you, beloved friends and family.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Don't let your flowers wilt

Part of the funky smell was the flowers.  The old arrangement in water that needed dumping smelled bad and the new flowers, (well, purchased new over a week ago but never arranged), added extra must.
Still life with rotting flowers, half never arranged, and a pumpkin.
I had let my flowers wilt. 
My personal symbol of joy, learning and taking time for myself had become a foul-smelling obligation.  Bleh. 
Don't let this happen to you.
The overall advice from my blog is pretty obvious: take care of yourself and seek joy in your life.
Sometimes I have a hard time following it.
But if you do find that your flowers have wilted and the water is murky; it only takes a minute to dump it all or dump and salvage. In either case, your life will smell that much better.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

We learn, we forget, we keep on learning

My travels as of when I started college
Grading exams leads to shudders and sighs about what my students don't know. Sometimes I'm sad because it was a clear teaching failure; the students did not learn what I taught them in class.  Sometimes they don't read ("anabolic" is not the same as "anaerobic" and just because a student skims the last two syllables does not make, "Which of these processes is anabolic?" a trick question).  Sometimes they don't think.  And sometimes they just don't know stuff.  They can't label a map with where potatoes and wheat were domesticated because they can't find Peru and Iraq on a map.  They can't answer questions about increases in corn yields not because they didn't learn the significant changes in corn breeding, but because they don't know when the US mid-west was settled and when World War I was.  Stuff.  Stuff American college students should just know, in my opinion.
My map now

Meanwhile, whenever I advise my students about other classes, I am stunned by what I have forgotten.  I can no longer integrate anything (in the area under a curve sense) and can only write about 15 of the 1,500 Chinese characters I once knew.  That's not really surprising since I do not use calculus (although perhaps I should) and it's been 23 years since I last studied Chinese.  But I still vote and can no longer espouse all of the amendments in the right order.  I'm a failure at US Presidents in the 1800s (aside, I suppose, from Lincoln and Grant).  I had to look up properties of a normal distribution recently, although I still use stats all the time.
Travels with my husband and ex-boyfriend
Adult travels without parents, husband or boyfriend
And then there's the stuff I didn't know as a college student and have learned since.  Halfway through college I didn't know what NPR was.  I didn't know what a penstemon was. I could not name a Joni Mitchell song. I hadn't read anything by a South American writer, not Gabriel Garcia Marquez, not Isabelle Allende, not Mario Vargas Llosa.  I probably couldn't use "cladistics" in a sentence.  I didn't drink beer.  I didn't eat raw oysters.  I  had no idea that there were whole parts of the US where stone houses are the norm. I had never, ever googled anything.

I know so much different stuff now. Much of it that I can't imagine not knowing.  I'm regularly amazed at twenty-somethings doing a great job of parenting because I can't fathom that they know enough.  I'm drawing from 41 years of experiences and I feel I'm barely scraping by.  There is just so much to learn. About everything.

I've been working on this post for several days and I'm still not sure where I am going with it.  Part of it is in a call to leniency when dealing with the young. They just can't know that much.  Even the well-traveled (like me when I started college-- top map*) have huge gaps.  Part of it is a call for leniency from the relatively less young to those of us younger.  We just haven't had as many opportunities to experience as much as you have. And please feel free to laugh at any of us when we think that we've figured it out.

But mostly, it is a call to keep learning thing.  To put yourself in new places.  To read more.  To experience. To go. To learn.

And then maybe you won't be so mortified with all the things you forget.

* Key for the top two maps is white- unvisited. Red-drive by (or longer visit when I was one).  Orange- at least spent the night and learned some things.  Blue- multiple visists or an extended trip (e.g. honeymoon to Newfoundland).  Green- lived there.
The third is places I have been with my husband (who I met when I turned 31) orange, my ex-boyfriend (blue) or both (green). Wyoming should be green on that map. The last map was a project with some of my students in mind, who think that they need to have met their mate or be part of a traveling family in order to explore.  These are places I have been without my parents, husband, or ex-boyfriend.  I took the train across New Mexico and the bus from Denver to Santa Fe. I think it should count for something. Learn more and make your own map here on  I think the prairie dog map would look much like the husband map, but the prairie dog was not yet on the scene as of the Yellowstone-Glacier trip.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

It's Snowing Soapberries

Outside it is still and sunny, yet my car is covered in soapberry leaves.  One could hear them showering down, the only leaves falling in the crisp morning, as we walked to my office.
I've heard reports of many trees that do this; lose their leaves all at once, but I'm not sure I've ever experienced it except associated with a storm.  Two nights ago the winds howled and yesterday it froze for the first time, but today, in the apparent calm after the storm, the leaves come pouring down.
What's happening with the plants where you are?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

There will be flowers

I planted 1,000 spring flowering bulbs today.
Okay, because I am a list maker, a literalist and a completist, I should re-phrase that: a paid helper, my sons, and I planted 45 daffodils, 95 tulips, 195 crocus, 20 alliums, 45 hyacinths, 100 iris reticulata, 100 Dutch iris, 100 chionodoxa  and 100 ixiosomethings.  That's not a full thousand, but when combined with the remainder of the 1,300+ we planted last year, there could be a very good show when you come visit in the spring.

There must have been flowers

A surprisingly challenging concept for a botany professor to teach is that all flowering plants have fruit.  And every ripened ovary encasing seeds is a fruit.  And everything that has a fruit, by definition, had flowers.  And that most plants (including grasses, oak trees, and "weeds") are "flowering plants."

So that factoid that somebody taught you, "tomatoes are really fruit" is botanically completely true.  "Zucchinis are really fruit," "Cucumbers are really fruit,"  "Green peppers are really fruit,"  "Okra is really a fruit," and "Green beans are really fruit," somehow don't get told haughtily at school lunchrooms in the same fashion, but are no less true.
Here's a sampling of my parents' fall fruit crop.  The flowers were probably stunning.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Flower Progress of Photographic Failures

Just checked back with my goals for Floraganza (go back to February), and progress towards them has been mixed.
I forced bulbs (#13, check), I've sent some flowers (#16, check), I've received flowers (#17, check), I had flowers in the kitchen constantly until June.  I have cool dried flowers in a graduated cylinder in my office all the time (#1, check, to some extent).  I've worn flowery things.  I read The Language of Flowers.  I did ethnobotanical story telling.  I'm drinking from a flowering mug as I write.
I have not, however, learned how to take a good photograph of flowers in my kitchen with my camera (#10, fail so far).
 Here's three of the many bouquets I've photographed both with and without flash.  Flash- overexposed with weird colors.  No flash- too muted and with too "soft" of focus.  Suggestions for remedies or ways to improve my technique?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Cardoons: Macho, Tough and Flowery

Our first guest post of the season!
I am immensely grateful to Janet for giving me a great flower to think about in this season of frantic lab report grading and committee convening.  The piece below first appeared in the Denton, Texas newspaper and the photograph on Janet's facebook page.  Remember, you, too, can be a guest star on this blog.
The Best in Show this year for the Denton County Fruit, Flower, Vegetable and Herb Show was the cardoon. I could make up anything at this point and you’d believe me as to what a cardoon is, since not many people are familiar with it. Even after looking at the specimen, the officials weren’t sure if it belonged with vegetables or flowers at the show. The cardoon is kind of an ornamental artichoke, which can be eaten when it is young. Since it is typically cultivated as an ornamental for its thistle-like flower, it was ultimately placed in the flower category in which it won Grand Champion in the youth division (grown by Emma and Lauren Martin).
The cardoon in my backyard has been one of my favorite plants for a few years now. It is a perennial with large, silver foliage that grows most of the winter. It is a bit of a weird and wild plant, maybe even dangerous looking. I enjoy the drama of watching it grow larger all winter while nothing else is making much movement. It begins to spike in height late spring, often, it’s the tallest thing in my yard, just peeking over my six foot fence. And in June, I’m rewarded with flowers that are a gorgeous blue/purple (but very macho and tough!) After the blooms, the plant usually turns brown quickly and gets invaded by all kinds of insects. Chop it back and try not to dwell on it: people still have children and nobody’s a huge fan of changing diapers, right? The cardoon will come back from the roots later in the summer or fall and the performance begins anew.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Red and Yellow Please This Fellow

Yellow Sweet Clover, Kansas, June
I've read more than once about how yellow (particularly when combined with orange or red) is an unsophisticated garden flower choice.  The authors mentioning this go on to write about how much they like to fly in the face of this conventional wisdom and plant yellow flowers because yellow is delightfully, unabashedly cheerful.
Apparently, I'm joining this time-honored tradition of defending my vulgar taste without knowing who has ever criticized it.
I like yellow flowers.
They are delightfully, unabashedly cheerful.
Here are some, none from my garden, for your viewing pleasure.
Which reminds me, I need to quit reading information about floods in Colorado (oddly an instant tear trigger for me) and go outside and pick some sunflowers.
Stay safe.

Evening Primrose, Bryce Canyon, June

Different Species Evening Primrose, Bryce Canyon, June 

Columbine, Devil's Postpile, June

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Floral Guest Stars

It's that point in the year and semester when I am behind on everything.  True, this point lasts for most of the year, but the September point often seems the worst, as if it is somehow unexpected that the I'll need to start grading all of those labs that I assign, or that field work must be completed before the leaves fall off the trees or that physical therapy, "reading logs" and keeping plants alive in 100 degree heat take time.
The frazzle is bad enough that I missed a family member's birthday last week (and you know how much I am into birthdays) and didn't bake a cake even though I saw her two days before her birthday.  Sigh.  We still love you, oh missed-birthday family member!
But, somehow, maintaining some regular (once or twice a week) posting on this blog is important to me.  So, once, again, I am giving you the opportunity to be a guest star on the blog.
This year, being flower year, you can:
1) take a photo of a flower blooming near you and send it to me
2) write a paragraph (or more) about a flower that you like and/or evokes a memory for you
3) review a recipe from a cookbook
4) show me a picture of your flowery things
5) reveiw a book (any book)

Let me know what you come up with.
To kick things off, here is a photo from my mother of her Austrian Copper "Mother's Day Rose" that MB and I bought her for Mother's Day 15 or more years ago.
  It bloomed late this year.  Salvia, probably "May Night" is the purple.  I'm not going to spend any more time trying to turn it on this computer.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Other Other 1%

 I am in the other 1%.  And, likely, so are you.
Alas, income-wise I don't stand out (my less than 50k salary is public record) but as "we are the 99%" took off last fall, I felt compelled to point out just how much I don't fit in, despite being of unextraordinary financial means. Not many other women wear size 11 narrow shoes (nobody at all wears size 10 1/2 narrow shoes, because they just don't make them). Less than 1% of the US population has a research based doctorate. I found statistical data for height of US women, and I am considerably taller than the 95th percentile (although, if my calculations of the standard deviation are correct, I don't quite make the 99th percentile).  I'm pretty sure that being a) annoyed that I can no longer look at a table of percentiles and immediately know the standard deviation b) aware that I once could, and c) willing to look up standard deviations of normal distributions just to write a blog post, makes me part of a small exclusive group.
I had forgotten about this desire to accentuate my statistical abnormalities (not to mention my abnormal fondness for statistics) until I was wanting a way to frame a way to blog post about Aster.  Aster, you see, is not quite normal.  Aster was a teething prodigy, with 16 teeth at 16 months (his father is still trying to do the stats on that, but none of the stated "normal" ranges give any hints about the variance). Unlike his brother, Aster could not walk at 13 months, but at that time started knee walking, which he did until after he was 18 months old (he started walking on his feet three days before his 18 month appointment, which happened when he was 18 months and 2 weeks, for the record).  Aster had red hair in his infancy (like his father and less than 1% of the world's population) and is super-blond now (apparently like his mother when she was 2, along with about 2% of the world's population).  Aster's Mom was bitten by a black widow when he was in utero (happens to 3 women per 400,000 US pregnancies each year, if my assumptions are correct).  And Aster doesn't use his right hand much or pick up his right foot when he walks, leading to a diagnosis of cerebral palsy, which happens to 2 in 1000 kids born in the US.
The hard-to-grasp concept about statistics is that the unlikely is not unlikely, if you pool all of the unlikely events.  And factors are not independent.  And people do sort themselves into groups.
Far more than 1% of my friends have doctorates.  The Mister is not the first redhead I've kissed, and I've not kissed 100 people.  I have a dear friend who is blond, has cerebral palsy and has a doctorate.  Yep, she's one in a million, (well, technically 4 in 10 million, based on the above stats) but she exists.
None the less, as I try to sort out what, if anything, this practically means for my jolly, inquisitive, son, I have found in immensely helpful to find CHASA, the Children's Hemiplegia and Stroke Association and their fabulous support network.  One of the CHASA blog posts, coupled with a photo of a beautiful smiley blond, seems like it could have been written by the me of the future, and it is highly recommended reading for, well, for anyone, but particularly for my mothers and anyone wondering what it is I am wondering about these days.
And the picture of my family, it's just thrown in to remind you that none of them is normal, but they are mine, and I love them.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Dianthus and His Backpack

Dianthus started preschool last week. Here he is on the first day of school; backpack, classroom-identifying armband, new school shoes and all.  I want to comment about how much he likes it and how it has ruined our evenings (afternoon pre-K is smack dab in the middle of what was much-needed nap time) but I'm sitting here crying a little about our son growing up, so I'd better leave it at that and return to my lesson plans.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Good Omens for Lucky STIR

Intrigued by a meta analysis of best books (13 top 100 list condensed into one), Janet and I chose Good Omens (#316) by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman to read for August STIR.  That it has a lucky title is just bonus.
I laughed in bed at the list of characters.  Join us if you will.
If you'd like my thoughts on other recent reads: Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White (#118), The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (#40), the first three Louise Penny Novels*, or The Language of Flowers, let me know.
It also looks like I will never get around to reviewing One Fifth Avenue (Candace Bushnell), The Hobbit, the other Jennifer Crusie books I've read, Marcus Samuelson's Yes, Chef, the newest Robin McKinley (Peagasus, which is in dire need of the second half of the story, to be released 2014), the Nora Ephron books, Betty Friedan's memoirs or much of anything else I've read in the last year.  I'd be happy to discuss if you ask questions.

*Abbreviated thought: you should read them.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Kimchi Reveals the Inherited Traits

The day we took off on a recent trip road trip to Kansas and Colorado, the Mister and I were running behind.  (Shocking, that, I know!)
Besides packing ourselves and the kids (for lounging, for hiking, for swimming, for hosting a croquet tournament, for going out of a special dinner, for attending a conference, for riding around at the ranch, and for presenting ethnobotanical improv at a semi-formal garden party*) and trying to clean the house, we spread mulch, because, unlike my parents, we don't have a sprinkle system to repair, and we made sauerkraut, kimchee and salsa. 
We had extra vegetables in the fridge. The In-Laws had given us some of them, so we couldn't just take them back, and, besides, I had been wanting to ferment foods for over a year.  Kimchee would be obvious answer, no?
I followed the recipe from Sandor Ellix Katz's Wild Fermentation.  Unlike Katz's more comprehensive The Art of Fermentation, Wild Fermentation includes step-by-step recipes.  Except for the temperature of fermentation (I was leaving town so I stuck the whole think in the fridge), I followed the Baechu Kimchi (page 47) exactly, having a cabbage, chiles, ginger, daikon and carrots all waiting in the fridge.  The Mister thinks that it is overly salty and it does make one's mouth burn, but I am really happy with the results.  The sauerkraut is okay.

What do you do the day you leave on vacation?

*Ethnobotanical Improv Storytelling, for real.  I panicked, so I rehearsed the part I already know I am good at (the botany) tried to forget about the part which is difficult (improvisational storytelling).  I was initially relieved when I didn't have a crowd for real storytelling, then suddenly found my groove, started telling great plant-use stories, and was dismayed when I had to quit.  Contact me if you know of an audience for such an obscure entertainment.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The pines of the Mister

On our recent (read "over a month ago") trip West, Le Cirque de Sierra, I kept crossing paths with myself.
Utah Prairie Dog
Second-grader me was very excited we made the tunnel into Zion without stopping.  I was embarrassed when I saw high school me "showering" at the base of Bridal Veil Falls with the rest of her church youth group, and no reminders about how dirty we were (many days without showers packed double into un-air-conditioned vans after one caught fire in Nevada) could ease my regret that I had ever been that tacky and thoughtless as to ruin the falls experience for all the other visitors.  College me liked SE Utah much better on that sunny Spring Break than in a gale force dust storm making it hard to stay on the road.  Modern me couldn't help bragging about camping in the snow in Yosemite and on the Mojave in February with my Scottish Ranger* boyfriend of 17 years ago.  Even grad school me made an appearance contrasting the desert right after the cold rain in 2003 with baked Death Valley in June.

Our (Black-Tailed) Prairie Dog
I travel.  I remember places.  It's not a bad thing, overall.

But it can be a bit disconcerting when every exit off of I-70 reminds me of another trip with another person.

At Bryce Canyon.  Not Jeffrey's.
So I took some time to consciously note what was different about this trip from all of the trips of my past.  There were new destinations, of course; I hadn't previously been to Bryce Canyon, Las Vegas, Death Valley (torture on my ears), Mono Lake or Devil's Postpile.  There were new animals: Utah Prairie Dogs in Bryce and Beldings Ground Squirrels swarming the park in June Lake, where we stayed.  There was the Mister, Dianthus, Aster and the Parents-in-Law.  And there were the pines.  Conifers of the Sierra make me smile in connection to a whole lot of bad puns and experiences of my past.  When Dianthus and Aster started collecting large cones, I first thought they were just adding to my collection of Ponderosa recollections.  A few days later, I did some investigation: "It turns out the cones are Jeffrey's**," I announced.
My Mother-in-Law looked at me quizzically, as if to ask, "The cones belong to my son?"
In my mind they do now.

At Bryce Canyon, Jeffery.

Yosemite Squirrel with gray shoulder
He has Mammoth Lakes all to himself in my memory, for now.
*He's not actually Scottish, but since I met him in Scotland and he loves Scotland, I usually think of him that way.
**Jeffrey (or Jeffrey's) Pines, Pinus jeffreyi.  They are confined mostly to lower montane elevations of the east side of the Southern Sierra Nevada.  The Mister does not spell his name that way.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Come by and we'll pretend it's your birthday

As noted elsewhere*, I am big into birthdays (and traditions and romantic gestures and lots and lots of other things) and love baking birthday cakes.  I mentioned on facebook yesterday that I was baking a cake for my sons' birthdays, the aroma of warm chocolate was wafting through the house, and more friends should visit for their birthdays so that I could bake them a cake.  Twenty people "liked" that status within a few hours.
It would have looked better had my cake pans been the same size and
there not been a worldwide shortage of sour cherries.
Well, friends, what are you waiting for?
I'd love the chance to combine four things that I love-- drinking sparkling wine in celebration of something, baking a decadent, multi-layer cake, arranging some flowers and talking to friends.  Come by for your birthday!
The secret is that it doesn't even need to be your actual birthday.  Even Dianthus has the hang of it, "I'll be four on Tuesday, but we celebrated my birthday with Grandma and Grandpa last night."***
Tuesday to Saturday is admittedly, pretty close, but it need not be.  A dear friend of mine (from high school) also has a May birthday.  Throughout college and occasionally afterward, we would celebrate with a nicer meal than we could generally afford, sometime in May.  Once we both started graduate school, several years lapsed before we were able to go out to dinner together.  It happened to be in January.  At his urging, we had a bottle of sparkling wine, toasted with "happy birthday" and I didn't turn down the free dessert once offered**.  I owe much to that meal.  It was the start of the sparkling wine resolution ("If sparkling wine is your favorite drink, why don't you have it more than two or three times a year?" ) which was the start of my annual resolution/themes which then led to this blog and the official start of celebrating birthdays whenever I see friends.
Leo Birthday Boys. With an average of over 23 years experience.
So stop by (okay, give me notice so I can bake you a proper cake, move the junk from the guest bedroom into another space, and find a bottle of bubbly [in Oklahoma we can't buy chilled champagne or any alcohol on Sunday]) and let's celebrate.

*** We also had a cake for Aster on Wednesday (even though his birthday was last Tuesday).  Both cakes baked were from Tish Boyles' The Cake Book, a less comprehensive tome than The Cake Bible, but still pretty authoritative.  I altered the Peach Buttermilk Coffee Cake recipe too much to know if the cake, as written, is good, not great, or if the substitutions (oil for some butter, walnuts for almonds, half whole wheat flour, half fresh and half frozen peaches, unneeded cream cheese frosting made overly sticky with juice and powdered sugar at the behest of Dianthus) diminished something that could have been great.  Dianthus has been hankering for a cherry cake and a chocolate cake.  I baked him a Black Forest cake and it was great.  It's better today after the cherry juice, cream, jam and alcohol have had more time to permeate, but looks even more askew (who knew that my two nine inch pans were so different in size?  Or that I wouldn't notice until after I had cut the layer and was alternating them?).

2 year-old Aster does not seem to mind lack of "birthday" candles
*See, for instance, picture of a Lady Baltimore Cake here or first key lime pie discussion here.

**I have plans to write an article about rules for enjoying food like a passionate amateur. One such rule would be to never turn down genuinely offered bonus items and to express delight in them when they are great and unexpected, as the chocolate cake in this case was.  I'm afraid, however, that the list of rules would end up like my suggestions for having a fun wedding ("marry someone as great as the Mister who has a fun family and have fun friends and family yourself"), i.e. "enjoy eating and eat with someone you love who enjoys eating".

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Clafouti Trilogy, Part III: I love the concept of Julia Child

I opened up The Mister's paperback copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (volume 1) and was interested to learn that clafouti, translated as "Cherry Flan" is usually also spelled clafoutis in French in both singular and plural, that the desert is from Limousin, and that the preparation, pancake batter poured over fruit, is about as simple "as you can imagine" (pg. 699).  I glanced at the master recipe (cherry) and the six variations (with liqueur, with almonds, plum, blackberry, apple, and pear) and then I closed the book and followed the instructions in the Gourmet Cookbook*.

Like my mother, I love Julia Child.  She was tall, fun, appeared fearless, a good writer, a good cook, and passionate about food.  Yet I never met her, I have never watched her show, never bought one of her books, missed the Meryl Streep portrayal of her and rarely even open the one book that's been sitting on our shelf for nine years.  So, I guess I love the concept of Julia Child.

Do you have any cookbooks you love but don't use?
Do you have any people who adore the idea of, but have no real basis for your admiration?**

*Halving the recipe, leaving out the kirsch, and replacing cherries with apricots, peaches and blackberries.  Changing quantities, flavoring and main ingredients is pretty close to following a recipe for me.  This morning I made another clafouti for breakfast.  With all peaches, whole wheat flour and brown sugar, I'm not totally sure it was the same dessert, but I'm not sure what else to call it.

**Others for me include Alfred Russel Wallace, Barbara McClintock, Alice Waters and the Bronte Sisters.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Clafouti Trilogy: Part II That's MY Plate

Sitting down to a nice home-cooked dinner, we were directed to look at our plates.  I was impressed with the beautiful Portmerion Botanical Garden collection and was about to say something when he looked over at mine, "Bellis perennis.  The English Daisy.  That's MY plate."
I smiled back at him and nodded weakly, "Is that an anemone on yours?"
He then reached across the table, grabbed the plate in front of me, and repeated, "Bellis perennis is my plate," as he handed me the anemone.
Had he been four, I would have only been stunned that he knew the Latin names.  As he was past sixty, and I was his son's girlfriend eating in his house for the first time, I was stunned on all kinds of counts.
This happened in 1997 (meaning we are not talking about the Mister's Father).  Ever since that time, I can't eat off of flowery dishes without first checking to see if is is an English Daisy that I am not allowed to have.  Fortunately, my lasagna pan has clematis on it and my clafouti dish has gazania* so I am good to use them.  And yes, despite my avowal that I don't like limited purpose stuff that just clutters up the house and my avowal that I don't like floral stuff, I own a flowery clafouti dish, and I love it.
I was running around the kitchen assembling the ingredients for the clafouti, when I asked the Mister to look at the recipe and tell me what size of dish I needed (two quart, according to the Gourmet Cookbook).  He and I tried to figure out which of our pans fit that description (we're better with linear measurements than volumes) when I dashed to the display shelving, "Oh never mind, I just remembered we have a clafouti pan. I'll use it."
It was just this morning as I was looking for Knock-Off Portmerion Clafouti Pan Websites to which to link that I realized that my fabulous garage sale purchase could not be a clafouti pan because they don't exist. Flan: possiblyQuiche: sure. Floral Clafouti pan: doesn't exist.  Except you have photographic evidence of the clafouti in mine. 
Tomorrow in the exciting conclusion: what is a clafouti and why my clafouti may not have been one.

*My dish gives the common name of Gazania as Treasure Flower, a name that I have never heard anyone in horticulture use.  All of the gardeners I know call them "gazania" but apparently that term is not widespread:
Middle-aged English Garden Visitor at garden in SW Scotland: what are those pretty flowers?
Me (inappropriately young, blonde and female): Gazania.
Him: Daisies?
Me: Gazania.
Him [loudly]: What is that name of those daisies?
Me: They are called gazania.
Him [loudly and slowly]: Where . . are . . you . . from?
Me: Colorado, in the States.
Him: Really? I thought is was someplace farther, like Denmark.
Me (baffled by distance part of remark): I'm from the U.S.  I have been working here for almost a year.
Him: How do you like England?
Me: Well, I've only been to England once, but I very much like it here in Scotland.
Him (not recognizing that Scotland is not part of England): Very good, then.

Him [flagging down an appropriately male and middle-aged gardener]: Excuse me, can you tell me the name of these flowers.
Scottish Gardener: Those would be gazania.
Him: Thank you.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Clafouti Trilogy: Part 1, Summer Foods

I baked an apricot-peach-blackberry clafouti on Monday.  The deeply apricoty apricots reminded me just how much I love warm fruit, apricots, and clafouti.
Combined with recent creations of fruit soup, zucchini pancakes and watermelon-feta salad, the clafouti felt like a wondrous rediscovery of seasonal foods, as if I had found something long lost over the sleety winter.  They had me thinking, "I should make this more often!" and then, "I can't have this more often.  This is only good with real peaches, with fresh berries, with juicy watermelon, with actual local corn on the cob . . . I don't make zucchini pancakes in the winter because I couldn't find an overgrown zucchini and wouldn't buy it if I could.  And, oh yeah, I really need to freeze some pesto."
What foods are summer to you?
Need any reminders to get out there and enjoy summer produce?
Here are a few from me:
Watermelon-feta salad    Corn on the cob    Grilled apricots    Buttermilk berry soup with fresh mint   Tomatoes, basil and mozzarella    Pesto   Clafouti   Grilled zucchini   Summer squash hash (new from the Mister)   Tabbouleh salad   Peaches   Gazpacho   Cucumber raita    Salsa   Green beans, new potatoes and bacon      BLATs (BLTs with avocado)  Cobblers, crumbles, buckles and crisps

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Dianthus and Aster are still cute

Baking my birthday cake
Some readers I know, let's call them grandparents (and aunts and cousins and probably many of my friends) tolerate posts about plants and books and rodents and thoughts on life, but really come here for the cute kid images. I would be unwise not to cater to my largest demographic every once in a while.  So, for your viewing pleasure, Dianthus and Aster looking good (with garden, travels or cooking in the background, I can't do just cute):
May 9, 2013

Towns Eyes?
May 18, 2013

First fish with Grandma

Geology may not fascinate me (at Mono Lake)

Small insects do fascinate me (at Mono Lake)

We did take them to Yosemite