Vive la Tarte

It isn’t every day you have pizza for breakfast. It isn’t every day your breakfast pizza includes an egg. I want to think that the eggs on our breakfast pizza today came from chickens as happy as mine at home in Virginia, but of this I cannot be sure. Regardless, this breakfast pizza with its bacon, egg and shallots, was (note past tense) an excellent way to start a Saturday in San Francisco. It was absolutely the perfect balance of its three simple toppings on a soft-on-the-inside, crisp-on-the-outside, bread-like crust. What else can you say but Oh yum!?

breakfast pizza (2)

The full pan of them looked like this. Drew told me that by 11am, these, and all the delectables you see below, will be gone, disappeared into the happy stomachs of Vive la Tarte’s customers. Notice they don’t call it breakfast pizza. I think they should. Drew did.

breakfast pizza2 (2)

Vive la Tarte is one of those places you hope the residents of this city are very grateful for.  It’s popular for good reason — its food shares the same basic descriptors as most good foods, the most important descriptors: simple and delicious. You know you have come to a wonderful place when you want to eat one of every single thing they offer. I’m talking croissants,

croissants up close

 

more croissants, monkey bread,

croissants monkey bread

donuts, Danish,

donuts danish

quiches,

quiches

and the pizza, which was at the end of the line and became mine because walking through the line again would not have made it any easier to choose.

Seeing all of these wonders makes me want to bake more at home, to play around with different ingredients. That middle quiche has goat cheese in it. Why didn’t I ever think to put goat cheese in mine? And monkey bread – what’s monkey bread? Think pieces of soft bread dough baked together with cinnamon, sugar and butter in such a way that the adjectives to describe it include: soft, sweet, gooey, sticky, golden, cinnamon, buttery and last but not least sinful.

From the outside, Vive la Tarte doesn’t look like much.That large open space on the right, that’s called the sunroom. It was too cloudy a morning for me to attest as to any sun that might on a different day stream in there, but if they want to call it the sunroom, so shall it be. There’s an opening within the sunroom that leads into the restaurant, besides a main entrance. See the sandwich board outside the main entrance?

outside2

As you are walking down Howard Street, that’s your indicator. This is the place to be.

sandwich board

The same simple block-lettered name in the window identifies the bakery. Look elsewhere for fancy.

outside1

Two simple signs hang in the windows. One has the basics.

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And one informs you of the dog policy.

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Not to worry if you have your dog with you. That open garage door, a.k.a. the sunroom, is indoor-outdoor space is just for you and your dog. No takers while we were there.

sunroom

I am especially enamored of San Francisco’s evident commitment to producing less waste. The coffee station does not have sugar in packets that become trash, plastic or wooden stirrers that become trash, or half and half in little plastic cups that become trash. I know these things have their place, but the less of them the better.

milk and sugar

You have real spoons for measuring your sugar out of a glass jar (and for stirring), a cup to put the dirty spoon in, ceramic cups and real glasses to drink from and a helpful staff to get you anything you need that you don’t see.

coffee station

After I finished my pizza and tea (which I grant does not, without context, sound like a good combo but you know what my pizza looked like), I stood back and took the whole scene in. It’s huge and wide open.

long view inside

The kitchen is in full view as you approach the counter. I like when you can see what they are doing.

kitchen

I watched the lady banging her huge whisk to get most of the meringue off it. It’s a quantity of meringue that is inconceivable in a home kitchen, but oh how delightful a dollop of it is on a lemon tarte. Meringue is a kind of free-form marshmallow fluff, a simple mix of egg whites and sugar beat up till it’s fluffy as a cloud. Oh, the incredible ways people have come up with to make food so delicious!

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I wish I could come here for breakfast every day.

No, I don’t.

If I did, at least two things would happen that I don’t want to happen.

1. Vive la Tarte wouldn’t be special any more. It would be normal, every-day-ish, and I want places like this to always be special to me. (Once a week maybe I could live with though…!)

2. I would not be incentivized to play in my own kitchen or somebody else’s, which a visit here has very much made me want to do. For starters, monkey bread… So guess what we are going to do tomorrow in Drew and Nicole’s kitchen! I’ll let you know how it comes out 😊

The More You Look, The More You See

I am not in Virginia. I am so far afield in fact that yesterday I asked myself What planet am I on? The observation causing this question occurred on the streets of Berkeley as my son Drew and I walked toward his office. This little cooler-on-wheels caught my eye.

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I was so fixated on the cooler – which was not sitting still but moving right along, making its way on the sidewalk just like the rest of us – that I didn’t include in the photo the man who was walking sort of behind it. I assumed he was directing it by remote control. Drew said no, nonchalantly, that it was a robot delivering smoothies. A what?

The robot continued along the sidewalk, passing the homeless person sleeping in the blue blanket,

robot delivering smoothies (2)

bumping along on its own until we reached the door of Drew’s office and, again nonchalantly (as if such a thing is not supposed to faze you!), carried on. Turns out — when you dig a little deeper, look a little closer — it’s called a Kiwibot, delivers food from various local restaurants including Jamba Juice and Chipotle, and by the end of May of this year had delivered its 10,000th meal. Okay!

You know you are going to see new things when you travel, but I did not anticipate a robot delivering food. A beautiful tree, on the other hand, a beautiful tree I am not necessarily surprised to see. Nicole, Drew’s fiancée, says trees are a thing white people see (she being of Chinese heritage herself). White people know trees, flowers, birds, she says. I don’t know about this, having only in the past few years learned the difference between a white oak and a chestnut oak. But I do not deny that I am drawn to beautiful trees.

I had some time, so I walked up to the University of California campus, also simply known as Berkeley. It’s a hilly area with lush green grass, the kind that feels like there is a spongy pad underneath it, which is to say the polar opposite of the grass at my house which, on account of the hard pack clay, feels like there must be concrete under those few surviving blades.

This photo gives you an idea of both the spongy grass and the magnificent eucalyptus tree that stood in the middle of the campus.

eucalyptus tree3

I got up close to it, of course, because who wouldn’t? Look at this trunk.

eucalyptus trunk.jpg

I got a little closer, to observe the intricacies of its texture

eucalyptus up closer still

its coloring,

eucalyptus tree art

its bark. Artwork is all around us. We just have to look. Who is the artist? You decide.

eucalyptus tree bark2

If a human had created this, it would be hanging in a museum somewhere. But no. Leave it to humans to create a controversy about this tree and the grove behind it. I looked a little closer into the problem. How could such beautiful trees be a problem?

eucalyptus grove trunks4

They might be a fire hazard, you see. A few years ago, $4.6 million in federal grant money was awarded to help “thin” this area of “hazardous” trees, a prospect that inflamed (pun intended) some locals enough that they tied themselves naked to the trees in protest. (You may look that up on your own.)

There’s always more to everything, right? Later, as I walked the streets again (no robots this time), I saw this in the pavement.

eucalyptus 1856 (2)

Some well meaning botanist brought them here in 1856 apparently. I looked that up too. Again, the more you look, the more you see. Was it really 1856? This page from a 1935 journal of the California Botanical Society casts doubt.

eucalyptus article 1935 (2)

I don’t know, and I don’t want to split hairs about it. I just got this overriding sense yesterday of the complexity of the world, of how everything – a business that uses robots to deliver food, a beautiful tree, a detail of historical fact – everything has more to it than you initially see. Get a little closer to this shrub, look carefully just to the left of that taller plant in the middle,

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and you find berries hiding in it.

berries hiding

How did they get there? Are they renegade berries, holdouts from seeds that dropped long ago, insisted on growing into this other plant, refused to be eradicated altogether by diligent gardeners who have tried time and again to get rid of the little free-riders? Damn berries, the gardener probably says to himself, there they are again!

Look a little closer at this shrub

pink bush

and see the delicate flowers that the Berkeley students walk past all the time and for the most part, I guess, hardly notice. The blossoms come, the blossoms go, who sees? Still they make their own beauty and bask in the sunlight.

pink up

This thing looks like a weed. Maybe it is?

spikey whole

But get a little closer and you might be looking at a different plant altogether. The patterning of its spikes takes on an artsy look, and the stems emanate from the center with gorgeous proportion.

spikey plant

I love how nature is gorgeous but not perfect. Perfect would be unreal, plastic, manufactured, cookie-cutterish. I love how the artist behind nature knows how to make it imperfect just enough for it to be real. I love how there is always more to learn about, always more to see.

What else is new in Berkeley (and likely elsewhere)? New but also not new? A new twist on an old idea?

I kid you not, this is a phone booth. It sits within Drew’s office space, giving a private place for phone conversations because the employees of this company share open office space, and sometimes you don’t want your conversations to be overheard.

office phone2

What goes around, comes around, tis true…

I loved seeing Drew in his office, hearing about the good work they do helping veterans find optimal employment following their release from service, sensing the passion he brings to their mission (shift.org).

office7

They do it because the founders saw a need, looked at it carefully, then developed an idea that makes the transition process for veterans smoother and more successful. Bravo to them!

It’s easy to just look.

When you look a little closer, the world shows you something new.

Simple Shortbread Cookies Better Than Any in a Tin

“Patricia, there’s a mouse in my bed.” I had been asleep when my friend Eileen gently shook me awake with these very calm words in her very sweet voice one night many years ago when she came to visit us in Vermont. A mouse? How could there be a mouse?

I am not disturbed by mice, but one early experience – it’s vague, but it includes my mother up on a chair all in a flutter because of a mouse somewhere in her room – taught me that some people don’t like them. I followed Eileen downstairs to where she had been asleep and then awakened by said mouse. Sure enough, a small rodent was nestled among her sheets.

“This is not a mouse, Eileen,” I said, somehow thinking this would improve the situation. “This is a hamster. How on earth did it get out of its cage?” I never did learn the answer to that question, but perhaps should have expected such things to happen. After all, I’m the one who allowed the kids to have hamsters as pets. The first one died when Bradley decided to give it a bath in the bathroom sink (surprise, surprise). I was never sure exactly what aspect of that experience sealed the furry little thing’s fate, but I allowed another and another until I even allowed a rat they called Templeton, for which I always thought I should get extra credit as a mom. Thankfully these things do not live forever, bath or no bath.

Eileen didn’t hold the hamster incident against us – though now that I think of it, perhaps this is why she hasn’t come to visit since…

Ironically, Eileen lives in New Jersey with her dear cat. She will forever be associated in my mind not only with the small-rodent-in-the-bed experience, but also with the shortbread cookies I make for my cottage guests. She gave me the recipe years ago. I can’t look at its determined handwriting and explicit instructions without recalling the intelligent woman who wrote such succinct instructions as “must be butter” and “Cut in fancy shapes” and left it at that.

This is Eileen’s recipe.

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These are tasty, easy and simple. You don’t have to wonder if someone likes nuts or raisins or chocolate (though I know only one person on the face of the earth who doesn’t like chocolate!). If you like a simple, buttery, crisp, non-foo-foo cookie, you’ll like these. My son Drew tells me that when I send them to him, they last only a few hours and then are gone. (Last night, in a moment of supreme delight, I handed him a little sleeve of them face to face here in San Francisco!)

I know you will appreciate how exact Eileen is about the measurements. All that is good. And you are welcome to follow her instructions on the rolling out and cutting out of the cookies as well. But I have a much quicker way once the dough is together.

Three ingredients: butter, sugar, flour. Mix together, form into logs, wrap and refrigerate, and then, when you are ready, slice and bake. Bake as many as you want that day or the next week. The reason this works well for cottage guests is that I can make the dough, keep it chilled, and bake fresh as many as I need just before they arrive.

Start with a pound of butter, that wonderful dairy product that makes so many foods so much better. (When Tracy came for dinner on Wednesday I put a few pats into drained, boiled potatoes along with some chopped, fresh parsley – oh yum! Oh, did I get distracted there? Back to cookies!)

Take the butter out hours before you want to make the cookies so that it is as soft as it can get at room temperature. If you are in a hurry and want to soften the butter in the microwave, that’s fine, but watch it carefully. You want it soft, not melted.

Add the 1 ¼ cups of sugar and stir up until creamy. This should not take long if your butter is properly soft. Then add the five cups of flour. Eileen’s recipe says be sure to sift before measuring. You can do this, but pre-sifted flour has worked fine for me. Your call.

The mixed-up butter-sugar-flour will look like this in the bowl.

dough loose in bowl

Now use your hands to smoosh that dough together, like this.

dough together in bowl

I don’t mind the hands-in-dough aspect of this process, in fact it is a pleasure like none other, but you will get a better result if, for the next part, you enlist the help of waxed paper.

This is where Eileen and I part ways. I was right there with her with “Mix thoroughly w/hands.” But the rolling out and cutting into fancy shapes I do only when my granddaughters are around or it’s a holiday and we want to make hearts or stars or dogbone shapes. Normally I cut four pieces of waxed paper about 18” long. Divide the dough roughly in quarters, form a rough “log” on each sheet and elongate it by hand, like this.

elongated by hand

Then use the paper to help you form a smoother log. Be gentle with the paper or it will tear. Your logs will look like this.

rolling with paper

This amount of dough, when rolled into logs about 1 1/4” in diameter, makes about 52 linear inches total. Mine looked like this, wrapped up and ready for the refrigerator.

wrapped

I put the logs in a plastic bag closed up tight and leave them there at least an hour, sometimes days or even a couple weeks, and slice them for baking when I am ready. Of course, you can slice off and bake only as many as you need. I seldom make this many at once, but I was going to be traveling and taking some with me.

sliced

Place them on the pans about this distance apart.

on pans unbaked

The shapes are not perfect as you can see. To me this is part of their beauty, their individuality, their authenticity. Make them perfect if you prefer 😊 The dough is easy to work with.

Bake them to about this color. Eileen’s recipe says 300 degrees for 20-25 minutes. I always found that with such a slow oven, they took much longer than that. No harm ever came in my kitchen from upping the temp to 350 and just keeping a close eye on them. In my experience, 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes is more like it.

on pan baked2

To serve to guests, pick a pretty plate or shallow bowl and make it nice.

in bowl to serve

Or put them in plastic sleeves (the kind you can get at a craft store like AC Moore or Michael’s). They travel well this way. Cut the recipe in half if you want fewer cookies, but why would you do that? These make great gifts!

in sleeves (2)

And By September…

The geese are calling to each other in their southward journey. The chill in the air made me put on a long-sleeved shirt this morning. My toes are asking for booties. Claudia is making amazing apple strudel. It must be September!

Claudia's apple strudel (2).jpg

Yesterday the sun shone and the sky was blue-blue for the first time in a while – all grave danger of hurricane Florence seeming to have stayed distant and now passed. Maybe the rain we did get helped my property look especially splendorous to me recently, or maybe it’s that I’m going away to visit my children and grandbabies and therefore am imprinting images with especial effort. In any case, I am struck with awe not only at the beauty around me, but also at how things have grown by September.

First and foremost, I have never seen coleus get so huge, let alone in my own planter boxes! Planted in April (the ones toward the back with the multi-colored leaves), by June my show-offs looked like this:

coleus in June.jpg

By July:

coleus.jpg

Relocated because of the upcoming Big Dig, and placed next to each other, they now look like this:

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Happy plants, to be sure! Perhaps the chrysanthemum is in competition with the coleus. It is a holdover from last year, having survived not only the winter but also being transplanted to a new box. It is close to bursting into color, though I will miss the peak I expect.

This was in May. You can hardly see it, but just in front of the beets, closest to the seat on the end of the box, that’s the mum.

mums in May.jpg

By last week, Mums Gigantus!

mum gigantus!.jpg

And today. The bursting of color begins!

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The scarlet flame caladium doesn’t get as much sun and has not even trebled in size, but its colors are glorious.

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Speaking of glorious, this butterfly has a most amazingly delicate transition from blue to black on its wings.

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Fall seems a good time for spots of color. The marigolds were also gigantic this year, as is clear in this photo with Rise about six weeks ago:

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But their splendor is perhaps best appreciated up close.

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The lemon grass also went crazy, but no crazier than usual. I gave it its own bed this year.

Here it is in May, just planted (foreground bed).


lemon grass in May.jpg

And in June.

lemon grass in June.jpg

And today. You can’t even see its bed!

lemon grass 9.19.jpg

You almost wonder what’s lurking inside there!

What’s lurking is the same thing that’s lurking inside them all – life! Here we are, every one of us, with life and beauty all around us, a gazillion different examples, we and they all enjoying moments, catch as catch can, in the sun, in the rain, no matter the situation. If we have open hearts, beauty will make itself clear at almost every turn.

Bobbe’s Granola, a.k.a. 5K Granola

For 22 years I lived in Vermont – made my own bread, homeschooled my kids, wore Birkenstocks year-round. I was a Granola Mom and proud of it. As you would doubtless expect, I also made my own granola. At some point my friend Bobbe gave me her recipe, and I made it and tweaked it and gave it away many times since. For a few years I even got to serve it to runners and walkers (along with little yogurts) at the annual 5K fundraising event our local hospice organization held at Keswick Golf Club.

Hospice of the Piedmont in Charlottesville, Virginia, has all my admiration for the outstanding job it does of ensuring that no one in this community dies alone or in pain, and that the families of those with terminal illnesses get the help they need too. I loved helping with the 5K every spring. Four or five years ago, thinking of my granola, I suggested that at a 5K, we should have food that the runners will remember. You want them to come back, to choose your race instead of some other race. Every event like this has banana halves and orange smiles, and lots of them have donated waters and bagels. But who has yogurt and homemade granola? It worked! The runners loved it!

Last year this amazing group of women, led by rock star Melba Campbell on the far right (who, for those of you who see the balloons, was also the birthday girl that day), raised more than $176,000 through this event that included just over 300 runners and walkers – a phenomenal ratio of dollars to runners. Every single volunteer contributed heart and soul, and I could not be prouder to have worked alongside them.

5K 2017 group photo.jpg

But a funny thing happened this morning. I took out my cookbook to look at the original recipe, you know, just in case it was in Bobbe’s handwriting, which would have been very cool, but instead the handwriting was mine. She must have dictated it to me. Too bad, a missing piece of authenticity. Nonetheless, I laughed to see, right there in blue ink on an old index card, the very technique I thought I had “discovered” only a few years ago, the critical step, the “secret” to making the granola crunchy but not overcooked! Yes, it was a piece of humble pie for breakfast. How did that happen?!

It happens when you have made a thing many times, so many times that after a while you don’t look at the recipe because the ingredients and steps are all in your head. You begin to feel comfortable with eyeballing the quantity of, let’s say, the cinnamon, you use a different kind of wheat germ instead of the kind you always used, you decide you like it a little darker so you leave it in the oven longer – that sort of thing.

One time a few years ago, while working long days at the hotel, the glass, gallon-size jar that I keep my granola in was empty and I didn’t want to delay making a new batch any longer. Because of my schedule, I made it late that night. By the time it was done and I had turned the oven off, I was super tired. Eh, I’ll finish it in the morning (meaning I’d take it off the pans then and put it away). And off I went to bed. The next morning as I positioned the spatula at the edge of the pan to begin the process of breaking it up for transfer to said jar…

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… I heard a different sound, a sound like crunch.

Words are great and they come in very handy for a lot of communication. Pictures add tremendously to the understanding of anything. But sounds! Sounds have their own benefit. When something has sounded a certain way all along, and then suddenly it sounds different, you pay attention. I deduced, from the sound that morning that sounded like crunchy, that the overnight stay my granola had had in my oven had pulled more of the moisture out of it than if you take it out of the oven after it’s cooked and let it cool on the counter. It was drier, crispier, crunchier. I loved it! I was elated!

This was a breakthrough, and I had my crazy work schedule to thank for it. The granola was better in yogurt, better in milk, just plain better. When Lori Woods, one of the exceedingly competent and dedicated hospice workers, asked me for the recipe last year, I included in it:

Bake at 375 until the tops get brownish, which takes about 25 minutes. I happen to like mine a little on the darker side, but the shade of brown is up to you. When you have decided it’s right, turn off the oven but leave the pans in there. I found out by accident that leaving the pans in the oven overnight to cool slowly allows the residual heat to pull any excess moisture from the granola and gives it (and allows it to keep) a wonderful crunch if stored without fruit in it. 

See that part: I found out by accident…? I did! At least I think I did! But maybe I didn’t. Maybe the very clear instruction on the original recipe came out of deep storage in my brain, came right up to the front and presented itself anew. Here it is, see it? Plain as day: Turn oven off & leave in overnight.

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Now I know you think the moral of this story is: Every now and then you should look at the recipe! Yes, that’s part of it. But something else interesting happened this morning. When I took my pans out of the oven, having baked the granola last night and left it to dry overnight, as I pushed the edge of the spatula along the bottom of the pan to loosen it up, I did not hear the crunchy sound as usual. It sounded, well, softer. This story is NOT unfolding as it is supposed to!

Food is funny that way. It does not always cooperate the way you expect it to. Boxed cake mixes used to have alternate instructions for people who live at high altitudes (probably they still do, I haven’t bought one in a long time). This is because, for one thing, the air pressure is lower and foods take longer to cook. I never lived at a high altitude but if you did, it would make sense to pay attention to that.

I have never seen alternate instructions for hurricanes or other weird weather situations, but I think maybe, just maybe, the excessive humidity in the air right now because of Florence affected my granola, even inside the oven. Could it be? For several years now, I’ve done the overnight method. Why this time is it different? Lucky me: I have another batch to compare with mine.

Mom wanted to make some too because Jerry is a big fan of this granola and he was running low. (Poor man, must keep him well supplied.) She made it herself a few weeks ago and it didn’t come out right, so I made a batch together with her yesterday morning and then a batch of my own when I got home. This was great not only because I could spend some fun time with Mom, but also because I could see the process through the eyes of someone who was new at it.

Start with these ingredients.

ingredients.jpg

Specifically,

1 large round container old fashioned oats (42oz, 1.2kg, which is 15 8oz measuring cups full in case you buy your oats in bulk packaging)

1 ½ cups shredded coconut (this 7oz bag was a little more than that, I used the whole thing)

1 cup wheat germ

½ cup flax seed meal (optional)

1 cup brown sugar, light or dark

2 tablespoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

Several points to note.

  1. Old fashioned oats are better than quick oats for this.
  2. You might like your granola sweeter or not as sweet. You can add some more brown sugar, or use less. You can use unsweetened coconut.
  3. Your wheat germ might be toasted or some other variety. Fine.
  4. I use flax seed only when I have it. Mom had it and wanted to use it.
  5. There are no nuts in this list. There are two reasons for this. One, I do not eat nuts. Two, if you eat nuts and want to add them, it is best to do them after the granola is baked and cooled.
  6. There is no dried fruit in this list. If you add the dried fruit before baking, you will end up with fruit that is hard as rocks and hard to chew. Put it in later.

My 8-quart, 14” dough bowl works well for this amount of ingredients. I brought mine to Mom’s because she doesn’t have that big a bowl. She said to add to these instructions that you might want to either use a big pot as a big bowl or cut the recipe in half so that you can use a smaller bowl.

Mix all of this together well in a very large bowl. Make sure you break down any brown sugar or coconut clumps at this time. Fingers or the back of the spoon work well.

Once the dry ingredients are mixed together, add 1 ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil (or whatever cooking oil you prefer) and then 1 cup honey (local is best, you know what they say about it being good for you). Measuring the oil first, then the honey in the same measuring cup, helps your honey not stick so much to the inside of the measuring cup. When you have added both, stir it up carefully.

I loved stirring it all up using this beautiful hardwood spoon that my son Bradley made for Mom years ago. The very tools we cook with evoke good emotions sometimes!

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Once the mixture looks well mixed, which is to say de-clumped, divide it between two 12×18” pans or the equivalent. These have a nice standing-up edge and that’s important against spillage. The silicone mats are underneath, but you can’t see them. Bradley made that fish cutting board too, by the way.

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We preheated Mom’s oven to 375 and left the pans in there for 25 minutes. The top pan got browner than the bottom pan.

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Both are acceptable. You make it however dark you like. The original recipe does say a 300 degree oven, oops, I also see today. Maybe I got impatient somewhere along the line and upped the temp. Either way, it bakes, and you decide how brown you want it.

Do note that brown corresponds directly to crunch. The browner, the crunchier, regardless of residual oven heat. Getting back to the humidity question, Mom’s granola turned out crunchier than mine despite the humidity and I think this is because hers stayed in the hot oven longer. She mixed up the darker and the lighter before putting it away and got a very acceptable result. SO… maybe it’s the combination of length of time in the oven (how much it cooks in the first place) plus length of time in the residual heat plus the (random, uncontrollable amount of) humidity in the air.

All right, so you mixed up the dry, stirred in the oil and honey, de-clumped, spread in pans, baked for 20-25 mins, turned the oven off and let it sit overnight in your oven. The next morning, use a spatula to loosen the granola from the pan and use your fingers to break up the larger pieces. Now either put it directly into jars or tins to store without dried fruit and/or nuts, OR combine with the fruit and/or nuts now and then put away for storage. I store mine without fruit. IF you store your homemade granola with the dried fruit mixed into it, the dried fruit will put some of the moisture back in it and your granola will be softer. Adding nuts before storing the granola should not affect the moisture the way fruit does, but I cannot be sure about this. The 5K race day fruit was dried cranberries, cherries, cut up apricots and golden raisins; use whatever you like and quantities you think are appropriate. Almonds, walnuts or pecans are good I’m told, but I cannot be sure about this either.

My favorite combo in a cereal bowl is equal parts granola and Grape-Nuts (which contains neither grapes nor nuts, but that’s another story) with some dried cranberries on top (dried cherries on special occasions or to treat myself). I use the Grape-Nuts because the flavors and textures combine well and it helps to stretch out the batch of granola, meaning I don’t need to make it as often (which was super important back when I was working ten or so hours a day at the hotel). Mixing some granola into plain yogurt with a little bit of strawberry jam is also very nice…

Granola makes a great gift because it keeps well and looks nice in a tin or a mason jar or a clear plastic bag tied up with a bow.

 

 

Mess… Mess… Neat!

Do you remember playing Duck Duck Goose as a child? A random number of children formed a sitting circle. One got up and walked slowly around the circle, tapping the head of each sitting child as she (or he) walked, saying “Duck” with each tap. Then – and this was entirely the choice of the walking/tapping child – the tapper said “Goose!” with a tap on one chosen head. Both tapper and goose sprung into action in that moment – the goose jumped up and the tapper then ran like mad around the circle, trying to get back to the goose’s now-empty spot and into a sit before getting tagged by the chasing goose. If you made it to that spot, you were safe and the goose became the tapper. If you got caught, you were the tapper again. And Duck Duck Goose (!) started all over again.

Eppie’s shirt made me think of this game, only in her case it’s Duck Duck Moose. (How cute is this t-shirt!? They live in Vermont where you very well might see a moose stroll through your yard. How cute is this sweet country girl?!)

Eppie duck duck moose (2).jpeg

Funny how one Instagram photo can spark a parallel thought. Yesterday I saw that picture and realized that Duck Duck Goose or Duck Duck Moose is the way it is around my house – only it’s Mess, Mess, Neat!

I am very nonchalant about most of the messes around here – I can ignore them for years! – until I get into my head that one of them has to be addressed. Then I spring into action.

There are lots of messes. Generally I don’t take pictures of them, but here’s one.

A big tree fell over in the forest while Rise and Eppie were here in early August. See those very large clusters of leaves on and near the ground? Those had been high up in the sky the day before. Or maybe a few days before. I don’t know when it fell. But some of the leaves were still green.

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A little closer in, you can see the vertical remains of the trunk. It just snapped. The girls and Coco are completely unconcerned. Nor should they be. The tree’s not going anywhere.

fallen tree2.jpg

We’re not going to get to this mess any time soon, especially if the last fallen tree is any example.

The one you see below fell at least five years ago, i.e. it occupied that bit of the hillside for at least five years. Its core was rotten when it fell (which is why it fell). See it lying there, practically buried by years of fallen leaves?

In March I had compost delivered. You see it spread on the ground to the left. Compost was the promise of real grass in that area, not just whatever could survive, but a real yard maybe. That eyesore (Mess) of a rotten log had to go.

fallen tree1.jpg

First clear the uphill side. The advantage of living on a hillside with only forest down below is that you can rake those leaves and then deposit them as far down the hill as you can. Out of sight. The earth will take care of them.

fallen tree2.jpg

Then more raking to expose the downhill side. It was a lot of raking. I remember being tired at the end of the day(s).

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But the guys with their chain saws (bless them!), and some more raking, made all the difference. That tree in front of the log had to come down too. Quite a difference for that hillside.

fallen tree4 gone.jpg

side yard in May.jpg

Not bad, eh?

But “Mess… Mess… Neat!” (per se) didn’t come into my head until Eppie’s shirt came up on my phone yesterday AND I was deep into it with the liriope.

In March I had made up my mind that once and for all, the front garden was going to be nice (Goose! Neat!). I cleared it out, put stone along the foundation, planted hellaboris, gave the liriope room to grow. You can see them if you look carefully – the green stuff that looks like bunches of grass among the mulch. At the far corner is an azalea bush.

front garden March 25.jpg

It was a bad idea. All that work, and then Hank Browne made me a drawing of what a new front porch could look like, and it was all over. I’ll come back to Hank’s drawing another day, but the bottom line was that if the old porch was going to be replaced in any way, that front foundation wall – a Duck I have been nonchalantly walking past, a Mess I have successfully ignored for years – must be fixed first. Thus the upcoming Big Dig. As in Big Digging Machine Coming Soon.

Liriope multiply rapidly, like rabbits. A month or so ago I moved a bunch of them, along with the hellaboris, to the curve of the driveway. No point not saving them.

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But there were more. Lots more. On Friday, because of Hurricane Florence’s very slow track, it was not raining here yet, but still we had postponed the Big Dig. Over the weekend it rained only intermittently, so I decided to take the opportunity to relocate the remaining liriope that would be in the way of (and possibly not survive) the excavator when it finally gets going.

Having neglected this garden for months now (because why bother?), that corner looked like this. Mess. Embarrassing. Really quite unacceptable. You can’t even see the remaining liriope, there are so many weeds.

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But I wanted to move them, save as many as I could. The tapper tapped me on the head and I got going! I chose to move them along the front of the garden, which looked like this pre-liriope.

pre-liriope.jpg

The deer fencing makes it impossible to weed-whack along the edge, so it tends to start looking, you guessed it, Messy!

But time + no rain + a shovel resulted in first a trench.

liriope first pass.jpg

Then a trench with manure by the end of Friday. The distance between posts is 8′, FYI. You can do the math as to how long the trench is. And that’s clay I’m digging into, Play-Doh-like clay, mixed with rocks.

liriope with manure.jpg

The liriope were in by the end of Saturday,

liriope in.jpg

which means a dug out front garden bed, much more ready for the excavator (who will move the azalea with the machine, thank God!). I didn’t save all of them, but we can’t save them all, can we? (I’ll let you think of parallels for that truth.)

front garden dug out.jpg

And finally mulch on either side of these happy plants, mulch which covers the buried plastic weed barrier that went in yesterday, Sunday, with Sandy’s help. Thank you, Sandy.

liriope mulched.jpg

Mess, Mess, Neat!

It’s entirely the choice of the tapper in the game as to which child to gets designated the Goose. It’s entirely my choice around the house as to which area next becomes Neat (acts of God and nature excepted, and time and means considered, of course). In the meantime all the other children (the Ducks) sit and wait. In the meantime all the other areas in need (the Messes) sit and wait. But sooner or later, I’ll get a bug in my bonnet as they used to say, and there will be action!

Coco, The Pug in Our World

It is usually not the best idea to give someone a puppy. That didn’t stop me and my sisters eight years ago from giving my dad the cutest little black pug you ever saw.

Coco in chair puppy (2).JPG

Why a pug? Growing up, we had always had German shepherds, beautiful, loyal, trainable dogs. First we had Jesse, then Adam. When Mom and Dad got a pug some years later, we thought they had gone foo-foo, but of course that was their prerogative. Foo-foo is an option. Daphne entertained them for many years. They loved her. They enjoyed her. Then she died and they said, That’s it, no more dogs.

A few years went by. Dad’s 75th birthday was approaching. One of us had the brilliant idea to give him a puppy, a pug again since they had loved Daphne so much, but a black pug this time. In retrospect I am not exactly sure how we justified this, since it is, I repeat, usually not the best idea to give someone a puppy. I think we said, Ah well, if he really doesn’t want her, one of us will take her. Not overly risky. We are not big risk-takers.

The little black pug was born in Virginia. It’s a 7+ hour drive from my home to where Mom and Dad lived in New Jersey, and at the time I had a job with crazy weekend hours. It was hard to find a time to drive up there to present her, which of course had to be a surprise. So this sweet puppy stayed with us for a few weeks. She was a neck-nuzzler. Fur like velvet. Puppy adorableness. How could he not like this gift?

Coco as puppy.jpeg

We finally arranged a time to visit, in no way hinting that we were bringing a life-changing animal. Samuel, still a teenager then, held her as we walked through the front door and greeted two very surprised people. Not only surprised, but resistant.

Dad’s exact (deadpan) words were, “You have got to be kidding.”

But she won him over quickly. Within 24 hours you couldn’t have taken that dog from him for anything (and whew! the plan worked!). They named her Coco after Coco Chanel. It warmed our hearts to see him cuddling with her and whispering silly nothings to her, though Mom had a little trouble with the new order of things. For her it was a Hey, remember me? situation. Wife of 50-some years, the one who takes care of you, the one who’s been here all along? But she let it be. His little schmoozer, his little gizmo was almost always curled up on his lap, scrunched between him and the arm of his chair, parked at his feet on the ottoman or sprawled across his chest with her head tucked into his neck. If she was not bodily next to him, she either 1. needed to go out or 2. had to be hungry.

My sister Lynn remembers that if Coco sat in front of him and stared unblinkingly at him while he was in front of the television, he would say, “She has to go out. Can someone take her out?” He said this even if she had been out five minutes before! Sometimes he himself took her out. It was hilarious to see him carrying the doggie poop bag dispenser on his wrist like a little purse. Only for this dog would he have done such a thing!

dad with Coco

My sister Joanne remembers taking Coco out one dark night, getting no farther than the driveway and hearing a growl which very well could have been a bear (not uncommon there) so she hightailed it back into the house. When she breathlessly explained what happened, she soon realized that Dad was not the least bit concerned that his firstborn daughter might have been mauled by a bear, but much more concerned that his little doggie might have met her demise. Is she ok? Is she ok?

He held her on his lap at the table while he ate. He fed her off his own fork! It didn’t even matter if friends were there. Lynn’s friend Tracy witnessed this off-the-fork thing too. Dad made sure Coco ate at 4:00pm on the dot because, I mean, look, anyone can see that dog is starving. That 22-pound dog! The vet was always telling them to put her on a diet. Mom tried, really she did, but she couldn’t stop Dad from giving her morsels of his own food or chips or peanuts or whatever snack he had at night.

This is the same man who trained our German shepherds to stay out of the dining room and living room (because those rooms had the good carpeting) and to stay in the yard without our having an electric fence. God help them if they crossed a paw over the line! Dad was an excellent trainer. He just didn’t apply it to Coco. And you know what happens when you let a dog get anything it wants. She quickly became a brat. Mom called her Brat-dog all the time. Dad didn’t care. He loved her just the way she was.

In this family photo taken three or four years ago, you can see who is closest to his heart. Let no one come between man and dog!

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And no one did. She was with him till the end. After Dad passed away in February 2016, Mom preferred not to have to worry about walking Coco in the snow. Joanne was willing to take her to her home in Arizona. But Samuel wanted her. He had had a special attachment to her since she was a puppy. And because of him, only because of him, she is not a brat anymore! Coco’s transformation began in Burlington, Vermont. I said transformation and I mean transformation.

First of all, poor little baby who didn’t want to get her paws cold in the snow, sorry, this is Vermont in February and the ground is frozen. And she had to go out in the very early morning because his job started at 6am. Also her whole Oh listen, other people in the house are up, surely it’s time to get up – not a chance.  She learned to get up on Samuel’s timetable, not her own. She learned to sleep in her own bed. She went on walks measured in miles, not in how many houses you walked past. The extra poundage, the table scraps, the continual treats – those days are over, little girl. He put her on a steady diet of high grade dog food, makes her wait for her dinner until after he has had his (and it doesn’t matter what time that is), makes her sit and wait until he says “okay” before she can go to her bowl and eat, reduced the treat frequency to “occasional” and got her down to a swole 16 pounds. (I just learned that word. Swole is the new buff.)

Interestingly, in an age when mixed breeds are often in need of homes and it is a point of pride to have adopted one (and bravo to all those who do that!), Samuel felt looked down upon as he walked this purebred through the streets of Burlington. I told him to consider her a rescue and never mind about those stares. Mom didn’t want her, and even though Joanne was willing to take her, he is the one who gladly opened his heart and his home to her. I think she knows this somehow.

Oh, the bond they share. She snuggles down in the chair with him when he’s reading. She stays out on the deck with him when he’s doing his yoga. For three months of this year, Samuel was away and Coco stayed with me. Every night, to get her to come into my room (where her bed was) at bedtime, I had to pick her up and carry her in. Her bed is in his room now, as it was before he left. He just calls “Coco!” when he wants her to come to his room at night. And off the comfy couch she goes. Trots right in there. She knows who the alpha is. My human, I go with my human.

She adores him as she did my dad, maybe especially when he makes her look super cool,

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and even when he lets little children (Piper in this photo) reach out to touch her pink tongue that doesn’t seem to fit in her mouth.

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It’s a different life with Samuel, certainly more active, possibly more amusing. Now you want me to do what?

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And these chickens? she says. Why are they here?

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And here?

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But she still finds the sun spots.

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And she still has one lap she loves more than any other. It’s a very good life for this little black pug. And we love her just the way she is.

Samuel and Coco on chair.jpg

Best Onion Soup Ever

I never planted onions before, but this year I went big: one hundred sets each of white, yellow and red. I never planted rosemary with success before, or thyme at all. But these essential ingredients for the best onion soup ever all grew well this year. I know this isn’t the fullest rosemary bush in the world, but for me, it’s phenomenal.

rosemary.jpg

The thyme might look like a weed, but those perfect little leaves strike joy in my heart.

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Onions, well, onions sit in the dirt. They are a mess when you bring them in and put them in the sink to clean them.

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But what’s inside the mess is glorious. They glisten like jewels.

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I learned how to make onion soup when I was 16. That year, I wanted to make a trip to Germany to meet Claudia. She and I had been pen-pals since we were 12, having met through my great aunt Lina, who was her father’s cousin and my mother’s aunt by marriage. Claudia used to say that she and I were related “around nine corners.”

Here we are during that trip, posing with two other (closer) relatives between us on top of a mountain we hiked in what I think was the foothills of the Alps. (Claudia, help me here, what mountain was that?) I didn’t plan this Onion Soup post to fall on this date, but I’m so glad to be able to say: Happy Birthday, Claudia!!

Claudia and I 1977 hiking (2).jpg

This ties to my onion soup because I needed money to pay for my trip. For the nine months before my trip, throughout my senior year of high school, I held a weekend job at a French restaurant called Picot’s Place. It was there that I observed the chef making onion soup week after week. I have since made it myself countless times the same way he did. I LOVE onion soup, and I have never been disappointed in how mine turns out. Somewhere, I got the right kind of crocks long ago, and have always made it with the bread and melted cheese on top, the way it is often served in restaurants.

Nothing wrong with that. Well, except for how difficult it can be to eat it with the cheese adhering to the bowl the way it does, on and under the rim. And sometimes, when you get it in a restaurant, they put too much bread in there which soaks up all the broth, or sometimes too much cheese so that you are eating just gobs of melted cheese before you can get to the soup.

This past weekend, at the Inn at Mount Vernon, I had onion soup that was BETTER than mine. Not only was it better, it was better in a way that I thought I could duplicate, so I did, thinking there might be some onion soup fans out there. How was it better?

  1. The onions were cut up smaller than you often get it, meaning we did not deal with trying to get long floppy pieces of onion onto our spoons.
  2. It had been thickened! Never had onion soup except with a clear broth before, and this change was amazing.
  3. The bread-cheese on top was cheesy croutons – bread cubes on which cheese had been melted prior to simply putting them on top of the bowl of creamy, rich soup.

I promise that the fact of it being a nasty, rainy day this past Sunday at Mt. Vernon and our being finally inside, out of the weather, and into the warmth of the dining room had nothing to do with how good the soup was. On any day, this soup would be judged (by me, anyway) as outstanding.

For my version, I started with that bowl of onions above, minus the red ones, which turned out to be 5 full cups of chopped onions. Chop them as fine as you want. I asked Samuel to cut them up, which was rather a pain because they are so small and therefore it took a long time. All I said regarding what size to chop them was “not insanely fine,” which he interpreted as meaning the size could fall anywhere in the huge range of possibilities between no-longer-whole and minced. I realized my communication error, my inexactitude, when he asked me to confirm that he had judged “not insanely fine” correctly, which he realized he hadn’t when I simply stared at his pile and did not verbally approve in a glance.

All to say, cut them as big or as small as you want. Just don’t leave them whole.

Put the five cups of chopped onions in a large pot (my Dutch oven came in handy again) along with a stick (1/2 cup, or 113 grams) butter. Turn this on low and let it cook for about 45 minutes, stirring now and then. It will look like this in half an hour or so, but leave it a little longer, about 15 minutes longer, on real low for those onions to get super soft and transparent. They are like gold to me.

sauteeing.jpg

Next I veered from onion soup tradition and added half a cup of flour, and stirred it in, making a pasty roux. Making a paste like this is the basic way to thicken something without ending up with lumps. Stir that flour in (a whisk works well) till the paste is smooth, then add four cups of chicken broth/stock and stir it up again. Then add four cups of  beef broth/stock and stir again.

That’s 8 cups of liquid total, and I split mine between chicken and beef broth because that’s how I was taught. You can use all chicken stock, homemade or purchased, or vegetable stock, or all beef stock or whatever combination you want. You can use 8 cups of water plus 8 bouillon cubes (4 chicken, 4 beef) if push comes to shove and that’s all you’ve got.

Then add half a cup of cooking sherry. I was running low and had only a quarter cup of cooking sherry so I added another quarter cup of this fine port, which is possibly why it turned out to be the best onion soup ever. I cannot be sure.

port.jpg

If you happen to have a bit of leftover pork gravy from a roast you recently made, or beef or chicken gravy, feel free to put that in. I had about half a cup of pork gravy. Whether this contributed to it being the best onion soup ever, I also cannot be sure. But I think maybe.

Then add your herbs. My handful for this pot of soup looked like this. I picked the parsley because it looked so pretty, thinking I might use it in the soup, but I have never put parsley in onion soup, so in the end I used only the rosemary and thyme. (The parsley came into play later with chicken piccata.)

herbs.jpg

Quantities of herbs: If using fresh, use the leaves of five 6”-long sprigs of rosemary, plus the leaves of five 5”-long sprigs of thyme. (I am trying to be exact here. A little more or less will be fine.) If using dried, use 1 ½ tsp each of rosemary and thyme. In my pot after adding the herbs, it looked like this.

herbs in pot.jpg

Let all of this cook for about an hour on a low simmer. That means the heat is high enough for there to be some bubbling along the edges of the pot but not a full boil. Salt and pepper to taste.

While all those flavors are working their magic in the pot and the soup is becoming delicious, you can make the croutons. Choose bread you think would make good croutons. A small baguette or a firm white loaf will work. I would avoid anything with seeds. I happened to have this lovely darker bread in my freezer, which might have had some rye flour in it, but I don’t know because I didn’t make it. It was small, only about 5 inches across.

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I let it thaw, then cubed it like this,

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then put the cubes on a cookie sheet, buttered them with a little melted butter (with a brush as you would butter corn on the cob), then sprinkled parmesan cheese on them. The butter is both for flavor and to help the cheese stick. You could probably use a different cheese like cheddar or swiss, as long as it’s finely grated.

bread with butter and cheese.jpg

I preheated the oven to 400 degrees and baked the croutons for 20 minutes. Then I turned the oven off and left them in there. Leaving them in as the oven cools draws more of the moisture out of them and makes them crispier without being darker. Finished they looked like this.

bread toasted with cheese.jpg

They are marvelous and would be marvelous on almost any soup, but on/in the onion soup, oh my!

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We were all in heaven. Samuel used four verys to describe how good it was, as in “very, very, very, very good.” I told him I’m not sure he ever used four verys before about anything I’ve made, and he said something to the effect that he was too overwhelmed with how good the soup was to bother with finding better descriptors.

The superlative soup found yet another use this morning. When making myself some scrambled eggs, I used a slotted spoon and took up some of the onion/herb part of the refrigerated soup and heated it up in a skillet. Then I added a handful of spinach chopped up a bit. Let that cook a couple minutes till the spinach got soft. Then added my two beat-up, positively orange-yolked eggs. How many verys? I’ll let you guess.

A Tattered Quilt

A most fabulous event occurred yesterday in my family – a new granddaughter was born! She is perfect and healthy and blessed to have such wonderful parents, though she is as yet unnamed. Piper is her two-year-old sister, so Brad and Beth have been calling the baby P2 up till now. They said they have to look at her a while before they decide on the name. Fair enough.

My own name, to all my grandbabies, is “Oma” (not Grandma or Grammie or any other sweet name for grandmother). I love being Oma.

Brad Beth Piper and P2.jpg

I got it in my head some time ago to make a quilt for this little baby. I finished it and mailed it off yesterday, pleased with how it came out but at the same time kind of nervous. I chose the fabrics. I chose the colors. I know Beth is partial to purple and liked a simple green receiving blanket I had made for Piper. I found a friendly, happy daisy print that’s got purple, green and yellow and decided to build the rest of the quilt around that one.

But colors are funny. Think of the variety you see when you go to buy paint – how many different reds, greens, blues, etc. Colors can be warm and inviting or cold and off-putting. They can make you feel comfortable or give you the creeps. They can calm you down or make you want to want to run in the other direction. So how do you choose? Will they like what I have chosen?

Comfort came unexpectedly from my neighbor Tracy. “I have a quilt my grandmother made for me and I used it until it started falling apart,” she said. “I hope they love yours just as much.”

That’s when I flashed back to two quilts I made many years ago and gave to friends who had had babies. The images that came in my head were of meeting up randomly with both of these moms and their babies after some time had gone by, maybe a year, maybe two. Both quilts that I had so carefully sewn together were right there with each child and both were in tatters – I mean ragged edges and stuffing coming out. Can’t get rid of it, both moms told me in different ways. “She loves this quilt! This is the one she wants.”

A little bit like The Velveteen Rabbit learns from the Skin Horse, right?* I know I’ve referred to this story before, but it’s pertinent again.

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“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become REAL.”

“Does it hurt?”

“Sometimes.” For he was always truthful. “When you are real, you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up, or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or who have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

I don’t know if any of them – Brad or Beth or Piper (who has a dolly-size quilt to match) or especially the new baby – will like the colors and the pattern I’ve chosen. Hopefully they will not want to put it in a drawer under a bunch of other stuff! But Tracy’s words about the quilt her grandmother made gave me an image of the quilt I just made, only with its colors faded and its edges worn and its fibers super soft from use and time. By then the colors and the pattern are no longer important. What will matter, what I hope will override any other impression this quilt gives, is the love that went into it, the deep, inexpressible love in my heart. Nothing will make me happier than if it serves as the vehicle of that love, if it speaks to it and of it, and is someday worn, thin, tattered, Real.

Think what you will of the colors. These are the fabrics I chose.

fabrics.jpg

This is the pattern I chose.**

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First you make a plan to evenly distribute the three yellows, three purples and three greens, using the daisy print to tie them together. This was my plan. I messed it up by the third block, but was able to recover.

pattern (2).jpg

Then you cut out all the squares with a rolling blade.

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You have to pay close attention during the first block or two. Before trimming, it looks like this, which throws you a bit.

beginning of square.jpg

Same block after trimming (ah, that’s better):

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Then you make the other eight blocks and move them all around until you are happy with the balance and distribution of color. It’s never perfect. Lots of the corners are not perfectly joined. I did the best I could with the balance of colors.

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Then you add cross-pieces to hold it all together. I used the same purple (flannel) as the four triangular corners of each block. I hope Beth still likes purple!

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Then you add a middle layer of batting and a backing and you bind it all together. I found a soft green flannel for the backing. From the back it looks like this. Nothing fancy. I am no expert. But it will serve.

back of P2 quilt2.jpg

I had enough leftover pieces to make a small dolly-size quilt and I thought Piper might like it.

finished Piper quilt.jpg

Can you imagine it years from now, faded and tattered? Stained maybe? Much used? Much enjoyed? I hope so!

 

*The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams and illustrated by David Jorgensen, Alfred A Knopf Publishers, New York, 1985

** from 501 Quilt Blocks, Better Homes and Gardens, Meredith Corporation, Des Moines, Iowa, 1994

Lobster Yolks

On Labor Day I went to a Lobster Fest and came home with three bags full of claws, heads, bodies, guts and other assorted lobster leftovers. I give everybody who comes – no, not lobster leftovers! – I give all family and friends and all cottage guests the chickens-eat-everything spiel, so I put it to the test. Will chickens eat lobster? You bet they will!

(For future reference, do note the color of the lobster shell.)

lobster1.jpg

Let’s be reasonable though, one bag at a time. If I hadn’t been worried about how long it would take leftover lobster to start stinking up my downstairs fridge, tightly tied up though the bags were, I might have allotted half a bag at a time. But a predetermined plan to do that wouldn’t have mattered. By the time I emptied half the bag, I knew they’d get it all. The chickens in most cases get super excited when you give them food (any food will do!) and that keeps you giving them more and more if you can. Poor babies – you’d think they were half-starved the way they beg! Plus, the bag is icky and all you want to do is finish giving the Sewing Circle half the bag and the Bridge Club the other half, and then throw that bag away!

Yes, Sarah, thank you – I love your names for my two groups of hens. Traditionally, ladies sewed in small circles and ladies formed clubs to play bridge together, and my hens are ladies. Besides the eggs that put them in the female camp, I can call them ladies because they are mostly quiet but sometimes squawk, they walk gracefully around thinking/knowing/showing how beautiful they are and they tend to form little groups or clubs among themselves (and not always for benign purposes but sometimes, like Wives of Atlanta or Wives of New York, to establish and maintain pecking order, which is not always pretty, thus the fence between the two groups!). And some of them, like my silkies, are having a bad hair day every day. You may recall.

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I like Sewing Circle for the brahmas, cinnamon queens, Rhode Island reds and the lone araucana (old Miss Gray) – the white ones to the left in the first photo – because some of them (the brahmas and the cinnamon queens) have distinctive darker feathers on their heads like a hood, which makes a kind of circle around their necks. I like Bridge Club for the silkies, black copper marans and lone d’uccle because some of them (the silkies and the d’uccle) are in that distinct grouping of chickens called Bantams (lightweights). My brain, along with everything else it remembers and processes, can make short work of Sewing Circle: circle and Bridge Club: Bantam. I think it’s brilliant.

As previously blogged, the Sewing Circle dove into the first round of lobster leftovers with a vengeance, but the Bridge Club was strangely reluctant. It’s all the same to me. Who am I to say that anyone or any chicken should eat lobster or some other decadent, succulent, protein-rich food? Chickens love bugs. They hunt all day for them, prize them, devour them. And what is a lobster but a big, waterbound bug?

But I think the Bridge Club came around. In fact, I have the idea that one chicken lorded it (ladied it??) over the others and got the lion’s share of the meat, and the guilty party is Miss D’uccle. Here she is. Does that look like a face you want to mess with?

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Why do I think this? Miss D’uccle is small, the smallest of the smalls. This does not stop her from being possibly the most obnoxious of all the birds, yakking all day long. I sometimes remind her that I ousted the roosters on account of their noise! Nonetheless she is a contributing member of the flock, though it stands to reason that she would also lay the smallest of the eggs. Can you pick out which one is hers?

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That’s right, it’s the whitish one near the top next to that speckled one. That’s some variety of color, size and speckledness, no? I think they are so beautiful!

For the contrast, I broke the huge whitish one first (it is actually pale greenish, but my lighting is poor and doesn’t make the subtle difference clear). Then I broke the d’uccle egg. Guess who’s been hogging the lobster! Or maybe just got more than her share?

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I broke three or four more eggs, all of which were more orange that the huge one but none as orange as Miss D’uccle’s. When beat up, however, they made this rich color. You hardly ever see the likes of that when you are about to scramble eggs. (I promise I did not retouch this photo – I’m lucky I know how to insert them!)

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Now I ask you – are my chickens eating better than most chickens? Better than the chickens whose eggs you eat? Granted, lobster for dinner is a rarity, especially for chickens. But we take what we get and I took the lobster. Kinda makes me want to ask for more leftovers, whatever they might be…