30 April 2012

Everything is Coming Up Roses!

I opened the door to the back deck this morning and found that my rose arbor is in full bloom! It has been promising to burst forth for several days now, but the temperature has been cool so they stayed closed. Last night it was warm enough to sleep with the windows open so the roses finally bloomed.

This rose blooms for all it is worth in May, but that will be the last of the show until late summer when it will flush again. The second bloom isn't as much of a show, but it is really nice to see them again before the weather gets cold.I look forward to this show all year and it is really worth the wait!

 I especially love it when some of the petals fall and the walkway is strewn with them. It is lovely at night when the moon light strikes the blooms on the arbor and the petals on the ground. The whole scene takes on a dream-like luminescence. Maybe this year I will actually do what I always tell myself I will do, and take my camera and tripod out for some night time photos...

 Tagg likes to hang out on the deck in the evening. It is my favorite time of the day to be out there as well. The air is filled with the scents of rose and jasmine, there is a nice breeze that draws cool air from the woods, and the roses practically glow in the gloaming of the evening.  What a way to end the day! I hope this finds you all doing the things that bring you joy. Until next time, Shalom!

28 April 2012

Spring At Heart's Ease Cottage

Spring came in February this year, now it has decided to be Winter in late April. We have had temps dipping into the low 30's, which doesn't do much for my warm weather crops like tomatoes. I never plant tomatoes before May 1, even though our last frost date is April 15, because I don't trust the weather to do what it is supposed to do. Unfortunately I had  tomatoes that I had started indoors out for the day to start hardening them off and I forgot about them. The temperature over night dropped to 31 degrees. When I remembered them in the morning I went outside to find my poor little baby tomatoes had withered with the cold..sigh. I just have too many things going on at one time these days... I will start new tomatoes from seed for my specialty tomatoes, but I will have to go ahead and by some flats of Romas so my canning tomatoes can go in the ground May 1.
The gardens this Spring have been beautiful and as I write this my rose arbor is bursting forth with hundreds of pale pink blossoms. I will take some photos tomorrow, when it stops raining. For now, here are some photos of what Spring has been like here at the Cottage:

 The azalea bushes in front of my house were spectacular this Spring! These bushes are about 20 years old. Last year we planted 90 more azaleas in what used to be the front yard.

We now call  it the "Bird Garden", since the birds have come by the droves to hang out in the bushes. The new bushes haven't bloomed yet since they are a later variety, but I will be sure to post some pics when they bloom.

This little bunny fountain is playing flower pot this year while I rework the garden it usually resides in.

I try to plant some Heart's Ease every year, as a nod to our beloved Cottage. The weather here turns warm so early in the year that they quickly go to seed, but I enjoy every minute of the time they are with us.

Da spent a lot of the late summer last year reclaiming the blackberry trellis' that turned into a thicket of unruly brambles while we were living in Costa Rica. All his hard work paid off this Spring. The canes are absolutely covered with blossoms and newly set berries.

The thumb-sized sweet berries will come ripe in July, and will be eaten with home made granola for breakfast, will accompany other seasonal fruits in smoothies, and will be made into some mouthwatering  cobblers. We will freeze some, make some into jam and best of all we will get to share them with neighbors and friends.

                    Friskie enjoys a walk through the iris beds with me.

                    This Iris smells like lemon Chiffon Pie!

                              Granny Smith Apple blossoms.

    Our resident Anole spends the afternoon napping on the deck rail. 

   Here he is showing off his colors for any sweet young thing that might be watching...

Patrick's Rose, better known as David Austen's "Graham Thomas", has bloomed a month early. The early Spring weather convinced everything in my yard to bloom way before its time.

This rose was damaged in a wind storm last year and I thought it was going to die... It came back with determination and has graced the deck with its citrus scented blooms since late March.

   Black Seeded Simpson, Lolla Rosa, Mesclun mix and Romaine lettuces, will be in the salad bowl this Spring, along with beet greens, new onions and Cherry Belle Radishes. In the bed to the left of the lettuce, Jersey Wakefield Cabbages and Cherry Belle Radishes grow as companions. The radishes will be ready for harvest before the cabbages get large enough to compete for the sunshine.

Lolla Rosa is a compact curly leaved lettuce that is cut and come again, I have harvested most of this bed twice and I will still be able to cut it once or twice more before I need to replant with a warm weather variety.

At the time of this photo the romaine still had a few weeks before it was mature. As of this week it will be ready for harvest.
Well, I'd better draw this post to a close, but before I do I will give you a sneak peek of my newest garden project... My newly renovated kitchen herb garden.

My established herb garden was overcome by couching grass and some insidious form of weed that looks like Artemesia but with a very aggressive nature. So I have finally dug out all the weeds, sifted the soil and am now I am replanting my surviving herbs, as well as adding many new ones. I will post more on the herb garden another day.

                  May you all be blessed with a simple life!

26 April 2012

Dealing with Ducklings...

  It is impossible to know what  day will hold...when I got up this morning, I had a to-do list a mile long. First on my list was to go to Lowe's hardware store to pick up some paint for the ceiling of the bathroom we are renovating. When I rounded then bend into town I was struck speechless as the car in front of me hit a mother duck and 2 of her twelve babies. The mother duck flipped out from under the car and half ran/ half rolled down the embankment to the railroad tracks. The babies, who were no more than a day or so old, tumble head over heels, rolled free of the car and then ran in the direction of their mother. The other 10 babies were trying to cross the road. I whipped into a driveway and ran back to try to get the ducklings off the road. They were running willy nilly all over the place, but when they saw me they all ran for the cover of the shrubs at the edge of the drive.
  I went looking for the mother duck and the two ducklings that went for a tumble under the car. I searched the embankment and the edges of the woods, but I couldn't see the mother duck or ducklings anywhere. I went to Waxhaw Town Hall to request that local animal control help in catching the ducklings... fat lot of good that did me... I even tried to use the logic that ducks in the road were a traffic hazard, but there was no help to be had. So I went downtown to a friends pet grooming business and asked my friend if she could help me with the ducks. She and one of her employees came with me to help round up ducklings.
   When we got to the location where I had left them, we could hear them peeping away, but they were deep in the woods in thick underbrush, so we couldn't get to them. We crossed the road in search of the mother, we searched both sides of the tracks and the surrounding embankments, the mother was nowhere to be seen. We were getting ready to give up when my friend saw one sad little duckling running down the railroad tracks. The three of us spent the next half hour running up and down the hillside, across the railroad tracks and  through the dense brambles at the top of the embankment, trying to head off this tiny little duckling. It was as fast as greased lightening and seemed to have an endless supply of energy. I was afraid of traumatizing the poor little thing but a storm was coming...the skies were black and I could hear thunder rolling in the distance. If it had feathers, I would have just let it be, but since it was covered in the fine down of a hatchling, I knew the coming storm could mean death for it. At this age the duckling is not water proof, and is supposed to be sitting snug and warm under the protection of its mother during a rain storm, (although I can't imagine how she would possibly fit all 12 ducklings under her...). So  we needed to catch it before the storm came. Eventually, my friends ran the little fella up the hill as I sat waiting in a tangle of brambles. I whisked it up as it ran by me and cradled it in my hands until we could get it closed in the box we brought with us to hold it.

  As we climbed in the car, the skies opened up... Whew!

  With my friends back at work and the duckling tucked away in a box in the trunk, I headed for home to call Wild Waterfowl Rescue to come get my little friend. There are laws forbidding the interference with or domestication of wild waterfowl, and I wouldn't want to go afoul of the law... (I just couldn't resist the pun... sorry), so I didn't even entertain the idea of raising it myself. I left a message for the rescue people and opened the trunk to get the box out. As opened the trunk, out popped the little duckling! I was startled, but managed to catch the little stinker in mid air. I have no idea how it got out since it was a box with very high sides and the flaps were closed over the top, but I was glad that it didn't get loose again, since the rain was coming down hard and it was beginning to hail!
   Once inside I put a hot water bottle in the box and covered it with shredded paper. I pulled the flaps of the box straight up and taped them so that the box sides would be higher, set the whole she-bang in the tub and pulled the shower curtain closed. The phone was ringing so I went to answer it and when I returned to check on the duckling it wasn't in the box, or for that matter, it wasn't in the tub either! I found it in the laundry room and spent another few minutes chasing it around. I have raised chicks for twenty years and never had any trouble keeping newly hatched chicks where they belong. Once they have feathers and begin to hop and flap, it is a different story, but chicks that are less than a week old generally stay where they are put. I didn't think ducklings could be much different...show how much I know! I eventually had to cover the box in cheese cloth and tie twine around it to keep it in.
  The phone call I went to answer was from the Waterfowl Rescue, they were on their way to my house to pick up the duckling. When she arrived, I told her how much trouble I'd had keeping up with the little urchin, (I did this as an attempt to explain why the box was trussed up like a Christmas package). When she looked in the box she chuckled and said it was no wonder... the duckling I thought was a Mallard was really a Wood Duck. She explained that the Wood Duck is very agile and that even at a very young age these ducks can climb trees. She also told me that most rescued Wood Duck ducklings don't survive, since they are flighty and don't take well to confinement. They often beat themselves to death trying to get free. How very sad, but I can see how it could happen.
  The rescue worker took the duckling and put it in a little net container. She was going to go back to the place where the mother was hit to use a mother duck call to see if she could get the other ducklings to come out of the woods to her. I wish her luck, it took three people a half an hour to catch one little duckling, I can't imagine one person trying to gather up 10 of the wild little things!
   The Wild Waterfowl Rescue organization is run by volunteers. This young woman came out in the middle of a terrible storm to collect the duckling from me and then spent who knows how long trying to find the rest of them. I am thankful for her efforts and the efforts of the organization she volunteers with. Whether it knows it or not, that is one lucky little duckling!

07 April 2012

Chag Pesach Samech!! May HaShem's Peace be Upon You All!

Last night we had our Pesach, (Passover), celebration. It was a lovely time of fellowship and as always I was caught up in the story from long ago, of the night that the Angel of Death passed over the children of Israel and spared their first born. Then at the break of day the entire House of Israel and a vast number of others left the hardships of bondage in a foreign land and followed Moses into the deliverance that God had promised more than 400 years before.
  During the next seven days I will eat unleavened bread and contemplate the future Exodus. Both Jeremiah and Isaiah speak of the time to come when God will regather his children, Judah, (the 2 southern tribes) and Ephriam, (the 10 northern tribes), from the four corners of the Earth and settle us as one family, in peace in the land that he promised to His people so long ago.... sigh... let it be soon!
  During the week of unleavened bread we will enjoy tender and tasty flat breads cooked on a hot griddle, no nasty, tasteless matzo crackers in this house! The secret to good unleavened bread is the kind of wheat that is used to make the bread. Most recipes call for whole wheat flour or unbleached flour, but normal bread flour is made from hard red spring wheat, which is high in gluten. Gluten is great for making wonderful lofty loaves with the assistance of yeast, but unleavened bread made from hard wheat is tough and chewy, due to unstimulated gluten. In order to make light, tender unleavened bread it is best to use soft wheat flour. Cake flour is made from soft wheat, but is void of nutrition and makes for a pasty textured flat bread. It is possible to find Bob's Red Mill whole wheat pastry flour in small bags at most higher end grocers or you can find soft wheat berries at a natural food store and grind your own. I use Atta flour if I am short on time, but I prefer to grind my own from my cache of long term stored soft wheat berries, since they are organic. Atta flour, which is used in Indian cookery to make chapati, is made from whole grain soft wheat berries. It makes great unleavened bread and can be found at any Indian grocery.
  Here is a simple recipe for unleavened bread:

2 cups whole wheat soft wheat flour
1 tsp. sea salt
1 cup very warm water
Olive oil

  Place the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Mix with finger to incorporate. Slowly add water with one hand while mix in with fingers of the other hand. When water is completely absorbed and flour is beginning to stay together,remove from bowl and knead until ball of dough is smooth. Cover and let rest 10 minutes. Break into pieces the size of a walnut and roll into smooth balls, it should make 12 to 16 balls. Cover with a towel.
  Heat a cast iron skillet or griddle to medium high heat and drip a small drop of olive oil on skillet and polish with a paper towel removing most of the oil and leaving a shiny smooth finish on pan. Choose a ball, drop it into a small bowl of extra soft wheat flour and roll it around to lightly coat. With the palm of your hand flatten ball into a round and roll out into a circle 4-6" in diameter, turning and rolling to keep it in shape. Check to see if water sizzles when a drop is flicked onto the skillet surface, if it doesn't sizzle an pop the water on contact, the skillet isn't hot enough, so heat more and test again. Once the skillet is hot and the first dough round is rolled out to desired size, drop the dough circle onto the griddle, leave there until small bubbles start to form on the bottom side and the bread slides easily when pushed lightly with a finger. Turn when bubbles are forming and allow bubbles to form on top side. The bread should begin to puff. Use a spatula to lightly press to help bread to puff. When there are a few good pockets of air in bread turn and repeat until bread is mostly filled with air. Don't worry if it doesn't completely inflate, but make sure that there are large pockets of air or the bread will be chewy. When done remove from heat and brush lightly with olive oil or ghee. Place in a towel lined bowl and cover with towel corners to keep warm. Roll and cook dough balls one at a time, so that the dough rounds don't dry out.
  The breads freeze very well, if let cool completely before freezing. To use after freezing, place in foil and heat in the oven until just warmed through. They will taste like you just made them! Whether or not you keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread, these little flat breads are nutritious, full of flavor and filling.
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