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

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Lacking a Bronze Clematis

The eighth anniversary is the bronze-pottery-lace-tanzanite-clematis anniversary.  Sure, you knew that.  You gave your spouse a bouquet of eight clematis vines in a tanzanite-encrusted bronze urn with a side of lace pottery and can't imagine why the Mister and I aren't doing the same.
As of today, we've been married for eight years and an alloy flower forever representing "clever" and "intellectual"* might be just the the thing we need.
I imagine it's not, but alas, as with the desk sets we didn't give each other last year (seven years, you recall, is the desk set anniversary), we'll never know if it was.
As an alternative, I planned to commemorate the day by posting images of our wedding flowers and explaining their meanings (a la Language of Flowers).
So, here goes: the mixed flowers in unmatched vases mean that I really wanted lots of flowers around, but was unwilling to pay a florist to take away my fun of arranging them.  The big bridal bouquet means that I know when to call a professional.  The chocolate tortes with roses and lemon tarts with lavender suggest we value flavor over tradition.

Pragmatic and into food and flowers.  I'm not sure if I'm interpreting that correctly. I'm probably supposed to see love, happiness, sunshine, honesty, and grace in that bouquet and I see pragmatism.  But then I was probably not supposed to be so lazy as to not actually look them up. . .

Happy Anniversary Mister.  I'm glad you married me.  I'm glad were pragmatic into food and flowers.  Thank you for bringing sunflowers and iris to our relationship, whatever good things they represent.  Don't wait up for the bronzed clematis.

*While the anniversary gift websites reveal that clematis represents clever intellectualism, the flower always reminds me of a pamphlet from high school sex ed, "Chlamydia is not a flower."

**Photographs were taken by Krista Cooley of Cooley Photography.  I can't find a current page to link to, but she was fantastic to work with and highly recommended.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Flower Failures

I have a large dead spot at the front (street side) of my prairie plantings.  Late June last year, I had liatris, gallardia, echinacea and butterfly milkweed all flowering after the evening primrose and calylophous were done.  One of my neighbors had admitted that it was beginning to look good.

June 9, 2012

May 22, 2013.  Note border and lack of plants in the foreground.

Oenothera. Two days after planting a few days prior to being declared dead.
A year later and the prairie garden is well defined, but everything that was in that part of the garden except one aster, plus all of the poppy mallow, gaura and several oenotheras I have added is dead.  Dead dead.  My neighbor did a walk-by weeding yesterday morning.
Flea beetles, I believe, are one culprit.
Have any suggestions?

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Rejoicing over the thornbushes: in which I pick Poison over Lincoln

Note: I began typing this post on June 5.  It was timely at the time.  Indulge me by thinking it is early June and the roses are blooming as you read this.

The last month or so of my life has not gone according to plan.  Given how poor I am about planning the end of the school year and trip preparations (previously mentioned here, and here among other places), and that I am about to embark upon my third trip in a month, this is not terribly surprising.  As I've grumbled about all the things that have gone wrong, from believing that students who put on acts of confidence and competence, to leaving data sheets on the copier (sadly, a time honored tradition in my life), to being nearly washed out of my field site and wondered how it is possible to have student issues, body issues, garden issues, colleague issues, cat issues, stuff issues, computer issues, kid and husband issues, weather issues and garage door issues all at the same time, I've tried to remind myself of the (alleged) Abraham Lincoln quote hanging on my office door, "We can complain that rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice that the thorn bushes have roses."
Not actually a rose.  I guess every thistle has its spines.

And since my roses are blooming, and I want to remain an optimist, it seems apt.

But I have to disagree with Lincoln, or at least with my reading of the Lincoln quote, which suggests it is better to view them as flowering thorn bushes rather than prickly rose bushes.  I really don't want to be in a state in which I think that taking students to a conference*, travelling, having a house and garden, my job or Dianthus and Aster are thorn bushes.  Considering them to be thorn bushes seems to be setting expectations a bit too low, even for me, and somehow diminishes the experience of those who are enduring real thorns, be they my friend whose husband needs a second stem cell transplant, my former colleague who had a massive heart attack the day after graduation (did you even know that they do sextuple by-pass?), my unemployed best friends, or the people whose houses were in the way of the tornadoes. Being unemployed for a year yet loving the extra time for ones babies; that's appreciate the flowers on the thorn bushes.  Having a great, but by no means perfect, job, well, that's a rose bush.  The rose bush has some thorns, but then they all do.  

When you are among the thorn bushes, keep your eyes open for anything to rejoice about.  And, when you enter the rose garden, watch out for the thorns, for every rose has one**.

*Exhausting and expensive. And, no, we don't get paid overtime for taking three undergraduate students to a national conference.  Since this particular conference happened when school is not in session, I didn't get paid at all.

**"Just like every night has its dawn." ????  It's hard for me to take myself seriously when I am about to post  something quoting such a ridiculous poison song.